Areas where treasure ships could be found on routine runs, such as the Spanish Main, were key hunting grounds for pirates because of the yearly trips made by the Spanish treasure fleet between Portobello and Peru that were packed with potential loot.
“When the king brands us pirates, he doesn’t mean to make us adversaries. He doesn’t mean to make us criminals. He means to make us monsters.”
“No matter how many lies we tell ourselves, no matter how many stories we convince ourselves we’re a part of, we’re all just thieves awaiting a noose.”
In one of the most exciting developments in a year of unexpected delights, we now find the practice of looting being normalized, contextualized and, indeed, exalted. It’s about time.
NPR served up a platform taller than the poop deck on a Spanish treasure galleon for one Vicky Osterweil, who has graced the world with a tome entitled In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action. Read the interview. It’s most instructive.
Often, looting is more common among movements that are coming from below. It tends to be an attack on a business, a commercial space, maybe a government building — taking those things that would otherwise be commodified and controlled and sharing them for free…
…It does a number of important things. It gets people what they need for free immediately, which means that they are capable of living and reproducing their lives without having to rely on jobs or a wage — which, during COVID times, is widely unreliable or, particularly in these communities is often not available, or it comes at great risk. That’s looting’s most basic tactical power as a political mode of action.
It also attacks the very way in which food and things are distributed. It attacks the idea of property, and it attacks the idea that in order for someone to have a roof over their head or have a meal ticket, they have to work for a boss, in order to buy things that people just like them somewhere else in the world had to make under the same conditions. It points to the way in which that’s unjust. And the reason that the world is organized that way, obviously, is for the profit of the people who own the stores and the factories. So you get to the heart of that property relation, and demonstrate that without police and without state oppression, we can have things for free.
…it also attacks the history of whiteness and white supremacy. The very basis of property in the U.S. is derived through whiteness and through Black oppression, through the history of slavery and settler domination of the country. Looting strikes at the heart of property, of whiteness and of the police. It gets to the very root of the way those three things are interconnected. And also it provides people with an imaginative sense of freedom and pleasure and helps them imagine a world that could be. And I think that’s a part of it that doesn’t really get talked about — that riots and looting are experienced as sort of joyous and liberatory.
Bartholomew Roberts, Edward Teach, Sam Bellamy or the fictional-yet-oh-so-real Captain Flint … they couldn’t have said it any better.
The Chiricahua Apaches and the Comanche had plundering down to a tactical and cultural art form. They could have utterly destroyed the settlements of northern Chihuahua and Sonora pretty much at will — but then who would have raised the livestock for them to loot? They cultivated Mexican settlements like a crop, and the Apaches sometimes cut deals with Chihuahua cities to fence goods they stole in Sonora.
I have a solid cadre of friends who would make excellent pirates or raiders. Osterweil has opened up a lot of possibilities that seemed foreclosed for our generation. We’ve all mistakenly bought into silly civilizational norms that led us astray into having straight jobs and not stealing stuff that belongs to other people or exploitative corporations and such. But maybe it’s not too late for us — though we must recognize that we are all getting deep into middle age and looting can be strenuous.
I know the Urca de Lima is out there for us somewhere.