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Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.


The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Forming Your Own Micronation -- Part II -- "So Whose Country Is this Anyway?" -- Hum, Plan, Soc, $$$

So now you have an idea of why you want your micronation, and maybe even an idea of the kinds of people you want to form it with. Which means it's time to get down to the business of deciding exactly what kind of microstate you want, if any, and putting it together.

Here's where it gets interesting.

Again, ask yourself, as you did in the first half of this article, "What do I really want?"

For example, this article on micronations lays out a number of options for would-be microgovernments, from the common "my tiny subculture wants a country to call its own now" to the classic "I'm incurably insane and want an imaginary kingdom of my very own." Realistically, if you aren't doing this on a lark, and you do want some kind of sustainable miniature nation, you need to decide what your goals are for this place and what course of action will most likely lead to achieving them.

Once again, the biggest question to ask is: What do you want an independent nation for? That's going to be the biggest factor in your decision making, all other things being equal.

Do you want it to take advantage of banking loopholes? To engage in cutting edge research that some advanced countries don't approve of (stem cell research, perhaps future gene therapy enhancement work)? Do you just want an escape route, a bolt hole to flee to if the world starts to disintegrate? Or do you think that only a transhumanist nation would be accepting and supportive of the emergence of genuine transhumans? Or something else?

The key thing here is to figure out what you want... and what you're scared of. If you can find enough people who share your interests (or concerns), or whose goals work well with your own, you might be able to organize a micronation on whatever scale you feel you need.

Obvious microstate options include: a "floating city" of some kind, an independent physical island (be it natural or artificial), a somewhat independent "city-state" inside an existing country but with a level of local self-determination, an independent corporation, an existing country or a more exotic option, such an undersea, orbital or asteroid-based colony.

Clearly, the resources required for each of these vary radically. But let's look at what each one can do for you. And what each one will "cost."

Floating Cities: Typically either a floating platform or one or more ships lashed together.
* Benefits: Mobile (often highly mobile), relatively low startup costs and actually possible, if you have the resources. You can also draw on the oceans for some resources, or utilize your independent, pseudo-sovereign status for commercial gain.
* Drawbacks: To acquire anything of great size or stability will cost a considerable amount of money -- nothing outrageous to a billionaire, or wealthier millionaires, but beyond the scope of most individuals. Clubs usually don't get into this game. Corporations -- given sufficient opportunity for financial gain or faced with sufficient existential risk -- might.
* A further, major test of resources is the simple fact that most items will have to be imported, particularly if you want your microcolony/micronation to be engaged in much scientific research. You simply won't have much in the way of an industrial base in most scenarios, and even if you do, you'll require some imported parts and raw materials. This factor, and the fact that you'll be living in man-made structures, will definitely limit the size of your community.
* Legitimacy is a final issue for free-floating communities. It is very difficult to be taken seriously as a country if you don't actually have one (in the eyes of the world). But while you may not get sovereignty that easily, it's very easy to be accepted as a corporation that owns a ship and that is under the legal protection of a small country that issues flags of convenience (more on this below). Which means that if you are a wealthy corporation, you can have most of the trappings of a sovereign power without the formal recognition.

Island Nations: Typically either a natural island purchased from an existing power, an unclaimed rock seized by enterprising nation-builders or an artificial structure created to serve as a microstate.
* Benefits: If you acquire an island from an existing power, you might actually be able to gain some international legitimacy. With sufficient citizens and a generous "buy-out plan" from the original government, who knows? Perhaps you could get the U.N. to view you as a legitimate country along the lines of the independent Pacific island nations. It's a long shot, but possible.Otherwise, this is one of the options with the most room for a growing population, especially among those that are "really independent." You can also conceivably enhance your resources or living space through cooperation/symbiotic relationships with nearby countries and/or artificially expanding your natural or man-made island.
* Drawbacks: Similar to those of existing island countries. You're somewhat at the mercy of the weather, and while more stable than floating micronations, you also can't move out of a storm's path. You also can't move out of the reach of your enemies, which means it pays to be polite. It also pays to consider where you're establishing your home in the first place: Are there terrorists in your backyard? Aggressive nation-states? Large criminal enterprises such as drug cartels, violent gangs or modern pirates? The closer you are to such a threat, the more likely they are to menace you. And a fixed location will demand more in the way of military defenses than a single deep-ocean vessel that can outrun its adversaries.

