Maverick Traveler

Location Independence, Geo Arbitrage, Individual Freedom

The West And The Complete Domestication of Man

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day. We were enjoying a beautiful summer day in one of Kiev’s outside restaurant terraces.

“You, know”, he said. “Ukraine is one of the freest countries on this planet.”

“What do you mean?” I asked him.

“Well, you can do pretty much anything you want here. Of course, they have laws and all that, but unless you do something really stupid or piss off important people, nobody will care.”

He certainly didn’t need to convince me too hard; I immediately understood his point. The more time I spent living abroad, the more I realized that most of the countries that I enjoyed a great deal were squarely outside the West; they were mostly what one considers “third world,” such as Latin America, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

I spent many years living in Latin America. One of the things that I liked about that part of the world is the element of unpredictability and adventure. It was evident every time I went out. It was common to go out with your friends, meet some new people along the way, go out with them to some interesting and crazy party, meet more new people, and then wake up the next day, reflecting an seemingly random and interesting experience. There’s a greater chance of that happening in an “unpredictable” city like Mexico City than, for example, in super orderly and conservative Spain, a country that shares the language and culture with Latin America.

This element of unpredictability is the result of less societal structure and more individual freedom. Last year in Thailand, while driving a rental car from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai in the northern part of the country, in over three hours of driving I didn’t see a single policeman anywhere. I was free to drive as fast as I wanted without worrying whether a policeman hiding behind the next bend with a radar gun (as often happens in big American cities and on interstates in the middle of nowhere). I also didn’t notice many people speeding. Everyone drove in an orderly way, never speeding or overtaking others. (Try driving from New York to Miami or San Francisco to Los Angeles and see how many eager highway patrollers would pull you over for going few miles over the speed limit.)

Get out of the water!

A few weeks later, I wrapped up my Thailand adventures and flew back to New York City. The summer was in full swing, so the very next day, I headed to the beach. I immediately noticed something very strange. City employees (part of the NYC Department of Parks) were harassing anyone who was swimming or was about to swim telling them that they needed to get out of the water immediately.

The reason? There were no lifeguards on duty. And without lifeguards on duty you couldn’t swim.

I was shocked. Never in my whole life had I seen something like this. I couldn’t believe that someone could forbid someone else from taking a nice swim in the scorching summer heat. I was wrong. Apparently the beach is under city government’s jurisdiction so they can do what they want, including deciding whether you had the right to bask in the crystal clear waters of Atlantic Ocean.

Furthermore, I actually don’t think I’ve ever been to any country—and I’ve been to some amazing beaches on this planet—where the government forbade people from swimming. I could never imagine this happening in Brazil, Thailand, Italy, Ukraine or Indonesia. I don’t even think I’ve seen police or city employees on a public beach (unless they were cleaning the trash). On the other hand, I can certainly imagine this to be a regular occurrence in places like Germany, England or Scandinavia, countries that are deemed to be “free” but where governments exercise much greater control over people’s lives.

Rich democratic countries are more “predictable” chiefly due to an organized legal structure and the rule of law. As a result, you know exactly where you stand in terms of whether you’re above the law or not. This black and white divide is a huge advantage because you can create courts with judges who interpret these laws along with prosecutors and defenders who either bring these offenses against someone or defend someone from these offenses, respectively. For example, if you don’t pay me, I have a recourse: I can sue you in a small claims court.

In the developing third world, things work a bit different. Instead of the government writing every single rule and law that dictates how people should eat, drink and breathe, common sense takes over. This means that nobody really cares about trivial things that don’t adversely impact others. When I visited the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa last week for a little summer vacation, the beaches were packed and there weren’t any lifeguards on duty (or maybe they were invisible because I didn’t see any). Naturally, people were swimming without some city employees kicking them out of water. (As to whether there’s a Ukrainian law that forbids people to swim without lifeguards is another story.)

Drinking beer in parks is ok. Swimming in the water is ok. If you steal something, that’s not ok. If you hurt someone, that’s not ok. Depending on the severity of the latter, there will be either little to no repercussions, or you might have some serious people after you (if you steal lots of money, for instance). You don’t need judges, courts and prosecutors for this (although they also exist). This is just common sense.

