The California Pirate Party has made tremendous progress since our official launch last month. In that short time, we have received inquiries, interview requests and questions regarding our platform and political strategy. This is the first of a series of blaaarrrg posts intended to identify questions and concerns raised by the public over the course of our media campaign and discuss arguments or positions related to those concerns. We would love to get some feedback on these positions, so please feel free to leave a comment below.
Can you tell which candidate is a Pirate?
As people learn about the California Pirate Party, one of the most common questions they ask is whether we are serious about qualifying as a registered political party in our state. The name "Pirate Party" is one example they point to as evidence of a joke. Many people seem to think that the name "Pirate Party" is too silly or alienating to those that wish to take politics seriously. Some think that calling ourselves pirates will hurt our chances with an older voting block. We disagree with these characterizations for a number of reasons:

1. Context - The California Pirate Party did not choose its name randomly. It should be noted that the first Pirate Party, Piratpartiet, was founded in 2006 by Rick Falkvinge in Sweden. The Swedish Pirate Party emerged partially as a response to copyright and intellectual property policies that concentrated the power of the recording industry at the expense of individual and collective freedom. One aspect of this concentration of power is a rhetorical maneuver intended to shape the perception of people who download art. In other words, through an institutional base of power, media production companies utilize the word "piracy" as a rhetorical device in order to shame and demonize individuals that share information. Use of the term "pirate" to denote those who download movies, music and video games is an intended tactic to associate information sharing with criminality. This effort has also been largely successful. We currently live in a culture where people are afraid to admit in public that they have engaged in file sharing, as if it is a nasty case of gonorrhea, despite the fact that file sharing is pervasive.

The Pirate Party chose its name as a reclamation of the term "pirate". Rather than allowing media production companies to criminalize file sharers, the pirate party seeks to promote a new culture of openness and information. Throughout history, the dispossessed have worked together to reclaim hate speech and disarm its discursive violence. Minority groups can redeploy rhetoric to their advantage and fill it with their own meaning. The gay community did it with "queer", the black community did it with the N word, and now the pirates seek to do it to preserve our digital humanity. Rather than evidence of a "joke", this purpose behind the name of the Pirate Party may be one of the most serious changes to the social landscape the pirate party can hope for.

2. History - The term "pirate" is not new. It is historically used to refer to someone who commits robbery at sea. However, a brief look at pirate theory reveals a more complicated issue. We have offered blog posts in the past referencing the work of Marcus Rediker, a historian, writer, teacher and activist that writes extensively about pirate culture and history. Rediker and others point out that traditional pirate communities were comprised of social outcasts, ex-slaves, women and minorities who were expelled by the social systems they originated from. As such, these "bands of misfits" created their own societies aboard pirate crews that were radically democratic and egalitarian. For instance, Klausmann, Meinzerin and Kuhn note:

"The escaped slave, the unemployed manual laborer, the murderess in flight, the lunger without means, and the jaded daughter of a 'better family' - all receive the same rights under piracy. 'No social distinctions or particular classes could be found within their society. Everyone sailed as an equal on the ship.' Especially remarkable are the opportunities that arose in the pirate world for women: 'Pirate women were considered especially dangerous, and accepted as leaders at a time when women on land had long been robbed of rights and dignity.' Each pirate developed his or her own kind of pirate life, determined by one's self and no other."

The Pirate party recognizes that there is a rich tradition of democratic deliberation and progressive ideology in some aspects of traditional pirate culture. The Pirate party puts the people in charge of the ship, and allows debate to reveal the smartest positions. This includes a willingness to respectfully listen to the perspectives of the freaks, hippies and weirdos.

3. Symbolism - Pirates are perhaps one of the most popular cultural symbols of the 21st century (next to zombies, vampires and ninjas). It is not surprising that a quick google search for "pirate party" brings up as many hits for planning the perfect pirate themed birthday party as the political party itself. It is unclear how much influence Johnny Depp had in the process, but pirates are safely enshrined in our gestalt. Americans are drawn to the image of the pirate and celebrate it often. The Pirate Party seeks to use this symbolism to motivate smart yet apathetic individuals to take an active role in shaping American Politics.

One of the main goals of the pirate party is promoting public intellectualism. The Pirate Party works to promote a world where people are excited about discussing ideas and negotiating a better collective future. Some say that every good song has a hook. By utilizing the symbolism of piracy, the Pirate Party hopes to hook people as they are moving. Once they are watching the show, then the pirate party demonstrates that it is a serious political organization with solid policy proposals. The pirate party believes that politics can be fun, and that we can enjoy ourselves and change the world for the better at the same time. There will be more about this aspect of pirate party ideology in Defending Pirate Party Ideology - Part 2: The Costumes.

4. Juxtaposition - At the end of the day, we ask anyone who is concerned about the name "pirate party" to take a minute and think about all of those other political parties in America. What makes "pirate party" any more silly than "green" or "democrat"? Why does the term "pirate" offend anyone more than the term "republican"? At least the name is honest.
Mistress Ching
6/6/2012 04:07:15 pm

Let me first start off by saying I really enjoyed this post. It's a very intuitive and well written defense of piracy. I did find myself wanting to hear more about the first point, namely the reappropriation of piracy. I'll play devil's advocate for a second and make the argument that pirates do deserve the label given to them, because of the financial hardship that is placed upon struggling artists. In what way can reappropriating the term "pirate" change this?

