Those looking for the full-Gonzo narrative account of some of the more interesting 48 hours of my life will have to look elsewhere, if I ever get around to writing it. Short version: It was fun, nobody died.
What follows is more like a post-mortem that includes things that surprised me, things that answer the questions I had before setting out, and things that the readers of this blog might find interesting. As more ideas come to me, others post their reactions, and those in the comments post their queries, I will likely expand this and perhaps fold things into a new post. Let me also be clear that these impressions are based on a limited set of observations, and may not reflect the full depth of what was going on. Let me also be clear that it was a damn fun weekend.
- The event was mercifully not anti-political in tone, as I had feared it might be. Organizer Patri Friedman at one point told me: “Ephemerisle without politics is like Burning Man without art”, and this message seems to have gotten through. While the planned “law boards” (chalk boards detailing the laws in effect on any given floating platform) were scrapped, most of the attendees kept the verbal focus on creating the conditions for innovation and competition among political systems rather than on creating floating libertarian utopias.
- While it wasn’t anti-political, the whole thing was at times creepily non-political. It seemed to me like the demographic was evenly split between those who were primarily there to build floating stuff and those who were primarily there to party. I’ll attribute this for now to the fact that it took us a while to climb Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Debating and discussing political philosophy is difficult when one doesn’t have shelter, and construction of the floating platforms took much longer than anticipated. The next few years will be crucial for the future of the project — if major engineering challenges get met but people still aren’t debating, I think that spells trouble for Ephemerisle (seasteading would still work, however, the two concepts are synergistic but separate).
- Barriers to entry for attending were paradoxically both too low and too high. They were too high for those building their own structures — something that very few people did — and too low relative to the structure-builders for those renting boats. This led to a palpable social division between the two categories. I’d say the right combination of fixes would be to hold the event in a location where it was slightly more difficult to bring rental boats, but also for the organizers to reach out and provide platform-building advice and support to those interested in attending.
- Given how high the barriers to entry were, however, attendance was impressive. I’d estimate 150 people. I predict that number will go up sharply in the next few years; many of those who I interviewed expressed a desire to return, and many people that I spoke with upon returning expressed a desire to go. The idea seems to have legs, and I suspect it could go slightly viral.
- My strong impression was that most of the participants could best be described as left-libertarian. I suspect that this was mostly due to the majority of participants being from the Bay Area, since seasteading is not a particularly left-libertarian idea. Curiously, however, most of the people I interviewed were under the impression that everybody else was a right-libertarian.
Let me start with that. I’m doubtless forgetting to report back some important intel. What question do y’all have about what went on?
Update 10/8/09: It occurs to me that I didn’t mention anything about the economic system at Ephemerisle — or lack thereof. There wasn’t much in the way of a functioning market, as most people were a little too self-sufficient. Also, there was a very strong communal ethos which heavily encouraged sharing and gifts while discouraging transactions. I suspect that this will change over time as the event grows larger and lasts longer. People will begin to specialize, and with specialization comes markets. In fact, I’m already thinking of useful services that I could provide next year.