Floatopia


Excerpts from “Floatopia: The Rise and Decline of a Libertarian Experiment” Published in NEWStream and syndicated to all ReutAssoc membersites (retrieved December 21 2012 @ 13:34).

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Creative Commons License photo credit: @rild

By some accounts, the Freedom Ship should never have launched. Plagued by enormous engineering challenges, delays in construction, allegations of corporate fraud, and fully three complete ousters of the executive team and board of directors, the sprawling utopian project seemed doomed from the start. But in a world of massive concentrations of wealth alongside sweeping climate change, it was perhaps inevitable that the vogue for private artificial islands would give way to something that would rise with the waves.

First conceived in the heady days of the Internet Bubble 1.0, decades would pass before the laying of a single section of carbon fiber hull began. When it finally did, controversy raged about alleged labour abuses, and ultimately the Ship’s status as a tax haven.

“The zombie ghost of collonialism” wrote one commentator.

But in the end, sufficient international outrage did not surface and the Ship launched, albeit with only 2/3 of the expected 100,000 residents and crew aboard. In this 3 part series, David Dockand offers an exclusive in-depth look at the Freedom Ship, 5 years into her ongoing maiden voyage.

Arriving at the Freedom Ship by air is a profoundly underwhelming event. After hours on a small plane or helicopter over azure waves, you see the ship, a sort of matte white rectangle. You land on the deck, and go through an airport that looks like any old airport with a Nautical theme. Constrained by physical necessity and the banal tastes of the ultra rich, the Freedom Ship is ultimately a disappointing wonder of the world. Looking at other centres of hedonistic excess, Las Vegas in the West or Dubai in the East, one can at least say that they were interesting to look at. But the Freedom Ship – in its creaky uniformity – ultimately looks like what it is, an enormous strip mall on a barge.

They are running out of money on the Freedom Ship. No one wants to talk about this, but everywhere you go, the signs are evident. Heavily reliant on tourist dollars, the often remote destination is difficult to reach and expensive to visit. As the world economy endures another downturn, visits have dropped sharply. The same forces that are emptying the malls of America are gutting enterprise on the ship.

Crime is a huge issue. Built on libertarian principles, the notion of how a society on the ship might remain stable seems to have been given little thought during construction and the early days. It’s as if the founders figured that all their political philosophies would be true and that society would work itself out.

After the shocking murder of Kitti Genere and her entourage, a police force was created, but because of the ongoing no-taxation policy, the force is perpetually underfunded and seems at best reluctant to police.

On the Freedom Ship, victims face many of the same issue that they face on cruises. Protected by private security forces with obligations to the ship itself, and the corresponding reliance on tourism for income, incidents are hushed up when they are reported at all. Victims find that the freedom from local jurisdictions cuts both ways. In an environment where it’s frequently unclear WHOSE laws should be enforced, often it seems no laws are enforced at all.

Perhaps the biggest blind spot in the creation of the ship was the rise of highly-organized, networked piracy. The Freedom Ship is a slow and easy target. It is also large enough that an attack can be occurring on one end without passengers noticing on the other. It is not uncommon for a crew of pirates to conduct a lightning raid on one of the 6 casinos, disappearing back into the ocean before a defence can be mustered.

One such attack occurred while I was on-board. We did not learn of it until hours after it was over, when we found that our table reservations had been lost in the chaos.