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Who cleans the toilets in Galt’s Gulch?
March 27, 2014 5:22 AM   Subscribe

"I’m just trying to color a sketch of how hard a problem practical logistics are. Supply chains are really, really tricky, and it would be quite a trick to sign up for them without entraining a bunch of stuff to do with credit supply, labor and safety laws, and so on. That bureaucracy is sometimes bad, sometimes unnecessary and corrupt, but it’s also what makes it work. The real world is not a packet network – physical objects come with complex and inseparable contexts, and they are produced by a huuuge machine full of flywheels with unfathomable inertia." -- Charlie Lloyd writes about living on a small island, seasteading and how independent you can really be in the modern world.
posted by MartinWisse (80 comments total) 76 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bob the Angry Flower has this: Atlas Shrugged 2: One Hour Later by way of commentary.
posted by Harald74 at 5:30 AM on March 27 [28 favorites]


The article is interesting and present the authors perspective well and all, but as usual the people who really need to read it won't. I'm actually looking forward to somebody trying out the seasteding thing, so I can really wallow in the schadenfreude afterwards. I guess it's not a particularly nice trait of mine, but there you go.
posted by Harald74 at 5:34 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Great essay - thanks for posting it. And that Bob the Angry Flower comic is one of my all-time favorite cartoons ever.
posted by jquinby at 5:38 AM on March 27


Gah, edit window, why must you mock me by closing just before I notice I forgot to close my italics tag?
posted by Harald74 at 5:44 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]


Don't worry, Harald74, it makes your comment read like a really short Lovecraft story. Which is the way any seasteading should end -- with ghastly compromises with abhuman entities and mating with Deep Ones.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:49 AM on March 27 [32 favorites]


I grew up on a small island in the middle of nowhere and the seasteading people amuse me.
posted by rtha at 5:50 AM on March 27 [8 favorites]


I don't particularly want to promote Objectivism, but I never understood this criticism that Ayn Rand was negative on toilet cleaners and the like. Multiple key characters in Atlas Shrugged (such as John Galt) work low paid jobs (such as railway laborer), and this seems to be regarded as perfectly respectable and decent, assuming it's done on the appropriate terms.
posted by curious_yellow at 5:50 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]


What’s a frontier? In the American tradition, it’s a place where you go to kill locals and grow plants and animals that take advantage of the soil that they had been maintaining. (This may seem unnecessarily cynical, but it’s the only one-line overview I know that coordinates the Trail of Tears, cowboy culture as it actually was, and the Dust Bowl, for three high-profile parts of the American story of the frontier.) Which is to say that not only was the Western Expansion expanding into something, it was powered by what it was overtaking. It was consumption. The frontier grew not as a tree trunk grows into air, but as a fire grows across a forest.

That's excellent.
posted by rtha at 5:54 AM on March 27 [68 favorites]


Obviously this issue will work itself out. As the toilets become filthier and filthier, the demand for toilet scrubbers will skyrocket. As demand increases, the free market will pull price along with it. Titans of Industry will soon be scrubbing toilets in triumph.
posted by Flunkie at 5:59 AM on March 27 [18 favorites]


rtha: I grew up on a small island in the middle of nowhere and the seasteading people amuse me.

Can you elaborate on this? (I grew up in a city in the Midwest and thus I know what I don't know about, say, farming, but I really don't have any idea what I don't know about living on the water.)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:01 AM on March 27


That is a lovely meditation on the benefits of capitalism. Thanks for sharing.
posted by michaelh at 6:04 AM on March 27


I'm actually looking forward to somebody trying out the seasteding thing, so I can really wallow in the schadenfreude afterwards.

They did. There were exciting mercenary battles, and a devestating fire, and now there's a public restroom.

It's had the impact on the global economy that you'd expect a techno-libertarian micro-enclave to have: squat/all.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:19 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]


That was incredibly well-written, and efficiently pulls together many points I tend to ramble on and on about. Bookmarked for further reference.

Which is to say that not only was the Western Expansion expanding into something, it was powered by what it was overtaking. It was consumption. The frontier grew not as a tree trunk grows into air, but as a fire grows across a forest.

The entire European colonization of the Americas, while we're at it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:20 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Some of the following may not apply to every island.

