Avantgrid: The off-grid archipelago

  title: Avantgrid
  slug: avantgrid
  parent: 15338
  summary: Avantgrid is a large archipelago Distrikt between Assembly and Libria.
  keywords: worldbuilding, participatory
  image: https://edgeryders.eu/uploads/default/original/2X/2/2e816405dae308c27128ecfda6e6260cd34fee0c.jpeg

Avantgrid {style=“color: #fff; text-shadow: 2px 2px #000; padding-bottom: .4rem; font-weight: bold;” class=“leading-tight text-4xl”}

Avantgrid is a large archipelago Distrikt between Assembly and Libria. {style="color: #fff; width: 80%; padding-top: 1rem; border-top: 1px solid white; background-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.4); " class=“text-2xl mt-4 mx-auto leading-normal”}

“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” - Marcus Aurelius

Avantgrid is a large archipelago Distrikt between Assembly and Libria. Originally a zone of Libria, built to cater to an exclusive, high-income clientele, it fractured in 15 0D after the collapse of a geoengineering company left the ownership of the archipelago in dispute.

Avantgrid is the only Distrikt in Witness that is not connected to the Harvest grid. In contrast to the mostly urban other Distrikts of Witness, Avantgrid is a largely rural Distrikt which even contains patches of uninhabited wilderness. Of the 1.1 million inhabitants of Avantgrid, 150.000 live in Akur, its only urban zone. There are 149 islands in the archipelago; outside of Akur, boundaries are being made and remade all the time, and new islands are under construction by various parties within Avantgrid.

While modern-day Avantgrid is very welcoming of new inhabitants, the strict energy frugality brought about by voluntary disconnection from Harvest means that the lifestyle dissuades many from relocating to one of its islands.

Some political pundits of Hygge, Libria, and the Covenant routinely warn that the seemingly calm exterior of Avantgrid hides a festering underbelly of radical extremists that aim to shut down the Harvest Division by force if necessary. Since the islands are largely self-governing cantons, it is understood that the ability of the Avantgrid Confederation to do anything about ideological radicalization is limited. This has created conflict with Libria, and attempts have been made to convince the State Machine to relinquish the archipelago back into Librian control.


Avantgrid was originally a zone of Libria, constructed as a get-away location for the elites who had tired of living in the urban sprawl. Originally called Seastead II, it was constructed at great expense by the Kleindestine Company - specialists in geo- and eco-engineering, using dredging techniques that had been thought lost to the Sundering.

Astrid Kleindestine, the hugely charismastic CEO of Kleindestine, bet almost everything the company had and pitched Seastead II to the rising nouveau riche class within Libria, appealing to largely libertarian sensibilities. The general thrust of the advertising campaign - possibly the largest Witness has ever seen - stressed that both state and corporate surveillance (the latter being of the Librian kind) infringed on fundamental liberties. The Millionaire Migration made headline in its day, as aethnographers of all stripes worried that Libria would be left with a collapsed economy made of only the working poor and the ultra-rich. The fact that Kleindestine had somehow negotiated the non-intervention of the State Machine was interpreted as a libertarian dream by some and a worrying precedent by many.

However, as the project entered its habitable stages and went into its last phase of construction, the Great Wave of 015D hit Witness, severing the powerlines that connected the 135 completed islands to the Harvest grid. A surge of insurance claims in the wake of the tsunami also brought down the unstable banks that had issued bonds to the Kleindestine Company, and in the following year of financial turmoil and cutthroat seizure of assets, the company collapsed and ownership of the Seastead archipelago became contested.

A brief period of armed conflict followed between the subcontracted gangs of corporations who laid claim to the islands of Seastead, and the legal ambiguity prevented the Night Watchmen from acting with any mandate. By 017D the only major presence left was that of the smuggling routes of the Seaside Senators and the Hoshizaki BioMonastery, a Hygge-Covenant joint operation that licensed intellectual property from the Assembly and was using vast tracts of potentially arable land on Avantgrid to provide food supplies to both Distrikts.

