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The Masterless People: Pirates, Maroons, and the Struggle to Live Free (longreads.com)
211 points by kawera 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 80 comments

For anyone interested in that strange phenomenon, this book is a classic: https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300169171/art-not-being-...

And his talks on the origins of the state (vulgarly summarized as "cities were not to keep barbarians OUT, they were to keep the slave classes IN": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2ukte-je8k

thanks for this link. amazing talk.

Wow, this is so God damn interesting. Thanks for the recommendation

1) Gets you curious about the name of the band Maroon 5.

2) Caribean islands are a cataclysm for your mind. Volcanic tropical islands with colonial remains everywhere. Between the wild gigantism of nature, the palette of colors, the mountains bathing in dark silk sand beaches. The intensity of the sun... I'd suggest everyone to try to visit (if you're not scared by humidity and insects of course)

Maroon 5 is apparently a riff on yellow5[0][1].

[0] https://www.yellow5.com/pokey/

[1] ref: the author is a friend of mine. I don’t know how they determined the relationship, but I’ve no reason to doubt the author.

Update: corroborated(?) https://www.notablebiographies.com/news/Li-Ou/Maroon-5.html

Thanks I couldnt fond any answer.

More importantly, pokey the penguin.

I first heard the term 'maroon' from a Bugs Bunny cartoon, being used as an insult. I had no idea that it referred to escaped African slaves.

Bugs is just riffing on "moron".

to point 2, I'd say anywhere in Central America is like that as well.

Quite possibly. That said small islands cram all this in a few square miles.

What a great article. I only wish there was more to it.

There is - it's an excerpt from a book "Marooned: Jamestown, Shipwreck, and a New History of America’s Origins" ISBN:9781632867797

Civilization and society is built by people working together under the coercion of masters. Often, to be masterless, is to live on the fringes of civilization. That is, unless you, yourself are a master.

I think it would be more accurate to say it has been built by people working under the coercion of masters. Just like civilization has been built by people subjected to rain, snow, drought and pestilence. These conditions may be necessary for civilization to work, but I don't think we can say for sure they are. It's just how we got here.

All of modern society is this way. Masters coerce with salaries. Societies can not be built or maintained through the power of inspirational charisma from leaders or good will from the people. Money talks. You need to pay me a salary.

How did you get to that conclusion? The human kind has been around for a long time.

The study of anthropology covers this topic. This is the general consensus among academia. The conversion of tribal societies to civilizations involves leaders coercing people to work together using wealth. The ability to accumulate wealth is the key factor that allows this to happen.

Marcus Rediker has some interesting scholarship on pirates, and expanding it out a little into the result of mercantile capitalism creating a new proletariat Linebaugh and Rediker's "Many Headed Hydra" is a good read: http://www.beacon.org/The-Many-Headed-Hydra-P1017.aspx

True freedom cannot exist in the modern world. You are almost always indebted to a loan or a company or your tax man or your government. If you are telling yourself anything else, you are lying to yourself.


I've been living in a vehicle driving around Africa for 2.5 years now[1]. I'm technically a resident of no country (I have not spent more than 3 months in a single country in the last 2.5 years, and in all of those I only had a tourist visa where work was strictly prohibited)

So I have no loans, and technically don't have to pay tax anywhere. I am not a citizen of the country I was previously residing in, so I have been unable to vote for 15 years, so I would say the government doesn't have much control over me. I would have to renew my passport in another 7 years, but I can do that online and just get it mailed anywhere in the world.

I suppose I do pay some bank fees, though those are more than cancelled out by interest.

I personally will run out of money and won't be able to do this forever, but I have bumped into hundreds of Germans who have more money than they could spend in 10 lifetimes, and have been driving and roaming around Africa/the entire world for 10+ years, utterly free. It's not uncommon.

[1] I'm http://instagram.com/theroadchoseme/

Interesting. What do you do? Photograph? Research? Just travel to take in the world? How do you handle to language and cultural problems from region to region?

I decided that sitting at a desk was not the life for me (Software Engineer), so I'm working on being a Travel Writer and Photographer. I'm currently writing for about eight magazines, just published my first book, etc.

Language and culture changes are not problems, they're the very reason I travel. Once I learned enough French the West Coast of Africa was great, and English has been enough in virtually every country in the East so far. I need to learn more Swahili.

For Latin America once I learned Spanish I was set for virtually every country I drove through!

This sounds cool and adventurous! If you need a job though, your bosses would be your "master", especially if you need that income to survive.

