Pirateland and Marketland need to work together
Originally published on March 30, 2016
Pirate. In the digital era, the meaning of the word extends beyond merely downloading music or videos without payment – in fact, it could be argued that the development of the Web was (to my understanding) almost completely free market from the word go. Given that this ethos (draped in a flag of “freedom of speech”) was pervasive, it could be argued that the Internet essentially works just like a pirate settlement – Pirateland!
Let me take you on a (tongue-in-cheek) imaginary historical journey outlining the difference between the analogue world “Marketland” and the digital world “Pirateland”.
Decades ago, some young fishermen from a place called Marketland noticed that the seabirds followed schools of fish to a place over the horizon. It took time and effort, with many disasters and accidents, but eventually the fishermen found the new land the seabirds had landed in…and it was a whole continent – with nobody living on it!
When the news of this new land leaked out, many, many people sold everything they had to emigrate over to the new land. It took time to settle it, but eventually it was dubbed Pirateland, and the name stuck.
Marketland has seen better days. Even though it is well regulated, and has a police force, the taxes it charges are high, and there are locked gates everywhere. For those in the know, there are some fantastic buys…but only those people who are already wealthy can gain access to the majority of the stores and gardens. If you are poor, there is little on offer here, and you are made to feel second-class.
Some of the brighter merchants have visited Pirateland, and have come back with ideas as to how to copy some of its dynamism. But many of the stallholders like things the way they are. While there might be the odd argument over the value of something, life is usually genteel and relaxed; at least for those at the top of the universities and corporations.
What these stallholders don’t realise is that life is not so comfortable for the apprentices and maids they have in thrall to them (so that the stallholders no longer need to do any of the grunt work). Wages for these workers have not risen in roughly three decades, but their bosses mostly don’t care. So, these people are not really engaged in their current roles, as they don’t see a bright future for themselves, and are actively looking for a way out…and they are the largest group of emigrants to Pirateland.
The economy of Pirateland is booming. It is a place where almost anything goes, and nearly everyone wants to be there. It’s also such a competitive place that it is easy enough to wander around and look at all the shiny things that go on without paying much at all. After all, in such an informal economy, there is no real currency except barter. Most people don’t have much to trade with, and so they don’t realise that they are being pickpocketed of what little they have of value – their personal details. Likewise, the crowded nature of Pirateland means that viruses and other sicknesses run freely. There are “doctors” available who can immunise you against the latest medical threats – but which ones can you trust, and in such a world, how do you know they will stay trustworthy? There are also several powerful gangs that hold valuable territory, but the politics of the nation are constantly shifting….people and firms are constantly changing who or what they are allied to.
There is a culture clash between the two nations. Pirateland expands its boundaries year by year, and while there is no formal declaration of war, there are constant skirmishes between ships from either nation. There are also double agents and spies everywhere – after all, everyone has their price. But the biggest issue of all is the kidnappings…Pirateland casts a spell on most people under the age of 30. Parents and teachers from Marketland have to undertake commando missions to bring their children back, in an environment they find frightening and dangerous. They are also often upset by the zombie-like state they find their children in. The magic spell weakens to a degree as people age, but for those children who have spent a lot of time in Pirateland, the damage has been done – and they find they cannot leave…
There are a number of people, however, who are immune to the spell, and they often work as the ship captains who ply goods and passengers between the two lands. Because they can understand the various languages and cultures, these people have high status in both places.
Smart people in both nations recognise that both nations need each other. Many of the higher value goods on sale in Pirateland were made in Marketland. Because of the decades of research, and the rule of law, these goods are of high quality, and difficult to recreate. Likewise, the economic and social dynamism of Pirateland ensures that Marketland is exposed to new ideas and innovations.
Another concern for the leaders of Marketland is that the Pirates have developed quite advanced weapons. On occasion, these weapons have been fired at Marketland, and have caused substantial damage. But because Pirateland is so fluid politically, there are few people who can design and use such weapons…so the threat of invasion is thought to be some time away. Also, it is thought (wrongly) that the people of Pirateland have a very limited ability to work as a team.
The long history of Marketland tells of many previous times when invaders (called “the Destroyers”) came ashore and laid waste to everything. These invaders had no respect for the property or people of Marketland - or anywhere else. Millions of people were killed, buildings destroyed, libraries burned, and food and water were poisoned.
This happened many, many times over the centuries, and it took many long years for the damage to be repaired. It was very discouraging to build things up, only for the Destroyers to return – but the people of Marketland had no choice. It was their home, and the sparse news they heard about the lands of the invaders made them shudder with fear.
Gradually, the people of Marketland got better at working together to defend themselves. They learned that having laws and a police force made them safer. They realised that spending time training in the militia meant that they were more ready when the attackers came. This is also why Marketland is heavily fortified today. The merchants of Marketland were strict with their children, and drummed into them the importance of teamwork, patience, determination and sacrifice.
The most important thing learnt was that, without exception, the Destroyers had invaded under the cover of a storm. As such, the Marketlanders had built an observatory on the highest point of to keep an eye on the weather. This observatory required people to volunteer their time, and for centuries the citizens had done so faithfully. However, in recent times, the merchants found it hard to climb the long, steep path up the hill, and so they had taken the easy way out….they’d either arranged for someone else to do it for them, or simply didn’t go. They wished that the younger generation would take their places. Now, with the kidnappings, there is real concern that the social code that has defended Marketland for decades is under threat. The following questions are being debated in the governing council, but also in Marketland’s media – and by some of the citizens themselves.
Who will carry this knowledge forward in the future, if too many citizens are distracted by the flashy offerings on Pirateland? If not enough people take up years of study in the codes of law and ethics that govern Marketland, how can they expect to function effectively as a team the next time that the Destroyers invade? If not enough people pay taxes, how can these defences be effectively maintained?
Given that spies from Pirateland have been found, what if there are Destroyer spies ashore too: what could this ancient and disciplined enemy do with advanced Pirateland weapons? And do the people of Pirateland actually realise that they are under threat from the Destroyers as well?
How do the burghers of Marketland learn to communicate effectively and to find common ground with the freewheeling, freedom loving people of Pirateland? How do they work together for a better world?
The Council meeting has been interrupted by a knock on the door – most irregular. They initially ignore it, but the knocking persists. Eventually, the door opens to show a young slave girl of about 10 years old. “What do you want?” growls one of the merchants. The girl pants, and hangs onto the table for support. “I went up to the observatory just now on my day off, because nobody has been up there for a fortnight. There is…a cloud….on the western horizon. It’s only small at the moment, but it’s there, and it’s growing”...