City-State within an Existing Nation: This usually means a wealthy entity (a developer, a corporation or group of corporations) will decide to develop some land into a "planned community" and have it incorporated as a separate town. These are often "satellite cities" connected to some larger entity (D.C., San Francisco, Austin) but created to serve some purpose, real or imagined, that the existing city can't. For example, serving as a place for the exorbitantly rich to live in immense homes with minimal taxes (not having to support the "lower classes" in the nearby cities where they do business). Or a place with more jobs in its office-space, stores, public services, etc than it has homes -- hence putting the tax burden of raising its employees' kids (and handling their other infrastructure needs) on surrounding communties.
* Benefits: The classic version of this city, for our purposes, is the incorporated "tech haven" or research city. Such a concept has plenty of benefits for most future-oriented microstates. Since you're part of a sovereign nation, you'll probably have more-than-adequate military protection. The United States, of course, has a very large military, but it is committed by treaty to protect a number of nations, including its NATO allies (Canada, Turkey and much of Western and Central Europe), South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Japan (among others). Certain of these countries have sizable forces of their own and/or are members of powerful alliances (such NATO and the EU).
* The "crazy factor." Frankly, starting up, say, an extremely advanced and well-funded research city in an advanced country seems considerably less insane to most people than going straight to a floating nation roaming the open sea. Given that most futurist micronation enthusiasts not only want to be independent, but to be on the cutting edge of technology (if not the leaders in certain fields) you have to be capable of attracting a broad range of scientists, engineers, technicians and, yes, probably artists, artisans, writers and creative thinkers and workers of all kinds if you want any kind of sustainable society. A city-state inside a legitimate nation not only makes these people far easier to attract, it lifts the burden of having to attract all of them. Your nearby city, be it Dublin, D.C., San Francisco or Sydney, can supply a lot of these people as needed without their having to be permanent citizens. Advanced fiber optic and other communication links to other countries will enable a further outsourcing of excess work.
* Supplies: You won't actually have to import everything you can't make locally over enormous distances. They probably have it in stock right next door if you're beside a major city, and not too far away if you're in the countryside. Even if you choose a fairly remote area in an advanced, industrialized nation, such as the Australian Outback, the U.S. Great Plains or the wilderness of southern Canada, transportation tends to be relatively easy in most OECD nations. Just doublecheck your supply lines before choosing your location.
* "You're not the Government." While most micronation enthusiasts are eager to begin ruling themselves, most of them don't have the resources or expertise to govern anything like an independent country. What are your plans for national defense? Public health? Public works (ranging from roads and bridges to power and communications to sewer systems)?
* Stepping Stone: If you realize you're absolutely not prepared to be an independent power, this interim step gives you time to assemble your community, assess its viability and make plans for the future. And if you have a practical plan for making money from this particular community, it may help you garner the resources for your next step. Assuming you can't meet all of your goals with this one.
* Drawbacks: You're "not really free." For the micronation True Believer, it may be unacceptable to be living in a nation where s/he does not control or significantly influence the military decisions and foreign policy of the government. What's more, you're subject to the national or federal laws of the nation in which you reside, as well as any relevant state or provincial laws. What's more, governments tend to be far more interested in the affairs of communities within their borders than they are in ships or islands a thousand miles removed. If you have plans to engage in "controversial research" or to begin stockpiling weapons on behalf of your future empire or apocalyptic death-cult, this could be a problem. Then again, if your goals are reasonable, simply find the country best suited to meeting them.

