Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Re: [LeftLibertarian2] Floating Utopias

Expand Messages
  • Charles Pooter
    Some interesting commentary but I despise much of his Marxist rhetoric. How dare those petty bourgeoise yearn to be left alone! What an arsehole. He accuses
    Message 1 of 104 , Oct 1, 2007
      Some interesting commentary but I despise much of his Marxist rhetoric. How dare those "petty bourgeoise" yearn to be left alone!  What an arsehole.
      He accuses "libertarian seasteaders" of a "lunatic syllogism": hating the land because the state is on land.  But Mieville and his Marxist ilk are guilty of far more egregious false syllogisms: e.g . capitalists sometimes speak in favour of the free market, therefore the free market is nonsense; capitalists profit from authoritarian states, therefore the free market is authoritarian.
      On 10/1/07, Dan Clore <clore@...> wrote:
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      Floating Utopias
      The degraded imagination of the libertarian seasteaders
      By China Mieville
      September 28, 2007

      Freedom is late.

      Since 2003, a colossal barge called the Freedom Ship, of debatable tax
      status, should have been chugging with majestic aimlessness from port to
      port, a leviathan rover with more than 40,000 wealthy full-time
      residents living, working and playing on deck. That was the aim eight
      years ago when the project first made headlines, confidently claiming
      that construction would start in 2000.

      A visit to the "news" section of http://freedomship.com reveals a more
      sluggish pace. The most recent messages date from more than two years
      ago, forlornly explaining how "scam operations" are slowing things down
      but that "[t]hings are happening, and they are moving fast." Meanwhile,
      the ship is not yet finished. Indeed, it is not yet started. Despite
      this, Freedom Ship International Inc. has been startlingly successful in
      raising publicity for this "floating city." Much credulous journalistic
      cooing over "the biggest vessel in history," with its "hospitals, banks,
      sports centres, parks, theaters and nightclubs," not to mention its
      airport, has ignored the vessel's stubborn nonexistence.

      Freedom Ship's website claims that the vessel has not been conceived as
      a locus for tax avoidance, pointing out that as it will sail under a
      flag of convenience, residents may still be liable for taxes in their
      home countries. Nonetheless, whatever the ultimate tax status of those
      whom we will charitably presume might one day set sail, much of the
      interest in Freedom Ship has revolved precisely around its perceived
      status as a tax haven.

      And despite the apparent corrective on the website, the project's
      officials have not been shy in purveying that impression. They have
      pushed promotional literature that, in the words of one journalist,
      "paints the picture of a luminous tax haven," and stressed that the ship
      will levy "[n]o income tax, no real estate tax, no sales tax, no
      business duties, no import duties." Of course, as no cruise ship could
      ever levy income tax, to trumpet that fact is preposterous, except as a
      propaganda strategy.

      Freedom Ship's board of directors are canny enough to recognize tax
      hatred as a defining characteristic of the tradition of fantasies in
      which it sits. It is one of countless recent dreams of a tax-free life
      on the ocean wave: advocates of "seasteading" are disproportionately
      adherents of "libertarianism," that peculiarly American philosophy of
      venal petty-bourgeois dissidence.

      Libertarianism is by no means a unified movement. As many of its
      advocates proudly stress, it comprises a taxonomy of bickering
      branches--minarchists, objectivists, paleo- and neolibertarians,
      agorists, et various al.--just like a real social theory. Claiming a
      lineage with post-Enlightenment classical liberalism, as well as in some
      cases with the resoundingly portentous blatherings of Ayn Rand, all of
      its variants are characterized, to differing degrees, by fervent, even
      cultish, faith in what is quaintly termed the "free" market, and extreme
      antipathy to that vaguely conceived bogeyman, "the state," with its
      regulatory and fiscal powers.

      Above all, they recast their most banal avarice--the disinclination to
      pay tax--as a principled blow for political freedom. Not content with
      existing offshore tax shelters, multimillionaires and property
      developers have aspired to build their own. For each such rare project
      that sees (usually brief) life, there are many unfettered by actual
      existence, such as Laissez-Faire City, a proposed offshore tax haven
      inspired by a particularly crass and gung-ho libertarianism, that
      generated press interest in the mid-'90s only to collapse in infighting
      and bad blood; or New Utopia, an intended sea-based libertarian
      micro-nation in the Caribbean that degenerated with breathtaking
      predictability into nonexistence and scandal.

