Precarious Political Scientist: Political Science and Mariner’s Lifeworld
Illustration: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (
September 16, 2022

Sailing is Necessary (II): Sailor and Steward, the Underside of the Adriatic

Written by: 
Karlo Garma
Unemployed political scientist from Brodarica

Dedicated to the crew from the sailer whose name I am not allowed to write due to the GDPR

Pirates are a scourge. John Locke condemned tyrants by comparing them to those enemies of the human race who rob other people’s property. And what about the undeclared sailors who seasonally sail the Adriatic and serve tourists on cruises? Guided by Locke’s logic, we could say that a pirate is any sailor who illegally works on a ship and deprives the state of taxes. He ungratefully empties his bowels into the sea (a public good) through the pump, throws broken glasses into it and, worst of all, does not contribute a quarter of his earnings to the state budget, taking from the treasury what rightfully belongs to it. In short, illegal sailors are thieves of the property of the Republic of Croatia. On the other hand, considering that small private entrepreneurs and working people perceive the state as a form of organized racketeering, it could be the case of what Marxists call the expropriation of the expropriators. Taxes are the tribute we pay in order to live in a civilized society, a safe and orderly system under the rule of law. But do we really live in such a political regime or in a kleptocracy with the abundance of parafiscal levies and an unreasonably slow grind from a cumbersome bureaucratic apparatus? Perhaps Locke would have seen submission to such a twisted leviathan as placing one’s head in the jaws of a lion, a worse thing to do than suffer the banditry of a fox now and then. Anyway, for the captain – hope you remember that guy from the last episode – the question is only rhetorical.

In addition to the earlier mentioned bureaucrats, the captain also despises politicians from the bottom of his soul. If we also remember the heroic Gnaeus Pompeius, he would be the antithesis to our ruling political caste. Which respected Croatian parliamentary representative would join us and “give a hand”, even a “populist” one? Taking into account that on the sailer, you work for up to 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, in all weather conditions and with the duty to satisfy almost any of the guest requests, can we imagine our president and prime minister in the role of such sailors? One of them has already fallen and rolled off the Patria armored fighting vehicle, and the other’s chair is swinging dangerously. If you don't have solid balance as an entry competency as determined by the Orientation Sensory Test, you can't be a sailor. However, let’s put aside the fact that they wouldn't work well individually, the most important thing is teamwork. How would they agree upon the division of work, reach optimal consensus and synergy to complete the goal? I don’t think and I don’t ponder, but I know that the two of them certainly couldn’t agree on the steering direction with one rudder. The crew does not believe that our politicians would last a month on board.

Stewarding and seafaring on a ship are demanding working tasks, sometimes in collision. If the maneuvering – the skill and activity of steering the ship during docking, anchoring and mooring – is at mealtime, you should let go of the plates and fly to the ropes and cleats. On the other hand, if it ends, you return from untying the rope tied to a tree or rock to the bar to serve guests or wash plates. It may happen that your hands are cut by branches or stones, so that due to bleeding, you have to stop the necessary activities until you put waterproof plasters on the cuts. The guests should not see it. In Goffmanian terms, it is always important to maintain the clear division between foreground and background performance.

For the role of a steward on a ship, therefore, it generally applies: be nice, smile and polish the glass for the psychological effect of presence and availability, a hundred times if you have nothing else to do (and you will in a second). If you are not skilled as an outside waiter (along with your first serving of a mimosa – a combination of champagne and orange juice – you learn that the other hand, which is not holding the tray, holds the legs of the glasses), you go to the bar as an inside worker. If you screw up there too, especially with procurement, you go to the kitchen as an assistant cook where none of the guests can see you and your fuck-ups. But I wrote about this more extensively the previous time, as well as about some existentialist moments that the sea brings. This time, I will focus a little more on the political-economic aspects of sailing and the related Foucauldian discipline of workers’ bodies on the vessel.

Discipline is strict on board. It can be shown through a list of habits that should be abandoned (the so-called forbidden things):

1) No wearing land shoes. When you get on the sailer, you take off your shoes. Not only do you not bring pebbles, sand, etc. on board, but also out of respect.

