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So This Is the (Real) Tale of Our Castaways: Lessons from Shipwrecked Micro-Societies

Survivor camps established after shipwrecks provide fascinating data about the societies that groups of people make when it’s left up to them, about how and why social order might vary, and about what arrangements are the most conducive to peace and survival. An archipelago of shipwrecks, formed over centuries, more or less at random, has resulted in people participating, unintentionally, in multiple trials of this experiment.

Shipwreck survivors have had a special hold on the human imagination for thousands of years, beginning at least since Homer crafted the Odyssey and stretching through when Shakespeare penned The Tempest, Cervantes described Don Quixote’s marooning, and more modern authors wrote Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, and Lord of the Flies. In fiction, the castaway narrative tends to feature an idyllic state of nature, following Jean-Jacques Rousseau, or a state of anarchy and violence, following Thomas Hobbes—two philosophers with rather conflicting ideas about human nature.

Hobbesian examples abound in real-world shipwreck situations. Consider the crew of the Batavia, who in 1629 systematically planned the mass murder of women and children to conserve resources. Or consider the crew of the Utile, a French slave ship that wrecked in 1761 on Tromelin Island in the Indian Ocean. The sailors managed to get off the island, but they left behind 60 enslaved persons. They promised to send help but failed to do so for fifteen years. When a ship finally arrived at the island, only seven women and a baby were still alive.

Some shipwrecks reflect a notably dysfunctional, if grimly familiar, breakdown of social order that includes not only murder but also cannibalism (which is not too uncommon). The extreme circumstances of the shipwreck may overwhelm people’s innate tendencies to behave well. The wreck of the Medusa in 1816 (which left 146 people on a large, unstable raft, only fifteen of whom lived to be rescued thirteen days later) and the wreck of Le Tigre in 1766 (involving four people, three of whom survived for two months) both exhibited murder and cannibalism as survival means. In the case of Le Tigre—as described in a book that was an international bestseller in the 18th century—special consideration was given to the lone female survivor, and the male survivors made provisions for her protection. The lone black survivor was murdered and cannibalized first, because of his lower perceived status. No such niceties applied in the case of the Medusa, where, as far as can be determined, male, female, black and white survivors all killed and ate one another indiscriminately.

The relationship of cannibalism to the breakdown of social order depends, of course, on the reasons for the cannibalism—whether the individuals involved ate the bodies of those who had already died because otherwise they would have died of starvation themselves (as in a 20th-century case involving a plane crash in the Andes) or whether people were deliberately murdered. Contemporary readers regarded the two shipwrecks in different lights. Le Tigre—ironically, given its fealty to sexism and racism—was seen as a remarkable story of resourcefulness and endurance, while the Medusa was held up as the epitome of depravity and animalistic barbarity.

We know about these events because of a quirky literature, marketed to armchair thrill-seekers, of first-person accounts of these disasters. And we can supplement these accounts with more formal evaluations of shipwrecks undertaken by historians and archaeologists in the 20th century.

During the period of European exploration of the globe, from the 16th century through the advent of modern navigation and communications, there were more than 9,000 shipwrecks. In the great majority of wrecks, all souls were lost to a watery grave. Occasionally, survivors endured at sea in small vessels; for example, the Essex went down in 1820, and its crew drifted in narrow whaleboats for weeks, eventually resorting to cannibalism. (Their story inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick.) But for our present purposes, we need cases in which survivors made landfall and set up camp, and those are rare.

A map of 24 shipwrecks in the period 1500–1900

The locations and dates of twenty-four shipwrecks in the period 1500–1900 are shown in the map above. Circle symbols indicate the twenty wrecks that are part of the core sample considered here (involving at least nineteen castaways stranded for at least two months). Open symbols are shipwreck communities lasting less than one year, and filled-in symbols indicate communities lasting more than one year. Symbol size corresponds to the number of castaways, with small size indicating wrecks with fewer than nineteen people, medium size indicating nineteen to fifty people, and large indicating more than fifty people.

