Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Bit More On The Questions Dance Posed

I was thinking more about one of the questions Dance posed to me, but I didn't answer yet. Mostly because it would be a long answer:
you yourself have said many times (and I disagree) that slavery only ended when industry offered the labor power to make abolition an economically feasible choice. How does that square with your belief in fundamental decency?

And then I thought of this section from Tocqueville:
Equality of conditions and growing civility in manners are, then, in my eyes, not only contemporaneous occurrences, but correlative facts.


Although the Americans have, in a manner, reduced egotism to a social and philosophical theory, they are nevertheless extremely open to compassion. In no country is criminal justice administered with more mildness than in the United States. Whilst the English seem disposed carefully to retain the bloody traces of the dark ages in their penal legislation, the Americans have almost expunged capital punishment from their codes. North America is, I think, the only one country upon earth in which the life of no one citizen has been taken for a political offence in the course of the last fifty years. The circumstance which conclusively shows that this singular mildness of the Americans arises chiefly from their social condition, is the manner in which they treat their slaves. Perhaps there is not, upon the whole, a single European colony in the New World in which the physical condition of the blacks is less severe than in the United States; yet the slaves still endure horrid sufferings there, and are constantly exposed to barbarous punishments. It is easy to perceive that the lot of these unhappy beings inspires their masters with but little compassion, and that they look upon slavery, not only as an institution which is profitable to them, but as an evil which does not affect them. Thus the same man who is full of humanity towards his fellow-creatures when they are at the same time his equals, becomes insensible to their afflictions as soon as that equality ceases. His mildness should therefore be attributed to the equality of conditions, rather than to civilization and education.

I'm not saying it answers the question. Just that I thought of it and that it is worth posting, methinks.

On a related note, the statement on capital punishment being phased out juxtaposed with the unequal status of slaves above, and further combined with the previous post on slavery and Tocqueville, would seem to support a conclusion that the higher levels of African-American people on death row today, and indeed even pursued with capital punishment in the first place, is partially, if not primarily, due to a psychological bias present since slavery that blacks are separate and unequal and therefore less likely to engender compassion or sympathy. I don't know why I didn't think of that when I read the book in the first place. I had a vague notion of slavery as America's original sin, so this conclusion doesn't surprise me but never thought of it exactly.

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