What Piracy Can Teach Us About Freedom
One of my direct ancestors was born in Bath Town, North Carolina in 1718. Her last name was Teach. Her father wasn't recorded in the historical archives, however in a town with a population of fewer than 50 people a very famous Teach briefly called Bath Town, NC home in 1718, Edward Teach AKA Blackbeard. Which is ironic, because as a child there was only one thing I ever wanted to grow up to be and that was a pirate just like the buccaneers of old.
Now, a lot of individuals don't know this about pirates. They were some of the first historical instances of equality amongst people and real democracy. A pirate captain was elected by his crew, and even the decision to attack another ship came down to a democratic vote by all members of the crew. All crew members sailed, worked and fought alongside each other as equals, no matter what their race, religion, ethnicity, culture, or background was.
Ultimately, the reason pirates ever chose the life of crime was for freedom. During the Golden Age of piracy, most pirates were once privateers or sailors fighting with the blessing of the government. At the end of the War of Spanish Succession in 1715 many of these trained sea fighters found themselves unemployed. They could choose to work under harsh conditions with the Royal Navy, or on English Merchant vessels or they could choose the freedom that was found in piracy.
When the oppressed struggle to keep their heads above water, the ethics behind criminality become blurred. When faced with an ultimate choice, most will always choose freedom regardless of the methods required to achieve it.
If anyone wishes to rid the world of crime, they must fundamentally understand the environment that fosters criminal activity. It is easy to assume all those who commit crimes do so because they intrinsically lack the moral compass to choose to do good. It would be reckless of me not to admit that indeed, there are those who have no reason too, who still give in themselves to a life of crime. However, the truth of the matter is, far too many children in this country grow up with no real belief in the American dream. Too many children recognize that there are those who will sail through the sea of life, and then there will be others who have to tread water just to stay afloat.
Even worse, for many people, all they have to do is make one mistake before they are labeled for the rest of their lives. We have become a structured system that seeks retribution not rehabilitation from those who step out of line. Ultimately, we have emerged as a system that doesn’t even desire to rehabilitate or uplift those who stumble in life.
We have become a system designed not for the betterment of society, or improving people when they fail. Instead, we have a justice system designed to make those who follow the rules feel better about themselves. Every time we see someone sentenced to prison for a decade of their life, we subliminally pat ourselves on the back. Our reward for following the rules comes not in what we gain within ourselves or in our contributions to life. Instead, our reward comes from what we do not lose and it has nothing to do with what we gain.
In the end, those who step off of the path of what is legal, do not come back to society with a renewed belief in the value of morality. Instead, they return to society with an imposed understanding of what all they can lose.
Now, out of happenstance or divine intervention, I have found myself with a burning desire to ensure that all children grow up believing they can achieve their dreams.
In an odd twist of fate, my life has gone full circle and now I find myself dreaming once again of being a pirate. Just like the romanticized pirates of the past, I have acknowledged and yet still chose to ignore the perils that indeed exist. For me, freedom for others is that important and worth the potential risk. I navigate the high seas with my mind as my compass and my voice as my cutlass. In the end, I now find myself trying to be a pirate for the people. To be willing to seize people’s freedom and rights if need be. I have to wonder if somewhere my potential ninth-generation-grandfather, isn’t looking at all of this, smiling at the irony.