Peace Requires Anarchy


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My Thoughts on “The Tale of the Slave” by Robert Nozick

The Tale of the Slave

The Tale of the Slave from Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pp. 290-292.

Consider the following sequence of cases, which we shall call the Tale of the Slave, and imagine it is about you.

  1. There is a slave completely at the mercy of his brutal master’s whims. He often is cruelly beaten, called out in the middle of the night, and so on.
  2. The master is kindlier and beats the slave only for stated infractions of his rules (not fulfilling the work quota, and so on). He gives the slave some free time.
  3. The master has a group of slaves, and he decides how things are to be allocated among them on nice grounds, taking into account their needs, merit, and so on.
  4. The master allows his slaves four days on their own and requires them to work only three days a week on his land. The rest of the time is their own.
  5. The master allows his slaves to go off and work in the city (or anywhere they wish) for wages. He requires only that they send back to him three-sevenths of their wages. He also retains the power to recall them to the plantation if some emergency threatens his land; and to raise or lower the three-sevenths amount required to be turned over to him. He further retains the right to restrict the slaves from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten his financial return, for example, mountain climbing, cigarette smoking.
  6. The master allows all of his 10,000 slaves, except you, to vote, and the joint decision is made by all of them. There is open discussion, and so forth, among them, and they have the power to determine to what uses to put whatever percentage of your (and their) earnings they decide to take; what activities legitimately may be forbidden to you, and so on.
    Let us pause in this sequence of cases to take stock. If the master contracts this transfer of power so that he cannot withdraw it, you have a change of master. You now have 10,000 masters instead of just one; rather you have one 10,000-headed master. Perhaps the 10,000 even will be kindlier than the benevolent master in case 2. Still, they are your master. However, still more can be done. A kindly single master (as in case 2) might allow his slave(s) to speak up and try to persuade him to make a certain decision. The 10,000-headed monster can do this also.
  7. Though still not having the vote, you are at liberty (and are given the right) to enter into the discussions of the 10,000, to try to persuade them to adopt various policies and to treat you and themselves in a certain way. They then go off to vote to decide upon policies covering the vast range of their powers.
  8. In appreciation of your useful contributions to discussion, the 10,000 allow you to vote if they are deadlocked; they commit themselves to this procedure. After the discussion you mark your vote on a slip of paper, and they go off and vote. In the eventuality that they divide evenly on some issue, 5,000 for and 5,000 against, they look at your ballot and count it in. This has never yet happened; they have never yet had occasion to open your ballot. (A single master also might commit himself to letting his slave decide any issue concerning him about which he, the master, was absolutely indifferent.)
  9. They throw your vote in with theirs. If they are exactly tied your vote carries the issue. Otherwise it makes no difference to the electoral outcome.

The question is: which transition from case 1 to case 9 made it no longer the tale of a slave?

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My thoughts on Nozick’s The Tale of the Slave: Continue reading

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Twelve Years a Slave | Solomon Northup

It is difficult to imagine how someone could regret reading this book.

Solomon Northup - Twelve Years a SlaveHere are a few select quotes from Twelve Years a Slave (1853) by Solomon Northup (b. 1808), who was kidnapped in 1841 and brought into slavery for twelve years prior to his legal liberation in 1853.

His psychologically influenced opinion of the character of one of masters:

“But I was sometime his slave, and had an opportunity of learning well his character and disposition, and it is but simple justice to him when I say, in my opinion, there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford. The influences and associations that had always surrounded him, blinded him to the inherent wrong at the bottom of the system of Slavery. He never doubted the moral right of one man holding another in subjection. Looking through the same medium with his fathers before him, he saw things in the same light. Brought up under other circumstances and influences, his notions would undoubtedly have been different. Nevertheless, he was a model master, walking uprightly, according to the light of his understanding, and fortunate was the slave who came to his possession. Were all men such as he, Slavery would be deprived of more than half its bitterness.” [p. 41]

A defense of his view by appealing to the psychological influences* affecting his master:

“It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives. He cannot withstand the influence of habit and associations that surround him. Taught from earliest childhood, by all that he sees and hears, that the rod is for the slave’s back, he will not be apt to change his opinions in maturer years.” [p. 99]

Economically efficient slavery:

“It is a fact I have more than once observed, that those who treated their slaves most leniently, were rewarded by the greatest amount of labor.” [p. 45]

No stealing from slaves on Sundays:

“It is the custom in Louisiana, as I presume it is in other slave States, to allow the slave to retain whatever compensation he may obtain for services performed on Sundays.” [p. 94]

It is noteworthy that this is not the case today, since people are forced to give income taxes to governments for money they earn on Sundays.

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* Note that I link to Michael Huemer’s presentation The Psychology of Authority (also see Chapter 6 of his book The Problem of Political Authority for a more in-depth examination of the subject) twice intentionally, since the psychological factors Huemer describes that lead people to believe that governments have legitimate political authority are split in the case of slavery, such that some of those factors contribute to a slaveholder’s support of slavery (e.g. social proof, status quo bias, and political aesthetics), while others contribute to Solomon’s charitable view of the moral character of his master (e.g. Stockholm Syndrome and tendency to obey authority figures (see Milgram experiments) combined with cognitive dissonance).

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I also highly recommend Frederick Douglass’ fantastic Narrative of the Life of Frederic Douglass, An American Slave. Both books are very emotional and captivating true stories. Additionally, I appreciate the valuable information I gained from them about history, psychology, and justice.


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Frederick Douglass’ “Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave”

I was afraid to speak to any one for fear of speaking to the wrong one, and thereby falling into the hands of money-loving kidnappers.

Frederick_Douglass_Money-Loving_KidnappersThose are the words of Frederick Douglass recalling his state of mind upon his arrival to New York as a fugitive slave on Monday, September 3, 1838.

Yesterday I read Frederick Douglass’ 1845 autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave in one sitting starting around 10:00 pm. I did not intend to read it all at once (I meant to go to bed after reading the first chapter), but I got drawn into it and was not able to put it down until I finished reading about four hours after I started.

The book begins with an introduction by William Lloyd Garrison and a letter from Wendell Phillips. I had read some of each of their works previously and knew that they both were famous for their abolitionist writings and speeches. Upon finishing their introductions and beginning the first chapter of the book, I was thus surprised to find that Douglass’ writing style was more poetic and pleasing to read than either William Lloyd Garrison’s or Wendell Phillip’s writing.

The effect that this had on me as I read Douglass’ narrative of his life as a slave was powerful. Douglass describes how part of the strategy to keep slaves subdued was to make sure that they did not learn how to read or write. As Douglass tells the story of how he learned about this and set out in defiance to learn to read and write no matter the risk, the reader knows, by evidence of the current work that he or she is reading, that Douglass succeeded with flying colors. As I read his narrative I could not help but realize not only how truly remarkable it is that he succeeded at learning to read and write while being treated so inhumanely by all who enslaved him, but also how miraculous it is that he learned to write far better than most people who are brought up free and given access to means of education.

While some readers may use the rarity of Douglass’ case as an excuse to continue holding their belief that children need to be forced to learn to read, write, do math, etc, as many students uninterested in learning these things are forced to do in most schools, I for one see Douglass’ life story as yet another reason to adopt the unschooling philosophy that children have a natural desire to learn and should be free to learn what they want when they want, rather than be forced to learn a certain curriculum grade after grade that does not necessarily even interest them. Parents and educators should provide an environment conducive to learning and help children learn when they want help, but they should not try to force a child to learn something that he or she does not want to learn by imposing a curriculum on them and grading them.

Frederick Douglass’ narrative is inspirational, emotional, educational, and captivating. I highly recommend it.