Thursday, February 27, 2014

Family Values and Piracy

The second half of Theodosia and the Pirates -- The War Against Spain --  is not so much a romance, but a story about family life against a backdrop of world conquest, colonization of a new island, the meting out of justice and receiving injustice in return, exile, diminished circumstances, and a new life as a respectable, productive middle class family. This is not primarily a book about sea battles and burning buildings on the shore, although there is some of that, too. It is more about family values than it is about the fires of first love, although there is a bit of that as well.

Next month I will be revealing our new cover with a stunning illustration by Colleen Dick and everything will be gearing up for the release of the new book. But for now, let me say that I don't think people have given much thought to what it is like to be a good parent and a pirate at the same time. No, it's not  a joke. I'm perfectly serious.

Jean Laffite was a privateer, a liberator, a protector, a husband and a father. He had three children by his first wife and two by his last wife. And there may have been some other children born on the wrong side of the blanket, but I'm not writing about that.

Jean Laffite and his second wife Emma Mortimore and their two sons, Jules and Glenn
painting by Manoel J. de Franca

Imagine being asked by your little boy why it is all right to pillage and loot. What would you answer? Would you say that you only go against evil empires, like Britain and Spain? Would you say that what you do is good, because the enemy is bad? Would you tell him that you treat women and children and the downtrodden with ultimate courtesy, but that the people you hurt deserve it? And if you said that, how much of it would you yourself believe?

Today on my Facebook feed, there was a discussion of Vikings. Apparently, the History Channel is running a series about Vikings. I have not seen it. I don't have cable. But people seem to be fascinated by the violence and the family dynamics of what they term "mafia-like" arrangements, and some of them are talking about having Viking ancestors, but at the same time saying that they were just farmers.

I don't want to make any statements about the life and morals of Vikings one way or another. But I do think that there's something that most of my acquaintances are overlooking about their own mode of making a living: almost all of them are a little like Vikings, except that there is a veneer of respectability that hides this fact.

"First do no harm." That is the mantra that most people adopt. But how many of us live by it? How many could explain to our children what we do for a living and why it is okay?

Take one of the most respected profession in the world: teachers. I have been a teacher myself, and I taught on the university level in Taiwan. But who or what paid for my fees? Even though I was working at private universities, did you know that the government of Taiwan had to authorize the universities to hire me as an assistant professor? There was so much red tape! And in the end I was issued a government document allowing me to teach . Behind all this was a complicated system that certified students, teachers and the validity of knowledge. And all at the point of a gun!

 I'm not being critical of Taiwan, when I point this out. All the countries I've ever lived in and all the countries I have visited have had some such a system, if not on the university level, then certainly for elementary education. If your work is regulated by the government and funded by taxes or coerced payments, you, my friend, are a pirate!

If you are a teacher, chances are you are profiting from some combination of government coercion and expropriation. If you are an elementary or high school teacher in a United States public school system, then you are probably paid with tax dollars, even those taken from people who have no children. If you teach at a private school, you probably still received some kind of certification that said you were allowed to teach and somebody else could not. The mandatory education laws indirectly send money into the coffers of private institutions as well as public one.

I have been a lawyer. That, too, involved government certification by the State of Texas where I practiced. I was part of a state-run monopoly on the practice of law. Are you a doctor? A registered nurse? A social worker? An insurance agent? A farmer? There are government subsidies, government monopolies and government coercion involved in all those professions. People can't help being dragged into these things, because it's everywhere.  If you are a retailer, chances are you are actively collecting sales taxes from your customers, because if you refuse, you will be shut down. We are all of us victims of piracy, but we are also willing participants. Where did your money come from? Are you sure it is clean? Would you walk the plank rather than join a government program that allows you to earn a living?

People revile welfare recipients, but they look the other way when the local grocer pockets the welfare recipient's money. It's almost impossible, in every line of business, not to somehow have gotten one's gain from someone else's illicit plunder. And even if you are clean yourself, the people you do business with are not, so that in some way we are all part of it.

"But I offer valuable services!" we may protest. "I work hard!" Doesn't everybody? "But the services I offer are needed. I help people!" Doesn't everyone?

Privateers help people, too, but they do so without leeching off the people they help. The good thing about privateers is that they do not plunder the people they are protecting. Unlike the local police officer and the military who serve us while living off our earnings without our consent, a privateer protects us from others by robbing others. Is it fair to those others? They probably don't think so. But at least it is honest.