      However, one senses in even their supporters' literature a
      dissatisfaction with these attempts that has nothing to do with their
      abject failure. It is also psycho-geographical: There is something about
      the atolls, mounts, reefs and miniature islets on which these pioneers
      have attempted to perch that insults their dignity.

      A parable from seasteading's past goes some way in explaining. In 1971,
      millionaire property developer Michael Oliver attempted to establish the
      Republic of Minerva on a small South Pacific sand atoll. It was soon
      off-handedly annexed by Tonga, and, in a traumatic actualized metaphor,
      allowed to dissolve back into the sea. To defeat the predatory outreach
      of nations and tides, it is clearly not enough to be offshore: True
      freedom floats.

      Utopia degraded

      Of course, visions of floating state evasion cannot always be explained
      by a hankering for tax evasion. There have been other precursors. Ships
      have allowed groups ranging from cheerfully illicit pirate radio
      stations to socially committed abortion providers, like Women On Waves,
      to avoid local laws. Not surprisingly, this use for ships has been
      enthusiastically adopted by businesses, such as SeaCode, which promotes
      locating outsourced foreign software engineers three miles off the coast
      of Los Angeles to avoid pesky immigration and labor laws.

      It is the less instrumentalist iterations that inspire the imagination.
      Occasionally, in a spirit of can-do contrarianism, some offshore spit or
      rig has been designated an independent country, such as Sealand, a
      sea-tower-based nation with no permanent inhabitants on Britain's
      Suffolk coast. The startling notion of coagulated ship-city has
      unsurprisingly been featured in fiction, as in Lloyd Kropp's
      Sargasso-based The Drift and Neal Stephenson's "The Raft," in Snow
      Crash. It is a measure of how disastrous a film Waterworld was that its
      floating homesteads failed to hold the attention. The cultural
      fascination, however, remains.

      Many of the projects currently under discussion cite ecological concerns
      as their rationale. However, the more ambitious these projects are, the
      more vague their details and mechanics. The unbearably New-Age habitat
      of Celestopea is to be built of the wincingly punning and hypothetically
      enviro-friendly Seament. Clearly, the original rationale of seasteading
      is sheer utopian exuberance.

      Floating cities are dreamed of because how cool is that?--an entirely
      legitimate, admirable reason. The archives of seasteading are
      irresistible reading, the best of the utopias are awesome, and
      floating-city imaginings are in themselves a delightful mental game. The
      problem is the crippling of this tradition by free-market vulgarians.

      In these times, utopian imagination for its own sake has a bad rap, so
      some unconvincing instrumental rationale must be tacked on--yeah, save
      the planet, whatever. Among the rather cautious purposes architect
      Eugene Tsui lists for his proposed floating city of Nexus are the
      development of mariculture, clean energy and "experimental education
      programs": Reading these bullet points, one might almost forget that
      Nexus is a five-mile-long, self-propelling mountainous island shaped
      like a horseshoe crab. Its sheer beautiful preposterousness shouldn't be
      an embarrassment: It is the point of the dream, whatever the design
      specs say.

      Utopianism has always had two, usually though not always contradictory,
      aesthetic and avant-gardist gravitational pulls: toward a hallucinatory
      baroque or, alternately, a post-Corbusier functionalism. In seasteading,
      these iterations are represented by Tsui's hallucinatory organicism on
      one hand and Buckminster Fuller's extraordinary, floating, ziggurat-like
      Triton City on the other.

