London-based teacher and writer Kester Brewin recently released a quirky little gem of a book, called Mutiny! Why We Love Pirates, and How They Can Save Us. In only 165 pages, Brewin fits in medieval fiefdom, the colonization of the so-called "New World," Marxism, modern-day Somali pirates, copyright law, punk music, Jungian psychology, and Greek mythology. I didn't always agree with Brewin's take on the world, but his creativity and ability to translate sweeping topics into more easily understandable prose was impressive.
Today, pirates have turned into a kitschy birthday party theme, but Brewin notes that an actual 18th-century pirate would be "shocked at the way in which his rebellion and revolt against and oppressive and wealth-hungry Empire had been castrated into spineless, meaningless nursery pap."
The first mid-Atlantic pirates emerged in the 18th century in response to European monarchies' monopoly that blocked access to the "riches of the New World to any but the most privileged," and Brewin argues that pirates, in any shape or form, emerge at any time when economies become "blocked." Sailors who were forced to work for a pittance, then cast aside when they became disabled by the very work the monarchs charged them to do, joined forces to wreak havoc on the monarchies' work, threatening the imperial order. As a result, sailors-turned-pirates created egalitarian communities that offered fair wages and didn't simply cast aside the disabled or "other".
Piracy arises when a structure becomes unjust, "because it has taken something that should be the 'common property' of all people and locked it behind a pay-wall," and "refuses to share the spoils of wealth with those who have laboured so hard to create it." Pirates offer an alternative that speaks to our desire, our "human ache," for justice. Pirates threaten those in power, petrifying them, "because the laws that they have so carefully constructed to keep everyone in their right place fall utterly flat." And those who don't choose mutiny? Perhaps they believe the "narrative of their oppressors: that remaining law-abiding and dutiful would see them rewarded in heaven."
What can pirates teach us about following Jesus? Brewin argues that we must play pirate to religion. Pirates are heroes who break the law, because "the law needs breaking if it is to be remade more justly." Jesus was, according to the law of his day,
a revolutionary heretic who was quite rightly prosecuted by religious authorities. The law had been broken, and law-breakers needed to face punishment if society was to hold together. But, quite explicitly, Jesus broke Jewish law in order to expose the fact that Jewish law was, in the hands of the Pharisees, broken.
The early church can be viewed as a community who declared mutiny against the religious powers, departing from Jewish orthodoxy. Early Christians entered the heretical waters of a faith that shared all things in common. But, Christianity transformed into the "religion of empire, and quickly settled in the easy throne of fattened calves, of comfortable robes and jewelry."
Brewin challenges us to ask: "what would it mean now to play pirate with the life that I have in the culture I am a part of, among the community I live in and within the power structures and working practices that I am embedded in?"
I don't agree with Brewin's characterization of the "New World," as it ignores and erases the existence of native peoples. Along those same lines, Brewin occasionally praised the U.S. "Founding Fathers," who in reality only played pirate on behalf of white, male landowners against the English. Overall, however, Mutiny! is a creative, dense little book that may spur you to mutiny, to "unblock" power structures, and to seek a more equitable way.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.