On an island, you have extremely constricted ways of getting the things that people want/need, and those ways are going to be expensive, slow, or both. There's limited space on an island and you can't just put stuff any old place because you need watershed, so you gotta watch out extra-carefully where you put your housing, sewage plants, farms and farm runoff infrastructure, like that. If you run out of something that comes from the mainland, you can't just get in your car and drive the to the next state over to get some there.

A lot of these things are not totally unique to islands - everybody should be careful about balancing housing/transit/food production/water/etc. - but on an island your margin much, much narrower. What would be an inconvenience in Indiana could be disaster on the island. And on an island, you're at the mercy of the people who run the ships and planes that bring you things. If they decide not to deal with you any more, that's a problem you have to fix really quickly.
posted by rtha at 6:23 AM on March 27 [20 favorites]


> It's had the impact on the global economy that you'd expect a techno-libertarian micro-enclave to have: squat/all.

There's the object lesson aspect that shouldn't be ignored. I'm sure a few anarcho-libertarian types have reconsidered the island paradise thing in favor of mainland locations that are easier and cheaper to provision while still being defensible from the ravening post-apocalyptic hordes.
posted by ardgedee at 6:28 AM on March 27


That's excellent.

Yes, very much so.

Can you elaborate on this?

I am not rtha, but I grew up on a smallish island as well and then later lived on a couple of other small islands, and like he describes in the article you are aware at every moment of how reliant you are on those supply chain and administrative links. It's very literal, not metaphorical at all, like when bad weather keeps the supply boat from arriving and the shelves at the grocery store get empty. Like rtha says just above, your margins are very small and very visible.

That also means you are vulnerable to outside pressure in ways that are harder to happen in mainland places -- the various Caribbean islands that flirted with leftist governments over the past four or five decades certainly found that out, for example. There's a limit to self-sufficiency -- your floating city-state may not need shipments of oil if you have big solar arrays, but you will need access to a research hospital when someone gets a rare form of cancer, say.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:31 AM on March 27 [12 favorites]


If there's one thing I have in common wit my (fiscally) conservative older relatives, it's that I have oftentimes found myself defending the Virtues of Capitalism to people who grew up under a functioning system and don't understand things like "a functioning supply chain." The system isn't perfect by any means, but even with the worst administration in charge ('00-'08) that this nation has seen in however many years, most Americans could still walk into a store, buy some groceries, buy themselves clothing, and buy other basic necessities. I remember visiting a supermarket for the first time when I was six; it was mindblowing. A huge warehouse! Full of fresh food! Holy shit! And the person who wrote this absolutely nails it:
No amount of money makes it cheap to have your own supply chain for prestressed concrete or ceviche, and if you fly them in premade then it’s not clear to me what you’ve escaped.
The anarcho-libertarian seasteading proposition is like that episode of Archer where he spends the entire episode wanting to have a fight on the roof of a moving train, and then gets to do it only to realize "this is pointless, you're still on the train."
posted by griphus at 6:36 AM on March 27 [47 favorites]


The marginal nature of island life is also why the techno-libertarian ideal of space settlements will never work out. The margins on a space settlement would be even narrower than on an island, because the environment is going to be even more hostile; nobody is going to be able to tell the guy inspecting for air leaks to get off their property. Likewise, replacing supplies will be even more expensive and the consequences more critical.
posted by happyroach at 6:49 AM on March 27 [6 favorites]


The Singapore example is telling as well: the technocrats hire cheap labour from their neighbours. About 60% of Singapore are "citizens", 20% are "residents" and the remainder are "non-residents". There are your toilet scrubbers. The Arab gulf states function this way too.
posted by bonehead at 6:55 AM on March 27 [12 favorites]


Besides which, happyroach, what kind of psychopath would permit libertarians' beloved firearms into an airtight, pressurized environment? It'd be suicidal!
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:04 AM on March 27 [4 favorites]


I dunno. It seems like a lot of the skewering in the essay just as easily applies to the left of center anti-globalist bemoaning the fact that things could be so much better if only everyone would just get on board with the Social Contract, however one defines that. The Seasteading and Valleybro references are necessary to make sure that the target is clear.

