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June 16, 2014

Fathers and Work

Who teaches children the value of hard work? Arthur C. Brooks argues that fathers do:

... hard work is correlated with well-being. The University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics polls thousands of American families, and its 2009 results show that people who feel good about themselves work more than those who don’t. It asks how often the respondents felt so sad that nothing could cheer them up. My analysis of the study showed that people who felt that way “none of the time” worked 10 percent more hours per week than those who felt that way “most of the time.” This holds true when we eliminate people who worked zero hours, so it is not merely that unemployed people are miserable. This doesn’t prove that extra work hours chase away sadness, but it weakens any argument that the cure for the blues is a French workweek.

So vocation is crucial to leading a satisfying life. Who teaches this truth to children? Many traditions emphasize the role of fathers. Jesus defended himself to the Pharisees for working on the Sabbath by saying, “my Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” And the Talmud instructs us, “For a man not to teach his son a trade or profession is equivalent to teaching him to steal.”

The best way for a father to teach this is by example. This explains why a child’s ability to grow up to be a productive adult is so strongly predicted by the presence of a working father in the home. The Princeton sociologist Sara McLanahan has for decades studied what happens to sons and daughters when their fathers are absent. She finds that after controlling for demographics, children in fatherless families are roughly twice as likely to drop out of high school as kids in intact homes. Even after controlling for student talent via standardized test scores, a sharp decline in grades and attendance persists. And young men who grow up without a father are 1.5 times more likely to be idle — that is, neither in the work force nor in school — than those with a father in the home. And this brings us to a particularly serious issue this Father’s Day: Our growing national jobs deficit. In 1953, just 14 percent of adult American men were neither working nor seeking work. Today, that rate has more than doubled, to 30 percent. And this doesn’t only reflect an aging population with more retired men: Just after World War II, 8 percent of noninstitutionalized males ages 25 to 54 were not working. Today, 17 percent of that same group of men are idle.


Posted by Cassandra at June 16, 2014 08:00 AM

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Just so.

And the Talmud instructs us, “For a man not to teach his son a trade or profession is equivalent to teaching him to steal.”

Fascinating advice. We do just this with a majority of our children, who come out of High School -- the major provision we as a society make for them -- without anything like a trade or profession. You can easily come out of college the same way.

I think a liberal education is important for the reasons this article describes so well -- you can't have a free society without it. But perhaps we should also make provision for a practical education in addition to the necessary liberal one.

Posted by: Grim at June 16, 2014 10:15 AM

We tried to teach our boys, not a specific career, but rather that work is valuable and that people need to find ways to contribute to their communities and families.

Economies have changed quite a bit over the centuries, but I did have one of my sons intern for me and I think the experience was useful to him. Working with their father wasn't really an option.

Posted by: Cass at June 16, 2014 10:23 AM

It occurs to me, reading all three of this morning’s posts, we are in a "battle of the narrative". Not competing narratives mind you - that merely constitutes a civil war. The great war is narrative v no narrative.

Our natural instinct to question "what is...?" had led us to philosophy. We had, in the epilogue that is the time after the ancient Greeks to Aquinas, been going down hill. To ask "what is... ?" is man at his best. To answer "!...is the answer" is man at his wretched worst. It may be the most dangerous thing people do is to organize themselves by their prejudices. With the proliferation of, National Organization of... (insert whichever), we find ourselves beyond our limits, in over our heads, wading in dangerous currents. It should come as no surprise that I blame the 'government' as the motivating force in all this. One needn’t know even a soupçon of Frankfurt School theory to know that governments eventually get around to factionalizing the constituency and generating a taxonomy from it.

Whenever I hear of a study on the importance of fathers, the indispensability of mothers, the intrinsic and exponential power of the family I expect, at the next moment, to hear that modern man had just discovered the wheel.

I’d advise we all disband. Go home everyone. Have a good Tiki drink or whiskey, make good love, make more children. Repeat.

Long, long, really long odds it doesn’t happen.

Posted by: George Pal at June 16, 2014 10:44 AM

I've always been interested in research about motherless households. Not for nothing is Atticus Finch the idealized father for my sister and me. (She even named my nephew Atticus.) Growing up without a work ethic certainly wasn't ever my problem, but perhaps the distaff side of my training was a little ragged.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 16, 2014 10:44 AM

To ask "what is... ?" is man at his best. To answer "!...is the answer" is man at his wretched worst. It may be the most dangerous thing people do is to organize themselves by their prejudices.

George darlin', I agree with you :)

I don't have any problem with putting theories out for discussion/debate - that's how I evaluate them. But I do get aggravated when people claim to know the answers to questions that have plagued us throughout human history.

I think there's a reason we're still asking, and it's not always because we don't like the traditional answer.

As for the government, I view that as a vector very much like the Internet. It allows like minded people to pool their efforts and gain a larger voice than they would on their own. Sometimes that's a very good thing, and sometimes it's downright destructive.

Humans have always been driven by their passions - that's why we fear demagogues. The Internet seems to act like an accelerant, speeding up an already powerful force and giving it far more range than it would ever have in the natural world.

Thus, my feeble attempts to tilt at digital windmills... :)

Posted by: Cass at June 16, 2014 11:40 AM

We had, in the epilogue that is the time after the ancient Greeks to Aquinas, been going down hill.

Three cheers for that one!

Thus, my feeble attempts to tilt at digital windmills... :)

You know, Don Quixote is really an early Modern book -- it's right at the front of the period at which things began to change for the worse (as George Pal says). And this scene you reference is one of the levers: it's a mockery of the high ideals that grew out of the old way of thinking.

Martin Luther, another key mover of levers, said that the best thing to do with the Devil is laugh at him, because he cannot bear scorn. I think he was wrong about that. Scorn is one of the Devil's main tools. Mockery is his weapon. 'How square you are! How not "with it"! How uncool. You probably tilt at windmills.'

Cervantes' book causes Don Quixote to turn into an embittered man, but his example in the good old days inspires Sancho to become a tilter himself. Good for you that you're one also. Keep it up.

Posted by: Grim at June 16, 2014 12:07 PM

Grim,

Thanks, for the cheers. And I quite agree about Don Quixote. That first novel remains one of my favorites. Its salutary lessons are formed in the mind of the unillusional Sancho:
“too much of a good thing”; “forgive and forget”; and - God bless him - “mind your own business”.

Posted by: George Pal at June 16, 2014 01:46 PM

Whether "things have changed for the worse" very much depends on what one values.

It has never been clear to me that things have indeed changed for the worse, nor what criteria you guys use to make such sweeping judgments?