The New Beginning

Taking advantage of this uncertainty, a second migration from Libria started moving to the islands on the outskirts of Seastead, seeking freedom from authority while getting away from the claustrophobic downtown sprawls.

Unlike the original high-income inhabitants, most of this wave were middle-income migrants tired of the increasing cost of living and the steady corporate ownership of private spaces. Many of them hiked and peddled over in improvised skiffs; the lack of access to the Harvest grid meant that they could bring with them only very low-energy devices and machines.

Many of these new inhabitants had participated in the Marches against the rule of Denton. They were folk already used to hardiness and building from almost nothing, and their time in the rapidly-growing Libria had instilled a general desire for a more frugal and sustainable way of life.

Some among them wished for an even more extreme version of sustainability. The “eco-pragmatists”. as they called themselves, theorized that increasingly complex and energy-heavy systems - both in terms of technology and in terms of social structures - would only lead to the second coming of the arrogance that brought about the Sundering. A frugal vision of Witness, built on the principles of cyclical economy and strict accounting for energy consumption, lent itself quite naturally to the conditions that many of the second wave had to endure in Avantgrid. The eco-pragmatist theory - that accounting for energy should not be more controversial than accounting for money - found fertile roots.

The Dirk-Leo Correspondence

One prominent eco-pragmatist migrant to Seastead was Octavia Dirk. Formerly one of the 12 delegates on the Libria Committee that had fallen to the plots of Megan Rilke and Karunasalam Balraj, Dirk resurfaced among the second wave. In a highly publicized series of message-board letters between her and the Benedictine monk Alban Leo of the Covenant, she had laid out the tenets of a society with eco-pragmatist ideals that aligned with the Benedictine/Hyborean faith. She posited that because currency brought about its own implicit social contracts, tying value of a currency to the inverse of energy consumption would be a clever way to preserve liberty while living within the means of the environment.

This exchange came to a point when Dirk put this question to Leo:

“As we know, the quality of manufacture by your order is of indisputable quality - “ora et labora” indeed! As an act of faith and devotion, you build your goods to last as long as possible - a display of frugality and conservation of energy. But tell me this, esteemed Father Alban - if God and his creation are infinite, why do you care not to waste? Surely there is always more to be had of His infinite creation?”
- Octavia Dirk, open letters to Alban Leo

Leo, after prolonged meditation, came to the controversial conclusion that God and the universe are not infinite, but finite. Indeed, he rejected infinity as entirely fictitious - a mathematical construct. A theatrical orator, published an essay named “God Has No God” that was deemed unforgivably blasphemous.

“On the morning of the seventh day, God woke up and noticed that the density of distributed matter had decreased ever so slightly. Matter is finite, and so is god! Infinity, what self-deception it had been! God’s god, infinity, was dead. With the feeling of one who has indulged too much, God looked at the product of six days of frenzied creation. The damage had been done, the false testament to infinity had been written into the fabric of creation. Endless blue skies, deep ocean trenches; even the fabric of the universe itself lied, seeming infinite through a parlor trick of expansion and contraction like the surface of a balloon at a birthday party. And God wept, knowing that it was inevitable that the life that sprung from this creation would eventually have to go mad with infinity-fever before seeing the truth.”
- Alban Leo OSB, God Has No God

Following the liberalization in the wake of Cottica’s popularity, Leo was not immediately prosecuted for this essay. It and other communiques used Leo’s idea of a non-infinite creation to argue that all resources be treated as finite, and became the basis for “Advent Grid: Cyclical Life and Devotion”, a fringe text that gained a cult-like following in both Libria and the Covenant among those who feared a second Sundering. Leo began suggesting that those interested in his work travel to Seastead II and take it upon themselves to live differently; thus, a third wave of newly minted eco-pragmatists flocked to join Dirk at Seastead II with the explicit intention of turning it into a Distrikt.