We must acknowledge that, even in these twenty examples that fit our criteria, the survivors are not strictly representative of humanity. The people who traveled on ships were not randomly drawn from the human population; they were often serving in the navy or the marines or were enslaved persons, convicts or traders. Shipboard life involved exacting status divisions and command structures to which these people were accustomed. Survivor groups were therefore made up of people who not only frequently came from a single distinctive cultural background (Dutch, Portuguese, English and so on), but who were also part of the various subcultures associated with long ocean voyages during the epoch of exploration. These shipwreck societies were, consequently, mostly male. Furthermore, the majority of our research subjects had narrowly escaped death and were psychologically traumatized, arriving at their islands nearly drowned and sometimes naked and wounded.

We have already discussed some shipwrecks that went badly, devolving into murder and cannibalism. But what factors were shared by shipwreck societies that were most successful? In our sample, the groups that typically fared best were those that had good leadership in the form of mild hierarchy (without any brutality), friendships among the survivors, and evidence of co-operation and altruism.

Survivor communities manifested cooperation in diverse ways: sharing food equitably; taking care of injured or sick colleagues; working together to dig wells, bury the dead, co-ordinate a defense, or maintain signal fires; or jointly planning to build a boat or secure rescue. In addition to historical documentation of such egalitarian behaviors, archaeological evidence includes the non-separation of subgroups (for example, officers and enlisted men or passengers and servants) into different dwellings, and the presence of collectively built wells or stone signal-fire platforms. Other indirect evidence is found in the accounts of survivors, such as reports of the crew being persuaded, because of good leadership, to engage in dangerous salvage operations. And we have many hints of friendship and camaraderie in these circumstances. Violence and murder were not typical.

One shipwreck in which altruism involving resource sharing and risky volunteerism was particularly evident was the case of the Julia Ann. The ship wrecked in the Isles of Scilly, a reef in the Pacific, on September 7, 1855, stranding fifty-one people for two months. The misadventure was brought to a close when the captain and a crew of nine volunteered to row three days into the horizon to reach Bora Bora, 217 miles to the east, in order to get help. Five lives were lost when the Julia Ann struck a reef, but all of the fifty-one survivors were eventually rescued. A newspaper later reported:

Capt. Pond’s chief desire throughout the whole sad affair seemed to be to save the lives of the passengers and crew, as the following noble act illustrates: While the crew were engaged in getting the passengers ashore [using a lifeline from the wreck offshore], Mr. Owens, the second mate, was going to carry a bag containing eight thousand dollars belonging to the Captain, ashore. The captain ordered him to leave the money and carry a girl ashore…The child was saved, but the money lost.

This visible act of altruism at the outset powerfully established an example for the group to cooperate and work together. Half the Julia Ann castaways were of the Mormon faith, and this may have helped the group cohere. The captain noted that they were “so easy to be governed” and “always ready to hear and obey my counsel.”

The availability of local resources and specific expertise among the castaways clearly helped as well. The Julia Ann survivors found turtle eggs, coconuts and fresh water. They fashioned a forge and bellows and repaired a boat (the ability to make and use a bellows appears frequently in successful stories). And the men who volunteered to row the rescue boat risked their lives to save the group.

Or consider the Blenden Hall, which wrecked on July 22, 1821, on the aptly named Inaccessible Island in the middle of the South Atlantic. This wreck was also marked by heroism and cooperation as in the case of the Julia Ann, though arguments and some acts of theft and violence marred the experience. Seventy of the eighty-two people on the ship made it to shore and survived for four months.

In the initial days, the survivors were able to salvage wood, canvas and fabric to build shelters, as well as some liquor and a surgeon’s kit that contained some phosphorus they could use to start a fire. The salvaging of liquor was a mixed blessing—it offered calories and temporary mood elevation, but it also prompted violence and threats.

After the incessant rain from the storm that wrecked them had subsided, the castaways began to feel a bit more optimistic. The Blenden Hall survivors had relatively easy, though not unlimited, access to food and water. But the availability of food and materials needed to be coupled with effective collective resource allocation for the group to succeed and survive. The survivors took care to share resources such as penguin meat, wild celery, and clothing so no one starved or froze.

The captain, Alexander Greig, showed leadership and tact, keeping the peace at crucial moments and organizing a division of labor (work parties for salvage, exploration and firewood collection). Unfortunately, the survivors often formed distinct groups at odds with one another (sometimes along the lines of class, rank, sex and race). Tensions erupted, and in late September, the crew attacked the passengers. They were repelled by twelve men organized by the captain. Afterward, he attempted to organize punishment for the ringleaders, but the lashing was staved off by the entreaties of one of the women whom the crew had attacked.

