Octobering It Up

I’m excited about this October. I’m going to tell you a story called “All Heart, No Brains.” It’s a story about Rufus, if our lives were a tall tale. It’s a genre I enjoyed writing in a lot. So, there is a dog in peril, but I promise you, no one dies. And I don’t have 31 parts. I just don’t have it in me with everything going on. So, it’s just going to run on the weekdays. But then, I do think I’ll have something nifty and special for you on the 31st, so it will all work out.

Plus, the story makes me laugh, so I think it will make you laugh, too.

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1835

Keeping in mind that John Murrell gave this kind of speech to people he later murdered, if Stewart was telling the truth, or didn’t give this speech at all if Stewart was a big fat liar, liar pants-on-fire, it still fucking blows my mind. Here’s what Murrell was going to say to slaves as he attempted to incite them into a nation-wide rebellion:

We find the most vicious and wicked disposed ones, on large farms and poison their minds by telling them how they are mistreated, and that they are entitled to their freedom as much as their masters, and that all the wealth of the country is the proceeds of the black people’s labor; we remind them of the pomp and splendor of their masters, and then refer them to their own degraded situation, and tell them that it is power and tyranny which rivets their chains of bondage, and not because they are an inferior race of people. We tell them that all Europe has abandoned slaver, and that the West Indies are all free; and that they got their freedom by rebelling a few times and slaughtering the whites, and convince them, that if they will follow the example of the West India negroes, that they will obtain their liberty and become as much respected as if they were white, and that they can marry white women when they are all put on a level. In addition to this, get them to believe, that the most of people are in favor of their being free, and that the free States, in the United States, would not interfere with the negroes, if they were to butcher every white man in the slave-holding States.

I remain stunned to see someone so clearly articulate that the wealth of this country comes from black people’s labor in 1835. Even if they meant it to be evil and ridiculous.

Good vs. Good

What’s striking about the antebellum South is that there’s an informal definition of “good” (at least among white men) as being “that which is pleasing to God.” What was pleasing to God was knowable, because “good” white people were rewarded–literally rewarded with financial success. One’s fortunes rose and fell based on whether one was pleasing or displeasing God. You can see a lot of this playing out in Gordon Belt’s book in reverse, where Confederate soldiers were admonished to stop sinning so much in the camps so that the Confederacy could get back to winning.

So, in a very simple way, when a slave-owner took the opportunity to fuck a slave–in spite of her protestations, crying, and traumatized behavior afterwards (clues we expect “good” people to recognize now as being evidence that they’ve done something “not good” to someone else)–and he remained wealthy, he understood it as God giving the okay to that kind of behavior. After all, if it was a problem, God would have punished him, probably with financial difficulties.

And as Bridgett pointed out in the comments the other day, “good” men who feared putting their wives through pregnancy often found other people to “have sex with.” This was seen as a loving choice.

White men got to equate “goodness” with prosperity.

Slaves were supposed to equate “goodness” with obedience. Possibly everyone in the South was supposed to equate “goodness” with obedience with slaves supposed to be being obedient to their masters the way that slave masters were obedient to God, and everyone knew when they were being good, because there was a tangible measure of it–masters got rich, slaves got to live.

The thing that strikes me hardest about this arrangement, though, is that, when slaves talked about who was a good master, they never talked about a master who was overwhelmingly financially successful. It’s always about how the master treated his slaves.

The definition most of us accept as the definition of goodness is the slave’s definition–that one’s goodness is measured by how little misery you spread to others.

(Importantly, though, even slaves with good masters, by their own reckoning, wanted to be free. You could have “good” masters, comparatively speaking, and still think slavery was not good.)

I was browsing through Nietzsche and Hegel trying to decide if this is what they observed and I don’t really think so.