This period, although short, was an extremely violent part of Witness history, as the corporations of Libria fought to prevent the fracture. This has created a deep gulf of suspicion and distrust between the people of Avantgrid and Libria ever since.

At a point, a large enough number of eco-pragmatists had gathered on the islands of Seastead, and the State Machine concluded that the logical action was to cut this zone off from Libria and pronounce it a new Distrikt with an eco-pragmatist governance model. Avantgrid was the first Distrikt that was formed through a conscious effort of a group to force the State Machine to fracture by assembling a group of like-minded people with an agenda.

In 20 0D Leonine himself relocated to join Dirk, protected on the way out by a private militia belonging to Cindy Lupin - the heir to a corporate empire in Libria and an enthusiast of the newly popular eco-pragmatism - and worked for a while in the Hoshizaki BioMonastery to further his knowledge of hydroponics and seed-crops. During his time, and using the authority as a potential leader of the newly minted district, there he was able to convince the BioMonastery that the bulk of its labor force should be local, so that the populace could learn critical skills.

However, despite all of this, the eco-pragmatic governance model did not work out as a single-state solution. Many of the inhabitants had their roots in Libria, and had set up independent zones on their islands. While they absorbed eco-pragmatism as a viable way of living, the general libertarian tendencies of all three waves convinced the State Machine that a unitary state would decay rapidly. A compromise was struck, declaring the new Distrikt a Confederacy of Cantons. A dialectal pronunciation of “Advent Grid” gave the Distrikt the name that stuck - Avantgrid. More extreme eco-pragmatist thought forms the root of thinking for at least two strains of eco-fascism present in Witness.


Each Canton of Avantgrid is essentially self-governing.

Citizens can claim and hold as much territory as they require. Any trade happens with barter - either goods, services, or with land and energy; value is mutually decided by both parties. Issues of justice and contracts are deal with at a monthly Canton Agora, which is (given the size of each Canton) a small democracy modeled along old Greek lines. Ostracism - the yearly ability to banish a person from a Canton, based on a popular vote - is in play.

To prevent forces from other Distrikts from seizing control, the State Machine maintains a ‘first-principle right to violence’ in exchange for the unfettered operation of the Hoshizaki BioMonastery and other public-good institutions, such as aethnography schools. In return, any invaders would face joint forces from both Hygge and the Convenant, as well as disconnection of State Machine-controlled services such as the Harvest Division and (later) the Migrant Train.

Almost all Cantons - or at least, most known Cantons - take responsibility for the education of their citizens in energy and material accountability. Cantons also share knowledge openly to advance energy-conserving technology and practices.


“We live to the rhythms of the sea and the stars, not to those of corporates and bureaucracies.”
- Octavia Dirk

Advantgrid’s economy is the hardest to understand from a single perspective. Its decentralized nature makes it almost impossible to do anything more than observe and perhaps estimate the transactions happening in Akur. Small armies of student theors from all over are routinely sent into Avantgrid to understand an in-your-face example of the limits of knowledge. Few of them go much beyond Akur.

An important part of Avantgrid inter-Canton bargaining is that the buyer and the seller meet on neutral ground or a location agreed to be such, with no more than two seconds. This allows a kind of limited Coasian bargaining to take place. The inhabitants of Avantgrid consider this a point of pride, showing the independence of each Canton, and the unforced and willing nature of each exchange. Akur has a number of so-called “Meeting Islands” which are often used as such neutral trading locations.

In general, the economy is best understood through a cultural prism. The Avantgrid economy is highly cyclical, closer to zero-waste than anything else on Witness; in fact, some Cantons import waste from other Distrikts - especially electronic - to repair, rebuild, and to extract materials. Avantgrid attitudes towards waste have been compared to the water beliefs of the sand-nomads in the pre-Sundering religious text Dune.

