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Thursday, September 17, A.D. 2009
Slavery Continues

It certainly does. Do you shop at Wal-Mart, Master Smith?

How convenient for us when the servants toil thousands of miles away and allow us to bask in our own moral self-righteousness without noticing their condition. The sweet taste of slave labor . . . sugar in the eighteenth century, cheap socks in the twenty-first century.

On this point, the radical Left is consistent and insightful. Let them have their moment.

On yesterday’s post, “Memorializing Mammy,” commentator Andrzej suggested another blog’s thread, “New World Slavery was not ‘Biblical.’” My reaction follows.

Thank you, Andrzej, for the thread, but I was not much impressed by it. The post’s writer stumbles at the start in his analysis of Southern slavery. It was not “ontological” (an odd use of the term) anymore than any other non-penal slavery was “ontological.” European traders bought black slaves from Africa’s Gold Coast (from other blacks, who had enslaved them . . . often in the old fashioned, respectable way of defeating them in tribal warfare or in the old fashioned, scandalous way of kidnapping) not because they were thought inferior but because they were available and had a remarkable resistance to malaria. Only after time passed did the concept of negro inferiority develop—due to the rationalizing of slavery among American liberals or due to experience with another human population quite different on average in temperament and intelligence. I suspect that both forces were at work.

After that, the story follows the same pattern of all human exploitation . . . those with power exploit the labor of their underlings. Such is true of all slavery and of pretty much all societal organization, from feudalism to socialism, where only the “Who? Whom?” change. They who can, take. I do not suggest such as a moral maxim that we follow. It is, however, a sad truth about fallen human beings. Pure justice in the human soul is rare, as the virtuous man is rare. The Greeks knew this; how have we forgotten it?

The writer and the commentators of the post all appear to be ignorant of the history of slavery beyond the “new world” variety. I suppose that is convenient when you try to explain away Christianity’s tolerance of slavery (it also “tolerates” taxation, prostitution, assault, and theft . . . Jesus asks us to put up with a lot of unpleasant stuff). Yet, it is dishonest. Negro race slavery in the American South differed from helot slavery in Sparta mainly in how the slaves were treated (Alabama negroes fared much better) and in that it was a bit easier to tell the master and slave classes apart in the American case. If anyone harbors doubts about how the living conditions of ancient slaves compared with American slaves, note how rare multigenerational slavery was elsewhere—not because of law, but because of survival. Of course, such could be attributed to Anglo-American commercial acumen rather than compassion, but it does not change the facts.

Another aspect of the thread that annoyed me was how superficial and thoughtless the commentators were when they spoke about the mammy phenomenon. I suppose that they are unable or unwilling to think about the complexities of human relationships. Are they so two dimensional in their own lives? Have they not, at least, read great literature to know how real human beings feel and think? Do most people really simply process ideas at the level of clichés? I know the depressing answer.

If one does not accept egalitarian fictions or the pet obsessions of modern Leftists, then one must criticize Southern slavery from a more universal standpoint—as Aristotle criticized Greek slavery in his Politics. Slavery is unjust when it enslaves people who are not by nature or by choice slavish. Just because one is defeated in battle does not mean that one is less human, less rational, or less good. As Socrates notes in the dialogues, sometimes large political bodies just have more manpower. Victory in war does not equate superiority in virtue or wisdom. Such is obviously as true with the descendants of the conquered. With those who are kidnapped or the descendants of the kidnapped, it is obvious how wicked such slavery is, as it is based on a theft that could not be excused under the “forfeited life” claims of martial victors.

I cannot presently muster up an attack on human exploitation in general, though I think that justice requires us to give to each as each is owed. Just because we can squeeze labor out of men for pennies does not mean that we ought to do so, even if our system provides for it—whether the system be slavery, industrial baron capitalism, or globalization’s exploitation of Third World cheap labor. Yet, I realize that such exploitation will always exist.

As the Athenians long ago remarked, “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, September 17, Anno Domini 2009
Philosophy | AnthropologyPolitics • (1) Comment
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