7/2/2012 05:05:55 pm

Appropriation of the term "Pirate" in terms of struggling artists is a simple concept.
Copyright as it stands in the music industry only serves large media corporations.
Reformation of Copyright to give the Artist and Fan more rights and corporate interests less will funnel more earnings towards the artists. In the past, distributed recordings of music served as the main artist income and live shows were their advertisement, now that dynamic has been reversed as profit from record sales to an artist is all but dried up by the greed within the corporate media corporations, they only serve as advertisement for the live shows and merchandise from where the artists collect a far higher percentage of profits and garner the majority of their income from. With records reduced to mere advertising, in some cases costing bands money even with multi platinum records, the altruistic downloading and sharing of music for free provides for free advertising to those artists. Shorter copyright also provides a boost to the public domain of arts and provides for a far greater stable of music for remixing and reinventing by other artists.

John Patrick
7/9/2012 11:22:33 am

Literally the most well intentioned destined to fail idea ever. If your movement's first move is to have to defend its name because it's likely to be off-putting, you've already failed. There's a reason the Log Cabin Republicans call them selves the Log Cabin Republicans and not Those Conservative Faggots.

Sparse Beard
10/1/2012 06:54:55 am

your effort to communicate your ideas was, "[l]iterally the most well intentioned destined to fail idea ever." Mostly because you decided to communicate your ideas by saying, "Those Conservative Faggots." This rhetoric is, "off-putting," and thus, "you've already failed" in your effort to communicate. In the future you may want to select your terms and examples w/ a little more care if you wish to engage people in a substantive dialogue/debate.

7/9/2012 11:40:19 am

Did you read the article John Patrick or are you just here to troll and drop some crude language?

This nit picking attitude always reminds me of one of my favourite phrases "Those who say it cannot be done, should get out of the way of those doing it."

Henry Chinaski
7/27/2012 10:05:53 am

Spot on John Patrick. Spot on.

7/27/2012 07:55:07 pm

I've been doing some thinking about it and wan't to elaborate a bit on the sources to defend/broaden the name/concept. Sorry for grammar etc, it would take too much time to bother with that.

* Origin of the word "pirate" is Greek, where the verb has basic meaning of "to attempt/try/endeavour" and even "to prove smth" (or make a point). It can also mean to endeavour taking the ship or attack/rob somebody, but not necessarily and only. It's the same word root, where words like "empirical", "experiment", "experience", "peril" are derived and has lots of these good connotations. It was nicely explained by Greek PP at PPI conference in Prague and we can ask them to explain it in a written form if we like... To conclude, we can say that pirate is somebody who actually attempts to do something (to experiment with new ways, gain experience, take the perils), not just sitting and reading newspapers.

* Historical pirates were definitely not only "robbers on the sea" (of course lot of them were). This is just a surface level symptom. The movies/books have made pirates romantic image but also made them stupid robbers at the same time. Actually, it was serious business once.

The economic background of todays pirate movement is exactly the same as it was historically: to ignore the stupid taxes and/or restrictions to trade and to sail freely (nowasays it's maybe to surf freely). If goverment tryed to tax too much or get everything under it's control, lots of pirates appeared. And not necessarily robbers, also smugglers etc, however they were outlaws and occasionally took over other ships (if you are an outlaw already, why not do it). There were also pirates and privateers, last of which is recognized by state. The difference between two is not self evident and it's hard to tell whether one historical figure is a pirate or a privateer at a certain time point.

To note from that, there are state pirates (copyright monopoly, that is privateers) and true pirates (open culture and knowledge proponents). So we can easily grab RIAA etc on board and accuse them of systematic state sponsored piracy and taking over our shared cultural treasures. There is much more going on with the concept than just robbers with their pirate code. We can work with that.

There were also Robin Hood kind of pirates and some pirates were considered liberators from foreign powers. I personally like the historical episode with Likedeelers:

Why did people become pirates historically? Yes one point is that you were outlaw already and joined pirate movement. Another point is just to try "pirate life", which is to taste true freedom and full responsibility/reliance on oneself on the sea. There were commoners like farmers, traders who just decided to become a pirate for fun. And not necessarily to rob somebody.

We could really use some real historians to fully explain the historical pirate movement and just to cite research papers to everybody who tries to laugh at "pirates". This can be done really in an intellectually dazzling way.

I would also stress on freedom and responsibility as character traits of a pirate. Freedom of the open sea and the responsibility because everything depends on individual crew members (=yourself) on the sea, you cannot be joking there or you will go down (of course you can joke, but this is not a sitcom, different humour appears, just read the Pirate Bay press releases to acknowledge that).

I'd say we have lot of that also today. We can truly explain ourselves as pirates in the fullest sense, if we elaborate enough. It's far from just a funny name or joke.

We should start a compendium for that. Probably start a wiki under PPI or something. What do you think?

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10/30/2013 03:12:49 pm

This effort has also been largely successful. We currently live in a culture where people are afraid to admit in public that they have engaged in file sharing..


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