I was asked to write a piece for a theatre company on why I am a pirate and how I got here.
It is deliberately a ilttle, shall we say, theatrical, and I ask no forgiveness for that!
It isn't, however, a particularly considered essay on my actual philosophy of the "pirate", it touches on the highlights of why I think "pirate" is the appropriate position to take these days, but it doesn't go to great lengths to explain them. Maybe I will do that some time soon.
The theatre company has decided not to use it, so I have rewritten it, improved it (well... ) and here it is.
Jack Sparrow, Long John Silver, the Skull and Cross-bones.
We can argue about what to call the current economic era - maybe you don’t like “late stage capitalism”, maybe you prefer "corona times", or "the anthropocene" but no matter. Whatever we chose to call it, let’s call it “this thing we live in now”.
So, TTWLIN wrings profit from places there was no profit before. Parsimony as a KPI. Cut staff, increase productivity. Trim the fat. Pare and prune, consolidate, concatenate.
Time is not to be wasted and human resources are ritualistically optimised.
Management-as-a-transferable skill plans for a future. Little bosses are paid to hear the music weeks ahead, the big boss’s job is to guess whatt the music is going to sound like in two, three, ten years time. There is an assumption that tomorrow will be very much like today.
This isn’t true. Every gardener knows that it’s not true. It’s not true in the rainforests or at the ice sheets. Farmers know it, and the Inuit know it. Tomorrow will not be very much like today. It will be different. If I am looking at my competitors, and they are looking at me, who is looking out of the window?
A system with all the elasticity taken out of it will snap when put under stress. Stress is coming, and all flexibility has been removed as profits and stock buybacks. From Percy Byce Shelly to Thomas Piketty via Leonard Cohen, the rich have been getting richer and the poor get poorer.
So what do we do?
We Pirate the Fuck Up.
We throw the corpulent and corrupt captain over the side of the ship. Raise the Jolly Roger - the flag not of the skull and cross bones, but the skull and hourglass. Accept the inevitability of the god of death, and celebrate that he did not come today².
The pirate ship is a democracy, united by revolution. It can never again set anchor within sight of land, for the pirates have broken not the law of a land, but the law of the seas and there they must remain. We are neither terrorists nor privateers. We are democratic socialists with the power to overthrow a corrupt leader.
The incapacitated and the ill get paid, and the captain rarely gets more than 2 and a half times an ordinary sailor's single share.
American CEOs get 300 shares.
Referenda rule the day, and sailor and captain get only one vote. No wonder we are feared!
A pirate does not assume that tomorrow will be like today. A pirate lives in a future which is coming. A future where supermarkets and banks and currency and convenience next-day-delivery do not exist. The absurdities of modern life are coming to an end, and if you are not ready for their absence, you will miss them all the harder.
I am Captain Ben Green, Pirate chief of the good ship “The barracks”.
In the early 1950s, the DDR Socialist state of Workers and Peasants cleared a five hectare site in the middle of a 3000 hectare forest, erected three and a half thousand meters of brutalist soviet living space, and moved the army in. Young lads had rifles pushed into their hands and were told to shoot anyone trying to cross an imaginary line to the decadent west.
Since 1989, it has been empty, a holding pen for asylum seekers, empty, and twice in private hands. Latterly, mine.
We are battered by biblical rainfalls, tempestuous winds, and Siberian snows. This is the coldest part of Western Europe and I am growing peaches, apricots and wine. In less than 5 years, the world will have convincingly passed three of the nine climate tipping points, and whilst the south of Europe burns, my little island should have achieved a climate similar to that of the Mosel.
I have more than thirty different fruit trees and bushes, over a hundred vegetable sorts, medicinal and culinary herbs, and three little piggies called Brunhilda Demagogue, Sir Anthony Marmalade Nutsless and Marylin Monroe. They are for tractor duties, meaningful chats into the dark of the night, and for inspiration.
So how does a computer scientist, web programmer become the captain of a pirate island in the middle of the east german forest? Who is this guy? The hardest working crew member, leading from the bottom doing the Dirty Harry jobs that no-one else wants to do, but running a consensual benevolent dictatorship?
I do accept that I could be wrong. I might be the crazy guy standing in the street, holding a sign saying “The End of the World is Nigh”. People have always been attracted to the idea of living at the end of time, and until now, everyone who has thought this has been demonstrably wrong.
Well, there are nine reasons. They are called tipping points.
When I was 17, there were three things which scared me. That cigarettes would cost more than 10 pence each, beer would hit 2 pounds a pint, and the level of co2 in the atmosphere would hit 400ppm.
You used to be able to buy a single cigarette from anyone with an open packet on the table in front of them. You offered them 10p and they either took it, or they didn’t, but you always got a cigarette. One day, I tried and was rebuffed with “They cost 12p now, sonny”. I didn’t have 12p, I had 10, but there would be no haggling on that day. Someone was clearly very upset about the latest cigarette price hike, and was not going to budge.
Beer hit 2 pounds a pint before I was 18, and has risen with expansive inevitability ever since.
When smokes were 9p each, and beer 1 pound 40, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were in the 370s. 400 seemed a long way off.
We haven’t had a single Mount Loa reading of less than 400ppm CO2 since September 2016. In that same month, Antarctic carbon dioxide concentrations hit 400ppm for the first time in 4 million years.
I started counting before you. I used small numbers.
The end of the world might well be nigh. Winter is coming. Pirate the fuck up.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Comment section below.
ⁱ I tend to steal (paraphrase, misquote) a lot from movies. This is from Margin Call. If you have never worked at a a high-level management position within a company, this film basically opens the curtajn on that world. If you have worked there, it's quite frighteningly accurate.
² Game of Thrones. But you knew that.