Archive for November, 2013

On the Evolution of Slavery

November 30, 2013

On the Evolution of Slavery
I’ve been musing about this. I tried google but no one appears to have considered how the institution actually evolved.
I have a few ideas, sparked not so much by slavery as by working out the plot for my trilogy, Darwin’s World.
I came up with a few things, the first being this:
Good ideas, taken too far, aren’t.
The corollary to this is obvious: All bad ideas began as good ideas.
So how did slavery evolve and how did it morph from a good thing to an evil thing?
Consider warfare. In the stone age/bronze age, warfare became an organized thing. Armies were small, ad hoc collections, but they had a ‘general’ and changed from an individual versus individual combat to a group versus group endeavor. The latter were fought for economic rather than personal reasons, although individual combat may have been fought for economic reasons too. But rarely are ‘wars’ fought for such things as possession of a woman, Troy being possibly an exception.
So wars are fought over possession of lands, trading routes, mines, whatever; economics. Later they were fought because of religion, but both types had things in common. And religion was associated with slavery in almost all cases.  Slaves taken by an Islamic kingdom might escape slavery by becoming Muslim, and later Christian priests enslaved the Native Americans and used their labor to enrich the Church.
When individual combats became group combat, what do you do with those you’ve defeated? Especially with primitive weapons, there are likely to be more survivors than corpses.
If you kill them all, they’ll soon realize this and fight to the end rather than surrender. The victorious side takes more casualties.
But if you capture your enemies, keep them as slaves, you’ve turned a liability into an asset.
What to do with them after that?
Rome, Greece, and the Native-American Apaches incorporated their captives into their own society. Not always, of course; late in the respective periods when this process was the norm, economics had begun to be a greater factor. In primitive times, a society/tribe could adopt the captives and thereby replace losses. Later, victorious generals used captives, sold as slaves, to enrich themselves.
Slavery morphed from a solution to what should be done with captives to something that supported a leisure class. Africans captured other Africans and sold them as slaves. Those are the slaves we’ve come to understand, economic property. But there are other forms of slavery.
Some of those forms are permitted, even celebrated, today. Still, at bottom, they’re slavery, suitably modified for public approval.
An early form of slavery was the indentured servant. Another form was the apprentice. In each of these, an individual ‘sold’ himself or was sold by someone with the power to do so, a parent or guardian perhaps. In each case, the ‘slavery’ was for a specified length of time and was done in exchange for something of value, perhaps sea transport to North America or transferring of skills from a master artisan to the apprentice.
So in what form is slavery still practiced and even celebrated?
Consider military service. Are servicepeople not ‘bound’ by oath? Are they not subjected to severe penalties, including execution, for ‘disobedience’? Are they not ‘loaned’ to other ‘masters’ in order that the original holder of their bond profit? Consider some of those loans; Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, drug assistance to nations of South America. Can they not be ‘enslaved’ via conscription? Is this practice different from the ancient British press gang for impressment of unwilling men to serve on board ships?
Extend this practice to the civilian world: what is Walmart other than a cheap slaver?
At least Ol Massa fed, clothed, and housed his slaves. Walmart depends on government assistance for those things. Housing subsidies, SNAP (food stamps), these are how minimum wage employees must supplement what Walmart pays. Or in the case of McDonald’s, another cheap slaver, they’re expected to work two or three of those part-time, minimum-wage jobs if they want to have an independent existence.
And what of health care? Ol Massa kept his slaves healthy, minimum wage slavers demand the government do it or that people go without health care.
Cheap slavers…
One of the good ideas I mentioned above that morphed into a bad idea is capitalism.
Remember that leisure class I mentioned above? We’ve got it, in spades. Consider the salaries paid to Walmart’s ‘associates’ and then compare that with what the company CEO ‘earns’. That salary is measured in the millions and it’s thousands of times more than an ‘associate’ earns. And as for the Walton family, they need only show up to meetings of the Board of Directors, if that. And they now own more than half of America. Listen closely and you’ll hear the ghostly rattle of chains.
Leisure class indeed…