Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Ideal State of Momo

Lola & Jana hoist the flag
of the Kingdom of Nate
at Beveridge Reef
We are a proud democracy on board Momo -- not the kind that my own country has devolved into, plagued by sloppy elections and inane discussions about the President's place of birth, but in a much purer sense going back to the political philosophy of the ancient Greeks: serving a good life for the good of the whole. And that indeed is the State of Our Ship, which should not be confused with the Plato’s Ship of State. Philosopher Kings are sexy, but a monarchy we are not, no matter how enlightened (or sexy). We have evolved into our own kind of republicanism (I refer here to a type of polity, not to the American species of elephants). Some might think we don't fly the American flag out of political protest (we are US Coast Guard registered vessel, but our citizens are American, Canadian, and Mexican), but really it's just that we believe in letting our own freak flag fly. In fact, we’re more like the Swiss mercenaries who served the Renaissance kings of France—political loyalties be damned, we’ll take on the most daring of campaigns (as long as we don’t get hurt). It’s probably no coincidence that our 8-year-old citizen has declared Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner as our anthem and plays it every chance she gets. Last year at Beveridge Reef we planted a flag and established the short-lived Kingdom of Nate, ruled by a 9-year old absentee monarch from South Carolina. His Majesty’s politics are unfamiliar to us, but who cares? We stood guard by that flag with honor and pride, at least until the tide came up and the Kingdom of Nate slipped beneath the waves.

When we’re not in the service of foreign sovereigns, we're happily minding our own business and floating from one island to the next. We've taken the notion of self-sufficiency even further by printing our own money. Having your own currency is useful: Momo Money gets me foot massages and reading sessions. But it goes both ways, because all the citizens on Momo have Momo Money, so upon demand the ruling class must also reciprocate by allowing the non-voting citizens to exchange their money for ice cream and movies.

Democracy is much easier to manage, of course, in a polity of four rather than 300 million, and our State is more modern than the Platonic or Aristotelian view of the world -- we have no slaves (though we’re trying to teach our children to serve coffee in bed), and we’re products of the post-suffragist era, which makes my voice equal to my man's. Sure, we have our moments of strife, and at times I'm not sure democracy is all it's cracked up to be. I admit, at times I can relate to the 43rd US President who, speaking of the United States government, said "If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier...just so long as I'm the dictator.” But his example serves also as a warning to me, showing how easily a (un)Philosopher King can sail his Ship of State onto the rocks--something that the Demokratic Republik of Momo wants desperately to avoid.

Sometimes it would be easier if we'd just follow traditional rules about who's the boss. On most other sailboats, the roles of Captain and First Mate are rigidly established, almost always along traditional gendered lines. On those vessels, discussions about sail configuration or navigation don’t take place. There's comfort in that, to be sure: one strong voice of authority reduces any chance of misunderstandings, announces quick decisions, and is able to see that directions are followed efficiently. "Starboard tack? OK!" "Bring in the sails? Ay-ay, Cap’n!" No one says, “Do you really think so?” Or: “Well, I was rather thinking that another strategy might be altogether more effective.” Or: “Let’s take a poll.” There's a reason that some of the best captains of ships have historically been some of the strictest; nobody would describe Captain James Cook, for instance, as touchy-feely. The problem we have, however, is that neither Bernie nor I want to be bossed around, so we've slipped into our own style of how to do things. Sometimes he's right, more often I am. Usually it doesn't matter. We always get there one way or another, however unorthodox our methods. I'm not sure either of us would have cut the muster on Captain Cook's ship, but we do just fine on Momo.