As a college freshman, I discovered the concept of “jurisdiction,” the fancy legal word describing where and how a particular law applies. For instance, the government of Virginia does not ordinarily have jurisdiction over crimes committed in Utah (which is happy news for Utahans). Governments will usually assert territorial jurisdiction beyond their beaches, but only so far; the standard is 12 nautical miles from the coast, beyond which are “international waters” not under the jurisdiction of any nation. What did this realization mean to a smart, wild-eyed 18-year-old? “If I take a motorboat far enough out into the ocean, there is no law!”
So I took the next logical step. I bought a beat-up old runabout, grabbed a friend and a 12-pack of Milwaukee’s Best, and headed for the high seas to drink alcohol and snub the government and its silly laws against underage consumption. Setting aside the fact that underage possession of alcohol is also a crime, we were clearly the biggest nerds in history for knowingly escaping Florida and federal jurisdiction just to get drunk.
It was great! We could commit any crimes we wanted while floating around the Gulf of Mexico without worrying about criminal prosecution! So we shouted “Fire!” even though we knew damn well that there was no fire. We made some illegal wagers with each other. I think we indecently exposed ourselves to dolphins passing by. And that was pretty much it. (We weren’t really the criminal type.)
But it was exhilarating and we did what any ordinary teenagers would do under the same circumstances if they had several screws loose and lots of free time: we decided to build a lawless “Party Platform,” of course, where people would be free to smoke weed, get naked, and – I don’t know – break laws and stuff. We built a ten-foot square wooden platform from some leftover construction materials, strapped four 40-gallon barrels to the corners so that it would float, and hauled it about 15 miles into the Gulf where we anchored it, marked its location on our GPS, and then high-tailed it out of there to avoid a massive afternoon Florida thunderstorm that literally almost sank the boat.
Which is where it probably still is today, assuming it hasn’t been commandeered by other freedom enthusiasts who understand “international waters” and have way too much free time. Wait – others? you ask. Of course!
For the past half century, a dilapidated old sea fort has been claimed as a sovereign nation called Sealand by a self-proclaimed prince and his progeny. The “owners” attempted to sell the 5900 square foot rustbucket for a mere $750 million (a paltry $127,119 per square foot), but oddly enough couldn’t find a buyer.
In 1972, a real estate developer named Michael Oliver attempted to create an independent nation called Minerva by adding tons of sand to a South Pacific atoll that was above sea level for only part of each tide cycle. He succeeded briefly, hoping to find additional investors, until the King of Tonga sent a crew of convicts to – irony, anyone? – steal the property.
Still, lest you think that the search for libertarian freedom is dead, enter seasteading, stage right. Inspired by investment by PayPal founder Peter Thiel, the seasteading movement continues to provide freedom lovers with hope of someday permanently escaping government jurisdiction and – I don’t know – break laws and stuff.
While innovative (and entertaining), these projects fail to acknowledge that governments don’t limit their jurisdiction out of respect for individual rights; they do so because of lack of resources and interest. Bullies, including governments, can’t be everywhere at once. Seasteaders will succeed in their establishment of government-free libertarian societies until they attract the attention of governments, who will quickly, like Tonga, show up with crews of convicts.
So we may as well just forget about freedom and drink away our sorrows. Join me. There’s still plenty of room on the Party Platform.