Posted by: Cass at June 16, 2014 09:09 PM

Whether "things have changed for the worse" very much depends on what one values.

Just so. If what you value is technology, or wealth, things are much better today. Those are not negligible things, to be sure.

What George said that I agree with is that the moral life is tightly connected to the life of the mind -- we are moral creatures especially when we think, observe, and then choose to order ourselves to a moral vision. From ancient Greece to Aquinas -- really, a bit after Aquinas -- there was a tradition that eventually embraced the Christian, Jewish, and parts of the Islamic world.

That civilization shattered, and I think I know why it did. Yet I also think it was a tragedy, and would very much like to restore that view of the relationship of reason to faith, and the capacity to respect the wise of old while revising them. That was what Aquinas was doing with Aristotle, after all: making sure we understood what Aristotle had really said, as well as he could, but also then explaining how to marry that to the truths of faith or that had been discovered by empirical inquiry (proto-scientific inquiry, we would say).

What Don Quixote was subtly mocking was what was ever best about the West: a man so caught up in this vision of what it meant to be a Christian gentleman that it never occurred to him to treat a prostitute differently than a noblewoman. Well, and nor did Jesus.

Posted by: Grim at June 16, 2014 10:29 PM

If what you value is technology, or wealth, things are much better today.

That's hardly all there is to value - you're cherry picking.

There's the fact that virtually no one defends or practices slavery anymore. It has gone from mainstream and accepted to universally condemned, illegal, and punishable by law.

I value that.

There's the fact that parents who physically or sexually abuse their children can be stopped from doing so, and people don't view children as property but as human beings with some rights.

I value that.

There's the fact that a father can't simply kill unwanted children, as was common back then. Yes, mothers can abort their children. And mothers aborted their children in ancient times - natural abortifacients were plentiful.

But still, we've made *some* progress. From "both parents could kill their children" to "mothers have a limited legal right to abort unborn children before the 3rd trimester" is progress.

And I value that.

There's the fact that families who fall on hard times are not left to starve in the streets, as they were in ancient times. There are shelters and food kitchens for the homeless manned by volunteers and no reason for anyone to starve, ever.

I value that.

The poor no longer sell their children into slavery or prostitution.

I value that.

Of course there are some things that have gotten worse. You can't look at only some of the good and declare "things are worse" - you have to look at the whole picture.

It's not good that so many marriages don't last now.

It's not good that people continue to get pregnant without getting married and committing to raising their children. But the truth here is that this happened in ancient times too, and families often disowned a pregnant daughter, leaving her and the child to starve.

It's not good that so many married people seem to believe they have some God-given right to behave as though they weren't married, but this is hardly new either.

You love to quote a few - a very few - philosophers or thinkers that the vast majority of people who lived back then never knew of or read because they couldn't read at all as some sort of evidence of whether things are better or worse. So I take from this that you value philosophy more than the practical realities and morality of the general populace. More than really, really important things like, "Does the average person alive today think it's right to own another human being?"

To me, the fact that most people absolutely don't believe that's right is progress. I value deeds over words - especially written words read by a few of the elite while the great mass of people know nothing of them.

Which is not to say that these works weren't great in their own right - they were. But the moral weight of "most people" is in many ways closer to what I consider right and moral: not selfishly claiming the right to use another human being; recognizing the rights of others; not being allowed - because the moral consensus forbids it, not because some philosopher may or may not have said so - to treat women and children as chattel property.

These are important advances. To dismiss them as trivial or unimportant is, I think, a categorical error that's hard to justify.

Posted by: Cass at June 17, 2014 06:07 AM

This is the kind of discussion that ordinarily goes poorly, so let me say at the onset that I don't intend to do so. I'm just going to tell you what I think is true, even though it disagrees with you. I don't intend thereby to anger you.

So here's the first thing I believe that disagrees with you: most of these things you cite as advances strike me as polite fictions that cover a reality that is actually worse than ever.

In absolute terms, there are more slaves today than there have ever been at any other moment in history. There are about thirty million slaves today, chiefly in India and China -- that is, to those areas where American corporations have pushed out so much of our manufacturing and cotton production(!). Our economy is still very much based on slave labor -- we've just pushed it outside of our borders, so that we can pretend we have had some progress. In actual fact, those little Chinese-made technology toys Americans love so much were probably built by slaves; the clothes you wear were probably made of cotton grown by slaves.

These facts are widely known, but Americans buy Chinese stuff every day -- so much so that our trade balance with China is hugely in their favor.

Likewise, abortion may in some sense be 'a limited right possessed only by women,' but in absolute numbers that 'limited right' results in over a million dead children a year. Is it an advance that fathers don't have the right? Perhaps; but is it a fact that fathers don't exercise the right by pressuring women into abortions? Of course not. It's another polite fiction.

And as for the poor not selling their children into prostitution, well.

Look, even in America, all these things are bigger now than they've ever been. Slavery supports our economy now even more than it did in 1860. Prostitution is, if anything, expanding as our moral objections to it collapse. Abortion continues at well over a million a year.

And to these evils, we have added new ones -- not only the ones you describe.

But the worst thing, to me, is not this. It is the loss of the moral structure that allows us to condemn it. It was that structure, that Christian structure, that allowed us even to achieve the limited gains of adopting polite fictions -- of pushing the slavery that supports our economies out of sight in non-Christian nations.

That's what you're tossing out when you say that the practical is more important than the philosophical -- you're tossing out the thing that made those practical gains possible, insofar as they were real gains at all. Insofar as they were fictions, they were fictions we only even wanted to believe because of this Christian heritage.

Finally, I dispute (as always) that philosophy was limited to those who could read and write. It was not. In a time when the Church trained priests who lived in every village, and who spoke daily to almost everyone in the village, the ideas were far more widespread among the people than today. Yes, people can now read -- and for a long time, they read the Bible.

Now what do they read? What do they watch and listen to every evening, instead of the Mass?

Posted by: Grim at June 17, 2014 09:10 AM

Well, don't worry about making me angry. As you've observed, we've had this discussion so many times that I am unlikely to be surprised.

That said:

In absolute terms, there are more slaves today than there have ever been at any other moment in history. There are about thirty million slaves today, chiefly in India and China -- that is, to those areas where American corporations have pushed out so much of our manufacturing and cotton production(!).

Two points:

1. When I talk about us being "worse off today", I am referring ONLY to the US (our society) and possibly Western Europe. I don't think it makes any sense to discuss the moral climate of the world, because it is so diverse.