The eighteen-year-old son of the captain, who himself showed great leadership during the ordeal, kept a diary in penguin blood written in the margins of salvaged newspapers. He perceptively described their predicament:

I must acknowledge that to me it was always incomprehensible what could induce such a feeling of hostility to exist at this period…among the passengers generally. It is true that our troubles were calculated to ruffle our tempers and render us irritable; but at the same time one would have imagined that in our extreme exigency, with starvation almost inevitable, the common dictates of humanity would have been sufficient to suppress outbreaks and induce each to commiserate with his fellow-sufferer.

Group divisions remained prominent even after the crew members’ attack. Rather than working together and pooling the scarce available salvaged materials, three separate groups competed to build boats to leave for Tristan da Cunha, an island twenty miles away. One party of six left on October 19; they were not heard from again. But another party made it to Tristan da Cunha on November 8 and sounded the alarm. The others were then quickly rescued. Would the survivors of the Blenden Hall have fared better if they had not been plagued by aggression for their entire four-month stay? Probably. But in the end, their access to necessary resources likely reduced the extent and impact of the strife, and their capable leadership and evident cooperation were crucial, too.

In the case of the Sydney Cove, wrecked on Preservation Island off Tasmania on February 9, 1797, fifty-one people initially made land-fall. The documentary and archaeological evidence suggests the creation of substantial social order, including collective digging of a well and construction of a common dwelling; and surviving accounts indicate altruistic acts.

On February 28, seventeen men set out in a longboat for Port Jackson, on the mainland, but wrecked again, this time on the south-eastern coast of Australia on March 1, at which point they began walking to Port Jackson, nearly four hundred miles away. Here is how the supercargo, William Clark (the person charged with overseeing the cargo and its sale), who led this secondary expedition, put it:

Imagination cannot picture a situation more melancholy than that to which the unfortunate crew was reduced—wrecked a second time on the inhospitable shore of New South Wales; cut off from all hopes of rejoining their companions; without provisions, without arms, or any probable means either of subsistence or defense, they seemed doomed to all the horrors of a lingering death, with all their misfortunes unknown and unpitied. In this trying situation, they did not abandon themselves to despair…Danger and difficulty lessen as they approach—the mind, as if its ultimate strength were reserved for arduous occasions, reconciles itself with calm resignation to sufferings from which, on a more distant view, it would recoil with horror.

The success of their journey depended not only on this mental fortitude but also on the fact that the Aboriginal inhabitants of Australia showed noteworthy altruism to the strangers. On several occasions, Clark reported, they were befriended by locals who escorted them up the coast, gave them fish and other food, and even rowed them across rivers. In his diary entry of March 29, 1797, Clark wrote that there appeared to be “nothing human” about the Aborigines “but the form,” and he frequently referred to them as “savages”—a reflection of our universal tendency toward in-group bias. But Clark soon changed his tune:

We came to a pretty large river, which, being too deep to ford, we began to prepare a raft, which we could not have completed till next day had not three of our native friends, from whom we parted yesterday, rejoined us and assisted us over. We were much pleased with their attention, for the act was really kind, as they knew we had this river to cross, and appear to have followed us purposely to lend their assistance. Between 9 and 10 o’clock we were most agreeably surprised by meeting five of the natives, our old friends, who received us in a very amicable manner, and kindly treated us with some shellfish, which formed a very acceptable meal, as our small pittance of rice was nearly expended.

A couple of other encounters with the indigenous people were more hostile, and one meeting resulted in three men sustaining wounds. Still, the overall interaction hardly supported Governor John Hunter’s later summary of the trek in which he described the “savage barbarity of the natives.” If anything, it appears that the Aboriginal people saved the strangers’ lives. Clark’s party viewed them as both barbarians and friends. I would not be surprised if the indigenous Australians felt similarly about Clark and his men.

 

Sociologist and physician Nicholas Christakis is the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale University, where he directs the Human Nature Lab. This article is an adapted excerpt from his new book, Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society. Copyright © 2019 by Nicholas Christakis. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.

Featured image: The Raft of the Medusa (Le Radeau de la Méduse) by Théodore Géricault, 1818-1819.

