I have decided to reproduce some of the thoughts I have written on Utopianism, drawing upon the book Utopia by Thomas More as well as The Courtier by Baldassare Castiglione. I will then relate the ideals in these to seasteading and the technological singularity.
Alright, so we have these two works, Utopia and The Courtier, which were produced in the 16th century when a lot of changes were taking place, many of which parallel the changes taking place today. Perhaps most importantly of these changes was that the Church was breaking up due to technologies which empowered the reformation. With this division came a stronger sense of humanism, a belief in our own capabilities to better ourselves, rather than a reliance on spiritual governance. In addition to this spiritual empowerment coming from lack of church authority, a new world was recently discovered which opened up people’s minds to the possibility of entirely new ways of organizing themselves, further driving humanistic sentiments which are present in both works I’m discussing. These books are about self improvement and self actualization, though they take somewhat different paths to explore these ideals.
I’ve previously discussed the contrast between individualism and collectivism, and that is precisely the contrast between The Courtier and Utopia. Utopia presents an ideal society, with every individual concerned with maintaining a balanced and happy order. Everyone wears very plain clothes, there is no real money, everyone does manual labor every day; it’s pretty much communism. In this Utopia of Thomas More’s conception people have come to realize that we could all be happy and content and work very few hours a day, as long as everyone was committed to the ideals of the society, which were continually taught to the children. This scenario appeals to everyone who has ever looked at the distribution of wealth and realized that suffering actually isn’t necessary, considering what we have. Our greed doesn’t make us individually very much happier, and it certainly makes many people a lot sadder. After Utopia was published the name soon became synonymous with an idealized society, as we use it today.
The Courtier, on the other hand, presents an ideal individual, a renaissance man. This man, the courtier, knows many languages, poetry and prose, and art forms. He can play fashionable sports, he is intelligent, charming, and engaging. This man doesn’t have a career, he doesn’t produce anything of value, at least by Thomas More’s standards. He represents the highest aspects of civilization and society. The point of the renaissance man is not to be a model for how everyone should act in society to be happy, the renaissance man himself is the point of society: he is the individual, singular epitome of society, a representation of the fruits of labor of all Christendom.
This division between individualism and collectivism has gotten rapidly more relevant in the modern world, climaxing in the Cold War. The debate still burns quietly underneath us, but the conflict between the two paradigms has already reached a high point, and what we are about to witness is the convergence of these two ways of thinking.
I’ve mentioned previously that the singularity can be seen as the triumph of individualism (ironically, because it’s also the death of individualism). Let me expand upon this a bit, by talking about Seasteading.
Seasteading, if you haven’t heard of it, is this idea of building independent, sovereign communities which would float in international waters. If you are new to the concept you may be wondering why people would possibly want to do this, and I think that the best answer I can give you is from Seasteading.org’s about page:
The vision of seasteading is an urgent one. We can already see that existing political systems are straining to cope with the realities of the 21st century. We need to create the next generation of governance: banking systems to better handle the inevitable financial crises, medical regulations that protect people without retarding innovation, and democracies that ensure our representatives truly represent us.
Seasteaders believe that government shouldn’t be like the cell phone carrier industry, with few choices and high customer-lock-in. Instead, we envision a vibrant startup sector for government, with many small groups experimenting with innovative ideas as they compete to serve their citizens’ needs better.
Currently, it is very difficult to experiment with alternative social systems on a small scale; countries are so enormous that it is hard for an individual to make much difference. The world needs a place where those who wish to experiment with building new societies can go to test out their ideas. All land is already claimed — which makes the oceans humanity’s next frontier.
You may have noticed the parallels with Utopia. Just as the new world opened up our minds to possible new systems of governance, the open seas have opened up humanistic endeavors. Interestingly enough though, the people who are trying to form these communities are mostly libertarians who carry the opposite of Utopian values, who hold individualism in very high esteem. It’s no wonder, these ventures require lots of money, and are largely to escape high taxes and regulation.
As seasteading becomes real, governments will actually have to be competitive in their services, and thus they will break down into smaller entities which resemble the newer systems of governance. Individuals everywhere will be more empowered as large governments falter. Independent seasteading communities will be cheaper and cheaper to produce (which is the only reason we can just start making them now), and eventually the average individual will be capable of forming a small community around themselves. With so many people forming these communities and the cost rapidly declining, it’s hard to conceive of individuals being left behind; after a short while everyone will be uplifted by this process. This is why I describe this transition as the triumph of individualism, because we will individually finally be able achieve collective prosperity through individualism. Another way to look at this is as I have argued on this blog before: our “selves” will converge with the technological singularity, such that individual needs become group needs, and thus our self centered focus can be seen as more moral.
If the Cold War was the climax of our worldwide debate over individualism and collectivism, the singularity will be our resolution. Buckminster Fuller once argued that the two paradigms were not truly different, and soon he will be proved right.