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Reflections On the Topic of Slavery - Part 3
by Alexandra Pereira
2009-01-10 08:46:18
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We know that modern slavery continues around the world, through the exploitation of workers and their lives, sometimes even in the most “civilized” countries. There are a number of ways in which people can be trapped and used in benefit of others, forced to be who they are not, or do things they do not want to do, generally oppressed, and see their most basic freedoms smashed, their lives simply erased from the map of the humanized human beings. You see, we are only human in a social environment – similarly, an environment created by humans can dehumanize us.

pt31_400Traffic of slave work, slave women and children continues in our world – all of it, including Europe and the U.S.: and here the trafficked ones are usually foreigners or newcomers, just like the foreigners of the old times, who were captured and enslaved. Some of the last news of 2008 informed us that during 2008 in Brazil, more than 4.000 people were enslaved in plantations of cane sugar, as the government made an incentive to the production of ethanol and inspections to the work conditions somehow… failed. How many millions of workers around the world are forced to comply with and participate in a work system which is far from bringing them satisfaction or a sight of fulfillment?

There are physical, economic, mental, psychological, emotional traps. None of them is good, though the latter are less obvious and equally destructive. As greater work rights tend to be obtained, mental and psychological forms of slavery seem to substitute the old physical abuses in our societies. There are so many – too many – human beings in this world forced to be who they are not, and forced to do things they don’t want to, through many different and abusive methods, and this is a kind of constant slavery, it is a kind of constant trap.

The bloody battle continues, the cruel war continues – it is just under our noses, and often disguised. There’s a silent battle happening, and reclaiming too many victims, between the First and the Third Worlds. There’s a silent battle inside each country right now, usually reclaiming many victims as well, between the members of a small minority who get all the privileges and an exploited majority dreaming about things they will never be able to accomplish or experience. There are vague dreams of a better world, and no practical changes applied to our reality.

pt33_400There is a silent and bloody battle happening right now inside each city. There is a silent battle, a cruel one, happening and reclaiming victims inside many families – and it is all part of the same continuum. Violence, exploitation, cruelty and exclusion or ostracism can happen in many forms. The more obvious one is the physical level. To it, you can sum all sorts of emotional and psychological abuses – they don’t necessarily happen together or at the same time, still they are all part of the same problem.

The family is actually one of the most basic cells – I would say the most crucial one – if we want to analyse and find ways to decrease emotional, psychological and physical abuse and exploitation in our societies at large, decreasing thus the suffering of many individuals. Families are the first environment – for the good things and, too many times still, for the worst.

This is where most individuals are raised, where they learn cooperation or how to imitate or replicate deviant and sane behaviours, where narcissistic parents or siblings, husbands and wives can exercise all their torture freely, with guarantees of not leaving behind many compromising or obvious traces which could elicit any legal punishment. This is where violence primarily happens. We are aggressive by nature, but this aggressiveness can be channeled to many alternative and highly constructive ends. It can be transformed. Sometimes siblings are encouraged to fight and put-down systematically other siblings – this is called scapegoating, a prototype for all the wars between brothers around the world. The world is our family, a world free from all kinds of slavery is our responsibility.

pt35_400For families and societies, the consequences of this process are devastating, but in different ways. Inside families, the scapegoat(s) feel(s) isolated, betrayed, rejected, blatantly exploited, deprived from the love or support of their most basic belonging group and unrecognized as a human being: dehumanized. Inside societies, we can find quite many current and historical examples of scapegoat groups who are/were dehumanized: including Jews, Muslims, Palestinians, Africans, African Slaves, Christians, Buddhists, Sudanese, Zimbabweans, immigrants, Tibetans, Georgians, etc. These seem to be, nonetheless, interchangeable, something which hardly happens inside families, where a change in the choice of the persecution target is not likely to occur.

Of course interchangeability is not the solution for the problem anyway, it can just represent a momentary relief with nasty side-consequences to someone else. The problem is not seen as a problem by the persecutors, but a solution for their needs, an endless source of bizarre gratifications. Just think about the Israeli missiles in Gaza or the British spreading malaria in Mugabe’s official perspective and seize if they are not momentary relieves. Anyone who refuses to go along and adopt a new scapegoat will be on the top of the list to become the next one. Human cruelty can manifest itself in the most varied ways – still its aim is always the same: domination and exploitation. Dehumanization. Slavery.

pt37_400We tend to believe that we are disempowered, the hopes do not exist, the good wishes are just wishes, and we poor helpless beings are condemned to see this silent bloody battle continue while our brothers are enslaved and killed, in many possible ways – and today, more often, in mental ways. We represent collectively the true victims of this battle. Those beliefs are not true, but an illusion. The illusions of disempowerment and loneliness, of unavoidable cruelty and helplessness are mental traps used by persecutors to ensnare and survive effectively through the use of very odd predator methods.

