racket, n. — a fraudulent scheme, enterprise, or activity; a usually illegitimate enterprise made workable by bribery or intimidation
On the same day a few months back the government postal carrier brought two pieces of mail.
Good mail: a check in the amount of $880, representing the fruit of the only labor I managed to find in all of 2004.
Bad mail: a terse demand for money from a certain Pirate organization, signed by one Dolores J. "Dodie" Doolittle — a notorious Pirate styling herself a "Treasurer" — in the amount of $956.48, representing the amount of annual tribute her Pirate crew was demanding from me in return for not stealing from me about the last thing of I own of any significance, which happens to be a small piece of unimproved and uninhabited desert property in the middle of nowhere. The demand note listed the items (billed as "services") for which I was being charged — of which I have used not a single one.
Well, that seems fair, of course; who could possibly resent being ordered to pay for unwanted services imposed upon them by force? After all, people pay the same sort of "protection money" to other organized crime gangs every day, and you don't hear any of them complaining about it in the newspapers, do you (at least, not for long, anyway)?
Just for the sake of argument, though, let's suppose that in a moment of suicidal whimsy I were to decide not to yield to the Pirates' demands. Don't get me wrong; I'm as fond of being robbed as the next person. It's just that it strikes me as strange that if any other individual or organization were to demand that I pay for services I neither wanted nor used, there would be recourse available to me. Even if it were the Mafia itself extorting money from me for what they call "protection services," I could still call law enforcement to help me.
Pirates such as Dolores J. "Dodie" Doolittle, however, are no ordinary Pirates — gangs of this type of Pirate control entire territories, which enables them to proclaim their piracy Legal. [See sidebar.] This Legal Piratical business operates upon a different principle altogether from ordinary piracy. Unlike other pirates (from street gangs on up to Mafia crime lords), Legal Pirates can demand from people pretty much whatever they like on whatever pretext they care to give, if they care to give one at all — and it's all legal. Which is some racket. In fact, when other pirates do it, whether individuals or organizations, the Legal Pirates decry it as racketeering, which they claim is against their Pirate Law (except when they themselves do it), and they make unrelenting war upon the rival pirates, with almost as much fury as they display in their daily depredations upon ordinary people.
It turns out, you see, that the Legal Pirates' demand for payoffs has less to do with actual services rendered than with territory — what less powerful and less sophisticated criminal organizations commonly refer to as turf. My property, as it happens, lies within an artificial, abstract division of territory the Legal Pirates call a county, over which the local Crew of cutthroats claims dominion. In the manner of medieval kings or modern Crips or Bloods or Gambinos, the Legal Pirates then levy an arbitrary cash tribute upon people who own land within the arbitrarily defined boundaries of their Pirate Kingdom. This tribute or payoff (termed by the Pirates, in their colorful slang, a property tax) is in effect a temporary ransom, gaining a landowner the privilege of retaining nominal ownership of the land for the period of one year. De facto ownership, however, always remains with the Pirate gang, for even if I meet their monetary demands, the Pirate Crew to which Dolores J. "Dodie" Doolittle and the other Legal Pirates belong will still dictate to me exactly in what manner they will allow or not allow me to use my land. In spite of my annual ransom payments to the Pirates, they will still force me to request their permission to make any use at all of my own land, and abide by all of their rules and traditions, however unjust or foolish.
— If I want to build, they will tell me what they will allow me to build, and how much tribute (in the form of what they call permit fees) I will pay them for their kind permission (should it seem to be of some advantage to them to grant it).
— If I wish to engage in commerce, the Legal Pirates force me to cut them in for a percentage, or — again — they seize and sell my land and I wind up in a Pirate brig or a shallow grave.
— If I want to engage in some activity on my own land that is frowned upon by the Legal Pirates — if, for example, my recreation makes use of free herbs instead of Pirate-approved, licensed Pirate rum (or other spirits) — the Pirates will imprison me and seize my land for themselves.
