Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Slavery had already died out once before the industrial revolution was ever thought of. ARC responds...

1) To JEM:

"JEM's contention that the industrial revolution, not a conscious campaign, destroyed slavery, is a common idea but I think it is chronologically impossible. As I remarked in my first post, "the idea that slavery was wrong all over the world was only able to be propounded because it had already been abolished at home by a long historical process within a Christian culture." Strict slavery vanished from England circa 1100. Its milder cousin, serfdom, died over the next three centuries or so. Thus by the middle of the past millenium - 1500 or so - you have a society that

  • is without slavery (and serfdom) at home

  • is roughly comparable to China, technologically - a little ahead in some fields but still behind them in others, e.g. porcelain chemistry.

  • is not yet engaged in the African slave trade, or in significant contact with anywhere practicing slavery (adjacent areas of Europe still had serfdom - but in those days the degree of interaction for ordinary people was not great)

  • has not yet begun the industrial revolution

"In this society, the majority of the people were living at a technical level that would not have surprised their counterparts in the Roman empire (the central heating arrangements would certainly have seemed inferior, probably also the baths) but nonetheless functioned well enough without slavery. The steam engine, and the whole technical apparatus it represents, appears far too late to be the cause of this absence of slavery. Several authors (I recall that Thomas Sowell is one) have pointed out that western society did not become free because it was rich. It became rich because it was free.

"At the other end of the timeline (as JEM has noticed in his second post, but does not, I feel, draw the correct conclusions), capitalism certainly coexisted with slavery at times. The abolition of the slave trade was certainly not in the UK's economic interest at the time it happened and the antebellum south fitted very well into the mid-Victorian economic system. You can argue that economic trends would eventually have created economic arguments for sweeping slavery away. A conversation held just before the war started between Judge Campbell (southern) and Seward (northern; he was Lincoln's rival for the Republican nomination and later his secretary of state), reached agreement that slavery would reach its maximum extent in the US in 25 years and be on the way out for economic reasons within 50 years, therefore there was no need for a war over it. Even if you accept their long-term analysis (and their assumption that the slaves can just be patient for two generations in the general interest of avoiding war!), the conclusion is that slavery was not against the _immediate_ economic interests of capitalism.

"Thus I think that both the order of events and the economics indicate that capitalism is the servant, not the master here. It gives the western world the power to enforce its view of slavery on the world. It does not give the western world its view of slavery. If slavery had not become unknown in England long before technology began to make a real difference to the lot of ordinary people, then it would never have occurred to them that it was wrong elsewhere - _and_, I am also arguing, they would not have had the industrial revolution and so that technology. In this sense, thefore, there _is_ an incompatibility between slavery and capitalism - but an incompatibility in which cause and effect are reversed. Slavery could (and did) exist happily for millenia, quite untroubled by its theoretical incompatibility with a capitalist system that could not be until slavery was removed.

2) To Prof. Grayling:

"Re the professor's response, "The massive and systematic falsity of views to the effect that supernatural agencies operate in the universe with express reference to the lives of human beings on this planet, given in addition that they are so often and widely invoked to direct, dominate and often distort those lives, is scarcely describable in so offhand a way as 'one more tick on the bad side of the scoresheet.'

"He _appears_ rather to be missing the point, stated be me and others, that there _is_ no point in including the truth or falsity of a given religion, or a given atheist philosophy, in a debate on the helpfulness or harmfulness of either. That which is false is innately harmful, as I think we all agree. We either then go on to debate its truth or falsehood, or we agree to differ on that and debate whether, in the course of human history, one or another has done more harm in its effects, _apart_ from the fundamental issue of the wrongness of the belief in itself. To give an example, I think Buddhism quite wrong, but I might be persuaded that it has done relatively little positive harm in the large-scale historical sense criticised by Reader B (one might argue for the harm of political inaction - and of couse I agree with Reader B that the personal effects - characters formed, personal principles and happiness acquired, and ultimately souls saved - are important though large-scale history largely ignores them). I also dissent from Islam. That I would find it easy to argue for its having done more harm in the large-scale historical sense is not very relevant to the dissent; maybe on points of fundamental philosophy I dissent more from Buddhism. Your original post critiqued his original argument for the religion having done great harm relative to science, the difference between your views being taken as read.

3) To Grayling and JEM::

"Grayling states that, "The argument that _Communism, an ideology officially dedicated to scientific atheism, has killed more people than all the holy wars and holy tortures ever made_ is a canard that itself deserves the full Natalie Solent treatment of forensic deconstruction. Was it the _scientific atheism_ aspect that prompted the massacre of Kulaks or the starvation of Chinese peasants in the Great Leap Forward, or might it have been the ideology of class war, theories about collectivisation, and the like? Where did Communism learn its lessons about prophets and holy books, orthodoxy and conformity, the putting to death of heretics, and the like again?"

"And JEM states that Reader B "contends that the principles of Christianity are more important than their practical application. This is like saying that a scientific theory is perfect but the experimental results don't agree with it, therefore the experiment is wrong. This part of his argument is worse than the first. It does not just get us nowhere, it leads us deeper into the quagmire."

"In fact, Reader B, in line with your original reversal of the professor's original argument, was rephrasing his "Science labours towards an understanding of things, testing itself vigorously..." as a similar statement of the abstract purity of Christiantity as defined by its precepts. If one can _define_ science as only the pursuit of truth, and claim that communism was 'really' religious, despite its very vehement claim to be anti-religious and pro-scientific, then one can equally _define_ Christianity as only the imitation of Christ, and dismiss every crusade, every inquisition as 'really' atheistic. There is indeed a sense in which communism looks like a religion, jsut as there is a sense in which the extreme puritans of the 17th century look like atheists, but there is no sense in participating in this argument while taking one view but not the other.

"Thus I feel that the professor justifies Reader B and JEM's critique should really be directed at the professor. - ARC"