Horrifying Aspect

by John Holbo on September 28, 2007

From Michael Medved’s latest column, “Six Inconvenient Truths About the U.S. And Slavery”:

Historians agree that hundreds of thousands, and probably millions of slaves perished over the course of 300 years during the rigors of the “Middle Passage” across the Atlantic Ocean. Estimates remain inevitably imprecise, but range as high as one third of the slave “cargo” who perished from disease or overcrowding during transport from Africa. Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of these voyages involves the fact that no slave traders wanted to see this level of deadly suffering: they benefited only from delivering (and selling) live slaves, not from tossing corpses into the ocean.

So the ‘inconvenient truth’ is that the slave traders were the real moral sufferers, in this situation. (OK, you’re so smart. What do you think he meant to say?) Let’s read on.

By definition, the crime of genocide requires the deliberate slaughter of a specific group of people; slavers invariably preferred oppressing and exploiting live Africans rather than murdering them en masse. Here, the popular, facile comparisons between slavery and the Holocaust quickly break down: the Nazis occasionally benefited from the slave labor of their victims, but the ultimate purpose of facilities like Auschwitz involved mass death, not profit or productivity.

But since the most morally ‘horrifying aspect’ of the Middle Passage was, by hypothesis, the element that is missing in the Nazi case – the element that breaks the analogy: the heartrending spectacle afforded by frustrated profit motive – I take it Medved has just proved the slave trade was worse than the Holocaust?

So we don’t need to feel guilty about slavery, after all?

Oh, never mind. (Honestly, don’t these people have a Moveon ad to complain about?)

Via Sadly, no! (whose discerning discussion of the whole column is worthy of your attention.)

UPDATE: In comments it has been pointed out that my reading is not plausible. Yes, I noticed. In all seriousness, what do you think he meant to say?

{ 3 trackbacks }

The Mahablog » More Drool
09.28.07 at 1:56 pm
“Six inconvenient truths about the U.S. and slavery” « The Van Der Galiën Gazette
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Teaching Ignatius Sancho, UPDATED « The Long Eighteenth
09.30.07 at 9:15 pm

{ 149 comments }

1

Shane 09.28.07 at 6:35 am

I can only speak for myself, but as someone who has never participated in the slave trade I confess to feeling no guilt whatsoever. Indeed, I’m struck by what a confusing world it would be if it were feasible to feel guilty for things that happened a hundred years before one was born. To say nothing of the time required to figure it out: “Wait, should I feel guilty about the raping of the Sabine women? I forget.”

Feeling guilty for bad things you actually *do* is quite enough, I think.

2

John Holbo 09.28.07 at 7:12 am

“Indeed, I’m struck by what a confusing world it would be …”

Indeed, it has always seemed to me to be a very confusing world. I think any view that makes it appear otherwise cannot be the right view.

3

emmanuelgoldstein 09.28.07 at 7:15 am

Feeling guilty for bad things you actually do is quite enough, I think.

Ooo, look, a red herring.

4

John Quiggin 09.28.07 at 7:16 am

Guessing that you’re American, shane, do you accept the corollary that you should feel no pride in the Emancipation Proclamation, not to mention the Declaration of Independence, the US role in World War II and so on?

Raymond Gaita has some very good discussion of this.

5

shub-negrorath 09.28.07 at 7:17 am

Wow. Thanks to Medved’s helpful explanation, I’m finally convinced of the unequivocal rectitude of that peculiar institution, as well as of the benevolence and wisdom of our humanitarian forefathers. I shall never again carp ungratefully about economic, legal, and political parity for my people! After all, we are The Chosen Ones, and to complain about our station in light of all that white America has deigned to give us would simply be poor manners.

6

Shane 09.28.07 at 7:25 am

Yes, I accept your corollary. The closest I come to the collective emotions of the type you describe is an occasional amazement, both positive and negative, at what mankind has proven capable of.

7

Alexei McDonald 09.28.07 at 7:31 am

Ugh. I read the whole thing – that was disgusting.

8

Bob B 09.28.07 at 7:34 am

At the time, there was a lively professional debate over the optimal mode for shipping slaves:

“Captains of slave ships were known as either ‘loose packers’ or ‘tight packers’, depending upon how many slaves they crammed into the space they had.”
http://beatl.barnard.columbia.edu/students/his3487/lembrich/seminar53.html

The mortality rate from sickness in the Middle Passage from loose packing was apt to be lower but that didn’t mean more slaves could be delivered tolerably fit after the crossing and that is what mattered for the profitability of the voyage, given the size of the ship.

The terms of insurance for the voyage also notoriously generated a “moral hazard” since losses from “drownings” during the course of the voyage were usually covered while losses from achieving only low prices from the delivery of a cargo of sick slaves were not. This was the subject of a famous paining: The Slave Ship (1840), submitted to the Royal Academy for exhibition by JMW Turner:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Slave_Ship_%28painting%29
http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/fnart/art/19th/painting/slaveship1.jpg

9

Hidari 09.28.07 at 7:36 am

If you read Adam Tooze’s Wages of Destruction. The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (London, 2006) he argues that Medved’s basic point about economics is also overstate. Tooze points out that a surprisingly large number of Jews were worked to death (rather than simply killed outright): also, don’t forget the hair collected, the jewellery, and the gold fillings taken from the teeth, and the bank accounts emptied before they died. More controversially, Tooze also claims that the genocide was (at least partly) motived by economic reasons: after Russian scorched earth tactics the Germans found themselves in possession of huge tracts of land in Russia and a population they simply could not feed. Given that, as Hitler so cogently pointed out, ‘All Jews are Communists’ (and vice versa, presumably) and that Hitler well knew that all ‘Communists’ must by definition oppose his invasion of Russia, it was simply more cost effective to get rid of ‘The Jews’ (and large numbers of Russians) rather than attempt to feed them. Hence the ‘industrial scale’ means and methodology of the genocide: it was an attempt to keep costs down via economies of scale.

10

zdenek v 09.28.07 at 7:37 am

John Holbo :”But since the most morally ‘horrifying aspect’ of the Middle Passage was, by hypothesis, the element that is missing in the Nazi case – the element that breaks the analogy: the heartrending spectacle afforded by frustrated profit motive – I take it Medved has just proved the slave trade was worse than the Holocaust?”

No because ‘the most horrifying aspect’ of the Middle passage is missing what the Nazi case is *not* missing : genocide. ( Plus of course Medved has the premise that Genocide is morally worse then exploitation.)

11

zdenek v 09.28.07 at 8:17 am

Hidari :”Tooze also claims that the genocide was (at least partly) motived by economic reasons “

This plays into Medved hands because it *weakens* the criticism which tries to show that Middle passage effort involved genocide : since Nazi case turns out now not to be so bad slavery too turns out not to be genocide but this is what Medved argues anyway.

12

belle le triste 09.28.07 at 8:19 am

medved’s premise is that the Holocaust is a handy little way to provide cover for any and all “lesser”* crimes — it’s fascinating to me that the War on Relativism has become a kind of endless exculpation industry: “why are you complaining about exploitation, the nazis/Stalin did much worse, are you some kind of moral idiot?” etc etc

13

belle le triste 09.28.07 at 8:27 am

that asterisk in full: seems to me the reason the Holocaust and the Middle Passage get considered crimes of somewhat equal magnitude (ie as bad as human behaviour can possibly get) is that there’s something genuinely repellent about the kind of dick-waving that insists one be declared the Winner

14

Kevin Donoghue 09.28.07 at 8:29 am

“OK, you’re so smart. What do you think he meant to say?”

Good of you to say so. What I think he meant to say was: this is how horrible the slave traders were even when they weren’t even trying to be horrible. As to what they were like when it comes to deliberate brutality, punishing disobedient slaves for example, just don’t go there.

Of course if I was really smart I’d read the whole thing before commenting. Or maybe not.

15

abb1 09.28.07 at 8:44 am

There’s a good point in there. Reminded me of Chomsky’s post where he writes (in relation to something else):

Evidently, a crucial case is omitted, which is far more depraved than massacring civilians intentionally. Namely, knowing that you are massacring them but not doing so intentionally because you don’t regard them as worthy of concern. That is, you don’t even care enough about them to intend to kill them. Thus when I walk down the street, if I stop to think about it I know I’ll probably kill lots of ants, but I don’t intend to kill them, because in my mind they do not even rise to the level where it matters. There are many such examples.

See, he finds it far more depraved than massacring civilians intentionally, i.e. arguably worse than genocide.

16

zdenek v 09.28.07 at 9:00 am

“seems to me the reason the Holocaust and the Middle Passage get considered crimes of somewhat equal magnitude (ie as bad as human behaviour can possibly get) is that there’s something genuinely repellent about the kind of dick-waving that insists one be declared the Winner”

The difference between accidental killing and murder is also not big ; both involve great harm , so is the desire to preserve the distinction also repellent and too macho for you ? ( talking about moral idiocy ).

17

Mike Power 09.28.07 at 9:29 am

Guessing that you’re American, shane, do you accept the corollary that you should feel no pride in the Emancipation Proclamation, not to mention the Declaration of Independence, the US role in World War II and so on?

This is an argument for shame, not guilt.

18

belle le triste 09.28.07 at 9:32 am

as i said: the purpose is exculpation — the structure of zdenek’s comparison is that the Middle Passage is was merely an example of “accidental killing”, and thus needn’t detain us morally

(see also Genocide cap-G, exploitation small-E — the fact of the mass-murder, central to the Middle Passage as a crime, carefully elided in the wording)

19

lurker 09.28.07 at 9:41 am

@9,
IIRC Christian Gerlach (‘Kalkulierte Morde’) argued the Nazis set out to starve some 30 million Russians to death, schorched earth or no scorched earth. It was not something they stumbled into by accident. Reason being, Germany could not feed itself and Russia would not (and could not) sell them enough grain. Unnecessary mouths had to go, starting with the Jews but potentially including anyone who was not immediately useful to the German war economy.

20

zdenek v 09.28.07 at 9:45 am

“Evidently, a crucial case is omitted, which is far more depraved than massacring civilians intentionally. Namely, knowing that you are massacring them but not doing so intentionally because you don’t regard them as worthy of concern. That is, you don’t even care enough about them to intend to kill them”

Confusing two senses of ‘intentional’. When I intend to kill S , I deliberately or purposefully kill S ( some planning involved etc ) and here my intention has nothing to do with caring about S .
Chomsky’s sense on the other hand involves ‘caring’ or some pro attitude towards S. So he wants to say that if I do not care about S and I kill S I did not intend to kill S.

