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#1264: comparative brutality : King replies to jewel

From: Stewart King <stumo@teleport.com>

> I don't think it is appropriate to rate slavery
as more or less brutal,
> because in essence, slavery takes away the one
property theat makes a man,
> freedom. Whether it is physically brutal or
not, it dehumanizes the

So a Turkish slave vizir, with his own harem and
luxurious palaces all across the empire, is still
a dehumanized cipher? 

How about a resident of a slave village in the
Fouta Djallon mountains in Guinea, who is most
likely better off, in material terms anyway, than
his "master," whose land is stony and unsuitable
for agriculture -- agriculture being the business
of slaves, while herding is the pursuit of
gentlemen, even if the herds have starved in the

Is an Afro-Mexican supervisor of Indian workers
in an _obraje_ as much dehumanized as a cotton
field hand in the American south in 1860?

Obviously not.  Comparative slavery is a very
appropriate endeavour.  There is a valid argument
about what is more important in making a slave
regime harsher.  The traditional view holds that
Iberians were less harsh slave masters than
Northern Europeans, and Catholics less harsh than
Protestants, for cultural and historical reasons.
 A good book to read for this side of the
argument is Tannenbaum, _Slave and Citizen_.  An
alternative view holds that the level of
development of the plantation economy is more
important in predicting the level of opression of
the slaves.  A good book laying out this point of
view is Knight, _Slave Society in Cuba_.  

The larger point, though, is that all forms of
exploitation of workers result in some
dehumanization of the worker, since they extract
some of the value of the labor.  Even your
wonderful, modern "free labor" under capitalism
is not immune from this.  In some ways, slavery
is less exploitative than free labor -- free
laborers can often be fired when they are no
longer productive, but a slave owner has to keep
on feeding his slaves even if they're too old or
sick to work.  It is important to make the
distinction between  systems of exploitation
because this helps us understand the functioning
of the society as a whole.  A facile dismissal of
slavery as unworthy of study because of its
inherent evil does not serve any purpose.


Stewart King