2. As for the world, the population has grown. If the same proportion of slave owners to non-slave owners existed as had always existed, there would be more slaves simply because... math. One could certainly say things are worse if more people are suffering, but I *don't* think it would be at all accurate to claim there are more slaves b/c the moral climate degenerated. There would be more slaves because, though the proportion of people who practiced slavery was unchanged, there were simply more of them.

It's a root cause argument.

3. It seems silly to me to talk about us "outsourcing slavery". I doubt too many of the American companies now out of business due to foreign competition wanted or intended to outsource anything. Do we (unintendedly) benefit from foreign slavery because it lowers the cost of production for foreign goods (and thus the price)?

Probably. But that doesn't make us morally culpable nor does it mean we "caused" the problem.

Likewise, abortion may in some sense be 'a limited right possessed only by women,' but in absolute numbers that 'limited right' results in over a million dead children a year. Is it an advance that fathers don't have the right? Perhaps; but is it a fact that fathers don't exercise the right by pressuring women into abortions?

Again, is this a matter where the proportion of people who approve of abortion changed? Or is it a case of more people/same proportion = more abortions? I don't actually know the answer to that question and neither do you :p

In an odd way, you're making the argument that practical results are more important than moral beliefs (people agreeing that X is wrong).

A good example from my own life is that I grew up in the world where men routinely and openly said incredibly insulting things about women and saw nothing wrong with that.

It has been years since I've heard a man say that type of thing in the real world (Internet jackwagonry aside) and my sense is that men in general are far more accepting of women as peers, are far more willing to work with women, etc. Even with the admitted excesses of feminism.

even in America, all these things are bigger now than they've ever been. Slavery supports our economy now even more than it did in 1860. Prostitution is, if anything, expanding as our moral objections to it collapse. Abortion continues at well over a million a year.

The slavery example makes no sense for the reasons cited earlier. And with abortion, you're once again citing totals rather than proportions. On prostitution, I very much doubt you have any data whatsoever to base your claim upon. The very fact that prostitution is illegal in the vast majority of the US (it was NOT illegal in many places 150 years ago) shows that the weigh of moral consensus has turned against it.

You are, I think, not going back far enough as your baseline. How many brothels and bawdy houses operate in the open today? How about earlier?

Prostitution was perfectly legal in ancient Greece. It's illegal most everywhere in modern America. That's an odd notion of morals getting worse!

Finally, there's a difference between what people listen to and what they have decided to tolerate in their society.

I don't doubt that Christianity and Judaism were behind the moral transformation of the West for one moment. But the bulk of that moral transformation occurred mostly after the times you lament the passing of because they were supposedly "better".

Better for whom? Whatever the population, what drives a civilization is the proportion of people who think X, Y, or Z is wrong and unacceptable. If people in the past really believed abortion, slavery, and prostitution were morally wrong and unacceptable, they certainly had a funny way of showing it. In my book, when something is perfectly legal that generally indicates the weight of that age's moral consensus and the strength of that age's moral objections to those practices.

By that standard, public morality is quite a bit better than it was.

Posted by: Cass at June 17, 2014 09:54 AM

Especially in slavery, what you're talking about is better measured by absolute numbers. What we're talking about is the consciousness of an individual being who spends his or her life toiling in slavery. Proportion is a strange way to measure that, since it is individual beings who do the suffering.

So, is it better that 30 million minds suffer today vice 1 million minds a hundred years ago? Not obviously. The proportionate decrease is due to technological improvements -- we "need" fewer slaves by proportion -- but the suffering is really better measured by the absolute figures.

You are, I think, not going back far enough as your baseline.

Well, let's get the baseline right, then. Ancient Sumeria is not exactly what I was thinking of as the high point of human civilization. :)

How far back should we go? I think you can speak of the High Middle Ages forward -- a bit past Aquinas, even into the Modern era insofar as the Moderns were operating off the heritage that they'd received. I've been reading Devlin this week, and he was writing in the 1960s. Even at that date, the law was enforcing traditional moral standards on things like prostitution and the publication of pornography. His concern was that the state had really lost the right to do so, because it had rejected religion as a foundation for law. The society, in a sense, was only beginning to realize what thinkers like Mill had made explicit, but which (in spite of the literacy of the population) took quite a while to filter down: that there was no longer a legitimate foundation for moral laws in positive laws.

Devlin was trying to establish one, and I find his arguments interesting and worth reading. But he's very much aware of the problem: and his concern is that a whole set of things are implicated by the loss. We no longer have a reason to have laws against abortion, he notes, nor bestiality, nor marriages of incest insofar as they are conducted by consenting adults.

So here's a baseline issue: you cite abortion as evidence of improvement vice an Ancient Roman practice of exposure. But I was not thinking of Ancient Rome; I was thinking of High Western civilization, which banned abortion outright (although Charlemagne's law treated it as less serious a sin in something like the first trimester, which is interesting in a way). And it was still the case even in Devlin's day -- fifty years ago -- that abortion was unquestionably immoral and illegal in Britain and the United States.

Now we have more than a million a year, quite legally, 98% of which are for purely elective reasons.

This is what I'm talking about when I say that we've lost the structure that allowed us to build moral criticisms. If you read the abolitionists in the United States, they were motivated by intense Christian feeling. The same class that produced the abolitionists in the 1850s -- I mean the so-called WASPs of especially the northeastern states -- are today among the biggest advocates for things like abortion, or eliminating laws against "sex workers" (which, of course, really aim at protecting young women and girls from being forced into the trade).

Somewhat like Paris Hilton, who inherited a large fortune she never earned, much was done with the heritage of the High West before it was fully squandered. At last, though, even the greatest fortunes will be expended if they are not replenished.

Posted by: Grim at June 17, 2014 10:13 AM

Especially in slavery, what you're talking about is better measured by absolute numbers. What we're talking about is the consciousness of an individual being who spends his or her life toiling in slavery. Proportion is a strange way to measure that, since it is individual beings who do the suffering.

If what you are trying to measure is the stat of public morality, proportions are the only way to measure that.

