People’s all-time favorite spare time activity is socializing; either in reality (bars and clubs and homes) or in virtual reality (Facebook, MySpace, …). Now many nerds and geeks, like me, have a problem with that: it’s idle, nonsense activity, just about joking and being cool (if not drinking), but without any substance. It’s non-creative.

Here’s the solution: the hackerspace. By definition, a hackerspace is a common facility for all sorts of hacking, something like a third place (the Ray Oldenburg term) for hackers.

But what caught me is the “feel” of it. It’s very close to that of my imagined power community.

NYC Resistor hackerspace in action
NYC Resistor hackerspace in action

The image above is from a stylish Radar nineteen video about MakerBot. Remember, it’s the Open Source 3D printer I blogged about before. Now the about text of that video tells us that “Makerbot came out of NYC Resistor, a hackers collective offering shared knowledge and camaraderie.” Now what is that? And when watching the video linked above, catch the feeling of the hackerspace: nerd-friendly atmosphere, plenty of resources and intelligent people, freedom to create anything you want. Be sure to also watch this video of a Norway fab lab, with the same spirit but even longer. Wow! I am deeply impressed that this world hosts something like a geek community. I marvel at it and I’m happy that this world hosts more than just the scarcity that I experience currently. And even … this stuff is so close to my own community ideals for the “power community” 😉

(Note: This image is a screenshot of a super stylish video about the MakerBot, and is permissible as a small image quotation under Fair Use of Copyright; since MakerBot Industries is based in New York City.)

And it gets even better:

  • Wikipedia gives us a lot of background information on the hackerspace.
  • Wikipedia article on NYC Resistor.
  • There is hackerspaces.org, a global website about hackerspaces, including a global list.
  • And according to that list, there are even some hackerspaces next to where I live and want to live.
  • And there’s a blueprint: Jens Ohlig: Building a Hacker Space.
  • They are reported to offer a broad sense of community, also internationally: when you are a member of a hacker space, you are a member of the worldwide hacker space, wherever you go.
  • There is MAKE magazine, a DIY lecture for hackers (but not overly cool or challenging).
  • There is a market for geeks to sell stuff they make: makermarket.com. And of course to buy other’s. Not yet that cool items on it, but this might develop.
  • Yea, and there are women in hackerspaces! Saw some in the video. That’s an essential ingredient of social hacking 🙂

To conclude, a collection of the best video clips on hackerspaces that I found:

As many hackerspaces use CNC lathes, 3D printers, lasercutters and the like: it seems that a Fab Lab and a hackerspace are largely overlapping concepts! Where hackerspace defines more the social / community side of the thing, and fab lab the technical side (the methods how hackers can make anything they want).

The Internet contains a subculture for everything imaginable. Here is the Fabber subculture. This is especially cool that such a thing exists, as I envisioned something in that direction, esp. also for EarthOS. Here it is: the culture of creating your products yourself.

They have, so far:

  • the public inventory list for the “official” MIT fab lab specification
  • the FabCentral tools list for fab labs
  • the Makerbot, a fully open source plastic 3D printer to build yourself, backed by a company
  • the Bits from Bytes RepMan V3.1, an affordable, high-quality 3D printer for building yourself (based on RepRap Darwin principles)
  • the Bits from Bytes BFB 3000, the first fully assembled 3D printer for under  GBP 2000 (based on RepRap Darwin principles, but improved, and seemingly not that “open” as Makerbot / RepRap Mendel etc.)
  • the RepRap project, aiming at creating a self-replicating 3D printer machine, can also be built at home
  • the Fab@Home project, also an open source 3D printing (and also robocasting) project; currently, mainly printing with silicone, either direct objects from that or molds for filling in Epoxy
  • the Machines that Make project from the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms; I especially like the “fab in a box” project, which is close to the fab lab concept I have in mind
  • upcoming lower-cost commerical 3D printers, like the HP Designjet 3D printer for 13,000 EUR
  • the Thingiverse, which is like the Fabber’s SourceForge, containing downloadable data for products to mill, lathe or 3D print, tool descriptions, supplier registration for products etc.; one can already find hundreds of geometry files to download to make ones own products. Nice examples:
  • open source 3D modeling software like Art of Illusion
  • the Mobile fab lab, kind of what I want for my A-2 equipment
  • a first fab lab in Germany, open to everybody
  • FabAcademy, something like the online university for digital fabrication (as of 2010-04, they offer self-accredited certificates and diplomas, but no officially accredited Bachelor or Master yet)
  • YouTube videos on the fab lab
  • MIT index of more material on the fab lab