The Corporation: This is different from the other options in the sense that it isn't a particular type of physical location or vehicle at all. Rather, it's a form of organization and a method of meeting your bills that might be appropriate to any of the other concepts. In essence, incorporate your organization -- or perhaps better still, incorporate a number of highly profitable businesses and investments, possibly under the sole control and ownership of a single, visionary individual.
* Why? In the first case, so that your organization has some basic legal status and perhaps some resources of its own. In the more important second case, so that you have a secure source of resources to channel into this huge, open-ended project.
* Benefits: Basically, money. You can have a corporation set up to be taking in money constantly from your businesses and investments. And if it's a separate legal entity (such as a C Corporation), it can take the profits it doesn't give you as salaries, perks or dividends and simply reinvest it -- tax free. Sure, you'll be paying taxes on whatever you eventually withdraw, but in the meantime, you can be reinvesting funds year after year without ever paying taxes. (Which is one reason the rich can get so rich in the first place.)
* Because a corporation can be a supporting element of almost any microstate concept, it can enjoy the benefits of any microstate (or real state) to which it is attached. And because they can be free floating, corporations can even migrate from one locale and nation to another.
* Your own pocket of paradise: This is the version of the corporation where you don't go anywhere... or at least, no further than your favorite city or town. You then take your extremely successful corporation and attempt to build paradise right there -- whether by creating a kind of "perfect company" that develops the full talents of its workers, reshaping the atmosphere of your hometown or doing research that leads to a technological paradise or "Singularity."
* Drawbacks: This is a financial and legal instrument, after all, and not the idealized democracy or ultimate fascist dictatorship some micronation boosters are looking for. And if you're that dependent on an outside corporation for the money to keep your nation afloat, you may need to ask yourself how viable your so-called nation actually is. On the other hand, if you're willing to go in with a certain degree of humility and to accept that you'll probably still have ties to the outside world for some time to come, then this is a useful way of maintaining those links on your own terms.

Adopt a Country: This option assumes you pick a particular country (preferably a small one) and "take over." Since I'm not interested in bizarre schemes of conquest or political subversion, I won't be going into the most obvious methods. Instead, I'll point out that "taking over" for our purposes may not imply controlling, dominating or manipulating the nation's government at all. Rather, you may simply choose a country small enough -- both in terms of size and population -- to persuade the great majority of the population either to support your work and community, or at least to leave it alone. Somewhere like Luxembourg or Monaco would be a high-tech option, a well-run, less prosperous nation about the size of Ghana or Costa Rica might be swayed by enormous financial and technological assistance from a very wealthy and resourceful organization, like a megacorp that can bring jobs, new industries and a high-tech research center to the table. (Though you'll have to define "well-run" for yourselves, since your ideal candidates will probably shift over time.)
* Benefits: You're a legitimate country, with all the resources and alliances that even a small country may have at its command. To take Luxembourg as an example, it's a full voting member of NATO and the European Union and has close ties to the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany. It also has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. Many other small countries have a lot to offer if you can get them on your side.
* Disadvantages: Naturally, you're vulnerable to the will of the government of any country you're heavily invested in and the populace naturally has immense sway over how successful you can be there. And of course, while a country brings all of its friends and resources to the table, it also brings all of its problems and enemies. The same alliances and international organizations that protect you may restrict your freedom of action (an EU layer of oversight, perhaps) or the freedom of action you enjoy in Africa may come hand in hand with tremendous vulnerability to outside militaries and internal coups.