If at time X, 10% of the public believed that A was wrong, where at a later time Y, 99% of the public believed that A was wrong, then between time X and time Y, public morality improved. The fact that the exceedingly tiny minority is able to harm a greater raw number because the population increased does not diminish the suffering of those individuals harmed, but it also does not diminish the moral advances of the public at large.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 17, 2014 10:35 AM

If given the choice between living in a world where 10% of the people think slavery is wrong and a world where 99% of the people think slavery is wrong, I'm taking the latter. The population increase was going to happen anyway. Had public morality not improved, the raw numbers suffering under slavery would be vastly worse.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 17, 2014 10:39 AM

My concern, YAG, is that much of this 'public morality' amounts to polite fictions. Thus, we have to measure not only what people believe they believe in, but what is actually tolerated. Americans know, at some level, that they're buying slave-produced goods. It doesn't interfere with their conduct in any way. So, they believe they oppose slavery; but it's a belief that doesn't get put into practice.

There's a famous thought experiment about a man who thinks he believes that the world will end next week -- but he won't cash in his pension. To test that, you have to measure both the beliefs that people claim to have (and may even believe they have) versus actual conduct.

Posted by: Grim at June 17, 2014 10:40 AM

Had public morality not improved, the raw numbers suffering under slavery would be vastly worse.

I don't think it's improved at all. What I think is that technology has improved, such that we don't need as many slaves to get the work done. Machines prove to be both easier to keep and cheaper over the long run than people.

So you could get to zero actual slaves, given sufficiently advanced technology, in a world where nobody believed slavery was wrong. And of course, there's the problem of polite fictions: is this something we only believe that we believe, or do we really believe it enough to change ourselves and pay a price?

Pope Francis has been talking about these issues quite a bit lately. It's a good thing that he does.

Posted by: Grim at June 17, 2014 10:43 AM

Even thus, the proportion of expenditures on slave produced goods is almost certainly smaller today.

Not to mention that even by the report's own definitions many of those slaves are from forced marriages (so not purchasable by the average US consumer), sexual exploitation (again, not really purchasable by the average US consumer), domestic service slaves (also, not purchasable by the average US consumer - noticing a trend here?).

The only category that could be supported by the US consumer would be "forced labor", but the breakout of that was not given. Nor how it was defined. Quite a few groups would consider low wages as "wage-slavery" despite the fact that the alternative to $1.50/hour is $0/hour and starving to death. One might conclude that death is better than "wage-slavery" but the workers themselves apparently disagree. If you've got some evidence that Apple is preventing NIKE from opening up a factory that would pay $2/hour, I could buy off on the US consumer being complicit is the harm of foriegn citizens over wage fixing. But that's still not slavery.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 17, 2014 10:57 AM

So you're telling me that the categories we've chosen to track are the ones that confirm what we'd like to believe.

Look, this isn't that hard. When the British decided they opposed slavery (again! since chattel slavery wasn't practiced in Medieval Britain) they embarked upon a very costly crusade to eliminate the slave trade insofar as they were able. When our American ancestors decided they were opposed to it, they paid a huge price in blood.

We don't even have to do that. We could track which areas of India are producing slave-grown cotton. We could refuse to do business with countries that permit slavery. We could at least impose trade sanctions until they reform their practices. Are we doing any of that? Are we even debating it seriously?

Heck, we could offer to buy them tractors and machines in exchange for freeing their slaves. We could even keep buying cheap products for them at the individual level, then, with a morally clean conscience.

How much is this alleged belief worth to us? Here's a story on Drudge today: "Thousands of sex slaves cross the border." For decades. Many headed for Queens, to service the needs of New York City.

So what's the big concern in New York City related to prostitution? What are the most moral, best-educated people concerned about there? Sex-slavery? No, it's this idea that 'sex work' should be received as more legitimate than it is.

They believe that they believe what they believe they believe, I don't doubt. But I don't think they really believe it.

Posted by: Grim at June 17, 2014 11:13 AM

I hesitate to drop back in here. My tendency to take a broadsword and mace to things might undo what Grim had so wonderfully done, and make of his formidable arguments collateral damage - but I advance. There is today something of a trend in the social sciences – the propagation of the Toffler Syndrome. It amounts to variations of a riff of Comte’s 'every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better'. Steven Pinker’s Our Better Angels is a recent contribution. Distilled, it comes to this: fewer violent deaths, longer life span, ergo things are better than ever. Reminds me of evening newscasts during our adventures in Vietnam that featured body counts as a measure of the brilliant success of our enterprise – so long as we kill more of them than they us – we win.

The Toffler Syndrome and Pinkerism () abounds:
Frivolous Intellectuals:
Steven Pinker –The Better Angels
Jared Diamond – Guns and Butter, nut
E O Wilson – Gay uncle theoretician
Malcolm Gladwell – inferential twit: America's Best-Paid Fairy-Tale Writer (New Republic)
"his books are analgesics for those who seek temporary relief from abiding anxiety." – John Gray
David Brooks – intellectual poseur

Grim brings up abortion as a sine qua non of what ails us – our belief that what we contend are the contentions of nobler angels. Nothing more indicts us as morally defunct than abortion. Once the moral consideration in a question dense with moral implications is dismissed, for what purpose may it then be resurrected and put to use? In the event of cheating? Pilfering? Skimming? Lying?

That we are morally advanced is now apothegm and a cottage industry. The past was not as 'advanced' as we but an accounting would credit them as advancing the human enterprise. We, on the other hand, will be accounted in red ink as having broken the trend. We prove everyday that our rise from pond scum to star dust was not a permanent ascension but merely a trajectory. No-one, anymore, seems to be aware of the phenomenon of moral gravity – it takes a great deal of energy to overcome. We have convinced our selves there’s no such thing.

Posted by: George Pal at June 17, 2014 12:00 PM

Don’t know why Pinkerism was lost in the ether.

Pinkerism: “something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler”

Posted by: George Pal at June 17, 2014 12:06 PM

Especially in slavery, what you're talking about is better measured by absolute numbers. What we're talking about is the consciousness of an individual being who spends his or her life toiling in slavery.

No, we're not. Unless we're talking about the world being a worse place to live in.

That's entirely a different question than whether the moral climate is better or worse.

I don't think there's actually a serious argument that the world was better to live in back then. Suffering was far more widespread, inequality (gross inequality, as in rich/starving or master/slave) was worse. The weakest members of society had few/no protection under law. As you have so often observed, if they were lucky enough to have a male protector, they had some protection but a great many had nothing like that and thus, no recourse.

Posted by: Cass at June 17, 2014 01:02 PM

I don't think there's actually a serious argument that the world was better to live in back then.

I think there are ways in which it was better, and ways -- especially and chiefly technological ways -- in which it was worse.

If we were talking about which would I'd prefer to live in, it might therefore be a hard choice: the advantages of one are certainly offset by a large degree by the danger of (say) losing your children to diseases for which we now have medical treatments. That's a very great good I certainly want to preserve.