      The libertarian seasteaders are heirs to this visionary tradition but
      degrade it with their class politics. They almost make one nostalgic for
      more grandiose enemy dreams. The uncompromising monoliths of fascist and
      Stalinist architecture expressed their paymasters' monstrous ambitions.
      The wildest of the libertarian seasteaders, New Utopia, manages to
      crossfertilize its drab Miami-ism with enough candy floss Las Vegaries
      to keep a crippled baroque distantly in sight. Freedom Ship, however, is
      a floating shopping mall, a buoyant block of midrange Mediterranean
      hotels. This failure of utopian imagination is nowhere clearer than in
      the floating city of the long defunct but still influential Atlantis

      It is a libertarian dream. Hexagonal neighborhoods of square apartments
      bob sedately by tiny coiffed parks and tastefully featureless marinas,
      an Orange County of the soul. It is the ultimate gated community,
      designed not by the very rich and certainly not by the very powerful,
      but by the middlingly so. As a utopia, the Atlantis Project is pitiful.
      Beyond the single one-trick fact of its watery location, it is
      tragically non-ambitious, crippled with class anxiety, nostalgic not for
      mythic glory but for the anonymous sanctimony of an invented 1950s. This
      is no ruling class vision: it is the plaintive daydream of a petty
      bourgeoisie, whose sulky solution to perceived social problems is to run
      away--set sail into a tax-free sunset.

      None of this is surprising. Libertarianism is not a ruling-class theory.
      It may be indulged, certainly, for the useful ideas it can throw up, and
      its prophets have at times influenced dominant ideologies--witness the
      cack-handed depredations of the "Chicago Boys" in Chile after Allende's
      bloody overthrow. But untempered by the realpolitik of Reaganism and
      Thatcherism, the anti-statism of "pure" libertarianism is worse than
      useless to the ruling class.

      Big capital will support tax-lowering measures, of course, but it does
      not need to piss and moan about taxes with the tedious relentlessness of
      the libertarian. Big capital, with its ranks of accountant-Houdinis,
      just gets on with not paying it. And why hate a state that pays so well?
      Big capital is big, after all, not only because of the generous
      contracts its state obligingly hands it, but because of the gun-ships
      with which its state opens up markets for it.

      Libertarianism, by contrast, is a theory of those who find it hard to
      avoid their taxes, who are too small, incompetent or insufficiently
      connected to win Iraq-reconstruction contracts, or otherwise chow at the
      state trough. In its maundering about a mythical ideal-type capitalism,
      libertarianism betrays its fear of actually existing capitalism, at
      which it cannot quite succeed. It is a philosophy of capitalist inadequacy.

      Libertarianism's nemesis, "the state," is no less abstract. This is
      particularly so for libertarianism's seasteading wing, for whom the
      political entity "the state" is bizarrely geographically literalized.
      Their intent is to slip the surly bonds of earth not up but sideways,
      beyond littoral borders. It is a lunatic syllogism: "I dislike the
      state: The state is made of land: Therefore I dislike the land." Water
      is a solvent, dissolving "political" (state) power, leaving only
      "economics" behind.

      'The captain's word will be final'

      Small communities have taken to the seas to escape oppressive state
      apparatuses. The miseries of refugee "boat people"--Indonesians,
      Haitians, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Afghanis and others--have been
      grotesquely real, but this has not given middlebrow utopians pause. The
      libertarian seasteader is a Pollyanna of exile.

      There also have been genuine countercultural maritime polities,
      shipboard societies opposed to the despotism of state power, that might
      provide a genuine inspiration. Since the publication in 2000 of Peter
      Linebaugh and Marcus Redicker's The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves,
      Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, any
      discussion on liberté sur mer must reference the grassroots, democratic
      pirate "hydrarchies" that the authors rescued less from the
      condescension of history than from its pantomime audience booing.

      But libertarians are political dissidents only in narrowly selfish
      directions. As respectful of "order" as the most polite bourgeois, they
      cannot conceive of pirates as antecedents, only as threats. (As indeed
      they might be, were there any seasteads to plunder.) By distancing
      themselves from this antiestablishment hydrarchy, the libertarian
      seasteaders unwittingly identify with the other hydrarchy that Linebaugh
      and Redicker discuss: the imperialist, maritime state. Coercive
      political apparatuses, operating internally and externally, are
      implicitly, sometimes explicitly, part of the libertarian seasteading
      project. Good Brechtians, we ask: Who is to maintain New Utopia,
      Laissez-Faire City, the Freedom Ship? Who will cook the feasts and clean
      the heads? So many reports. So many questions. The fantasists of
      libertarian seasteading are vague or silent about on-ship labor
      standards, preferring not to ponder who will swab the decks on which the
      offshore traders, speculators and Web entrepreneurs will promenade.