Exotic Options: These include the undersea, orbital or asteroid-based colonies. Enterprising microfounders will no doubt consider others -- Antarctic ice fortresses, underground civilizations, nomadic tribes roaming the Australian Outback. The point of all of these ideas is to form something that is usually very remote, will never be discovered (or even sought out), or both.
* Benefits: Depending on your location, either no one will (probably) be looking for you, or no one will be able to. Space is incredibly vast, especially once you get beyond CisLunar space, and even the sea is incredibly hard to sift through if you don't know where to look and what you're looking for. Other exotic options, like the Australian nomads concept, have surprising potential. Whether you're a faux aborigine tribe or a band of bikers and rolling trucks moving your homes and tech from temporary camp site to temporary camp site, a "secret society" could vanish in Oz's sands.
* The secondary benefit of most exotic options is being in a place where you can tap unique resources -- and having the technology and experience to do so, as an inevitable result of living in your new environment. Mining sea floors or asteroids, deep water fuel drilling, orbital research and manufacturing, deep sea OTEC fish farms, tapping rare Amazonian plants for pharmaceuticals -- it's amazing how many potential industries are not only possible in unique environments, but how many are only possible in such specific environments.
* Disadvantages: If you thought the floating city idea was remote, some of these locations are hundreds of thousands of miles, if not many, many billions of miles, from Earth. What's more, a number of these environments are extremely hostile to human beings. On the other hand, a psychologically close but physically loose and dispersed society living nomadically would be extremely vulnerable to social disruption or simply to disunity, disinterest and drift on the part of its members, who would lack the close bonds or normal sense of fraternity found in more traditional societies.

Notes on Various Options:

Lost at Sea:
Realistically, the most financially viable form of a floating microstate would be a really large yacht or even cruise ship that serves as the residence of Stephen King, Danielle Steele, John Grisham and Michael Crichton. And possibly the Rolling Stones. And their entourages. Why? Because we know for a fact that those people can generate the money to keep the whole enterprise going, they can do their work anywhere so long as living conditions are good, and they probably have enough investments to fall back on even if they ever stop churning out intellectual properties (novels, albums) for sale.

Most micronation groups, needless to say, are not quite that productive. Consider the money/resources issue very seriously if you go this route, especially the larger your initial "colony." If you and a few buddies have a trust fund and yacht and decide to cruise the Caribbean on a lark, there's no harm done if you have to pull out later. At least you had a nice cruise. If, on the other hand, you've invested tens of millions in a heavily modified and renovated cruise liner, you're out a huge chunk of cash and may have ongoing liabilities.

Worse still, any large colony that falls apart may leave people stranded, hurt or destitute. The larger you are, the harder it is to shut things down cleanly and simply move on. Some people, inevitably, will feel they've lost their life's dreams (if not their life's savings). This is a big deal for most people, especially those who don't have vast financial resources to fall back on.

Also Note: Sovereign nations are traditionally hesitant about acknowledging claims of sovereignty made by people who show up in oil platforms, even in international waters. Nevertheless, under the traditional "Law of the Sea" each ship out there is effectively sovereign -- or more accurately, on the high seas, it bows only to the authority of the country whose flag it flies.

Normally, to retain some protection from a sovereign power (that doesn't exercise any real oversight over them) shipping companies will "flag" their vessels with small nations that offer papers to, well, just about anyone who'll pay. So you'll have ships from major and minor shipping powers like Greece, Sweden, Britain, America, etc flagged in places like Tuvalu. A floating platform would presumably have quite a few rights as an independent vessel (so long as it obeyed international law and rarely if ever came into port).

Two things to remember, though: First, the "zone of economic control" for every nation extends 200 miles into the ocean. So you would have to stand well off from another country in order to engage in unregulated economic activity. (The British shut down a "micronation" engaged in unregulated banking in their waters a few years back.) Assuming you avoided the polar regions, there's still plenty of room for you in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.

Second, resources. Especially if you're based well away from any other sovereign territory, you need to be sure that you can feed, water and otherwise supply your hordes of citizens. Even if those "hordes" amount to less than a thousand people. That's a big organizational effort. Cut it down to a hundred or so, and if you've got the money, that's feasible.

If you've got your heart set on a floating city, you might want to consider the ideas of people who've been working on the concept, such as those found on Seastead.Org and its resources, the Nation Builders discussion group, the Living Universe Foundation's discussion group and website. Whether you're into the long term goals of, say, the Living Universe Foundation or not, they're an example of people who have been contemplating a sea-based colony for a long time. If you check out these groups, you may find recruits or an ongoing project aligned with your interests.

No Man Is an Island:
Islands share many of the problems found in floating cities, above. Ironically, while islands are the conventional micronation most likely to achieve both a degree of sovereignty and legitimacy, they also demand the most resources to defend.