64 Comments

  1. Photondancer says

    An enjoyable article and a refreshing change to the usual fare dished up by various media. Thanks!

    • Optional says

      Using a statistically too small sample of extreme events from a different era, this academic quickly concludes that communism is best. He calls his this “altruism” but it is easy to see his underlying message.

      A conservative would see the individuals and their individual actions as the primary force at work in these situations. A conservative would not see shipwrecks as an opportunity to spend the last 3 paragraphs on the total tangent of critical race theory.

      The author’s life work is to clearly to encourage screaming leftists in everything he writes.
      And then he looks so perplexed in the videos – when the hateful leftists he personally built, scream at him.

      • quidnunc says

        You’re reading into what he wrote. Maybe consider the possibility you’re the cause of the facile political ideas you think you see in the text.

    • Ardy says

      The walk up NSW by William Clark and and their interaction with helpful natives needs to be balanced off against a part of William Clark’s report that 2 of their group were killed (possibly eaten) by ‘Dilba’ and other natives at Hat Hill and Flinders realised that he and Bass had a lucky escape after meeting this same band of Aboriginals.
      The author might have mentioned that 16 men set out from the wreck of the ‘Sydney Cove’ and only 3 made it to Sydney Town.

      I suspect a set of rose coloured glasses regarding Aboriginals in Australia at the time,

  2. Jeremy says

    I know you sought specifically shipwrecks wherein people survived, so that there are accounts to discuss.
    If you loose your keys on a dark street, you should search under the lamp first, because its easiest to search there, whether or not you think your keys are under the lamp.
    Still, I’m quite disappointing that you make no mention at all of the Terror and Erebus, in other words the Franklin expedition. None of the sailors survived, but i do think that there are enough inuit accounts to make a reasonable historical reckoning.
    In any case, interesting article, and it was a good Joe Rogan podcast, so i shall purchase this book.

    • Scott says

      Jeremy, the Franklin expidition will be featured in an upcoming story “When good men do bad things: Lead poisoning down through the ages “

    • Alan Gore says

      Contrast this with the tale o the Shackleton expedition, in which all survived despite the harsh conditions. Character means everything in a situation like this.

      • Jack B. Nimble says

        @Alan Gore

        The Shackleton expedition was also crewed by volunteers who understood the hazards involved, particularly in view of the ill-fated R.F. Scott expedition. That makes it rather different from the shipwreck cases discussed here.

        • Erik says

          Another fantastic story of Arctic survival is that of Canadian Captain Bob Bartlett and his ship the Karluk. Perhaps more than any other story I know of it illustrates the importance of leadership in these situations. They fared astonishingly well through incredible travails until the Captain was faced with the dilemma of going for help himself or sending someone else to get help. That is when things started to fall apart. The Ice Master – Well worth the read. This story should be taught to all Canadian school children….

        • Charlie says

          You are ignoring the physical and mental toughness of the people under Shackleton’s command. Shackleton was a Master Mariner who had been trained on sailing ships; climbing rigging in winter storms produces tough men. When ships were made of wood, men were made of steel, as the saying goes.

          At the beginning of WW2, many sailors were dying in lifeboats . They analysed the records and discovered it was the older ones who were surviving. The older ones were tough because they had gone to sea when life was more arduous, so they developed Outward Bound Training to toughen up young sailors. When looking at survival ,it is not just skills but mental and physical toughness. Someone who grew up on a farm, undertaking manual labour, who boxed and played rugby, swum in the sea throughout the year and then went to sea at the age of 14 years achieved the sort of toughness which is very rare today.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outward_Bound

          Bligh’s 4000 mile journey in a lifeboat shows what skill, mental and physical toughness and self-discipline can achieve.

      • SJN says

        Shackleton is another superb example of teamwork and courageous leadership. A wonderful and inspiring story!!

  3. Aleph from Paris says

    There is a strong bias when you seem to conclude that so-called savages were nice after all once you disregarded the cases where no one survived after making it to the land.

    However, it’s true that perverse are more successfull at surviving in the short run, and that altruistic but also realistic enough to defend themselves groups last even longer. Starvation situations on land show it.

    • JWatts says

      “There is a strong bias when you seem to conclude that so-called savages were nice after all once you disregarded the cases where no one survived after making it to the land.”