      They cannot, however, entirely forget the need for other people,
      non-passengers. An attenuated anxiety about what such a presence reaches
      the libertarian mind as anxiety about crime--that shibboleth terror of
      the petty bourgeosie, impossible to banish from the mind.

      On Freedom Ship there will be a jail, a "squad of intelligence
      officers," and a "private security force of 2,000, led by a former FBI
      agent, [that] will have access to weapons, both to maintain order within
      the vessel and to resist external threats." And while technically the
      law applied would be that of whichever state lends its flag, Freedom
      Ship officials make no bones that "the captain's word will be final."

      That is the authoritarianism at libertarianism's core, the symbiosis
      between the "free market" and tyranny. Seasteading libertarians flee the
      oppression of bourgeois democracy for the tyranny of dictatorship. The
      need for internal repression is thus admitted. External repression is
      less hypothetical. It is already here.

      Seasteading as empire

      Speculation about internal labor conditions on these polities is
      anathema, as it raises unpleasant issues of working-class organization
      on the wrong side of the gate. Externally, no such conceptual
      constraints exist. Far from remaining vague, the usual charge leveled at
      utopians, the board of Freedom Ship's "realism" has made them gung-ho
      and explicit in describing the economic imperialism to which they aspire.

      Freedom Ship Inc. has ostentatiously arranged with Honduran authorities
      to construct the vessel in the port of Trujillo, citing geographical
      advantages and cheap labor from the 10,000 to 20,000 workers they
      imagine exploiting. Locals are skeptical that anything will ever be
      built, but the project, despite being less "speculative" than utterly
      fanciful, has achieved a mass of absent presence sufficient to create
      real socioeconomic effects--attacks on labor, speculative bubbles and so
      on. In the words of the great activist science-fiction writer Lucius
      Shepard, who knows the region well:

      "[T]he Freedom Ship is scheduled to begin construction any day now in
      Trujillo. . . . Many, including myself, believe it is a scam, but others
      are believers. Either way, it's going to bring a whole new cast of
      characters into the place, grifters and entrepreneurs and so forth; and
      it testifies to the fact that foreigners--mostly Americans--believe they
      can come to Honduras and achieve wealth and power there, that they can
      work their hustles with impunity."

      Already, struggles against Freedom Ship have ensued. In April 2003, a
      protest march in Trujillo included farmers "protesting against the
      National Port Authority attempting to usurp their land (for local
      elites, multi-national tourism projects and the American venture
      'Freedom Ship.')."

      The protest was organized by the Comite de Emergencia Garifuna de
      Honduras, a grassroots group that represents the Garifuna minority,
      descendents of African slaves and indigenous Caribs and Arawaks. The
      ship is a stated reason for one of the many land grabs from the
      Garifuna, an expropriatory project so unsubtly iniquitous as to be
      almost camp. It is as if Freedom Ship's partisans are so keen to prove
      their "realism" that only an ostentatious performance of imperialist
      theft will do the trick. According to the Comite, the Garifuna land is
      being eyed with the government's active and official participation.

      The most recent threat to Garifuna land rights emerged in September of
      2002, in the protected reserve between the Caribbean Sea and the
      Guaymoreto Lagoon called Barranco Blanco. The National Port Company
      (ENP) a government body, to conduct a topographical survey of the
      Garifuna land, with the intention of renting out lands for the
      construction of "Freedom Ship." . . . The local Garifuna community has
      legal title to this land, but when they asserted their ownership in
      meeting with the National Port Company, the Port Company went so far as
      to cite the "international war on terror" at the meeting as a reason for
      their usurpation of lands, claiming they needed the land to protect the
      banana boats of Dole Company which dock at nearby Puerto Castilla.

      In one area at least, then, Freedom Ship is ahead of schedule. Its
      continuing nonexistence has not stopped it from casting an imperial
      shadow. Freedom Ship is and will remain a castle in the air--or sea--but
      it has already laid foundations in someone else's land.