And it certainly sounds like a lot more freedom than most, but the country your van is parked in would be your "master" as well as you are subject to their laws and at the mercy of their justice system.

That's how challenging it is to be free of any hierarchy in the modern world.

Like I said, for me the money will probably run out, but I continually bump into people where that is not a problem. They will do this for the rest of their lives.

> you are subject to their laws and at the mercy of their justice system.

While that's true in theory, in practice there is a hell of a lot of freedom here on the ground. It's extremely rare that I don't do something because "it's illegal" - i.e. riding on the top of a truck with no seat belt, riding a motorbike with no helmet, and basically anything else you would want to be doing.

There is a lot of personal freedom in Africa (& Latin America)

Where did the money come from for the people who will never have it run out?

Some are retired, some have or had businesses, some are just renting out their house they already own.

Because driving around the world only costs something around $1500 - $2000 USD /mo, any kind of "good" retirement from a first world country is a LOT more than you can ever realistically spend. You bank account will always go up.

> Because driving around the world only costs something around $1500 - $2000 USD /mo

If you're in a smaller vehicle like your Jeep I can see it being under $2000/m. The retired people in giant Unimog overland trucks can spend hundreds per month on fuel alone. Maintenance on those trucks is expensive too.

I do spend hundreds per month on fuel alone :) It's by far my biggest expense.

I get around 16-18 mpg in the Jeep (it's heavy). Most Overland trucks I talk to get around 12-14mpg. They are also diesel, which is cheaper in virtually every country in the world. Maintenance can be a thing for sure, but also remember something like a big Merc truck or unimog is designed to go 200k kms easily without any real work done, where-as my Jeep is not nearly that durable.

Remember too, that $/month is almost entirely dependent on how far you drive each month, given that fuel is by far the biggest expense. If you have all the time in the world, you can drive hardly at all and just spend $1000/mo :)

Not sure why I got downvotes. I live in a shuttle bus with a similar running cost to an overland truck. Massive offroad tires are $500-1000+ each. The engines hold gallons of oil and changes cost over $100 for materials. They typically get 8-12mpg.

If you stay parked somewhere for a long period of time sure, your costs will be low. But in that case it doesn't matter what you're living in, maintenance costs will be roughly the same.

Unimogs aren't very big, especially not compared to modern full size SUVs. I don't have one (wish I did!), but I doubt that the maintenance is difficult: I already repair all our vehicles except the newest one that's still under warranty.

[edit] However the prices have increased since I last looked. A truck dealership near me used to sell them, but not for $100k+

A 1960's Unimog may not be that large but those aren't what we're talking about. Most overland trucks you'll find in Africa and South America are modern cab-over 4x4 chassis (Unimog, other Merc models, Mann, Fuso, etc), in the range of 20ft (6m) long, 8ft (2.4m) wide, and 10ft (3m) high. The cutaway chassis alone is $50-75k new.

I traveled argentina with some friends who were going back to visit friends and family after a few years away. We met so many different types of people, from those at the pinnacle of the wine industry with houses and developments spread across to country, to those that live a subsistence lifestyle basically, living in a Yurt and creating crafts when they need money. There are definitely ways to live without a master - provided they weren't causing any problems law enforcement had much bigger concerns to deal with. Basically if you go somewhere with lots of space and limited government you can be pretty close to having no master. We were between Mendoza and San Carlos De Bariloche most of the time.

Yeah, I think the point is we can certainly simulate what it would be like to live without a master, but it's hard to achieve it in it's true form.

Your master may be passive and have broad boundaries, but if you cross a boundary, they will become active and enforce their rules upon you. If you are comfortable living within the boundaries your master deems appropriate, then it can feel like there's no master, but in reality it's just the illusion of having no master. But, even the illusion of no master is still pretty impressive in this modern world.

What if one day you learned of an injustice you started really caring about? If you wanted to do some blog writing critical of someone powerful? Would you feel free to speak or associate then?

How do you do health insurance?

Okay I'll bite:

How did you:

a) make that transition from SE to writer?

b) pack away enough money to cover expenses in between articles— or are they regular enough of a paycheck? If the latter, did you save up a nest egg prior to taking off as well?

Also— what's your plan after "the money runs out"? Back to engineering or another kind of writing?

In another post you mentioned Vancouver—is that where you're from?

> a) make that transition from SE to writer?