But this is a non sequitur because of the equivocation : from the fact that I do not intend to kill S in Chomsky’s sense which deviantly defines intention to kill S in terms of caring it does not follow that I do not intend to kill S in the dictionary sense of ‘intention’.

In other words Chomsky has not provided an example of killing which is worse than intentional killing of civilians ( viz genocide ).

21

bad Jim 09.28.07 at 9:45 am

Compared to what? Genocide is what we did to the Indians (Native Americans or First Peoples if you prefer), not the Africans. The first lesson the explorers learned was that the locals were no fucking use as slave labor.

Funny that they expected they might be.

22

zdenek v 09.28.07 at 10:11 am

belle le triste : “the structure of zdenek’s comparison is that the Middle Passage is was merely an example of “accidental killing”, and thus needn’t detain us morally”

No it must detain us and it does involve serious evil but knowing that it is serious evil ( and being able to justify this claim ) *presupposes* staying clear on the differences : politicise or aesthetisize , it like you seem to want to, and we will not be able to tell the difference and will not be able to put any pressure on such evil.
Do you not get it yet ? ( without truth there is no justice or injustice ).

23

Bob B 09.28.07 at 10:19 am

I’m inclined to be sceptical about attributing well-considered and coherent economic rationales to the Nazis.

The administration of the German war economy was a mess, by many retrospective assessments, until from 1942 when Albert Speer was made minister responsible for armaments. An insight as to reasons for the muddled and inefficient administration can be gleaned from this quote from a speech in 1936 of Goering, who was nominally responsible for the Four-year Economic Plans of the Third Reich.

“We must not reckon profit and loss according to the book, but only according to political needs. There must be no calculation of cost. I require that you do all that you can and to prove that part of the national fortune is in your hands. Whether new investment can be written off in every case is a matter of indifference.”
[Quoted in John Hiden: Republican and Fascist Germany (Longman, 1996), p.128]

A more challenging comparison with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is not with the holocaust and slave labour in the Third Reich but with Stalin’s policy, announced in December 1929, for resolving the agrarian problems of the Soviet Union by “the elimination of the kulaks as a class”:
http://www.marx2mao.com/Stalin/QAP29.html

Stalin’s considered conclusion from his analysis of Soviet agrarian problems was that the elimination of the kulaks would facilitate the collectivization of Soviet agriculture, a necessary condition for exacting an increasing supply of food from the agricultural sector in order to feed a growing workforce employed in Soviet industry. One early outcome of that policy was the famine in Ukraine and Byelorussia during 1932/3:
http://www.infoukes.com/history/famine/gregorovich/

Estimates of the fatalities resulting from that famine range from 4 millions upwards to about 10.

For comparative estimates of the respective numbers of citizens killed by the leading totalitarian states in the 20th century, excluding war dead, try this website:
http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/20TH.HTM

24

belle le triste 09.28.07 at 10:38 am

oh, i get it, zdenek — it’s about reducing discussions to pre-decided abstract categories in order to void their historical content, and thus blank out any moral issues this content might raise (in particular the never-stated politics of the pre-decided abstract categories)

you’re extremely good at it — in an annoyed way i have always admired your ability to deploy english-as-a-second-language to your advantage

anyway i’m sure there are people better able than me to take you on, i have a ton of work to do this morning — so (as usual) victory to you by obfuscatory filibuster

25

magistra 09.28.07 at 10:45 am

I think what Medved’s trying to say (very clumsily) is that you can get many of the practical effects of genocide (large numbers of people of one ethnic group dying) without the actual intention of genocide. A parallel here would be something like the role of the British in the Irish famines. (On a smaller scale it’s the difference between manslaughter and murder – the intention may be different, but the outcome’s the same for the victim). So I think he is right in the strict sense that the slave trade is not the moral equivalent to genocide and it’s misleading to say it is. On the other hand, that doesn’t stop the Atlantic slave trade still being very, very morally bad.

As a Brit, what really narks me about Medved’s article (especially in the anniversary of 1807) is his claim that the ‘United States merits special credit for its [slavery] rapid abolition’. So now the US wants to grab not only the whole credit for Word War 2 but the abolition of slavery as well!? (It’s also noticeable that when Medved wants to say that there was only slavery in the US for a short while he counts from 1789; when he wants to show US opposition to slavery he starts from 1646). And the ‘Nowhere did idealists pay a higher price for liberation than they did in the United States of America’ – that’s because nowhere else did supporters of slavery fight so hard to keep the practice.

26

Karl Steel 09.28.07 at 11:14 am

Do you not get it yet ? ( without truth there is no justice or injustice ).

Cf ‘Force of Law: The “Mystical Foundation of Authority”‘

27

dsquared 09.28.07 at 11:40 am

When I intend to kill S , I deliberately or purposefully kill S ( some planning involved etc ) and here my intention has nothing to do with caring about S

… actually I don’t know why I’m singling out this particular sentence, the entire argument in #20 appears to be gibberish. But the answer is it does. The grammar of “intention” does propose reasons. You can’t intentionally kill S without wanting S to be dead, and you can’t want S to be dead without caring about S.

28

Hidari 09.28.07 at 11:48 am

I’d like to apologise to the Gods of Time, but I have just spent ten seconds glimpsing through Medved’s crappy article. The point I was trying to make above goes double when I have actually read it. The key point is that Medved seems to think that if you commit genocide you can’t have an economic motive. But as I pointed out, (and lurker, comment 19, backs up), you CAN want to commit genocide for economic reasons. It’s particularly unfortunate that Medved chose Auschwitz as his example: Auschwitz was, of course, primarily a forced labour camp, NOT a death camp. And of course many Jews were used as slaves in an attempt to both get economic benefits from them (i.e. from their labour) AND to kill them: these are not opposites! (As Medved claims).

Finally: ‘THERE IS NO REASON TO BELIEVE THAT TODAY’S AFRICAN-AMERICANS WOULD BE BETTER OFF IF THEIR ANCESTORS HAD REMAINED BEHIND IN AFRICA.’ (screams Medved).

Maybe, but there is good reason to think that todays AFRICANS would be better off if today’s African-Americans had stayed in Africa (and Europeans and Americans hadn’t meddled about in Africa more generally speaking).

29

Bernard Yomtov 09.28.07 at 11:50 am

In what sense were the slaves who died in passage killed “accidentally?” Wasn’t it a virtual certainty, (see bob b.’s comment #8) that some percentage of the slaves would die en route?

That the slaves died randomly does not mean they died accidentally. A commander who sends soldiers into combat knows that some will die, despite his preference that all survive. Would you say that those who die do so “accidentally?” (And no, I am not equating all military commanders with slave traders)

30

Slocum 09.28.07 at 12:09 pm

So the ‘inconvenient truth’ is that the slave traders were the real moral sufferers, in this situation. (OK, you’re so smart. What do you think he meant to say?)

My reading is that he is saying that the level of suffering and death was all the more tragic because unnecessary — because the captains had it in their own interest to deliver as many healthy slaves as possible.

Do you really think he was saying (or even ‘secretly, unconsciously believes’) that the real tragedy was the loss of potential income? That Medved is such a depraved moral monster that he believes the lives of the dead Africans were less important than the profits of the slave-traders?

Is suggesting that Medved is sub-human in his moral sentiments really the best way to engage his arguments?

31

Brett Bellmore 09.28.07 at 12:09 pm

It’s kind of a catch 22, Hidari; African-Americans can’t complain, because they’re better off for their ancestors having been dragged here, while Africans can’t complain, because THEIR ancestors were actually complicit in the slave trade, and slavery continued in Africa even after the slave trade ended.

In fact, it’s STILL going on in some parts of Africa. If slavery is such an evil, maybe we ought to stop obsessing about slavery a century and a half ago here, and start doing something about slavery NOW, there?

32

nu 09.28.07 at 12:27 pm

If intentionnal is so relevant, does that means that all body count comparisions between nazi horror and stalinism (or mao policies or the red khmer) are irrelevant ?

i mean Mao just wanted to collectivize the land, Stalin just wanted ukrainian farmers to be more productive..

33

jet 09.28.07 at 12:38 pm

Sundan’s war in the South and the West for genocidal wars to further economic interests. Quite obviously genocide can be motivated by economics.

As for feeling guilty for what another person did a hundred years before my grandfather was born, why stop there. Perhaps I should feel guilty for what my family-clan-whatever did a thousand years ago. Maybe the Roman who killed Jesus went to Ireland afterwards and I’m somehow related. Holy crap, I killed Jesus.

34

zdenek v 09.28.07 at 12:43 pm

“The grammar of “intention” does propose reasons. You can’t intentionally kill S without wanting S to be dead, and you can’t want S to be dead without caring about S.”

You are equivocating with the term ‘care’. I do not need to care about you in a sense of displaying pro-attitude ( or being concerned with promoting your well-being ) if I intend to kill you obviously.

If you were right I could not coherently say the following : ” I do not care whether he lives or dies , I want him dead ” . But it can be uttered without a contradiction and hence in this sense, caring is not a necessary condition of having an intention .

In so far as Chomsky is claiming that caring in this full blown sense is a necessary condition of intending then he is also wrong.

35

jholbo 09.28.07 at 12:58 pm

Slocum: “Do you really think he was saying (or even ‘secretly, unconsciously believes’) that the real tragedy was the loss of potential income? That Medved is such a depraved moral monster that he believes the lives of the dead Africans were less important than the profits of the slave-traders?

Is suggesting that Medved is sub-human in his moral sentiments really the best way to engage his arguments?”

The funny feature of Medved’s argument is that, although obviously this reading doesn’t make any sense, there isn’t any other reading that makes better sense, and furthermore makes sense together with what follows. (I agree, he can’t actually be saying that the problem is that the slavers lost money.

I honestly have no idea what he means by “most horrifying element … involves the fact …”

Seriously, what do you think he means to say?

36

Kevin Donoghue 09.28.07 at 1:24 pm

“Is suggesting that Medved is sub-human in his moral sentiments really the best way to engage his arguments?”