This unspoken freedom is one of the main reasons that people generally travel from developed countries to less developed ones. It’s also a chief reason why people make money in the former and then eventually move (or retire) in the latter. Developed countries are great for making money—this is the reason they were created in the first place—but not so much when it comes to quality of life. I’ve noticed this pattern happening when immigrants come to USA or the UK, work their asses off, save money and then return back to their homelands, buy property or whatever.

The Nanny State

There’s an interesting concept called Nanny State. It’s when the government basically assumes the role of a parent figure and tells you what you can or can’t do. It’s chiefly a Western phenomenon; it doesn’t exist in non-Westernized countries like Russia, Thailand, Ukraine or Brazil. (When I visited Russia a few years ago, I’ve talked about how you have to essentially fend for yourself because no one will hold your hand in Russia, something I initially found confusing but eventually very refreshing.)

To be sure, there are times where government control is welcomed. I don’t smoke. And one thing that drives me absolutely nuts is when people smoke in public and the smoke blows in my face. Couple of years ago, I was relaxing on the beach in southern Turkey. I had just rented a comfortable beach chair and was set on enjoying a supremely gorgeous day on the beach. Unfortunately, I would not be enjoying anything that day. On that fine afternoon with clear blue skies, almost every single person who was on the beach seemed to be smoking. That meant that instead of gazing out into the Black Sea, the only thing I was enjoying was the disgusting smell of tobacco. Every single person on that beach smoked at one point or another. If a person to the right of me finished his cigarette, the person on the left started theirs. This continued throughout the day. Although not as bad as in Turkey, it’s also a huge problem here in Eastern Europe. Lots of people smoke. I don’t care what you do to your body, but I certainly care about being exposed to carcinogens and catching cancer.

This is one thing that the West got right. In New York City, smoking has been completely outlawed in public places. That means not only you can’t smoke in outside terraces in the restaurants, but you can’t even smoke on the sidewalks and in the parks.

So, what’s the difference between outlawing smoking in public venues and outlawing ocean swimming when there are no lifeguards present? The very fact that when you smoke, I’m directly affected, but when you swim without a lifeguard, I’m not affected at all. It’s your choice to swim in the open ocean, so you better know what you’re doing. If you can’t swim, then you die. That’s life. Your reward for poor decision-making is the removal from the gene pool. Smoking is different. Not only are you stimulating cancer cells in your body, you’re also doing it to others. In economic terms that’s called an externality: it’s when you do something, gain a benefit (the pleasant effect of nicotine), but the rest of the society (like myself) is worse off as the result.

While I’m fortunate that I can live on the fringes of Western civilization while enjoying a traditional society where the government doesn’t treat its residents like a bunch of retarded children who don’t know what’s best for them, I don’t believe such societies will still exist in the future. Government control of society is correlated to its level of economic development. The poorer the country, the more pressing are the problems that need solving. That means there is no money for highway patrol with expensive radars to catch speeders or salaries for city employees whose job is to ruin your day at the beach. But as countries gradually develop, governments will have more cash and a greater mandate to control their citizens lives.

Bigger problems than dogs

This reminds me of a time when I was sitting with a friend in sea town of Burgas, Bulgaria a couple of years ago. Bulgaria is a poor country on the southeastern edge of Europe; it felt even poorer than Ukraine. On the next table over, there was a confused-looking German girl who didn’t understand Bulgarian and needed help ordering. My Bulgarian friend graciously volunteered to help her out. After my friend helped her choose a meal, she looked around and asked him why there were so many stray dogs in Bulgaria. She told him that the government should solve this problem by funding some animal shelter like they do in Germany. My friend chuckled, looked at me, and then told her that in this country, we have much bigger problems to solve than to worry about stray animals. After all, Bulgaria isn’t exactly Germany. Given the fact that the German girl even suggested the need for more government involvement tells you everything you need to know about her views on the government’s participation on all aspects of individual’s life.