The foil to the great plan is always "the other", the powers that be that always favor the rich entrenched interests, or the collective interests, to the detriment of those the system keeps from thriving.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:05 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


The Seasteading and Valleybro references are necessary to make sure that the target is clear.

Yes, the topic of the article is the topic of the article. The things that aren't the topic of the article may apply to the arguments, but aren't the topic of the article. The issues brought up could apply to a very wide swath of political orientations, including certain ones on the left, the right, and systems that exist wholly outside of that dynamic.
posted by griphus at 7:15 AM on March 27 [12 favorites]


There are usually many alternatives to an extremist point of view. That other extremist points of view share characteristics with the one at question does not mean that critiques of the extremism being discussed are inherently invalid.

In other words, any issues i have with anarcho-libertarianism are not because I'm deluded by the glamour of technological socialism. If anything, I'm pretty sure I'd be happiest with a system that does not require conformance with any particular extremist position and which can safely harbor a multitude of preferences.
posted by ardgedee at 7:26 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]


If anything, I'm pretty sure I'd be happiest with a system that does not require conformance with any particular extremist position and which can safely harbor a multitude of preferences.

I sea-steading what you did there.
posted by The River Ivel at 7:30 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I'm confused. Is the point of the article not pretty much precisely that the Social Contract, however one defines that, is far more encompassing than the libertarians like to think, and that it can't be meaningfully escaped without giving up pretty much... everything since the development of fire?

Yeah, the author notes the importance of exchange networks and supply chains to the functioning of the system we've built on that social contract, but the underlying mechanism that makes it all possible is specifically pointed out as mutual trust and cooperation. You could make a critique of really far-leftist central command economies out of the same erector set, I suppose, but it would be pretty easily distinguished from this. I don't see anything like a critique of the left actually on the page here.
posted by Naberius at 7:34 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


There is always the classic essay on this sort of thing, looking less at the practicalities and more at the politics behind it by China Mieville. Floating Utopias, written in 2007.

Also: Multiple key characters in Atlas Shrugged (such as John Galt) work low paid jobs (such as railway laborer), and this seems to be regarded as perfectly respectable and decent, assuming it's done on the appropriate terms.

This is the case in Atlas Shrugged, however, this is not the case in the real world (one more place where Atlas Shrugged shows its pulpy sf roots). This is cherry picking the some of the worst, but go on say, Fark, and read the comments on any thread about tipping. Or in the comment section of any newspaper. There is a fundamental belief among a section of the American public that the people who have these jobs deserve whatever is handed to them. I believe, but am too lazy at the moment to look up proof that the Venn Diagram of people who are assholes to those who have jobs as janitors, waiters, etc., and the people who would support a Galt's Gulch is a non-empty set.

(Hagbard Celine's submarine I believe is a different matter, which is why Wilson made a much better case for Anarcho-Capitalism than Rand ever did or could.)
posted by Hactar at 7:56 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]


Could one maybe call Pitcairn Island, refuge of the Bounty mutineers as one of the first seasteads? That ended up with some seriously unpleasant results in the long run.
posted by dnash at 7:58 AM on March 27 [4 favorites]


@hactar I can't argue with the real world side - there are many people like you describe. I just don't see it in Ayn Rand.
posted by curious_yellow at 8:12 AM on March 27


is this idea – not to put too fine a point on it – interesting to anyone other than men?

Heh.
posted by emjaybee at 8:14 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


This is a good essay--Something about it reminds me of Bruce Sterling.

I once lived on an island in the pacific with about 100 other people. One time we ran out of soy sauce, and by "we" I mean the entire island (unless someone was hoarding it and not telling). Our rice and fish was not the same for a week.
posted by mecran01 at 8:29 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


For everyone who has lived on islands, given how tenuous the supply chains are, how much pre-planning/rationing is there? Do you think "this dish can only have three splashes of soy sauce because otherwise we'll be out next week?"/planning out your menu and fuel use until the next boat arrives with some spare in case of rough seas?
posted by Hactar at 8:39 AM on March 27


I once lived on an island in the pacific with about 100 other people. One time we ran out of soy sauce, and by "we" I mean the entire island (unless someone was hoarding it and not telling). Our rice and fish was not the same for a week.

