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The Morality Box
Defining Right and Wrong in the Past, Present and Future
© 2013 James LaFond
I’ve been writing in multiple genres, and have recently delved into some horror and noir. So, as I prepare to embark on a very extensive science-fiction story with religious and secular morality elements, I am attempting another writing exercise. I will post this on the site as a question, not as an answer. These are the types of writing exercises I do in my head while I engage in my daily drudgery away from the keyboard. However, with my writing output now at ‘don’t try this at home levels’ my psyche is beginning to stretch in ways I have not expected. This might be responsible for the noir and horror vein that has lately emerged in my writing.
I consider the writing of serious science-fiction [I do non-serious science fiction like, First Contact, also] to be a tougher discipline than noir, horror, memoir, oral-history, self-help, or history. The only genre I write in that requires more mental balance and narrative discipline is historical fiction. That is why, although it is my shortest novel, the World is Our Widow, was such a difficult write for me, because it was serious science-fiction utilizing a historic character and specific non-altered historical settings of the relatively recent past. The following exercise is an emotional leveling mechanism I use before writing a new set of serious characters involved in a story with a high specific moral gravity. In this instance I chose a question that has involved much of my recent reading, and about which people have strong opinions.
The Question
The surface question is slavery: is it—the bondage of a person by another person or an institution in any of its numerous forms—good, evil or morally neutral?
That is an easy answer from our perspective. I am acquainted with men with a deep hatred of blacks, who, never-the-less, when the question arises, cite slavery as one of humanity’s worst evils. These are men who will defend the lynching craze of the early 1900s as having been necessary to control blacks. Yet even they find slavery an abomination.
The Deeper Question
The problem with the above question is the context. When we think of slavery we think of whites owning blacks, because of specific, regional, recent history, and the river of self-justifying bullshit that is our American narrative. The fact is most slaves have always been, and always will be, non-black. To go further, throughout most of history, and to this day, most slaves are of the same broad ethnicity as their owners. The current preference for Eastern European girls as sex slaves among American mobsters and Western European bankers is one example.
This point of inquiry begs the deeper question, what is the moral status of the slave owner?
Today, that is an easy question, as our notions of morality are tied in with our legal code, and slavery of the gross kind—as opposed to wage-slavery, debt-slavery and military-slavery—are illegal. We still tend to think law mirrors morality, as perhaps it once did.
So, when society says it is permissible—nigh beneficial to society—for a person to own another person, what then is the moral standing of the slave owner? As a novelist it is part of my function, to, at some point, render an objective view for the reader. As an unpopular writer, I will, of course, provide plenty of characters who believe slavery is good, even slaves who believe it is good. But at some point, as an author, I need to provide the reader with an out-of-context reflection—a portal into the essence of the question. This is not easy when one considers the extensive cultural contextual constructs we are carrying with us, in addition to those I will have replicated in the text.
Attacking this deep question is easier in nonfiction, and dreadfully boring, hence the novelist’s niche for serious work. Below are the three answers that I will use as morality poles in my mind as I write. For me this is not an exact science, and I manage to pull off an objective snapshot with varying success.
[I am paraphrasing JB here from I conversation we had a couple months ago in front of his log pile, in the very shadow of Isenguard. He is a man who has always been a step or three ahead of me where social morality is concerned.]
“I am an anarcho-libertarian. Keeping in mind that most people are painfully stupid, there is no reasonable possibility for me to make the case against our present unjust system of coercive, centralized government. As an example: even the common idiot of today recognizes that slavery is an abomination, an unmitigated evil. That is not because these people have any intelligence, or any ability what-so-ever to determine morality, but because slavery as evil is part of their narrative. Were I to go back in a time-machine and try to convince people of Seventeen-hundred of the evils of slavery, I would be thought insane. Likewise, the modern person will think I am insane for saying that a society governed at the point of a gun is immoral.
“Few people think. They are intellectual cattle, and it is hopeless to try and influence the masses of today. The hope is to influence the intellectuals of tomorrow, who might then be able to influence the masses of yet another more distant era. Any question of social morality must be considered in the context of rampant stupidity. Would I engage in slavery? No. Would I condone slavery? No. Could I do anything to combat slavery in my own time? No.”
[This is a direct quote had from this man as he conducted business out of his sales office.]
“Southern Culture was superior to Northern Culture, and produced some of our greatest men. A man who owns a slave in a slave-owning society is doing what you or I would do—what is right according to the times we live in. We cannot judge these men from our vantage.”
The Narrative Crux
So, if JB and Ned used a time-machine to travel to a slave-owning world how would they behave differently, if at all? Which one of these men would be most troubled by their experiences?
There are a wide variety of possibilities, some not so simple or direct.
The Crackpot View
I interview these various types of people because my viewpoint is so off base and socially and morally unacceptable to the vast majority of humans that I cannot possibly write from my perspective with any hope of connecting with more than a handful of nuts. Never-the-less, I will also ask myself this question, and then use my answer to develop some type of extremist character—villain, hero, or plot-driver—with which characters who harbor the above viewpoints will interact.
To me slavery is an utter and timeless evil. All who own slaves are thus evil, as they act in an evil manner! I understand this concept to mean that most men will do evil under the right pressure—and most have, I would add. If someone made the mistake of giving me a time-machine I would probably become a serial killer, snuffing slave owners at dinner and murdering the overseer in his shack. I further realize that these actions would be regarded by most religions, and virtually all societies from the beginning of history until now, as more evil than the actions of the slavers.
Above is my view on the combating of a small-society based on gross-slavery. What about our own massive society based on debt- wage- and military-slavery?
While chattel slavery was as much physical as psychological, our own current system is almost entirely a mind-rape construct. To me, battling such a sick mega-injustice machine through physical violence would be like a slave spitting at his slave owner, rather than killing him in his sleep.
I choose to murder my master in his sleep, from this keyboard.
Lord of the Lezbos or 'Harm City Island'
author's notebook
Tackling an Epic Novel
son of a lesser god
the first boxers
songs of aryas
broken dance
advent america
barbarism versus civilization
song of the secret gardener
Dominick Mattero     Dec 19, 2013

This makes me think of Lysander Spooner and his classic "No Treason" from just after the Civil War.

He was an abolitionist who nonetheless was against the Union's crusade to crush the Confederacy..merely replacing chattel slavery with wage slavery for all.

Jim if I could i would buy you a time machine for Christmas and a videocamera with the privoso you upload everything to youtube.
James     Dec 19, 2013

If I find out the North Koreans have a time machine I might defect...

Great point on Spooner. Look, if you want to know what a large American nation evolved from a European colonial slave society would look like, check out Brazil. They ended slavery a generation later than the U. S. without war. Of course the upside is they missed out on a lot of hateful reactionary crap like I cited in my last post. The downside is that tens of millions remained in bondage.

I hate wage slavery, as it crushes the soul just as surely as the gross varieties. But most people are more about the body and their creature comforts than their mind—look at this society. Our human quality of life is measured largely based on the level of violence we are subjected to, not our level of intellectual freedom. Most slaves, in most slave societies, were beaten and tortured regularly, and did not die of natural causes. The nature of the institutions begs for abuse. But this line brings us right back to the conundrum above: what is your soul poison and how do you take it?
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