Tuesday, 22 November 2011

On Floating Islands and Fixed Idiocies

I was amused recently (alright, not that recently, I've been busy) to read about this cockamamie scheme, thought up by Patri Friedman (grandson of Milton) and massively contributed to by Peter Thiel, billionaire founder of PayPal, to establish a floating libertarian utopia in the middle of international waters. The organisation is called the Seasteading Institute, and apparently they are serious.

My first reaction on reading about this peculiar utopian vision was to recall the various floating islands in literature (Wikipedia has a pretty decent but not comprehensive list), from Aeolia to Sea-Star Island, from the 1967 Rex Harrison Dr. Dolittle film. I was going to do a post based on floating islands in the ancient world, but that's already been done, albeit almost a century ago, by Cook, in Appendix P of his monumental "Zeus: A Study in Ancient Religion":

Instead, I want to talk about the narrative of the story, rather than the props. It struck me that the aims of these sea-steaders are almost identical to those of Pisthetaerus and Euelpides in Aristophanes' Birds, who, disillusioned with the litigiousness of Athens, leave to start a new "colony" in the sky, free from the the strictures of big government the law courts. In a remarkably well-wrought and bittersweet satire, Aristophanes shows us the deterioration of this noble (?) idea into a simple replication of the very features of Athens they sought to escape, in an ingenious parody of the acquisitive Athenian imperialism of the time.

They may as well name this floating island on the high seas "Nephelokokkygia", not simply because it's such a pie-in-the-sky (pasty-in-the-sea? croissant-in-the-ocean?) idea, but because the original phrase "Cloud Cuckoo Land" actually comes from an almost identical idea to this one!

I love the smell of symmetry in the morning.


New development in the cross-over between floating islands and idiocy.

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