I have lately been asked to write a short text on “why being a pirate is not worth it”. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure how to approach it, so we ended up changing the topic. However, challenges are there to be accepted, hence I decided to make an attempt in my free time and without deadlines. And no, even though my love towards the Polish Pirate Party is well-known, this is really not about them.
Undoubtedly, pirates have a very positive public image nowadays, and for some time now. This has to be romanticism’s illegitimate child, this fascination with pirates’ uneven, solitary struggle against the unforgiving elements, and resistance towards social norms of their day. Resistance, that banishes them from the society for good.
It’s hard to tell, though, which goes first: was the resistance a reaction to rejection, or the other way around? Each pirate would have their own story to tell, and their own reasons.
What we will definitely find in piracy – the idealized version, that is – admiration of the cold and brutal, yet beautiful nature, fascination with times long past (with their aesthetic and peculiar ethos) and tragic yet full of determination strife for personal freedoms, against all odds and “the system” (feudal, with some rudimentary capitalism). That strife is what resonates so well today.
Problem is: this image is so idealized, it’s almost unrecognisable. It’s a Hollywood version, simplified and painted pretty, but not having much relation to historical facts.
Pirates were excluded from the society, and constantly struggling with merciless elements, that’s undisputed. However, they were far from being as “anti-system”, as we’d like to think – they often had mandate from one of the sea powers, and operated in a manner we would call today “freelancing”. So much for the romantic ideal of a freedom fighter.
Sailing ship crews, especially pirates, were controlled by the iron will (and fist) of the captain, the death tall was always high, and the cruel sea was as much a reason for this as were brutal and inhumane punishments administered with the conviction (not that far from truth) that only fear can keep a crew of bandits in check. Full-blown feudalism, only at sea and drowned in blood.
Of course, pirates’ blood was not the only being spilt: crews of captured merchant ships were rarely spared – after all, who’s to feed and guard tens of prisoners in hard conditions at sea?
Pirate’s life was a cruel life of a bandit on uncompromising sea, threatened from every side: the elements, captain, fellow crew members, attacked crews and finally – navy ships, trying to keep control over trading routes.
Not a life to envy.
Those of you, who expected something about copyright law and copying in the Internet, might I remind that “piracy” is not downloading music from the Web. I’d like to suggest familiarizing oneself with this helpful infographic.