Watch the video of Kester Brewin’s talk at TEDxExeter 2013.
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His son kept getting invited to pirate parties, but what to wear? Stereotypical eye patch, or should it be an AK47 and inflatable boat, or a basket of dodgy DVDs?
Pirates are everywhere, on merchandise from baby bottles to ties. But why are they so popular? Because his son never got invited to any ‘aggravated robbery’ parties.
In the golden age of piracy, England, France and the other colonial powers were trying to enclose lands and sea. This involved ships, and the engines of the ships were the sailors. But the sailors were brutally treated. To be a sailor in the Navy was to be close to death, and a sailor’s death was marked in the ship’s log as a skull and crossbones. Sailors turned to piracy because they were fed up with brutal treatment. And the life of pirates was much better, equal and empowered.
Pirates were thieves, but then so was everyone else. So pirates were not hated because they stole, but for refusing to pass on the stolen goods to the King and for refusing to be treated as scum. Moving to piracy is towards emancipation and freedom.
Whenever the resources of the many are enclosed for the benefits of the few, pirates rise up. The BBC had a monopoly on radio, but broadcast only 1 hour of pop a week… leading to Radio Caroline, which gave music back to the people.
By ignoring British copyright law, Benjamin Franklin boasted that the common person had better access to books and was better educated than the rich of other countries. Under copyright law, the creator is provided with a period of private benefits. But this should be followed by a period of opening up, whereby the public can also get the benefits. Modern society is being more and more skewed to private gain.
We are becoming more and more privatised, but are not getting happier. In the tradition of beating the bounds, the people walked round the common land and beat down any fences that prevented access. This became explosively political during Enclosure Acts. Societies that share more nowadays are better places to live.
The question Kester wants to leave with us is: What can you do to turn the agenda away from purely private gain back towards public benefit? We need a new community of pirates committed to defending the commons.
One thing you can’t do is pirate a TED or TEDx talk, because they are ideas worth sharing, under a Creative Commons Licence. So put down your iPads and put on your eye patches!
Kester Brewin teaches mathematics in South East London and is also an author and broadcaster. He has written and presented for BBC Radio 4, and spoke at TEDxExeter in 2013 on Mutiny! – his acclaimed work on pirate culture. His latest book Getting High – A savage journey to the heart of the dream of flight explores the human quest for altitude through the prism of the events of the 1960s. It has been praised by Simon Critchley, author of Bowie and Hans Jonas, professor of philosophy at the New School, New York, as ‘a beautiful meditation on flight, memory and meaning in a world still struggling to come to terms with the loss of the most high.’