Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Distributed Republic

While the rotting husk of civilization is devoured by writhing maggots, many despair there is no alternative. This is untrue, as the failure of one mode of civilization often heralds the arrival of another. Does this mean that the developed world will collapse into a Mad Max-style scavenger world? Given the amount of engineers, technicians, and mechanics alive today, nothing short of a near-total extinction event would set do that. A widespread loss of technical knowledge is a rare event historically, and often is more a pressure to develop (or redevelop) technologies in new directions. Even with a catastrophic and sudden collapse of imports, a significant amount of materials can still be scavenged from landfills, wreckage, and other detritus. 
However, political and economic institutions have not kept pace with other technologies. As encrypted cyber-currencies, desktop manufacturing, home renewables, and mesh networks continue to spread, reliance on centralized infrastructure continues to decline. Laws and regulations on such technologies can only delay or hinder the inevitable. Climate change and resource depletion can easily strike at fragile global logistics changes. The status quo aims to sustain the unsustainable for as long as it can, and it will fight like a cornered animal. What could fill the void as a financial, rent-seeking kleptocracy over-expands its grip?
 The parasitic plutocrats would tell you that you need to surrender more rights, despite that approach not working. A smart “successor paradigm” would be able to navigate the laws of the “old order,” allow people to produce locally, and connect globally. It would be (at least somewhat) self-sufficient with regards to food, power, water, and manufacturing. In the event of a physical threat, it would have defenses and armed security. In the event of a legal threat, it would have access to lawyers and expert witnesses. Given the directions and trends of relevant technologies, a mostly self-contained enclave would not be out of the question.  

While the Seasteading Institute and Blue Seed projects attempt vaguely similar goals, my proposed approach retrofits existing infrastructure at a fraction of the cost rather than rely on capital-intensive construction of offshore platforms. While such an enclave could be a fortress, it could network with other enclaves like it to share policy, technical designs, and other information. Even if one enclave was under “attack,” it would be assisted by its peers. Now, how might such an organization be set up? First, you need perhaps a few dozen people around the world and the financial resources behind it (perhaps crowdfunding and clever deployment of volunteers, PR, and donations could help with that). A related concept is to sell “shares” in the community, in the spirit of co-op housing. Each shareholder in the community is a voter and offers to share within the social contract. A social contract and constitution would be composed, although it may be altered later. 

The next step would be acquiring real estate in various places around the world. Decrepit urban slums, rural land, or devalued suburbs could all be good places to start. Construction of new buildings or retrofitting of existing structures would occur, perhaps using tools like Open Source Ecology’s Global Village Construction Set or 3D printed building components.

Once the settlement is ready and population is moved in, you would need to hold elections. A security expert, legal expert, medical expert, technical expert, and the like might be selected, as well as an executive committee for leading. From here, the town could begin conducting business with its neighbors and/or its counterparts across the world. Legislative democracy could be handled in the manner of the Swiss, with a bicameral legislature consisting of direct democracy and another being a more “conventional” parliament or congress or senate (although term limits of some kind may be a prudent idea). Any citizen could propose legislation, and if it does not pass, the legislative body may propose counter-legislation as a compromise (or vice-versa). An Anglo-American styled Bill of Rights would serve as another layer of protection of civic rights. To prevent against kneejerk style legislation, legislation could be revived later after a “cool-down” period. A supreme judicial analog could assist with that. 
There could be a division between the rights that the distributed republic allows and the legal rights the “host country” allows. Say, there are differences in weapons policy. The distributed republic allows for a particular type of firearm to be held within its enclave that the host country does not. A “solution” could be for the distributed republic to “technically” own the firearm and complete whatever paperwork/permits/etc. for the person in question. (This likewise ensures the distributed republic is particular over who they hand out similar firearms to.) Likewise, this is why self-sufficiency is an admirable goal, being able to produce much of what they need in the event of an “embargo” or isolation from infrastructure.  

However, such a structure could also be used for “evil.” Imagine some of the kleptocrats jumping ship to small gated enclaves as everything else falls apart (as is common in cyberpunk literature). Or worse, imagine a mad cult (such as Aum Shinrikyo 2.0) with a similar structure spreading across the world in a similar way.