      This reminds me of the old quip: Dolphins are known to lead struggling swimmers to shore; but on the other hand there wouldn’t be any stories from the struggling swimmers that were led away from shore.

      • Jonny Sclerotic says

        Re: the Dolphins, where’s Ray the Dolphin when you need him to weigh in on matters cetacean?

      • Taraxippos says

        Actually there would be, for not all swimmers led away from shore by Dolphins would have perished, one or two would have survived to tell their story.

  4. Etiamsi omnes says

    Scary scenario: you’re stranded on a desert island with an array of Quillette commenters. Some of whom may not even be edible…

    • Weasels Ripped My Flesh says

      “Some of whom may not even be edible…”

      Ha! When I am hiking in brown bear territory, I like to shout out every few hundred yards that its not worth their time to try and eat me. Too much gristle.

      • Jim Matlock says

        When hiking through bear country It’s advisable to hang small bells on your pack to signal warning of your presence and thus avoid surprising a bear who might attack in panic. It’s also advised to carry bear (pepper) spray at all times. Finally, it’s good to know which bear species you may encounter; black bear vs. grizzly. The easiest way to do so is by examining the animals’ scat. Grizzly scat usually contains bells and smells strongly of pepper spray.

  5. Azathoth says

    I was struck by this–

    “Le Tigre—ironically, given its fealty to sexism and racism—was seen as a remarkable story of resourcefulness and endurance, while the Medusa was held up as the epitome of depravity and animalistic barbarity”

    There was no ‘sexism’ or ‘racism’ exhibited on Le Tigre.

    The men did their best to provide for and save the woman. When provisions ran out they took the lowest among them to continue to keep her safe.

    And only one from their survivor group had to die.

    The black survivor didn’t have a ‘perceived’ lower status. He had a lower status. He was not as important. This happens, all the time–without the need to make it about race.

    And if saving a woman’s life is sexism, then vive la sexism! I do not want to live in a universe where the first instinct is to fall upon the women.

    • Rabscuttle says

      They took an individual and treated her differently based on her sex, and did so via another individual based on his race. Those are the textbook definitions of racism and sexism- that you approve of their actions and motivations doesn’t change that.

      • Asema says

        Is there any evidence that they ate him because he was black, saved her because she was a woman? I’ll probably give you the second one but consider, at least, that they ate him first because he was a liability and saved her because she was an asset? No use jumping to conclusions and putting motives in their hands.

        And thanks Azathoth for pointing out that racism and sexism aren’t always bad things.. like when the doctor is racist and or sexist.

        • dirk says

          About blacks and racism in shipwrecking: what about the black, victorious person (slavery was not yet abolished yet) waving enthousiastically, on top of all the other, most of them lost, sick, dead or dying, in the painting above??

    • persimon says

      There was a time, not that long ago, when this constituted honourable, civilised behaviour. Women, children, old and ill people were to be protected and given priority in dangerous situations. Now this is called sexism… How low identitarian propaganda and rabid neofeminism brought us… It seems the only proper, non-discriminatory course today is the survival of the fittest.

    • Steverino says

      That’s what happened in the refugee boats from the Muslim world to Europe. Drowned women and children washed up on shore while the men stayed alive in the boats after they had pushed the weak out. That’s the kind of morality that made them flee their homelands.

  6. DiamondLil says

    I don’t know. There is at least one dolphin . . . Might be tasty.

  7. Geary Johansen says

    Great article

    I was stuck by the fact that the successful societies had non-punitive hierarchies, with a great deal of implicit trust, given their high levels of co-operation, altruism and, on occasion, heroism. Makes one wonder whether benign authority, with trusted leadership, is a natural prerequisite for the altruistic status competition these survivor societies were so obviously able to channel. There are significant parallels here with some of the earlier, pre-celebrity desert island TV programmes, with the hyper-productive individuals who always emerge in such circumstances, willing to share with anyone willing to at least try and put an effort in, but everyone deeply resentful of shirkers and malingerers.

