“A Deadly Race Between Politics And Technology”

Peter Thiel has some thoughts on the future of freedom, and its apparent incompatibility with democracy.

Because the vast reaches of outer space represent a limitless frontier, they also represent a limitless possibility for escape from world politics. But the final frontier still has a barrier to entry: Rocket technologies have seen only modest advances since the 1960s, so that outer space still remains almost impossibly far away. We must redouble the efforts to commercialize space, but we also must be realistic about the time horizons involved. The libertarian future of classic science fiction, à la Heinlein, will not happen before the second half of the 21st century.

I think he’s a little too pessimistic, but certainly we can’t count on it happening any sooner. But I don’t think that the existing governments will tolerate sea steading, if it appears to become significant.

[Via Brian Doherty, who has links to other voices in the debate]

[Update late morning]

Jonah Goldberg has some related thoughts, in the process of demolishing idiotic “progressive” arguments against the tea parties and “rightwing extremists”:

5. The populist anger out there is the real face of America’s homegrown fascism.

Sigh. While I think Rick Perry’s secession talk is idiotic and unfortunate (even accounting for Texas’ unique history), I am at a loss as to how any of this stuff smacks of fascism. Even Perry is talking in the context of the federal government doing too much, taking away too much liberty, getting too involved in local communities and interfering too much with the individual.

How do I say this so people will understand? Fascism isn’t a libertarian doctrine! It just isn’t, never will be and it can’t be cast as one. Anarchism, secessionism, extreme localism or rampant individualism may be bad, evil, wrong, stupid, selfish and all sorts of other things (though not by my lights). But they have nothing to do with a totalitarian vision of the state where individuals and institutions alike must march in step and take orders from the government.

If you think shrinking government and getting it less involved in your life is a hallmark of tyranny it is only because you are either grotesquely ignorant or because you subscribe to a statist ideology that believes the expansion of the state is the expansion of liberty.

Well, actually, subscribing to that ideology is just another form of being grotesquely ignorant. You can expand the state, or you can expand individual liberty, but you cannot do both.

[Bumped]

31 comments on this post.
  1. ken anthony:

    Isn’t agreement on the meaning of words fundamental?

    How can anything be discussed intelligently without that?

    It’s understandable that liars would want to twist the meaning of words, but shouldn’t the media have the responsibility to correct? Unless of course, they are the liars we’re talking about in which case they should lose their soapbox. In just incredible that it’s gone so far.

  2. Bilwick1:

    I’ve always wondered if people who use the term “fascist” to describe anti-statist writings, speeches and activities live, mentally, in some little Bizarro Planet where Barack Obama is a radical libertarian. It wasn’t until I read Goldberg’s LIBERAL FASCISM that I found out that the current misuse of the term “fascism” by members of The Hive stems from 1930s, when the Communist Party–after the Hitler-Stalin Pact fell apart, as I recall–decided to make “fascist” an all-purpose put-down term of anyone who stood in their way, from Trotsky to the most libertarian Old Rightie. As in so many other ways, today’s Hive follows a classic playboook stemming from the Red Decade in which “fascist” (like the term “racist” to Obama cultists) mhas come to mean nothing more than “whoever I disagree with.”
    I’ve said it before–maybe even here–but the reaction to the tea parties and the rise of Obama’s Attorney General, “Napoleon-itano,” makes me say it again: Goldberg needs to put out an updated, post-election, “Yes We Can!” edition of LIBERAL FASCISM, and the pubisher needs to advertise it with the tag line: “Now. More Than Ever.”

  3. Brock:

    Ken: That’s Jeff Goldstein’s thesis. The MSM and the Left generally control the conversation by controlling language. We must take language back.

    As for Thiel’s topic, I hope we all have our brown coats – we may need them.

  4. Jim Davis:

    “But I don’t think that the existing governments will tolerate sea steading, if it appears to become significant.”

    That being the case, why would they be any more accommodating with respect to space settlement?

  5. Rand Simberg:

    That being the case, why would they be any more accommodating with respect to space settlement?

    It would be a much more expensive problem to control. It’s hard to run away in the ocean — it’s just not big enough.

  6. Jim:

    You can expand the state, or you can expand individual liberty, but you cannot do both.

