Chapter 24: The Advocate

In this case, cliche holds true — ask a child what she wants to be when she grows up and more often than not the child will either say “doctor” or “lawyer.” Clearly, kids pick up on our society’s elevation of these professions as signifiers of success, and communicate a desire for success and respectability as a desire to pursue medicine or law. But why has our society elevated medicine and law above other skilled professions, such as teacher, carpenter, or architect? If our society valued academic distinction, kids would be banging down the doors of the nearest particle accelerator, and were it money alone our society valued, an equal number of kids would want to be bankers or actuaries. Instead, before our children even know that those other career paths exist, our society communicates to them the highest prestige in medicine and law. But wherein lies the prestige?

“The Advocate” approaches a similar question from the opposite end. Why, Ishmael asks, does society shun whaling as an unrespectable profession? Whaling is no more barbarous, nor requiring of any less bravery than military command, yet military command holds a much higher prestige in society. Whaling vessels have anonymously contributed more to the pursuit of discovery and exploration than the famous voyages of Captain Cook and others, but with no recognition of the feat. Whaling also contributes immensely to the world economy, and provides many highly useful commodities. In short, whaling deserves a much higher esteem than society affords.

At root, underneath the high salaries, underneath the impressive degrees from selective and expensive private universities, doctors and lawyers are practitioners, like plumbers, electricians, and engineers. All of these professions require great skill and craft, so why might the comparison seem like a loss of prestige for doctors and lawyers? Perhaps we don’t bestow upon other skilled laborers the respect they deserve.

Chapter 24: The Advocate

Listen here, I’ve had enough of this shit
Saying whaling is only for scoundrels (What?),
That it’s a dirty (Huh?), filthy (Who?), job for the base (Uh-uh!),
That we’re barbarian butchers at sea.

Tell me now of those soldiers you host
In the highest company (Uh, uh!).
They’re the bloodiest butchers you’ll ever meet
But they’d buckle at the sight of a fanning tail (Oooh!).

For what are the terrors of man
Compared to the terrors of beasts?

Our whaling ships are at the edge of the world
Bringing peace and information (Uh-huh!).
We’re diplomatic, democratic, and we spread it around
We’ve liberated colonies!

They say that whaling’s not respectable
Although the English call whales “a royal fish.”
But they insist (uh!), persist (uh!), they never let up (uh-uh!)
Saying there’s no good blood in our veins!
(Say what?)
They say there’s no good blood in our veins!
They say there’s no good blood in our veins!

(Haven’t they heard of Benjamin Franklin,
Democratizer, father of nations?
His grandmother, a woman of whaling,
The matriarch sent her family a-sailing!)

I know . . . I know . . . I don’t understand it.
Maybe they’re just scared,

For what are the terrors of man
Compared to the terrors of beasts?

We make the world light up!

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 30, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea June 8, 2009

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