One expression of this is the Reuse Fair, an annual event in Akur where people from all over Avantgrid gather to show off and share their developments in energy-saving and waste reclamation. This includes everything from the Industrial-Fixit to the Re-Fashion show, where the oldest and best maintained clothes compete alongside the best new upcycling style.

Two proposals are making the rounds in today’s Avantgrid. The first is the Dirk-Leonine concept of a currency whose value decreases with materials use - although since this would require a complete inventory of all materials and estimation of their value. The second is the idea of a ledger of material and energy spend within Avantgrid, self-reported. Any energy that is spent in production and manufacturing must also be accounted for on the ledger, as well as the means through which this energy was generated.

Both ideas are in vogue among the theors at the Ásgeirsson-Institut, a conclave of aethnographers specializing on theorical economics. The poet-economist Cottica has levied the argument that practically, the compute and energy costs of maintaining such a ledger, be it a centralized solution or a decentralized one, would go completely against Avantgrid’s eco-pragmatist ethos. There is also political opposition to a central ledger as a threat to the self-rule of the Cantons and religious opposition to such open accounting as limiting the possibilities of secret or non-public contributions to the energy frugality of Witness.


Some Cantons of Avantgrid continue to expand the archipelago by keeping the geoengineering factories up and running. These efforts require importing large quantities of energy from the Harvest grid (using Avantgrid-maintained batteries), and convert waste material reclaimed from other districts into substrate for new livable land. This process is net energy consuming, and arguments have been levied for and against the practice. In general, the energy footprint of creating an island with Harvest energy is seen as a debt that should be repaid by avoiding or preventing an equivalent amount of Harvest energy being spent. This repayment usually involves crediting the Canton for the energy saved by the waste reclamation, and for enabling more people to live the Avantgrid life. It is estimated that if 200 people live out their lives as frugal citizens on an island in Avantgrid instead of as middle-class citizens of neighboring Libria, the energy cost of producing an island is offset.

There are rumors of other methods of ‘repaying the debt’, including groups knocking chunks of other Distrikts off the Harvest grid for a time to help balance the ledgers. This may explain why the debate about island building is generally civil and why few extreme religious sects oppose the project outright.

The State Machine has calculated that the islands of Avantgrid also serve as an effective water break and anchoring system for other cities, as well as available space to requisition for MicroDistrikts; and thus the Harvest Division helps offset some of the energy cost.


Most people in Avantgrid lead a life that is frugal, artful, quiet, and close to nature. Doubtless it has more risk and work involved than social nets available elsewhere, but inhabitants generally report high levels of contentment. Technology is usually several generations behind, and tuned to be extremely energy efficient; Avantgrid engineers are masters of the ‘do one thing and do it well’ school of thought - so it is extremely rare to find highly networked general purpose computing machines, for example, unless there is a real utility for such.

Avantgrid has a mix of religious affiliations as it had an influx from both Libria and the Covenant. There are a a significant number of monastaries that have branched off from the Covenant, and look more like Zen-temples made of wood in their Avantgrid incarnations.

Many temples of Nygogi Buddhism also make Avantgrid their home, as the ethos of energy conservation and the metaphysics of karma have wedded to the ideas of energy waste as harmful. The rejection of infinity as a valid concept has also become popular, accepting the ultimately finite nature of all things - even the universe itself.

There is also a radical and sectarian sub-strand in Avantgrid that is willing to use force and violence to sabotage the access to the Harvest grid in other Distrikts. These terrorist cells are very hard to stop within Avantgrid, but have limited effectiveness elsewhere, as various combinations of surveillance are hard to train against. Nevertheless, sleeper cells have been discovered and punished in Hygge and the Assembly.

Some sects in Avantgrid believe that the only way to save Witness is to embed as many of their ranks as possible in other Distrikts, spreading the gospel of energy frugality in secret, hoping to shape policy to nudge Distrikts towards energy-frugal governance model. Many of these believers were responsible for the microGrid Collective and the adoption of the distributed energy model seen in the Assembly.


