Wild Wild Country

I had been intrigued by this new Netflix show and heard good things but it wasn’t until Ed pointed out this Twitter thread from Patri Friedman that I took the plunge.

For posterity, here is the thread in full:

“Wild Wild Country” is the most riveting #micronation #documentary I’ve ever seen. I’ve never heard #Rajneeshpuram called a micronation, but look at what they did: built, ran, and governed a profitable city including roads, pipes, cops, health, entertainment, and spirituality.

Naturally, since they were a cult, their startup society experiment was a theocracy headed by a God-king, which turned out predictably poorly. But it was still an intentional, novel, (partially) self-governing community.

In the parlance of my dad’s book “Legal Systems Very Different From Ours“, it was an “Embedded Legal System” – non-sovereign but with substantial ability to enforce its own rules through social pressure like threat of ostracism.

The controversial actions taken by the society’s leaders make perfect sense if viewed as a clash between a semi-sovereign entity, discontent with its level of autonomy, and the city, county, state, and country in which it was embedded.

These actions were, of course, criminal **when viewed from the context of the surrounding legal system**. Acts of war, including terrorism and guerrilla tactics, are naturally considered crimes by the warred-upon.

So if the cult leader’s mental context was “US Citizen/Resident”, then of course their actions were absurd. “How could anyone think they could get away with that?”

Easy – by seeing themselves as the government of what *felt* like a meaningfully sovereign community (which, by balance of power, it never was). From this perspective, their actions were natural acts of war against a state that refused to recognize their legitimacy.

Given the mismatch between their views [of] sovereignty & reality, plus the inherent precariousness of any cult of personality, their community did not last long. Yet their journey was one with numerous lessons for those interested in creating a startup sector for governance.

I felt sad seeing them pour so many resources into building up land where they weren’t wanted, much like I feel sad seeing people put so much effort into building Burning Man, to abandon it a week later.

We need ways to channel that frontier energy towards an actual, physical frontier, where labor to build a city from nothing endures for decades, rather than being wasted. We need people like Ma Anand Sheela devoting their incredible drive to building societies that last.

And we need a true diversity of startup societies, ranging from corporate-run states (“Appletopia”) to theocracies to kibbutzim to anarcho-capitalism to things I can’t even imagine, together forming …

A Patchwork / Archipelago / Nozick Utopia of Utopias / or my thriving startup sector for governance. Watch the miniseries on Netflix , and read books by and about the cult: .


Leave a Reply