Here is where I, yet again, plug The Sex Lives of Cannibals as a hilariously detailed look at life on one of the remotest islands on the planet. If for nothing else, read it for the section on The Great Beer Crisis.
posted by jquinby at 8:40 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


For everyone who has lived on islands, given how tenuous the supply chains are, how much pre-planning/rationing is there?

In my experience, on the island I lived on, there was nothing like that at the individual-people level. Government level, retail operation level, industry-running level? There had to have been, but it was mostly invisible to ordinary people. The clearest example I recall was the supply of Christmas trees. If you didn't get yours by approximately Thanksgiving, then too bad, you didn't have a tree.
posted by rtha at 8:50 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


That's the impression I got, too, Naberius.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:59 AM on March 27


Claiming land from the sea in order to have space for securing freedom and a way of life?

Where have I heard that before...


... oh, right, The Netherlands. Those people who drained polders in order to avoid learning German.

Amazing how political types fantasize about this sort of thing and yet never look at this simple historic precedent. It might have something with Holland being one of the most un-Libertarian countries out there. You can't even build a patio in your gardent without clearing it with the neighbors. You have to have flood drills. And the country has a long history of relying on conscription into labor battalions during emergencies, something that could come back into vogue at any moment.

It's almost like these people are living on a ship and maintaining nautical discipline...
posted by ocschwar at 9:02 AM on March 27 [10 favorites]


If you didn't get yours by approximately Thanksgiving, then too bad, you didn't have a tree.

I just realized that Christmas shopping is the closest thing most people will experience to a supply chain failure. Considering a shortage of PlayStations or Furbies sends people into a near-riot, imagine what that'd be like if it was a run on shoes.

(Not, like, a particular brand of shoes or nice shoes or something. Just shoes in the most general sense.)
posted by griphus at 9:02 AM on March 27 [4 favorites]


Fish and sea greens, plankton and protein from the sea!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:17 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


"Valleybro" is a new term to me but a very thought provoking one. And what I think is that it's very apt.

Silicon Valley libertarians really do represent some of the worst aspects of fraternities. Their concern for and understanding of the world ends with other people who live and think like they do. Their plans for their world are shallow at best and are notably disconnected from what could reasonably be achieved. And as was pointed out by the article the whole thing is run by and for men. (Or boys, depending on your view).

That last point makes me want to track the popularity of libertarian thought vs. the status of women in society. I wonder what men are or aren't getting at home that makes this fantasy so attractive to them?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:19 AM on March 27 [6 favorites]


Hi! I wrote this – well, I think calling it an essay is overselling it a bit. I wrote this Tinyletter installment.

For what it’s worth, the authorial intent here was towards the right in particular because I hear naïve separatism loudest from that side. A few decades ago I might have framed this in terms of hippie communes, although I’ve seen semi-communes that worked better than I can imagine a classical seastead could.

The basic secret to living on an island is to buy your soy sauce at Costco.
posted by vruba at 9:20 AM on March 27 [54 favorites]


Closest I've ever been to supply chain collapse was when the local Trader Joe's was basically empty because of bad weather throughout the eastern seaboard a few months back. No produce or baked goods. Just the prepackaged stuff, and a sad handful of my fellow travelers, wandering the desolate aisles.
posted by jquinby at 9:27 AM on March 27


Closest I've ever been to supply chain collapse

I lived in post-revolution Romania and I can empathize with what griphus is saying. We had food stores but the food supply was hit or miss. You wouldn't go hungry, not exactly, but you could only buy one of about four spices (cinnamon, salt, pepper, oregano - sometimes paprika at some of the stores, sometimes...) and you had to be ready to make do with what was in the stores. Staples like flour and sugar were sold in small packets so you couldn't really stock up. Perishables like bread and milk came in to the store all at once and were basically gone by 10 am. I was a night owl as I am now and I had to choose to set my alarm to get up for bread or milk or go without. They only had it every other day. Once you got to the store to get in the bread/milk line you weren't assured of getting any and when you got to the head of the line the price was basically random (I'm sure it wasn't actually random but I had no idea what it was based on). We had money and time and so working this into our routine was not too difficult but I can imagine how exhausting it must have been to have that be an organizing aspect of your life.