But if we're talking about which world I want to live in now -- a world in which we find a way to revive the old moral foundations, and a world in which we continue to slide down the trajectory mapped by the errors of the present -- I don't think there's what you call 'a serious argument' against the idea that the old way should be revived.

Yet the point about slaves really is about the moral climate. It should weigh on us more that thirty million people are living their lives in this kind of suffering. Somewhat like Stalin's point about tragedy v. statistics, this is a general failing of the human mind: we don't deal well with big numbers.

All the same, the suffering is measured in terms of the number of people suffering this fate. If we aren't motivated by thirty million to do even the simple things -- at far less cost to ourselves than our ancestors bore for one million suffering souls -- can we really say that we are opposed to slavery in the same way that they were?

If not, then here as with abortion, pornography and prostitution, we have slipped away from something better. We aren't improving; we're falling back from something better.

My tendency to take a broadsword and mace to things...

You can do good work with a broadsword and mace, George. But I'm a longsword man, myself.

Posted by: Grim at June 17, 2014 01:13 PM

...it was still the case even in Devlin's day -- fifty years ago -- that abortion was unquestionably immoral and illegal in Britain and the United States.

In the context of history, 50 years ago is the blink of a gnat's eye and at any rate, 50 years ago is squarely into the time period you already declared was so much worse than ancient Greece! In the 1850s, first trimester abortion was either legal or a misdemeanor in most of the US.

100 years later, abortion was a felony in 49 of the 50 states, but this was a brief departure from the more usual rule for hundreds of years that abortion (and particularly 1st trimester abortion) has been legal or at worst a minor crime in most Western societies. The Catholic Church has (I believe) always viewed it as a mortal sin, but the Catholic church has not been equal to The Law.

As for the "polite fiction" argument, I think it's mostly invalid. As YAG already stated, I'd rather live in a world where 90% of people claimed to believe murder was morally wrong (and the law contained means to formally punish murderers) than one in which only 10% of them claimed it was morally wrong and the law contained no way to punish murderer.

As for the buying of Chinese goods, that argument simply does not hold water either. First of all, goods don't contain little labels that say "made by free persons" or "made by slaves". It's ridiculous to measure the strength of a belief that slavery is wrong by expecting people to refuse to buy ANY goods from an entire country on the mere chance that slave labor might have been used during the manufacturing process.

What makes far more sense is to look at their laws - do they tolerate slavery or even protect it under law? What do they do to slavers when they are caught? That's a far better measure of what people really believe than whether they buy goods that may or may not have been produced using slave labor.

Posted by: Cass at June 17, 2014 01:28 PM

In the context of history, 50 years ago is the blink of a gnat's eye and at any rate, 50 years ago is squarely into the time period you already declared was so much worse than ancient Greece!

I defined the terms as I intended them: the High Middle Ages forward, even into the Modern era insofar as it was tapping its inheritance from the High West. Devlin is defending the inheritance of moral values as well as he can.

As for the "polite fiction" argument, I think it's mostly invalid.

"Invalid" is a logical term which does not apply to political arguments, as they are analogical rather than logical by character. Of course the conclusion is not logically entailed by the premises, because it can't be: there aren't logical objects to use in political rhetoric.

Nevertheless there are strong reasons to believe that we don't really mean many of our laws -- that the laws themselves are polite fictions. Is illegal immigration illegal? We have laws against it. There is presently a huge flood of immigration crossing our southern border. If the President will not enforce those laws -- if he indeed flouts them precisely for political advantage -- would it help to pass another law?

Is sex slavery illegal in Queens? Of course!

Are tens of thousands of women being held as sex slaves there? Absolutely.

Sex-slavery in America 1/3rd as much illegal revenue as the drug trade, but receives 1/22 the enforcement activity. Yet the drug trade is arguably a victimless crime, and sex slavery is allegedly a violation of our most sacred values.

So no, I don't think the fact of a law proves much. What's being done about it? Passing a law is an empty act if the law is not enforced.

Surely we're on the same side here, yes? Don't you agree that sex slavery is a huge problem, and that more should be done about it? Don't you think that the willingness to turn a blind eye toward it -- even to try to legalize prostitution, so as to limit the damage that might be done to oneself should one wish to use a prostitute now and then -- represents a moral failure?

But Devlin is right here too. We used to create laws for the purposes he describes as "citadels" and "outworks," and the laws against prostitution are an outwork. They happen to ban something that people are opposed to chiefly for moral grounds, a kind of consensual prostitution for which there is no harm that might justify a law on Mill's principles. But they serve as an outwork to protect the citadel: the laws against slavery.

Now we're pulling down the outworks, and the citadels are placed at risk. We can't put the outworks back up, though: increasingly, the courts themselves declaim the outworks as unconstitutional violations. We aren't quite there with consensual prostitution yet, but we are approaching the point.

Posted by: Grim at June 17, 2014 01:48 PM

"If what you value is technology, or wealth, things are much better today."

Sure, otherwise everything's much worse, unless you happen to be one of the people who didn't have a deathlike grip on the tiny stash of good stuff way back when. But we've had this discussion before about nostalgia for the good old days. I'll cheerfully take today, warts and all. Life was pretty good way back when for about 0.00001% of humanity. All this suspect wealth and technology has made it possible for a hugely greater proportion of people to live something like the life that was available only to a very, very few fortunate people a few centuries or millennia ago. I happen to like being able to read, write, and earn a living.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 17, 2014 03:54 PM

I believe the problems with enforcing human trafficking laws are mostly flaws in the way the laws are written. I don't think there's any "polite fiction" going on here.

I don't think no one cares about this issue.

I *do* think that - due to the nature of trafficking - it is mostly invisible and VERY hard to quantify the harm. Men generally don't flaunt going to prostitutes - it's a covert activity with a low profile. Like slavery in China, we don't see it directly, so there's no great public outcry to "fix" it.

I can pretty much guarantee that if the problem were to be come more visible, there *would* be an outcry -- just as if we were bombarded with proof that Chinese slavery was endemic, there would be more of an outcry against Chinese goods. The fact that no one's jumping up and down demanding that SOMETHING BE DONE!!! proves exactly nothing about the strength of people's moral objections to prostitution/sex trafficking.

Personally, I have little/no awareness of (nor do I think about) Chinese slavery when I go to the store. That doesn't mean I secretly don't care about slavery. Not even close.

My moral objections to prostitution are extremely strong. I think prostitution degrades both buyer and seller: in short, I think it's actively evil. And I think the fact that so many men are oblivious to that evil (even when confronted with evidence that underaged girls and small children of both sexes are being trafficked, raped, and abused) and make excuses for it is about as shameful and shocking a thing as I can possibly imagine.