The Ásgeirsson-Institut, one of the most prestigious institute of aethnography is located in Avantgrid. Aethnography is especially prized in Avantgrid as augurs travelling between settlements provide a key vector for news, ideas and innovation to migrate, as well as some much-needed new company for those who live on these islands. The Ásgeirsson-Institut specializes in thinking about energy in all facets of life and augurs are tasked with traveling between islands to study this in the hundreds of communities of Avantgrid.

A primary method of study is the energy-audit, in which travelling augurs conduct detailed examinations of how the inhabitants of the different Cantons understand their energy-cycles and the nature of the cyclical economy, help citizens optimize their ways of consumption, and gain insights from day-by-day frugal life; this knowledge then slowly makes its way back to the Intitut itself, and from there to the rest of Witness.


© European Wilderness Society CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

© Mackenzie Bartlett CC BY-SA 4.0

The Avantgrid archipelago is the closest thing to wild nature that Witness has to offer, and many of the islands have sizeable areas of forests, marshes, fields, and undisturbed wildlife. Many of the islands are covered in evergreen pinewood forests and a varied flora, enriched by the pollen that gets carried by the winds across the ocean.

The original purpose of the Seastead II had been as resort islands and private summer getaways, with lush and varied gardens and grounds for relaxing, hiking, and hunting. Many of the islands already had self-supporting ecosystems of predators and prey. Some of these creatures were flown in to Witness from surrounding landmasses, while others were genetically engineered and developed. This has resulted in a surprising and sometimes unmapped fauna populating some of the larger islands of Avantgrid.


I like this! Looking forward to seeing what happens here. I love the integration of Libria and the “sexier and louder” visions of Flo and the disillusionment.

Might I recommend using the State Machine to handle this ledger system? This gives Avantgrid more reason to co-operate based on its history: compute infrastructure is precious, and the State Machine is willing to devote compute resources to help Avantgrid keep track of its assuredly enormous information-flows problem. And in secret, you could have a bunch of folks who are setting up a fab in Avantgrid, buying tech from Libria at times, determined to set up their own processor fabrication system.

I’m picturing these pioneers to be the type of people who might use something like Collapse OS: https://www.vice.com/en/article/ywaqbg/collapse-os-is-an-open-source-operating-system-for-the-post-apocalypse designed to the near-ubiquitious Z80 chips found in “desktop computers, cash registers, musical instruments, graphing calculators, and everything in between. In a Reddit Q&A, Dupras explained that the Z80 was chosen “because it’s been in production for so long and because it’s been used in so many machines, scavenger have good chances of getting their hands on it.””

Makes perfect sense because you wouldn’t have to deal with the expense and shitty silicon wafer yields of 5-7nm; 21, 32 nm fabrication (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/32_nm_process) is dirt cheap, easily doable (as seen from the rise of cheap Chinese phones from 2010, pre-Android). People could even go 130 nm if they wanted truly relic tech that could be built out of loot lying around.

1 Like

Wow, the State Machine has that much agency? Is it not a glorified spreadsheet? @yudhanjaya?

1 Like

Based on how it has sanctioned a divorce in the past (against Dentons will), it seems to have quite a bit of it?

And based on this:

It seems that if there is a sudden influx of a new population with similar needs (like the desire for energy frugality), the State Machine would then adjust accordingly and fracture? That makes sense, no?

Or is it the choice of words rather than the events - “logical action”, “concluded”, “pronounce” etc - that you think indicate more agency than you had expected?

1 Like

Here I need some help from @alberto on an interesting and credible economy.

This will be expanded, but feel free to work on it - I have no further thoughts as of yet.

Same with this, it should we rewritten into a more flowing text. Also open to handing that over to @yudhanjaya!

