No One Is Pro-Malaria

"Well, on my floating city, we'd all be socialist."

We were on a field trip to hear people from various non-profits speak. We heard speakers from Wikimedia, GiveWell, Potential Energy... and the controversial Seasteading Institute. If you don't know, seasteading is the idea of building floating city-states out in the sea. Think Rapture from Bioshock. Seasteading has philosophical roots with anarcho-capitalism, which is basically Libertarianism X-Treme. Hence the controversy.

"I'm gonna build an island for artists!"

Joe Quirk from the Seasteading Institute just finished giving his talk, and we all loved it. I loved it. He reframed seasteading as scientific experimentation. Experimentation is how we've made leaps and bounds with science and technology, why not do the same with governments? People can try out different laws in different floating city-states, and if citizens of one don't like one city, they can vote with their feet and move onto another.


And who could be against scientific experimentation and/or the right to choose where you live? We were hooked. And after Joe Quirk's talk, my friends and I discussed about what kind of floating city -- what kind of government -- that we'd like to run.

The majority of us definitely were not anarcho-capitalists, or even libertarians. Someone even said they'd like to have a socialist island. Yet here we all were, wanting a floating city to try out a government of our own design. How was Joe Quirk able to get us to be excited about seasteading, an idea mostly associated with a political fringe group of a political fringe group?

Good question. So I asked him in my very roundabout manner.

"No one is pro-malaria," I began.

The other non-profits on our field trip have causes that almost everyone stands for, or at least, few are actively against. Mosquito nets to stop malaria... Educating the world for free... Cancer research... On the other hand, the anarcho-capitalist philosophy of the Seasteading Institute has lots of detractors. How do you run a non-profit whose philosophy most people disagree vehemently with?

Joe smiled. I think he was excited that I even knew what anarcho-capitalism was. Like I said, fringe of a fringe.

"You've got to make it about universal, human values. Don't pigeonhole yourself."

With his talk, he reframed seasteading as being the ultimate form of independence, of scientific experimentation, of the basic human right to choose where they want to live. More importantly, at no point did he specifically espouse anarcho-capitalism. Which was why even the socialist in our field trip group got excited for seasteading.

I think about other non-profits I love, that have a controversial core philosophy.

Creative Commons, for example. For the longest time, they avoided directly advocating copyright reform. Instead, they framed themselves as allowing your fans to remix and share your work. Most artists tend not to hate their fans! And so, by framing themselves as "sharing creativity" rather than "fighting the evils of copyright", they achieved lots of success.

I think about popular technologies that are inherently political.

Cryptocurrencies, for example. Nowadays, there are lots of people who own and support cryptocurrencies, yet aren't libertarian at all. Usually they're suckers for speculative bubbles. Or people who hate using Paypal. Or people who really, really, really like doge.

I think about my own game, Nothing To Hide.

I originally wanted my game to send the message, "Mass surveillance is bad, mmkay?" In hindsight, it's preaching to the choir. Anyone who'd play that kind of game would already agree with the message. But now, I'm going to make Nothing To Hide about the more universal, human aspect of privacy. And when we let governments or companies weaken our standards of privacy, we weaken a basic human right.

I'll shift the focus from "surveillance" to "lack of privacy". It's a subtle difference, but it's a better way to reframe it, because surveillance in an incredibly complex subject to talk about, but privacy has a greater emotional core -- just ask any closeted gay person, or a person losing their faith in a religious family, or someone suffering from depression on a confidential help hotline.

No one is pro-malaria, but we're all pro-human.*

It's awfully easy, when you already speak the vocabulary and arguments of a certain social movement, to assume everybody assumes the things you assume. Or worse, to antagonize the "other side".

Don't start abstract. Don't start with "Anarcho-capitalism is the political ideal" or "Copyright has lost its original purpose" or "Mass surveillance sucks."

Start with something more fundamental, more universal, more accepted. "Experimentation leads to innovation", or "Creativity should be encouraged", or "We become more human when we can have a private moment."

And even though it may feel like a compromise, allow your principles to play nice with opposing ideologies. A socialist seastead, or Creative Commons' No-Derivatives clause, or... um... okay, I'll think of an example for Nothing To Hide later.

I'm still trying to figure all this out.

How can I help get more people to value privacy, or the public domain, or any one of the several things I hold dear? I don't know what the answer is, but it's definitely not angry pundits on TV throwing middle-school insults at each other.

I'll have no TV pundits on my floating city.

* This is a lie. The concept of "human rights" is alien in many non-Western cultures, including my birth country, Singapore. Oh well.