Perhaps John gave at the office.

Now that I’ve read the whole thing (or as much as I could stomach) I think Magistra has the best take on what Medved is trying to say. Slave traders killed huge numbers of people, but that “was no part of their intention” – or rather it was merely incidental to their goal of maximising profits. The enormity of the human cost is all the more striking, says Medved, when we consider that there was an incentive to minimise costs. (Of course there is a difference between maximising profits and minimising costs but I don’t see any sign that Medved is trying to think like an economist here.) If the European slave traders had not been thrifty God-fearing men, they would have been far more profiligate with their unfortunate cargo; contrast their record with that of the feckless Arab slave traders, who squandered lives with scant regard for the adverse impact on profits.

But even when the argument is thus restated it doesn’t stand up. The “murder or manslaughter” analogy won’t do. A kidnapper whose gagged victim suffocates is a murderer, surely?

37

dsquared 09.28.07 at 1:32 pm

You are equivocating with the term ‘care’.

no I’m not.

If you were right I could not coherently say the following : ” I do not care whether he lives or dies , I want him dead ” . But it can be uttered without a contradiction

No it can’t’ the clause after the comma contradicts the one before.

38

tps12 09.28.07 at 1:32 pm

If you were right I could not coherently say the following : ” I do not care whether he lives or dies , I want him dead ” .

Uh, right, that’s incoherent. If you want someone dead, then you do care whether he lives or dies.

39

Kevin Donoghue 09.28.07 at 1:32 pm

Jet: “Maybe the Roman who killed Jesus went to Ireland afterwards and I’m somehow related. Holy crap, I killed Jesus.”

Had you been educated by an Irish religious order you would already be aware of your guilt in this matter, with or without Roman DNA.

40

Hiram Hover 09.28.07 at 1:51 pm

Silly rabbits! Medved’s column isn’t really about slavery–it’s a two-pronged attack on Al Gore.

1. Al Gore had an inconvenient truth. I have 6!!!!

2. “inconvenient truth” = “falsehood”

And in regard to #2, the more you prove him wrong, the more you play into his hand.

He’s a pretty cagey devil, really.

41

perianwyr 09.28.07 at 1:53 pm

Isn’t this guy some kind of movie critic?

42

John Holbo 09.28.07 at 2:04 pm

Ok, I’ve decided I think the answer is this: part of Medved wants to think of killing people merely from a commercial motive as, to some degree, exculpatory. Nothing personal. Part of him thinks that doing that is unusually horrible. He sort of picks and chooses, to suit momentary tactical advantage – the steady strategic goal being to suggest that leftists are morally fatuous.

43

Patrick 09.28.07 at 2:10 pm

I love this point.

SLAVERY EXISTED ONLY BRIEFLY, AND IN LIMITED LOCALES, IN THE HISTORY OF THE REPUBLIC – INVOLVING ONLY A TINY PERCENTAGE OF THE ANCESTORS OF TODAY’S AMERICANS.

He then goes on to discuss the “percentage of the ancestors of today’s Americans” by ONLY CONSIDERING WHITE PEOPLE. Slavery only involved a tiny percentage of the ancestor’s of today’s Americans be cause… black people don’t count?

44

Robert the Red 09.28.07 at 2:18 pm

About feeling guilty over actions of the past: what about if we (white Americans) are still benefiting from the fruits of slavery? For example, slave cleared forests and drained swamps to make farmland. The current owner of this land directly profits from slavery. And so forth – more examples could be adduced, some of which benefit more than individuals.

Reparations are off the table. Is even some shame or guilt to be forbidden as well?

45

Drake 09.28.07 at 3:01 pm

How sweet to be an idiot.

46

Vance Maverick 09.28.07 at 3:03 pm

John, I basically agree with your #42, but I think the intention here may be different. Medved wants to minimize the collective responsibility of America and Americans for the evil that was slavery. To that end, he’s attempting to slice off a part of the horror (the atrocities of the Middle Passage), and blame it on the individual greed of the masters of the slave ships. Not to exculpate the slave traders, but to make “ordinary” Americans (like me and my slaveholding ancestors) responsible only for holding the slaves, not for shipping them and killing more people along the way. Unfortunately, moral responsibility doesn’t work by simple arithmetic.

47

anmik 09.28.07 at 3:08 pm

Does anybody else think the really “horrifying aspect” of this is taking anything someone like Michael Medved has to say about slavery seriously enough to engage with his ostensible ideas? Great minds have turned the problem of slavery in the Americas up down and sideways. Michael Medved is not one of them. A great mind, that is. He is, I suppose, a bit of a problem. But more for his likely mortified parents than the rest of us.

48

Fats Durston 09.28.07 at 3:11 pm

Isn’t this guy some kind of movie critic?

The very lousy kind.

49

croatoan 09.28.07 at 3:12 pm

The first lesson the explorers learned was that the locals were no fucking use as slave labor.

Native Americans enslaved each other and sold each other to the Europeans. “It is not known how many Indians were enslaved by the Europeans, but they certainly numbered in the tens of thousands…Carolina actually exported as many or even more Indian slaves than it imported enslaved Africans prior to 1720.” In 1730, “nearly 25 percent of the slaves in the Carolinas were Cherokee, Creek, or other Native Americans.” Enslavement of Native Americans declined after the 1730s with the increased arrivals of African slaves. Some people thought African slaves were better suited to the work than Native Americans were, and it was easier for Native Americans to escape and blend with the local population (although there were groups of mixed-race people made up of runaway slaves and natives).

50

Ralph Luker 09.28.07 at 3:39 pm

Tim Burke responds to Medved at Cliopatria.

51

Bill Kaminsky 09.28.07 at 3:50 pm

Reading Mr. Medved’s article, I think it’s quite clear that the basic point of his “Inconvenient Truth #3″ is this: while slavery is unquestionably immoral, it is not genocide.

As he writes:

Rather than eliminating the slave population, profit-oriented masters wanted to produce as many new, young slaves as they could. This hardly represents a compassionate or decent way to treat your fellow human beings, but it does amount to the very opposite of genocide.

Mr. Medved seems to take it as axiomatic that systematic deprivation of an entire group’s liberty for the purposes of enriching another group is in an entirely different category of sin than systematic extermination of an entire group’s very life. To put it crudely (which Mr. Medved doesn’t), it’s the difference between treating human beings as farm animals and treating human beings as vermin.

Of course, it’s a whole other question as to whether one thinks drawing this distinction helps, hurts, or is superfluous to his piece’s main aim. Namely, the United States has no besetting sins in its history so great relative to other countries that it cannot serve as a moral leader now.

52

ken melvin 09.28.07 at 3:58 pm

53

Tom3 09.28.07 at 4:00 pm

[zap - dd]

54

Charles montgomery 09.28.07 at 4:02 pm

He’s also wrong in saying that slave traders didn’t get paid if the slaves died. They had insurance and often profited from throwing the weak overboard.

55

Tom3 09.28.07 at 4:03 pm

[one of a suite of deleted comments from "tom3". Tom, if you want your comments to escape deletion, then:

1. Medved's religion is not on topic for this thread
2. Nor is Israel, Palestine or the play "My Name Is Rachel Corrie"
3. Libellous comments are not permitted on Crooked Timber
4. A genuine email address is required.

Have a nice day. We realise you have a choice of blogs to post ungrammatical crap on. Thank you for flying Crooked Timber. love, dd]

56

rea 09.28.07 at 4:07 pm

You can’t intentionally kill S without wanting S to be dead, and you can’t want S to be dead without caring about S

The law of murder recognizes that “a willful and wanton disregard of the likelihood that the natural and probable consequences of one’s acts is death or great bodily harm” (quoting jury instruction from memory) as the equivalent of an intent to kill.

57

Tom3 09.28.07 at 4:13 pm

[apparently I can't delete comments from this computer, only edit them. ah well, so be it]

58

George Smiley 09.28.07 at 4:23 pm

Medved, take your moral equivocation and suck on this:

http://www.withoutsanctuary.org/

…and then we can talk about Andrew Jackson and the Native American population.

59

George Smiley 09.28.07 at 4:30 pm

By the way, folks, I’m a bit disappointed to see tom3’s posts getting through the moderation. Their tone is pure troll-bait spew.

[you're in breach of the "genuine email" requirement yourself so shut up -dd]

60

abb1 09.28.07 at 4:35 pm

Medved wants to minimize the collective responsibility of America and Americans for the evil that was slavery.

Nah. If it was Patrick J Buchanan writing this stuff then indeed that would’ve been the goal. But this is Michael Medved writing and so belle le triste (#12) is correct: this is all about showing how African-Americans are the phony victims. There can be only one real victim.

61

dsquared 09.28.07 at 4:38 pm

The law of murder recognizes that “a willful and wanton disregard of the likelihood that the natural and probable consequences of one’s acts is death or great bodily harm” (quoting jury instruction from memory) as the equivalent of an intent to kill.

indeed, and this is specifically pointed out precisely because it isn’t part of the ordinary language meaning of “intent”.

62

Chris 09.28.07 at 4:56 pm

Why is it that every time one of us moderate white guys point out the rather obvious fact that slavery was and is *freaking evil* a bunch of other conservative white guys accuse us of some weird self-loathing guilt complex?

63

Hesiod 09.28.07 at 4:59 pm

And, similarly, Stalin probably didn’t initially INTEND that all those peasants die of starvation from forced collectvization. It was just and acceptable cost of “progress.”

64

zdenek v 09.28.07 at 5:03 pm

“No it can’t’ the clause after the comma contradicts the one before.”

Shame you really need to brush up on your reading skills( or is it comprehension ? ) : note that I make a distinction between ‘caring-1′ where this involves roughly a belief that P has to the effect that S’s welfare should be promoted plus a desire to do so.

And ‘caring-2′ which involves having means -end belief –a la Davidson–regarding how to make one’s action successful. The difference is important and boils down to the latter but not the former being self-regarding.

The claim is that caring-2 is a necessary condition of intending to act but not caring-1 ( see Grice 1971 ,Davidson 1980 and Velleman 1989 ).

To return to my example it does not involve a contradiction if we distinguish between the two senses which I glossed : when I say that I do not care whether he lives or dies I mean it in caring-1 sense ( roughly that I do not wish to promote his welfare ) whereas when I say ‘I want to kill him’ I am saying that I care only in the self regarding sense that his death suits me , that it is something I want and that by killing him I will effectively achieve my goals.

