Ever since our discussion at the beginning of class regarding the UK’s “right to roam”, I’ve been fascinated by the idea and decided to look into it further. As of this moment, the countries with a “right to roam” law or something approaching those lines, are Ireland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Austria, The Czech Republic, Switzerland, and of course the UK. A few honorable mentions are Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. I researched the United States’ stance on this law as well, after remembering Beth talking about the “Stand your ground” policy in Florida; what other states have “Stand your ground”, and why is it just so hard to be a wanderer in today’s day and age?
Backing up, however, you may notice that the countries with a “Right to roam” law are all Northern hemisphere nations. The written reason you won’t find many “Right to roam” countries in more temperate places is an environmental one; higher temperatures make for a more diverse ecosystem, and as such, hikers are less likely to know how not to destroy whatever environments they’re in. Perhaps another reason, though this is just speculation of mine, is that it never occurred to anyone that you could be punished for taking a damned walk. It’s not fundamental to keep this in mind when we look at the states that have a “Line in the sand” or “Stand your ground”, but it is interesting nonetheless. The states in the US that have this law in place are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia. England and Wales, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Ireland also all have something akin to a “Stand your ground” law, though in most cases much more restrictive. This all got me thinking more, and I wanted to know why the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave” was just so obstructive and afraid.
Perhaps all too unsurprisingly, the reason goes back to the reconstruction of the South following The Civil War. In fact, the right to roam freely was carved in the foundation of early America, but trespassing laws were passed for racial reasons; white plantation owners wanted to hinder a freed South. Concurrently, the United States was on the upswing of industrialization, resulting in more wealthy landowners who didn’t want anyone taking their game from their land. Using their newfound influence and “me” mentality, these landowners sought additional trespassing and hunting laws from the Supreme Court. Eventually, it became as easy to deny people access to land with a sign simply stating, “No Trespassing” as it became to shoot them without fear of reprisal by the law. Given our country’s fascination with firearms, I have a feeling this wasn’t difficult to accomplish.
I further began thinking about what would happen if we were all of a sudden hit by a natural disaster like a hurricane. With all these laws in place, the most valuable resource in any disaster is limited and thereby rendered less effective; humanity. A disheveled man trying to find his way in the woods after such an event, or even on an average day, turns into a looter with a bloodlust when trust in humanity sinks to such a low that we can’t look at our neighbors or even strangers as people worthy of helping and trusting. What does this say about our culture, the one supposedly of inclusivity and openness, of human rights and fighting discrimination? Is there such a fundamental distrust amongst us of the strange or unusual that we forget we’re all human beings? Does a less physically and emotionally connected world lose some form of brotherhood in this new social one? What underlying parts of our culture enable our leaders to look at a person with no money and no pretense and think, “That’s dangerous. We need to get rid of that in a way that doesn’t embarrass us” instead of “How can we help?”