    The expansion of the federal government’s power in the South in the years 1865-1877 and from 1955 on greatly expanded individual liberty for African Americans.

    The opponents of that expansion often couched their position in terms of opposition to higher taxes, growth of government spending (especially education and social spending), and “getting too involved in local communities and interfering too much with the individual.” They weren’t facists, but their anti-statism was hardly in the service of liberty for all.

  7. Rand Simberg:

    The expansion of the federal government’s power in the South in the years 1865-1877 and from 1955 on greatly expanded individual liberty for African Americans.

    That wasn’t an expansion of the state. It was an expansion of federal power enforcing the Constitution against a number of states, with their power shrunk.

  8. Jim Davis:

    “It would be a much more expensive problem to control. It’s hard to run away in the ocean — it’s just not big enough.”

    I’m not sure size is the issue here. If a place can be reached by settlers it can be reached by the government. In any event, how would settlers get off the earth in the first place if their governments were opposed to the idea?

  9. Rand Simberg:

    I didn’t say that terran governments would be opposed to settlers going into space per se (they won’t be settlers at first — they’ll tourists and workers). The problem will arise once they start to seek independence, and freer societies than the terran models.

  10. MG:

    The words “fascism” and “racist” have been drained of their actual value, and are now just name-calling — like wop or spic or itie or negrah.

    Remember, if you have nothing nice to say, just say “Four legs good, two legs bad.”

  11. Robert:

    Of course, weapons for the individual in the second half of the twenty-first century would probably be strong enough to wipe out the state’s enforcers.

  12. Jim Davis:

    “I didn’t say that terran governments would be opposed to settlers going into space per se (they won’t be settlers at first — they’ll tourists and workers). The problem will arise once they start to seek independence, and freer societies than the terran models.”

    I guess I’m just not following here. Okay, suppose an orbital or lunar tourist resort/SPS factory/HE3 mine decides to declare independence. Exactly how are they in any better position than a sea steading platform? Where can they “run away” to? It seems to be that terrestrial governments can come down equally hard in either case if so inclined.

  13. Liberty in Space? « MarsBlog.net:

    [...] Rand links to this interesting post at Cato Unbound on colonizing space and the “future of freedom”: The critical question then becomes one of means, of how to escape not via politics but beyond it. Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode for escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country; and for this reason I have focused my efforts on new technologies that may create a new space for freedom… [...]

  14. Rand Simberg:

    Okay, suppose an orbital or lunar tourist resort/SPS factory/HE3 mine decides to declare independence. Exactly how are they in any better position than a sea steading platform?

    This really deserves a post in itself (it’s the kind of thing that used to be a fun discussion on Usenet until it was taken over by the trolls and spammers).

    A sea-steading platform is sitting in the ocean, in which there are government warships. It can’t move very fast, and there are limits to where it can go. A big difference, of course, is that I am assuming a near future for sea steading, and a far one for spacesteading, so the assumptions for the latter are much more fluid.

    Where can they “run away” to?

    Other orbits, farther away from earth (this assumes some sufficient level of self sufficiency, and the ability to get along without earth goods, though smugglers will exist if history is any judge). It also depends on what one imagines the government’s military capabilities to be, and the relative strength of offense over defense with available technology, all of which are speculative, to say the least. Even without assuming a MIAHM scenario, the colonists can make chasing after them expensive, again, depending on assumptions.

    The main point, though, is that if space isn’t an option, there probably is no option for human freedom, similar to the one the Founders had a couple hundred years ago. Space has to be the ultimate safety valve for oppressive governments. Given my other beliefs, I prefer to believe that there are options.

    It seems to be that terrestrial governments can come down equally hard in either case if so inclined.

    It depends…

  15. Jim:

    That wasn’t an expansion of the state. It was an expansion of federal power enforcing the Constitution against a number of states, with their power shrunk.

    It also involved an expansion of state power into regulation of private sector hiring, real estate transactions, banking, etc. A powerful state is sometimes the only guarantor of liberty for a minority.

  16. Rand Simberg:

    It also involved an expansion of state power into regulation of private sector hiring, real estate transactions, banking, etc.

    No. Undoing Jim Crow only required undoing state power in those areas, because it was state power that was keeping the blacks down, with explicit laws against them. Then there was an overreach when the state started interfering with private transactions not enforced by the state.