If you’re a long term reader of this blog, you’ve probably heard me mention that the key to happiness is living in corrupt countries. The more corruption, the better. I know it sounds sinister, but hear me out. Power is like energy, it can’t be destroyed, so it doesn’t simply disappear but instead moves from one area to another. Corruption simply means that instead of the government having a monopoly on power, it’s diffused with various other factions of the society (i.e., mafia, cartels, gangs, organized crime, etc). Essentially, the more corrupt the country, the weaker its government, and the less resources it has devoted to telling people where to swim and where not to swim.

Brazil, Thailand, Argentina and Indonesia are all countries that have relatively high levels of corruption. It’s no coincidence that they’re also very fun places with tons of expats who are searching for ways to extend their visas. Singapore, Denmark and Iceland are countries with relatively little corruption. Thus, it’s no surprise that my year living in Denmark can be categorized as nice and comfortable—and that’s pretty much it. I have zero motivation to ever return. Singapore is nice and orderly, but the fact that you can get caned for overstaying your visa or pay five hundred dollars in fine for feeding pigeons is rather severe.

Just don’t go to Venezuela

Of course, everything must be done in moderation. I’m not advocating that you move to Zimbabwe, Somalia or Venezuela where the corruption is so extreme that the entire economy is nothing more than the transfer of entire wealth from the people to the government state. (In these countries, even the word “economy” is an oxymoron). You don’t want to be stuck somewhere where you need a wheelbarrow full of cash to buy a loaf of bread or needing to find some shady money dealers to exchange your dollars into local money that’s worth anything. Even Rio de Janeiro, a gorgeous city, requires some caution and street smarts. Because of the huge gap between the rich and poor, I had a rule to never leave my apartment with anything I wasn’t willing to lose like my nice smartphone or a watch, something that I’ve completely taken for granted in the West.

Nevertheless, the pattern holds. The more wealthy and prosperous the nation, the more you can expect to be treated like a little child and get slapped every time you do something that might remotely put your life in danger or, worse, get slapped for something that’s deemed remotely offensive to someone else. The objective is to create a society of weaklings who are dependent on constant hand-holding while being duly shielded from any outside harm. As it happens, it’s also a sneaky way for the state to validate and reinforce its own existence.

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  1. James, you’re a physically strong man who has money and doesn’t need to go to work at a workplace.

    Your life in Ukraine is very different than the life of the older lady, the weaker man, the disabled person, the person who has to go to work in some Ukranian company’s office (and I’m not talking about a cozy software engineer job), the parents, the ones who have dependents, the older man, the man without money. And you know that.

    I was swimming in a river yesterday (in America). There was zero supervision. One guy tried to do a backflip from a high standing rock into the river and he hit a rock when he fell down. It wasn’t pretty. He was injured, but not fatally. A few feet in the wrong direction and he could’ve died. Do you see how sometimes supervision can save a life?

    I have also lived in Eastern Europe. Have you ever been to a hospital there with a relative of yours? I have. You notice how a lot of the doctors are rude and disrespectful? You know why this is. Because they’re unrestricted in their “freedom” to do whatever they want. Nobody cares.

    Do you like the air in Eastern Europe? It’s kind of dirty. But that’s ok – the industry moguls are “free” to build their plants without some stupid regulations telling them what to do. They’re strong “alpha” businessman. They’re winners!

    You know all that stuff though, you’re an observant person.

    • You see James,

      They crave ”security”. Give to ’em.

      The safe is seductive. ‘Till isn’t no more.

    • “Do you see how sometimes supervision can save a life?”

      I don’t want the extra taxes/lack of freedom by being supervised by Govt River Cops just because some stupid idiot might do a backflip into a rocky river.

    • I completely hear you but I think you kind of miss what James was saying. He’s not saying Eastern Europe is perfect (which he kinda mention in the article. Read “Bigger problems than dogs”)

      You said that a guy did a backflip and hurt himself, right? Well, as James mentions “Your reward for poor decision-making” You don’t need supervision to know that doing anything on a high standing rock can be extremely dangerous. Don’t you find it weird that you need supervision as a grown adult?

      And yeah, you are right about the different life of the older lady, the weaker man, the parents who have to take care of their father which James also mentions about people from third world countries move to the U.S. or U.K. to earn/save money than later move back to their home country where they are able to afford a better life and help family members.