I just started practicing. Writing and taking photos, blogging, etc. etc. Eventually I thought my stuff was good enough, so I started pitching magazines. I probably got 1 reply for every 20 pitches I send out.. but it's getting better now!

> b) pack away enough money to cover expenses in between articles

Yep, I saved a nest egg that I'm now spending down slowly. Some months the writing almost covers the trip - and it would if I went slower. I get asked about saving money so often I wrote an eBook about it - "Work Less To Live Your Dreams" - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01G4AL8BE/?tag=trcmyt-20

> Also— what's your plan after "the money runs out"? Back to engineering or another kind of writing?

I hope I don't have to sit at a desk ever again... but if I want to own a house or have a family, maybe it's something I'll have to do at least for a few years. I'm not sure what the future holds right now, though I'd love to build a nice cabin somewhere.

> In another post you mentioned Vancouver—is that where you're from? Australia originally, I've been in Canada for 15 years. Whitehorse, Yukon lately which is where I'll go back to.

If you have any more questions I'm really happy to help in any way I can, I love demonstrating to others what is possible if you work really hard and set your mind to it. My email is in my profile.


I probably will have more to ask, so I’ll likely take advantage!

> So I have no loans, and technically don't have to pay tax anywhere.

You must not be from the US because we're one of only a handful of countries that require you to pay tax no matter where you live. It's entirely unfair and barbaric but you can expense the taxes you pay in the foreign country if you do it right.

At least it's only for income past $94k, if I'm not mistaken.

It's $97,600 of tax-free income per year. You have to establish that you're not a US resident. The easy way to do this is to spend <33 days per year in the US. The slightly harder way is to establish a "bona fide residence" outside the US, which allows you to spend more than 33 days per year visiting the US, but requires that you sever more ties. In practice, it's not very hard to pull off, if you're genuinely not living in the US.

You can also write off some living expenses. It works out to approximately $125k/year that you can earn before you have to pay any tax. You still have to file a federal return, even if you don't owe. If you earn $150k/yr, you pay tax on the ~$25k, at the tax rate for your full salary bracket.

Source: Not a lawyer or accountant, but lived and worked overseas for three years, so have done all this.


You pay tax above that threshold ONLY IF the taxes you already pay in the country you reside in are LOWER than the ones you would pay in the US (and in that case, you pay the difference).

e.g. If you live in Singapore, you end up paying a lot.

If you live in Italy or Sweden, you will never pay a dime.

> but I have bumped into hundreds of Germans who have more money than they could spend in 10 lifetimes

Yes, those people are part of the class of ”masters”, and the money is the means by which they direct others to serve them. (Foregoing members of the “master” class have set up the mechanisms by which control can be applied, and other current members of the class spend some time supervising and directing maintenance of those mechanisms, but there are masters who just use the mechanisms without worrying about them.)

Being in the class of masters isn't the same as living in a masterless society.

Only by reducing “master” to nearly meaningless as a distinct term. I’m not sure what the conversation gains from that.

Anyway, there was never a claim to a masterless society, only a free individual.

By that definition almost everyone is a master over someone.

How dangerous is Africa? How much does it cost to get the car and travel around?

"Africa" is a continent with over a billion people and 54 separate countries. It's extremely diverse, and has everything. I have recently been places where I'm certain that I'm safer than in Melbourne or Vancouver, and there are also places at war right now (Northern Mali, for example).

So you have to do your research and be aware. On the whole, I have felt extremely safe and welcomed. I have never experienced violence, robbery or actually anything "bad" in 2.5 years through 28 countries.

As for costs, most people driving around the world spend around $1500 USD / month for two people in a 4x4 - for absolutely everything. If you want to eat at restaurants and drink alcohol every night, more like $2000/mo.

Cost of vehicle is entirely up to you. I drove a $5000 stock Jeep from Alaska to Argentina and I have met plenty of people in $500,000 Unimogs. Both work just fine.

I haven't been to africa but i've been to a lot of supposedly 'dangerous' places and most of them are not so bad if you avoid doing the kinds of things that get tourists in trouble (drugs).

Or are a woman travelling alone.

TBH a woman travelling alone is at risk pretty much anywhere in the world other than the Vatican

Only if you forget to account for the level of risk.

Please don't perpetuate the negative myths. I have met multiple women traveling solo in Africa, having the time of their lives. If you're smart, it's fine.

My mother (a white woman walking alone) was held by armed guards just outside Lagos, Nigeria until her male "chaperone" came to get her.

