This was the second part of ruminating on what it means to be a pirate for Clark Speed's class, and I sort of had an epiphany. It's not so much that piracy is any one specific thing, but rather it is that which changes over time as what's deemed acceptable changes. Throughout the text, you'll see words bolded. Clarke had us, for every paper, pick words that we found new meaning for, write the dictionary definition, then apply a TTT [Twist The Text] to contextualize what we take the words to mean now. He often addressed it as a time of verbal word web, where you'd could just keep extending similes for a definition until it fit.
The first step to understanding what makes a pirate is acknowledging, and hopefully even understanding, that there are different worlds within the one world called earth. In this sense, no one person can look at all of its inhabitants and categorize things easily, because everything is contextual and subjective. For this sake, it is easier to broadly call one world a center, and the other world an exterior. This way, a center is adaptable to time and place and person; it is simply that which primarily functions in a society and is deemed as the ethical norm. The exterior, this Other world, are those not included in that society, or those deemed unethical, or those who are Othered. Since the center is always changing (through time and place), then isn’t, too, the version of a “pirate”—the one who lives in the exterior—always changing? Really, the only thing that makes a whole society or culture believe, and thus label, a group or an individual as a pirate is that which has been formulated by an overarching government or cultural code. Typically, this just means that the pirate is not following the formulated boundaries of that society. Yet, there is no single society. There are many and multiple and each has different definitions or ways of interpreting the same topic or even type of person/thing: “…what we define as piracy in one jurisdiction might not have been piracy in another” (Murphy 19).
The typical characteristics of being a pirate circle around the ability of being simultaneously manipulative, charming, creative and self-interested. However, there is a problem with this type of definition. That could define almost anyone. The key part is that a pirate is one who sees boundaries between communication and cultures and can communicate across them successfully; essentially, he or she is blending into whatever setting is necessary. This communication and blending does not simply mean that they’re bilingual, but that they are capable of living in multiple centers. That takes a lot: history, fetishes, cultural quirks the whole shebang. Being a pirate is honestly not a matter of rebelling or going against whatever the relevant “norm” is but it all really comes down to language and the ability to effectively communicate across borders, in exteriors and interiors, for profit. The key component to communication is also predicting what your receiver will interpret/say/react.
Yes, in the most simplest terms, as the western civilization knows and identifies pirates currently—all definitions change with location and time—the drug cartels, the pirates overtaking ships, the people online bombarding/breaching security walls are in a form of physical movement. But what most people don’t see is that these pirates are also in a form of symbolic movement, that symbolic movement being that of large-scale communication, a type that revolves around reputation. “Brand names institutionalize reputation… advertising… [and] a point of publicizing” (Leeson 111). This is easily demonstrated through the recent Boko Haram media coverage. The more people who know about them, the more the group gets a type of brand name and the more they are feared or hated, and thus the more power they obtain. Once a group’s, or even a person’s, name becomes publicized or well known, it can maintain a reputation. That reputation then becomes the foundation of capital or personal gain for that specific group. Moreover, their reputation simultaneously, somehow, becomes relevant. If something is not relevant, it cannot be nearly as successful.
Perhaps the second part essential to being a pirate is that you must have this underlying intention of capitalizing—symbolically or physically, but really what is any physical thing worth without symbolic meaning. However, pirates either use a predisposition-ed hierarchy to their advantage or are aware of the hierarchy’s existence and flip it on its head. Not to be misinterpreted: both require a very conscious form of awareness. One just transgresses, and the other reinforces.
In this sense, then, do both “illegal” and “legal” pirates emerge out of a governmental/ hierarchical/social system failure or do they simply exist because there will always be an antithesis or transgression? Anymore, it almost feels as if that question is a bit irrelevant since the world and capitalism is global. That expansion however is what creates tension and violence in between these different worlds. Perhaps this is where pirates come out of the cracks, they are born through injustices. Really, no one person would want to have such a risky and labor-intensive job unless he or she was forced to those circumstances or felt that some injustice was being done towards them; if he or she were previously unable to, in their subjective definition, sustain a living.
An even more curious aspect of piracy is that of online piracy. It’s odd because it doesn’t have that physical form of currency (cash). The profits, instead, are that of information, disclosure or release, and also reputation-building (as discussed previously). However, this form of modernity paradoxically relates back to the first and most basic forms of a good pirate: communication. Not only is the successful communication across borders a key but also in general because it generates the spreading of knowledge. This relates back to the printing press: a conflict arose because
“A book was not merely a passive container of meaning but a vehicle for a dynamic process of communication…a form of ventriloquism: the pirate hijacked another person’s voice. Worse, pirates therefore obligated authors, rather than vice versa—they made them answerable for meanings transmitted without their consent…violation of author’s identity that made piracy potentially fatal to the very idea of a public sphere” (Johns 55)
This is ringing true once again for the pirates of the web. The web, when it comes to most forms of media, is really still a branch of its original printing press form; it is still a means of communicating to the public. However, the pirates are now required to hack into, instead of physically hijacking, and pass a firewall/ encoding in order to achieve what pirates achieved long ago: the spread of works and of specific knowledge. However, it appears to be more centralized around ethics than as it was previously primarily for profit. Even for groups like the Syrian Army who hack into and post something on twitter’s account, they’re ultimate goal of their entire group is functioning off of what they see is unjustified and taking action against it, even if it requires lying and killing…but that’s a whole other story.