1 Like

Oh yes, totally in keeping with canon. @joriam even wrote about how the State Machine was recommending Denton’s retirement long before he stepped down.
For a more thorough understanding, please see: https://slate.com/technology/2020/09/state-machine-yudhanjaya-wijeratne.html

It can extend to this level if the citizens let it - or it can be completely lassez-faire if that is the social contract for a particular region.

Hmm, I am going to need an entry about the State Machine. Does it make decisions, or only recommendations?

I absolutely love where this is going, Hugi, this is top stuff. Let me know when you want me to come in and wordsmith it and I’ll be glad to.

Having re-read the economy of Assembly, I see what you mean @alberto with overlap being significant. As I see it, we could address that constructively.

First, we can allow for some overlap, and perhaps even move the origin of some of the decentralized and cooperative practices to Avantgrid, appropriated and repackaged by the Assembly.

What we could also do is to ask ourselves: Under which cultural circumstances could you imagine a system where a truly cyclical economy was possible? How would the citizens of Assembly have to behave for this ledger of materials and energy to actually work? One thing that comes to mind is to make use of the religious beginnings of Avantgrid and introduce a very strong social control mechanism that makes it taboo to not comply. If avoiding to exhaust resources is almost a religious conviction, what happens?

In this I am inspired by things like the practice of Ramadan in Muslim nations which has a huge effect on productivity, but also by secular collectivist cultures that allow for things like the Swedish labor market model. If the people of Avantgrid were extremely conditioned to keep conscious of all energy and material consumption - what sort of economic system could that enable?

I’m imagining a system where children from a very early age grow up to be conscious of every little “energy transaction” around them. It becomes almost second-nature to calculate the exchanges. Every citizen of Avantgrid is expected to intuitively do this sort of calculation:

“Burning 1 kg of coal yields X joul, only 1/3 of that can be transferred to electrical current given this temperature and the materials used in this particular generator”

More complex transactions are handled by the State Machine, and then the job of each Avantgrid citizen is to be meticulous about recording the details of every significant energy transaction. Thanks to the sophisticated algorithms of the State Machine, it is usually enough to take note of transactions in natural language, like: “Around 10 kg of pinewood grown on the Island of Samla (ID of pinewood harvesting event: 12882) was burned until only ashes remained at 10:22 AM on such as such date”.

A culture of such meticulous note-takers could have the side-effect of producing some excellent scientific aethnographers, with astute observational skills. This could, in turn, be the foundation for Avantgrid being a centre for observational science - but perhaps not as much for engineering, which is a niche taken by the Covenant anyway.

Third, could we imagine a whole new economy rising out of the decision to minimize energy consumption? For example:

  • Could the State Machine refill your wallet of credits at a pace that was modified negatively by your expenditure of energy?

  • Could we imagine a whole service arising around conducting energy audits? If your ledger of energy and material consumption can be audited at any point, would that nudge you towards compliance? How would such an audit look - a job for augurs perhaps? “Tell me about that barn, it wasn’t here 10 years ago. How did you build it? Where did the materials come from?”.

  • Perhaps Avantgrid gains something from not being connected to the Harvest grid? What do the other Distrikts pay for access to the grid? What does Avantgrid stand to gain from staying independent? Perhaps Avantgrid does not have to send any resources to Hygge and Harvest?

What do you think @alberto? @yudhanjaya, do you have any ideas here for how to set Avantgrid apart from Assembly?

maybe some death- cultish/religious/ecofascist behaviours where people are cleared out to keep equilibrium going?

1 Like

Will cycle around to this tomorrow, Hugi.

Leaving something here for you: https://www.nature.com/articles/nmat4771.epdf

Spinach plants that can monitor soil for nutrient content and send emails. Avantgrid material?

1 Like

We are going to see this a lot. Plenty of people will want to work on hipster utopias, and much attention will be directed towards political and cultural features, architecture, rituals, you name it.

Overlap is absolutely OK.