And this was mitigated by the fact that we could get on a train and be in another country (Hungary, Czech Republic, even Bulgaria) where they had more food, fast food, more spices, fewer of these problems. If the cost of public transportation were onerous, this would have been a really grim existence. I remember coming back to the US after a year of this and just sitting in a US supermarket (not even a very good one) and being overwhelmed with the choices. In the Romanian store there were two kinds of cereal: adult, kids. I may not be thrilled with a lot of the aspects of late stage capitalism, but I understand parts of the appeal compared to some of the alternatives.
posted by jessamyn at 9:44 AM on March 27 [30 favorites]


Perishables like bread and milk came in to the store all at once and were basically gone by 10 am.

The trick with the bread is to find the bakery itself, make friends with someone who works the night shift and buy your bread out the bakery back door in the dead of night.
posted by griphus at 9:52 AM on March 27 [7 favorites]


That's actually a good point. The people who did the best in this environment were the people who were connected. Either you had a huge friends-and-family network of people you knew who could end run some of this stupid stuff or you had a power network where people would do you favors because it helped them in some way (or they were afraid of you). And so a lot of the striving wasn't to get a lot of money, not exactly, it was to build up a network so that you had better and more reliable access to things that were in short supply.
posted by jessamyn at 9:54 AM on March 27 [19 favorites]


I wonder what men are or aren't getting at home that makes this fantasy so attractive to them?

Absolute, unchecked authority, would be my guess. The whole concept of going off some where and starting your own country is all about not having to make compromises with anybody else.

I've never lived on an island, but I have spent time in the winter on Block Island which is a fascinatingly weird place, sort of a mini-Martha's Vineyard that's a little more obscure and remote. In the summer it has thousands and thousands of tourists and summer residents, so it has all the infrastructure to handle all that - but in the winter the total population is around 400-500 people, and most of that infrastructure is basically seasonally abandoned. The first day I got there for my February stay, I waited until too late in the evening to start thinking about dinner - I'd only ever been there in summer, and there are literally dozens of restaurants and bars open all summer - but on Tuesday night in February, they are all closed and so was the (only) grocery/convenience store. I've been unable to acquire food because I had no money before, but that was the first (and I think only) time I was ever unable to acquire food because there just plain wasn't any place I could go that had food for sale. I wasn't there long enough to see what happens when bad weather keeps the ferry from running, but I'm sure it happens. And that's only like, 12 miles off the coast of New England, those logistics are easy.

Anyways, the innkeeper at the place I was staying ended up taking pity on me and feeding me dinner (which she really was under no obligation to do). I have a feeling that most of these Valleybros, given the chance to live out their seasteading fantasies, would similarly end up being totally reliant on the kindness of strangers who are more familiar with the kinds of living situations they only fantasize about.

It reminds me a little bit of anti-vaxxers - people who take so completely for granted all the immense progress our civilization has made, that it is so invisible to them, that they are willing to throw it all away for negligible or even imaginary benefits. Though at least seasteading Valleybros would really only be screwing themselves.
posted by mstokes650 at 10:03 AM on March 27 [13 favorites]


Better yet, when Valleybro Colony fails and sinks, we can all get a nice new coral reef.
posted by ocschwar at 10:21 AM on March 27


I think a seasteading of Valleybros would rapidly become a two-level society of owners and servants. Most likely, as with Singapore or Dubai, a third mid-layer would also evolve, supervisors and corner store owners, so the rulers don't have to deal with the under-class.
posted by bonehead at 10:31 AM on March 27


And so a lot of the striving wasn't to get a lot of money, not exactly, it was to build up a network so that you had better and more reliable access to things that were in short supply.

My uncle told me this story of the absurd depths this got to in the 70s. There was a particularly popular kind of collapsible mobile desk/trolley. The way he describes it it's sounds like one of those fancy drink trolleys you see in old movies when the butler brings the drinks out but used as just a general desk. It was popular, which meant you couldn't easily get one unless you were important or had a hook-up at the factory or got lucky.