I have many of the same moral objections to hard core porn. And I assure you, Grim, that I feel quite passionately about both issues.

FWIW, I don't agree that the drug trade is a victimless crime at all. Not even close. The reason we have such harsh crack laws is that the people who actually had to live near crack addicts got tired of horrific violence, neglect of children, child abuse, etc and they asked Congress to DO something - to care. The sentencing guidelines are a direct result of these people complaining that jail was like a revolving door and they were being terrorized in their own neighborhoods.

Hard drug addiction is a cesspool of misery that affects entire families. Drug addicted mothers give birth to damaged and drug addicted babies. So much for "victimless". It's a canard.

Posted by: Cass at June 17, 2014 04:19 PM

Is sex slavery illegal in Queens? Of course!
Are tens of thousands of women being held as sex slaves there? Absolutely.

First of all, I don't know that "tens of thousands" of sex slaves are being held in Queens. But even if they were, that doesn't mean what you think it means.

The Church has known for centuries that the awareness of/belief in sin is insufficient to keep imperfect human beings from committing sins. Knowing/believing and doing are not inextricably linked - people do things they fully believe to be wrong all the time.

Most people believe murder is wrong, or theft, or rape. And yet they do these things anyway.

Most people believe lying is wrong, and yet they lie, and cheat on their spouses, and lose their tempers with their kids.

The Church has always understood this. I'm surprised to see you implying that people do bad things because their moral beliefs are a "polite fiction". Moral conviction has never been an absolute protection against sin. That's why we pray, and why we need God.

The belief that X or Y is wrong absolutely *is* helpful in avoiding sin. To people who don't even SEE the sin - who don't believe doing X or Y is wrong - everything is just another perfectly acceptable lifestyle choice.

Posted by: Cass at June 17, 2014 04:26 PM

I agree with the last bit, Cass. That's just what I think we've lost.

Guys like Devlin want to try to make it work, but it should be obvious that it can't be done. His approach was honest and well meant, but it should be clear that it failed in the UK just as moral laws have been failing here. I read a lawyer named Case recently who said that the problem was Christians secularized government and expected it to still defend Christian moral values. She was not sympathetic to that project, but was a little sympathetic to the Christians for their dismay at finding that the law and the courts refuse to defend any strictly moral laws at all.

Without the underlying metaphysics, you also lose the moral and a good part of the ethics. What you have left is lifestyle choices: Protagoras' dictum that 'Man is the measure of all things.'

Posted by: Grim at June 17, 2014 07:57 PM

Moral laws will always fail if the goal is wrongly defined.

The goal isn't "We will only have success if no one does anything bad." That's way too high a standard, and it merely sets us up for failure.

I think the proper goal is that people know right from wrong. I have major concerns on that score with the modern world, but frankly I would have had major concerns in any age. Ages where people were viewed as property (and slavery was actually a legally protected right!) clearly didn't know right from wrong, or - even worse - had turned their backs on what is right.

The first step is knowing what to do.

The second step is arranging one's affairs so as to make it harder to step off the right path, hopefully without totally crushing free will.

The final step is when people, though possessed of free will, voluntarily do what's right because to do otherwise offends them and makes them ashamed (even if no one ever finds out their transgressions).

It's not unlike raising kids - if you think your kids will never screw up, you're fooling yourself. The goal isn't perfection, but self regulation.

Posted by: Cass at June 17, 2014 08:58 PM

The reason to replace a system is not that it produces the occasional wrong -- even a very serious one, or even a wrong that is ongoing for a long time. As you have often said lately, and I agree, human nature is such that this is inevitable.

The reason to replace a system is that the wrongs are essential to it, rather than accidental to it.

We expect a system made up of human beings to be flawed because human beings are flawed. But the system is meant to correct and guide human beings toward virtue and away from vice. If instead the essence of the system destroys or disables moral standards, then there is a problem with the system and not merely with the people it is supposed to guide.

That's where I think we are. Devlin was looking for a way to replace what was essentially missing, and indeed Kant was looking -- believed he had found, in what he called pure practical reason -- just that thing. Both of their attempts have proven to be failures practically, but I think they are also failures essentially.

Posted by: Grim at June 18, 2014 09:39 AM

We expect a system made up of human beings to be flawed because human beings are flawed. But the system is meant to correct and guide human beings toward virtue and away from vice. If instead the essence of the system destroys or disables moral standards, then there is a problem with the system and not merely with the people it is supposed to guide.

Well, that has long been my belief, but it would seem that there's a pretty big conflict between the conservative ideal of limited/minimal government and a system that is designed to guide us toward virtue and away from vice!

Certainly, criminalizing things like prostitution or hard core porn would "guide us toward virtue and away from vice", yet most conservatives would react like scalded cats on crack cocaine to the suggestion :p Drug laws are another example of government trying to guide people toward virtue and away from vice, yet a lot of conservatives hate drug laws and would abolish them if they could.

I think the way limited government "helps us toward virtue" is by stepping back and letting people experience the natural negative consequences of failures to plan/work hard/defer gratification/behave morally. Moral hazard is the result of artificially reduced risk mitigation: people behave recklessly because the natural feedback loop has been disrupted by well meaning interventions.

By "helping" people avoid smaller negative consequences, such interventions make it more likely that we will experience bigger negative consequences down the road.

Posted by: Cass at June 18, 2014 10:43 AM

One more thought on this:

I think the way limited government "helps us toward virtue" is by stepping back and letting people experience the natural negative consequences of failures to plan/work hard/defer gratification/behave morally. Moral hazard is the result of artificially reduced risk mitigation: people behave recklessly because the natural feedback loop has been disrupted by well meaning interventions.

Drawing the line on when to intervene becomes much more difficult when the negative consequences of individual behavior begin to affect other people negatively. Hurt yourself all you want, but when your recklessness begins to affect others....

Posted by: Cass at June 18, 2014 10:45 AM

When the British decided they opposed slavery (again! since chattel slavery wasn't practiced in Medieval Britain) they embarked upon a very costly crusade to eliminate the slave trade insofar as they were able.

Emphasis mine. "...insofar as they were able" is the operative phrase. When the British (and ourselves) took action slavery was largely open, public, and legally defended locally. Today, it is hidden, private, and legally banned. It's the difference between genocide and "hate-crime" murder. Sure, both seek to kill people of a different group but one has gov't sanction and the other doesn't.