Keep in mind that less-savory nations exist today, but that does not prevent their neighbors from taking precautions. The old fashioned method of conquest becomes much harder against a distributed republic, as you must conquer or destroy every enclave around. Some historical cultures (often religious and ethnic minorities) would employ similar tactics across history. The distributed republic merely brings this concept into the present.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Disruption in Action

In the wake of the tragic Boston bombings, a number of other incidents have occurred. Letters full of ricin were sent to political figures in both parties. In Silicon Valley, a fiber optic cable was cut while some individual or group caused an oil spill near a substation. In addition, the design of the bombs in Boston seems to be a rather common “pressure cooker” design. These incidents may be unrelated, may all be copycats, or may be something else, but the fact remains that for all the police state and surveillance powers assumed after 9/11, the military and police were not able to stop them. Nonetheless, I imagine many of the familiar shills for despotism to start crawling out of the woodwork like they did after 9/11.

In the meantime, some fear-mongering (especially Arab-baiting) continues in earnest. While the week in April has some significance to American domestic extremists, the drone program has increased anti-Americanism abroad (especially under the Obama administration). The incident may also be apolitical, such as a deranged spree killer seeking more attention by using explosives instead of firearms. A sporting event is certain to have lots of cameras rolling, so merely a “smaller” bomb may kill and wound but get far more media attention. (Many rather nasty weapons in history were designed to maim rather than kill, but that is a topic for another day.) The objective may be disruption itself, showing how ineffectual the government is to prevent such carnage. The over-reaction by the government may actually be what the goals were, causing billions in disruption for the price of some cheap bombs. However, I would rather not indulge in more speculation over this sociopath and his/her/their motives. Interestingly, though, the massive deaths in foreign bombings are all but invisible to the US media now.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Varangian Arms: Ultima Ratio

This week, here's a new Varangian Arms design somewhere in the steampunk/dieselpunk vein. The name comes from the Latin phrase, "Ultima ratio regum," or Final Argument of Kings, as engraved on French artillery. The other inspiration comes from a certain weapon from Snow Crash, Reason.

-The idea is a hand cranked Gatling gun with a Predator style grip and ammo belt.

-Caliber should be something cheap and plentiful, like .22 LR.

-Backpack for ammo is optional.

Thursday, 4 April 2013


As the Westphalian nation state fails and climate rises, a question that arises is “Where can be safe?” This, of course, can be a rather loaded question, given the instabilities that unfold as millions of refugees run for safety. Places that seem stable and peaceful for now may become less so as populations shift. Likewise, there is the risk of neutral places becoming drawn into wars and armed conflict by less stable neighbors. However, some places in the world have the geography, culture, and resilience to weather the disasters of a shifting planet. 

-New Zealand: New Zealand is the highest ranked Commonwealth country in the democracy index. It also has mountains that provide reliable hydroelectric power and water for drinking and agriculture. The low density makes it a good place for farming and outdoor sports and has a more relaxed, informal culture. Unlike Australia, their geography enables farming without excessive chemical use (although pollution is a rising problem, especially agricultural runoff). Refugees from Pacific islands may pose another issue as sea levels rise. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions (including the supervolcano under Lake Taupo) could be another issue. 

-Northern Europe: By this, I roughly refer to the Scandinavian countries, Germany, and perhaps Switzerland. The German economy is shifting towards renewables and remains a powerhouse for technology and research. Norway also steered clear of the disaster that was the Eurozone, and wisely invests its oil money into public infrastructure and resources. Issues, however, are strict (read: practically nonexistent) immigration protocols, meaning it is good for people who are already there. As climate change occurs, I imagine those immigration controls will get stricter.

-Cascadia: Cascadia is Washington and Oregon in the US with British Columbia in Canada. This region has water from the nearby mountains, as well as abundant hydropower. Drawbacks include a few nuclear reactors there (as well as being downwind of Fukushima). This area is beautiful and likewise has a tech-driven economy. Unlike California, they have water resources less dependent than the increasingly depleted aquifers of the American Southwest. Likewise, Seattle invested in an edible garden, while other cities have not. The public transit systems in the urban areas tend to be better than many more suburban sprawl belts (such as LA).  

-New England: New England is another decent region in North America, given its white-collar economy and natural resources. In particular, Vermont appeals the most to myself, given its drive towards self sufficiency and lack of more obnoxious laws. Drawbacks include a number of nuclear reactors active in the region, especially given the large population along the US East Coast and near the Great Lakes. However, ocean acidification may mean traditional fishing becomes increasingly less viable. 

However, even Canada is sliding into an oligarchic petro-state, complete with repression and censorship of research. Maybe in a few decades time, Russia may be a prosperous and free society. No place is truly safe, but those places are where I would bet on being relatively stable compared to other parts of the world. Better to find a resilient community today.