Welcome to Learning from Pirate Communities, one of the best-selling series here at The Daily Gumboot. Here’s the deal: we participants in humanity operate within a paradigm or framework or clusterf&$k of themes and ideas (gender, race and culture, environmental stewardship, ideology, weapons, business, entrepreneurship, art, tasty drinks, and fashion). Many people from many academic disciplines explore such themes from a myriad of perspectives. The Editor-in-Chief of this publication discusses such ideas through a lens of Piratology, because, hey, pirates represent an edutaining and approachable subject that interests people. Consequently, we can learn a lot from pirates. Just read more to find out!
Today we will be discussing tax, representation and rejecting an unfair socioeconomic system to, possibly, become a pirate.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’ve heard about the HST. Maybe you even have an opinion about it. From Bill Tieleman to Bill Vander Zalm to Kurt Heinrich to Kevin Milligan, people have opinions that run the gamut of sensation; from raging social injustice to practically good policy. Whether you despise taxes altogether or just hate this one, I have a solution for you. Become a pirate! Literally, if you like (I’ll get to that), but metaphorically is probably a better solution for all of us (at least until the puffy shirt factory starts pumping things out a little faster). Here’s the deal: many people feel unrepresented by the HST, just like many people feel unrepresented or cheated by the GST, income taxes, the Carbon Tax, exorbitantly priced Canucks tickets, lack of affordable housing, police, universities, Walmart, Translink, and talent agencies (honestly, I think you’re a great singer and were treated unfairly). We’re really good at complaining, but not as good at being accountable for our ideas – ideas like collectively changing and/or withdrawing from an unfair, broken, corrupt, and imbalanced system that seems to encourage and reward corruption, incompetence and general shady shenanigans. We can do better if we learn from pirate communities.Even the University of Chicago recognizes the power of pirates as educational tools!
People, our community is thoroughly more positive, intelligent and cohesive than this rather unequal, unrepresentative and restrictive paradigm of governance allows. Perhaps we can do better by rejecting the system and embracing our inner entrepreneur – or inner pirate. I understand if this scares you. But there are certainly models for change out there, too. First, let’s explore taxation and democracy in a historical and global context and then examine community and unfair political decisions from a piratical perspective:
Mad at being unrepresented? Maybe we should actually be a democracy.
A recent article in The Independent by Johann Hari suggests that modern
day pirates, like their historic brothers and sisters, have rejected today’s unequal, corrupt and punishing global “system.” Hari cites the last words of William Scott, a pirate hanged in Charleston, South Carolina during the Golden Age of Piracy: “What I did was to keep me from perishing. I was forced to go a-pirateing to live.” BC’s democracy makes me chuckle. Heck, our perception of democracy makes me chuckle. Democratically speaking, most of us don’t usually vote for the party in power (ie. the NDP in the 1990s – never more than 45% of the vote – and the current BC Liberal government – 46% of the vote – and Federal Conservative – 37% of the vote – government were brought to power with less than half of the popular vote, which doesn’t even account for the tens of thousands of people who didn’t vote because of their dissatisfaction with the system and the people steering it).
One hundred years before the French Revolution, pirate ships – or pirate companies – were run on the ideals of liberty, equality and brotherhood. It was the rule, rather than the exception. According to scholar and fellow Piratologist, David Cordingly, author of Under the Black Flag: The Romance and Reality of Life Among the Pirates, at times, it was difficult to even get a pirate ship going anywhere. You see, the crew actually voted on a destination before the captain set a course; arguably, this accounted for pirates’ time being spent in warm places like the Caribbean, Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Malacca. This whole time, we’ve been looking to France and the US for our democratic models, when we really should’ve been looking towards pirate ships!
Pirates drafted and signed “The Articles of Piracy” before each voyage. These articles regulated the distribution of plunder, the scale of compensation for injuries in battle, and outlined basic rules for shipboard life (ie. no one is allowed to drink all the rum and/or wear the captain’s eye patch in jest) as well as punishments for those who broke the rules (ie. you wore the eye-patch in jest and now the captain, who turned out to be pretty sensitive, won’t come out of his cabin and, well, he’s got the map). After the articles were written, every pirate aboard signed them. Sure, it’d be tedious, but perhaps we need to re-draft our terms of agreement with our leaders before each election or major decision that affects so many stakeholders.
