1331 words • 5~8 min read

When we ate the rich.

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


The first floating city, Aquapolis, set sail in 1975 at the Okinawa World Expo. Aquapolis was intended to be a symbol of the infinite possibilities of life at sea. It would herald a new era of seasteading and create permanent colonies, even nations, that existed exclusively at sea.

Aquapolis was sold for scrap in 2000, her vision unrealized.

From Sealand to the Seasteading Institute, from the Republic of Rockall to China’s Reclaimed Island Territories to the tech pirates harbored aboard The World, the dream of a micro-nation at sea renews itself with every new generation.

The Maldives were the first nation-state to float away.

It shouldn’t be surprising that catastrophic sea level rise was the catalyst that finally ignited the first self-sufficient floating colonies. This tiny island chain, none more than a meter above sea level, had two advantages: The Maldives had already invested in developing floating platforms to expand their territory and develop novel luxury hotels and the Maldives were rich.

French Architect Jacques LeMonde pioneered the first self-sustaining floating colonies based off of those first floating mega-hotels. His experience retrofitting luxury technologies for general purpose use led him to the philosophical design principle of Mange le Riches, most iconically summarized in the slogan of his now-defunct foundation: “Pour nourrir les pauvres, nous devons manger les riches.”

To feed the poor, we must eat the rich.

Source.

LeMonde, of course, was not being literal. At least not entirely.

When LeMonde said “we must eat the rich”, he really meant that we should exploit the resources of the wealthiest for public good, through the tools of deregulated capitalism (which is, arguably, much less memorable than “eat the rich”). The wealthy have the means to finance new technologies, but not necessarily the will to commit those technologies to the public good. Rather than striving to instill a sense of charity and persuade the elite to fund public works, LeMonde developed highly desirable luxury projects, then used both the proceeds and the technologies developed by those projects to finance public good through his various foundations.

This launched a decade of Passive Benevolencede facto charitable giving through selfish action. Passive benevolence became the philosophy prima facie of the vast majority of technology companies, companies who had long leaned on the principle that by making life easier for their client through innovation, those innovations would eventually trickle down and make life easier for those in need. It was one of the major rationalizations for the rapid uptake of self-driving cars–that those who were mobility impaired would ultimately have their freedom restored through technology. Of course, even the preeminent ethicists of the era knew that that argument was, at best, extremely naive

Passive benevolence, itself an evolution of the old “buy one, give one” model of consumer charity, mirrored, in many ways, the old First Pill Paradigm in pharmaceuticals. For any drug, developing that first pill costs a small fortune; the second pill costs almost nothing. LeMonde wanted the rich to eat the cost of the first pill, and then go on to produce the second pill–in this case floating, self-sustaining housing for the coastal dispossessed.

It worked, at first.

The coastal dispossessed, those refugees forced out of their homes by sea-level rise and increasingly violent hurricanes and typhoons, number in the tens of millions. By the mid-point of this century, they will number in the hundreds of millions. They needed somewhere to go, and LeMonde’s floating cities were a ready-made solution.

Blue Navigator, the first micro-nation comprised entirely of billionaires, cost $12 billion to construct. Ocean Orbiter cost a hundredth of that, at barely $120 million. The Republic of Waves, the third and final island micro-nation, was finished for barely $12 million, less than the cost of most shipping vessels.

Mange le Riches was praised as the ultimate expression of Randian Technocracy.

It was also the last.

These three at-sea nations represented the largest wealth disparity in human history. Joined together by a shared technological legacy, the actions of one had a profound impact on the others. Blue Navigator, a bespoke luxury country, un-beholden to any nation’s law, soon wore out its global welcome by exploiting every trade agreement and banking regulation to shelter money, provide a haven for wealthy exiles, and flaunt the world’s governments. This led to major trade embargoes and heavy restrictions on all nations-at-sea–restrictions that the wealthy were already adept at undermining. Meanwhile, Orbit and Waves were left to fend for themselves, nation non-grata in all but the most dangerous ports.

Sustainability at sea has always been a myth. Humans need the comfort of solid ground after a long voyage. We need to return to shore. A ship only lives so long without a shipyard to mend its rusted hull.

Ocean Orbit foundered in its fifth year. All souls lost.

The fate of the last two colonies was grimmer. A freak super-typhoon left both colonies damaged, joined together in desperation. Crippled and taking on water, the citizens of Blue Navigator had no choice but to join the battered, broken refugees of the Republic of Waves. They watched as their entire nation slipped beneath the surface, a new Atlantis.

With resources long since depleted and tens of thousands starving, with no amnesty offered and no hope of rescue, the survivors were forced to partake in the last right of the castaway. The final message, sent before the nation went silent and vanished forever: “Mange le riches.”


On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


Deep-sea biologist, population/conservation geneticist, backyard farm advocate. The deep sea is Earth's last great wilderness.


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