A Shocking Discovery in a Monastery Library


While doing research in the Aedificium of the Kloster Eberbach, I came across the following fascinating manuscript, apparently written by a monk named Abbius Praetorium, and presenting an early argument for the legitimacy of the African slave trade. I present these arguments, by the way, not to endorse them, but to show the depths to which the moral imagination may sink when it is weighed down by the shackles of a false world view:

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It is with the high costs of finding labor in mind, and the knowledge that there are thousands of farmers that would like to expand their labor force but cannot (if you will, a shortage in workers), that I’d like to make a suggestion.

African chiefs should be allowed to sell the lordship rights to their tribesmen, or to those they have captured in war.

Stick with me here. I am not advocating human trafficking or the idea of kidnapping Africans in order to sell them to desperate farmers. What I am suggesting is a general deregulation of the market for labor. Allow African chiefs to enter into contracts with willing farmers for the rights to work Africans for profit.

Before unleashing your moral outrage at the idea of "selling human beings," consider the potential for very significant, very positive outcomes for all parties involved. Allowing African chiefs to profit from such sales  fundamentally changes the costs and benefits of a variety of transactions. They include:
  1. The "labor shortage" will diminish or be eliminated as chiefs enter  the market to sell the rights to work their tribesmen. The "supply" of tribesmen  to be purchased is more likely to meet current demand.

  2. Chiefs will experience greater wealth as they may profit from the sale of their sovereignty rights.

  3. There will be fewer executions in Africa. As chiefs experiencing troublesome tribesmen look at their options, the potential for financial gain means fewer chiefs are likely to execute.

  4. The health of Africans will improve. Since healthy Africans are likely to command a higher purchase price than ill ones, chiefs would face strong incentives to improve the health of their tribesmen.

  5. Africans themselves are likely to be better off: who wouldn't want to be moved from a tribe, where their presence is a cause of consternation, to a farm community, where they will be loved and wanted?

  6. Tribesmen abuse would decline. The current system incentivizes chiefs  to keep their tribesmen, rather than give them up, even if they find them a royal pain in the butt.

  7. The above argument especially applies to prisoners of war. African chiefs now often have no choice but to kill those prisoners. But, if there is a market for them, they won't need to be killed. Anyone in favor of less slaughter of prisoners of war ought to be for a market in Africans.

  8. The price of labor will fall. Since hiring free workers and buying Africans are what economists call "substitute goods," or goods that can be used for the same purpose, an increase in Africans for sale would decrease the demand for free labor. As demand falls, wages would fall as well, and farmers will prosper, meaning cheaper food for everyone.

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But, of course, we children of the Enlightenment are much better people than the barbarians of a few centuries back, and would never endorse buying and selling human beings. I only share the above to show how far we have advanced since those dark times.


11 comments:

  1. (This is not directed at you, but at the writer of the manuscript.)

    "Stick with me here. I am not advocating human trafficking or the idea of kidnapping Africans in order to sell them to desperate farmers."

    Yes you are dips&*t!!

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  2. "Aedificium of the Kloster Eberbach"

    The what?

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    1. This is some _The Name of the Rose_ nods: the Aedificium was the name of the building where the library containing the key to the mystery was housed, and Kloster Eberbach was where they actually shot the inside scenes.

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  3. A parody defending organ harvesting for your entertainment:

    Keep in mind, I'm not advocating that we go out and pull people off the streets and cut them open. I'm merely advocating a general deregulation in the organ market and allow medical workers to judge the usefulness of allowing patients to keep their organs.

    Before you scream your heads off about "organ harvesting", consider the positive benefits for all parties involved:

    1. This will create a new industry and new opportunities for jobs in the collection of human organs.

    2. This will incentivize people to remain healthy. After all, who would want to go to a hospital with this possibility on the table. They will work out more and eat healthier to avoid the consequences.

    3. Abuse-of-self will decline as individuals will choose engage in safe-for-life activities like education instead of stunt performers.

