Both Anya and I, as non-American school children, knew a lot more about the details of World War II than the other children our age. We used to take turns reenacting battles from the European front of the war. She was about a year older than me, and she was very good at converting currency from dollars to zloty.
Anya's mother was different from my parents in her child rearing, as there were times when she required Anya to play outside in order to get exercise. She was not allowed back in the house until her mother said so. Then at other times her mother required her to watch TV, when she believed that what was on television was good for her. This was quite different from the way I was raised, as I got to choose when I played outside and what I watched on TV.
One time, Robin Hood was on TV, and Anya told me she could not play with me, because she had to dutifully watch it. Her mother insisted. It was about communist dogma. When I told my father about that, he laughed and said that actually Robin Hood was about a struggle between Normans and Saxons in medieval England. And then he recited this poem:
Was there ever a real Robin Hood? And if so, what was his struggle about? Many people, both for and against redistribution of wealth, believe that the legend of Robin Hood is about robbing the rich to feed the poor. Those who are in favor of redistribution say that Robin Hood was good. People who are against redistribution say he was bad. But isn't that the wrong frame of reference to begin with?
Hear underneath dis laitl stean Laz Robert earl of Huntingtun Ne’er arcir ver as hie sa geud An pipl kauld im robin heud
Can robbing the rich to feed the poor ever work as a closed system? No, because to the extent that the rich get rich by providing goods and services to those less wealthy than themselves, their very livelihood depends on those who pay them, who are poorer than they are. Redistribution from an ecological standpoint would be like rabbits trying to feed on a fox. Foxes eat rabbits for a living. If rabbits ate foxes, they would actually be living off indirect cannibalism. Cannibalism doesn't work -- not because it's immoral -- but because it is impractical. It is the impracticality of the thing that makes us feel that it is immoral, because it cannot be self-sustaining. It's the same reason why parents cannot feed on their young and why chickens cannot live off the eggs they lay themselves. It would be a perpetual motion machine.
|Illustration by Aya Katz from In Case There's a Fox|
On the other hand, in an open system, it is possible to rob your enemy in order to pay for your self-defense or your outward expansion. When there is a struggle between two peoples, such as the Normans versus the Saxons, it is possible to pillage the enemy camp in order to pay for the expense of having to fight them in the first place. That is also how large empires sustain standing armies: by constantly being at war with someone whom they can pillage. But when an empire runs out of easy targets, that's when that sort of growth has to stop. Once you have assimilated the people you have conquered and now treat them like citizens, taxing them becomes cannibalism. You are weakening yourself by doing it
So what does this have to do with Jean Laffite? He is remembered as a "pirate" -- which is a kind of robber. But he is thought of by some as a kindly robber, and so we get a representation of him such as the one in the movie The Buccaneer, in which he seems to have a heart of gold, but is in fact not a respectable member of society. We are allowed to feel for him as a bad person who did a good deed, but we are not allowed to understand what really happened: that he was robbed by the United States Navy and that it was acting against the direct interests of the United States in its war against Britain when Patterson and Ross raided Barataria, knowing the British were about to attack Fort Bowyer.
Jean Laffite robbed the enemies of the United States, Britain and Spain, in order to sell goods at below market price to the American people. It was the fact that he was robbing outsiders at war with us that made the robbery legal and moral and not a case of cannibalism. Patterson and Ross raided their own allies to line their pockets, against the best interest of the country that was paying them a salary at taxpayer expense. Their policies were cannibalistic. But nobody will show you that at the movies today. Have you ever asked yourself why?