Country living can be a pain. And we're not talking about the hardships of life in a rural community, we're talking about the difficulties of living in a country. For all the services and security the social compact buys us, we are forced to pay a price in compromises — something made all the more poignant by what's going on in the White House right now. But unless you want to drop out of the modern, law-abiding world altogether, this is the deal we're stuck with.
Of course, the status quo isn't stopping some people from preparing for a world where the decentralizing force of technology will render the concept of nationhood irrelevant. If certain trends bear out, we may be among the last generations forced into compulsory citizenship based on those arbitrary squiggles on a map we call borders. This supreme Balkanization may be coming sooner than you think, too.
Here we present three radical concepts for the future of civilization, which if taken to their conclusions will not include nations as we know them today. While these concepts may seem out there (because they are), they are informed by very real technologies and have attracted serious consideration by leading professionals from multiple fields.
So, let's all soak up that patriotism and civic duty while we can, as it may not be around for much longer.
1. The Open Source Nation-State
The open source (OS) approach to innovation is one of the most important contributions of the information age. In the OS system, anyone is free to experiment with a concept or technology, and their ideas can be built upon and appropriated or rejected by Darwinian forces as the concept evolves. Some have wondered if this same process — which created Firefox, for instance — could be utilized in the development of new, better forms of government.
Of course, the notion of experimenting with new systems of government is as old as humanity, but these changes have nearly always been brought about violently in the form of revolutions, coups and civil wars. But what if there was a way to establish wholly new societies without all the bloodshed? A benevolent open source approach to nation building would need to incorporate multiple small societies. Of course, few nations would be willing to donate land to sovereign societies within their borders. So how could these nationettes set up shop outside the borders and influence of any existing country? For some, the answer is churning and stirring all around us.
The concept of "seasteading" is not entirely new. In a nutshell, the idea calls for small autonomous civilizations to be built in floating city-sized communities in international waters. Each society would set up their own form of government which other seasteads could choose to appropriate or reject as they formulate their take on the more-perfect union.
Chief among those pushing this Gilligan's Island approach to civics has been the Seasteading Institute, whose website describes their mission as thus:
The vision of seasteading is an urgent one. We can already see that existing political systems are straining to cope with the realities of the 21st century. We need to create the next generation of governance: banking systems to better handle the inevitable financial crises, medical regulations that protect people without retarding innovation, and democracies that ensure our representatives truly represent us.
Seasteaders believe that government shouldn't be like the cell phone carrier industry, with few choices and high customer-lock-in. Instead, we envision a vibrant startup sector for government, with many small groups experimenting with innovative ideas as they compete to serve their citizens' needs better.
While seasteading may sound like a futuristic evolution of the (often failed) hippie-commune experiments of the 1960s and '70s, it was founded on the other side of the political spectrum by Patri Friedman, the grandson of Milton Friedman, the fierce advocate for government on the amoebic scale and icon of modern conservative economics.
The Seasteading Institute sees their mission as a three-fold path: overcoming the legal, business and technological hurdles to open source sea-based societies. The Institute even offers an X Prize-like "Poseidon Award" for the first seastead that has at least 50 full-time residents, is financially self-sufficient, offers real estate on the open market, and has de-facto political autonomy by the year 2015.
In the not too distant future, moving from one society to another might be as routine a decision as "Mac or PC?"
2. Space Colonization
Man first set foot on the moon over 40 years ago. And now, a full decade after 2001, we still aren't anywhere close to our space odyssey. Sadly, the aspirations of science fiction wrote a check that our technology hasn't yet been able to cash.
Kind of depressing.
The future of space exploration isn't entirely hopeless. NASA has plans for a manned mission to an asteroid in 2025 (though their timelines have been known to fluctuate dramatically), and a growing private space industry may make low-orbit space tourism a viable industry within the decade. Not to mention all those other countries getting their Jetsons on with their space programs.
The fact of the matter is that humans will colonize space — at some point. As the global population explodes along with a need for resources, the "spaceward-ho" mentality won't simply be a hopeful concept, but necessary for our species' survival.
But how far will our current nation-states follow us into the heavens? Many sci-fi visions on the interstellar future don't bring Earth nations along for the ride (save Firefly perhaps). At least, not as we know them. Would a colony separated by months — if not years or even decades — have any need for the nations of the (quite literal) "old world"? If history is any clue, the answer is emphatic "no." Far-removed colonies are completely unsustainable in the long run. That's just not how we humans do.
As we spread out into the cosmos, it's likely that isolated communities will become self-sufficient and autonomous states unto themselves. National identity will not make the trip into the final frontier.
In space, no one will care about your passport.
3. Post-Human Politics
Of course, the future of civilization assumes there will still be humans. Futurist Ray Kurzweil foresees a time around mid-century when the rate of technological change will exceed the ability of the human mind to keep track of it. In order to not be over run, humans will have to meld their brains with artificial intelligence. Kurzweil has dubbed this "The Singularity," the moment at which humans will bond with technology. We will have the ability to download our minds into servers and live forever as part of the web or in artificial robotic bodies.
By most definitions, this is the point at which our species would cease being Homo sapiens. Beyond that, it's a little difficult to see exactly what shape civilization would take.
This concept is, by any standards, quite bizarre. But there are respectable people who are taking this new digital chapter of evolution very seriously. Among them is the aptly-named Singularity University, an interdisciplinary think tank that is attempting to prepare us for what they see as an inevitable future. And it has some big names behind it including corporate sponsors such as Google and Nokia. SU even runs a graduate course at NASA's Ames Research Center.
If this strange post-human future comes to pass, the question once again arises: why would you need a nation? If we will be a new species that can email itself around the universe, what use would a social compact with some old fuddy-duddy organization based on some arbitrary plop of dirt have?
It seems like this version of the future digital world with unlimited space and resources would have little need for authority of any kind. The Matrix will be a pure anarchist collective. Rules are for cavemen.
What Do You Think?
Will the dissolution of nations be a good thing? That depends on how you define "good" and who you ask. Governments may very well be what protects us from an Avatar-like corporate feudalism or Mad Max Darwinian struggle for survival. But they might also be what is holding us back from some kinder utopian Star Trek world. Or maybe it will be somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Like The Island. This new, lawless universe has the potential to mitigate Man's worst instincts or to exacerbate them. No one can know for sure.
Whatever, this is just what's happening. Enjoy the ride, folks!