This morning, Sunday morning, I attended what I thought would be a talk by Keller Easterling, but due to misinformation provided by an organizer and vague online schedules that gave several dates and no times (and misspelled speaker’s names), I learned at the entrance of the boat-venue that Keller gave her talk the day before, on Saturday. It is not clear who is in charge of this chaos. I’ll not name names, but Hamburg seems to be full of social practice interventionists who, though refreshingly different fare, are not organized enough to gain critical mass and a lasting impact. As a past community-based art practitioner and an occasional lover of social practice (when done well), I realize how much it takes to organize such events, but still…

Rather than go on about my time wasted online searching for details, I’ll focus on the talk that I DID attend by Marcus Rediker, who with Peter Linebaugh, wrote the 2013 book The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic.

This 2013 book, which won the International Labor History Award, provides a fascinating history into the early seventeenth century’s launch of the first global economy. Giving special attention to rebellious slaves, sailors and commoners, the book discusses how those disenfranchised seafarers organized themselves into what the authors call a hydrarchy.

The term combines “–archy,” meaning “the rule of,” and hydra-, the famous Greek, multi-headed, sea-snake monster who would grow two heads where one severed. Rediker was pleasantly surprised to find the term’s co-option for various of contemporary resistance.

Typical characteristics of hydrarchy include:

1) Secretive
2) Unexpected
3) Subversive
4) Fugitive
5) In solidarity (workers united in the face of life-threatening environments)
6) With distance from state authority / distrust of authority
7) Egalitarian

He explained that pirates most embodied the term. Like today’s Somali pirates, many of the early pirates were oppressed by authority figures, such as their hometown economy and the captain of the ship. In response to poor working and living conditions, the pirates would take over the ship. And when they’d capture another ship, they’d ask the ship’s crew to join them.

Another favorite term from the talk: terra-centrism or sea-blindness. As noted in pass posts, 90% of contemporary goods travel by sea, but we have always been afraid of the sea, and rightfully so—it still has the power to destroy people who cannot organize themselves enough to build a giant ship. As a case in point, the organizers of the event talked about building ships, hot tubs (?) and other structures to reclaim their “Right to the Sea” (the name of the symposium), but somehow these suggestions left me empty. In light of the refugee crisis, when the idea for this symposium is important and timely, I wish the event could have gained the momentum it needed.

To do so, it would have needed trust—trust in good design, in effective strategy, in open source tech as aid without commercial manipulation, and in the promise for real change. Marcus Rediker ended the Q&A by emphasizing the importance of trust in forming a strong hydrarchy.

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