This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves… – Abraham Lincoln
Few words (other than merely functional ones such as articles, prepositions, conjunctions and the like) are semantically neutral; most have a connotation which functions in addition to or completely supersedes their denotation. Expressed in plainer language, most words have a “feel” or emotional weight in addition to their plain dictionary meaning, and ofttimes this weight is more important than the actual definition. Because of this, one of the most effective tools of propaganda is one we might call “reassociation”; it is accomplished by linking or even equating a concept whose descriptors have a low semantic weight with one of very great semantic weight. We’ve talked about one common example of this before; because the terms “habituation” and “obsession” lack the powerful onus of “addiction”, those who wish to cast habits (whether semi-physical or wholly psychological) in a negative light label them “addictions”. Similarly, “trafficking” fetishists equate many things they oppose with slavery; this is especially odious when the propagandists are official ones, since both real slavery and the lesser practices so glibly equated with it can only exist on a large scale with the cooperation of government.
Chattel slavery is an institution in which one human being can legally own another; the slave is classified in the eyes of the state and the society as property, and his only rights are those the state deigns to grant him. Contrary to popular depictions, slaves are not usually chained; they would be useless for most labor if they were. Newly-captured slaves who have not yet been transported to the country in which they will be enslaved, or slaves who are being disciplined or held for some purpose from which they might flee (such as sacrifice) are generally the only ones restrained with actual, physical chains. The bonds of a chattel-slave are invisible, yet far more binding; they are the chains of law and custom, which hold the slave in a condition of servitude even should he physically escape his master. Would-be social engineers who go about defining every form of labor they dislike as “slavery” insult the experiences of every chattel slave in history and completely miss the worst part of slavery: its inescapability. In a society which allows chattel slavery (virtually the entire world prior to the 18th century, and much of it until the second half of the 19th), the slave is viewed by both law and custom as property; even should he escape every law-abiding, “right-thinking” citizen will be against him, and even if he avoids recapture he faces life as a perpetual outlaw until and unless he can somehow reach a land which will not enforce the laws of the one in which he was enslaved.
One of the conditions frequently mislabeled as “slavery” is captivity, the state in which some individual or group holds a person by confinement, force or threat; though it may be extremely brutal and/or frightening, captivity differs from slavery chiefly in that it’s illegal, and should the captive escape he will not usually be returned to his captors…though he may, of course, be persecuted, imprisoned or deported should he be a member of some group officially classed as undesirable by the government. In other words, captivity can only approximate slavery when a government cooperates with the captors by defining a group of “safe” victims (such as prostitutes or “illegal aliens”) which it will hound should they escape. A government which defines such a group enables criminals to hold members of that group captive, both by providing them with a credible threat to discourage flight and by ensuring that their captives will not be considered credible witnesses should they flee despite threats.
When the captivity is economic rather than physical, it is referred to as “debt bondage”; like physical captivity, it can only really be enforced by laws which allow the debt holder to steal the property of the victim so bound or even to demand that the debtor be imprisoned. Wage slavery is a related condition which is enabled by protectionist laws that make it difficult or impossible to start new small businesses (thereby ensuring that most people have to work for the established big ones), and by compulsory union laws which require workers to forfeit a percentage of their wages to a politically-connected NGO which assumes the right to speak for them. And then there’s serfdom, in which members of a government-defined group “owe” that government a certain percentage of their labor (in other words, an income tax) and can only live or travel in places the government allows them to live or travel.
In every kind of bondage, it is government which creates the legal climate which allows oppression to flourish; remove the laws which chain people to their captors and there is nothing other than plain brute force – which is extremely limited in its usefulness – to keep the serfs, slaves, captives, debtors or bondsmen from simply walking away. And that’s why things like this make me so furious:
The house where President Abraham Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation some 150 years ago is confronting the reality that more people are held in modern-day slavery than at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade…The…2011 Trafficking in Persons report…[claims that] as many as 27 million men, women and children are living in such bondage. In an exhibit titled ‘Can You Walk Away?” …President Lincoln’s Cottage…tells the stories of women working as domestic servants without pay, of women forced to work as prostitutes and of men held in servitude through debt contracts and other coercion. It will remain on view in a small gallery at the site through August 2013. Curators partnered with the nonprofit Polaris Project…to create the exhibit…
“Plenty of Americans see slavery as an issue that was resolved during the Civil War or by the 13th Amendment…not as a growing humanitarian crisis in our own country”…said [museum director Erin Carlson Mast]. “But fundamentally, the same issue is at stake: People’s right to freedom”…Since 2007, the Washington-based Polaris Project has received about 45,000 calls to its tip line, including about 11,000 from victims or others calling to report suspected forced servitude or sex trafficking, said executive director Bradley Myles. More than 2,000 cases have been referred to law enforcement. “I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Myles said, noting that not all slaves are held by physical force. “What has grown more is other, broader forms of coercion that are more psychological, are more subtle, are more economic”…
Aside from the incredible insult to the long-dead victims of the Atlantic slave trade and the pimping of Lincoln’s reputation to promote an oppressive agenda, there’s a deeper hypocrisy on display here. Myles is wrong; few if any modern “slaves” are held by physical force. They are held by the laws and policies of the United States and other governments, executed by the very “law enforcement” organizations Polaris so happily supports.
One Year Ago Yesterday
“How Old is Oldest?” discusses the prehistoric origin of prostitution and describes my first correspondence with evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa.