Modern people of every political leaning seem to unanimously oppose slavery although the exact opposite was true only a few hundred years ago. Voters today tend to forget that slavery still exists in another form which they would never dare dispense with. Imprisonment is the modern world’s invisible slavery, one which is out of sight and out of mind, and in which its necessary violence is hidden. And if imprisonment today is a moral good, so was the slavery of yesterday.
In antiquity and up until the last few centuries, every major philosopher, religious prophet, and statesman supported slavery. They did not always agree with each other on the exact reasons, causes, circumstances, and extents of slavery, but they all unanimously agreed that slavery had a moral and practical use. Of course, cynical moderns like us believe this practical use was only for profit, but there is nothing wrong with profit.
More importantly, no ancient society would have condoned the enslavement of innocent people. In every age, slavery was the punishment for a crime, the cost of losing a war, the payment for a debt, or a manifestation of divine chastisement. To this day, the Constitution of the United States declares slavery a valid punishment for a crime. Among the many historical examples, Muslims enslaved non-Muslims because they were considered criminals against God, just as the ancient Israelites enslaved the Gentiles because they were said to be sinful and impure, and just as the first Black Africans brought to the United States were often criminals and spoils of war in Africa. Thus, profit from slaves was seen to be a moral profit because it placed otherwise condemned people to good use for society. And, more importantly, slavery thrived in a time before prisons, as the modern notion of imprisonment was largely absent from antiquity, and thereby, the lack of imprisonment for criminals and prisoners of war is the needed moral context for slavery.
The absurdity of modernity is the absolute unwillingness of modern people to view imprisonment as a form of slavery, which it is, even in the Constitution. Perhaps it is in part due to the fact that imprisonment is something largely invisible to the average citizen, and thus the often brutal measures taken in order to imprison criminals are not seen. Modern innovations and a large surplus of law enforcement officers make it far simpler to restrain and arrest even the largest offenders. While police no longer beat criminals with whips and clubs, being tasered and maced is not much better, and if slave masters existed today, they would surely prefer the latter. And though escaped convicts are no longer punished like escaped slaves were, it is not because imprisonment is better; jailbreaks are more difficult today and often only the work of a few isolated individuals.
Of course, it should be pointed out that imprisonment is in fact far better a quality of life than slavery ever was. For the violence and danger of prisons is no different than the violence and danger of a high-crime neighborhood. It is not as if shankings, theft, and rape were introduced by the prison, rather, these essential qualities of criminal life were brought into the prisons by the criminals themselves. And so, there should be very little sympathy for prisoner violence, as this violence is merely a continuation of the lifestyle which criminals enjoy and create for themselves anywhere. And even more so, it is as though we are subsidizing crime by paying prisoners to commit it within prison! The muderers continue to murder, but this time within four walls, the rapists continue to rape, but within their cells, and the thieves continue to steal but within the confines of their alleged rehabilitation center. And all the while, career criminals with no value to society are clothed, sheltered, and fed on our tax burden.
So, if liberals are right in that prisons don’t work (they do not), it is time to end imprisonment. But then what would we do with all of the murderers, rapists, debtors, and thieves? Why, we would do what all societies have done in the past! We would put them to work in forced labor for the benefit of society. And what if they wrongly refuse to work? We would punish them like the slave masters of old with whippings and beatings, for how else does one restrain a murderer, rapist, or thief when law enforcement is unavailable, let alone force them to work against their wicked will? In fact, this approach to imprisonment would vastly improve the quality of life of all members of society, including criminals.
With the example of imprisonment, which is obviously a form of slavery, I am suggesting that we modern people take slavery for granted and merely give it a different name. We still rejoice in the peace-of-mind gained from forcibly kidnapping, restraining, locking up, and sometimes killing, criminals. We enjoy it so much that we pay our government to maintain private for-profit facilities with quotas. We even place individuals in prison for minor offenses, simply because life is easier for us law-abiders. But when the veil is pierced and citizens begin to see the fruit of their efforts, they pretend as though they had no idea prisons existed. “Abolish prisons!” they scream, as if they learned of them yesterday and forgot that crime was dangerous and ruinous to quality of life. And their solutions to a lack of law enforcement and prisons are no better. Please, send a social worker to a serial rapist. I beg of you, send a psychologist to a school shooter. Oh, won’t you please just give those thieves a nice big hug? Our society is marred by pathological mothering. Everyone is a victim who needs nurturing. Everyone is a try-hard who just needs a bigger boost from mommy. Everyone needs to be cut a bigger check from the fed in order to behave decently.
Let’s be honest and stop perpetuating our moralizing anti-slavery crusade. Let’s fess-up to modern day slavery. Let’s admit that, yes, we enslave criminals in order to keep the peace. Let’s consider that perhaps slavery was almost always this way, and that our ancient ancestors were not psychopathic abductors of the innocent but had a more practical solution to an eternal human problem.
Slavery did a better job for society than our modern prisons will ever do. Slavery put men and women to work for the greater good. Prison takes resources from the innocent to prop up the pathologically deviant. Slavery was a free institution with minimal investment. Prisons are multimillion dollar industries that survive on taxpayers. Slavery was often edifying and instructive, and left slaves with some degree of training and education in exchange for work. Prison gives away free degrees and services for nothing in return. Slavery punished bad behavior, while prison reifies it. Slavery was a merciful last resort instead of death, while prison is a privilege and a life-extending choice.
And a final note. Let’s give thanks that our modern technology replaces the need for slaves and menial labor. Let’s rejoice that our modern privileges allow us to have unparalleled resources. Let’s rejoice that the punishment for overdue credit-card debt isn’t abject forced labor.
We can acknowledge that our anti-slavery arguments come from unprecedented naiveté and privilege. They come from our ability to ignore the obvious forms of slavery we so dearly depend upon today, and they allow us to pretend that we are so much better than our ancestors, when in reality we are far worse and less effective. Prisoners should be forced to work for the good of society, and prisons should probably be abolished, but this is only possible if we bring back slavery.