Corey Recvlohe

Starlink and the Looming Micronation Frenzy

When I first heard of Starlink launching sixty satellites into low Earth orbit, the consequences didn’t seem obvious. You think it’ll just be cheaper streaming from Patagonia, or maybe lag free teleconferencing. What you don’t consider are all the side-effects of high-throughput, low-latency global networks.

As a crude example, most games today are a mishmash of mid and high latency multiplayer worlds. Average regional pings hover around 40ms, or 0.04 seconds, despite players sharing the same geographic area. In most modern games pings start around 70ms, sometimes reaching 180ms. Routers do their best but complicated network hops are often crowded; this is a glaring issue when Asian users login to US servers, with their pings starting at 300ms on-upwards. Even light traveling across fiber optic cables cannot keep up with the demands of consistent sub-second connectivity.

Gaming is an area where low latency is clutch. Quarter-second delays between teammates breaks the experience. By the way, I am not suggesting Starlink is creating a multi-billion dollar space internet for gamers; that would be crazy, right? That said, gaming is one of the fastest and most lucrative businesses on the block, generating up to $100B in revenues each year.

If you’re more financially focused, advantages in speed translate to trading securities, bonds, and currencies. The tiniest fractions of a second prevent buying or selling thousands of stocks at a specific price, meaning your offers do not quickly reach the clearinghouse. A moot point for long-term investors, but for algorithmic AI and market-traders, low latency is the difference between winning or losing trades.

But faster networks have all kinds of different advantages beyond entertainment and equities. Even medicine is exploring telepresent surgeries. Whatever the application, low latency is critical for more responsive interconnectedness. Starlink plans to do all of this, accessible from every livable area. And that’s when seasteading comes in to frame.

Like homesteading but floating atop the ocean, seasteading is about expanding adaptive livable spaces in the least likely of places. The vision entails establishing sovereign territories and thus leaving the regulatory umbrella of the US and others, building new forms of governance based on voluntary associations. Anarchy with a bit of water.

Although the concept of floating structures has been around for a while, Patri Friedman — grandson of Milton — in 2008 set up a non-profit Seasteading Institute along with Peter Thiel. Ten years after, a slow but steady wave has risen in libertarian circles, with thousands of entrepreneurs, lawyers, and engineers organizing a small community of vendors, merchants, and innovators working to make micronations a reality.

It’s fair to say seasteading seemed dead in the water for the first nine years of the institute’s existence. Even once author Joe Quirk joined the team and published a book on the subject, doom and gloom still surrounded the project. It wasn’t until former French Polynesian government minister Marc Collins took up interest that Quirk soon found himself in Tahiti signing memorandums of understanding. With an enthusiastic Pacific region as a partner, Blue Frontiers was formed to commercialize the now legal headroom available to those interested.

Underlying this push to open water is a deep affinity for exit. Originally espoused by LSE developmental economist Albert Hirshman, exit is the concept of voting with your feet, leaving a place once home to greener pastures — or bluer in this case — and finding freedom elsewhere. For centuries the US stood out as one of those very places. Today millions still emigrate to its borders, even as politics becomes more divisive over their arrival. But exit in the context of micronations is much more radical.

As recent as 2008, exit became central to what are called neoreactionaries. Reactionaries of old opposed the excesses of the French Revolution, or indeed any revolution. Neoreactionaries are what you might call ultraconservative, with many different modes splintering from the outlook. However, they all agree on one thing: exit.

One of the core notions of general neoreactionary thought is a political structure known as neocameralism or patchwork. With this configuration, anyone can form their own neostate or patch, governed by a single executive. To join a patch you buy cryptographic shares — functionally similar to smart contracts — just as you would purchase company stocks, gaining privileges depending on terms of purchase. If you don’t agree with the way things are run, sell your shares and float, fly, or rocket away to another patch more amenable to your style.

A system of patchwork unlocks a range of governance strategies, with every conceivable mode of administration, all competing in the same way companies compete to sell products, except the product is a society. No democracy or watchman, no parliament or congress, just permission to stay with an option to leave. Add in layers of technical complexity, and you have a recipe for the same sort of brain-drain dynamics fueling Silicon Valley, aimed squarely at bureaucracy.

Starlink is essential for building these micronation economies. Most likely, the sorts of people attracted to these zones will arrive from the information sector. If there are two things information businesses thrive on, it’s data-flow and low-latency connections, just the services Starlink is selling. As the first thousand satellites make their sky-bound journeys, the initial coverage map will extend across the lower Pacific, precisely the area Blue Frontiers and seasteaders plan to stake their startup claims.

The convergence of wireless connectivity with social entrepreneurialism will begin slowly, first in special economic zones enabled under French civil law. However, the plan is to move farther out to sea, to thousands of shallow seabeds ready for anchoring, safe for solar deployment, underwater datacenters, and avoiding large waves. Additionally, as these communities drift from the Windward Islands, security will take the form of hired help and small armies of drones — not something altogether inconceivable with today’s off-the-shelf hardware.

From a software perspective, a hodgepodge of block-chain services are being built to support this networked culture. Everything from facilities management, peer-to-peer currencies, algorithmic policy, and open-source law is needed. Non-jurisdictional DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations), 3rd-party DROs (Dispute Resolution Organizations), and a series of other negotiation solutions are in the pipeline. None of this possible without an encrypted ethereal backbone, scaled-up into a dense krypton fueled orbital cloud.

What ignited this flurry of reactionary initiative arrived in several steps. Initially, from the viewpoint of Curtis Yarvin and his formalist manifesto, democracy is ineffective and a destructive system of governance. Equalizing social justice between the masses is a futile exercise in frustration, eventually leading to civil violence. Ultimately, this view inspired a series of articles that sought to articulate alternative strategies, removed from the morass of poorly run pseudo-corporatism — a description he uses for most countries.

Not long after Yarvin introduced Silicon Valley to patchwork, Bitcoin was released. In the very first block of information used to begin the now famous crypto-currency, a tiny reference left imprinted points to the late aughts banking crisis. Maybe by happenstance was the “brink of second bailout” headline included; but considering that digital gold has been the dream of most libertarian thinkers, it began a flood of interest into cryptographic assets, giving wind to Etherum and programmatic securities — a core tenet of Blue Frontiers’s Varyon tokens.

Four months after Bitcoin’s introduction, Peter Thiel detailed his thoughts on democracy in an article for Cato Unbound titled “The Education of a Libertarian.” Describing democracy as incompatible with freedom, three solutions proposed are as follows: Cyberspace, Outer space, and Seasteading. The first suggesting how internet innovations may impact the real world, the second an ode to SpaceX, and the third a nod to Friedman’s institute and their designs preparing the world for exit.

Common among all these events is how well they interface with Elon Musk’s Starlink. Without ubiquitous high-speed, low-latency wireless internet, there could never be the kind of frontierism proposed by seasteaders. In fact, in all likelihood, distal limitations would keep any runaway city-state from forming the network densities required to attract talent. But with a growing set of confident entrepreneurs rushing towards the southern hemisphere, technical constraints are now gradually fading.

All that now stands in the way of this blue tinted horizon is perhaps obscurity, restricted only by its relatively recent appearance on the ideological scene. Apparent is a serendipitous converging of ideas floating in the air, now making their way to watery surfaces. In a sense, it’s gambling, just like your average No-limit Texas Hold-em matchup where a table of risk takers bet their futures, all or nothing. Funny enough, when Starlink launched their payload into space, they had no deployment mechanism; instead, their production-ready satellites were fanned out into orbit like a deck of cards. Indicating, if anything, that this game is just beginning.