Monday, September 9, 2013

A quick thought on slavery.

If I ask you what your problem is with slavery, and you immediately cite the cruelty of a slaveowner, the pain of being whipped and the exhausting labor, what you're telling me is that you don't really have a problem with slavery per se. You just dislike cruel slaveowners.

5 comments:

Heuristics said...

That's a good point. What is it really that is morally incorrect about slavery?

If reduction of liberty with threat of violence would be morally incorrect then law itself would be morally incorrect.

If hierarchies of liberty would be morally incorrect then corporations would be morally incorrect.

Crude said...

I think there's something morally incorrect about slavery, and it's going to have to deal with liberty and freedom and God-given rights in general. I do think that it gets a bit hard to pin down what slavery precisely is, and the line gets a little grey when we really start to examine what it is.

But what I notice is that when people I talk to explain what's so horrible about slavery, the most common response centers around real cruel treatment. Even among people who believe in God-given rights, that seems to be the straight up immediate response - but then they're taking aim at a different problem. Even if it's illegal to, say... beat a slave, you don't do away with slavery by prohibiting beatings.

Jayman said...

If I ask you what your problem is with slavery, and you immediately cite the cruelty of a slaveowner, the pain of being whipped and the exhausting labor, what you're telling me is that you don't really have a problem with slavery per se. You just dislike cruel slaveowners.

But I think the fact that slavery is conducive to various forms of abuse is a reason why it ought to be illegal. Perhaps slavery could be morally permissible in theory but in practice it is too likely to lead to immorality to be legal. This is not to say slavery is unique in being conducive to abuse. This just strikes me as a reasonable line to take and can be used in addition to other reasons to forbid slavery.

I do think that it gets a bit hard to pin down what slavery precisely is, and the line gets a little grey when we really start to examine what it is.

I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who thinks it's hard to precisely define slavery. Imprisonment strikes me as a form of slavery. And now there are cases where an embryo can be bought and sold.

Crude said...

But I think the fact that slavery is conducive to various forms of abuse is a reason why it ought to be illegal. Perhaps slavery could be morally permissible in theory but in practice it is too likely to lead to immorality to be legal.

I think the moral acceptability of slavery even in theory is something radically few people (popularly speaking) argue for. I get what you're saying here - I think it's a natural law related view - but I think there's a gulf between 'Slavery is bad, look at how these slavemasters acted' and 'slavery is bad because it enables potentially unjust relationships, rather than it being unjust in and of itself'.

I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who thinks it's hard to precisely define slavery. Imprisonment strikes me as a form of slavery. And now there are cases where an embryo can be bought and sold.

If a person lives in an area where they have to work job X in order to survive, and they are materially unable to move and employer/manager Y knows all of this, I think we're getting into border cases that may qualify.

Here's a real fun one. If a person is receiving government benefits, and the government benefits are only granted on stipulation that they do or do not do acts A-Z, are they willfully enslaved? I think that very concept - 'willful enslavement' - may well be the key to drawing some better lines on the subject of slavery. Is such a thing possible? If it is, how can we identify it?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Your OP is correct, and probably pinpoints why I, aside from its aesthetic excesses, I didn't like Django Unchained. What if Django had been favorably treated and his master had supported him and his entire family together over generations? Where would Tarantino's moral outrage be? Instead, he had to concoct a grossly exaggerated composite of bad masters, really more to sate his and his fans' lust for gore than to make a calmly profound statement about slavery. Same thing with Inglourious Basterds. It's a sign of the moral myopia of our times that everything is calibrated based on its empirically detectable pain factor, rather than on the intrinsic moral reasoning involved. This is why I dislike arguments against abortion based on pain, and the, increasingly common, I think, extension from such utilitarianism to animal rights and veganism. Once you implicitly grant that "pain" is the basis of moral injustice, then contraception and abortifacients become morally unobjectionable (not to mention a host of other sins, such as homosexual acts and voyeurism). I know one Catholic vegan in particular who goes from the Star-Trek ethics as I call it (do no harm) to the near-absolute defense of animals, but this is a dead end. I asked him once what's wrong with technology that delivers animals from pain (e.g. lifelong narcosis or genetic modifications for headless chickens, etc.), and he said killing animals for food is wrong even apart from pain, since animals are pillars of the wisdom of all creation (i.e. they embody cultures of non-human knowledge willed by God). The problem, of course, is that this puts fetuses on an even lower moral footing than animals, since no one claims fetuses are morally inviolable because of what they contribute to the sphere of experience, but simply because they equally possess the intrinsic right to life and liberty.