A voice rang out from the back of the saloon,
“What the hell are you still doing here?”
The sailor squinted in the direction of the noise, raised a cigarette to his lips, sucked through the straw like a man dying of thirst, and called back,
“Maaaaaaaaaaan, Tony’s still sleeping.”
Tony was leaving for St. Martin today. He had also been leaving for St. Martin yesterday. And the day before that. And every day since he arrived, five days ago.
But each night, come 11PM, Tony’s boat was a’rocking. Bottle in hand, guests onboard, the whole bit. The party wouldn’t stop until the wee hours of the morning.
The sailor looked crestfallen. As if he were pissed at being taken for a sucker.
“Maaaaaaaaan, I got a charter boat waiting for me in St. Martin. If I lose this job it’ll be no good.”
A voice calls out,
“Well why the fuck are you waiting for him?”
“I dunno, maaaan. I thought he would make it this time.” Sluuuurp on the cigarette.
“I think it was his birthday, yesterday.”
Another voice, “No, you idiot that was Tuesday.”
“Who can keep track?”
And off like parrots they went. Yammering and harrumphing until their voices congealed into a buzzing rumble.
Stuck in a loop. It’s my greatest fear. The idea of being caught in a pattern of action over which you have no control.
I’m not alone. This fear has penetrated the popular consciousness. Think of the TV series Westworld. Robots programmed to act on loops. Human beings ostensibly free but acting as if they aren’t. Westworld resonates because it dramatizes questions we all have.
How predictable is human behavior?
Can a closed system generate new actions?
Am I the author of my fate?
The question is about agency. The quality of being in control of your actions. Or, to be more obscure, the degree to which you actions are in alignment with your conscious intentions.
Take our legal system. We treat manslaughter differently than pre-meditated murder. Same outcome; different treatment. Why?
Because a pre-meditated murder conviction means that the prosecution was able to convince a jury that the defendant’s actions were exactly what they consciously intended.
This person did exactly what they set out to do.
We believe that this says more about the kind of person they are. That they are more likely to commit the crime again. And so we treat them differently.
Most cruisers will tell you that a life at sea is a freer way of living. More agency. This is half-true.
An evil man once told me,
“When people get out on the water, they go feral. Stop washing themselves. They lose their sense of proportion and civility.”
The trap he was describing is this. Some people escape the trappings of civilization only to find themselves trapped by their own shortcomings.
It’s a hard thing to explain because many people have never been in an environment that wasn’t strongly governed by law or cultural norms.
Cruisers push out to the edges of society. They are strangers with strange ways. And some of them, particularly the frequent travelers, aren’t invested in the laws or customs of any one land.
But lacking a strong moral or legal framework, these people risk falling victim to their own shortcomings. Trapped, not by civilization, but by their own baser instincts.
I am not saying all cruisers are amoral savages. Far from it. What I am saying is that, the further one travels from the centers of power, is the more important it is to walk with your own rulebook.
Because it is easy to live without principles when principles are provided for you. But, outside, you could find yourself trapped, not by The Man, but by your own shortcomings.
You, too, could find yourself leaving for St. Martin, day after day after day after day.