    I wonder whether there is a potential social experiment here, to see whether more volition over taxes, and accurate information as to how they are spent, might push the Laffer curve higher? We know, for example, that people are willing to pay to punish each other in games of distribution, and offer disproportionately highly, in maths games for people who get all or more of the answers right. Maybe if you gave a group of citizens accurate information about how state and/or federal taxes were spent, gave them an imaginary rebate, let them allocate taxes themselves, but also allowed them to spend money from their imaginary rebate, to punish specific line items of the budget, say department of education bureaucracy or unwanted military equipment- and told them they were allowed to punish only one or two items out of dozens, would they be willing to spend more on tax to punish more bad government spending, if you told them that the money recouped would go to to causes they supported? I think they would spend a little bit more in taxes, than they do in real life, just for the chance to rebuke government in the report that followed the experiment. You could even make it more real by offering cash depending on their choices.

    This might offer valuable information about how to increase the threshold of the Laffer curve, through voluntary participation in the process.

    • TarsTarkas says

      Geary:

      Completely omitted from the article (except from the map) was the strict society that grew up on the Bermudas in 1609 after the wreck of the Sea Venture until their escape to the Virginia Colony in fabricated boats the next year. Possibly because the entire complement survived, including the ship’s captain and the future governor of the Virginia Colony it had distinctly punitive hierarchy (taking the Lord’s name in vain was punishable by death, for example), and at least one man hid out and stayed behind after being accused of murder. They survived partly on both the local fauna and the abundant wild swine originally left behind to breed and become a future food source by previous visitors, likely Spanish.

      • Geary Johansen says

        @ TarsTarkas

        Great comment. Very informative. Maybe doesn’t fit an altruistic worldview.

  8. Steve Rosenberg says

    No mention of the most successful shipwreck survival:Gilligan’s Island. Sorry, had to lighten the mood. Great article.

    • Jonny Sclerotic says

      @ Dave Noble

      Ha yes, I noticed that but assumed I was mistaken about their whereabouts. Scilly me etc.

      • Jonny Sclerotic says

        Turns out it’s a Captain Cook thing. He named the archipelago the Society Islands. Then it became part of French Polynesia and changed names.

  9. dmm says

    Nice change of pace, Quillette. I haven’t read the book, but here Prof. Christakis focuses on the importance of cooperation and altruism in these situations. I appreciate that he didn’t go overboard – heh heh – with any socialist moral. Kind of an off-topic, abrupt ending, though.

  10. In J.M. Barrie’s play, the Admirable Crichton, a group of upper-class people are shipwrecked along with their maid and butler and in the new environment, the butler swiftly emerges as the natural leader of the group, winning the deference and obedience of his employers. In the disastrous scenarios described above, perhaps no-one acknowledged the leadership of anyone else. The more successful communities appear to have maintained the hierarchy they were living under (captain in charge) before the wreck. Barrie’s play of course is more of a commentary on his class-conscious society than a realistic portrayal of a shipwrecked community.

    • dirk says

      I wonder, tulliusb., how one would call the enthousiastically waving black person on Gericault’s painting above. Enslaved? Real Slave? Freed slave maybe (because, at that time slavery not yet abolished),
      Anyhow, the blacks now shipwrecked on the mediterranean seas are worse off, because, different from Gericault’s blackman (waving at a ship that scarcely can be seen, right under the arm of the second white waver), already 30.000 have been drowned (most of them black) and it is even not allowed by the local maritime laws,to save them. Last week, a rescue endeavour by an (illegal) humanitarian ship, Seawatch-3, was arrested by the Italians. So, it’s not only history, and morals-on-raft, also morals and laws of the system right now are involved, and maybe more cruel these days even. We don’t make much progress.

  11. Iam Me says

    I actually live in a “micro-society”, although it’s small in terms of population and not in impact (I would argue.)
    “Shipwrecked Survivors” is a good analogy to draw about who we are, facing as we do the dual threats of post-modernism and Antifa.
    Life can sometimes seem a hopeless quagmire of despair, but there is always something like Quillette rising through the vast void of the Internet to occasion a small shred of hope for the future of humanity.

  12. Daniel Faraday says

    Excellent research on this subject was conducted by an organization named the Dharma Initiative.

  13. Jonny Sclerotic says

    Excellent story. I’d like to see Quillette add a History section. One of the hallmarks of free thought is knowledge of – and humility before – the events of history. A willful ignorance of the historical record is a good indicator of herd mentality.

    Plus, it’s really interesting.

    • dirk says

      Indeed, codadmin, a micro-society, as there have been many, and all visited by an army of journalists. How are you doing? May we ask you questions about this or that??, tits or tats? But will this last??? We, elsewhere, live with the millions, and wonder how you can with 1000s??