One concern here is the limited room for expansion, but again, it's all in how you develop your microstate. If you're just offshore from a larger, friendly country that can supply you with resources and labor, then that removes some of your limits. (Kind of what Malaysia does for Singapore.) You could also conceivably expand a small island state by building out into the ocean (attached floating cities surrounding the island core, for example, or undersea colonies developing deepwater mineral resources).

City Enclaves and Corporations: Let me repeat -- if you seriously want a viable microstate of your very own, Get Rich. If you have staggering financial reserves, many doors will open for you. If you don't, then you're basically reduced to founding a floating city on a couple of lashed together canoes and possibly a raft. Be realistic, even if you are nuts.

Here's why starting a research enclave either in or close to a major, free-thinking, tech-oriented city might be a wise idea -- even if you only see it as a first step. Consider these reasons: You benefit from having all those other researchers around. The talent you're trying to attract doesn't have to join a whole new nation (with an uncertain future and reputation) just to work in your labs. You don't have to worry about all the supply and infrastructure problems that face any advanced city. You don't have to handle all the military defense/ law enforcement issues. You don't have all those "sovereignty issues" with other countries (getting passports, being recognized diplomatically, engaging in trade).

Starting a "seed enclave" inside an advanced and/or attractive country will give you a chance to get talented people invested in your movement. If they've seen enough of the benefits of becoming transhuman, and then the government starts to clamp down, you may be able to bring a lot more people along with you when you go. You may also have had the time to put together the corporations and foundations likely necessary for generating and handling all the money involved in such a move.

In the meantime, you can even justify developing your micronation "back door" as a bolthole where you can store important data and equipment and move research unwelcome in your host city/nation.

The Man Who Is One Nation:
You know, persuading a small country to back you up through economic incentives and/or a great public relations campaign is one thing. If you have dreams of becoming a conquerer, however, or even a subverter, think again. Most of the world's smaller nations have very powerful friends, and there are reasons why most of them are still independent. Consider carefully who is actually defending places like Luxembourg, Singapore, Monaco, Brunei, Kuwait and, say, the Pacific island nations. And also bear in mind that a number of these places, like Singapore, are anything but pushovers. They may look small on a map, but if you try to live by the sword in one of these countries, you'll probably die by the sword.

On the positive side, you could move into and "take over" a very small, prosperous country in, say, the EU, by simply being an attractive "research colony" and then influencing its citizens to be supportive of your transhumanist agenda. More people makes "control" harder -- a problem with any large population, however, no matter how supportive and "orthodox" they were to start with. Still, a place like Luxembourg, with over 400,000 inhabitants, or Monaco, with over 32,000, might be the prosperous, EU/NATO protected location you're looking for.

Lost in Space:
Oh, be serious. If you can pull off something like an orbital colony, more power to you. But most space settlement groups are focused on basic bottlenecks to the large-scale exploration and settlement of the inner Solar System, things like launch costs and how to reduce them. Hence, most serious (and even ludicrous) groups talk about extremely long term plans, and how to raise the funds (or lobby the government) over a period of years if not decades.

Final Thoughts
One thing I'd like to emphasize is that some of the goals that microstate enthusiasts talk about could also be met by less radical solutions -- or by "micronations" of varying size and capabilities. This is important, because even if you're dead set on an independent nation as an absolutely necessary interim step to transhuman or posthuman existance... there are still smaller steps you could be taking on the way to your microstate.

Regarding the floating city vs the island vs the space colony vs... Again, I think you have to decide what you're looking for. Is it a hidden platform where you can complete your last touches on an all-powerful AI before triggering the Singularity? Is it an island nation where transhumans will steadily emerge, but which will need the strength, independence and resources to protect itself? Is it a space station in geocentric orbit capable of containing a runaway nanotech assembler, where you're working on perfecting your nanotech assembler? Is it an island, floating platform, space station, etc that exists mainly to serve as a first step retreat/hideout/bolthole if hostile forces come after you and you need to hide yourself and your key research until you can regroup? Basic stuff, but all worth considering.

Future Imperative