Some background knowledge from Wikipedia:

Ok, and what do I want to do with this stuff when I have my own fab lab? Research, how to use it. What to do with it. Make my own things. Design my Equipment System so that many things of it can be made in the fab lab. And: check if development countries can profit from fab labs. There, transportation and logistics is a big problem, so making all the parts instantly in place when demanded would be a solution. I imagine a hackerspace in Africa where people help themselves to build everything up. Inspirations:

The printed plastic parts can even be re-used to make new ones. This would be about adding the intelligence of a fab lab to local materials, to create wealth out of nothing, in an autarchic community. It would include working with stone in a 3 axis CNC mill, or even on a CNC angle grinder for cutting stone. I currently have a draft for such a machine in my TEQ4 Equipment System notes, which can create CNC-cut, LEGO brick style stones to build houses and many other structures from. Very durable stuff, made from cost-free material that just lies around!

This is an invention meant to produce, eventually, an island in international waters, to legally found ones own state on it. That’s because of the difficulties of choosing an island for such an endeavour … there is essentially no terra nullius left.

The idea is this: one or more solar powered, autonomous, self-steering, unmanned ships that has an excavator on board that will dig up stones etc. from the sea bed. When full, the ship drives fully automatically to a GPS location for dropping the dirt. It does so night and day, driving within an area that is closed for normal ship traffic. But it also has radar with automated evaluation on board to avoid collisions.

The ship also needs a catapult-type device for unloading the dirt once an area is too flat to float over it, or even is visible as land but needs to be more elevated above sea level.

Of course one would operate these ships in shallow waters, ideally dropping the dirt over something like a sunken atoll or something else that has less than 20m water above it.

And of course, the politically correct way today to reason for this invention is to “help those islands endangered by global warming”. Governments would let rain down the money to build the technology for this … and if not, there is a polemic video to persuade them. Yea, or show them the stories of all these “submerged islands” already existing. And then, after the technology was in use for some years, I would get a chance to rent it for building my own island-state … 🙂

So-called single points of failure “are undesirable in any system whose goal is high availability”; so teaches Wikipedia.

Now, systems for social security are, on the one hand, designed with this in mind: resources that need to be highly available in individual life, such as health care and nutrition, should not depend on the individual’s ability to pay for them, as this would be a SPOF. But on the other hand: in the Western “developed world”, social security systems are central, government based systems, which makes these systems fail if the state fails to pay for them. Which is a very real danger, as can be seen from the German pension insurance, which crashed for demographic and other reasons.

Again, Wikipedia teaches us the principles of reliability engineering to avoid SPOFs: reduced complexity, redundancy, diversity (of implementation), and transparency (Wikipedia article “Single Point of Failure”). All of these are not, or only to a low degree, implemented in these centralized Western social security systems. The extended family was able to perform the task better, as it was a highly redundant system, existing in tens of thousands of instances in a society. However, this type of family does no longer exist in our society.

What to do? How about experimenting with the idea of the “small autarkic community” as a shared risk community. This is not about anonymous insurance, as this is doomed to fraud and inefficiency: it lacks for example tools to really educate and motivate people to lead a more healthy lifestyle. The autarchic community is about the smallest thinkable group that can bear all risks of individual life on its own; which might be about 100 people. They would live in one house together and care for each other in all aspects of the shared risks, like caring for the sick and elderly, supporting the unemployed financially (and emotionally), etc.. One could enter at all times if one is admitted (depending on ones currrent issues, and the ability of the community to bear them, and the number of free places). And one could leave at any time, to switch to a like community at another place or back into government-backed system. But one could not be kicked out of the shared risk community; which is necessary to be a true “social insurance” type of community.