However I am wary of cultural explanations of non-Nash equilibrium outcomes. Take the Assembly:

If you are in the Assembly and you want to get a boat you can do two things: build a boat yourself, with the help of your neighbors and advanced facilities for small-batch fabrication; or, if you have money, just buy one from Hygge or Libria. This is a prisoner’s dilemma: if you do it you won’t make much of a difference, but if everyone does, there goes autonomy (and your inter-Distrikt trade balance equilibrium).

You could say “oh, but the Assembly has a proud culture of making things instead of buying!”, but that is not good enough. Even when cultural traits do give groups evolutionary advantages, they do not make the free rider problem disappear. Solution: a non-convertible currency. At this point, the Assembly becomes something like Cuba: it works quite well, but it as an endemic problem with kids on the street hustling for USD with which to buy designer sneakers, that are not important enough to get produced by cooperatives or state provision. Maybe the solution sucks: that’s OK, as people edit the wiki they will make it better. But we have a duty to propose some solution.

So, to go back to @hugi’s point:

I would reframe the question: what could be a culture/economic system mutually reinforcing pair? We cannot simply assume that a culture magically appears that makes humans want to do right for the planet even as their neighbors in Libria are still happily driving global warming.

A very rough example of mutually reinforcing culture and economy might be Sparta. In a cartoon version, Sparta built super strict cultural institution around the élites being exclusively directed to warfare (spartiates were even banned from the crafts and trade). In a capitalist society, this would not work, as the business people quickly buy off the military. However, Sparta underwrote this disequilibrium by engaging in continuous military expansion. This way, the accounts balance: the helots and periokoi maintained the spartiates; the spartiates injected extra prosperity by making new conquest and despoiling the conquered.

The ledger is a difficult institution to maintain, IMHO. It is very, very difficult to get humans to keep good ledgers – the board of Edgeryders being exhibit A. A world in which people are all happy to keep their materials ledger updated does not feel credible to me. Even if the State Machine does all the computation, you are left with two problems. The first one is to justify throwing computing power at this thing. The second one is defeating the incentive to cheat, either by outright falsification or by spin: rebrand your table from a consumption good to an investment, and suddenly using all that pinewood looks much more acceptable… but it is still the same table.

So, the proud people of the Avantgrid keep their ledgers not because they intrinsically love to, but for another reason, but which one? We could imagine keeping track of every gram of, say, metal gives the Avantgrid an efficiency boost, and therefore an advantage. But this is only plausible if all of Witness is similarly constrained, and then it is Libria’s turn to look inconsistent.

Difficult. Sorry.

Somehow, I had actually assumed that this wouldn’t be possible in Witness. If trade between the Distrikts is so easy, is it really multiple economies and not just one? Will it be possible to truly experiment with radically different economic systems if trade between the Distrikts is easy enough that a private citizen can simply decide to order a boat from Libria, like a package of LEDs from AliBaba?

I’m starting to wonder if we are going to need some sort of mechanism that makes this difficult or even impossible except where explicit trade-agreements between Distrikts exist. This is science fiction, after all. Such a mechanism does not need to be purely political or regulatory - we could figure out some reason for why it’s hard to move goods between Distrikts. That changes the equation, no?

If not a crazy cyclic economy ledger, do you have other ideas for how the energy-stripped economy of Avantgrid might look? There are aspects that make it special and different from the Assembly:

  • Energy scarcity
  • Not universal connectivity to power or communication systems
  • Self-governing canton islands
  • A population that is largely religious

Any ideas?

Not at all. I grew up in a Europe that was part socialist, part capitalist. Hell, when I first visited Berlin in 1984 they had two economies in the same city. Of course, they did not have a frictionless Single Market encompassing both, but at the time neither did anyone else. When I first traveled to the UK, in 1977, I needed a passport, and there were restriction on the amount of money you could take with you, either in cash or in traveller’s cheques. So, it’s OK to imagine some restrictions to trade. In the Assembly I used the trick of the non-convertible currency. Trade is permitted, although not frictionless; but sellers do not want your currency, because the issuing state refuses to redeem it for other currencies. That’s how the Democratic German Republic and East Berlin operated, too.