      But all of us wish them the very best! Though, many doubts!

  14. Andy Turner says

    A wonderful change of pace indeed. It is interesting to compare these accounts with Professor James Scott’s account of upland SE Asia in “The Art of Not Being Governed”. The people of Zoomia fled there to escape the lowland thugs who called themselves kings who took their food, their labor, their women and their lives. Those peoples organized highly independent, resilient and egalitarian societies. Perhaps because they were fleeing tyrants, they had little stomach for tyrants among themselves.

    • dirk says

      There are 2 different ways to read this piece.

      1) as the history of buccaneers and shipwrecked people in history, and of imagining what it was then and there, the situations, the behaviour, the survival, the moral implications
      2) as a metaphor for the present and your own personal life (forget the sea!)

      It’s more than likely that Gericault’s Medusa was meant to be this 2nd case.
      It’s highly symbolic, just look only at the lines , the hope and despair, life and death, and the horizon with that big wave at the right.

  15. Once Upon a Time says

    I really enjoyed reading this. How people survive extenuating circumstances — or not — makes for a great practical and inspirational exercise. See RIVER OF DOUBT, for example. T. Roosevelt lies dying in the South American jungle. Hears that one of the crew killed or stole (don’t remember which) then gets up and goes after the guy — even though he’s on his last legs. TR then says he’s done, but his son won’t leave without him. So he gets up and keeps on, even though, by all measures, he wasn’t going to make it.

    I find this so inspiring, so courageous, I have to share it with a friend. She immediately shuts me down in the middle of the narrative to tell me that no story about TR should be exchanged with her because TR was….here it comes…are you ready?

    A racist.

    Naturally I wanted to send her down the River of Doubt in 1905 to teach her a lesson. (How about sending all of the anti-racist evangelists on a doomed sea faring expedition?! Ha I’m laughing just thinking about it…)

    I’m going to buy the book. Thanks for publishing this. Loved it.

    • Optional says

      Don’t buy the book. This author is the very person who taught you friend the idea that TR could never be discussed – because he didn’t have modern leftist political sensibilities and “thought wrong”.

  16. Kessler says

    “The eighteen-year-old son of the captain, who himself showed great leadership during the ordeal, kept a diary in penguin blood written in the margins of salvaged newspapers.”

    Just that…

  17. ArbutusJoe says

    What would happen if Carlos Maza, Cenk Uygur, Jared Holt, and a dozen other oh so virtuous SJWs were shipiwrecked. My money is on Cenk coming out on top and probably a bit chubbier.

  18. JJF says

    Re the Utile: ‘They promised to send help but failed to do so for fifteen years. When a ship finally arrived at the island, only seven women and a baby were still alive.’

    No expert, but this story on the Independent (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/shipwrecked-and-abandoned-the-story-of-the-slave-crusoes-435092.html) suggests the survivors DID request French authorities to send a ship, but the request was denied. Apparently, the second-in-command who had assumed control of the expedition after the captain broke down did persist for some time in procuring an expedition to the island, but while there was some public sympathy, attention wandered due to various crises.

    • dirk says

      Very interesting story, JJF, thanks for finding. So, also an answer to tulliusb. here above, the shipwrecked weren’t enslaved, neither slaves, but free men (in a juridious way), because had been bought illegally. And this was also the reason for their not being picked up for 15 yrs, because, why do all the trouble for illicit , not real slaves?

      Also interesting: they lived of turtles and shellfish for all those yrs, and had made a well for their drinking water. Also had fire (how?), a self made oven and pots from the ship. In fact, kind of Paradise, so it seems, however, without coconuts or any other trees. That’s a minor point, though.

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  28. HammerJack says

    Re: the Shackleton Expedition…the men involved exhibited great courage and fortitude but they also had the ‘advantage’ of animals–dogs and horses–which they ate when they found it necessary to do so. And while perhaps we should not judge, some (especially the second horse) were dispatched with great cruelty and for this alone I can never consider Shackleton a hero. The animals did not ask to make the journey and horses in particular were ill-suited to the extreme cold.

    • dirk says

      Every Inuit or other polar hunter or dweller (like Amundsen) at some moment has to decide what to do: or perish at the spot, or eat his faithful dogs.

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