Such a 100-person community could take over other tasks that are simplified by load balancing or risk sharing in a community. Like child care. This would then be called “human crechès“. Yes, why not use this animal concept in human culture also. This is way less expensive than government’s child care units like kindergartens etc.. It can also be implemented in even smaller groups: for example, five families could form a crechè for the time before the parents return from work. Which would mean that from each couple, one person has to take one day off in two weeks to organize the crechè at this family’s home.

The Peter principle says that “In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence.” And the higher people get, the more rights (to money, power etc.) they get. Combined, this means exploitation of people on lower levels, who have fewer rights (as we are in a hierarchy, after all). Applications:

  • As hierarchies are found in the economy, they create financial problems. People at the start of their career need to do all the hard work and get very little money for that, and start climbing the ladder that way, while people higher on the ladder exploit them.
  • As hierarchies are found in states and other power constructs, they create problems of power abuse.

IMHO, the problem is the hierarchy itself, not its application. Hierarchy is cool for reducing complexity in technical items, but prone to be abused when applied to social systems.

First of all, thhe concept of national sovereignty in international law should be modified: it should be possible to do “worldwide democratic decisions” on what people are searched for because the committed severe crimes against the international community (like war crimes, genocide etc.). Such decisions can be organized in large intergovernmental organizations like the UN, in “representative democracy style” involving the UN committees. This is of course a very poor approach to world-wide decision making, but other ideas for this are lacking currently. The special thing would be that these searches would be possible without respect of national sovereignty, i.e. it would be internationally accepted (and considered a breach of sovereignty) to arrest such people in states that want to prohibit that. The new idea behind this is that national sovereignty is itself a negotiated concept, and should lose its “God-like” status that it has currently (i.e. total control over a certain part of land). The benefit would be that, if such search statements are issued against heads of state, they could be arrested in their own state without any breach of international law!

What we then need, in addition to that, is “special forces of international police”. They would be trained to execute arrests of such persons that are on these international search lists. And if this involves taking a head of government into capture, this would be done in covert operations, comparable to military operations behind enemy lines, or to secret service captures. Most of the technology for such operations still has to be developed (like capturing people by drones, etc.). The task is always to capture people alive, without hurting anybody, so that they can be brought to justice. The court that has to deal with these cases probably has to be invented also; as the ICC deals only with cases from countries that ratified the statute).

To prohibit power abuse and corruption in these international police special forces, and to get a motivated, powerful, hard-hitting group in this business that will cost many of the contributors their life, the following structure should be used: all members are volunteers; members must go through admission tests, which require extraordinal intelligence and being pure from non-rational / non-sober (mostly extremist) thinking; members undergo a 5 year education that is essentially self-regulated, but where states can contribute lectures; members are trained in this education in reflective thinking and personal decision making; every member is then free to choose, bound only by his or her own conscience, which of the search warrants to carry out; and only this international police special forces would be allowed to carry out these search warrants in the area of sovereigns who want to prohibit that; members of these special forces can organize themselves into small groups to do one or another capture, there is no central military command-and-obey principle at all; also, these people organize and invent their own equipment, the only external contribution is money, which can be paid by states but also by individuals. So perhaps individuals will start to pay for them, and to like doing so, just like it might happen with wikileaks.org or similar organizations that are a counterforce to the abuse of government power.

In the end, this idea can even lead to a new mode of “death-less” war, if applied in larger scale. War is currently an extrajuidical event, in which extrajuidical killings do happen on a regular basis. Which is a bad thing. Instead, every wrongdoer should simply be put before justice. And war should be modified as follows: the army is a group of people trained to capture the wrongdoers of the opposite side, without harming anybody. This could be particular effective in war against Guerilla groups. The principle must be to hold people personally accountable for what they do in war. The technology for this (week-long full stealth operations in enemy-controlled area, capturing by drones etc..) is not yet there, but possible.

Employment is a supra-individual state of an economic system: in a society, people depend on each other, and on infrastructure, to be able to do economic activity. So without other peoples economic activity, and without infrastructure, there is a deadlock: all people wait on other people (the customers) and on infrastructure to be able to start with economic activity. (The fact that modern market economies use counter-cyclical economic politics, investing both in salaries and infrastructure during times of economic crisis, seems to prove this “bad economy by deadlocks” thesis right.)

