I prefer Melbourne to Sydney—it’s more compact and has better public transportation—but wherever you go, Australians are some of the most open, friendly, and down-to-earth people you’ll meet (except in their airports, which, like America, seem to require hiring citizens with the lowest IQs). In a city where slot machines and horse race gambling are regular additions in bars and restaurants; brothels with mostly Thai workers offer sex for 140 AUD and operate next to strip joints where customers cannot touch an Australian dancer for less than 100 AUD; and marijuana is essentially legal with a doctor’s prescription, you realize regulating man’s vices can be done ways that do not automatically remove the populace’s brains or sense of adventure (as opposed to say, well-regulated Taipei, where people—both inside and outside of airports, remarkably—are also friendly but where your greatest danger is dying of boredom).
Go to Places where People Ignore Rules Crafted in Response to Fear
I’ve mentioned Dan Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational (2008), before. Ariely discussed an Israeli daycare’s late pick-up policy. Initially, a few parents were late picking up their children, causing the daycare to incur overtime. In an attempt to minimize disruption, the daycare instituted a penalty for late pickups. Every late interval incurred a certain fee. What happened next? Late pickups *increased*. Ariely’s genius was figuring out why.
Creating rules or laws almost guarantees—in the absence of an irreverent, anti-authoritarian culture—that people will be more likely to do the minimum required by law, because lawyers have interjected themselves in a social norm and overruled it by fiat. Sure, we have the Queen and her progeny as a useful conduit to establish social norms in the U.K. and to take attention away from Englishmen with bad teeth and out-of-shape British women, but when lawyers set too many social norms, they take away personal initiative, and societies seem to become apathetic. Indeed, more laws don’t mean the intended goal of the law will be achieved or even promoted—it could mean that people see the law itself as an excuse or barrier to acting on their own. Meanwhile, in Japan or South Korea, social norms usually prevail over legal ones, so any older male is an authority figure, not just the police.
Update: I realized I didn't mention South America much. Rio was overrated, though its Botafogo neighborhood had some interesting cafes and bookstores. (I didn't go to São Paulo.) Chile was my favorite South American country. It doesn't seem a coincidence that Chile was able to "re-set" many of its problems after Pinochet's often brutal regime.
Perhaps there's another pattern worth following: after various government agencies gain too much unchecked power, they often become ineffective or arbitrary despite their increase in power. (Absolute power corrupts, remember?) At that point, a strongman ruler is more likely to get elected or ushered in by a coup--whether in Turkey, the Philippines, or America--and the people, fed up with ineffectiveness and corruption, give license to extrajudicial measures, as long as they feel the ruler is trying to clean up the mess.
The psychological effects of the new, often politically incorrect politician are immediate--people are energized because they feel as if their voices have been heard. I've visited the Philippines several times. After President Duterte's election, I was struck by the chasm between what I was seeing and feeling in the country--renewed optimism and hope--and what the media was reporting--an out-of-control politician. President Duterte is a lawyer who's taken on the Catholic Church and mining companies and spoken in favor of environmental regulation and women's rights. (Just goes to show you--you can't trust the media. Get out there and see for yourself before making any conclusions.)
I'm guessing the positive mood was the same in Turkey after the recent attempted coup, when people came out in droves to support the existing president, who then removed thousands of government employees allegedly part of the attempted coup, including teachers. Do years of static government consolidation require a strongman to use extrajudicial means to clean up shop?
Seeing recent protests in Chile--check out the iconic picture of a young woman staring down a Robocop-looking riot policeman--indicates that a strongman may be able to reverse stagnation and corruption, but the long-term picture is not clear. In an ideal world, people would realize how lucky they are to live in relative peace and do whatever it takes, including self-sacrifice, to never reach the point of needing a strongman ruler.
Update: I originally thought I'd been traveling for 6 months straight, but it's actually about 5 months straight--from April 22, 2016 to September 16, 2016, or 147 days.
Update: from The Atlantic, June 2016, page 17: "According to the Pew Research Center, immigrants and their children and grandchildren will account for 88% of U.S. population growth over the next 50 years." (Howard W. French)