The history of slavery precedes written records. It is conjectured that when man turned to agriculture slavery became practical. In the hunter/gatherer society the numbers are small and the tribes diffused across the land. There can be no higher concentration of people than the land will freely support. Those who are not strong, diligent, intelligent and talented die. When primitive agriculture is the norm, muscle power becomes paramount. The land is plentiful and cheap, or free. The labor is scarce and expensive and needed. Does slavery happen rapidly, as in one tribe just wakes up one day and decides to pillage another for forced laborers? Or is it slower, the less able to provide for themselves voluntarily taking service with someone who can provide for all? Is it the easy path from voluntary servant who gets life’s necessities in return for allegiance and labor to full blown slavery in a few generations? It is unanswerable at this time, but it does seem to have happened at one time or another in all cultures. However, once slavery is established it seems to self-perpetuating until it becomes economically impractical. Or until that society is conquered by some stronger culture. Then the masters also become slaves. Be it noted: most slaves didn’t really see anything wrong with the system. They just wanted the roles reversed.
We should define and examine the various kinds of slavery. There is total slavery, with the slave owned by the master and totally at the mercy of the master. These can be bought and sold and families split up.
There is slavery where the slave is bound to the land, not directly owned. This is usually called serfdom or peonage. The serfs cannot be sold or families split because they belong to the land, not the master.
There was also indentured servitude where the slavery was for a contractually limited time in return for some consideration. This was mainly limited to the settlement of the American colonies in modern times. Frequently indentured servants were treated worse than owned slaves. Most people will take better care of their own property than they will rental property.
There is also the slavery where one individual has some hold over another. This is more a modern phenomenon and does not usually have legal status where practiced. Think of prostitutes held to a pimp by a dependence on the drugs that the pimp supplies.
The things that distinguish slavery are:
· No freedom of movement
· No freedom of occupation
· Receive no recompense for labor other than necessities
· Bound to do the will of the master with no alternative
For right now we will concentrate on legal and condoned slavery. One of the things that people seem to overlook in discussions of slavery is the economic side of it. Humans don’t generally do anything that is not economically advantageous. The myths about slave ships showing up at coastal villages in Africa and just running in and capturing a whole bunch of people are pretty much fantasy. It is dangerous to run into a village. Some cranky guy just might shove a spear through you. Death is generally considered economically undesirable. It did happen, but not all that often.
There were thriving slave markets in Africa when the Europeans showed up. It was much better to purchase existing slaves and load them and ship them back. The markets were run by Africans, for Africans, selling Africans. When the European traders started buying it was the beginning of a two hundred year economic boom for the suppliers. Of course they had to raid further and further afield to gather fresh merchandise. It is of interest to note that a good bit of the African slave trade is tied up with the spread of Islam and a good many of the slave traders were Moslem. The early African Christians did not practice slavery.
The Moslems practiced slavery up to the present. Slavery is still practiced in the Sudan. Note that Louis Farrakhan has visited the Sudan often. He has never seen fit to criticize the slavery in the Sudan or the forced servitude in modern Saudi Arabia. I guess it is only wrong if the master is white. One of my ancestors was Captain James Riley. He was shipwrecked off the west coast of Africa and after a harrowing ordeal in the Sahara, was captured and enslaved by Moslems. The story of his torture and eventual bid for freedom are chronicled in his memoirs. His book had considerable influence in the mid 1800s. You can look him up on the internet.
There is not a human on the planet who does not descend from slaves and slave owners. The talk of reparations is just foolish distraction. If your grandfather murdered my grandfather do you owe me a life? Money? Foolishness. More crap from the professional “victims” of the world.
Back to philosophy and history. The slavery that comes to most modern minds is that African period of the 1600s to the 1800s. Using Africans had several advantages:
The first and obvious was that they were visually different from the European masters and thus easy to spot. Less opportunity for a runaway to make freedom. Better economics.
The second was that in the new lands of the Americas and the Caribbean area, the Africans were more heat tolerant and stronger than the indigenous Indian tribes. Many of the Indian tribes practiced slavery, but not on so wide a scale as the Africans. The Africans were culturally used to the institution of slavery and fared better mentally. The Indians tended to die when overworked, the Africans survived. Better economics.
The third was that the existence of the large African slave markets. Since slaves could be bought rather cheaply at the markets, it then boiled down to simple transportation and housing to get them to the New World markets. The ships could be built so that a maximum number could be shipped with minimum loss. Read dead or permanently damaged people from horrible conditions. Chained in the holds and unable to move about. Stench, heat, boredom and terror constant companions. Hell. But a Hell designed to be just barely survivable for 90% or so. Your profits went down if too much stock died. Therefore the shippers provided the minimum expenditure for the maximum return. Good economics.
The price of slaves went from a low of around $40.00 in colonial times up to $1,000.00 in the 1850s. The average return on a slave after all costs was around 5%. This factored in shelter, clothing, sickness, death, runaway loss, and any other losses likely to be incurred. It was generally considered cheaper to buy slaves than to breed them. The slave was not considered fully functional and profitable until around age 14.
This may be compared to a general cost for sex slaves in Thailand of around $1,000.00 initial investment. The general return is around $35,000 until death from abuse, HIV, or drug overdose. There is no economic incentive for the pimps to cease this lucrative trade. There is no particular incentive to take good care of their stock. People come from all over the world to partake of the sex market. It is a significant part of the tourist trade. The world community has not seen fit to punish the country for condoning this trade. It also occurs in surrounding countries, none of which are being punished with UN sanctions. This kind of trade does occur in all modern countries. However, in the west it is not openly or legally condoned and carries some risk of prosecution.
The fact that slavery is morally repugnant does not enter into the thinking of the practitioners. One of the abilities universal to humans is to either demonize or de-humanize others, particularly if there is some group difference. Most people are not deliberately cruel, but can be quite malicious when thinking about others as some sub-human group rather than as human individuals.
Of interest is the constant historical emphasis on the degradation of the enslaved. A small point here – an individual cannot be robbed of his essential humanity and dignity if determined to keep it. Even in horrible circumstances. From a Christian perspective, the corrosive effects of slavery on the soul are far more dangerous to the master than to the slave. This is not to say that many of the preachers of the time did not blind themselves to the incompatibility of slavery and Christianity. Indeed, many of the preachers of the day condoned the practice. Unfortunately, the economic arguments far outweigh the moral for the majority of humans.
Man is not a rational animal. He is a rationalizing animal.