This does not only relate to total unemployment, but especially to inefficient (subsidizing) employment that only helps to survive, but not to a decent standard of living. Because: survivors need infrastructure to do more efficient economic activity, but for infrastructure to be built it needs money from a flourishing economy, and hence there is again the deadlock situation.

The way around this deadlock would be that government uses taxes to centralize money that can be invested into infrastructure, first in a limited area to get it “running”, and from the outcome of that area the infrastructure in other areas can be built. This is like the re-starting of cells in the electric grid after a total power failure: one cell helps to start its neighbour, and so on.

Government also has the option to build infrastructure by organizing people (like putting them in “labour armies”, as was done in the US during the Great Depression, which also did employ people). And it has the option to gain humanitarian help funds and invest them to build infrastructure. The problem in nations that never emerged out of this economic deadlock (like many African economies) is that government failed in all three points. It wasted its chances to start the economy, and major contributors to this are corruption, fraud and fraudulent conversion of aid funds for private purposes. That way, the “excess resources” that are present even in the poorest economies and could be used to improve the economy by building infrastructure are simply wasted.

Unemployment is also a problem of governments in highly industrialized countries. Here, governments try to force employment by the forced creation of new infrastructure that nobody needs (like environment protection projects of some sorts, esp. climate related). But this just distributes the existing economic resources to more people, so the standard of living falls. Also, large amounts of people in such countries still stay unemployed, as nobody has any interest or vision to create infrastructure for them (the underclass). They are just fed to keep them calm.

Infrastructure that enables economic activity (and hence, employment) includes:

  • Education. This is probably the most important thing: it is the “brain infrastructure”.
    • language
    • trade culture (you need to know what to expect to do trade)
    • collaboration
    • math, physics, sciences of all sorts (as they help to utilize natural resources)
  • grid supply systems
    • electric grid
    • water supply pipelines
    • phone network
    • data connectivity, Internet
    • roads
    • parcel shipment network
    • public security (as criminality hinders economic activity)
  • education system
  • trustable monetary system as the infrastructure to make payments
  • money supply systems to make investments (banks, …)
  • waste management systems
  • necessary supra-individual systems like mining etc.

So we saw that unemployment is never (!) a problem of natural resources, because their lack does not necessarily prohibit the economic development of a region. There are Russian scientific centers in deepest Siberia. Unemployment is always a social problem, a problem of organization of people.

And because it is a social problem, a problem about people on a systemic, supra-individual level, one individual alone cannot solve its own problem of unemployment. The question is now, in light of the government failures outlined above, what is the minimum amount of people, and what are the requirements for their organization, so that they can relief themselves of the unemployment problem? Such a group is called here an “autarkic community with respect to employment”, or simply, an “autarkic community”. Such a community would be able to start other like communities by “divide and multiply”; the hardest job would be, of course, starting the first one, as this starts from zero. Starting from zero is the task of crushing the deadlock situation described above, with the scarce resources one does not need for immediate survival; but this is possible, as it has been performed for example by the “Trümmerfrauen” after WW II: they did the upfront investment of building infrastructure, without getting a direct repayment for this hardest part of all work.

Because all communities would govern themselves, no mismanagement of centralized power can emerge that could damage this economic system again, as it does in mismanaged states. The worst thing would be for individual communities to fail and disband, allowing people to regroup into fresh start-up communities.

A quick outline of on such autarkic community as envisioned here:

