Forward, into the Past
I was thinking about Obama’s preacher’s rant, and something stood out. It was his mention of how the bogus, useless “Drug War” rolls on while more prisons are built and more Black men are locked up in Hell holes that the people who run things increasingly want to privatize.
When I think about the horror of the inner cities and the millions of people that American Capitalism has failed and the huge numbers of our citizens that we incarcerate, an idea occurs to me that seems less strange the more I think about it. With the economy going South and looking like it could stay down there for who-knows-how-long, I wonder what percentage of prisoners might prefer a return to Slavery with just a few alterations. I’m not trying to be funny or ridiculous.
Let’s take a look at what might actually be a few pluses for all involved. 1). In spite of some hard physical labor (which is often done now, by Mexican children in more than a few cases), I’d bet that there are more than a few men who would suffer that in exchange for being out of a concrete cage and into the outdoors. When you look at prisoners, en masse, “pumping iron” for all they’re worth in an attempt to be better-equipped to deal with vicious physical attacks that are always a possibility, does picking cotton or anything else seem so incredibly back-breaking or terrifying? In terms of public safety I don’t know that you’d have a tougher time with security out in rural settings if you used all the help that today’s technology can provide (electric fence, helicopter surveillance, etc.).
It seems like a person could retrieve some of their dignity, manhood, whatever, more easily in an environment of hard but productive work than they can in the horrible context of prison. And it’s not entirely unprecedented; we all know about the common practice of prisoners making license plates and doing other tasks and being paid pennies for their work, literally.
I’m sure as hell not here to romanticize Slavery but even slaves had it better in some ways than inhabitants of modern prisons. They had some access to the opposite sex, for example. With all due respect to Gay people in what passes for civilized society, the sexual brutality that results when men are forced into crowded conditions with no outlet for those impulses and often not even enough privacy to relieve themselves is de-humanizing. Then there’s the relentless torture of being deprived of any contact with the Natural world. Slaves at least could feel the sun on their faces and the earth under their feet. Even under the harshest conditions there was a little time for rest and even things like practicing folk arts like carving and sketching and playing music. The Blues, which is at the heart of so much of our musical heritage came from what were called “Field hollers.”
I wouldn’t advocate forcing anyone to work in the fields or shovel dirt all day. But, it seems like it would be less miserable to feel like you’re part of a system that’s bringing food to peoples’ tables or holding floowaters back or improving roads or whatever than it is to sit in a cell surrounded by frustrated, angry potential victimizers.
Let’s look at the “moral” aspect. Abraham Lincoln said that he would have freed all of the slaves or none of the slaves if that’s what it took to preserve the Union. And, if you take a look at it, almost every culture has something that amounts to a Servant Class; more recently, the double-talkers in this country told us that we’d have to get used to being a “Service Economy” once they saw to it that the unionized manufacturing jobs fled the country. Karl Marx used the term “wage slaves” to describe the people in a Capitalist economy who make just enough to make sure they can return to work the next day/week, etc. We’ve all heard the terms “paycheck-to-paycheck, up to our eyeballs in debt, working like a dog and spinning our wheels”. Sure, the average worker in America has it vastly better, materially, than what anyone would think of as a slave’s standard of living, but when your livelihood and home are constantly at risk, aren’t lots of us in a prison of sorts?
They say that so many people (mostly Republicans) see “Illegal Immigration” as the prime issue in the next election. I guess you can make the connection there with what I’m saying. Who needs illegal immigrants when you have slaves? And, do I even have to say how happy it woud make American corporations, Agribusiness-related and otherwise to have a source of not cheap but FREE Labor? Let’s face it: if you’ve ever bought anything at WalMart you have things in your home that were produced by what almost anyone would consider slave labor.
Finally, we all know that there have been chain gangs out on the roads and in the fields for centuries. If we brought an ounce of compassion to the process re-instituting Slavery might be an answer to more than one of our problems. My real motivation here, though, is to shock everyone just a little into looking at how far we’ve fallen when it comes to how we treat our fellow human beings, even as we continue to leap ahead technologically.
it’s something to think about.
Forward, into the Past