Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Absurd Revisionism

NOTE: While I was reading an old article ("Greed Versus Evil") I was annoyed to find all the links still pointed to my defunct blog "Random Notes". Since these now simply dump one on a Townhall landing page, it is rather annoying to try to find the article on this blog, if it exists here at all. And so, once again, I am trying to update my old posts, changing the links to point to articles which have been moved over, and moving those articles I have not yet copied to this blog. This article is one such essay, a cited post which had not yet been copied from my personal backup copy of Random Notes and this blog. Some may seem rather dated, a few may even be contradicted by my later writing (as my ideas do evolve over time), but I am still copying them, both because having readable copies makes it easier to peruse old posts and, though they may no longer be entirely relevant, I still think almost all of them have some small value.

I am surprised I haven't written on this before, but there is an absurd revisionist approach to the history of slavery that I have to take on. It is usually brought up by the most militant of racial grievance mongers, often those pushing for reparations. It basically contends that the practice of slavery, especially as related to sub-Saharan Africans, was akin to genocide, and that many millions were killed as a result of slavery. In its most extreme form it includes fictitious stories of slave routes so choked with bodies sharks swarm there to this day.

What is so disturbing about this fictional history is not that it exists, but that anyone takes it seriously. Even a moment of thought would show how absurd it is, yet white liberals have been so conditioned to accept any claims of racist atrocities that few even question the most extreme claims.

Let us just look at the basics. Slaves were, and are still where slavery is still practiced, an asset. Remove all emotion from the question and look at it from a pragmatic point of view. A slave is a possession with value. Do you often key your own car or break the windows in your house? So why would owners of slaves want to kill them?

Perhaps, as slaves are living beings, we should look at a more apropos comparison. It will offend some, I am sure, but the best analogy may be livestock*. Both are living entities, owned by another, and expected to produce economic benefits. Both produce offspring which are also the property of the owner. And neither has any rights**. Thus it is useful to look to livestock for an analogy of the way one would treat a slave. And, as in the more simple example above, there is simply no logical reason one would abuse and kill slaves. Would you torture and kill your horses? You dairy cows? People may kill livestock used for food, but slaves were not consumed, so that is not a consideration. Slaves may not have received the best care, but so long as one expected economic value out of them, he would provide them with the necessities required to get that work out of them. A violent or rebellious slave might be harmed or killed, just as a violent animal would be, but I cannot see any argument for wholesale slaughter.

Think about the circumstances of a slave trader for a moment. He takes his ship to the coastal ports where slaves are sold. He most likely approaches the Arab middle men who buy slaves directly from those who capture them, either other black Africans or fellow Arab slave hunters. (Or perhaps he deals with the African or Arab slave hunters directly, it doesn't make any difference.) He examines the slaves available and selects those most likely to sell, or those whose price promises the best profit, and pays for them. He locks these slaves aboard his ship, along with supplies adequate to provide for the slaves and his crew during the voyage to his destination and sets sail.

Now, according to the myth of corpse choked water ways, he either simply neglects these slaves or intentional starves or brutalizes them, casting them overboard in numbers sufficient to continue attracting sharks two centuries later (as importation of slaves ended in the US long before slavery did).


He has paid for these slaves, they represent an investment.The merchant expects to make money from their sale. He is not kind to them out of humanitarian concerns, and does not feed them out of generosity, it is purely selfish, but it makes sense. Why would he bother buying a slave only to kill him off? That would not be a recipe for wealth, but for bankruptcy. Unless the revisionists are arguing that slave traders were motivated by sheer malice, a rational, selfish approach would be to keep the slaves alive until they are sold so as to produce the maximum profit.

But, of course, that is the problem with the revisionist approach. Just like modern stories of evil speculators who buy oil and sit on it just to make the prices high, banks which make bad loans and foreclose without a thought of the losses involved, or oil companies which intentionally avoid profitable leases***, the slave traders in this bizarre history are not rational businessmen but the Snidely Whiplash caricature businessmen who do evil for the sake of evil and don't concern themselves with rational approaches to profit and loss.

But, that being the case, I have to ask again, how can anyone possibly take this theory seriously? I understand the hustlers and grievance mongers pushing it, they don't believe it, for them it is just a tool, but why would anyone else take this seriously?


* Before someone gets their hackles up and accuses me of calling blacks livestock or says this an invidious racist comparison, I would remind them that slavery was not, and is not, practiced only upon blacks. In fact, for Europeans, prior to about 1550 or so, slavery was largely practiced on fellow Europeans. So the comparison to livestock has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with the economics of the situation.

** This is not strictly true. Slaves had some rights under various legal codes, though usually very few, and the extent of those rights varied with time and location. Likewise, animals currently have some minimal legal protections, though that is true only recently. But in both cases, it is not too inaccurate to act as if neither had any legally recognized rights, as even the most extensive protections were pretty minimal.

*** There is not space here to argue that these three are just as absurd, so let me make only brief explanations. (1) Speculators must not only buy but also sell to make money. But the current theory is that they just keep buying to drive up prices, never selling. Which is suicidal. (2) Banks make money by having loans repaid. Foreclosure almost always represents a loss for a bank, especially when the market is falling, which is why it is a last resort. (3) Oil companies make money by providing oil. And while scarcity raises prices, as Walmart, Ford and the entire 20th century taught us, bringing a lot of goods to market for a little profit per unit is more enriching than bringing a few high priced goods. So the theory oil companies are not exploiting their leases to keep oil expensive is absurd, to say the least. If you want more explanation of any of these, search my blog, I have written on all three many times, and all three recently as well.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/08/25.

NOTE: As I am trying to ensure the links in old posts all point to something useful, I have updated the links in this essay to point at local copies of each article.

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