It is seldom that a month passes without stories filling the news of some deranged individual taking up a weapon and going on a shooting “rampage” targeting complete strangers. The media, the authorities and the public always seem to be at a loss for explanation and work tirelessly to rationalize what may have led the killer to do such a thing. What made them “snap” and “go postal”? Answering that question eventually takes precedence over the details of the crime and the weaponry involved.
The answers are never really satisfactory except when young adults are shown to have been ostracized by piers and misunderstood by the various adults in their lives. Few of us escaped that period of discomfort growing up called an “identity crisis” and for those of youth who cross the line and lash out with a vengeance, it is easier to understand that a breaking point may have been reached.
But for adults, most often white males, and often men who appear to have been leading somewhat “normal” lives the rationale is elusive. Did they suddenly become temporarily insane and put all manner of comfort and morality in the trash bin to wage a campaign of violence on people they don’t even know, people that never did anything to them?
Without claiming to know the answer or having any professional psychological insight, I did have a minor epiphany that may shed some light on some of these apparently random acts of wanton violence.
It was that time of the year that tax returns were due and I had been busy trying to make ends meet. So busy that I let bookkeeping tasks fall behind. Accounting is one task I truly despise. Not enough to make me “go postal” but it does leave me feeling bored, defeated and useless all at the same time. For me, there is simply no glory in doing the books. In fact, there is no glory in much of what we all need to do just to make ends meet. Consider your typical day and your typical concerns for that typical day … is there any glory involved? Hold that thought.
While slogging through the many entries into my accounting program that were needed I would take an occasional break to read. I happened to be reading “Pirate Hunters” a new book by Robert Kurson who wrote Shadow Divers. That book was a nail biting accounting of deep sea diving on a mysterious U-Boat found of the coast of New Jersey a number of years ago. I was hoping to lose myself in some underwater wreckage and escape as my air supply ran out … just in time to complete another month’s checking account reconciliation.
However it wasn’t exciting in the way Shadow Divers had been. There wasn’t any dangerous wreck diving or escapades in submersibles. Rather, it told the story of two men’s search for a pirate ship — The Golden Fleece — and a quest to understand Joseph Bannister, a reputable merchant ship’s captain turned pirate who stole his own ship to loot and plunder across the Caribbean and ultimately sparred successfully with two ships of the Royal Navy in 1687. John Chatterton and John Mattera are the divers – treasure hunters who undertook this endeavor and “Pirate Hunters” is the story of that interesting saga.
What became clear from their research into this somewhat unknown pirate was that he willingly opted-out of the prospects of an honorable career and a comfortable retirement from life as a successful merchant ship’s captain. He was trusted with valuable merchant cargos, not as grand as the Spanish treasure gallons but valuable none the less, and could have expected a cozy quiet life once his seafaring days were done. Yet something apparently snapped. Joseph Bannister and crew stole the ship he was entrusted with and sailed off to become pirates just as the golden age of Caribbean buccaneering was coming to a close.
And now, back to that thought of the typical day and the typical concerns. There is no glory in paying one’s bills on time — it’s honorable but not exciting — or making a sizable payment towards the debt on one’s credit card acquired by buying that large screen TV. But perhaps there might be a perception of glory in doing something truly horrible. Something that causes everyone to take notice, damn the consequences! Might that be what makes some people “snap”?
Joseph Barrister sailed off to a life of glory knowing that was likely not much a future in it. But in 1687 there was SOME future in it. A while after fighting two ships of the Royal Navy to a draw — one of them being a ship of the line with 48 cannon — he was reportedly captured and hung from the mast upon entering Port Royal. But the body was dumped into the sea and never formally identified. Perhaps it wasn’t actually Barrister and he beat the odds and lived out his natural life on the ill gotten gains of the brief career as one of the last and most wanted Caribbean pirates.
My accounting is finally done and the feeling of lassitude has waned before finding the need to take up arms against those miserable bureaucrats that are always trying to suck the glory out of life. Robert Kurson’s “Pirate Hunters” may have saved me from an ill advised — and no doubt brief — career as a land-lubber pirate knocking over convenience stores or prying open vending machines.