Slavery has been practiced all around the world for millennia because it works so well-for the slave owners.
Historical Context: Slavery
In the West, we like to claim that we sprang from ancient Greece, the cradle of democracy, philosophy, and reason. Their art wasn’t bad, either. This is, of course, just another case of myth-building, since all cultures, including ancient Greece, build on the accomplishments of those who have come before. Greece was preceded by great Middle Eastern cultures in Sumeria and Egypt and people got around and shared ideas much more than history seems to indicate. How much did they get around? Humans spread all over the world from Africa to Australia, on foot, and many thousands of years ago. For example of historical distortion, Pythagoras actually got his theorem from the Egyptians.
Slave Owners Longing to be Free
Human beings from Plato to Thomas Jefferson find the leisure to philosophize, reason, and experiment because they are no longer busy hunting, gathering, or tending crops. They are no longer busy doing these things because someone else is doing those things for them. In ancient societies the producers were the “common people” and slaves. Slaves came from common people who became impoverished or from conquest-what did warlords do with survivors of warlording? They could either kill everyone left over (and sometimes they did) or they could bring them home and make them haul water and chop wood for the rest of their lives.
The renowned Greeks Plato and Aristotle used their free time to philosophize about politics, the natural world and the meaning of life. They also philosophized about a bit about slaves. Plato envisioned a Utopia in which three rigid classes (aristocrats, their warriors and everyone else) were led by a Philosopher-King: someone, well, exactly like him! Slaves were devoid of reason and of worth only as servants of their betters. Aristotle asked himself if some are “born slaves” and then he answered himself:
“There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.”
Slave Economy Works
We admire Plato, Aristotle and Thomas Jefferson-men who philosophized about liberty- and we make excuses for the hypocrisy of their slave-owning. “We can’t judge, it was the cultural norm, everyone was doing it.” But there has always been a sizable group opposed to slavery that we ignore in this rationalizing: the slaves themselves. Nevertheless, the system worked well for the autocrats and may have made their nations prosperous overall; that is, it no doubt enhanced the state’s GDP as a whole.
Man Does Not Live by GDP Alone
This is one reason GDP cannot be the only measure of a successful society, as it has become in the United States, a nation with a high GDP and now 39th worst in income inequality in the world. When intelligent men examined the question of slavery, they had to come out against it or rationalize why it was all right after all. It was all right, they decided, because it was the natural order. Aristocrats were genetically superior and slaves were born to be slaves. Slaves at best were like children and at worst like unruly animals. The patricians had to not only convince them selves this was true for the sake of their conscience, but also convince the slaves for the sake of the aristocrat’s safety. Southern planters were (justifiably) worried about slave rebellions. They were exploiting and abusing human beings who vastly outnumbered them.
Fast forward to today. The growing income inequality in America has resulted in a nascent wage slave revolt called Occupy Wall Street. How it will turn out we do not know. It appears that citizens reared on the ideals of equality will not tolerate inequality. The slave system fans have another plan afoot, however, and it involves the huge section of “surplus” human beings who are incarcerated. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. In addition to war, the U.S. appears to really like prisons. A disproportionate number of prisoners are low-income people of color.
Face the Racism
Let’s face it; a certain segment of the U.S. population doesn’t like low-income people of color. They have no intention of providing jobs for them, so what can be done? Lock them up. But no, you might argue, they have committed crimes. So have the bankers who crashed the economy, yet they are too big to jail. Could any of the inmates be innocent? Surely some are, according to the New York Times which proves that drug cops plant evidence to meet their arrest quotas. The same segment of the population mentioned earlier dislikes immigrants. Immigration uproars have historically been racist in origin. As a result of draconian immigration laws in some states, crops are rotting in the fields.
Back to the Cotton Fields
The brilliant solution to racist fears, the lamentable end of slavery and rotting crops is to boot out all immigrants and send the prisoners into the fields! Once again we can experience the thrill of driving past steaming fields with brown people sweating in the sun. Order will finally be restored to society and Plato’s aristocratic Utopia will have arrived. And get this-it’s constitutional!
Thirteenth Amendment: Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Think of it: No immigrants, “colored” slaves, and Constitutional=Right Wing Paradise Found.
I have worked in prisons. Prison is extremely unpleasant and excruciatingly boring. But perhaps inmates would like to get out and do some work, even if it is for 50 cents an hour (what inmates were making “inside the fence.”) If it were truly voluntary, it would not be slavery. But the 13th Amendment allows involuntary servitude and citizens who object to slavery need to be ready for this emerging Right-Wing wet dream.