They also charged him money for the exchange.

Sorry you feel I am perpetuating a negative "myth." I might agree that it is a stereotype, but it is still true. This was 2 years ago.

Absolutely. Solo men get kidnapped near Lagos too, so I'm not sure your story "proves" anything.

> If you're smart, it's fine

You just confirmed it’s no myth. Not everybody is smart _all_ the time.

I don't believe a smart solo women is in any more danger than a smart solo man.

So it's a myth to say "solo women" is a problem.

You should say "solo stupid traveler" is a problem.

It's not that women are a problem. It's that in some places, women are treated badly.

What does "true freedom" mean to you?

Having to find something to eat every couple of days or being at the mercy of the weather is also restricting freedom.

I think freedom is a state of mind which can be compared with "acceptance of the present". From that perspective everybody can be free. (I'm not speaking for extreme situations like sickness or imprisonment)

Freedom has a steep learning curve. Nomadic wild lifestyle is .. not cheap, but that's the upper limit to freedom isn't it.

Only through coercion can freedom be violated. Voluntary agreements like loans don't violate your freedom (though one could make a case for guaranteed loans being a special case).

A person stealing your car violates your rights. The government taxing you violates your rights.

Lots of the constraints of life are not voluntary though, but have been forced upon you by those with more power. You may need a payday loan because your boss wouldn't give you enough hours and your car broke down. Those are consequences of an artificial scarcity that is forced upon us and which enables the few to profit more from us. In the past it took the form of debt peonage.

Those constraints are derivatives of the fundamental facts of nature. You are not forced by your boss to work, you are forced by nature to work for the necessities of life.

The constraints of nature are not as strict as those of society. Food literally grows on trees but now you have to pay for it. It's estimated that our ancestors worked about 15 hour weeks before the agrarian revolution.

Doesn't coercion happen if you dont pay the loans back?

Its actually quite rare to have property repossessed for failing to pay back a, for example, credit card. A majority of debts you take on the lender won't go through channels to use force against you because those are time consuming and expensive on their part.

The way credit scores work in simplest terms and theory is a non-coercive way of punishing people who defraud lenders. When your score tanks and nobody will lend to you anymore so you get punished for not paying your debts without any violence happening.

No, because by breaking whatever contract you agreed to, you have defrauded the other party. Initiating fraud is a form of coercion. The defense of their property from that coercion is not itself a coercive act.

Did "true freedom" exist in the pre-modern world?

If you lived in a social group, you were certainly subject to the group's rules and decisions (laws and government), including rules about contributing to the group (taxes) and most likely would end up owning favors or property to others at times (loans).

If you didn't, you would likely spend the great majority of your time trying to subsist. Well, for a few years until you got sick and then you would die. That might be true freedom to some, but not something I would choose.

It absolutely existed.

It was perfectly possible to homestead in many parts of the world, and never have to answer to anyone.

It is not possible in the modern world to take some undeveloped land, claim it as your own, and make something out if it.

All land is owned by somebody these days.

This question goes deep. You should check out James C. Scott stuff if you really want to broaden this. Your parallels of communities as governments/states/taxes/loans are invalid, IMO. I've ripped audios of a bunch of presentations by him on the topic, do this and see if you'll still frame things the same way, I think not.

I think it was definitely more free than now. In those groups, you typically had a voice and direct participation in the decision-making processes of the group. Now, we have the illusion of a choice, and pretty much no control over decisions, which get made by either the giant douche or the turd sandwich

If your capital gains consistently exceeds your expenses, then you aren't net indebted to anyone. Society has more financial debt to you than vice versa at that point.

Your freedom, or lack thereof, is all in your mind. You don't have to pay your debts, it's just that there are consequences for not doing so. Even without government or societies there are consequences to choices.

True. Not only that, pretty much every stretch of land and ocean is owned/claimed/patrolled/etc now. So you can't escape it. Everyone is governed to some degree.

Perhaps in the future when we are a truly space faring peoples, there will be room for freedom for those who chooes to be free.

It's a shame our planet turned out to be so small.

It's more of a shame there turned out to be so many of us.

yters 6 months ago [flagged]

Unless you don't exist you'll always have a dependence on something other than yourself. Utter independence is a logical impossibility. Although, you could convince yourself of solipism, which is the closest you can get, subjectively speaking. And we have a special place for these kinds of 'free' people.

Thanks for a perfect example of a strawman fallacy. Nobody is arguing completely independent, just free of masters

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