Communication itself is a form of movement. It is a transaction. It is a transfer of currencies, those currencies being words, and those words having meanings and histories and knowledge. It spreads, it changes, it adapts, it even causes social upheaval from time to time. It’s as if this modernity of communication, now obviously recognized by pirates, is a boat, perhaps with the name Hispaniola.
In the most traditional sense, pirates are like the infamous Treasure Island’s Long John Silver. In normal society, he blends in and is, well, normal and likeable: “…this clean and pleasant-tempered landlord” as an entirely society-based Jim Hawkins noted, and also Dr. Livesly announced, “…but I will say this, John Silver suits me”(Stevenson 60-64). Yet, on the flip of a dime, that same man can become as ruthless and brutal as any other pirate. Yet, unlike Long John Silver, the pirates of today are far less likely to escape as he.
Nonetheless these are all forms of pirates. In fact, “The word piracy derives from a distant Indo-European root meaning a trial or attempt, or (presumably by extension) an experience or experiment. It is an irony of history that in the distant past it meant something so close to the creativity to which it is now reckoned antithetical” (Johns 35).
Which demonstrates just how dramatically definitions can change over time. What was once considered a pirate might now be considered an innovator, and sooner or later the names will switch. Moreover, most things that are considered to be “standardized” or legitimate are defined/regulated by those in power.
There will always be an antithesis. Globalization makes it even more so emphasized because people are impeding boundaries without the communication skills—the skills of a pirate. It is essentially this impossible and violent way of coercion. In order for us to come together, we must collide, and colliding is a very destructive and reconstructive process.
Johns, Adrian. Piracy: The Intellectual Porperty Wars from Gutenberg to Gates.
Chicago: U of Chicago, 2009. Print.
Leeson, Peter T. The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton UP, 2009. Print.
Louis Stevenson Robert, Anna M. Hong, and Cynthia B. Johnson. Treasure Island.
New York, NY: POCKET BOOKS, 2005. Print
Murphy, Martin N. Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money: The Challenge of Piracy.
New York: Columbia UP, 2009. Print.
Fetishes are whatever is obsessed by whatever specific culture and is repeatedly given importance when in reality it is just an object. Ojectifying, subjectifying, exemplifying.
Piracy, in view of another world (the “authentic” version as it originates) then accumulates in new places where it is “copied” but yet is authentic to those who are seeing it for the first time.
World Dictionary: the earth, together with all of its countries, people, and
TTT[Twist the Text]: Perspectives, different modes of seeing that function off of
the past histories of a person and of a location but are seen as only
relevant to the present frame. Centers and exteriors, groups and
individuals. The French word for world is monde. The Latin root for
“mon” is to warn or remind. It’s funny because really everyone
protects his or her world with such feverishness that it’s hard for
the average person to see past his or her own socially constructed
Center Dictionary: the middle point of a circle or sphere, equidistant from
every point on the circumference or surface
TTT: synonymous with interior; a world that is conveniently named
those inside of it generally think they are the center of all things, when
really they are just a single island among other islands, yet functioning
through an asymmetrical, unjustified (yet partially necessary) system.
It is a fetish of a fetish of a fetish, dragging on through time and
history to formulate the current commodities, definitions,
connotations. Everything within it is embedded in a past, but a past
that is not altogether recognized because it molds and changes and
morphs over the ages to become something seemingly “new,” when it
has really been there all along, it has just taken on a different style.
Johns had explained how Condorcet conceded that “’Originality’ could
exist…but it resided only in the matters of style, not of knowledge”
(52). So this center has an ever-changing, distinctive genre, a location,
and an asserted cultural authority; none of which is quite original or
authentic. The roots found in center are “cen” and “cent.” There are
three distinct Greek root meanings for “cen,” and those are “quick,”
“new,” and “empty.” Cent is just the renown latin rood for a hundred.
Exterior Dictionary: forming, situated on, or relating to the outside of
something; the outer surface or structure of something
TTT: a structure indeed, existing outside of (but still connected to)
a center. A group of people who are other-ed by the center and who
paradoxically and simultaneously formulate/structure the center.
Because, really, what is anything without it’s culturally grown
Boundaries Dictionary: a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line
TTT: it limits, yes, it limits any one world from other worlds. The
question is who forms these boundaries and also who sees them?
