A Normal Person Attends Libertarian Water Festival Ephemerisle


Those interested in how the "normal" world takes the edges of libertarian-ish thought will be interested in this very long feature from Atossa Abrahamian in the NYC hip litmag N + 1 about the worlds of Seasteading and the water festival that spun off of it, Ephemerisle.

Abrahamian is hip enough to abstruse libertarian philosophy to make hay of the fact that last year's Ephemerisle was held near "Mandeville Point" in the Sacramento River Delta (Bernard Mandeville, "fable of the bees" and all that, private vices leading to publick benefits) and is blissfully not instantly contemptuous of dreams of creating free zones on the water, the impetus behind the Seasteading Institute that launched, then let go of, the idea of a yearly floating festival of free groovy liberty called "Ephemerisle"–think Burning Man on water:

Ephemerisle is supposed to distill the ambitious project [of Seasteading] into a weekend that would "give people the direct experience of political autonomy." It combines its political ambitions with appeals to back-to-the-land survivalism, off-the-grid drug use, and a vague nostalgia for water parks. "There are no tickets, no central organizers, no rules, no rangers to keep you safe," reads the Ephemerisle mission statement. It's "a new adventure into an alien environment, with discoveries, adventures, and mishaps along the way."….

It was a vision straight out of Neal Stephenson's cult sci-fi novel Snow Crash (1992), which turned out to be one of the most influential texts in the Seasteading community—beloved for its dystopian portrayals of life in a virtual, post-statist society. "Small pleasure craft, sampans, junk, dhows, dinghies, life rafts, houseboats, makeshift structures built on air-filled oil drums and slabs of styrofoam," wrote Stephenson two decades ago, describing an itinerant flotilla full of refugees called The Raft. "A good fifty percent of it isn't real boat material at all, just a garble of ropes, cables, planks, nets, and other debris tied together on top of whatever kind of flotsam was handy."

The story includes reasonable and not obviously biased reports from a Seasteading Institute conference, focused on the legal and technical (and agricultural) ends of the idea, not the living in groovy liberty part. She* does make some sly implications connecting Seasteading with Scientology and guesses via noting the popularity of paleo diets, game/pick up artistry, and other "life hacks" among the crew attracted to this (she makes the Paulina Borsook–remember her? of course you don't!–mistake of equating an engineering mentality with libertarianism, when the actual Hayekian vision of how social orders and governance best evolves are organic and not mechanical.) that there's "there's nothing preventing a hypothetical start-up country from regressing into a patriarchal, Paleo-Futuristic state." Uh, just sayin', I guess! That's certainly a suggestion-based-on-nothing low blow, but there aren't many others.

She also goes over the brief and checkered history of other libertarian attempts to create free nations, also discussed at length in my 2007 book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.

And when the wind brought last year's Ephemerisle some serious anchoring trouble, Abrahamian learned the greatest value of free living: the right to exit.

Overall, an interesting and mostly fair account from a thoughtful normal person taking a look at a world they are not sympathetic with, but can try to understand.

My own reports from the first and second Ephemerisle festivals.

My June Reason feature on the latest attempts to practice the Seasteading meta-principle of competitive governance on dry land, in Honduras.

*My post originally misidentified Abrahamian as a "he."