— If I should die, not even then am I free, for even upon my death, the Legal Pirates forcibly seize a cut of my estate.
The result, in my case, is that despite my having paid the full purchase price of my property to the seller and regardless of the fact that all other parties recognize the land as being fully paid off and belonging to me, it is not considered so by the Legal Pirates, who compel me by force to make lifelong yearly payoffs to their Piratical organization, which had no legal claim to own the land in the first place — not that genuine legality comes much into play, because, as in any territory infested with Legal Pirates, there is neither recourse nor redress in the courts, because the courts are all — you guessed it — Pirate Courts. Believe me, friends, you do not want to go looking for justice in a courtroom presided over by a black-robed member of a Legal Pirate Crew.
How, then, can a poor but honest man be free and his property secure against Legal Pirates? What would happen if I were to take a stand and tell the Pirates that I refuse henceforth to ransom my land every year?
Just playing with you. We all know exactly what happens when people dare to try and defend their property against Pirate Confederacies' armed enforcers (of which there are so many varieties that Pirate argot has almost limitless terms for them: "cops," "sheriffs," "officers," "deputies," "marshals," et al., ad infinitum). Upon my declining to assist her in funding governmental mischief throughout the county, Dodie the Dreadful (as I'm sure her Pirate Crew calls her with affectionate jocularity), would dutifully turn the matter of my recalcitrance over to her tender-hearted Pirate Enforcement friends, who would come out and pay me a visit in order that we might reason together upon the subject of Unquestioning Obedience to Authority (or, at the very least, Quivering Capitulation to Naked Force). If I failed to be convinced, the Pirates would lay claim to my land and expel me from it. If I resisted being expelled, they would, according to pirate tradition, throw me overboard (or, in modern Pirate Enforcement parlance, pop a cap in my ass).
And while the good neighbors of the area would doubtless support my right to fight off ordinary thieves, and might even join in to help me battle them, against Legal Pirates very few people are willing to fight — partly because of the well-known fearsomeness and ruthlessness of the Legal Pirates, but also because the claimed authority of the Legal Pirates is widely and ignorantly accepted as legitimate. Being in control of the ruling powers, the Legal Pirates declare their crimes to be legal. This is how they come to be Legal Pirates. Unfortunately, most people do not understand that a Legal Pirate is a contradiction in terms. The fiction of Authority — even without the controlling motive of fear — is enough of a reason for most people to obey the Pirates. Inexplicably, many actually seem to love the Pirates, and will defend these parasites — their own tormenters — against all disparagement (even going so far as to call some of them, if you can believe it, heroes).
From time to time, ordinary pirates have confessed to suffering pangs of bad conscience because of their crimes. With Legal Pirates, however, a guilty conscience is a rarity. This is because Legal Pirates have traded doubloons for doublethink: by and large, all but the most cynical of the Legal Pirates believe their own fiction. You can bet, for instance, that Dolores J. "Dodie" Doolittle does not consider her participation in daily acts of piracy to be criminal. In fact, it is highly likely that, like most Legal Pirates, Dolores J. "Dodie" Doolittle considers her participation in organized crime to be instead the discharge of a sacred duty: for — strangely — Legal Pirates consider themselves to be, in their strange Pirate slang, public servants. Whereas honest people in speaking of their employment will say they worked at a certain place for a given number of years, when Legal Pirates speak of their history in organized crime they nearly always use some configuration of the formulaic expression "[x] years of public service." How this contradictory, nonsensical conceit arose is an issue for consideration at some other time, but what it means in practical terms is that despite the fact that ownership of my property will be seized from me against my will and sold to someone more inclined to paying whatever monetary tribute should be demanded by Legal Pirates, and that, according to her own website:
...it is nevertheless almost certain that Dolores J. "Dodie" Doolittle herself (or any of her deputies, or most any other Legal Pirate) would not even be capable of considering the possibility that any of those actions might be wrong, let alone criminal. Though they do not fail to recognize and condemn acts of theft and violence when they are committed by others, Dolores J. "Dodie" Doolittle and her companions in Legal Piracy doubtless enjoy the guiltless slumber of infants in their gently swaying Pirate hammocks, satisfied in their belief that they are good and faithful public servants.
