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Victory over The Scourge of Piracy LQD

by geezer in Paris Tue Apr 21st, 2009 at 05:02:40 PM EST

Pirates! Egad, John, what can we do?
"Help the Captain! Load 'em up with grapeshot, sweep the decks! Show no mercy, for these evil men will show us none! Scum of the earth, I say!"

Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, in their book "The Many-Headed Hydra" do for the UK what "A people's History of the United States" and Howard Zinn did for the US. They level a broadside of well-aimed grapeshot of their own and clear the decks of the traditional historians who produce consumable copy for the elite.
With fascinating points of overlap, These books each begin with the collision between or growth of a mercantile culture and the grunts who load the bales or eat the grapeshot. In the end, they are about what Chris Cook speaks of and thinks of so passionately. Social organization for the common good instead of for an endless scramble for advantage. They end up being about the "Commons" and the loss of it, about "Hewers of Wood and Drawers of Water" and their unsung victories as well as their losses, about "The Outcasts of the Nations of the Earth." About the huge part of history that almost never gets written, because those about whom it might have been written --died losers in  the battle for money and power.
Today I offer for your perusal an excellent piece that opens a similar door into a different perspective on a real-time current narrative--one seemingly much closer to home. I'll pick at it as I see fit.

Johann Hari, Huffpo:

Pirates have never been quite who we think they are. In the "golden age of piracy" - from 1650 to 1730 - the idea of the pirate as the senseless, savage thief that lingers today was created by the British government in a great propaganda-heave. Many ordinary people believed it was false: pirates were often rescued from the gallows by supportive crowds. Why? What did they see that we can't? In his book Villains of All nations, the historian Marcus Rediker pores through the evidence to find out. If you became a merchant or navy sailor then - plucked from the docks of London's East End, young and hungry - you ended up in a floating wooden Hell. You worked all hours on a cramped, half-starved ship, and if you slacked off for a second, the all-powerful captain would whip you with the Cat O' Nine Tails. If you slacked consistently, you could be thrown overboard. And at the end of months or years of this, you were often cheated of your wages.
Pirates were the first people to rebel against this world. They mutinied against their tyrannical captains - and created a different way of working on the seas. Once they had a ship, the pirates elected their captains, and made all their decisions collectively. They shared their bounty out in what Rediker calls "one of the most egalitarian plans for the disposition of resources to be found anywhere in the eighteenth century." They even took in escaped African slaves and lived with them as equals. The pirates showed "quite clearly - and subversively - that ships did not have to be run in the brutal and oppressive ways of the merchant service and the Royal navy." This is why they were popular, despite being unproductive thieves.

The words of one pirate from that lost age - a young British man called William Scott - should echo into this new age of piracy. Just before he was hanged in Charleston, South Carolina, he said: "What I did was to keep me from perishing. I was forced to go a-pirating to live."
In 1991, the government of Somalia - in the Horn of Africa - collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since - and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: "Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury - you name it." Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to "dispose" of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: "Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention."

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia's seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish-stocks by over-exploitation - and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other sea-life is being stolen every year by vast trawlers illegally sailing into Somalia's unprotected seas. The local fishermen have suddenly lost their livelihoods, and they are starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: "If nothing is done, there soon won't be much fish left in our coastal waters."

This is the context in which the men we are calling "pirates" have emerged. Everyone agrees they were ordinary Somalian fishermen who at first took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least wage a 'tax' on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia - and it's not hard to see why. In a surreal telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their motive was "to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters... We don't consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas." William Scott would understand those words.

Hari makes a fine contribution to the endless but essential task of salvaging scraps of truth from what has become the vast refuse dump of "common knowledge".

Let's take a step backwards, and look at found treasures from earlier times. Brought to us from research based on writings, personal correspondence, song lyrics, rough-hewn poetry passed on by word of mouth, all from the hewers of wood-- sources that kept it outside the spin machine of the historians who made it their business to produce narratives popular among the ruling classes:

"Another part of the terror was forced labor overseas, a different kind of "Going West". Through the transatlantic institution of indentured servitude, merchants and their "spirits" (i.e., abductors of children and adults) shipped some two hundred thousand workers (two thirds of all those who left England, Scotland, and Ireland) to American shores in the seventeenth century. Some had been convicted of crimes and sentenced to penal servitude, others were kidnapped or spirited, while yet others went by choice-often desperate choice-exchanging several years' labor for the prospect of land and independence afterward.
 Many indentured servants, Thomas Verney explained in 1642, came from the "bridewells, and the prisons." Sir Josiah Child claimed that "the major part" of the women servants were "taken from Bridewell, Turnball Street, and such like places of Education." It was a time when "jayls [were] emptied, youth seduced, infamous women drilled in." According to a pamphlet of 1632, the plantations they were destined for "were no better than common `sinkes,' where the commonwealth dumped her most lawless inhabitants." Virginia's servants were said to "have no habitations, & can bring neither certificate of their conformity nor ability and are better out than within the kingdom," while Maryland's were "for the most part the scum of the people taken up promiscuously as vagrant and runaways from their English masters, debauched, idle, lazy, squanderers, jailbirds, and the
like." John Donne promised in a sermon of 1622 that the Virginia Company "shall sweep your streets, and wash your dotes, from idle persons, and the children of idle persons, and imploy them: and truely, if the whole Countrey were such a Bridewell, to force idle persons to work, it had a good use." He wanted America to function as a prison, and for
many it did.(35)
Among those many were thousands of children, for the hewers and drawers were young. The Virginia Company made arrangements with the city of London for the transportation of several hundred poor children between the ages of eight and sixteen from the city's Bridewell to Virginia. London's Common Council approved the request, authorized constables to round up the children, and shipped off the first young laborers in the early spring of 16r9. When a second request was made, the council was again accommodating, but the children themselves had other ideas, organizing a revolt in Bridewell and declaring "their unwillingness to go to Virginia."3G Their resistance apparently drew attention, and it was soon discovered that the city lacked the authority to transport the children against their will. The Privy Council, of which Francis Bacon was then a member, jumped into the fray, granting the proper authority and threatening to imprison any child who continued to resist. Of the several hundreds of children shipped to Virginia at this time, the names of 165 were recorded. By 1625 only twelve of those were still alive; the other i53, or 93 percent, had died. There is little reason to assume different outcomes for the fourteen to fifteen hundred children said to be on their way to Virginia in 1627, or for the four hundred Irish children stolen "out of theyre bedds" in 1653 and sent off to New England and Virginia.

How can we- "civilized society"- tolerate such treatment of young people? From whence came the convenient lies we tell ourselves to justify such barbarity? The use of the present tense is intentional.
Hard to explain why- to people who don't want to know. It's safer to put the whole thong into an historical package, safer and more easily marketable to the elite. So here.

Born to a leading Elizabethan courtier and educated at Cambridge, Sir Francis Bacon was a philosopher who advocated inductive reasoning and scientific experimentation, and a politician who lost favor with the queen but regained it under James by betraying his erstwhile friends. He connected utopian thought with practical projects, writing "New Atlantis", "Of Empire," and "Of Plantations" while investing in the Virginia Company. He drafted his essay "Of Seditions and Troubles" after the Enslow Hill Rebellion, in which food and antienclosure (enclosure being the process of blocking or erasing the commons, thereby creating the pressures of starvation needed to produce enough cowed workers for the rapidly growing mercantile economy) rioters in Oxfordshire planned to march to London to join rebellious apprentices. Bartholomew Steere, a carpenter and one of the rioters, predicted, "We shall have a merrier world shortly. ... I will work one day and play the other." Steere suffered two months of examination and torture in London's Bridewell Prison at the hands of Bacon and other officials. While Bacon claimed that he sought to enlarge the "bounds of Human Empire to make all things possible," his will to power violently crushed alternatives such as the one hoped for by Steere.
Bacon wrote that man might be regarded "as the centre of the world." The winds sailed the ships and ran the engines just for man; plants and animals furnished food and shelter just for him; even the stars worked for him. The quest for knowledge was always a struggle for power. The voyage of Hercules to set Prometheus free seemed to Bacon to be an image of God's redeeming the human race.' The story of Hercules was on Bacon's mind when he came to write An Advertisement Touching an Holy War", published in 1622, a famine year
and shortly after Bacon's downfall and conviction on charges of bribery.
He wrote it to pay his debts and to find his way back into the corridors of
power. The treatise addressed the conflict between the king and the
members of Parliament over who was to hold the purse strings of government-

A smidgen. A smackeral. With luck, someone(s) will read the rest, instead of relying on the superficial content of a blog, pontificating and pretending to have read the whole thing. "The Many-Headed Hydra" Rediker and Linebaugh

Our hero arranged the sudden death of three evil men, holding captive an innocent bystander, the brave captain of the captured ship, and thereby brought about the captain's rescue. The world roars with approval.

But-- perhaps---

Somewhere in Africa there is a family steeped in desperation and dedicated to the proposition that all lives are made in hell.
Now they are gathered together on a pathetic battlefield of that war. We cannot consecrate, we cannot dedicate, we cannot hallow that ground. The poor slobs living and dead who struggle there each day -just to survive-have hallowed it far beyond our poor powers- or desires- to add or detract.

Sorry, Abe. Nice speech, but business calls, y'know.

This diary started out to be something else-
I tried to integrate Linebaugh and Rediker's vision, and it's just too sweeping, and too powerful. So I narrowed the view.
For those of us who still have the time and patience for dense reading, it's a great book.

I defy anyone to read it, and not emerge feeling insanely grateful that we live NOW, and not THEN.

And the piece in Huffpo is narrower but still very good.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Wed Apr 22nd, 2009 at 05:44:49 AM EST

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