One thing is for sure: pirates can move across them. This is either
because they see the boundaries and use it to their advantage,
reinforcing a center and thus not entirely having to move out of the
boundaries themselves and thus deemed “legal,” primarily because he
or she is in high enough power to be deemed as such; or they see
these boundaries and dislike them, begin transgressing them, also for
their own benefit, going back and forth between the center and the
exterior, making it “illegal.”
Society Dictionary: the aggregate of people living together in a more or less
TTT: the French version is société, coming from the Latin “societas”
and “socius” meaning fellowship and companion, respectively. A
society today is not so much a fellowship or this ideal of companion
because either one implies fair trade and a large realm of agreeable
value. The trades are no longer in equilibrium and the value is
ever changing. A society is essentially a group of people who are
outlined by the boundaries of their worlds but also formulated
through a rather lop-sided interdependence. It generally has to do
with an identity, a history, a culture, a language, religion, and
hierarchy. Each of these components are different depending on the
society in reference.
Communication Dictionary: the imparting or exchanging of information or news;
means of connection between people or places, in particular
TTT: In French, this is literally spelled the same, but came from
Latin’s “Communicationem” meaning to share, divvy out, impart,
inform, join, unite, participate in; or just literally to make common.
Except, communication isn’t an across-the-board type of thing.
Culture is intertwined so closely with its language that
communication cannot stand alone, it requires a whole subset
of skills and history and the complete removal of the exterior. At
least it does in order to see the exterior as yet another center.
Capitalizing Dictionary: to take the chance to gain advantage from
TTT: The actual term “capitalism” didn’t come about until Karl Marx.
But the concept of it had existed on pirate ships for quite some time
before him. To capitalize requires crossing borders, from centers out
into exteriors, and those exteriors quite possibly could already have
a history of whatever it is that is being newly introduced, it’s just
being introduced in a different approach. Moreover, whether it’s been
present in one form or another beforehand doesn’t quite make a
difference because one world is trying to coexist within another
entirely different world, and that cannot happen without collision.
The differences may appear subtle, the change, the social clashes,
but that’s because capitalism practically requires a job that looks
from afar, rather than being in the situation/place/Other world itself.
Capitalizing is an obtrusive and inconsiderate process when
one-sided negotiation occurs—which it almost always does.
Web Dictionary: a medium or mode for delivery; a network of fine threads
constructed by a spider; a complex system of interconnected elements
esp. one perceived as a trap or danger
TTT: a place of interconnectivity, definitely, but also a place of piracy
and simultaneously a place of hidden injustices. It is hard to truly see
as it is not truly tangible, there is no physical form other than that of
a hard drive and gold chips and wires. Even the algorithms and codes
that run it are not physically accessible. This is why it is so difficult for
people to draw a clear line of ethics and even legality. Moreover, it’s
the holy grail of knowledge anymore, one of the highest currencies of
modernity. It also simultaneously functions as a broadcasting,
All word definitions that reside under the “Dictionary:” sections are taken from
Oxford Dictionaries (online)
Most root words that I didn’t previously know were found via English Word
Information. http://wordinfo.info/. Web.
 What one center might be to someone, will simultaneously be an exterior to someone else in a different world and vice versa.
 Or really the interior, depending which world you’re living on
 And contradictingly
 Especially since it always changes; and since the pirate has to also be capable of portraying that “norm”:
 Beneficial to oneself symbolically and/or in material
 The means of this are really multiple: by way of having knack for it, or by way of getting information out of others (sometimes by torture, sometimes by stealing, sometimes by conniving).
 But the locals don’t necessarily do this
 Akin to the way the Jolly Roger functioned on pirate ships
 And especially on such a grand scale as world news
 One is a capitalistic wolf which is entirely legal for some reason and the other is a more traditionally-sensed pirate, who is illegal. Hm, I wonder why…
 Or the opposite for those who are the capitalists in the system: the upholders (instead of transgressors)
 Which was ultimately inevitable since capitalism requires new places to expand.
 “Where the law failed to reign in predatory merchant captains, pirates, oddly enough, picked up the slack” (Leeson 127).
 Although that can clearly happen as well: hackers. Moreover, essentially the government-sanctioned companies are acting as pirates, spying on people to composite profiles of virtually every person who surfs the web so that advertisements are tailored to the individual and are thus more profitable. It even goes so far as different results showing up when two different people search something on Google. This is because the current “gatekeepers” of the internet’s media, the people who filter what you see and don’t see, are instead computer algorithms.
 Just with a hell of a lot more complications
 HUGE indication of racism: the “Standard English” phrase that we are all so familiar with. There’s even a thing called “black English” which blew my mind.
Kelsey Hamlin is finishing up her last year at the UW. Though her time is typically spent telling others' stories, here's a chance to get a peek at hers.