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<nettime> Toshiya Ueno: Pirates and Capitalism 1

From: VYC04344@niftyserve.or.jp
Date: Sun, 04 May 1997 17:50:00 +0900

Pirates and Capitalism
Toshiya Ueno

In this article, I will try to focus on the relation between Pirates
and Capitalism. I wish to begin by referring to Robinson Crusoe. In
order to present, argue, and analyze relationship between piracy and
capitalism, Robinson Crusoe is an important reference point. In Daniel
Dafoe's story, Robinson resisted his father's opinion and Protestant
ethics and did not trust the Christian God of Protestantism. Robinson
was longing for his brother who had become an adventurer looking for
property and treasure in the other unknown world, either Africa or the
West Indies. Robinson also tried to accomplish this. But in his first
navigation, he was caught by the Moors and became their slave.
Eventually, he escaped from slavery, and he bought land in Brazil and
managed a huge plantation. However, as he failed to succeed with his
plantation, Robinson again began navigating the seas in order to get
African slaves. But his ship sank, and he alone survived to live on a
desert island. In this miserable situation, he appreciated and blessed

Robinson had reformed and returned to Protestantism. On the island, he
made an effort to make an enclosure just as the gentry (early
bourgeoisie) established it in England.

In other words Robinson repeated the Protestant ethic and the spirit
of Capitalism. As you may know, this interpretation is derived from
Max Weber. But it is already obvious that the human-type of
Robinson--who acts rationally and productively on the basis of
"innerworldly asceticism"--is a sort of fiction. If you carefully read
_Robinson Crusoe_, you would come to understand that his behavior on
the island was not at all "rational" and "productive." Instead his
activities depended on monstrous excessive desires. For example, when
he attempted to salvage many materials useful for survival from the
ship wreck on the coast of the island, he wanted to get "everything"
without considering whether these would be useful or not. His desire
to get as many things as conceivably possible was absolutely
unlimited. It is especially clear in his obsession with his fort's
construction, for he did not know the exact aim of the fort. That is
to say Robinson does not know what he does.(This is the definition of
ideology made by Marx). His behavior and mentality were never based on
"value-rationality." So the human type of Robinson is not nearly as
ascetic and rational as the bourgeoisie in England were, but rather
the type of human in the contemporary world. (The words like "type of
human" or "human type" are technical terms in Weber's sociology. One
can understand these as an ideal embodiment of type of each class.) 

As a character, Robinson is very similar to us in his purposeless and
excessive production and consumption. Even though we would define
Robinson as the human type of Protestant, the theoretical framework
making this definition possible is already problematic and dubious. In
response to the question "Why did Capitalism first take place in
England, and why not in other places?" the most general reply has been
as follows: "It is because of the bourgeoisie possessing the
Protestant ethic that Capitalism proceeded from England prior to the
advent of Capitalism in other places." But now this interpretation is
radically changing from it's bottom.

For example, according to the point of view of Immanuel Wallerstein's
"world system theory," the response should be: "It is because
Capitalism occurred in England that in other areas and societies
Capitalism didn't take place." The world system is just one system and
has a structural totality. Actually the shift in point of view made by
world system theory has to with the problem of colonialism. Since 1492
Capitalism has always been synchronous and co-operative with
colonization and colonialism. It should be noted that Robinson
proceeded with his navigation to get slaves for his Brazilian
plantation. However, in his life on the desert island, he encountered
Friday as a "coloured native other." Friday as a slave could be
defined as the other and the object for the enlightenment of Western
(European) reason.

Recently, on the basis of the paradigm of world system theory or
Braudelian historicism, many theoreticians have been very interested
in the transportation and the communication of the sea trading. It
should not be forgotten that Robinson was a sailor. In certain sense,
the type of human epitomized by Robinson was found not in Yeomanry (or
middle bourgeois) but in sailors and colonizers in the 17th century.
In this context, some theoreticians might talk about the change of
paradigms from the history of the land to the history of the sea. For
example, Venice in the medieval age, Spain in the 16th century, The
Netherlands in the 17th century, England in the 18th century was the
sea-polis or the sea empire, the state having sea hegemony. History
can be seen from the sea, not only from the land and the continents.

In 1492--needless to say it's the same year that Columbus found
America--Islamic Moors, excluded from the Iberian peninsula, became
Barbalian pirates and assaulted Christian ships. In turn, Christian
states permit many Christians, and hence Europeans, become pirates by
granting pirates letters of commission from marque to attack other
nations ships. It seems that the post-Columbus age was an age of

The book "A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most
Notorious Pirates" (1724) is a very strange and good book which deals
with the history of the pirates and includes the stories about Captain
Kid,Teach and female pirates Mary Lead and Ann Bony. It was written by
Captain Charles Johnson. This book has influenced countless novels and
fictions about pirates. By reading this book, we might argue about the
relationship surrounding the invention of nation-states and pirates
and Capitalism.