Think of it this way: if you are Gaetano in Messina, you need to build your utopia in such a way that it does not die on contact with the non-utopia. Imagining open economies is, the way I see it, a way we can build “a credible path from here to there”.

I am not dismissing the ledger idea, I am just saying I have no ready solution. Others might. Anyway, it is interesting to think about it.

Why would energy be more scarce here? We have photovoltaic now, and sunlight will be the same across Witness.

Once again, to be credible this has to be an outcome of the system, not a parameter. Why would people here reject connectivity, that is obvious to us and others in Witness? Exceptions: credible historical or geographical parameters. So, for things that need expensive land connectivity (eg. aqueducts), it makes sense that the Avantgrid, being an archipelago, would develop its own solution. In the Assembly, I imagined that the supply shock on energy and food invented by Yudha left the Distrikt with highly decentralized production and the capacity to regulate it:

Instead of ledgers, what if we work with quotas pools of energy expenditure available to individuals? “As long as you stay within your quota, it’s fine?” (Think the scarcity of water in Dune and how that shapes social interaction).
Or will it conflict here?

Great example. On Arrakis, a desert world, a culture of preserving water is self-sustaining because of its obvious group-evolutionary advantages. But on Witness the scarcity of energy is likely to be the same for all Distrikts. And I imagine energy would be mostly abundant, we are pretty close to that already. Add to solar a fusion reactor or two, you’re good to go. Or?


This archipelago was built by a megacorporation in Libria. That corporation could pull off the feat of wiring 135 islands, but the very different Avantgrid system could not pull that off - and does not want to either. What you are left with is, perhaps, something similar to the Roman aqueduct system after the fall of the Empire - without the empire to support them, they fell apart even though they had obvious use. What you are left with is 135 islands that are made for habitation, but that now lack the electricity that was supposed to make that habitation comfortable.

Some Cantons have probably built good island-wide microgrids, but others may have opted against it or simply have not had the skills, resources or manpower.

Even if the population in all cantons of Avantgrid wanted good and instant connectivity, perhaps they couldn’t easily achieve it? Even in the high-tech social-democratic internet utopia of Sweden, there are islands in the outer reaches of the Stockholm archipelago where 4G connectivity is very patchy. It’s simply hard and expensive to achieve due to the topography of an archipelago - as anyone who has taken a ferry from Stockholm to Finland can tell you.

By the way, calling @zaunders, @kristofer, @matthias, @zelf to think about this!

1 Like

You’d not need trade agreements, but districts would rely exclusively on barter for inter-district trade. For simple, practical reasons: as very different economies, they’d all have very different types of money, which would be mutually considered worthless or at least technologically incompatible (one has a blockchain, others have seashells …).

Bartering goods directly still works, but is sufficiently difficult due to the “double coincidence of wants” problem, so it would not happen too often. If you want to make it somewhat easier, you can feature the PayCoupons circular bartering algorithm perhaps :grin:


Foreign trade is closer to barter than within-national economy. Int econ distinguishes between the balance of trade, which involves the moving of physical goods, and the current account, which includes the balance of trade but also purely financial transactions like investments and remits. International trade proper is seen as unambiguously good, based on comparative advantage theory; international finance is a very different ballgame, and it makes sense that Distrikts would try to control it. For example, the Assembly does this:

If you have international trade but not international finance, you have a sort of barter, but, like Matt says, networked rather than bilateral. To get what this would look like, go back to comparative advantage. For example, the Assembly, for historical reasons, has accumulated an advantage in autonomous small-batch production, so it is a “specialized supplier” distrikt:

The Covenant is strong in very high quality products made by the monks and things that require long-term investment and thinking to achieve; and in knockoffs made by the opportunistic capitalist companies “clustered around the monasteries”.