There’s something timeless and romantic about
living on the ragged edge of civilization. Whether you prefer the American Old West,
the final frontier of space, or somewhere in between, the thought of living in roguish
freedom is certainly appealing to many. If you are hoping to find somewhere free from
the shackles of laws in our world today, here are some places you might want to investigate. On the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan
sits an area known as Ungoverned Afghanistan and it is just that, ungoverned, at least
to some extent. More officially know as The Federally Administered Tribal Areas, it provides
a great opportunity to experience all the danger and thrills of the Old West in the
modern era. While officially under the jurisdiction of Pakistan’s federal government, the areas
are considered “semi-autonomous”, which means that they are bound more by tribal laws
than the Frontier Crimes Regulations that Pakistan has put over them. Basically the
law of the land is whatever the local tribes and warlords make it out to be. When the Supreme
Court of Pakistan refuses to deal with the region, you just know it’s a dodgy area.
Seven tribal districts, also known as agencies, divide the land with six frontier regions.
Though they are represented in the Parliament of Pakistan by elected representatives, the
tribal districts have no problem with rejecting Parliamentary resolutions they don’t approve
of. Surprisingly, support for the Pakistani military is high among the tribes, with nearly
eighty percent approving of an eventual military government.
For now, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas remain a hotbed of militant activity,
thanks in no small part to the lack of control Pakistan wields over the region. If you fancy
rubbing shoulders with outlaws, brigands and warlords then be sure to book the next available
flight. If sand dunes and open spaces are more to
your liking, then you’re going to love the Western Sahara. It has the honor of being
one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world, with around two people per square
kilometer, based on best estimates. With all that space, it’s simply a daunting
prospect for any one government to control it. The Western Sahara region was considered
a Spanish colony until the late 20th century, after which Morocco and Mauritania fought
with the native Sahrawi people for the right to the land. Mauritania soon gave up, leaving
Morocco to claim the most valuable portions while the Sahrawi were left with vast tracts
of barren desert. Despite Morocco’s tenuous grasp on the region,
the United Nations refuses to recognize their claim. Instead, they consider the Western
Sahara to be a “non-self-governing territory” due to the question of whether Spain had adequately
“decolonized” it when they cut ties and left. For now, if you’re interested in herding
camels with the Sahrawi and hiding among the dunes, it seems that no one knows what laws
actually apply to the area or how to enforce them. Best to take advantage of the situation
whilst it lasts. If you were to commit a crime out there the locals wouldn’t even know
who to report you to, never mind prosecution. With the region’s lack of laws mainly attributed
to political negligence and a general mindset of “wow this area’s so large and unpopulated
who actually gives a toss.” I imagine you could probably get away with quite a lot in
this vast expanse of barren dessert. If living the pirate’s life on the high
seas appeals to you, grab yourself a boat and head out to international waters. Territorial
waters for any nation only extends twenty-two kilometers out from the shore, you aren’t
truly free until you move through the contiguous zone, which extends another twenty-two kilometers
beyond. And even then, if you’re caught engaging in egregious acts of piracy, any
nation has the ability to bring you to justice. But there’s a whole lot of water out there.
Unless you attract an awful lot of attention to yourself, you’re just another speck on
the horizon. There’s something magical about the high
seas. Since the very first ships, the idea of sailing the open ocean has inspired generations
of artists, spawning beautiful paintings, books, and even movies. To apply laws to such
an unruly stretch of water would almost be an insult to what is one of Earth’s last
true remaining wildernesses. International waters are regulated out of necessity in our
modern world, but enforcing the rules is an impossible task for the world’s governments.
Thus, the world’s oceans remain one of the last truly lawless places on Earth.
As the great Hugo Grotius said in the early seventeenth century, people from all nations
have a right to the waterways of the world. He called this right Mare Liberum, Latin for
“The Free Sea”, and his book by the same name laid the groundwork for the concept of
international waters, as we know them today. So set sail for the high seas, and celebrate
the freedom Grotius championed centuries past. In January of 1991, Somalia suddenly found
its central government dissolved as it plunged into a bloody civil war that still rages on
to this day. In the two decades that followed anarchy ruled the day, as warlords fought
among themselves for the opportunity to rule small sections of the fragmented country.