As I said before once this is unpacked it becomes clear that Chomsky’s argument ( if it is his argument ) involves a fallacy of equivocation.

65

skeptical 09.28.07 at 5:09 pm

There does seem to be a strand of our moral thinking that relates how bad a wrong is to how central harming is to the intention.

That is: ceteris paribus, worse to intend harming as an end than as a means; ceteris paribus, worse to intend harming as a means than to merely foresee it without intending it.

So in terms of comparing the deaths generated by slave-trading and the deaths generated by Nazi genocide, it does seem relevant that the whole point of the Nazis’ plan was the death of the Jews, whereas the whole point of slavetrading was not the death of the slaves. This is not to deny, of course, that the harms that one does in the course of perpetrating evil are outside of one’s responsibility, though.

66

shub-negrorath 09.28.07 at 5:17 pm

Several people have asserted in this thread that they have no reason to “feel guilty” about acts committed by others. The pursuit of racial parity in the present day neither requires nor benefits from any internal sense of guilt regarding those acts on the part of the perpetrators’ descendants (or fellow ingroup-members, for you recent immigrants). All that’s necessary is to understand that individuals and events now long past living memory constructed an unjust system on the basis of race, one which is now in dire need of rectification. And if rectifying historical crimes requires the transfer of certain material resources from the majority to the minority (‘reparations’ as traditionally understood is only one example), well, ask yourself: are you for reconciliation or not?

67

Memekiller 09.28.07 at 5:28 pm

This is just a modern version of the, “Most slaves were happy, and treated well” meme that absolves slave owners and traders of accountability for the situation. A distant cousin of the, “slavery would have ended, if those war thirsty Northerners had just waited for the Cotton Gin to make it unprofitable.”

68

abb1 09.28.07 at 5:38 pm

And if rectifying historical crimes requires the transfer of certain material resources from the majority to the minority (‘reparations’ as traditionally understood is only one example), well, ask yourself: are you for reconciliation or not?

Rectifying historical crimes by reparations doesn’t make sense. The perpetrators and victims are all dead, it’s too late. What you can actually do by transferring material resources is rectifying some of the currently existing injustices.

69

frankly 09.28.07 at 5:46 pm

It seems to me that what he is arguing is that the slave trade was not genocidal because the goal wasn’t to kill the whole population. That completely ignores the fact that the effect was to kill off large portions of the population. Is it only genocide because you planned to kill them? This is a stupid argument. The results were genocidal no matter what your intent. Further the the results were knowable at the beginning. The fact that you hoped to make a killing (pun intended) while making many killings makes it worse not better.

As far as guilt. I have mixed emotions one of which is guilt. That is salved lightly because I have the discharge papers for a great-great from the Union Army. But is aggravated by my countries continued refusal to admit and make amends for our collective past. Maybe anger is a better word than guilt.

70

Timothy Burke 09.28.07 at 5:48 pm

Re: 53 above.

One thing I didn’t go into at Cliopatria, but is yet another thing that Medved either doesn’t know or dishonestly avoids saying is that there is a historical difference between the early Atlantic slave trade and the late Atlantic slave trade on the subject of slave mortality both during the Middle Passage and after arrival in the Americas.

Slave populations were very strongly skewed towards men early in the trade, and were not replacing themselves through reproduction. There was little interest among slave owners and slave traders in preserving the lives of Africans before 1700 or so because the cost of slaves was so low compared to the value of their labor. Early sugar production was pretty much heedless of the cost in lives, as was the early Atlantic trade.

It’s only when the relative value of slaves started to go up that slave traders started considering ways to hedge against mortality during the Middle Passage and slave owners started taking an interest in slave reproduction in the Americas.

So Medved is simply wrong when he says that slave owners were always concerned with such things, and thus always concerned with preserving the lives of their slaves. For a good portion of the history of the Atlantic slave trade, they were systematically indifferent to the lives lost to slavery, and only became interested in that cost when it got to be too expensive for their bottom line.

71

Drano 09.28.07 at 5:50 pm

You’re getting confused by the meaning of the word. “Care” here means only “his life/death is/is not a concern to me”. I don’t see where you get to make it do two separate duties.

72

Planeshift 09.28.07 at 5:58 pm

“That Medved is such a depraved moral monster that he believes the lives of the dead Africans were less important than the profits of the slave-traders?”

Why?, that is very similar to the argument of those like Bjorn Lomborg who think that the “costs” of global warming (dead africans, asians and the poor generally) are less than the “costs” of taking action to prevent it (reducing the consumption and profits of the wealthy).

73

John Emerson 09.28.07 at 7:59 pm

Hi, Jet! Hi, Brett! Hi, Slocum! Where’s Sebastian?

I find it really depressing to overhear tendentious arguments about ownership of the Holocaust brand, or arguments about whether or not some event was really a holocaust or not, or about whether one murderous act was worse than an other, and how much worse.

Slavers calculated the net between high numbers / high mortality and lower numbers / lower mortality. But they didn’t have to calculate to decide between uninsured ruined merchandise and insured overboard merchandise. It all seems pretty horrible, regardless of how much wore soething else might have been.

It’s clear from the way he organizes his presentation that what this is about is horrible anti-Americans. It’s not bout slavery. For Medvied, everything is about horrible liberals.

74

C.L. 09.28.07 at 8:00 pm

Michael Medved is not one of them. A great mind, that is

But he has lived a “controversial” life!

75

Sebastian Holsclaw 09.28.07 at 8:23 pm

Maybe it doesn’t occur to him that genocide isn’t the only really monsterous thing in the world.

76

Andrew 09.28.07 at 9:00 pm

Apologies if this has been mentioned above, but this whole thing also suffers from a misunderstanding of what genocide really entails, definitionally. the 1948 UN Genocide Convention states the following:

“any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Now, those acts apply, though the intent does not. In that regard, those who assert that the slave trade wasn’t a genocide are, in a legalistic sense, completely correct. But in a functional sense… who the hell cares? Has our moral code slipped so much that things are now excusable if they’re *not* genocide? Genocide is a vastly misunderstood term that has come to be used to delineate between all sorts of abhorrent acts, cancelling some out and elevating others depending on what’s politically expedient. Regardless of whether the slave trade can legalistically be labelled a ‘genocide’, I think we can all agree that it was a monstrous injustice and an absolutely vile and abhorrent period. It was also an incredibly complex one that is only now starting to be understood from all angles and using all disciplines. To simply reduce this argument to ‘was it or was it not a genocide’ is to ignore both the mountains of scholarship on the subject and the basic point of inquiry itself. And this goes for Medved above as well as many of the comments from the backlash here.

77

Aaaargh 09.28.07 at 9:00 pm

Really, this is Medved we’re talking about. The only thing that makes sense is that it’s morally horrifying to him that it cost these slave traders money for these uppity slaves to die on them mid-passage. That’s intolerable to the conservative mind.

78

Roy Belmont 09.28.07 at 9:02 pm

The Holocaust® versus Slavery® in a final battle for the Heavyweight Championship of unrebuttable argument stoppage.
The Holocaust® is the worse crime because it happened to us.
No, Slavery® is worse because it happened to us.
Anybody who really believes they both happened to all of us will be useless in a street fight.
You want monstrous? I’ll give you monstrous: world-destroying mindless technophiliac hedonism with a glossy overlay of cunningly manipulative theocratic ethnic chauvinism.
The beauty of world-destruction, or even mere total human genocide as opposed to these trivial partialities, is that by the time it’s become an indisputable fact there’s no longer any platform for accusation. Habeas corpus, ipso facto, etc.

79

abb1 09.28.07 at 9:10 pm

I find it really depressing to overhear tendentious arguments… about whether one murderous act was worse than an other, and how much worse.

That would’ve been tasteless enough, but remember, Medved (and I believe Horowitz too) make a much stronger, much more boorish claim: that the Americans of African descent are lucky that their ancestors ended up in the US; they should really be grateful for slavery, instead of complaining.

I don’t know if this is depressing, though; it’s just too absurd.

80

roger 09.28.07 at 9:15 pm

I would take a wild guess that Medved would scream and yell if a man who kidnapped a child who died in his custody was only charged with kidnapping. I would bet he would claim that the man should be charged with murder. Maybe I’m wrong, but this does seem to be the conservative mindset. I eagerly await his defense of a kidnapper who is in such a case – I wonder what his psycho right wing readership would think of that?

As for the larger issue: I don’t think slave trading was any less evil than Auschwitz. If it was different, this only shows that at a certain level of moral culpability, differences of form don’t provide us with differences of guilt. This feels right to me – the moral universe isn’t set up with one superevil thing giving us one pole and one supergood thing giving us another pole.

Oh, and as a ps – the trans-Atlantic slave traders depended an awful lot on the market being such that the slaves they traded would die in the hands of the planters, as they did reliably in Saint Domingue. They were conscious of the source of the demand, and no friend of the ‘black codes’ that, ostensibly, minimized the abusive treatment the slave could get. So yes, they did have an incentive to encourage mass death.

81

Karlo 09.28.07 at 9:20 pm

If it was some blonde girl in the Bahamas, I’m sure he’d be advocating a massive military attack.

82

anon 09.28.07 at 9:41 pm

Guessing that you’re American, shane, do you accept the corollary that you should feel no pride in the Emancipation Proclamation, not to mention the Declaration of Independence, the US role in World War II and so on?

There is a vast difference between feeling a personal guilt about slavery and feeling a collective pride about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

In point of fact, I am very proud of all of that, very thankful I am its beneficiary today, and mostly afraid that I would not have had the balls to sign the Declaration of Independence, and so I am profoundly grateful to my betters that did.

Feel personally guilty about slavery? My parents came to these shores in 1922 and were kept out of the United States by racist immigrant policies against Jews. Apart from being Jewish, I am as white as they come.

No, I don’t feel personally guilty about slavery, which is not at all to imply as come close to, that not feeling guilty about slavery is tantamount to standing on someone’s neck today and tomorrow.

Let’s end racism, and let’s also end political correctness that results in suppressing and destroying discussions of sensitive issues.

