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New Take On An Old Profession

August 6, 2023

Most people would agree that slavery was a dark period in our history. At least those who have learned about it to any extent. Who have seen pictures and heard stories of the plight of some four million souls in the middle of the 19th century in our country.

Forcibly removed from their homeland for over 200 years. Impressed into lifetime involuntary servitude. Pennsylvania, in 1780, was the second state to abolish slavery, after Vermont did so in 1777. (I’m not sure if sharing that is legal in Florida, where slavery ended in 1865 after the Civil War.)

Most people should agree slavery was a dark historical period, but recent news stories are taking a fresh look at that old ‘profession’ in an attempt to help people avoid discomfort in lessons about the past. Think there is no way to sanitize the history of the slave trade?

“The board is considering curriculum changes one year after Texas passed a law to eliminate topics from schools that make students “feel discomfort.”

How? Texas is considering relabeling the slave trade as ‘involuntary relocation.’ It seems like that whole episode in our history SHOULD trigger some discomfort. I suspect those ‘involuntarily relocated’ did. We should not feel guilt for the sins of our fathers but discomfort is in order!

Perhaps there were some redeeming qualities about slavery that should temper judgment of that era. Florida, where “woke goes to die” according to a prominent politician, may be on to something here. Slaves reportedly benefited from slavery, learning valuable skills they could parlay to some benefit later in life. Blacksmithing for example. You know, once their enslavement ended. Mr. DeSantis clarified that these benefits were ‘in spite of’, not ‘because of’ slavery. Noted!

If this ‘involuntary relocation’ truly did have previously unrecognized, unacknowledged benefits, perhaps it deserves a second look. Is there some way we can apply 19th-century institutions to 21st-century dilemmas? I’ve been giving it some thought.

Good living-wage jobs can be hard to find. Parents might someday be able to sell their children, or themselves, to claw their way out of debt or sustain the family during periods of unemployment/underemployment. It could really help in a state like Florida, for instance, where

“The minimum weekly benefit amount is $32 and the maximum weekly benefit amount is $275.” For up to 19 weeks.

Or Texas:

“Your weekly benefit amount ( WBA ) is the amount you receive for weeks you are eligible for benefits. Your WBA will be between $72 and $563… depending on your past wages.” For up to 26 weeks

I’m not sure how people would enter the market. Pennysaver ads? Public auctions, as in the good old days? And all could derive some benefit from learned skills that one day help them along in their career. (In spite of, not because of circumstances.) There could be, potentially, a sixty-percent deduction for new dependents of modern slaveholders. I’m going by Article One, Section Two Clause 3 of the Constitution of the United States which:

“declared that any person who was not free would be counted as three-fifths of a free individual for the purposes of determining congressional representation.”

Now, this was for the purpose of congressional representation, but is it a stretch for those ‘involuntarily relocated’, newly dependents of modern slaveholders, to include some kind of tax deduction?

I don’t want to seem overly glib about the particulars. Mistakes were made in the old days. There would need to be some adjustments to that old “peculiar institution.” An improved legal definition of what constitutes property; What an owner could do with it. For instance, there would have to be clear lines of proper conduct between modern masters and slaves or we could become embroiled in a whole new #MeToo issue. There would be need for some protection against families being separated… members “sold down the river,” as the saying went, through normal inter-business commerce. Lashes/beatings would, of course, be strictly forbidden. Or at least supervised/regulated. (By OSHA perhaps?) And of course, there would have to be some guarantee of freedom/manumission after the agreed-upon period of servitude ended.

Rex Huppke distilled Fox News’ Jesse Waters’ word logic about “useful Jews during the Holocaust” in defense of Ron Desantis’ take on the benefits of slavery (in spite of, not because of):

“So nobody’s arguing slaves benefited from slavery, but they are arguing that slaves benefited from slavery. It makes perfect sense as long as you ignore all the words and what they mean.”

It occurs to me that, if this re-imagining of slavery is successful, we might also be able to re-brand other institutions that have, up to now, been mostly frowned upon. Consider prostitution. Surely prostitutes are learning/perfecting skills (in spite of, not because of), through commerce with politicians, industry leaders, community leaders, various other sinners, etc. that they can parlay into later endeavors in life.

Could this ‘silver-lining’ logic be applied elsewhere? Shooting victims gaining experience with firearms could mitigate woke agitation of gun control supporters. I’m sure I’m missing a LOT of benefits obscured by narrowly focusing only on discomforting negatives.

Perhaps these ‘sagacious’ revisionist treatments have been influenced by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:

“whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

A better perspective may be that of Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

I don’t get all the howling about teaching our future citizens/leaders about errors of the past. A first responsibility to the future SHOULD be recognizing that errors of the past WERE errors. Sometimes HORRIBLE errors. Making SURE they are never repeated. Not cleverly re-branding ‘bugs’ as (or having) ‘undocumented features.’ It is the future that suffers. The children, denied a clear-eyed future by word-gymnastic spins on the past, could be doomed to repeat history’s great mistakes. How will we spin that? What are we giving the children? What are we failing to give them?

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