There have since been several attempts to reestablish order in the region, starting
with the short-lived Transitional National Government in 2000, and most recently with
the Federal Government of Somalia in 2012. Only time will tell whether the latter is
effective, though the formation of a parliament and election of an official president lends
some momentum to the effort. Meanwhile, the region remains fractured. The
concept of government is only half the battle in a world of militants and local rule, where
might makes right when it comes to the law. And in the Internet Age, it’s hard to gain
credibility when there are multiple web pages all claiming to represent your fledgling government.
Piracy is a major problem in Somalia. With basically no laws or enforcement agencies
to keep a lid on things, pirates rule the high seas around the country, making the waters
surrounding Somalia one of the most dangerous shipping routes in the world. In 1923, the British government decided to
grant New Zealand their own little piece of the ice-encrusted Antarctic wasteland. They
established the Ross Dependency, New Zealand’s own little cheese-shaped triangle of Antarctica.
Which included a swath of the continent and also extended out into the sea to cover a
small archipelago known as the Balleny Islands. To date, New Zealand hasn’t quite figured
out what to do with them. There has been no attempt thus far to establish
a colony on the islands. Though still technically under the governance of New Zealand, if there
is a bright center to civilization then the Balleny Islands are certainly far from it.
Though the Antarctica Act of 1960 established a precedent for prosecuting criminal acts
in the Ross Dependency, it doesn’t seem anyone is willing to make the trip to actually
enforce the law. The closest anyone in New Zealand has come
to acknowledging the Balleny Islands’ existence directly was a proposal to establish them
as a marine preserve in May of 1999. That’s pretty much the equivalent of saying, “Well,
we can’t quite figure out what to do with them. Perhaps we should just leave them to
the penguins and fish.” Even within the United States, there are certain
places that escape the roving eye of the law. Located in an arid expanse of the Sonoran
desert in Southern California, Slab City is one such place, where people go when they
really want to get away from it all. Officially the site is owned by the State of California,
though it is small and desolate enough to avoid close scrutiny by the government.
Built on the remnants of an old military barracks, Slab City is named for the large concrete
slabs left behind after the barracks was demolished. Most of the residents live in RVs, campers,
and tents, amidst shanty structures that serve as meeting places for music and community
gatherings. Though they purchase most of their supplies from a nearby town, the “slabbers”
pride themselves on their self-sufficiency, choosing to go without many modern luxuries
in exchange for the freedom Slab City offers. Called “the last free place on earth”
by its inhabitants, the population of mostly hippies and plain old weirdo’s fluctuates
with the seasons. From the one hundred and fifty or so permanent residents, to nearly
two thousand people during peak months. Some are attracted to the weather—others, the
isolation—but all enjoy the rare opportunity to experience a lifestyle free from the burden
of regulation and rules. Free, at least, until the State of California demands the land back. Last, but certainly not least, is Pitcairn
Island in the Southern Pacific Ocean. With a population of only forty-eight people as
of a July 2014 estimate, it is the smallest national jurisdiction in the world by population.
On an island of only forty-seven square kilometers, that means there isn’t much room to spread
your legs—you’d better hope you don’t make any enemies whilst you’re there.
Pitcairn Island, and the unpopulated islands around it, are claimed as a British Overseas
Territory by the United Kingdom. Because we all know how much the UK just loves to stick
flags into things and say it’s theirs. Though the residents of Pitcairn Island bend their
knees to the crown ruler, they’ve been allowed to establish a local parliament to handle
matters on the island via representative democracy. Essentially, the islanders are left alone
to craft their own laws and self-govern, as long as the Queen can peek over their shoulder
now and then. Despite Britain’s claim to Pitcairn Island
and its surrounds, the United Nations still considers the area to be a non-self-governing
territory. With so few people involved in the democratic process, it must be difficult
to cast votes objectively. Vote for the wrong person, and you just might have your dinner
burned that night.