83

EWI 09.28.07 at 9:44 pm

I think what Medved’s trying to say (very clumsily) is that you can get many of the practical effects of genocide (large numbers of people of one ethnic group dying) without the actual intention of genocide. A parallel here would be something like the role of the British in the Irish famines.

To quote John Mitchel:

“Thus any man who had a house, no matter how wretched, was to pay the new tax; and every man was bound to have a house; for if found out of doors after sunset; and convicted of that offence, he was to be transported for fifteen years, or imprisoned for three – the court to have the discretion of adding hard labor or solitary confinement. This law would drive the survivors of ejected people (those who did not die of hunger) into the poorhouses or to America; because, being bound to be at home after sunset, and having neither house nor home, they would be all in the absolute power of the police, and in continual peril of transportation to the colonies (Australian slave labor camps).

[...]

the London Times, within less than three years after, was enabled to say; ‘Law has ridden roughshod through Ireland, it has been taught with bayonet, and interpreted with ruin. Townships levelled with the ground, straggling columns of exiles, workhouses multiplied, and still crowded, express the determination of the legislature to remove Ireland from its slovenly old barbarism, and to plant the institutions of this more civilized land’ (meaning England!)”

I have, to my astonishment, heard many of Medved’s weasel words before from English nationalists justifying the history of their colony in Ireland – and like Medved, “gentlemen” to boot.

84

EWI 09.28.07 at 9:49 pm

Googling to find the Mitchel quote above led me to a page which included other relevant quotes, some of which I’ve read before:

“Official British intent at the time is revealed by its actions and enactments. When the European potato crop failed in 1844 and food prices rose, Britain ordered regiments to Ireland. When blight hit the 1845 English potato crop its food removal regiments were already in Ireland; ready to start. The Times editorial of September 30, 1845, warned; “In England the two main meals of a working man’s day now consists of potatoes.” England’s potato-dependence was excessive; reckless. Grossly over-populated relative to its food supply, England faced famine unless it could import vast amounts of alternative food. But it didn’t grab merely Ireland’s surplus food; or enough Irish food to save England. It took more; for profit and to exterminate the people of Ireland. Queen Victoria’s economist, Nassau Senior, expressed his fear that existing policies “will not kill more than one million Irish in 1848 and that will scarcely be enough to do much good.”6 When an eye-witness urged a stop to the genocide-in-progress, Trevelyan replied: “We must not complain of what we really want to obtain.”7 Trevelyan insisted that all reports of starvation were exaggerated, until 1847. He then declared it ended and refused entry to the American food relief ship Sorciére. Thomas Carlyle; influential British essayist, wrote; “Ireland is like a half-starved rat that crosses the path of an elephant. What must the elephant do? Squelch it – by heavens – squelch it.” “Total Annihilation;” suggested The Times leader of September 2, 1846; and in 1848 its editorialists crowed “A Celt will soon be as rare on the banks of the Shannon as the red man on the banks of Manhattan.”

http://www.irishholocaust.org/officialbritishintent

While I’d view the naming of the Great Famine as an “Irish Holocaust” as inappropriate, it’s certainly beyond the ‘accident’ it is often referred to as, by those who want to believe such.

85

John Quiggin 09.28.07 at 10:10 pm

#75 and #77 I’m pleased to see that Sebastian, unlike the rest of our rightwing commenters, finds the repugnance of Medved’s claims more compelling than the demands of tribal loyalty. While Medved has had lots of support from rightwing blogs ((here, here, here, here, here and here) , there’s at least one dissenter who wants to make the case that conservatism and slavery are incompatible.

86

Uncle Kvetch 09.28.07 at 10:21 pm

I’m still trying to get my head around “the very opposite of genocide.” Not exactly the words you would expect from someone who believes that even if slavery and genocide aren’t equivalent, each is morally repugnant in its own way.

87

Laura 09.28.07 at 10:38 pm

This is just a modern version of the, “Most slaves were happy, and treated well” meme that absolves slave owners and traders of accountability for the situation. A distant cousin of the, “slavery would have ended, if those war thirsty Northerners had just waited for the Cotton Gin to make it unprofitable.”

memekiller, this second claim is an unfair comparison. Some of the most determined American abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison and some Quakers, were opposed to the Civil War. A committed pacifist might speculate that if technologies of nonviolent resistance had been more developed in the nineteenth century, some combination of Gandhian non-violent resistance by enslaved people and trade sanctions (like those against aparthied South Africa) might have ended slavery.

This is empirically debatable, perhaps even laughable optimistic, but not racist or a defense of slavery as an institution. It’s not comparable to the despicable apologist Medved.

88

Martin James 09.28.07 at 10:53 pm

John Holbo wrote

“Indeed, it has always seemed to me to be a very confusing world. I think any view that makes it appear otherwise cannot be the right view.”

So there can be no “clear view” of the world?

I tend to agree but I just wondered whether you had concluded that an unconfusing view didn’t exist or just that it hadn’t yet been found.

89

Buzzcook 09.28.07 at 11:30 pm

“Intent”
Each slaver knew when he loaded Africans onto a ship that a certain amount of them would die.
(If there’s a record of a slave ship making the passage without loss of life let me know)
Thus every slaver intended to kill a certain amount of Africans. If he didn’t intend to kill those people he wouldn’t have placed them on the slave ship to start with.
Putting a group of people in a situation where you know some of them will die is intentional killing.

In a kidnapping when the victim dies while in the hands of the kidnapper it is counted as intentional murder.
So it is with the slaver, he has kidnapped the slave and when that slave dies the slaver is at fault just as the kidnapper is.

Medved’s point that the horrors of the middle passage are ameliorated by the profit motive fails further because without the profit motive the Africans would not have been kidnapped in the first place.
One can’t argue that the thing which is the soul reason the horror occurred made that horror less horrible.

Medved is a silly person

90

Timothy J Scriven 09.28.07 at 11:54 pm

This thread seems to have mostly ignored the fact that under many definitions the willful destruction of the culture of a group is as much genocide as an attempt to kill all members of the group. Genocide does not require killing in order to be genocide and it certainly doesn’t require intentional killing. It is enough that the cultural and social systems of the slaves were destroyed.

91

Timothy J Scriven 09.28.07 at 11:58 pm

Not that I am denying that intentional, unintentional and quasi intentional killing took place. I’m merely pointing out that an event can be genocide without these things.If it is a-fortiori it is genocide with these things.

92

Steve Paradis 09.29.07 at 12:25 am

“I can only speak for myself, but as someone who has never participated in the slave trade I confess to feeling no guilt whatsoever.”

You find a confession by your grandfather that the prosperity you now enjoy is the direct result of a crime he committed.

Did you commit the crime? No.
Do you have any responsibility to relieve the present misery of the victims of the crime?

If you answer “no”, you might go to Hell when you die.

93

Matt Weiner 09.29.07 at 12:30 am

94

Mary Catherine 09.29.07 at 1:48 am

Tim Burke’s post is very good.

There is a difference, I think, between utterly clueless, on the one hand, and wilfully dishonest, on the other. That difference is generally filed under the heading “opportunistic in argument,” which is generally closer to dishonesty than to cluelessness, at least in spirit if not in substance, all things considered.

95

Brett Bellmore 09.29.07 at 3:15 am

“You find a confession by your grandfather that the prosperity you now enjoy is the direct result of a crime he committed.

Did you commit the crime? No.
Do you have any responsibility to relieve the present misery of the victims of the crime?

If you answer “no”, you might go to Hell when you die.”

Let’s rephrase that a little, to take into account a number of factors which are usually swept under the rug:

“You find out that the great grandfather of somebody else who looks a little like you was personally enriched by a crime which was committed back when your ancestors lived somewhere else. Do you have any responsibility to somebody who looks a little like they might be descended from that victim, but who might very well just be recent immigrants themselves?”

If your answer is “no”, you might be capable of elementary moral reasoning.

96

Roy Belmont 09.29.07 at 3:42 am

You find out that the car you just bought was stolen. You wait for the law to tell you what to do. You find out it was the law that stole the car to being with.
You find out that the house you just bought was built on stolen land. Land that was taken through murder and chicanery and deceit. You find out that the original owners, after resisting – often valiantly and often with more innate nobility than was shown by the other, winning, side – were brutalized into a voiceless marginalism whose parameters involve the inchoate grief and rtage attendant on just such factual matters and that the theft, once celebrated as “God’s Will” and “Manifest Destiny” has been “grandfathered in” to being just “the way things are”.
You find out that human history is one long chain of atrocity and genocide and petty corruptions metastasizing into world-changing events.
You find that public discussions of this on the internet are mostly disheartening and pointless. You stop. You start again. You waver. You berate yourself for participating. You stop. You sigh. You go on.

97

anon 09.29.07 at 3:45 am

Do you have any responsibility to relieve the present misery of the victims of the crime?

If you answer “no”, you might go to Hell when you die.

I am not going anywhere when I die. I think basing your actions towards other people on a belief in Heaven or Hell is, well, corrupt.

I have no responsibility to slavery’s victims, and there are no victims of slavery present.

However, as a human, I feel I have a responsibility to all humans to eliminate suffering wherever I find it.

More insightful questions are, how much responsibility, and at what cost to individuals?

There is no requirement for me to feel guilt about that, and there is no requirement to believe in an invisible sky wizard.

98

Jolly Wacker 09.29.07 at 3:48 am

It’s the “Oops! Who knew they couldn’t swim?” defense.

99

Dan S. 09.29.07 at 4:21 am

There is a vast difference between feeling a personal guilt about slavery and feeling a collective pride about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

Indeed, anon. For me, say, to feel personally guilty about slavery – even had my ancestors brutally mistreated thousands of slaves up to the end of the Civil War, rather than coming to the US in the early 20th C. – would be illogical and arguably inappropriate. Likewise, it would be illogical and inappropriate to feel personal pride – to take personal credit – for the documents mentioned above. Now, feeling collective/national/imagined-community pride in them would be a whole ‘nother thing, but the flip side of that is collective/national/imagined-community shame over slavery. Along with the opposition to reparations/attacking liberals/resentment bits (among other things) Medved does insist on one without the other, in part because he probably does believe that “the moral universe [is]set up with one superevil thing giving us one pole and one supergood thing giving us another pole.