So what you did was you'd go out to the dock across the river from the factory where they made these desks. And someone at the factory would float them down the river, a guy on the other end picked them up and brought them ashore, and you paid that guy.
posted by griphus at 10:31 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]


Just to make that comment a bit more on topic: "some guy in a boat intercepting stolen packages floating downriver" may or may not end up ranking pretty high on the Seastead Supply Chain, after the Seastead pisses someone off and the only way anything gets there is because some guy throws it off the back of a boat.
posted by griphus at 10:32 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


When I was in high school, I went on a bike-around-Ireland trip with a bunch of classmates and a couple of teacher-chaperones (the poor things). One of the more amazing places we stayed was Cape Clear Island, a tiny island off the coast near Cork. Because we were biking a lot, we ate a lot, and our chaperones made us do a bunch of food shopping before we got on the ferry to the island, because the small shop(s) there could supply tourists with snacks but the raw materials for actual meals were really more for the residents, and not a bunch of ravenous teenagers. We could easily, between the 20 of us, have bought out the shops' supply of milk, butter, potatoes, and meat, leaving a few sad cans on the shelves and the islanders to just deal until they either got to the mainland themselves or the next supply boat came in.
posted by rtha at 10:37 AM on March 27 [7 favorites]


The thing about utopian or libertarian separatists is that they all seem to have the view that they will be running the new joint.

They never seem to grasp the fact that, if you haven't managed to claw your way to the top in an open, law-abiding society which goes out of its way to protect people like you, then you sure as hell aren't going to be on the top of the dog-eat-dog, no holds barred society you're planning on creating.
posted by madajb at 10:45 AM on March 27 [24 favorites]


Can you elaborate on this? (I grew up in a city in the Midwest and thus I know what I don't know about, say, farming, but I really don't have any idea what I don't know about living on the water.)

I was never on an island, but I did spend some time in a small village (less than 100 people) that was about 4.5 hours by dirt road to the next biggest town.
The kind of place where bad weather can close the road for substantial amounts of time.

One of the things I noticed is that no trip "to town" was wasted. When I was picked up from the big town, the very next stop was the grocery, where the back of the pickup was _packed_, not just with supplies for the house, but things for neighbors and friends who heard you were going into town.

Another was that everyone knew who in town had a particular hoard of something. The guy who always has hot sauce, or the woman with a bin full of lightbulbs, etc.

Third was that, while every small place seems to have that token misanthrope, for the most part, it's real hard to be a hard-core Randian type when you depend on people you actually know to keep things running (as opposed to the faceless government).
posted by madajb at 10:58 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


I think one of these guys will actually try it and be relatively successful through sheer brute moneypower rather than ideology - treat the toilet scrubbers like oil rig workers.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:03 AM on March 27


curious_yellow: "I don't particularly want to promote Objectivism, but I never understood this criticism that Ayn Rand was negative on toilet cleaners and the like. Multiple key characters in Atlas Shrugged (such as John Galt) work low paid jobs (such as railway laborer), and this seems to be regarded as perfectly respectable and decent, assuming it's done on the appropriate terms."

I don't think Eddie Willers got an invite to Galt's Gulch. I could be wrong, its been a long time since I've read the book. But assuming he didn't reject an invite, he was Dagny's right hand man, he had her back against all of the forces of collectivist evil, but when the chips were down he wound up dying in the desert outside the broken down Taggart Transcontinental on its last failed run, which would never even have left the station but for his dedication to his job.

And he was no stranger, no noble but unfortunate member of the anonymous but unsavable masses. He was Dagny's lifelong friend, even friend to John Galt when Galt was incognito as a common railroad worker, and Eddie didn't even know his true identity.
posted by Reverend John at 11:30 AM on March 27 [6 favorites]


the dog-eat-dog, no holds barred society you're planning on creating.

While it seems a fairly obvious outcome to the rest of us, many of the libertarians I've spoken to don't seem to envision it that way. Their world is a polite, respectful place where the only fundamental social interaction is contract law, and market forces will take care of the rest.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:33 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Their world is a polite, respectful place where the only fundamental social interaction is contract law, and market forces will take care of the rest.

Pretty sure madajb's point was that that's all well and good, but the path from here to there, presuming there even is one, is going to require a whole lot of impoliteness. Unless your plan is to go live on an island somewhere.... in which case TFA sort of takes care of that.
posted by jessamyn at 11:36 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


jessamn: Either you had a huge friends-and-family network of people you knew who could end run some of this stupid stuff or you had a power network where people would do you favors because it helped them in some way (or they were afraid of you).