It is our job to build a human society where such methods prove to be unrewarding and, above all, inefficient in terms of human survival. They should just, as a result of our individual and collective development, be turned not functional and useless. Also, will science ever be able to identify very accurately, with physical evidences, the most harmful and deceiving personalities (e.g. identify very precisely psychopaths, sociopaths and very harming narcissists) and correct at least their lack of empathy and guilt and extreme violence, turning them into positive qualities? How would this start to affect a part of the human interactions? All this sci-fi would mean social changes with profound implications in our lives – or is it individual changes with profound implications in our social sceneries? I believe that one would boost the other.

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Emanuel Paparella2009-01-10 15:47:38
Sundry reflections on the reflections on the topic of slavery:
Marx called exploitation the alienation of the worker from what he produces and identified the “predator methods” by which workers of the world were exploited but he knew his Western history too well to issue the wake up call of “slaves of the world unite, all you can lose are your chains.” That slogan might have been appropriate to Spartacus two thousand years before, who for a short while did succeed in organizing a slaves’ revolution but, alas, was soon put down by a Roman civilization that thought of slavery perfectly normal and useful to sustain itself. When Marx was writing his Das Kapital physical slavery had already been abolished in the West because by this time it appeared quite hypocritical to mention inalienable rights in a constitution and then own slaves as is the case with Washington and Jefferson. Nobody would have dreamt of calling Caesar Augustus a hypocrite for tolerating slavery, but a case can easily be made for Washington and Jefferson, despite their ideals of freedom, on paper, and the reason it can be made is that the concept of inalienable human rights, which was not there before the advent of Christianity, was now fully accepted, at least in principles if not yet a physical reality. That concept is integral part of the Judeo-Christian ethos and is grounded in the idea of the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of a Providential God.

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-10 15:48:13
Here is the expression of such an idea: “…there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Paul to the Galatians 3: 28-29)….Do not submit again to the yoke of slavery…but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence…serve one another…What the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5: 1-23). That is to say, one is born with those rights as a child of God and a brother and sister in Christ, it is not the state that grants them nobles oblige, nor can the state take them away. It took two thousand years, but eventually the idea came to fruition so that physical slavery is now illegal. To call all forms of exploitation (scapegoating, dislike of one’s occupation—probably 50% or more of all workers—predatory practices, dehumanization, abuses within families and institutions, etc.) slavery, is like saying everything is art; if everything is art, nothing is art. What about mental and psychological slavery? Of course there is such a thing as mental and psychological slavery, and it is perhaps more harmful than physical slavery. That is exactly what Paul was referring to: spiritual slavery which is indeed a state of mind and can be found in rich people who seem to have the world at their command as well as poor. Plato, who as a child of his times also tolerated slavery but was not a hypocrite, said something about poverty which also sheds some light on slavery: poverty has nothing to do with how much or how little one possesses but with how big are one’s desires. And he might have added: to be in the chains of one’s desires, is to be a spiritual slave indeed.

AP2009-01-10 16:20:52
Photo 1 - Woman in Bahia wears clothes of African inspiration
Photo 2 - African sculpture in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil
Photo 3 - Brazilian children visit the Quilombo dos Palmares, last November, Alagoas, Brazil
Photo 4 - Former slave trade market, Olinda, Brazil (the sign reads: "Olinda, Memory of the World")
Photos by Ana Pereira

AP2009-01-10 16:50:42
Goodness gracious, which desires do you mean? Desire of eating chocolate, of flying, watching motocross, winning a Nintendo playstation game, being with your wife, climbing Mount Everest, a New Year Eve's desire of not getting more debts in 2009 - what?

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-10 16:59:19
Indeed, to kill all desires is to be dead or close to it; on the other hand the ability to distinguish the good desires (virtues) from the bad desires (vices) is what makes us humans and free even if in a jail, and not instictually predetermined animals. To be a slave of one's bad desires or to consider them natural and merely instinctual is to dehumanzine oneself and in effect become a spiritual slave while actively advocating the abolition of physical slavery. That is Paul's insight. Read his letter to the Galatians in its entirety; it's all there.

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-10 17:00:36
Errata: dehumanize

AP2009-01-10 17:09:05
About Saint Paul's letters to the Galatians, Corinthians and so on, here's the answer by one of your favourite comedians:

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-10 17:12:56
I can just imagine! But then again, juvenile caricatures are not exactly mature rational arguments, yes? I still think you should be reading Paul's letter to the Corinthians while I look at your suggested video. You may be surprised at which holds more surprises.