      Class warfare as bad comedy

      Today, the supposed imminent demise of the state--the perforation,
      dissolution and evaporation of its sovereignty and borders under the
      onslaught of commerce and capital--is asserted with considerably less
      vigor than during the boosterish early '90s. The internationalization of
      capital was and remains real, however, and with that, inevitably, comes
      the migration of labor.

      One would think that an avowedly anti-statist, laissez-faire movement
      would support the free movement of labor, as well as capital. To its
      credit, the Libertarian Party of the United States has enough rigor to
      take an open border position. But as the ferocious debate on its website
      suggests, the issue is hugely controversial.

      Much libertarianism has a love-hate relationship with borders. Despite
      the timidity of some unions on the issue, true freedom of labor would
      strengthen the working class, an unacceptable outcome to the right wing.
      It is also cause for intellectual gymnastics on the part of libertarian
      ideologues eager to justify the exclusion of foreign workers from its

      Usually this involves conceptualizing the state as the "private
      property" of its legal inhabitants. However, when we read in the Journal
      of Libertarian Studies, the self-proclaimed "voice of scholarship in
      libertarian theory," that as part of the "natural order" you will find
      "Whites live among Whites and separate from Asians and blacks," or read
      the concern about "diseased immigrants" and the lament for a Los Angeles
      with "crowds of immigrants, most of them probably illegal, roaming the
      streets in search of one knows not what," the despicable racial
      anxieties are blatant. For some libertarians, "liberty" is more
      negotiable than "aryan."

      Of course, big capital gains from borders less from the fact that they
      keep workers out than in the manner that they allow workers in--the
      economic benefits of "illegals" are enormous, both directly and as a
      wedge, because of their extreme vulnerability and availability for
      hyper-exploitation. Realpolitikal big capital, then, and the hysterical
      wing of libertarianism unite in their predilection for borders, though
      for different reasons.

      Consequently, in the libertarian seastead, citizenship really is a
      ticket that must be bought--not a right nor a privilege but a commodity.
      The claim that the state is private property is more believable in such
      a pretend place than in the real world, where citizenship is not
      reserved for paying passengers. Of course, illegal immigration onto a
      floating city would be an impressive feat: another of the idea's charms.
      The dream is not of open borders, but of mobile ones, as ferociously
      exclusive as those of any other state, and more than most.

      It is a small schadenfreude to know that these dreams will never come
      true. There are dangerous enemies, and then there are jokes of history.
      The libertarian seasteaders are a joke. The pitiful, incoherent and
      cowardly utopia they pine for is a spoilt child's autarky, an
      imperialism of outsourcing, a very petty fascism played as maritime
      farce: Pinochet of Penzance.

      Dan Clore

      My collected fiction: _The Unspeakable and Others_
      Lord Weÿrdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      "Don't just question authority,
      Don't forget to question me."
      -- Jello Biafra

      Yahoo! Groups Links

      <*> To visit your group on the web, go to:

      <*> Your email settings:
         Individual Email | Traditional

      <*> To change settings online go to:
         (Yahoo! ID required)

      <*> To change settings via email:
         mailto: LeftLibertarian2-digest@yahoogroups.com

      <*> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:

      <*> Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to:

    • Dan Clore
      ... Jacques Sauniere, staggering from having just read Dan Brown s novel _Angels & Demons_, dropped dead with horror at the prospect of living through more
      Message 104 of 104 , Oct 8, 2007
        Jeff Olson wrote:

        > Okay. I'll give it another try:
        > "The mortally wounded and renowned curator, Jacques Sauniere, his death
        > due to participation in a deadly conspiracy, staggered through the
        > vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery, blissfully unaware of
        > just how melodramatic and convoluted the story he was beginning -- and,
        > indeed, this introductory sentence itself -- would become."

        "Jacques Sauniere, staggering from having just read Dan Brown's novel
        _Angels & Demons_, dropped dead with horror at the prospect of living
        through more than a single sentence of this sequel."

        Dan Clore

        My collected fiction, _The Unspeakable and Others_:
        Lord Weÿrdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
        News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

        Strange pleasures are known to him who flaunts the
        immarcescible purple of poetry before the color-blind.
        -- Clark Ashton Smith, "Epigrams and Apothegms"
      Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.