Yeah, gov'ts can take a whole lot of soldiers and throw them at other gov'ts to stop genocide. We've done it plenty of times. That we don't do that for murder doesn't mean anyone condones or accepts murder as not morally objectionable.

You speak of trade embargoes, but on which companies? Which suppliers of those companies. Which farms? Indian plantations surely don't advertise "We are a proud slave labor workplace" like their US counterparts in the 1800s. It's all underground. That, in and of itself, is a win, practically and morally.

You speak of refusing to do business with countries that permit slave labor. Except that neither China, nor India permit slave labor. Both have made it illegal. Saying that they permit slave labor is like saying the US permits murder. Or perhaps a better analogy would be spousal abuse. When the police *do* show up, the battered spouse often refuses their help for fear of retribution.

Same goes for the domestic sex trafficking. Finding the tens of thousands in a country of 300mm is a monumental task and resources are not infinite. It's like blaming the police for not finding those teenage girls abducted in Ohio: "If we *really cared*, we would have found them". It's not a function of caring. The police can't search every house in the country looking for them. Not even you would stand for that. Especially for your own home. And I'm pretty certain you wouldn't put your own morality in the "polite fiction" category for opposing such heavy handed police intrusion.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 18, 2014 10:57 AM

It's not a function of caring. The police can't search every house in the country looking for them. Not even you would stand for that. Especially for your own home. And I'm pretty certain you wouldn't put your own morality in the "polite fiction" category for opposing such heavy handed police intrusion.

Well said, YAG.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 18, 2014 11:30 AM

One more addition to my earlier musings:

I think the way limited government "helps us toward virtue" is by stepping back and letting people experience the natural negative consequences of failures to plan/work hard/defer gratification/behave morally. Moral hazard is the result of artificially reduced risk mitigation: people behave recklessly because the natural feedback loop has been disrupted by well meaning interventions.

Drawing the line on when to intervene becomes much more difficult when the negative consequences of individual behavior begin to affect other people negatively. Hurt yourself all you want, but when your recklessness begins to affect others....

One consequence of population growth/increasing urbanization/better technology is that the actions of EVERY individual affect others more than they do when people live in rural settings or not in close proximity to each other.

To me this seems so obvious that I'm always surprised to have to point it out. A lot of the growth in government has to do with a growth in population that brings us into closer proximity to each other.

Behaviors that are tolerable/contained before now affect others far more. For one thing, we know about them. A constant theme in Sherlock Holmes mysteries was that horrific crimes occur in the country all the time, but are never discovered or punished. We tend to hear about crimes when they occur in the city because hiding that decomposing body is a lot harder and there are neighbors to overhear or witness them.

We don't tend to worry about what we can't see or hear. The harm isn't visible to us, but it is nonetheless quite real to those affected by it.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 18, 2014 11:36 AM

Cass:

Certainly, criminalizing things like prostitution or hard core porn would "guide us toward virtue and away from vice", yet most conservatives would react like scalded cats on crack cocaine to the suggestion :p Drug laws are another example of government trying to guide people toward virtue and away from vice, yet a lot of conservatives hate drug laws and would abolish them if they could.

I am strongly in favor of limited and minimal government, because one of the vices endemic to human nature is a desire to push others around! Yet I think that the limited purposes for it certainly can include bans on things like prostitution. And while you make an impressive case for it being a spiritual harm -- I agree with this -- I don't think it's necessary to prove that it's a harm to the individuals (i.e., to prove that they have a spirit to harm) involved to have adequate cause to ban it.

But you are answered, in a way, because what you originally asked was what was so valuable about the civilization that stretches from the Greeks to Aquinas (or thereabouts). It was this essence, with which you say you have long agreed, and which was abandoned by the political thinking of the Enlightenment and after. The idea in Aristotle's politics and ethics is that human happiness is achieved in a life of virtue, by which he means striving to achieve excellence in your natural capacities; and the purpose of politics, therefore, is to arrange a state in which opportunities for virtue are maximized or supported, and conflicting vices are controlled.

That view of the good life extends through Aquinas' political writings, and for a few generations after. In the early Moderns, we find the view rejected in favor of other views of the purpose of the state and the government. For a long time the weight of tradition guided us toward continuing to use the new sorts of states in generally good ways, but eventually the rationality of the new civilizations began to win through: sometimes radically, as in the French Revolution; other times gradually, as in the slow decline from Mill through Devlin to our period; but the logic was put in place at the beginning.

That's what I would like to repair.

YAG:

I'm not at all convinced by your arguments. You tell me that India and China have passed laws, but don't enforce them; that's just what I meant when I said that the law is often a polite fiction. (Especially in China!) Just like intellectual property theft, which is technically illegal but actually wildly encouraged and protected, the law is not evidence of sincerity. You can't hide 30 million slaves under a rug. If "we don't know" where they are, it's because of official protections.

Likewise, I cited the figures on enforcement attempts on human trafficking versus drug use. Now -- accepting Cass' view that drugs are very bad and harmful -- which of these things is the greater violation of our alleged ideals? That people should get high by their own free choice (though it may be expensive and harmful to us), or that people should be held against their will and raped many times a day?

I accept the "insofar as they were able" provision, because I put it in myself. But we aren't doing everything we reasonably could, far short of searching every home in America (which I certainly would oppose, as you rightly say).

What we see in terms of our deeds, not words -- not even words on paper, under an official seal of law -- is that we care a lot more about drugs than sex slaves. That suggests that our professed values as a society are not our actual values.

Posted by: Grim at June 18, 2014 01:08 PM

...what you originally asked was what was so valuable about the civilization that stretches from the Greeks to Aquinas (or thereabouts).

But that's not actually what I asked, Grim :p

I suspect that's what you heard, but what I actually asked was why you thought the civilization that stretches from the Greeks to Aquinas (or thereabouts) was so much better than civilization today?

This is about as good an example of defending against a perceived attack that wasn't there as I can think of :p I didn't say the old civilization was no good - just that I wasn't convinced it was better!

After all, government actually protected the ownership of human beings! That's not "better" to me, and frankly I don't think a government that doesn't respect the most elemental of human rights is in any way "encouraging virtue".

It is, in fact, actively protecting vice.

As for YAG's comment, you're mischaracterizing it. He never said China and India don't enforce their laws.

He said something quite the opposite - that making slavery illegal causes slavers to hide slave ownership, which in turn makes it harder to detect and prosecute. Of course no sane person would argue (as they so often do with prostitution) that making slavery legal would allow it to be regulated by the State (and would thus help ensure that prostitutes aren't treated badly).

