Tuesday, January 31, 2012

avast Crow

A group of Crow's unusual friends stopped by earlier today to carry him off on a winter cruise. Before he left he mentioned a few things about pirates it's not currently fashionable to know even though there's always been something romantic about the idea of piracy.

We've long been told by those who control information that pirates were thieves, yet the truth is far more complex. Sailors aboard Royal Naval ships and merchant marine vessels were some of the sorriest men alive, 'caught in a machine from which there was no escape, bar desertion, incapacitation, or death' as one writer of the day put it. Many of them were press ganged into service, many were debt slaves or had been criminalized after losing their farms when the English Commons were abolished.

As the great fleets discovered and annexed previously unknown lands many dispossessed people the world over became desperate. The merchant ships of the 17th and 18th Centuries were the engines of the emerging global capitalism but the seamen were totally excluded from the wealth they worked to generate. The decision to 'turn pirate' was a choice made to wrestle back some autonomy, and when they did, life on a ship changed dramatically. Officers were democratically elected. Food was shared equally among men of all ranks. When booty was collected the Captain only took two shares where the lowest took one - income differentials that would make a modern CEO faint. Loss of a limb aboard would be met with a payment of around $30k in today's money - an amazing form of early health insurance.

It could be said that far from being simple thieves, pirates were perhaps the original anti-capitalist protesters. The reason they were hunted down and suffered savage public executions was because the powers of the day were petrified of the consequences of the pirates' ethos. One hundred years before the French Revolution it was pirates who coined the phrase 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity'.

Of course, piracy in those days was hardly all fun and games but they were hard times for most people everywhere. We're not often brutalized, beaten, or left unpaid, but our lives are no less reduced, narrowed, and restrained by powerful forces far beyond our control. Wouldn't it be nice to see the Jolly Roger raised again to restore to life some democracy, some fairness, and perhaps a little merriment too?

Avast Crow. I hope you enjoy the warm sea breeze off the shores of far Tortuga.


  1. If they'll sail up the Chesapeake to where the Susquehanna empties into the Bay, I'll meet them there. I'm a good cook and can swab a deck with the best of them. And sew a flag of any design in not time flat.

  2. Pirates as Robin Hoods, sort of. I like the sound of their ethos system. How could we bring it back is the question. Don't you wish you could go off with Crow on that winter cruise on a pirate ship (not one of those giant top heavy hotels on water, you know what I mean)?

  3. It sounds as though you have nailed your colours to the mast, Susan?

  4. don't they say history is written by the winners? ...which mostly means the team with the biggest guns... bon voyage, Crow. i dream of sailing on a tall ship one day.

  5. Shiver me timbers, Crow, 'tis part of a mighty modern movement you're becoming, matey!

    Some current opinion polls put the Pirate Party at 8% in Germany. Every generation invents its own ways of liberation.

  6. the crow - I'm sure they'll be heading your way right after they come back for me.

    marja-leena - They definitely got a worse reputation than they deserved. The ethos still stands but what will bring down Gargantua is anybody's guess. Oh yes, I'd love to head off on a sailing ship to parts unknown.

    vincent - They are faded colours even through rose tinted glass.

    gfid - It's more like history written by those who can pay the historians - the others are too busy raking in the cash.

    Yes, and a star to steer her by :-)

    francis - Darn! I read about Rick Falkvinge a few days ago and forgot to mention the article you linked to. Many thanks for adding it. There's a Canadian branch too.

  7. Funny how the scoundrels of official history are often the only ones actively for Freedom™.

    Though I can't imagine having rapidly deteriorating vision coupled with the need for an eye patch. Cannon fire 100 yards off target every time.

  8. hello my dear, seems our Dint of Cursing and Damning made headway into me enclave, hehehe...i saw just the flash of your eye patch 'fore you were gone over the edge...but i have you to thank for breaking down the door, argh!! [said loudly with shaking of gold-ringed, braceletted fist.]

    love the tales over on that wonderful site you introduced me to this grand morning and thankee for it too. fabulous sounds to me...am wondering when they will be arriving in the Bay of ... wonder what they called SF as it was a favorite pirate town...still is actually :)

    anyway gfid broke down the door this morning she did and a mighty fine laugh we had. i am happy with just the two of you to visit!!

    much love matey, don't be forgettin' to pick me up. and if a fly by, me bags be packed this very minute.

  9. Highly recommended for supplies and pirate lessons and it's a good cause. :-)

    The Pirate Store

  10. P.S.
    I hope Joe Spado sees this post. He is a born-again pirate. :-)

  11. linda - I hope your sweet and lovely blog will be accessible to all your friends soon and I'm happy a couple of us were able to storm your bastions earlier. They were so subtle they were invisible to this untechnical blogger.

    I'm delighted you enjoyed the pirate site. Crow may be heading your way right now so long as the winds freshen.

    gina - Oooh, that does look like a very cool bunch at that shop and wonderful products as well. Thanks for the link.

    I hope Joe sees it too but he's not visiting as much as he did before his illness. Maybe I should give him the link when I drop in on him.
    much love

  12. it sounds like our Congress needs to take lessons from these guys!

  13. aye, I think those be good words you blog here :)

  14. nancy - That's very true.

    lib - They be words that needs sayin', eh?

  15. I shudder to think of all that salt water...

    And the light behind the ship! C'est tres bon!

  16. grenouille - Oui, l'eau salée serait dur de votre peau sensible, serait-il pas? We would have lots of fresh water on board for you.

    I'm so grateful you noticed the light. Somehow I feel so much looser doing the Crow artwork and I was very pleased with this one. The sea could have been a little richer but I didn't want to play with it further.

  17. I've been so shocked by all this left-wing approval of piracy that I neglected to consider the artistic qualities of the illustration itself.

    Your picture admirably sails beyond analysis of crime and politics into the shamanic world where its luminosity truly belongs.

  18. vincent - It's not that I approve of piracy so much but that I disapprove of there not being laws in effect applicable to everyone. It's unadulterated greed I despise. I would be first to agree that anarchy only suits the young and strong.

    Yes, I love this little painting simply because it does go beyond. Crow has always had that value for me.

  19. So I am imagining that M. Crow would be swimming around the ship and I would be swimming around in a barrel...

  20. grenouille - Mais non mon petit! Ze barrels are for ze fish. M. Crow et vous are provided with deck chairs and tasty hors d'oeuvres.

  21. What a shame it is that the powerful get to write and frame history so we get their version which is not always the truth.

    My ancestor who was brought from England to Virginia as a prisoner, had to work the ship on his crossing. I wonder if the skills he learned during the voyage are what helped him to escape the plantation where he was a prisoner/slave.

  22. lisa - The truth is the last thing they'll tell.

    Yes, before the English discovered the economic benefits of transporting Africans they did use anyone at home who disagreed with them as slaves. I'm sure your great great became very self-sufficient and was lucky to live through the experience too.