Avantgrid: The off-grid archipelago

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”.


Ok, but then we have an inconsistency with the Assembly’s origin story. When their power grid went down, those guys pulled off energy autonomy. They could also do something similar for food production, but not for advanced manufacturing (echos of the failure of backyard furnaces in Mao’s China). If the Assembly can, so can the Avantgrid. Or maybe neither can?

IMO that would depend on the nature of the social contract. The Assembly is communitarian-anarchist.

@hugi, if I may: If Avantgrid’s origin story is essentially that of island penthouses that went wrong, there is now a potential narrative building up - wealthy libertarians who are highly suspicious of large collectives, and trade and barter with Libria and the Assembly for goods and services. So, might I suggest opening with:

“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

Basically, these would be the people who are libertarian to a point where even Libria thinks them a bit extreme. Then you can see them moving out to this mythic, almost Randian John Galt fantasy, and then everything collapsing, and having to build from scratch. Which then ties into the general datedness of the tech they use - they’d have to buy old stock, and from that would spring the desire to deliberately keep tech at a level where different Cantons can produce it themselves; and also resentment - a powerful force - that forms the backbone for the first eco-terrorists.

And THEN you have Dirk and Leo, bringing together the eco-pragmatists on top of a system that has skewed more towards individualism reaching an equilibrium with the environment, and less towards collective action.

I think there’s value looking at two examples that may not at first glance fit together: Indonesia and the cities of Second Life. Indonesia has a population split among seventeen thousand islands, with the bulk of them on a couple of those island; to the rest, more than central governance, it’s culture that keeps the whole thing connected.

Second Life: a situation where distance and physicality and other boring meatspace constraints are of no limit whatsoever. What happens? Oddly, a lot of people go between working on cities and living on private islands. Cities:

Private - owned land:

So I reckon you might see something like that with Cantons: one or two Cantons where the number of people per sq. km is significantly higher, probably for practical reasons (tech production? art commune?) and the rest rather thinly distributed.

If you like, happy to edit and ninja stuff in. Let me know!

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Yes, I like where this is going! Please go ahead and have a pass at this.

Yes, this is good! Libertarians always face the problem of the cyberpunk city of high-tech corporations being even more controlling than a centralized government in practice. This has, in our own history, created room for the ideologies of people like Ted Kaczynski and his brand of Anarcho-primitivism. These people are also drawn to places like Slab City - full of art-loving hippies but not an Assembly-style collectivist in sight.

I will need edit access. Unless I’m mistaken, I don’t have an edit option available for your post.

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I made it at wiki post - go ahead now!

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Thanks! I took a run at all the sections. Going by @alberto’s critique, I tilted the energy frugality towards more of a product of culture than of a planned top-down economic process, as the energy cost of maintaining ledgers and accurate energy accounting would be enormous. Plus it would require enforcement to preserve its sanctity.

So instead, belief. Very powerful behavorial process, after all, one that we should not discount when looking at how people might function. We generally have very libertarian outlook, self-government, Coasian bargaining where possible. I’ve preserved the original ideas of the ledger and the reverse-currency as an intellectual exercise with theors for and against it (as we are seeing here in the comments)

On the way, Hugi, you have become an entire school of aethnography. Accidents happen, I’m afraid. Congrats, you are now not a person but an entire institution focus on energy :stuck_out_tongue:

What do you think?

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Love the new direction, feels more coherent.

Oh dear…


Great story @hugi, loved reading and enjoyed the thoughts that come through on what might autonomous seasteading futures feel like.

I hope to take some time with more specifics, but what my eye sees first with this is what would happen if Avantgrid people would live with reverence to limits and place over time.

I’m thinking of how re-indiginization into humans in ocean and islands might look.

As lots of solar energy goes inte the water, some sort of 3D ocean horticulture practices ought to be central. Lots of food, fiber, fuel and minerals might come back out of the oceans and this might be a space where growing ecosystems could also add be in service to mainland areas so that possible trade would not be to unbalanced and extractive.

Likely carbonization and pyrolysis too in order to create soil carbon on the islands and desalinate water for summer vegetative growth. Here macroalgie would be a great biomass source.

As for keeping track of energy/industry used things like electronics, metals and stone would likely be less available in that kind of bioregion so activity that requires that kind of stuff i probably going to be measured and shared…


This is super-interesting and could perhaps be a driver of Avantgrid economy. Do you have any present-day examples or science fiction references of how these ‘3D ocean horticulture practices’ might look and how they work?

I like the idea of the frugal Avantgridians doing all sorts of things with algie! I bet there are plenty of interesting and futuristic examples available. I wonder if we could connect to a researcher somewhere who would be willing to speculate with us.

Yeah, I’ve found a few that are really exciting approaches being tried.

There is what Brian Von Herzen is calling Marine Permaculture that uses, wave or solar to drive very simple pumps in order to circulate colder (more nutrient dense) water into warmer areas and growing macroalgie in that flow. these enable kelp forests in otherwise unscaffolded ocean space. Those forests become ocean ecosystems for trophic levels up to large predatory fish.

There is also what Bren Smith is doing with Green Wave which is more intentionally integrating shellfish and often works closer to shore. Some of the benefits apart from biomass production (generally I’ve seen reported that photosynthesis from macroalgie is 4x higher in kelp than in grasslands on land) is that these 3D farms are helping reduce stormsurges, protecting and cleaning water for costal ecosystems.

Yeah, I think that it would be especially useful to combine composting and biochar from algie due to its super high granularity to begin with as well as biochars possibility of acting as aeration, un-chilating heavy metals and increasing the C/N ratios that algie otherwise might suffer from.