Ladies and gentlemen, I offer for your amazement and amusement… Present-day Rhode Island!
posted by wenestvedt at 12:14 PM on March 27 [5 favorites]


I backpacked the length of Isle Royale one summer. It's a 50 mile-long island in the middle of Lake Superior, and a national park; a few permanent residents live there, and they get their mail, gas, and groceries from the same maybe-once-a-day boats that bring out the hikers.

I have family up on the Iron Range of Minnesota so I was pretty familiar with the Woodsy Life, but sitting on the deck of that boat and watching these people hustle out to pick up, say, a box of food, a bundle of mail, and a canister of LP gas gave me pause. I mean, what do they do in the winter? No airstrip and no real helipad means no air evacuation; bad, ship-swallowing Lake Superior storms can limit access even in good weather.

I decided "Man, forget that. Live on shore and get big windows, but get off that damn isolated island"

Gorgeous place, though. Would love to go back for a couple of days.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:19 PM on March 27


*hums "Beyond the Sea"*
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:58 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Chipping in another island experience: we do occasionally run out of fresh fruit/vegetables, most of which are imported from Australia or NZ. I'm not sure why they're not grown locally, since the soil here is stupendously fertile, but perhaps it's only the expats who are interested in carrots and apples. I still haven't managed to acquire a taste for taro.

I've never seen a soy sauce drought. They even sell MSG in the grocery stores next to the spices!
posted by orrnyereg at 1:02 PM on March 27


Present-day Rhode Island!

Note: not actually an island.

posted by jessamyn at 1:13 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]


Rhode Island is neither an island, nor part of Rhodes. Discuss.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:41 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]


Rhode Island is an island. The thing typically referred to as "Rhode Island" (and which is not an island) -- i.e. the state -- is actually officially named "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations", not "Rhode Island". Part of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations is an island that is officially named Rhode Island, but is usually referred to as Aquidneck Island, so as to disambiguate it from the thing that is officially not named Rhode Island but which is usually referred to as Rhode Island.
posted by Flunkie at 1:59 PM on March 27 [22 favorites]


Chipping in another island experience: we do occasionally run out of fresh fruit/vegetables, most of which are imported from Australia or NZ. I'm not sure why they're not grown locally, since the soil here is stupendously fertile, but perhaps it's only the expats who are interested in carrots and apples.

Lord Summerisle? Is that you?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:16 PM on March 27 [5 favorites]


Pretty sure madajb's point was that that's all well and good, but the path from here to there, presuming there even is one, is going to require a whole lot of impoliteness.

I think the focus on green fields (or blue water, in the case of seasteading) is their attempt to dodge all that.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:17 PM on March 27


I, Pencil is still a good illustration of a supply chain.

It's surprising how many people don't realise how complicated apparently simple products are to produce. I've been lurking in some anarchist forums lately and I often see equivalents of "oh, we'll just make everything in the village" by people who don't quite grasp how limited that makes things.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:19 PM on March 27 [8 favorites]


Well, yes- ideally your self-organizing autonomous community would make friends with other self-organizing autonomous communities, so that all would work towards supplying each others' needs based on available resources and labor. This, essentially, is the principle behind the Mondragon system. Of course, the entire thing is predicated upon being able to actually make friends with people.



Also, the term Valleybros reminds me of some sort of small independent fortress town in A Song of Ice and Fire that manages to resist either alliance or enfeoffment to any of the major powers, until it is finally burnt to the ground with all its inhabitants by Roose Bolton.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:38 PM on March 27 [5 favorites]


Oh my god, I killed the thread. I am sorry!

So how big does a place have to be in order to be self-sustaining? Or is that a whatchamacallit, a tuatology? "As small as possible but no smaller"?
posted by wenestvedt at 3:40 PM on March 27


That depends on the quality of life you are looking to sustain.
posted by mstokes650 at 7:32 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


"I think a seasteading of Valleybros would rapidly become a two-level society of owners and servants. Most likely, as with Singapore or Dubai, a third mid-layer would also evolve, supervisors and corner store owners, so the rulers don't have to deal with the under-class."