  17. Mike Puckett:

    “I guess I’m just not following here. Okay, suppose an orbital or lunar tourist resort/SPS factory/HE3 mine decides to declare independence. Exactly how are they in any better position than a sea steading platform? Where can they “run away” to? It seems to be that terrestrial governments can come down equally hard in either case if so inclined.”

    Ever roll a rock off a high slope Jim?

    How easy would it be to come after someone who can disloge bolders toward your house from a high cliff? Would you risk it to piss him off or just decide he really isnt worth it?

  18. Brock:

    What Mike’s getting at is that any real spacefaring society will have access to the Asteroid belt, and the ability to manipulate the orbits of those asteroids. Asteroids will be the ICBMs of the 22nd Century. MAD will continue as a viable strategy if it’s needed for any reason.

    If I were responsible for the defense of an O’Neil Cylinder I would seed the asteroid belt with hundreds of mass drivers capable of steering asteroids. Every now and then I’d change the orbit of one a little just to remind anyone who’s looking that I can do so.

  19. Jim Davis:

    “What Mike’s getting at is that any real spacefaring society will have access to the Asteroid belt, and the ability to manipulate the orbits of those asteroids. Asteroids will be the ICBMs of the 22nd Century. MAD will continue as a viable strategy if it’s needed for any reason.”

    You (and Mike) are leaping way beyond the bounds of Rand’s scenario.

    Sure, if one postulates a vast and wealthy space civilization with hundreds of millions of people with the abilities to move asteroids, block out the sun, etc then of course they can hold their own against terrestrial aggression. No question.

    But by the same token if one postulates a vast and wealthy sea steading civilization with hundreds of millions of people with the ability to build their own ICBMs, warships, warplanes, etc then they *too* would be able to defend themselves.

    But Rand is talking about something far more near term in each case where the terrestrial powers are still overwhelmingly more populous, wealthy, and powerful.

  20. Jim Davis:

    “Ever roll a rock off a high slope Jim?

    How easy would it be to come after someone who can disloge bolders toward your house from a high cliff? Would you risk it to piss him off or just decide he really isnt worth it?”

    Is it just me and him, Mike? In that case I might not bother.

    Or is it a million of me for every one of him (like Rand’s scenario)? In that case he’ll eat every rock he rolls downhill.

    You might have missed the disclaimer about “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” being a work of fiction, Mike.

  21. Jim:

    because it was state power that was keeping the blacks down, with explicit laws against them

    That is a fanciful view of history. In Cicero, IL, where there were no Jim Crow laws, 5,000 whites rioted in 1951 when a black man moved into a white neighborhood. Preventing that sort of thing required more than the absence of segregationist laws; it required laws that took proactive steps against discrimination. The “state power” keeping blacks down was only the most visible part of a system of racism that was deeply ingrained in society, enforced by non-state violence, and that could only be challenged by external state power.

    Remember that blacks technically had the right to vote throughout the South from the Civil War on, and yet in many places fewer than 1% were registered. It was not the law standing in their way, it was the absence of state power willing to enforce the law.

  22. Mike Puckett:

    “Or is it a million of me for every one of him (like Rand’s scenario)? In that case he’ll eat every rock he rolls downhill.”

    The only problem is you would not know where I or my compatriots was at. Helluva lot of real estate in the asteroid belt.

  23. Mike Puckett:

    Essentially, It would be like a gurrelia war where the Gurellias have WMD’s and ICBM’s

  24. Jim Davis:

    “The only problem is you would not know where I or my compatriots was at. Helluva lot of real estate in the asteroid belt.”

    I wouldn’t have to know. Cut off from any industrial infrastructure, they’ll all die from starvation, dehydration, asphyxiation, or radiation in six months.

  25. Jim Davis:

    “Essentially, It would be like a gurrelia war where the Gurellias have WMD’s and ICBM’s”

    More like a war against the Taliban, where the Taliban is trying to operate from the interior of Greenland.

  26. narciso:

    No one is referencing Heinlein’s ” A Moon is A Harsh Mistress”, in this context.

  27. Andy Freeman:

    > In Cicero, IL, where there were no Jim Crow laws, 5,000 whites rioted in 1951 when a black man moved into a white neighborhood.

    Jim “forgot” to mention that these good folks were largely Democrats.