100

Lord Acton 09.29.07 at 5:13 am

Instead of feeling guilty about a slavery system that existed over a hundred years ago, feel free to donate to an organization trying to eliminate the slavery system that exists today:

http://www.antislavery.org/

101

Bruce 09.29.07 at 5:16 am

It’s possible that Medved is just an oaf and a lousy writer with a remarkable tonedeafness to what decent people think “horrifying” means. Or maybe he doesn’t know what the word means.

It’s not their deaths or the institution of slavery applied to both captured slaves and their later progeny that’s horrifying, or the depraved indifference to both human life and human freedom that our supposedly freedom-loving culture embraced. No, it’s the frustration of the dock-side pearl-clutching slave traders’ business intent. Thanks, Michael, for sharing the horror. Clutch your pearls in health.

102

The Local Crank 09.29.07 at 5:33 am

Shorter Medved last week on American Indians: Sure, we invaded your country; stole all your land; exterminated 95% of you with weapons of mass destruction; outlawed your culture and religion; kidnapped, tortured, and brainwashed your children; sterilized your women without their knowledge or consent; desecrated your sacred sites; herded you into concentration camps and deliberately starved you, but hey, you guys fought back, so technically that’s not *open air quotes* “genocide” *close air quotes*

Nice to know he’s an equal-opportunity twit.

103

SG 09.29.07 at 5:36 am

as the people at Sadly, No! mentioned, guilt isn’t even relevant to the issue of what one should or shouldn’t do by way of reconciliation for these crimes. It’s a right-wing furphy.

104

Brett Bellmore 09.29.07 at 12:16 pm

Ah, but guilt is highly relevant, when you’re trying to motivate people to sacrifice for other people. The problem is that, when you’re trying to motivate people who didn’t commit a wrong to pay reparations to people against whom it wasn’t committed, you’re talking irrational guilt.

105

John Holbo 09.29.07 at 1:09 pm

Brett,

But if you resist a correct assessment of the badness of slavery because you are worried someone is going to ask you to pay reparations then THAT is the relevant form of irrationality in the discussion. (If you want to say: slavery was bad, bad, bad – as bad as everyone says – but I’m still not writing a check, that’s a different issue.)

Medved decided to bring up the historical issue of slavery. It is a confusion, then, to try to say ‘the problem’ is some alleged contemporary other thing. The issues are completely distinct. The problem, for the time being at least – this thread, let’s say – is that Medved’s discussion of slavery is totally morally confused.

106

Bernard Yomtov 09.29.07 at 2:21 pm

“Most slaves were happy, and treated well” meme that absolves slave owners and traders of accountability for the situation. A distant cousin of the, “slavery would have ended, if those war thirsty Northerners had just waited for the Cotton Gin to make it unprofitable.”

A little OT, but I think the cotton gin, invented at the end of the 18th century, increased the profitability of slavery.

It made large-scale processing of cotton possible, and thus encouraged settlement and development of cotton plantations in what is now the southeastern US. The cotton-based plantation system in this region was not long-lived. It lasted roughly from the invention of the cotton gin to the Civil War.

107

dsquared 09.29.07 at 7:14 pm

Shame you really need to brush up on your reading skills( or is it comprehension ? )

Despite having been a reader for over thirty years, I had not previously realised that there was a higher level of reading skills which would allow one to discern previously absent subscripts on half the words, or to master the philsophical alchemy which would turn a handful of self-contradictory gibberish into a subtle and devastating critique.

note that I make a distinction between ‘caring-1’ where this involves roughly a belief that P has to the effect that S’s welfare should be promoted plus a desire to do so.

Zdenek, I have a long memory, and recall that about a year ago, there was a commenter on this site called “zdenek” who tried to bullshit me on the subject of Rawls. Your attempt to magic two subscripted senses of “caring” out of the atmosphere, pin one onto Chomsky and thus catch him in a fallacy, is transparent rubbish and I don’t believe it’s in Grice or Davidson either.

108

John Emerson 09.29.07 at 7:27 pm

Zdenek destroys my longstanding belief that analytic philosophy is completely null. Apparently it can be used to do harm.

Come to think of it, that should read “try to do harm”. My longstanding belief is probably still pretty much OK.

109

engels 09.29.07 at 7:53 pm

Zdenek is a funny guy. But when trying to decode citations like

( see Grice 1971 ,Davidson 1980 and Velleman 1989 )

it really helps to have the Encyclopaedia article that he is cribbing from in front of you.

110

abb1 09.29.07 at 8:51 pm

The fact that Zdenek’s name is not Bruce is causing a little confusion here.

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fred lapides 09.30.07 at 1:17 am

If you bother to read that guy in the first place then you are getting what you deserve.

112

David 09.30.07 at 1:44 am

Surely the infamous fact that slaves were packed like sardines for midAtlantic tranport suggests that slave traders expected some “loss and spoilage” during the journey, and were perfectly capable of coping morally with this — the cost benefit calculus used by slave traders must have been more complicated (and more callous) than the smiley face “they only benefited from delivering live slaves” simplification that Medved relies on for his choice of “most horrifying aspect” of the whole thing.

Of related interest is a brief paper by Brad DeLong, at http://delong.typepad.com/delong_economics_only/2007/09/who-benefited-f.html

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SG 09.30.07 at 9:55 am

no Brett, it remains irrelevant. If you want to get people to day to pay reparations, apologise on behalf of their government, or whatever, you appeal to their better nature.

If you want to resist such actions though, you portray the whole project as a big exercise in guilt (which is bad!) and its proponents as upper-middle class liberals suffering from guilt at being wealthier than others. (Or trying to undermine america, if you are feeling particularly mendacious).

i.e. you lay out a right-wing furphy.

114

Bob B 09.30.07 at 10:03 am

Stories of enslavement in Britain nowadays are certainly more than mere urban myths or perverse erotic fantasies. I quote here from a Metropolitan Police press release of last year relating to the residents in a suburban house in London just a few miles from where I write:

“An Albanian couple accused of holding a young woman against her will and forcing her into prostitution at a house in Sutton were found guilty on Tuesday 9 May 2006.

“Mirela Zeneli and Blendi Krasniqi kept the victim, who at the time, was 18 years-old, in the house where she was raped up to 30 times a day.

“The victim was an orphan from Lithuania who came to England in July 2004 under the pretence that she would be employed. But within three months of her arrival she had met Zeneli and Krasniqi who forced her to become a prostitute. . .”
http://cms.met.police.uk/met/boroughs/sutton/04how_are_we_doing/news/news_2006/albanian_couple_found_guilty_of_prostitution

It is not difficult to locate other reports on the web from police, prosecuting authorities and other reputable news sources of a widely distributed array of similar cases in other parts of Britain:

http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/pressreleases/archive/2003/140_03.html
http://onlinenews.warwickshire.police.uk/appeals/archive/2006/12/211206manch
http://cms.met.police.uk/news/arrests_and_charges/trafficking/human_trafficking_gang_jailed
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/wiltshire/5119804.stm
http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/ViewArticle.aspx?SectionID=55&ArticleID=909654

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zdenek v 09.30.07 at 12:36 pm

engels : “Zdenek is a funny guy. But when trying to decode citations like ( see Grice 1971 ,Davidson 1980 and Velleman 1989 ) it really helps to have the Encyclopaedia article that he is cribbing from in front of you.”

Yes of course but then again ,since I took some notes during a seminar on action theory given by Jaegwon Kim ( and on which David Velleman set on btw ) at Michigan , the idea just maybe comes from there who knows , what do you think ?

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zdenek v 09.30.07 at 1:00 pm

# 109 :”Zdenek, I have a long memory, and recall that about a year ago, there was a commenter on this site called “zdenek” who tried to bullshit me on the subject of Rawls.”

I do not know whether this is what you mean but I argued last year that in The Law of People Rawls m offers an argument for interventionism . If you were familiar with his work then you would not think that this is so strange, The argument in question is made in a long footnote 6 on p 93/94.

He asks : “is there aver a time when forceful intervention is called for ? If the offences against human rights are egregious and society does not respond to the imposition of sanctions such intervention in the defence of human rights would be acceptable and would be called for.”

My claim is that late Rawls is an interventionist. In any case you would have to know little bit of Rawls to start with to know whether I am bulshitting or not I reckon.

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dsquared 09.30.07 at 1:31 pm

In any case you would have to know little bit of Rawls to start with to know whether I am bulshitting or not I reckon.

either to know a bit of Rawls myself, or to co-edit a group blog with three professors of philosophy who reckoned you were, pretty hard.

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zdenek v 09.30.07 at 1:58 pm

“either to know a bit of Rawls myself, or to co-edit a group blog with three professors of philosophy who reckoned you were, pretty hard.”

No it was Chris thinking that I was taking the quote out of context and hence R cannot be seen as a supporter of Iraq war. I agree with that but think Rawls can be read without distortion as a qualified interventionist.
But what kind of idiot are you to try to engage me in a discussion over work that you have not even read ?

119

jcasey 09.30.07 at 1:59 pm

I’m late to this, but I’ve read all the comments. Mr. Medved ought to know that his ideas have received much more fair treatment here than any liberal’s ideas in the esteemed pages of “Human Events.”

Comparing slavery to the Holocaust seems to be wrong, but not in the way Medved seems to suggest. Work-to-death slavery was but one horrible feature of the Holocaust; uncompensated labor was the primary defining feature of American slavery. You can’t of course have uncompensated labor without laborers, so one would have to be kept alive in order to be enslaved. Being kept alive means that some kind of improved future state (the “better off in America” stuff) is possible. Of course that wasn’t contemplated by the slave holders or the slave traders. So that can’t be a morally relevant consideration.

But pointing out those differences merely distracts us from the morally relevant features of the comparison. Like the Nazis, slave holders did not think African slaves worthy of the same moral consideration as whites. But there’s a difference. The Nazis thought they were doing the world a favor by ridding it of Jews (and others); slave holders didn’t think their victims capable participating in a conspiracy to undermine German racial purity (and so on).

For the Nazis, the Jews were worthy of hatred, fear, disgust, and all of the range of emotions one attaches to other human beings; for the slave holders, the slaves didn’t even rise to that level. For the slave holders, the slaves were mere farm animals.

That difference hardly improves the moral position of the slave holder.

