For more than 400 free thinkers gathered in Austin, Texas, over the weekend, a single utopia was not enough. With the tagline “maximize human potential,” participants at the third annual Voice and Exit festival explored the frontiers of entrepreneurship and innovation towards a utopia of utopias — from bossless organizations (holacracy) and seasteading to “conscious capitalism” and the philosophy of action.
Although diverse in content and audience, the event’s distinct name signals the unifying themes or “human algorithm,” as promoted by cofounder Max Borders: “voice” refers to persuasion and peaceful association, and “exit” refers to creating one’s own systems and alternatives to escape the status quo. Borders advocates “criticism through creation” and “non-coercive means of making social change.”
Organizers divided the two-day event into three phases: seeds, sprouts, and harvest — moving from short speeches on provocative ideas to small-group discussions and then finally to action plans on Sunday. The festival, which included talks on health and physiology, also featured various artistic performances and live painting.
Dylan Evans was one of the featured speakers, a British author now based in Guatemala, and he explained the respect for individuality and creativity on account of there not being a “one-size-fits-all” ideal.
“A utopia really is … a space that gives room for lots of different people to do their own way of living, to set up their own experiment. Some of those will fail; some of them will attract more people,” but “that broad framework of freedom to innovate” is what Evans was there to promote.
The youthful crowd heard from John Mackey, Whole Foods Market founder and chief executive, as he promoted mission-oriented ventures. He sought to break down the distinction between for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and remove the bad wrap that the former type receives.
“Business is fundamentally good, because it is the greatest value creator in the world,” he said. “For-profit business creates far more value than all the governments and all the nonprofits added together, by an exponential factor.” He added that business is also ethical, “because it’s based on voluntary exchange.”
One of the recurring terms was creative destruction. Education entrepreneur Isaac Morehouse of Praxis, for example, explained how he was providing an accelerated and targeted form of higher education, for those not willing to wait through the conventional four-year bachelors degree. He echoed the sentiment of a fellow speaker, author and media entrepreneur Ryan Holiday, who dropped out of college to engage with a wider audience.
The event website explicitly shunned politics as obsolete — “the era of force is passing away” — but that didn’t mean policy was irrelevant to attendees. Many speakers addressed the tension between the eagerness to innovate and the lag time of laws and government. Jeffrey Tucker of Liberty.me opined that in the meantime many people would suffer the wrath of protectionism, and shared sadness at the life prison sentence imposed on the founder of the online black-market platform Silk Road.
Others offered potential arbitrage opportunities and ways out from underneath such laws. Michael Strong explained the ZEDEs or special development zones in Honduras, while Randolph Hencken and Joe Quirk went over the prospects and challenges associated with starting communities on the ocean. Despite many setbacks, they remain hopeful of finding a friendly host nation that will permit such a project on their waters.
Along the same lines, Alex Tabarrok, an economics professor of George Mason University, spoke of the moral problem of border constraints. He described these as a grave barrier to human progress and a form of discrimination. He believes that “the big picture, however, is in the right direction. Most notably, take a look at the European Union.… That is an incredible achievement in humanity.… Now people are free to move across these countries.”
Sara Robertson was a local attendee who volunteered to man one of the booths in exchange for entry. She came “just to learn new thoughts and ideas,” and described herself as a non-scholastic, an opponent of traditional education. It turned out “a little more on the nerdy side … really free thinking,” although she enjoyed the bio-hacking portion.
Max Borders shared that attendance exceeded expectations, and that half a dozen attendees hoped to start spin-off events in other cities. Although he was excited about that, “there’s always a question of growing too fast, getting too big for your britches,” he said. “But certainly we would like to replicate this.”
Editor’s note: there will be in-depth interviews to come from this event. Stay tuned to the PanAm Post.