Battling the people who still believe in slavery
The whips and shackles are gone. But belief in slavery is still around.
Not just historical slavery. Slavery here, now.
You have to listen close to hear about it.
Late at night over drinks, a conservative Southern Christian admitted life was better with slaves — even for the slaves. Over tea, a conservative Iraqi Muslim told me slavery is how God orders the world.
You hear it from the lowest of the low: in the smoke-clogged trailer park fire that is 4chan/pol, slavery is hot. "No moral problems against it," posters say, and "it's the natural order of things."
You hear from the middle: as many as one in five Trump supporters say Lincoln made the wrong decision when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
And you hear it from the top: I was in New York City recently, at a dinner with white cloth napkins and water glasses with elegant stems, sitting around the table with a couple of conservative journalists. One was a Ph.D. and a lecturer at an Ivy League college. The other runs a conservative website. Both write for outlets read by Donald Trump. Both said they believe in slavery.
Because they've got degrees, it wasn't "about race." They had a good, intellectual reason: Aristotle.
Aristotle is the Greek philosopher well-educated white dudes love. For him, slavery was not about race, but intelligence and education. Anyone who works with their hands, "are slaves by nature," Aristotle wrote in his book “Politics.” Those kinds of people are not smart enough to run their own lives, Aristotle believed. "For them it is better to be ruled," he wrote, for they "by nature are not their own but of someone else."
Equality is a nice idea, my friends in New York said, but it's naive. Inequality is the way of the world. Just as offices have bosses and workers, so do societies. The smart should be in charge. The dumb should do as they say.
This is a conservative idea, and not just for Americans.
Few countries are as conservative as India. And maybe no country in the world holds onto old ideas about slavery as much as them. It can't shake the caste system, where upper class Brahmins rule the Untouchables.
To this day, there's still slavery in India — though it's more like indentured servitude than chain-and-whip bondage. The upper class gets the lower classes in debt to them and then works them so hard it pretty much looks like slavery.
The slave owners in India don't see themselves as villains. The slaveholders in India "make the argument of tradition: because the practice has been going on for so long, it must be the natural order of things," researcher Kevin Bales wrote in Scientific American.
A modern slave owner from the upper class in India told Bales, "I am like a father to these workers. I protect them and guide them. Of course, sometimes I have to discipline them as well, just as a father would."
Poor people in America don't get disciplined by the upper classes, until you count the prison system, or probation. But they, too, live lives that look like indentured servitude. To get an education, many go massively into debt, and then work for decades to get free. To get a phone, car or house, Americans sign contracts no one really reads and can't understand and then work for years to pay it back. When people invest in their retirements, it's only to buy stocks other people control. And when someone else controls education, phones, cars, houses, and retirement, it looks like "slavery with extra steps," as Rick Sanchez said. The alt-right even has a word for this: wagecuck.
It's not Lords and Serfs anymore, but wealth inequality is higher than it's ever been. The richest three people in America own as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent. There's gonna be trillionaires soon. The new tax bill would hurt college benefits. iPhones and polo shirts are assembled and sewn by Indians and Chinese who live in tiny cells away from family with pollution clogging their lungs, a life so bad Apple hung nets off the side of its factories to catch the suicides dropping from the roof.
Conservatism isn't bad. In its pure form, it's just the idea that yesterday's ideas shouldn't be tossed away just because they're out of fashion. The country's schools, museums, churches, police, hospitals and fraternal organizations — they make the country what it is. Bulldozing them would bankrupt society. Conservatives rightly tell everyone to hang on to them.
But conservatives sometimes hang on to the wrong things. They drop the word slavery, but they hang on to the idea. Like a family moving houses boxing up the old Tupperware while they donate the baby pictures to Goodwill, some conservatives have hung on to Aristotle's ideas of "slaves by nature," but forgotten Jefferson's "all men are created equal," or Emerson's even simpler saying: "I'm as good as you are."