And yet how do you explain that to a little boy? How do you teach him to respect others, not to steal or bully or abuse, when what you are doing yourself looks an awful lot like armed robbery? That's a big part of what "Theodosia and the Pirates: The War Against Spain" is all about.

So when you think of Vikings or your Viking ancestors, think of that!


  1. Hehe - I love the "Vikings" movie. Turns out, my ancestor was Ragnar Lothbrok - the "hero" in the movie. I use the term "hero" loosely. In the movie, he teaches his son to rob, pillage and kill too. I've pondered the brutality of how the vikings must have lived back then. How ruthless and barbaric their lives were.
    I think the only difference between now and then is that the barbarians have learned to cloak their real intent with a nicer coat and by being more cunning and devious in their theft. Less blood loss this way, but at least back then the person being robbed had a chance to fight back.
    As to the part about taking the welfare recipient's money / food stamps; yes, and our local grocery store has made it their mission to collect as much of it as they can. And yes I patronize that store because it's the only one around for 20 miles. The next one is WalMart. We are slowly finding ourselves in a world where we have no choice but to compromise our principles everywhere we go.

    1. Your ancestor was Ragnar Lothbrok, Kathy? Wow! This may explain why you are such a capable person.;)

      I agree that the real intentions are cloaked very well these days, and there is less overt violence for all to see. Though when the public eye is not on the scene, I think there is more violence than we know about. The authorities can be shameless.

      I go to the same grocery store as you do, and I understand how this affects the price of fruit. People talk a lot about how we are all bound together like an ecosystem, and I have to agree. We do all share the same world, and it is very hard to opt out of policies we disagree with. It's not possible to distort the market in one spot for the sake of one outcome for a strictly chosen group and not have it affect all of us in every other corner of the marketplace. It has been a long time in coming, but the consequences are here now.

    2. Yes, he is, Aya- my Mother was shocked to find him in our tree! I'll try to refrain from causing any bloodbaths though. ;)
      I was thinking about your statement, "It has been a long time in coming, but the consequences are here now.", and I realized that you are quite right. I've been shocked buy all the overt things that are happening, but even more shocked by the lack of hostile responses to it. I keep expecting to see a revolution arising, but everyone is kind of "ho-hum", except for a few of us. I guess it's that, "frog in boiling" water thing and people are so used to it that they're not as alarmed as you and I are. The bad part is that, once the consequences start to be realized, it's too late, or at the very least, a LOT more difficult to reverse!
      I've been seeing a lot of stories about police violence against non-threatening people lately too. It's pretty scary.

  2. Oh yes, I was part of that discussion about the Vikings. Lita was only relaying that her more recent ancestors are farmers, and was adding I think they emphasized the violence part of the Vikings for ratings, which the history channel does. Vikings were not all about war, and they did have other elements to their life as well. Anyway, interesting post.

    1. Hi, Julia. Yes, I guess you were part of that discussion. I did not get involved, because I had not seen the documentary. In fact, I haven't seen any of the recent things that came out about the Vikings. I did not want to be critical of them, because I don't have enough information to form an opinion about I realize that my opinions about the Vikings were formulated when I was only a child and that I may have just internalized a lot of prejudices against them based on stereotypes that my teachers presented as facts. But it did make think about pirates and privateers and Jean Laffite, and how all of us are really part of the problem.

    2. I had a penpal from Norway who spoke four languages by the age of 12. She put some Americans to shame with how well she spoke and wrote English. It might have been a patriotic thing for her, but it bothered her how the violent side of the Vikings were always emphasized in English speaking media, when they also had families, were amazing seafarers, and explorers. The only reason I commented on that segment is without even seeing the documentary I can imagine they did not talk about Leif Erickson and how he was the first European to come to the New World, and how there is some evidence there were in Vikings in parts of North America five hundred years before Columbus. I am sure the documentary had merit, but I can surmise they did not talk as much about the others aspects of Viking life, based upon what everyone was discussing.

    3. Julia, I wish I could speak 4 languages. Or just 2. I'd be happy with 2. I have to travel to Germany for my work sometimes and I do see Germans who are better at English than some of our "natives".
      The "documentary" is playing a little loose on some of the edges with the facts, to make it more dramatic, I think and is telling the story of the Vikings in more a story / movie fashion than a real documentary. Right now, in the series, they've only invaded one or two of the earlier countries (I need to catch up - can't recall which ones). But it will be interesting to see if they include the part about Erickson and the Vikings being in North America before Columbus. Very interesting!
      They were amazing seafarers - their craftsmanship with the longships was brilliant for their time.