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.

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).

Basically, why do we need a sovereign micro-society? The reason is not that it would be unbearable to live within a current state (some even deal quite respectfully with all their people, see e.g. the First Nations in Canada. The reason is that it could become unbearable to live in an existing state (like when it becomes totalitarian), and the reason is that it is mostly disgusting currently (just look at politics and how they behave and the reasons and motives drives politics: greed for money and influence, while a sovereign micro-society just wants calm, undisturbed, peaceful, sustainable existence). This post is just about another vision for a self-supported micro society. Currently I clearly favor the "sovereign ship" solution to that, but here is this idea, anyway.

There seems to be an internationally recognized process how to create an own state. First you choose a non-self-governing territory like one of the English overseas territories. Then you establish a population there, if not yet existent. Then you get registered at the UNPO. Then you need to get on the United Nations List of Non-Self-Governing Territories. Then you you slowly enter in negotiations with the administering state, demanding more legal self-governance. Over time you get more and more independent (it's lobby work), and finally you can hold a referendum to get independent (like the referendum in Tokelau, for instance). It is then advisable to remain as an associated state in bounds with the former administrering state. Which is no bad thing, as one does not have to deal with dumb stuff like international relations and the military (both of which is not necessary for peaceful living).

Some more cocepts that are interesting in this context: extraterritoriality, international zone and neutral territory.

Now, here are the findings. The options here are sorted, the most interesting ones first:

  • Kerguelen Islands. Belongs to France, is quite huge (120x150km) and has no native population, just approx. 100 people in a research station. Being at 49° South, the climate is harsh but bearable (vegetation, sheep etc. can survive). This seems cool as a place for a 250 people large base of a sovereign ship-based community … the people in the base can grow food in greenhouses etc. and join the ship on the next yearly visit, when other people from the ship go to the land.
  • Falkland Islands. They have already a partial self-governing status. Just 3000 people on a vast island, mostly English speaking, and good telecommunications. It is a British overseas territory.
  • South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. There is even a ghost town that could be used:  Grytviken [source]. There are currently ~30 people present there [source 1, source 2]. There is even an account of a guy who rented four hectares of land on South Georgia, for an shilling per year, and lived there as an eremit [source]. South Georgia has already a partial self-governing status, comparable to the Falkland island [source 1, source 2].
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis. A two-isle nation in the Caribbean.
  • Corvo Island. One of the Azores Islands, has a nice climate, ~450 people and a lot to do in the economy (as people emigrate).
  • Greenland. Just over 50,000 people, the thinnest populated island on earth.
  • Some other island from the Azores.
  • Saint Helena. Nice climate, 4250 people and a lot to do in the economy. One could envision Internet centric companies to be founded there.
  • Palau. A very young sovereign state with 20,000 inhabitants, consisting of some islands in the tropic region. This state was the one offering asylum to Guantanamo detainees.
  • Nauru. A Micronesian island-state with 10,000 inhabitants. It is just one island, the world's smallest island nation (21 sq km). And the interior is not inhabited due to abandoned phosphate mining. There is plenty of stuff to do for people who want to invest in a small nation's development. Including their unfinished website. Immigration seems difficult to impossible, however.
  • Heard and McDonald Islands. Really remote, with no permanent population at all. Belongs to Australia. A nice site for a self-supported community of 250 people. Official site, including images and travel instructions: heardisland.aq.
  • Prince Edwards Islands. There is a weather station present there, but nothing else. Official site see here.
  • Crozet Islands. A small group of islands with harsh but bearable climate and just one weather station on one of them.
  • Tristan da Cunha. Really interesting, as it contains enough people to not be lonely (about 275), has a nice climate and a very interesting, community-based society structure. It is called "the world's most remote inhabited island" [source]. However "No 'outsiders' are allowed to buy land or settle on Tristan – despite many applications to join a society referred to as 'Utopia'." [source].
  • South Orkney Islands. It falls under the Antarctic treaty, so has non.recognizable claims of sovereignty. Which would be nice for establishing a community. But the climate is extremely cold.

Sources employed for creating the above list:

For years I am in search of better models for society. Here is another one. It has the special benefit that it can coexist with an area’s current political situation.

A monastery (at least the way it is thought to be) is founded by people who are critical of the social and political situation of their society. A monastery is located in a remote area, at a place where nobody else is interested in (e.g. in unfruitful lands etc.). This yields absence of political and military conflicts. The reason to found a monastery is to have more time for devotion (the relationship to God). In extension (to serve as a society model), the reason can be also to have more resources for all the stuff where resources are lacking for in the surrounding society. A monastery can exist in these remote locations because it is a center of learning and education that will be well-known in the surrounding region (so that trade can emerge: getting raw goods in exchange for processed goods and education). A study of monasteries around the world should be carried out to learn the pinciples of monastic living.

Outline of a modern (secular, but optionally faith-based) version of a monastery:

  • it would (or could) be essentially mobile (people living in AWD trucks), but may have a base in a remote location
  • because it is mobile, it can undertake operations in the surrounding region, like medical and construction operations, in the style of “labour army operations”
  • membership would be voluntarily, leaving would be possible at any time
  • there would be constant organized self-education within the monastery
  • there would be some integrated high-tech facilities for processing raw goods and taking part in operations (like well drilling equipment)
  • there would be special agreements with government about the special rights and protection of the monastery, and as soon as governments fails to meet these agreements the mobile monastery would move on (see the post on the “population market” model for society, but this is in smaller scale)
  • modern high-tech communication equipment would be used for agile collaboration (in the style of XC, that is, “extreme collaboration”)
  • all such monasteries would be self-governed (to prohibit abuse of centralized power over monasteries by not centralizing it)
  • a monastery would split in two wen it reaches a certain size.

The idea of a monastery is also, especially, to not interfere at all (or as little as possible) with the officials, official organizations and other stuff in power of a society. This is the only meaningful option of avoiding loss of life, freedom and other important goods in the contact with these ever-changing and unpredictable powers. If there is a lesson to be learned from history, then that political powers are never stable and never predictable in the longer term, so contact with them must be avoided by any means. This also says that members have to research and develop techniques to live in very remote and harsh natural environments, like deserts etc., to avoid any contact with officials. Of course, monasteries have the bad fame of being secluded; but there is no reason for that to happen, as service to the outside world can happen in these construction operations and the like.