      About the doctor, I am sorry but I’m sure it’s a European thing. Europe definitely has some rude people in the streets, the restaurant, the café, and even in the hospital.

      Yeah, I saw Serbia and Bulgaria make it on the list with the most air pollution. That really sucks. It’s another issue that needs to be fixed

  2. 100% true. Just came from an extended weekend in Belgrade. Haven’t felt this good in months…

  3. Agree in 100%. I live in Poland and I see that the country is year after year more westernized. The cost of this is less freedom , higher taxes (and less options to avoid them), shallow relationships, and focus on job and consumption. People has focused on “Better West” but sadly the life is much worst now than before.

    Luckly I can move anywhere else so I can’t complain 🙂

  4. Great piece James, have also been living in Latin America for two years and have never been able to put into words why I love it out here so much. Your article pretty sums it up.

  5. I am from Brazil and I partially agreed with you.

    One thing you people don’t seem to be aware is, socialism/cultural marxism is taking it’s hold here. Most college students and even most high schoolers lean towards the left and it’s doctrines, that are passed down to them via socialist teachers. They follow the teachings of Gramsci, Marx, Marcuse and the School of Frankfurt. Feminism runs rampant, and also it’s variants: gender identity, assistencialism, politically correctness… They have dominated the educational system.

    The socialist left dictates the rules around here. They openly support Venezuela’s Maduro. They follow UN’s globalist agenda, and approve laws that benefit criminals and corrupts. And they also censor the media, just like in Venezuela, but as I see, the western world is not aware of that, mainly due to said censorship.

    Many of you still are under the illusion that this is a free country. I don’t blame you. This is indeed a great place to be if you are a foreigner with some cash. Women here love some “gringo” and you won’t have a hard time to find one. Also, our beaches are beautiful, our beer cheap, and you can find good places to rent for small dollar, etc… But for those who live here, it is not so “free”… You suffer big backlashes if you go against the leftist government agenda. If they elect Lula or another socialist in the next presidential election, I fear that we may become the next Venezuela (Lula and Maduro are great “comrades”).

    Bottom line is… you guys pray that things don’t get worse… because the leftists here, like in Venezuela, hate the “north American imperialists” (which applies even to europeans… logic is not their “forte”…). Brazil won’t be so attractive anymore if we take the same route as Venezuela or Cuba.

    Sorry for my bad English, I just wanted to join the conversation… Keep up the good work!

    • LDM: I hear what you’re saying. My follow-up question is this: do you see any chance for a backlash against Brasil’s slide towards leftist extremism? Don’t you think the men there won’t tolerate this sort of nonsense?

    • I would not worry too much about it. Brazil is too poor to successfully bankroll projects like feminism etc. For projects like these to succeed you need a substantial middle class. In my (conservative) country of origin they tried to do the same thing. Feminists with the help of the European Union (they themselves admitted being financed by the EU on TV) put pressure on the government to change family law. The results are a complete and utter disaster: men/boys are refusing to marry (average age now is 27 for women en 30 for men…used to be much earlier). illegitimate children are through the roof, divorce is through the roof, social ills are through the roof etc. The point they didn’t account for is the fact that my country of origin is poor: there aren’t many good jobs (no point in being careerist). A university diploma has little real life worth. Maximum you can get out of it is a poorly paid government job like: teacher, social worker or a small desk with the county.
      The best a girl can hope for is getting snatched up by a capabele man at an early age.

  6. “Developed countries are great for making money—this is the reason they were created in the first place—but not so much when it comes to quality of life.”

    Even this is getting less so with each passing year. Taxes and cost of living are insane in Europe. The only thing ‘the West’ really has going for it right now is health care. Do not get sick in the third world. The problem is (can only speak for Europe) indeed as you say – too many rules and laws. Europe is overly organised leaving little room for spontaneity, it’s also cold, calculated en impersonal. Al these factors make it a intensely boring and soul deadening place to be. Which is quite apparent when you see the people…most look like zombies: folks are going through the motions without thinking.

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