One is tempted to ask, "Who was Charles Johonson?" Hakim Bey has
already discussed this problem in _T.A.Z._ According to him and recent
influential opinion, Charles Johnson is said to be the pen name of
Daniel Dafoe. It is a tremendous story if the author of the mythical
text about the rise of Capitalism was at the same time the author of a
history of pirates. However, this is not simple coincidence. Hakim Bey
began the most important chapter of TAZ by titling it "Pirate

As you know, the Temporary Autonomous Zone is not a concrete and
realized society or fixed space but autonomous chronotopes which
vanish after being realized temporarily by independence and autonomy.
Bey considered such a type of zone in the activity of the pirates in
the 17th or 18th centuries. He said that the pirates and corsairs
already had a sort of information network by creating the global web
connecting islands and continents.

Historically speaking, many pirates founded small communities or
utopian societies in Morocco or the Caribbean islands which were quite
different and independent from the early power politics of
nation-states in those days. These communities made by pirates already
composed Temporary Autonomous Zones. He took as an example Bruce
Sterling's famous novel _Islands in the Net_ and pointed out the
overlapping relation between islands (or archipelagos) connected
through pirates and the rhizomatic nets of transnational corporations.
Hakim saw a model of data pirates in Sterling"s novel as, besides huge
corporations, many hackers and small high-tech manufactures are
operating on information and transforming its quality and the meaning
of property or ownership, itself.

It is worth referring to another text, _Pirate Utopias--Moorish
Corsairs &European Renegadoes_(Autonomedia,1995) written by Peter
Lamborn Wilson. This book focuses on Muslim corsairs and pirates
utopias where thousands of Europeans converted to Islam and joined the
pirate "holy war." According to his analysis, the pirate utopias were
formed by a community of renagedoes who converted beliefs, ideologies,
and political or religious identities. The Pirate Republic of Sale in
Morocco in the 17th century is the representative model.This
independent and insurrectionary community was constituted by corsairs,
sufis, adventurers, etc. I wish to say in passing that Robinson was
the captive of this republic. It seems important that in the history
of pirates, there have always been renagedoes and "drop-outs" from any
closed community or dogmatic party. So the term of renegade does not
mean negative escape but rather self-expression in the form of
betrayal .The renegadoe is the movement toward heresy or paganism and
is a means for cultural traveling. For example, when a religion or one
belief system would move from one culture to another one, heresy and
paganism can take place there. One should remember the relationship
between Celtic culture and Christianity or that between Islamic,
Jewish, and Christian religions. In addition, the renagedoes are
always the resistors in a society or community. In fact, America was
originally founded as a land of drop-outs (Peter Lamborn Wilson, "Lost
Ancestors: An Introduction to Pooch Van Dunk's "Indian Heritage" in
_Gone to Croatan, Origins of North American Drop Out Culture_, edited
by Ron Sakolsky & James Koehnline,1993).

In order to analyze pirate cultural politics much more, I would like
to refer to the novel _Moby Dick_ by Herman Melville. Of course,
Captain Ahab and his crew in the ship "Pequod" were not pirates, but
they were another type from the tribe of sea workers. Ahab has common
aspects with Robinson, because for Ahab the activity--the vengeance
against Moby Dick also was filled with self-purpose. I can summarize
the important points in this novel as follows.

Firstly, Melville's writing about whales was very paranoid and
maniacal. It can be immediately felt from the encyclopedic
descriptions about whales, "cetology," that there are strange passions
involved in classifying the tribes of whales. Moby Dick ,as a big
white whale, existed on the top of these tribes. Ahab, haunted by
vengeance, and his crew were occupied with taking the invisible power
of life from Moby Dick. The big white whale seems to be almost
immortal. Even though in one incident Moby Dick was wounded by a
whaler's harpoon, he appears in other scenes without any scar. Moby
Dick's immortality derives from his omnipresence in the sea. The white
whale is immortal because it can go beyond the limits of time-space
zones. In other words , Melville (or Ishmael as the narrator) said
that the whales know the secret web and routes in the sea.However, the
whales have not only information about networks in the sea, but they
are themselves an corpus of strange information. What does it mean?In
_Moby Dick_ , Melville as narative subject compared the patterns on
the whales skin with the designs of primitive Indian art. At the same
time, he also emphasized the flowing and moving of the whale's tale
and likened it to the symbols and signs in Freemasonry. In such a way,
for Melville, the whales, themselves, exist as the information and
text and for human perception.

Secondly, there are so many "races" on the ship "Pequod." Around Ahab
as a white, one could easily find the overlapping of marginal natives
and tribes, for example, Caribbean, American Indian, African blacks,
and European whites. Hakim (and Peter) have often mentioned the
"tri-racial-community" in Croatan as well as drop out America. On the
"Pequod," I'm tempted to call the tri-racial-community the creol and
hybrid community on the ship. In that sense, the name of Ishmael is
very symbolic because in the Bible it meant the exile.

I wish to say in passing that whale catching in Japan has had a very
special meaning and history. Japanese whalers have also known the
informatic nature of whales. The whales are very sensitive to peculiar
sounds and therefore they possess a harmonic unity with the sea. For
whales, the sea originally contained networks and matrices of
information. Whaling was not simply the hunting in general but a very
unique technology of searching the invisible and uncontrolled zones of
the sea. Through fighting the whales, the whalers could enter unknown
and hidden elements in nature.

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