[ExI] What is Meant by "Slavery"?

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Thu May 28 03:41:57 UTC 2009

On 5/22, Stathis wrote in the thread "Human Experimenting"

> 2009/5/23 painlord2k at libero.it <painlord2k at libero.it>:
>> If I buy a car and agree to pay it tomorrow, the car become really mine
>> tomorrow, after I pay for it. If I can not pay, the car will return to the
>> previous owner. I could also be responsible for the incurred damages or
>> costs incurred for the repossession. If and when I have the means to pay, I
>> will be forced to pay. But I can not be forced to work to pay back the
>> damages and the costs. I can only be forced to pay with what I have at hand
>> or by seizing my possessions. Usually, the debtors will choose the redress
>> they prefer (money seizure or goods repossessed).
>> If you can be forced to work for pay past debts, you are a slave.
> It depends on the details of the contract. It could be that if you
> don't pay for the car you can be sued for the full amount of the car,
> or just a proportion.  When people are sued and they can't pay, they
> can declare bankruptcy. But bankruptcy is a legal addition to the
> system that, indirectly, prevents slavery or indentured labour. It is
> not an automatic part of contract law.

I suppose that you are right, although I would have found
it hard to disagree with Mirco's summary statement above.

It's as though you've found a technicality to invalidate
his claim :)

Then later, in the same thread, Mirco wrote (5/26)

 > Il 22/05/2009 23.37, Lee Corbin ha scritto:
 >>> The signer would need to put himself in a position where he [has]
 >>> no more free will (say he lobotomizes himself). But [so long as he
 >>> retains his] free will, he will not be able to sign away his
 >>> freedom.
 >> It sounds to me like your problem with this is the *scope* of the
 >> signing, i.e., the range of conduct of the subject (the signer). For
 >> small ranges, e.g., "I will promise to return the goods Tuesday", a
 >> contract is okay for you, but "I will do everything you say for N
 >> years" is not.
 >> Have I understood correctly?
 > I think not.
 > The problems are many and many faceted.
 > When someone sell himself in slavery, what is selling?
 > Is he selling his fealty and his labour? Is he selling his body?
 > Is he selling an object or a service?

On the most usual reading, I think he's selling his services.
Often there are laws that limit what the slave owner can do,
and this was true of most of the instances in history.

 > My opinion is that he is selling his body, an object. Not a service.
 > This because the slave owner have the right to kill, maim and order the
 > slave to do anything he like. The slave is an object, like a car or a
 > cow. The slave owner own the body of the slave and can do with it
 > whatever is able and willing to do.

This was true in some cases, but by no means all.
Take modern Brazil, for an interesting current

    "In July 2007, the Brazilian government freed 1,100 laborers
    who were found working in horrendous conditions on a sugarcane
    [for ethanol production] plantation... A story by the Associated
    Press said that the workers were forced to work 13-hour days
    and that they had no choice but to pay "exorbitant prices for
    food and medicine..."

    "According to Land Pastoal, a group affiliated with Brazil's
    Roman Catholic Church,, about 25,000 workers in brazil are
    living in slavery-like conditions, most of them in the Amazon...
    The 2007 raid was not the first. In 2005, 1,000 workers were
    found living in debt slavery on a sugarcane plantation in
    Mato Grosso."

Yes, this extends what is meant by "slavery" a bit,
but I think it's typical of the way that governments
usually limit what can be done to people under forced

(Incidentally, it's amazing to me that the outright
slavery currently practiced in Africa, and near-
outright slavery in this example, elicit few objections
from most people. We perhaps take it for granted that
other cultures (than the developed West) are by
necessity less culpable.)

 > Say the A agree with B to sell himself in slavery to B. B, in exchange
 > will pay C a sum of money. B pay C and A give up the property of his
 > body to B.
 > Now, B is the owner of A's body, so it is responsible for whatever A
 > body do. B could force A to do whatever B like or B could do to A
 > whatever B like. A is a slave, so he must be treated like an object not
 > a person. A has no more rights or duties versus B or others individuals
 > of the society.

Well, you are just talking about extreme examples of slavery.

 > Your example is interesting, because it is the "slavery as a service"
 > problem:
 >> For small ranges, e.g., "I will promise to return the goods Tuesday",
 >> a contract is okay for you, but "I will do everything you say for N
 >> years" is not
 > The problem arises when both brake the contract.
 > When A breaks the contract B has the right to be paid back for the
 > damage received, but this right is not unlimited. If I don't pay a car,
 > the seller have surely the right to repossess the car, take from my bank
 > account a payment for the damages, he could take from me my cloths; he
 > could seize anything I produce until I have paid back the debts. He can
 > not force me to clean the sewers until I pay back my debts.


 > In the cases of "I will do everything you say for N years" the thing is
 > the same. When I broke the contract, he could collect back the money
 > paid, he could take back other money for the damage suffered. But he can
 > not force me to work. The slave owner, in this case, don't own the slave
 > body, so he has not the right to do whatever he like to the body or with
 > the body of the slave.
 > This problem is similar to the case a prostitute and her client have
 > when the client pay the prostitute before the service and then the
 > prostitute refuse to perform the service she agreed upon. He could have
 > the right to repossess the money, he has not the right to force the
 > prostitute to perform. The main point is that the client can not claim
 > any damage if the prostitute don't perform, as the slave owner can not
 > claim any damage if the slave don't perform.



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