IBI would probably have research connections for gas, oil, char conversion of algie…


I made some edits and added a few things here.
What do you think?

I was thinking of how the basically small island Cantons relate to much bigger Akur, so I went more in the direction of Akur as the semi-capital/public gathering space for Avantgrid. Balancing the centrifugal force of Cantonal independence with something that the whole Distrikt shares as a centripetal force. Basically, what enables Avantgrid to stay a Distrikt rather than breaking into many small Micro-Distrikts? Cultural and religious things clearly. What about governance? Mutual self-defense?

Is it maybe some version of “Me against my brother; me and my brother against our cousin; me, my brother and my cousin against the stranger.”? My Canton against the others; The Cantons against Akur?; The Cantons and Akur against Witness and the Harvest Division ?
I’m don’t think that’s the right level of enmity/conflict.


Aha. I like the idea of meeting islands. And this gives a nice utility boost to Akur. Also a fan of “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,” although - why would this keep debate civil?

Private versus public face. From the outside it looks like the island-builders aren’t eco-fanatics since they’re using lots of energy to change bits of the planet. Therefore one would think that the eco-fanatics would fight this with a burning passion.

But they don’t, they only argue with it fairly reasonably. Why?
Because the island-builders are really much more eco-fanatical than they seem. They support and work to build islands, and they support and work to knock out the Harvest grid as part of the same eco-fanatical goal - lower human impact on the planet. So instead of it being explosive - fanatics against enemies, it’s low-level argument - we’re both basically doing the same thing, slightly different methods.

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Makes sense. Plus I assume the work of supporting and maintaining themselves, and their rather decentralized way of living, requires an almost Heinlein-ish view of the world:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

— Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

… and of course one cannot do all of these things and still find the time and energy to pick arbitrary fights for minimal gains within one’s small community. +1 from me. Great ideas, @Nightface.

What is the thinking here? (Still trying to figure the A-G out)

I base this on stories of how the land was distributed among the first settlers of Iceland. One story is that you could claim as much as land as you were able to cover on foot in one day while carrying an open flame. Another is that you could claim as much land as you could cover on foot with your best cow. In both cases the basic idea is: You can claim as much land as you, yourself, could reasonably need for your own needs.

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But these rules of thumb are missing from the entry. So is A-G a face-to-face society preventing people from being assholes and claiming a whole island, just in case?

Hey, @alberto, @hugi, @Nightface I think I have a source for a solution to our problem here.

Let me quote the Nobel TL;DR on Ostrom:
“It was long unanimously held among economists that natural resources that were collectively used by their users would be over-exploited and destroyed in the long-term. Elinor Ostrom disproved this idea by conducting field studies on how people in small, local communities manage shared natural resources, such as pastures, fishing waters, and forests. She showed that when natural resources are jointly used by their users, in time, rules are established for how these are to be cared for and used in a way that is both economically and ecologically sustainable.”
Just as importantly, Ostrom’s Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action debunk’s Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons and illustrates (both fieldwork and theory) that there are practical algorithms for the collective use of a limited common resource, which allow the selfish behavior of stakeholders within the framework of the accepted algorithms for quoting and control, while the result of interaction is not devastation, but rational use and renewal of the resource.

This sounds like it is ideal for Avantgrid, no? We have a solid base to build on!

Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action . Cambridge university press.
Ostrom, E. (2009). “A General Framework for Analyzing Sustainability of Social-Ecological Systems”. Science . 325 (5939): 419–422.
Wall, D. (2017). Elinor Ostrom’s Rules for Radicals: Cooperative Alternatives beyond Markets and States . London: Pluto Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt1vz4931


When read from a certain perspective, it could also be seen as an argument for that each place and community needs have the freedom to let it’s own rules emerge and that it is futile to try to codify or ledgerize those rules. Rules that are coherent between communities are only needed when you unite communities into a kingdom or nation or federation. Perhaps Avantgrid has a set of “principles” that are non-negotiable tabus, and one of those is that no community’s rules or authority can extend beyond its island - to avoid the otherwise inevitable creep of rules that are applied not because they make sense for the ecological context but because they make trade and taxation convenient.

Perhaps there simply is no “ownership” in the eyes of the administration in Akur? How land is used by the people that want to use it must be settled contextually among them. If little skirmishes break out - so be it. As long as the cantons are so small that these skirmishes are just between at most a few thousand people on each side, perhaps that is just seen as one way in which the system self-regulates? Akur only steps in if a canton starts showing signs of trying to expand to multiple islands, or in the cases where a large island with several cantons starts having trouble with one of the cantons growing too powerful and starts bullying the others.

As for “claiming” uninhabited land: If you come to a sparsely populated island and you find land that is obviously not being actively worked and cared for, it should be the rule of thumb that you can inhabit and work that land. However, as you will be dependent on commons - fresh water, pastures, marketplaces and so on - you must learn the rules and practices of the canton and integrate. This does not mean that you have to be completely obedient though, since it is disagreement that evolves and betters these rules over time. However, if you are too disagreeable to your peers, you might be cut off from the commons.

Remember, the purpose of all of this is to slow down “progress” and growth. By design, it seeks to avoid the construction of cathedrals and Apollo projects. An empire against empires.

The Assembly is trying to prove that we can achieve “great things” together while still being free of authority. Avantgrid is trying to tame the instinct to achieve “great things” by making it practically impossible, suggesting instead that each the “small life” is the greatest and most noble of projects.