Be More Pirate: Or How to Take on the World and Win is a rallying cry for anyone who wants to embrace their rebellious spirit to make a positive impact on the world. Being more pirate, says author Sam Conniff Allende in the book, comes down to five key elements of the Pirate Code: it’s about breaking the rules and rewriting better ones; having the right crew; sticking to your principles; redistributing power to protect those principles; and finally, use spectacular storytelling techniques so the world pays attention.
So when the opportunity came up to speak to the author, Sam Conniff Allende, we hauled anchor to parlez with the pirate and listen to what he has to say.
TBT: For the purposes of this interview, we can agree that free market capitalism isn’t working for our biosphere, it’s played a huge part in the rise of populism and in turn, a decline of voter participation in the democratic process. How does “being more pirate”, breaking rules everyday, on an individual level translate into a mass movement? A movement we need to protect the environment, recalibrate the crisis in democracy and fundamentally, address the societal and economic inequalities.
SCA: I think it’s really important to have the macro / micro thinking. People think they can’t, but it does all fit together — it simply does. To deny that it does is part of the problem. I think a real challenge is feeling that we are too daunted by our own individual small status to make any dent on the big problem. I think that it’s the underlying message that comes from the establishment that we’re so supposed to believe and of course it’s easy to believe because change is scary, especially when it seems so huge. And so, the status quo continues to roll on.
Do we just stall and think our contribution doesn’t make a difference, or from where can you draw some confidence and clarity that perhaps you as an individual can and that’s where I think the metaphor of pirates becomes quite profoundly important. Because the one hand it’s so accessible and fun and romantic; but on the other hand they embody rebellion and counterculture and creating change. They’re actually pioneers of social revolution and change and they fought for fairness and equality and new sets of rules. Pirates emerged, through my research, not as just a metaphor but as the literal example for where we can go.
I used to think that Margaret Mead’s quote “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” was a glib statement. But I’ve come full circle and realise that it’s really true. What I think is powerful about the book is that it can bring small groups of people together who believe their power to make change.
TBT: What are your thoughts on the role that business can play?
SCA: I’m a pragmatist, but also a radical in this sense. There is an enlightenment in business that is going on and has been for about 20 years. “Conscious Capitalism” or purpose-led business, on the whole it is a good direction, there are businesses who are replacing outdated CSR messages that really look like a sticky plaster on a disaster made famous by the likes of Enron. You’ve got leaders like Pol Pohlman [CEO, Unilever] who are putting their neck on the line and he’s tried to make his business have zero carbon emissions and it’s one of biggest businesses in the world. So respect to him, for sure.
There are multiple drivers for business to rethink how they can be a force for good and that’s positive, but I’m dubious on the other hand because I think that none of that is enough. More stuff is not what the world can tolerate. The business model that is still predicated on a degree of exploitation of natural resources or humanity is defunct. Perhaps a new business model is what we need to work out. So, what is the new business model for what is understood as capitalism but in a degrowth environment, a genuine circular economy or a sustainable environment? Every business has to move toward that [model]. As one example, what does the advertising industry look like in a degrowth environment? How do you sell circular products in the way that you’re used to selling products destined for landfill after one use? Those are the more difficult questions that we need to ask. And that’s where I think we look to pirates… to the more radical end of business who are are setting from the beginning to to be sustainable and setting out from the beginning to champion equality, and to build the business model based on that I think is where the next wave is coming from.
TBT: What are your thoughts on the potential for Blockchain technology to encourage a more equitable society?
SCA: Blockchain I absolutely identify and Satoshi Nakamoto is on my list of Top 20 Pirates at the back of the book. To lead on from the last question, I think the essential role of pirates is one of innovation within capitalism. Every time a market system has failed, pirates hove in to the horizon and help remove log-jams, where things have just stopped. The advent of technology that has led to the disruption in multiple industries, pirates really drove a lot of that innovation. Pirate change begins by being rebellious, but it’s bisecting the mainstream where they prove their efficacy. The main application that you can see it [blockchain’s] potential is in finance which is entirely log-jammed, but hasn’t completely reinvented itself, or paid the full price to billions of people who have been affected by its collapse. So now there is a broken part of that system, it is being gradually approached from the edges and every part of the industry is both terrified and leaning into to Blockchain to understand it.
You can look to democracy and voter participation which is massively under threat. The erosion of democracy is before our very eyes. But there are multiple markets beginning to look at blockchain technology used with voting technology – it [the open ledger system] eliminates the opportunity for voter intimidation, corruption and various other attributes. Amazingly again, there’s a broken establishment system where pirate technology is coming in.