Meanwhile, those of us with cutlass scars and ravaged wallets, who don't typically think of servants as people possessing the power to extort one's earnings and dictate how one shall live and act, are left wondering when the people of this territory are going to get fed up enough to throw off a setup that has Rapacious Pirates posing as public servants, the public enslaved as the servants of the Pirates, and treasure being defined as whatever paltry sum you have left after the Pirate Treasurer is through with you (which is, in practical terms, never).
Dolores Doolittle, Dolores Doolittle, Dolores Doolittlehow we wish you would do even less than little.
(Move thy cursor over yon portrait above to peer into thee black and terrible soule of Dolores J. "Dodie" Doolittle.)
Sidebar: Augustine of Hippo and Black Sam Bellamy on piracy and politics:
Take away justice, then, and what are governments but great confederacies of robbers? After all, what are confederacies of robbers unless they are small-scale governments? The gang itself consists of men, it is directed by the authority of the chief, it is bound together by a pact of mutual support, and the loot is divided in accordance with an agreed law. If, as a result of the recruitment of desperadoes, this evil grows to such an extent that it takes control of a territory, establishes bases, occupies cities and subjugates peoples, then it assumes the name of a government, the more openly because this is now plainly applicable: not because the robbers have renounced their rapacity, but because they are no longer at risk of punishment. The reply that a captured pirate made to Alexander the Great was apposite and legitimate. For when the ruler asked the man how he could justify making the sea a dangerous place, he answered, with defiant outspokenness, "In exactly the way that you justify doing the same to the whole world. But because I do it with a single paltry ship, I am called a robber; while you do it with a large navy, and are called an emperor." — Augustine of Hippo, Civitas Dei (Book IV, Chapter iv)
Dread Pirate Captain Samuel "Black Sam" Bellamy echoes the pirate who sassed Alexander the Great:
During the early seventeenth century the port city of Salè on the Moroccan coast became a haven for pirates from all over the world, eventually evolving into a free, proto-anarchist state that attracted, among others, poor, outcast Europeans who came in droves to begin new lives of piracy
preying upon the trade ships of their former home countries. Among these European Renegadoes was the Dread Captain Bellamy; his hunting ground was the Straits of Gibraltar, where all ships with legitimate commerce changed course at the mention of his name, often to no avail. One Captain of a captured merchant vessel was treated to this speech by Bellamy after declining an invitation to join the pirates [and the pirates had voted to burn his sloop]:
"I am sorry they won't let you have your sloop again, for I scorn to do anyone a mischief, when it is not to my advantage; damn the sloop, we must sink her, and she might be of use to you. Though you are a sneaking puppy, and so are all those who submit to be governed by laws which rich men have made for their own security; for the cowardly whelps have not the courage otherwise to defend what they get by knavery; but damn ye altogether: damn them for a pack of crafty rascals, and you, who serve them, for a parcel of hen-hearted numbskulls. They vilify us, the scoundrels do, when there is only this difference, they rob the poor under the cover of law, forsooth, and we plunder the rich under protection of our own courage. Had you not better make then one of us, than sneak after these villains for employment?"
When the captain replied that his conscience would not let him break the laws of God and man, the pirate Bellamy continued:
"You are a devilish conscience rascal, I am a free prince, and I have as much authority to make war on the whole world as he who has a hundred sail of ships at sea, and an army of 100,000 men in the field, and this my conscience tells me; but their is no arguing with such snivelling puppies, who allow superiors to kick them about deck at pleasure." — Quoted in Days of War, Nights of Love: Crimethink For Beginners