AP2009-01-10 17:34:55
Humour is not a juvenile thing, it is an adult one. I don't know what makes you think I never read it - the fact that I'm not a Corinthian?
I would be interested in your distinction between vices and virtues, and the criteria you use to distinguish them. Where is, for you, the frontier between virtue and vice?

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-10 18:27:34
For that, as well as the definition of humour, all you need to do is re-read Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

AP2009-01-10 18:55:58
I'm asking you, not Aristotle.

Chris2009-01-10 19:20:31
This looks like an excellent study. It gives us a vision of how issues of slaver, servitude, manipulation, and other forms of human injustice are seen through the eyes of a young person living in our age. The contributions of youth are not to be denigrated or ignored, for they are the leaders of tomorrow. Keep up the good work, A.P. The world is extermely complex, and you show great promise.

AP2009-01-10 19:53:15
Man, I think I'm about to throw up. Sure, if not the youth, who will give the example, right Chris?

AP2009-01-10 20:01:10
Holy hypocrisy & Om.

AP2009-01-10 20:08:00
Just a Poem

There are nutties for anything
in this world – said Isis – a dragon
just imagine, a dragon translator,
wrote to me. What does that mean?
Not sure. When a dragon writes,
how do you answer – with a wing flap,
a rose or a straight punch?
(straight punch)
Oh goddess of fertility, your
harbour is a womb – the Dakini angel adorer noted
On a full moon night – the Rinpoche junior added
Bien sûr, just beware of the storm – replied Isis
Then she turned around and disappeared in the flood.
The dragon also wrote that the fleur de lis
showed the path of the sailors’ windrose
and the lilies showed the path of the lotus
or whatever
this one could be white, red, pink or blue
there’s a university in Oregon for you
and there was a harbour too – with Chopin
but the Pythagorean base 12 triangles
ate everything with golden apples
which they stole from the garden of the Hesperides
three young women, die trine the germans say
(trine equals angles of 120º, free flow of energy
and etcetera)
not women, greek goddesses of the twilight
Artemis shined and then the trident became a vajra
- Said Diana pissed with the fact that her
mother was left out of the story
not that anyone was understanding it up until now
I understand – said someone
but that monster was mistakenly lying
The pythoness at Delphi
the oracle called a womb
the seat a navel
and what the hell do I have to do with it?
(It looks like “aka the witch” in my bio can
cause pretty severe misunderstandings…)
then the lighthouse was blinking
and the library burnt down
the conquests of Alexander etcetera
they translated some Tibetan texts
in Kandahar and Samarkand
and it’s supposed to be all in my name
(Yeah, right… it seems to bear all
kinds of things which are not there).
How did the Corinthians wrote to St. Paul?
Just fuck off!

AP2009-01-10 20:36:29
errata - "write"

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-10 21:25:01
So much for humor, vomit, hypocrisy, expletives and all. Invariably, sooner or later people reveal their true colors and whether or not they are part of the solution or part of the problem.

AP2009-01-10 21:37:15
Very true.

AP2009-01-10 21:38:53
But Mr. P., as you don't know what I'm talking about, you lost an opportunity to be silent this time.

AP2009-01-10 21:43:41
Of course, you think every article and comment on this magazine is aimed at you. Not the case.

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-10 23:17:00
Indeed, since Socrates people have been offered opportunities to be silent or simiply go away, but historically those offers do not seem to work very well where free speech is respected and encouraged and slave to master power relationships are discouraged.

AP2009-01-11 00:18:23

Alexander Mikhaylov2009-01-12 05:15:17
Yes, there's a geat battle on our hands and it is only at the beginning - the battle between liers and those who simply want to live their lives, the battle between propaganda sluts, opressors, modern slave drivers, opportunists and all the rests... Yes, slavery is at large still, but it won't remain so forever

AP2009-01-12 20:15:52
Now you touched a sensible and universal topic: liars and deceivers. These can be great actors - with their talents channeled to the wrong ends. They can try to cheat even a stone, if it is possible, into believing that they are the most pure-hearted, saint, kind, well-wishing and harmless person there is.
What can we say about it?
1. If someone tells you "my heart is pure", just laugh. A heart which is pure is inferred, not exhibited. And we would have to discuss the concepts of purity too.
2. If a stranger tells you "I know you", ignore that. That's quite probably because the stranger wants to use you.
3. If there are deep discrepancies between the expressed and the latent, rise your boundaries.

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