Slave Culture

I’ve been thinking, on my history weekend, that the answer to why people owned slaves is incredibly obvious. It would be awesome. Yes, it’s got to be soul-corrupting, but, ignoring the moral implications, of course having people to do all the shit you don’t want to–or can’t–do is marvelous. I think even believing that you, because of some intrinsic value, deserve to have these people doing whatever you tell them and they, due to their inherent lack of being as awesome as you, have to do it, is some heady shit. Once you gave yourself permission to go ahead and enjoy the luxury of having slaves, I think it’d be very difficult to give it up.

But another thing I keep thinking about, too, is how much this resonates through into our current discussions of rape culture, how “slave culture” is, perhaps, the original rock in the pond that has sent us the destructive ripple of rape culture.

Because, if you consent to be my slave and I consent to do to you only the things you would allow me to do to you, you’re not really a slave. (Maybe we’d say you’re a non-sexual submissive?) The real pleasure of slavery is the pleasure of rape–I do to you whatever I want and I don’t give a shit how you feel about it. In fact, it’s better for me if you don’t want to do it, if you would say “no,” if you could.

Not all slave-owners, of course. Some must have enjoyed believing that their slaves came around to being willing to submit to those circumstances. That they were “kind.” Seducers, turning a “no” into a “yes.”

But for most, the ones who whipped and kicked and punched and burned, the satisfaction had to be there in the ability to willfully disregard the will of the body they were acting upon.

And, too, it wasn’t just slavery–this is how indentured servants might be treated, or wives, or children, or strangers who insulted you.

Which makes me wonder how you train this out of a people. If we have, for so long, believed that social prestige and status is intrinsically linked to having as few people as possible above you who can act on your body without your permission while we display the ways in which we can act on others’ bodies, why and how do we give that up?

One thought on “Slave Culture

  1. B., this calls to mind the industrial and cultural enterprises that have risen up around our national obsession with ‘terrorism’ following 9/11/2001. Compared to the death, destruction, and misery the U.S. visited upon Southeast Asia (to give just one example), the 9/11 attacks were a hiccup. Yet we’ve turned the date into a national holiday of sanctimonious indignation. Simply put, we reserve the right to kill, maim, torture, and immiserate wholesale, as long as the victims are sufficiently otherized; only when we or one of ‘ours’ is so violated by the ‘other’ do we scream about injustice or barbarity.

    It’s not just a conservative issue, either. How many liberals gave any thought to Obama’s wanton slaughter of innocent, defenseless women and children when they voted for him (again) in 2012? Cheap imports keep flowing in, and brown bodies continue to be broken. In that sense, we aren’t any better than the slaveholders; we’ve just diversified and globalized the antebellum social order.

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