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Bob B 09.30.07 at 2:56 pm

“For the slave holders, the slaves were mere farm animals”

That is a curious claim in the light of the debate over the centuries as to whether Thomas Jefferson had a continuing relationship with Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello, and fathered several or all of her children. The current state of that debate is summarised here:
http://www.monticello.org/plantation/hemingscontro/hemings-jefferson_contro.html

At the very least, there is an open verdict.

121

rich 09.30.07 at 3:43 pm

I’m certainly not going to plow thorough all 121 posts before pointing out the obvious:

Shouldn’t Medved be reviewing “Good Luck Chuck” rather than spouting off in this fashion? Tell the little guy that “Mr. Woodcock” needs his treatment as well…

But, wait, apparently I have been asleep for the last decade and HERE is the most HORRIFYING ASPECT: While nobody was paying attention this third-rate Ebert has morphed into:

“Michael Medved, nationally syndicated talk radio host, is author of 10 non-fiction books, including The Shadow Presidents and Right Turns.”

The horror! The horror!

122

David 09.30.07 at 4:03 pm

Medved’s statement has to do with slave traders/transporters, not slave holders.

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Dan Simon 09.30.07 at 5:29 pm

no Brett, it remains irrelevant. If you want to get people to day to pay reparations, apologise on behalf of their government, or whatever, you appeal to their better nature.

This whole conversation is a bit surreal. Medved’s article makes no sense whatsoever except as a response to the arguments of radical advocates for imputing guilt to modern white Americans as a group–including (pace SG) the “reparations” movement. It appears, though, that the Crooked Timber community, at least, is so disconnected from said radicals as to only think to bring up the obvious motivation for Medved’s column very late in the discussion, and in a rather perfunctory fashion.

In itself, that’s very heartening–it suggests that even on the academic left, the racial obsessions of the reparations movement and its radical ilk have been relegated to an obscure fringe. And I’m sure Medved would be pleased to hear that the supposedly dominant myths he claims to be dispelling are in fact so far from the minds of the readers of a prominent leftist blog that even his rebuttal barely summons their mention. But the result is some rather unfortunate confusion over what Medved meant to say in his column, and why he said it.

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jcasey 09.30.07 at 6:07 pm

To Bob b,

Does the fact that Jefferson engaged in a long-term sexual relationship with one of his slaves demonstrate that slave holders and slave traders did not view the slaves as the moral equals of farm animals? I fail to see your point.

125

Shell Goddamnit 09.30.07 at 6:56 pm

Posted by buzzcook
“Medved’s point that the horrors of the middle passage are ameliorated by the profit motive fails further because without the profit motive the Africans would not have been kidnapped in the first place.
One can’t argue that the thing which is the soul sole reason the horror occurred made that horror less horrible.

Medved is a silly person”

That’s good, that is.

Re: Guilt of white folks whose ancestors emigrated after the civil war: Guilt for slavery is not necessary. Your ancestors – and you – benefited and continue to benefit from racism, part of which traces to the effects of slavery. That is the basis for your “guilt” and it is sufficient – or should be – to make, if not reparations, at least a real attempt to truly rectify the injustice, necessary.

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Bob B 09.30.07 at 7:22 pm

“Does the fact that Jefferson engaged in a long-term sexual relationship with one of his slaves demonstrate that slave holders and slave traders did not view the slaves as the moral equals of farm animals? I fail to see your point.”

Just how many exceptions “prove” the rule that slaves were regarded as “mere farm animals” by slave-holders?

The debate about Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings is but one documented case where a (house) slave was evidently not regarded as “a mere farm animal.”

Apart from questions about their relationship, Sally Hemings went to Paris with the Jefferson family (1787-9) and her duties included “being a nursemaid-companion to Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Maria (c. 1784-7), lady’s maid to daughters Martha and Maria (1787-97), and chambermaid and seamstress (1790s-1827),” which all strike me as likely to prove a bit challenging for “a mere farm animal” but there you go.

However, this is not by any means the only documented case.

In England, there was Francis Barber, the manservant of Samuel Johnson, who is still renowned for his pioneering work in compiling a dictionary for the English language. As Johnson died childless, he bequeathed his estate to Barber, whose descendents still live on now in Staffordshire.

For biographical details:

“Francis Barber was born in Jamaica about the year 1735, and was brought to England by a plantation owner who was the father of one of Samuel Johnson’s closest friends. For a year, he attended school in Barton, a small Yorkshire village, and then he entered the service of his owner’s son, who sent him as a valet to Johnson in April 1752, two weeks after the death of Johnson’s wife. Two years later the plantation owner died, leaving Barber 12 pounds and his freedom. . . “
http://www.100greatblackbritons.com/bios/francis_barber.html

I venture to suggest that we have come to know of these particular cases in history because the two instances related to slave-holders who were highly literate and already renown in their own times. We don’t know how many similar cases there were among other less-illustrious slave-holders – although, in contrast, I’ve no doubt that many sleaves were, indeed, cruelly treated. And for the record, I’m not suggesting that slavery is or was a splendid institution in consequence.

My intent in posting originally about the professional debate over the optimal shipping mode for the Middle Passage was to draw attention to the way in which slave traders regarded their cargoes and to the significance of the moral hazard created by the terms of insurance for the Transatlantic crossing, an issue that motivated JMW Turner to paint the Slave Ship and submit it for exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1840:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/powerofart/turner.shtml

We may note that this was years after the British Parliament had passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833 – famously, the slave trade had been made illegal for British flagged ships in 1807 after a 20-year campaign by William Wilberforce.

127

John Emerson 09.30.07 at 9:12 pm

Having sex with someone does not prove that you do not think of them as a farm animal.

128

Bob B 09.30.07 at 9:38 pm

“Having sex with someone does not prove that you do not think of them as a farm animal.”

True – but adding a taste for beastiality to Thomas Jefferson’s many recognised accomplishments would surely put a new gloss on the received history of the drafter of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States.

Of course, that may have been the intention here, which would leave us for the present with the case of Samuel Barber and his valued manservant, Francis Barber in England. On the documentary evidence available, Johnson seems to have become very attached to and dependent upon Francis Barber.

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jcasey 09.30.07 at 10:34 pm

Few would question that many people had sex with their slaves; some even perhaps “loved” them as human beings. Slaves were, however, treated as the property of their owners. That two individuals–and indeed many more–thought of them as something more only underscores the moral depravity of the institution of slavery. Besides, having sex with someone whom you consider the moral equal of a farm animal does not mean you engage in bestiality–it means you’re a beast.

130

John Holbo 09.30.07 at 11:43 pm

Dan Simon: “This whole conversation is a bit surreal. Medved’s article makes no sense whatsoever except as a response to the arguments of radical advocates for imputing guilt to modern white Americans as a group—including (pace SG) the “reparations” movement.”

But as a response to those ‘reparations’ and ‘guilt’ arguments, Medved’s article makes no sense whatsoever, Dan. (How could it?)

131

minneapolitan 10.01.07 at 12:50 am

I think many of the refutations above of Medved’s crypto-fascism are quite compelling, but one point in his ridiculous jeremiad stuck out for me: “This worldwide mass movement (spear-headed in Britain and elsewhere by fervent Evangelical Christians)” Where does he get this? John Brown was certainly a fervent Christian, but using “Evangelical Christians” in this context would seem to imply that Medved thinks that today’s Evangelical Christian movement in the US is in some sense the direct heir of the Abolitionist movement. Nothing could be further from the truth. The strain of Protestantism that was most associated with abolitionism is represented today in the US by the Society of Friends and the UCC (in many cases by still-extant congregations). Not coincidentally, this wing of American Protestantism is about as far removed as possible from the people commonly referred to as “Evangelical Christians” — the Southern Baptists and their many non-denominational offshoots and fellow travelers. Those latter, of course, being much more representative of the politics of the slavocracy both in the 19th century and today. And, not coincidentally, being some of Medved’s own strange bedfellows.

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SG 10.01.07 at 3:28 am

Dan perhaps you missed the bit where I (and the folks at Sadly,no!) suggested that this whole guilt thing has no relationship to left-wing campaigns? The bit where I suggested that the guilt thing is a right-wing invention? Still, it’s best for you to keep arguing with yourself over that guilt thing – it’s the only argument you can win.

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Bob B 10.01.07 at 3:44 am

“The strain of Protestantism that was most associated with abolitionism is represented today in the US by the Society of Friends and the UCC”

In England, William Wilberforce and the Clapham sect, to which he belonged, were part of the mainstream Church of England. The church itself, later rebuilt on the same site in what is now a London suburb, was in the forefront this year of events to commemorate the bicentenial anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. Other prominent members of the sect included Henry Thornton, banker, economist and associate of David Ricardo, the economist:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Thornton_%28abolitionist%29

Zachery Macaulay, father of Thomas Macaulay, was another member of the sect.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zachary_Macaulay

These were not fringe people in their time but prominent and influential citizens and, in the case of Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament which he used to good effect to advance his cause with the encouragement of William Pitt, prime minister 1783-1801, 1804-6.

Among the arguments put against abolition were the now-familiar arguments often made against unilateralism and loss of competitiveness. What contributed to tipping the balance of the arguments was the outcome of the naval Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 from which Britain emerged as the pre-eminent global seapower with the capability to enforce an end to the slave trade. But we cannot be sanctimonious about this as the same naval supremacy facilitated victory in the opium wars in the mid 19th century:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium_Wars

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Dan Simon 10.01.07 at 6:26 am

But as a response to those ‘reparations’ and ‘guilt’ arguments, Medved’s article makes no sense whatsoever, Dan. (How could it?)

Well, that depends on the arguments, doesn’t it? The point that only a tiny percentage of today’s Americans are descended from slaveholders is obviously an argument against any reparations proposal that involves using taxpayer-provided funds. The point about slavery not being genocide is clearly meant to rebut analogies between slavery and the Nazi atrocities for which the postwar German government later agreed to pay reparations. The point about slavery not contributing significantly to America’s wealth is meant to rebut the claim that America’s wealth today was built using slave labor. And so on.

Dan perhaps you missed the bit where I (and the folks at Sadly,no!) suggested that this whole guilt thing has no relationship to left-wing campaigns? The bit where I suggested that the guilt thing is a right-wing invention?