    > The “state power” keeping blacks down was only the most visible part of a system of racism that was deeply ingrained in society, enforced by non-state violence, and that could only be challenged by external state power.

    Again, Jim fails to provide the relevant labels for said society. Democrats.

    > Remember that blacks technically had the right to vote throughout the South from the Civil War on, and yet in many places fewer than 1% were registered. It was not the law standing in their way, it was the absence of state power willing to enforce the law.

    Actually, whenever there’s a large body of folks who want to discriminate against others, you’ve found a bunch of Democrats.

  28. ken anthony:

    Cut off from any industrial infrastructure, they’ll all die from starvation, dehydration, asphyxiation, or radiation in six months.

    What is industrial infrastructure? Engineers, tools, material and labor… you imagine they that wouldn’t exist in space?

    I imagine high caliber engineers will make it into space.
    They’ll bring and build tools.
    They’ll have access to so much material, Earth will seem to be without.
    Labor will likely be in shortage for generations, but not so much that an industrial base would be precluded.

    Starvation? They can’t produce food?
    Dehydration? It’s appearing more and more that water is abundant off the Earth.
    Asphyxiation? With water and sunlight, you’ve got Oxygen.
    Radiation? Those engineers can figure this one out as well. Probably with a combination of magnetic fields and shielding mass.

    The only thing stopping a thriving community in space is not the environment… it’s experience. Plus, they don’t have to go to the asteroid belt to get rocks to toss down the Earth gravity well. Space is filled with them.

    Once communities are in space, not depending on Earth makes a lot of sense.

  29. Jim Davis:

    “What is industrial infrastructure? Engineers, tools, material and labor… you imagine they that wouldn’t exist in space?”

    *Please, please* keep in mind the scope of Rand’s scenario. *He’s* talking about a tourist resort of several thousand inhabitants that want to be an independent country.

    He’s *not* talking about a preexisting space society with advanced industrial, agricultural, communications, resource extraction, etc capabilities with hundreds of millions of inhabitants who decide it’s time to break with the mother country.

    Rand is talking about the *near* term. He’s not talking about hundreds or thousands of years from now.

    “Starvation? They can’t produce food?”

    While they’re spread out, hiding in the asteroid belt? I’d say that would be difficult.

    “Dehydration? It’s appearing more and more that water is abundant off the Earth.”

    In the asteroid belt? In potable form?

    “Asphyxiation? With water and sunlight, you’ve got Oxygen.”

    You try making your oxygen from water and sunlight. Report back to us.

    “Radiation? Those engineers can figure this one out as well. Probably with a combination of magnetic fields and shielding mass.”

    Just the sort of project that a few thousand people from a tourist resort hiding in the asteroid belt would be well equipped to handle.

    “The only thing stopping a thriving community in space is not the environment… it’s experience.”

    Really? How do you *know* that? That sounds very much more like personal conviction than established fact.

    “Plus, they don’t have to go to the asteroid belt to get rocks to toss down the Earth gravity well. Space is filled with them.”

    Sigh. It’s not the rocks. It’s moving them. On earth, only the largest, wealthiest, most powerful societies can build things like supercolliders. These societies have hundreds of millions of people and trade with a world of billions. You’re imagining a group of a few thousand from a tourist resort building a mass mover thousands of times bigger with thousands of times less resources all while living in an environment much more hostile while trying to hide from far more powerful and numerous opponents while cut off from trade from the rest of humanity.

    It’s like claiming the Taliban could be hiding out in the interior of Greenland while secretly building a fleet of nuclear powered aircraft carriers from a shipyard on Pitcairn Island. Pull your head out, man.

  30. Karl Hallowell:

    You’re imagining a group of a few thousand from a tourist resort building a mass mover thousands of times bigger with thousands of times less resources all while living in an environment much more hostile while trying to hide from far more powerful and numerous opponents while cut off from trade from the rest of humanity.

    It may be easier than it sounds. We don’t know what the industrial infrastructure of the latter part of this century will look like. You may well be able to carry it in your wallet.

  31. Jim Davis:

    “We don’t know what the industrial infrastructure of the latter part of this century will look like. You may well be able to carry it in your wallet.”

    Your suggestion that technology this advanced will be necessary to settle space may well be spot on. But Rand surely was thinking shorter term than that.