The Articles seem pretty darn democratic, and I wonder what we can take from these lessons on a pirate ship and apply to our system. After all, the crew aboard the Jolly British Columbian seems to be talking about steering the ship in a new direction with recent movements against the HST.
Seriously, we’re crying about the HST?
When things go bad here on the West Coast of Canada, I like to put them in a global perspective. How bad are they, really? From the BBC to CNN to Al Jazeera, the world suddenly became very interested in Somali pirates after they hijacked a Saudi tanker, the Sirius Star. They did what nobody thought possible and they got noticed. Like, really noticed. Oh, and they made $3 million from the ransom, too. Sure, many – or most – of the pirates are gangsters. No, this doesn’t make hostage-taking okay and, no, this blog does not condone hostage taking (although, for the record, Theo Lamb is a fully trained hostage negotiator). But this article has outlined some of the ways that these seagoing thugs are dealing with a recessive global economy. “Pirates were the first people to rebel against this world,” says Hari. They didn’t like the rigour, restrictions and “oppressiveness” of the seafaring alternatives of, say, the Merchant Marine or Royal Navy, so they chose a more independent, democratic and risky life at sea.”
In his article, Hari examines the circumstances by which many Somali fishermen have been thrust into the world of piracy. After the fall of the country’s government in
1991, Africa’s longest coastline (Somalia’s coast spans about 2,000 miles) has been unprotected. This power-vacuum has provided a perfect opportunity for the international fishing industry to steal Somalia’s food supply and use the region as a dumping ground for nuclear waste (“yes: nuclear waste,” says Hari – cadmium and mercury were also, allegedly, thrown in the mix). Hari interviewed Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, who claims that “there has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention” of such a gross example of pollution. But one can also see how market forces have driven them to think outside the box, get creative, take risks, and work together in innovative ways in a new, community-based entrepreneurial system that exists beyond the one the world helped break.
In a recent Time magazine article, Ishaan Thardoor argues that “Somali piracy has metastasized into the country’s only boom industry. Most of the pirates, observers say, are not former fishermen, but just poor folk seeking their fortune. Right now, they hold 18 cargo ships and some 300 sailors hostage — the work of a sophisticated and well-funded operation.”Recent findings show that in excess of $300 million US in shellfish is being stolen from the Somali coast by illegal trawlers each year. They have no government to speak of. Organizations are dumping nuclear waste in their waters and on their land. Somalia just might be the worst place on Earth. Kinda puts the global recession and BC’s tax-shift in perspective, eh? They don’t “fit” in the current economic system, which is probably why the independent Somalian news site, WardheerNews, found that 70 per cent of Somalians “strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence.” Some even call them the “Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia”! And we can most certainly call them rejectors of an unfair system swirling in chaos.
But, um, yeah. The HST is tough, too. After all, a study released by the Recent Findings Institute reported that the HST is “oppressive” and a “betrayal” of the BC people mostly because of the amount of nuclear waste in it.
Now. Obviously a good binary opposition can make any argument look ridiculous by putting it next to, well, something ridiculous. In any case, if you do in fact believe that, in the context of all things British Columbia, the HST is grossly unfair and a violation of our democracy, perhaps you might consider breaking from the system to which you are very connected. Find some friends. Find a boat. And change your life. Maybe start small, you know, by taking your illegal downloading of music one step further: download a movie or some software and then some tv shows and then, when you’re ready, overtake a ship by force and pillage its contents! BC has a lot of water, you know. Or perhaps you’d like to explore the ways in which your community (local, regional, online, or otherwise) can be used as a vehicle for positive social change within this HST-laden system of ours. Whatever the case, I encourage you to be a democratic, creative and entrepreneurial pirate. If things in BC are really so bad, there are some great historical and contemporary models of fighting injustice to explore, such as the inclusive and democratic experience aboard a pirate ship. Whatever direction you choose, be sure to exercise collaboration, safety and aim to have your community’s best interests in mind; sure, such ideas might seem matter-o-fact, but – every now and then – it doesn’t happen.
So there it is. Yaaarrrrrrrrrghhhhhh welcome!
- Sir John the Pirate Piratologist