What we see in terms of our deeds, not words -- not even words on paper, under an official seal of law -- is that we care a lot more about drugs than sex slaves.

No, we don't. I already addressed this in a prior comment.

Posted by: Cass at June 18, 2014 01:31 PM

After all, government actually protected the ownership of human beings! That's not "better" to me...

So did American government, on a far vaster scale. Indeed, as we recently discussed, the rise of chattel slavery was an Enlightenment phenomenon: all the Enlightenment political philosophers are implicated in it, many of the key ones by actually owning slaves themselves.

What made Enlightenment civilization worse was that it rejected the natural law that served to undermine slavery. Thomas Aquinas argued that there was no justification for slavery in natural law, because all human beings had equality as beloved creations of God. The only justifications had to be found, then, in positive law: as punishment for sin (which, the Bible told him, sometimes falls on nations as well as individuals). But the equal dignity of humankind was at the root of his doctrines, just as it was at the root of (say) Jefferson's writings or Kant's.

Yet Jefferson's writings or Kant's lack proper grounding for that principle. Kant establishes that human beings are equal insofar as they are rational; and obviously human beings are not equally rational, meaning they aren't practically equal. Jefferson's invokes the Creator just as Aquinas had -- an inheritance, and a blessed one -- but then in the Constitution forbids the state from considering religion as the foundations of its moral beliefs. There is thus no grounding at all for this idea of equality: the grounds are stripped away.

So yes, I think the older civilization was better.
It was wiser. It was grounded in the right way. If it didn't achieve an end to slavery, it also didn't establish a massive trans-Atlantic slave trade. Nor racism (largely as a justification for slavery), which is another feature of our civilization (still today, though sometimes we differ in our diagnosis of just where and just how commonly).

He said something quite the opposite - that making slavery illegal causes slavers to hide slave ownership...

What I am saying is that the government is actively involved in helping hide the slavery. Just as with intellectual property theft, China is against it officially, but it is a major foundation of their actual economy (as is slavery). They aren't hiding it internally; they're just polite enough not to proclaim their real beliefs.

The UN does this all the time too: "We love human rights! Also women's rights! So we'll establish a commission, and on it we'll put Iran, Saudi Arabia...."

We see this all the time. The law on paper doesn't line up with the practice. You can call it something other than a polite fiction -- call it hypocrisy, if you like, or an outrage, or something else.

Posted by: Grim at June 18, 2014 05:03 PM

By the way, as you know from our recent discussions on slavery and reparations, I think some sort of unfree labor was a necessary condition for pre-Industrial civilization; and I further accept that the robust chattel slavery is the most important leg of the triangle-trades that funded the construction of the first factories. (Most important because, unlike trading sugar and rum or cotton and cloth, it allowed you to completely steal the valuable object you were trading -- a human being's labor.)

So I am not surprised that earlier societies universally justify slavery in some way. I am also not surprised that a full-throated rejection of slavery doesn't appear until after the Industrial Revolution was accomplished, and then only where it was.

What that means is that I think that the earlier civilization might also have eliminated slavery, had it been able to industrialize. I am not sure it would have been able to industrialize. So it does come down to technology, in a way: the technology of the current civilization is much better, but to get it we had to make a terrible bargain. The kind of bargain one makes with the Devil, at least in the old stories.

It's interesting that the bargain was rejecting the Christian foundation of our civilization. But I'm sure it's just a metaphor.

Posted by: Grim at June 18, 2014 05:10 PM

You can't hide 30 million slaves under a rug.

Um, yeah you can when the slaves (just like abused spouses) won't accept police help. This appears to be the situation in India. The household servants "pay their rent by helping around the house". If they don't tell the police "He'll kill me if I leave", the police can't do anything. Same with "forced marriages". If the spouse doesn't complain to the police that she is held against her will, the police and prosecutors can't prove that she is. Without a declaration by the victim, there's no crime to prosecute.

That isn't the .gov hiding the slaves under the rug.

Regardless, neither of these (nor local sex trafficking) can be laid at the foot of the US citizen's lack of moral character.

the rise of chattel slavery was an Enlightenment phenomenon

Moses would like to disagree with you.

I cited the figures on enforcement attempts on human trafficking versus drug use

The greater enforcement of drug use is because while there are tens of thousands of sex slaves, mostly controlled by various mafias who a very good job of hiding, there are millions upon millions of drug users, most of which are very bad at hiding.

Drug use is comparatively low hanging fruit. We can hit the mob and destroy them quite quickly. But doing it would pretty much mean doing away with due process, probable cause, and warrants. Somehow, I don't think your own objection to these methods would cause you to categorize your own morality as a polite fiction.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 18, 2014 06:20 PM

I disagree, but I see no point in continuing to dispute the facts on the ground in India.

Leviticus does contain some rules for chattel slavery for non-Hebrews taken in war (and very different rules for Hebrew slaves). Nevertheless, I was talking about Christian civilization. Slavery was not unheard of in the Christian West, although it was practiced to a much smaller degree than in other civilizations; unfree labor was present as universally in the world before the Industrial Revolution, but usually with legal protections not found elsewhere. Serfdom isn't a desirable state, but it's better than slavery.

So when I say that the rise of chattel slavery is tied to the Enlightenment, I mean that we suddenly see a huge explosion in unfree labor, and in far worse conditions because it has a new justification: race, and with race supposed a lack of access to rationality. That is properly described as a rise, and it is an Enlightenment phenomenon.

Posted by: Grim at June 18, 2014 07:01 PM

...would cause you to categorize your own morality as a polite fiction.

This is a category error. Public morality and individual morality are distinct. Do I believe in the importance of warrants, while also opposing sex slavery? Yes. Do I do everything I am empowered to do to support both of these things? Yes, I think: but my powers as a citizen are extremely limited.

Does society believe these things? Well, societies don't "believe" in the same way. There's only an analogy between the way in which a human believes, and the way in which a human society believes. So, no, in a sense: societies don't believe things. But they can still be judged by what they do.

Does society do what it can reasonably do? It's comfortable to think so; but in fact we can see that police do not expend the resources on prostitution that they do on drugs. Prostitution is low-hanging fruit too: a prostitute's availability has to be obvious through some fairly ordinary channels in order to sell her services.

Given prostitution's regular connection to sex slavery, you would think we'd see this low hanging fruit pursued more readily than the other. But we do not. I don't accept your assertion that it is simply because it is too difficult.

Posted by: Grim at June 18, 2014 07:09 PM

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