I tend to agree. And I'm not sure I see the difference between that and feudalism. Didn't we go to a lot of trouble to end feudalism? Or am I revealing my peasant roots by even asking that question?
posted by harriet vane at 7:39 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]


I dunno, a lot of people around here seem to disapprove when the villeins run away from the villages and seek employment in the cities.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:11 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Besides which, happyroach, what kind of psychopath would permit libertarians' beloved firearms into an airtight, pressurized environment? It'd be suicidal!

It's consistent with their ethos: "Well, if no one else is brings a gun onto the space station, if I bring one, I have absolute power - e.g. "You just scrambled to plug one hole. Do you want to plug another, or are you going to do what I say?'"
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:28 PM on March 27


aChipping in another island experience: we do occasionally run out of fresh fruit/vegetables, most of which are imported from Australia or NZ. I'm not sure why they're not grown locally, since the soil here is stupendously fertile, but perhaps it's only the expats who are interested in carrots and apples. I still haven't managed to acquire a taste for taro.

If taro is the same thing as dasheen, I'd argue that it's a case of needing to find it cooked well. One tasty tuber is much like another, while a pile of tasteless mush is also like another.

But as you note, if taro grows well. You should be able to grow almost anything.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:59 AM on March 28


A very good read. Thanks, MartinWisse.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:20 AM on March 28


Things that we take for granted such as aluminium foil and plastic bags require a global supply chain and huge energy demands. It boggles my tiny mind. All that effort to get the roll of foil into the taqueria so that they can wrap my burrito in it for the few minutes between it's construction and consumption.
posted by asok at 6:31 AM on March 28


Tell Me No Lies: "While it seems a fairly obvious outcome to the rest of us, many of the libertarians I've spoken to don't seem to envision it that way. Their world is a polite, respectful place where the only fundamental social interaction is contract law, and market forces will take care of the rest."

One of my favourite things to do is to play the 'But Why?' toddler game with people who favour libertarian Night Watchman states, although substituting 'So, what then?' for 'But why?'
So your ideal society only has contract law. What if someone reneges on a contract? Or decides they're going to take your stuff, because there are no laws against carrying firearms?

Well, then we take them to some form of court.

What if they refuse to attend court?
Well then we would ask another armed party, or some kind of police force, to intercede.

So you need a police force?
Well, we need a mechanism for enforcing contracts. So yes, I suppose.

What if the person you are trying to enforce a contract on pays the police force or the armed third party to go away? Or to support them while they take more of your stuff?

...

Then I say, you know, we've tried the world you want to live in. It's called 'all of human history until this point', and, per Stephen Pinker, we kill each other a lot less these days.
posted by Happy Dave at 10:33 AM on March 28 [3 favorites]


But as you note, if taro grows well. You should be able to grow almost anything.

Not necessarily. I'm reminded of a scene in The Poisonwood Bible, which concerns a missionary family who's moved from the Southern US to the Republic of Congo. The father has brought seeds for a whole lot of vegetables in the hopes of introducing food crops to the Congolese people; and the seeds sprout and the plants actually do well.

However, none of them ever seem to produce anything. And the father finally figures out why - none of the insects in the Congo are interested in these foreign plants, so the vegetable plants don't have any pollinators. And ultimately, the vegetable garden fails.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:54 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Then I say, you know, we've tried the world you want to live in. It's called 'all of human history until this point', and, per Stephen Pinker, we kill each other a lot less these days.

I like to play a limited form of Libertarian bingo. If I can get them to say "Well small businesses are doing really well in Somalia today." then I call it a win.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:14 AM on March 28 [5 favorites]


Anyway, they wouldn't HAVE toilets to clean in a self-sufficient Libertarian colony, because they would be burning their own dung for fuel, and all the pissing would be done in contest form.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:42 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Yes and no. In a seasteading colony I think they would use it more for drinking.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:17 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]


So how big does a place have to be in order to be self-sustaining? Or is that a whatchamacallit, a tuatology? "As small as possible but no smaller"?

There's always going to be a host of caveats to any declaration of this sort--particularly relative to how you want to define "self-sustaining"--but I would look to the natural example of Iceland, which I believe is the smallest nation to have its own independent currency (recent events have made this tricky), a robust ethnolinguistic press, and a mix of resources (natural and human) useful enough to claw its economy solidly into the developed world despite its geographic isolation. All that with a quarter of the population of Hawaii.
posted by psoas at 3:11 PM on March 30 [1 favorite]


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