  • Approx. 50-100 “economically desparate” people, with 15 being the minimum for such a community to work.
  • At least 15-20% of the members have to be already educated people (“bringing in the brain infrastructure”), but apart from this, no other infrastructure or resources are needed. The education mainly needs to be about organizing people efficiently to do collaborative tasks (e.g. in XC style), and some technical knowledge to make best use of natural resources.
  • The community can start with what they find, even if this is trash, and sleeping outdoors. All of human civilization was built from what lies around (and grows naturally), orchestrated by the power of the brain.
  • To be effective as a self-help for employment (which is the ability to work for improving ones own living conditions), the community has to be independent of government activities like building (or not building, or not maintaining) infrastructure. That is, it has to provide its own infrastructure: own schools, own roads (in the sense of cars that need no roads), own tools, own internal markets, own health system, own security, own electricity, … .
  • To not mess with the government any more than necessary (because corrupt governments tend to hinder the communities economic activity by corruption, high taxes and all sorts of mismanagement, as they do with all the other people): the community should be in a remote, scarcely inhabited area. See inspirations from the post “The monastery as a revived society model“.
  • As with monasteries, long (multi-generation) periods of calm, politically and socially stable conditions really help such communities to build up their infrastructure. Permanent need to re-orient in an ever-changing society structure (like in Western countries) is as adversive here as is war and the like.
  • A system that “all time is worth (and paid) equally” can be established here: it allows people who create infrastructure to accumulate time that can be later exchanged in goods produced with the help of this infrastructure.

This idea is mature if it is possible to jump-start such a community with 15 “organizers” and 85 economically desparate people.

Now this idea might sound much like libertarian economic theory  that advocates a no-regulation area as the best thing for economic activity. But this post is not about libertarian economy, not exactly. Because it acknowledges the organizing role of a government as necessary for people to be able to achieve a good standard of living. But because governments are not fulfilling this task for the unemployed, this is about self-help.

I would even go as far as to say that even the most highly “developed” nations live way belong their potential. Where the potential is the most intelligent, most orchestrated, most efficient, most sustainable solution to the problem of “getting from nature what mankind needs to live”. So that such communities could even be an alternative to economic activity for employed people in such highly developed nations.

A good part of this idea was inspired by me taking part in the foundation of a new company for electronics remanufacturing. It will eventually provide employment (and income to pay for life’s expenses) to all contributors, but it was a really hard task, nearly impossible, to set it up from zero. If this task of setting up the company infrastructure had been just a little harder, we would have been totally locked up in the “no infrastructure deadlock”. So in effect, the communities proposed here are little command economies, those of the smallest possible autarkic size. Where autarkic means that the employment of people does not depend on external parties; while the supply with raw materials may depend on them, as this is regulated by market forces well enough. Command economies have to be small, as the large ones die from the mismanagement present in large governments … .

I should add that the ultimate trigger for this post was an article about economic refugees from Africa: “Attacking Europe’s border fences” from BBC News. And also the first two parts of that story: “Billy’s journey: Crossing the Sahara“. And very especially, the comments from African people to these stories, commenting that Africa’s poverty is mainly because of greed and selfishness of the African leaders. So that I thought again how to help these people in place. But this topic of understanding the reason behind the “lack of work” kept recurring in my thoughts for approx. 2-3 years now, and also the topic of autarkic communities. But up to this post, I never really understood why people are unemployed, and did not have a clue as for the solution.

Now it is no new thing to propose to “build ones country” and “serve ones country” instead of fleeing for economic reasons. But what all these proposals miss is practicability. Because they all focus on individual self-help (which is impossible because the state of economy is a supra-individual problem, as stated above). Somehow these proposals believe, individual self-help would become a “movement” of many individuals, and by that society and economy would be transformed. But exactly in how to become a movement these proposals are silent. Surely not by starting with individual activity. And the idea of the autarkic community presented in this post is exactly about filling this gap of “how”. The autarkic community is large enough to be a “movement” on its own, on the supra-individual level where economy improves; and it is small enough to be feasible (in terms of organizing it bottom-up) and stable (in terms of being robust against the danger of mismanagement and exploitation, which endangers current large and centralized structures like states). It is the working hypothesis of this post that such a medium “size of society” exists which will make a society both economically feasible (and flourishing) and robust. If such a size cannot be found, there would be no hope for human economy in the long term.

The idea in this post can also be put otherwise: the autarkic community is a self-sustaining company (indeed, a micro-economy itself) that does not depend on centralized infrastructure and does not have gain maximization as its goal, but instead an equally well standard of living for all its contributors. Because, gain maximization in capitalist companies is the analogy to exploitation by corrupt regimes: some people get the money, and the others get not what their work is worth. The capitalists that get the money claim that this is their right because they set up all the infrastructure as investors (while their workers get only as much as they could produce without any infrastructure, so keep lacking a good standard of living).