Friday, 23 May 2008

Ocean colony mirrors Bioshock dystopia

I am still laughing at this, as it not only proves the point about the commodification/recuperation of critical impulses, in my previous "Running Man" post, but does so, again with no irony, by striving to realise the world of "Bioshock", previously posted here.

Given that "Bioshock" was an Ayn Rand inspired dystopia, it is only fitting that a relative of Milton Friedman has his bloody fingerprints all over this. The last time I remember reading about this latest link in the Chicago School dynasty, he was extolling the virtues of a "back to the future philosophy", to rationalise his involvement in assorted medieval recreation societies (high tech feudalism, how appropriate). How fatuous do you have to be to criticise democracy because it is not always "innovating", especially when it is obvious that the end results of your own preferences are actually regressive?:

True to his libertarian leanings, Friedman looks at the situation in market terms: the institute's modular spar platforms, he argues, would allow for the creation of far cheaper new countries out on the high-seas, driving innovation.

"Government is an industry with a really high barrier to entry," he said. "You basically need to win an election or a revolution to try a new one. That's a ridiculous barrier to entry. And it's got enormous customer lock-in. People complain about their cellphone plans that are like two years, but think of the effort that it takes to change your citizenship."

Friedman estimates that it would cost a few hundred million dollars to build a seastead for a few thousand people. With costs that low, Friedman can see constellations of cities springing up, giving people a variety of governmental choices. If misguided policies arose, citizens could simply motor to a new nation.

What is also scary is involvement of a Google developer, and the founder of PayPal. This suggests the Californian cult of the self is getting too carried away again by generalising the application of ICT metaphors taken from neoliberal economics.

I have no problem with possibly developing other angles on this story, in keeping with its earlier feature on "micronations". I would agree it is easy to imagine such rarefied environments becoming "zones of exception", as in "Super Cannes", where the bored, spoilt inhabitants end up killing each other for sport. But I haven't been diligent enough lately to check if this discussion is already taking place, either there, on in other forums such as in the journal "Island Studies".

For a less commodified vision of the "temporary autonomous zone", albeit saddled with its own dubious ethical associations rooted in common libertarian soil (such as pederasty), one could take a (bewildered) look at the prospective ideal of "pirate utopias":

Finally, here is the link to the piece in Wired on the Seasteading Institute:


Patri Friedman said...

Given that "Bioshock" was an Ayn Rand inspired dystopia, it is only fitting that a relative of Milton Friedman has his bloody fingerprints all over this.

Uh...Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand are at opposite ends of the libertarian spectrum, and strongly disagreed with each other. So equating them just indicates you don't know WTF you are talking about.

And why are my fingerprints bloody?

NHuthnance said...

My pairing of these two figures was inspired by the following piece. To be sure, it cites Rand to the effect you describe, but then interestingly one can draw the inference from the conclusion that the end results are the same (irrespective of protestations to the contrary):

"In sum, what many libertarian readers interpreted as Friedman’s stout defense of self-interested businessmen turns out to be nothing of the kind. It was, rather, a way to avoid the need to defend the businessman’s pursuit of self-interest."

And then:

"In the end, then, was Milton Friedman an advocate of capitalism or not? Strictly speaking, I believe he was. Friedman did defend political and economic individualism; but, like many before him (notably John Stuart Mill), he defended them on the basis of ethical collectivism, specifically, utilitarianism. And such a defense, ultimately, is indefensible."

So in the end, no matter how you slice it, each offers fairly spurious grounds for arguing the respective philosophies are not conducive to anything other than the worst excesses of the prioritisation of profit seeking over collective welfare. It was this conclusion which I used to justify my pairing of these figures.

Moreover, it is a question of history bearing out these conclusions whenever attempts have been made to realise these prospective ideals. Think of the structural adjustment programs in Chile under the auspices of the Chicago School, and the image of "bloody fingerprints" readily comes to mind.

So the reference to you is an indictment of a failure to mention this historical legacy, letalone take it into account in your "utopian" vision; instead history becomes abstracted into a choice from a particular branch of the libertarian "spectrum".

So your critique is something I refuse. The problem then is that those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.....

NHuthnance said...

I rest my case:

As Friedman put it: “What reason is there to suppose that the stream of profit distributed in this way would do more good for society than investing that stream of profit in the enterprise itself or paying it out as dividends and letting the stockholders dispose of it? . . . Any funds devoted to [charity] would surely have contributed more to society if they had been devoted to improving still further [the company’s business].”