Well, “right-wing invention” is a bit strong–I believe that the existence of advocates making arguments like the ones I sketched out above has been amply established. But as I pointed out in my earlier comment, the odd talking-past-each-other flavor of the discussion here supports your claim that at least in Crooked Timberite circles, those arguments have little currency. Assuming, then, that Crooked Timber is not that far from the mainstream of the academic left, it would be safe to conclude that these arguments are, if not technically strawmen, at least so obscure as not really to be worth Medved’s–or his readers’–attention.

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SG 10.01.07 at 6:58 am

Dan, it is a right wing invention, which is why we lefties aren’t even talking about it. The very first comment here was a right-wing “I ain’t guilty!” screed. Does this not tell you something? When people on the left talk about historical wrong-doings by our own country, we don’t associate the criticism with some kind of attack on our own dick-size, a type of anxiety reserved exclusively for the right. This is why every time someone from the left raises the issue of reparations or apologies, someone from the right immediately pipes up to say “Don’t lay your guilt on me”. It’s as if right-wing people somehow associate any kind of appeal to higher principles as a guilt call.

I don’t know exactly why you think CTers are talking-past-each-other over this – Sadly, No! confronted it directly, and the issue was covered in the first comment here. Perhaps what you mean to say is “oo, these lefties at crooked timber think that collective guilt idea is so stupid that they won’t even pay lipservice to the right’s stupid straw man!” Or are you merely trying to hijack the thread to a discussion of guilt because honest discussion of this issue hurts your brain?

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Chris Bertram 10.01.07 at 10:08 am

Just noticed the exchange between Daniel and Zdenek above. We went through all this in June 2006 in

http://crookedtimber.org/2006/06/21/values-and-violence/

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John Emerson 10.01.07 at 12:26 pm

Just to confirm what Minneapolitan said: The Southern Baptists were specifically the Confederate Baptists. Positions on slavery motivated the north-south split.

A footnote: while England did work to abolish slavery, and while Gladstone fervently opposed slavery, under Gladstone Britain tacitly supported the Confederacy (allowing them to build ships in British shipyards). Henry Adams was a junior member of the American Embassy in Britain during the Civil War, and he spends the first half of his “Education” puzzling about Gladstone’s inexplicable behavior. IIRC, Adams drew cynical, Realpolitik conclusions from his experience. (Not sure; I didn’t finish the book, which is one of the most oddly-written books I’ve ever tried to read.)

Wiki:

The discontent of Baptists from the south eventually led to their withdrawal from the national Baptist organizations. At an Augusta, Georgia meeting in May 1845, they formed a new convention and named it the Southern Baptist Convention. They elected as its first president William Bullein Johnson (1782-1862), who had served as president of the Triennial Convention in 1841.

The consequences of the decision to separate from other Baptists in defense of the institution of slavery have been long lived. A survey by SBC’s Home Mission Board in 1968 showed that only eleven percent of Southern Baptist churches would admit Americans of African descent. During the SBC Conservative Resurgence/Fundamentalist Takeover the Southern Baptist Convention of 1995 voted to adopt a resolution renouncing its racist roots and apologizing for its past defense of slavery. The racism resolution marked the denomination’s first formal acknowledgment that racism played a role in its founding. Today there are many diverse and even self-consciously ethnic churches within the convention.

In short, the fundamentalists finally denounced slavery twelve years ago. For all I know, that was already part of the PR for their their family values / anti-abortion campaign, which had already been in full swing for some time.

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chris y 10.01.07 at 12:26 pm

“Having sex with someone does not prove that you do not think of them as a farm animal.”

Jefferson may have thought he was genuinely fond of Hemmings; he may have regarded her as a farm animal; or he may have followed the poet Horace (in one of the Satires that I can’t be bothered to look up because it’s disgusting) that he preferred his sex easy and available. I neither know nor care.

What do you imagine Hemmings thought about the situation?

Incidentally, Francis Barber was a free man, although he was a servant, unsurprisingly, as it was the largest category of urban occupation in his time. And Johnson hated slavery.

139

Bob B 10.01.07 at 1:42 pm

“And [Samuel] Johnson hated slavery.”

Exactly – and that became the increasingly prevalent urbane sentiment in Britain in the late 18th century, driven by an increasingly pervasive moral conviction that the institution of slavery was inherently evil. Wilberforce finally convinced Parliament to prohibit the slave trade by British flagged ships in 1807 when the Napoleonic Wars still had another 8 years to run before the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 finally vanquished Napoleon’s Grand Army.

Turner’s painting of the Slave Ship, exhibited in 1840 at the Royal Academy, gives us some insight into the extent of feelings about slavery. Why else would Turner choose to disturb the tranquility of an exhibition at the Royal Academy by exhibiting in 1840 such a powerful and evocative painting depicting horrifying events in the course of a voyage of the slave ship Zong in 1781?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zong

Turner was already an Academician and had already established a secure reputation for his art and slavery, not just slave trading, had already been abolished in the British empire years before in 1833.

We shall probably never know for sure about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings but, by available accounts, she looked after his daughters and accompanied the family when Jefferson went to Paris as ambassador.

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John Emerson 10.01.07 at 2:45 pm

As late as the seventies, English professors (or at least one of them, anyway) adamantly asserted that Melville’s “Benito Cereno” (about a slave ship) had nothing to say about slavery, but was only about the original evil in the heart of man (i.e., in the hearts of the slaves who were so mean to nice Mr. Cereno.)

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Bob B 10.01.07 at 3:41 pm

Btw concerning the Clapham sect, at one time or another an extraordinary number of renown people lived in Clapham. This link gives some indication although the renown names cited therein are by no means comprehensive, especially regarding the 20th century:
http://www.localhistories.org/clapham.html

Notable omissions include the novelist Graham Greene:
http://amsaw.org/amsaw-ithappenedinhistory-100203-greene.html

Much of the location filming for the latest movie (1999) based on Greene’s novel: The End of the Affair (1951), was shot very near to the rebuilt church where Wilberfoce and the Clapham sect worshipped:
http://www.outlines.org.uk/claphamsociety/clapsocNL_295_March.pdf

Other notable omissions with literary connections: Harriet Shelley, when she eloped to become the first wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Noel Coward, Kingsley Amis and Angela Carter.

One reason why this is so extraordinary is that the phrase, “the man on the Clapham omnibus,” was referenced in a judicial decision by Sir Charles Bowen in the early 20th century as the stereotypical ordinary person who needed to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt for a person on trial to be convicted. Perhaps the explanation for the paradox is that with the advent of a rail connection to central London, by the early 20th century Clapham had transformed from a village in Surrey to a commuting surburb of London.

This is JMW Turner’s painting of an aspect of Clapham Common from c. 1800-05:
http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?cgroupid=999999996&workid=14730&searchid=9058&tabview=display

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Zifnab 10.01.07 at 3:46 pm

This is also so morbidly comic. Like arguing over the moral repugnance of shooting a man in the brain versus shooting him in the heart.

If, by some magical logistical feat, one were to quantify the two and weigh one over the other, would it then be the “preferable” method, one we should embrace? If not, is the former somehow “forgivable” because the latter is worse?

Medved’s rant about how slavery wasn’t so bad after all, reminds me of the US occupation as compared to Saddam. The most ridiculous of claims – we didn’t torture people like he did, we’ve technically got a lower death count in aggregate across the entire country, when we exploit the country for its natural riches its ok because we’re capitalist.

Since Nazism is the defacto benchmark of bad behavior, whatever doesn’t meet that benchmark isn’t bad? My god, I pray that Medved never actually gains the political capital of a local dogcatcher, because I can only imagine what abuses he’d put his position through while still keeping under the line of National Socialist.

143

Larry Yates 10.01.07 at 4:02 pm

There is a small national organization of white folks supporting reparations for slavery that has tackled a lot of these questions, including an answer to a previous rant by David Horowitz.

You can check us out at http://www.reparationsthecure.org

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just sayin 10.01.07 at 9:39 pm

In England, William Wilberforce and the Clapham sect, to which he belonged, were part of the mainstream Church of England.

Wilberforce was a Methodist, which at the time was not an independent denomination but was considered a relatively extreme group advocating personal piety and social reform within the COE. For much of his career being called a “Methodist” was not so far from being called “fundie” or “religious nutter” today. Through the persuasive efforts of the Wilberforce and the Clapham sect over many years Methodism and the social reform movements it championed became more mainstream, but for most of his life this wasn’t true.

145

Dan Simon 10.01.07 at 9:55 pm

I don’t know exactly why you think CTers are talking-past-each-other over this

I think you misunderstood me. My point was that Medved and his critics here are talking past each other. Medved’s points are clearly meant as a collection of rebuttals to pro-reparations arguments–arguments he thought so prevalent among mainstream leftists that he needn’t even recapitulate them. In fact, these arguments turn out to be so far from the minds of Crooked Timberites that they can’t even figure out what on earth has motivated him to say what he’s saying. Just in case it’s not already clear, I view this as a knock on Medved, not on Crooked Timber. So we’re actually not as far apart as you seem to think we are.

Our main disagreement appears to be that you assume Medved’s misunderstanding of the mainstream academic left to be deliberate disingenuousness, whereas I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and attribute it to ignorance. Personally, I don’t think that distinction is worth making a big deal about, but feel free to rant about it, if you like.

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John Emerson 10.01.07 at 11:31 pm

One of the sects involved in the anti slavery movement was the Come-outers. These seem much like charismatics or Penecostals to me and according to my link, were associated with “Holiness churches”. My impression is that they were not fundamentalist. They do seem have some resemblance to the more unworldly, ecstatic branches of non-denominational Protestantism, some of which are probably involved in the anti-abortion movement.

I know them mostly from Melville’s “Confidence Man”, but they’d be worth learning more about.

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John Emerson 10.01.07 at 11:34 pm

Dan, Medved is known to be a nasty piece of work. We’re not starting from zero.

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abb1 10.02.07 at 6:58 am

Medved wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about the mainstream academic left or ‘white America’s guilt’ in general. Trust me, the sentiment he is channeling and cultivating is quite clear: the Holocaust!!! – and these bastards, who are lucky to be here in the first place, have the audacity to complain about their little “grievances”…

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SG 10.02.07 at 12:33 pm

I understand you now Dan but I think your reading is maybe too kind. Maybe Medved actually believes this stuff? He wouldn’t be the first right wing fruitloop to subscribe to the “we didn’t do it how those lefties say, and even if we did it wasn’t really as bad as they say” school of revisionism.

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