    4. The price of health insurance will fall as people choose to be proactive about their health.

    5. Our current system permits too many incentives for people to harm themselves without suffering consequences for it.

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  4. Gene, the one major weakness in the baby article I saw was that it would encourage more babies to come into existence just to be "sold." But, if we put that aside, then I don't see how any of her points is wrong. Do you?

    With your analogy, yes, I suppose if we concede that African chieftains have already enslaved their people, then it might very well be true that legalizing the trans-Atlantic slave trade would make everybody better off, including the slaves. But that's of course not the same thing as proving that slavery is good.

    Back to the babies, are you advocating that nobody should have the ability to be the parent of the baby except the baby him or herself? Because that's what would make your analogy really analogous, and you wouldn't go there with it. So then, since you don't say the two situations are analogous in that respect, maybe this lady isn't really advocating something akin to slavery after all (notwithstanding Samson's characteristically seasoned weighing of the two sides).

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    1. Bob, none of my arguments are wrong either! And what this illustrates is that this very *way* of arguing is mistaken in the first place. "Granting that human beings are commodities that may be bought and sold, let us look at the advantages of free trade in those commodities."

      The issue is not whether "only the parent can raise the child." The problem is that it is a terrible moral error to treat human beings as a commodity, and that a willingness to begin weighing the pros and cons of doing so shows that one is in severe moral trouble. It is like someone coming up with a list of the many utilitarian benefits he and others could realize if he kills his wife. The fact that he is weighing pros and cons on this issue it all shows that he is morally lost.

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    2. Put it this way: both the mother who thinks, "well, it is my baby, but I really need a new car… " and the new parents, who think "yes, it is her baby, but if we just offer her enough money… " are in grave states of sin.

      If you were sent back in time to the ancient Israelites, would you tell them, " wait just a second before you smash those false idols! Have you considered all the mutual benefits of the brisk trade you could do in false idols with the Canaanites?"

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    3. It is amazing how when people want to movie the force of an analogy, they desperately search for some feature of the two cases that is dissimilar. Of course there are features that are dissimilar! It is an analogy not an identity.

      But if you want to do a little utilitarian calculus, start thinking about a world in which children have become fully commoditized, because once we start down that road, that is the end game. Corporations will enter into this that have an interest in expanding the market more and more, once it is legalized. Marketing campaigns will be launched, selling wealthy women on how painful it is to have their own children, and how they can get the designer child of their choice with none of the messy and body changing trouble of pregnancy. Other women will become full-time baby producers. Corporations will hire them to spend their lives pumping out baby after baby, lives that will be dictated by the corporate commands for "good" babies, in other words, babies that sell well. The corporation will certainly have them abort any damage products that are detected during the production process.

      Meanwhile, on the upper Eastside, a wealthy couple will be sitting back in there penthouse, browsing this seasons baby catalog. And once they receive the baby, * what if it doesn't turn out to be exactly what they thought they were "ordering"?* you return it, right?

      Hall ( and apparently you as well) are acting as though we can begin endorsing this sin, fucking committed just a little bit, and in just those cases where we can console ourselves by saying "but look at how badly off the baby would have been!" No you can't: if you begin lying for utilitarian purposes, before you know it you are a liar. If you begin stealing from your friend just when you are sure that you can get more utility from his goods then he does, pretty soon you are a thief. And if we begin treating children as commodities Just in certain "special cases" where we convince ourselves that "everyone is better off, aren't they?" Pretty soon we will find ourselves living in a society where children just ARE commodities.

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    4. "fucking committed just a little bit,"

      You'll notice that the use of the "f-bomb" here, as Murphy so quaintly refers to it, makes no sense here. That is because Siri inserted this. I no longer have any idea what word I actually dictated, but Siri has some database of how frequently words are used, and the "f-bomb" apparently gets used a lot.

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    5. notwithstanding Samson's characteristically seasoned weighing of the two sides

      Sometimes, Bob, a view has no benefits.

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  5. This is nicely put Gene. GRANTING that you want a market in X, a free market is best. Correct! But that doesn't prove you want that free market.

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