Aspiring to Travel Freely in a World of Invisible Borders

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
— Henry Miller


“Shall we drive up to Braga tomorrow?” asked our wanderlusting travel companion (and fiancé), Anya.

Having just pressed “send” on yesterday’s issue, we immediately thought of David Galland’s definition of liberty from his excellent guest essay, “What Does Liberty Really Mean to You?”. “In the simplest and purest terms,” wrote Mr. Galland, “it means being free to come and go as I please.”

Liberty cannot exist unless certain preconditions are present…and others absent. Freedom of movement is a rather obvious one…the opposite of captivity. Freedom demands an absence of bars and jail cells. Indeed, it would be a strange brand of freedom where one had to ask permission to go (or to “be”) here or there. Likewise, it would be a strange prison where inmates were free to “come and go as they please.”

Along with freedom of association and freedom of speech, freedom of movement seems rather central to the idea of liberty.

But let’s imagine for a second that, instead of driving to Braga, Anya had suggested flying to, say, Beirut…or Bucharest…or even Brasilia? (These are not infrequent suggestions, by the way.) Your Australian-born editor needs a visa to visit these places…and many, many more locales besides. Our freedom of movement is, therefore, compromised. It is seen by The State as something “to be granted,” as opposed to unalienable. Even for Hong Kong, a destination which makes a habit of ranking among the “freest places on earth” on lists that monitor such things (here’s one), individuals who happened to have been born on Terra Australis, through no fault of their own, are required to obtain a visa if they wish to “work, study, get trained, establish or join in any business or to take up residence.” So say the agencies that oversee such things (here’s one).

In fact, your antipodean editor would have considerable difficulty just leaving this tiny country were his papers not “in order.” Likewise if he stayed too long. We need a valid passport to sit in a cafe in France or to sip a port in Porto…a permission book to move over imagined lines in the sand.

Odd, isn’t it, what passes for freedom these days.

That said, people born Down Under fare much better than most. Pity the poor Colombian, for example, for whom visas are required to visit some 130+ countries around the world. Same for those born in countless other lands. And what of the people who wish to travel to Australia, those who the various political elites refer to so demeaningly as “boat people”? Why is it that some people enjoy the freedom to live and ply their trade in (keeping with “B” cities) Brisbane, for instance, while others do not? What separates a person born in Burma from one born in Bundaberg? Is one more deserved of the freedom of movement than the other? Is one person somehow “entitled” to be in a particular place, simply because of an accident of birth? And who is so wise as to decide these matters either way? Who is so arrogant as to assume a freedom they would actively deny other, apparently “lesser” people.

Remember, we’re not talking about private property here. We’re talking about artificial borders, erected by The State, which human beings need to ask “permission” before crossing.

All this is simply to stir a little grey matter, to challenge our Fellow Reckoners to think about what liberty really means. If you’re not free to “come and go as you please,” what does that say about the state of the world?

In yesterday’s issue, we asked our readers to tell us what liberty means to them. Here are a selection of their responses. You’ll find Part II of Mr. Galland’s essay on the topic below…

Writes Reckoner L. Bella…

I would rather take my chances every day of the week with a snake oil salesman that I can freely choose to purchase from or not purchase or believe or not believe than get anything from my government that is the biggest snake oil swindler of them all!

Chimes Reckoner Dagwood…

Freedom, at least to me, would mean actually having my country run efficiently, honestly, wisely, and with regard for the will of the people.

What we have is difficult to describe accurately, but it is not what our forebears originally intended. It lies somewhere between a representative democracy and old fashioned fascism. We make a lot of chin music about the elections, but nothing really changes.

We talk a lot about freedom, but we regularly deny it to those who disagree with us. We say we are peace-loving, but we are the most warlike people on the planet. We criticize nations like China for human rights abuses, but I suspect the 1.4 million Iraqis we killed had a right to live. 1 in 4 children are on food stamps, but we spend more on military than the rest of the world combined. We speak of a rule of law, but selectively enforce those laws which are not politically sensitive, such as immigration and war crimes of the Bush administration. Corporate influence has become a huge force in politics, and our leaders are frequently “bought” by them with promises of employment or “campaign contributions.” The right to privacy is implied by our constitution, but our government regards our private affairs far less deserving of protection than it once did.

This is far from the country I was born into.

And this, from Reckoner B.W., writing from across the pond…

Couple of points from me on your daily articles today. I’m a ‘Brit’ but have studied the US Constitution and read about it in order to try and understand where we took the wrong road in the UK…

The ‘right to bear arms’ was intended to say afterwards (though didn’t need to at the time it was written) ‘in order to protect myself and property from the oppressive government’. The US bill of rights is drawn from the English BoR from 90 years earlier and says the same thing.

The other concerns the meaning of Liberty and Freedom which is ‘liberty and freedom from oppressive government’. The only ‘right’ level of income tax for example is no income tax. A serious government that understood freedom would be striving to maintain personal income tax at zero. That doesn’t mean no sales tax, etc. But you have a choice how you spend; you have no choice when the government puts its hand into your pocket each payday under penalty of imprisonment if you object.

And finally, Reckoner Stu writes…

In the ’70s and early ’80s I did mountain guiding in Alaska. I owned a 14.5 acre piece of land that ran from the Glenn Highway to the Matanuska River at mile 102 on the Glenn Highway. It overlooked the terminus of the Matanuska Glacier and had a spectacular 180 degree view of the Chugach Range.

Every June 1 I would arrive there, set up a two room tent on a tent platform, plant a garden, and commence the guiding season. We had an outhouse facing the view. It had no door, because nobody lived in that direction. We had a wood cook stove and a GI shower in a small teepee-like structure. We had no police or fire protection, being 60 miles from the nearest fire or police station. Nobody tried to tell us what to do. We took care of our own problems, including a forest fire. We knew who the three “bad guys” in the area were and made sure they didn’t do anything to us.

This is as close to freedom as I probably will ever experience. At the time I took it for granted. Now I see it was a very rare opportunity. Contrasting this to the eroding freedoms now being experienced in the “lower 48”, “I wanna go home”.

Joel Bowman
for The Daily Reckoning