2) No pretending to be a “know-all” and “do-it-all” and no covering up mistakes (I gave an exhaustive list in the first part). We are not omniscient. Multitasking is undesirable, problems are resolved one by one, while urgency goes in this order: a) emergency situations, b) maneuvering c) ship d) guests and serving (see above). If you screw up, you don't hide it, you tell your superiors right away. You are responsible to the extent that you could have foreseen or prevented it. And whether you screwed something up or not, it’s mandatory to listen to the ramblings of nervous superiors who need to vent a little.

3) Permissible discourse also has its firm limits. You don’t ask how much someone's salary is, neither guests nor colleagues. The first ones because it is not polite, the second, because it is forbidden by contract to comment on the monthly salary.

4) When smoking in the garden after the shift from 00:30 to 01:00, the cigarette is hidden because guests must not see you smoking, drinking, shirtless, or excreting in any way. As soon as the sweat starts to break out, you change your shirt, if necessary, you change four shirts in a day and wash them immediately. For a similar reason, garlic is forbidden, lest you gasp at your guest like a maiden trying to ward off Nosferatu. It’s Goffman, the sociologist of theatrical performances and total institutions again: we must be a coordinated and shining team, which does not know about sweat and bad breath.

5) Part of the discipline is that you are always at the service of the guests, from the ship’s taxi service in the late hours of the night, to the three-hour à la carte breakfast, or to the vacuuming the broken glass along the deck. If the guests want to go to a party on the island of Hvar at 11 pm and to come back around 2 or 3 in the morning, even if you are facing the biggest waves ever, you have to accommodate them; you sit in the dinghy/tender and drive. When a guest drops a bracelet or a necklace worth €12,000 while jumping off the handrail or footbridge of the ship, you throw yourself with a mask on your head into the sea and hope for a tip.

As for tipping, the captain divides tips equally. All are put in a heap and then in distributed in equal parts. It seems to be guided by the contract theorists’ notion of liberty and Rawls’s theory of justice. You take away or give to yourself as much as you are ready to give to another. Behind the veil of ignorance about future tips, we will accept equal distribution. Be that as it may, the minimum welfare state on board is always present: Whatever happens, you always have a drink on board.

When it comes to plans for the future, the focus is not on the economic development policy of the state but on personal economic policies. All the employees on board agree on one thing: we should no longer invest in education, fast food, restaurants, OPGs, industry, technology, STEM, but, for private well-being, exclusively in two things: real estate such as apartments, villas and hotels and mobile assets in the form of yachts and luxury cars. The tendency is clear – to live from capital and rent, not from hard toil. Someone will already maintain these (im)mobilia. We can leave aside the discussion on the question of whether, in the role of capitalists and rentiers, former workers would also resort to some theory of expropriation. It seems that they would be forced to accept at least some form of nocturnal state that protects life, safety and property which also costs money. We like to free-ride when we pay, but also tend to whine when the public service is not good. Someone needs to ward-off those real pirates who have their own specific understanding of political economy.

And perhaps near the very end, it is best to leave the final word to the ship’s chef and his leisured metaphors in the related economic field of sustainable development: “Guests are not really important, but you have to convince them that they are. I would set plates for anyone at any time, countless faces and impressions changed. We are natives, and they are tourists in passing. Therefore, first take care of yourself, then the ship, and only then the guests. You have to present everything to them as nicely as possible so that they don’t get it, and in fact you are already deep in them.” This is the theory of human capital connected with nativism. It seems that the native brotherhood still lurks behind the disciplined bodies that temporarily perform a goffmanesque show in front of the guests. Is the cunning slave a disguised master or will the political myths of (sub)national brotherhoods dissolve in the economy and ideology of globalization where every collectivity disappears before the global liberal subject? Time will tell, as well as how life on board has changed me from a landman to a seaman, a political scientist to a sailor (and a steward).

Annals of the Croatian Political Science Association

Croatian Political Science Association
Faculty of Political Science
Lepušićeva 6, 10 000 Zagreb
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