Thursday, April 23, 2009

No More Yo Ho Ho

Let’s see what has been happening on the Pirate Stock Exchange. In the days of the Barbary pirates their stock was very low, perhaps because they were dangerous and brutal, sending many a ship and her crew to Davy Jones’ Locker. Their stock began to rise in the era of pulp fiction and movie serials, when pirates became the center of swashbuckling adventure and romance on the high seas. For the past five years their stock has soared to unprecedented heights: we convinced ourselves that all pirates looked like Johnny Depp and were mischievous at worst. On “Talk like a Pirate Day” (admittedly a holiday that never quite broke through to the level of Valentine’s Day) many an otherwise sane and balanced person would break into a hearty “Arrrr!” and make reference to eye patches and parrots.

The Somali pirates have caused the Pirate Stock Exchange to crash even more severely than the Dow Jones; I am not sure that “Talk like a Pirate Day” will ever recover. When we had gained enough distance from piracy we remade it into something funny and romantic. Now that it is back on the front page again our perspective is more sober and realistic. Granted, these are very different sorts of pirates than those of earlier times. My understanding is that the phenomenon began when poor fisherman whose Somali government had collapsed (and therefore left them completely without protection) attempted to drive off foreign vessels that were illegally fishing Somali waters and dumping toxic wastes in them. They quickly learned that holding ships for ransom was more lucrative than fishing and, human greed being what it is, a new era of piracy was born.

Just as we lost all perspective on the horrors perpetrated by the pirates of old, we have likely overly vilified a ragtag bunch of poor, uneducated fisherman from a lawless society. The international community must put an end to their activities, of course, but the young man presently being held by the US court system is not a terrorist combatant or a criminal genius. We are so hungry for both heroes and villains that we have demonized what is likely a frightened, clueless kid.

Why is it that we always project “evil” onto whoever we regard as the enemy of the moment, then when the threat from that enemy ends attempt to convince ourselves that the evil never existed? As a kid I watched a television show called “Hogan’s Heroes” in which Nazi prison guards were portrayed as bumbling but lovable incompetents. Didn’t that trivialize evil as surely as “Pirates of the Caribbean” did? And why do we only look for evil in the other – the enemy – and not in ourselves? Do we think Jesus was way off base when he talked about our desire to remove the speck from someone else’s eye while ignoring the stick in our own?

So long as we see evil only in whoever happens to be our enemy of the moment we fail to take evil seriously. And that is a very dangerous thing to do.

1 comment:

rick in cos said...

In its simplest form, piracy is simply criminal behavior, and as such, needs to be dealt with as we would any other crime. complicating it, it's on the international seas, kind of no man's land for law enforcement, hence, we need the world's navies to unite on this.
However, and probably to your point, the Somali pirates are really acting out symptomatic of the greater issue: lawlessness from a lack of order (read:no government). so, it is somewhat hitting the edges of the target to go after the pirates without dealing with the greater issue...something we're all good at.