Saturday, August 13, 2016

CRAIG EDWARD KELSO, Real Heroes Are Pirates

Baguio City, Philippines

Who is going to make the social revolution if it’s not the swindlers, the wretched, the murderers, the cheats, all the scum that suffer here below without the slightest sign of hope? wrote Argentine author Roberto Arlt.

And what if revolution doesn’t happen in neat and tidy historical segments, worked by the Great Man theory of history where one dude (typically a politician or military leader) directs some lump, some geographical blob of persons toward a vague end? What if the Lincolns, Hitlers, Stalins, FDRs, Kennedys, and so forth are so much piffle?

For me, revolutions are scalable, happening in softer ways without armies and grand paper constitutions, resolutions, or manifestos. Revolutions of real and lasting significance happen in trade, in engineering, in individual art and commerce. Revolutions aren’t violent, but instead joyful, and meant to be embraced. 

Sir, sir, the little boy tugged at my shirt as I walked the parking grounds of Baguio City’s cathedral. The packed mountainous little place is swarming with Filipinos making pilgrimages, and Filipino college students seeking relief from tropical heat.  

I noticed him stalking the van when we entered the campus. He was sitting initially curbside with stacks of popular reading materials, magazines and newspapers. He caught sight of us, and he jumped and made his way toward as I exited and began to walk around, stretching.

Gathering my bearings, trying to get a sense of where I was and what was happening atop this mountain town, I looked down at him. He was something right out of a period movie, a Dickens character. The baseball capped, rusty little Filipino boy trying to sell the big, fat American flushed with cash some basic wares – again, in this case, magazines.

I grabbed at his holdings. They were international newspapers and titty magazines. Some of the people I was with, the heavily Americanized adults, shuddered at a few variables of the scene: 1, he was a boy out of school, and it was a school day; 2, he was a kid selling what amounts to a version of porn; 3, obviously his parents didn’t give a shit.

We don’t get to choose our parents, and sure there’s an argument for not giving him my money. We support this Filipino street urchin, and maybe we subsidize his lifestyle and encourage it on. Okay. I won’t argue that point. But I am a tourist, he’s a kid, and I don’t know his situation or how to address it in any meaningful way.

All I know is what is before me, now. A kid, existing in backbreaking poverty has a chance at getting a few more pesos than he might otherwise because a whale from the West has entered his jurisdiction.

I handed over five dollars US, and insisted he give me the nastiest quasi porn mag for sale – some British tabloid’s traditional Page 3 girl with enormous breasts. We laughed. He thanks me. Maybe his whole stash was worth five bucks. I bought the story, the travel vignette, not the magazine itself.

The Philippines is like two-thirds of the world’s real economy: it’s a giant flea market.

And when we read or hear about the evils of capitalism, the image we’re approved of conjuring in our minds is a bloated corporation, the gaudy Donald Trumps, and the latest heiress’s sex tape scandal.

But capitalism, freer markets unencumbered by relative government regulatory regimes, allowing people to trade and contract with one another as they see fit, is really a cooperative bazaar. 

Capitalism, money and goods moving freely, is what the world’s poor do instinctively and without any ideology or high theory.

Pirates. Black markets. Street peddlers. Hawkers. Bootleggers.

My people.

In San Diego, they’re harder and harder to find.

They’ve been largely regulated away by local government's gun, as city councils funded by the street seller’s main competitors waft new laws against them, and they're pushed into the darker corners of the formal world. 

But they’re there.

Sometimes they walk by you, quietly offering cigarettes at a severe discount. Other times, they suggest narcotics of one kind or another. Garage sales abound, and semi-formal informal markets like Swap Meets are a popular way for people outside the polite economy to make some scratch.

Whereas all the shops and malls the typical American purchases her goods are licensed, regulated in innumerable ways, quality controlled through various government agencies, the majority of the world gets their stuff through debrouillards, a French word connoting super self-reliant or ingenious. 

The DIY economy, the little side hustles around the globe, is set to generate ten trillion dollars in value, a number not possible to grasp unless it's placed against the luxury economy, the governmental legitimized economy. When that's done, the black market is its own continent of trade, and that's no small thing.

The beauty of human interaction is our ability to supply what it is we desire, and we reward those for their satisfying us.

Distribution systems are life.

Manufacturing and design are valued highly in the developed world, and that makes a certain amount of sense. But it’s all academic until the good or service reaches the consumer.

What debrouillards do is bring design and manufacturing down to the people – the people, you know, the ones progressive legislators claim to love and work on behalf of; the ones conservative legislators demand to impart values to. 

In fact, much more than fake government claims, the black market pirate does exactly that. She brings the latest knockoff goods and services directly to the people.

Food trucks. Video games. Movies. Clothes. Phones.  

Many a date or friend has turned their nose at the debrouillards, street stands offering us warmed meats and breads, sunglasses, jewelry. When I have the money, I make it a point to stop, to engage the hawker, and buy two … one for myself and one for my companion.

It’s a radical way to live in the industrial world.

Fit your gal with a trinket from the street vendor. I’ve had them come back to me many years later, thrust out their wrist and smile widely at how the small gesture I made to them has lasted so long. It becomes among their most prized possessions. 

Buy a friend a street taco, and watch as his face contorts and confirms how this might one of the better meals of his life. Purchase a load of bootlegged movies for loved ones at Christmas, and have a laugh at showing them where their gift came from and how the camera shakes ever-so at the movie’s climatic scene. Trust me, that’s a gift they’ll have a story attached to for years and years.

More importantly, you’re performing a dangerous task, a law-breaking moment of civil disobedience. You’re telling officialdom they don’t matter. You’re undermining police. You’re devaluing the public employee unions who parasitically live off your hard work.

Even better, you’re helping fund the hero who is the peddler, the pirate, the black marketer, the flea market CEO, the debrouillards. 

And you're a revolutionary, dancing in a peaceful revolution without a gun, without an army, without a manifesto.

And I mean it.       

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