Mar 312018

If you read any history at all, you will encounter many incidents of exploitation – the English exploiting the Irish, the Irish exploiting the Scottish (see Dál Riata), the English exploiting the Scottish, the Scottish exploiting the English, everyone exploiting the Welsh, etc.

As an example of how it wasn’t as simple as sometimes claimed, there is a small sliver of Anglo-Irish ancestry in my family history. Undoubtedly they exploited the Irish back in the 18th century and before, but whilst they started as English, in every generation they married into the Irish aristocracy; so in at least one case the exploiters of the Irish were half or more Irish themselves.

And that is just one small corner of the world – it was happening just about everywhere.

Take another example – slavery. Everybody immediately thinks of the Atlantic slave trade, but those who look closer are in for a surprise – firstly that most slaves were made slaves by African slavemasters. And secondly the African slave trade had been going on uninterrupted since the Roman era – chiefly to the east.

At the same time the Atlantic slave trade was going on (16th-19th centuries), the Barbary pirates were also taking slaves – European slaves. It is estimated that 1-1.5 million were taken, although these figures are disputed, it is also the case that the Barbary slave raiding caused many small towns and villages to be deserted along the coastlines of Spain, Italy, and other places with a Mediterranean coastline.

And the early history of Europe is awash with slavery – Romans, Vikings, Angles, Saxons, and others, all participates in raiding for slaves – for local use, to Rome (in the early days), and to Byzantium (later on).

It is easy to look at one historical incident, and see the English exploiting the Irish, the Europeans exploiting Africans, etc. And there is an element of truth in that.

But it can also be seen not as the members of a nation exploiting the members of another nation, but as a type of person exploiting another type of person. The pure Marxist would claim it is the rich exploiting the poor, and there is an element of truth to that, but it is overly simplistic.

It is really more that the exploiter is the kind of person willing to do almost anything to enrich themselves including exploiting others. There isn’t anything wrong with getting rich or being rich as long as it is done honestly and reasonably.

There is a certain kind of person who does not care what level of suffering they cause to another person. For convenience let us call these people “sociopaths”.

In every example of exploitation in history, no matter what we label those responsible I am sure that the exploiters were sociopaths.

Now this is all very intellectually interesting, but perhaps the real question here is what should we do about the invisible sociopaths in today’s society? Because there are plenty – we might call them bankers, or slum landlords, or Russian oligarchs, or other things, but in the end what they all have in common is that they are sociopaths.

Giving The Sky The Finger


Nov 022013

Why on earth have we got this new name – Human Trafficking – for the very old crime of slavery and slave trading? Is it some kind of attempt at putting a trendy new gloss on it? It’s not a crime that should have a trendy new gloss; even ignoring the fact that it is the kind of crime that shouldn’t be glamorised in any way, there’s a very good legal reason why we should carry on calling it slavery and slave trading.

Back in the 19th century, the British unilaterally declared that slavery and slave trading would be treated the same as piracy and set about (with the assistance of the US) eliminating the African slave trade. Under the principle of jus cogens they set about hanging slavers, confiscating their assets, and freeing slaves claiming that they had a universal right to punish those who took part in the crime of slavery.

In other words, some crimes are so heinous that anyone is allowed to prosecute offenders no matter where or when the offenses took place.

By keeping the old name for the crime, we retain it’s classification as a crime subject to universal jurisdiction. This opens the possibility of setting up a court – such as the ICC – to prosecute slavers wherever in the world they are, and the possibility of empowering law enforcement units to bring slavers to justice wherever they happen to be.

And after all, the fight against slavery isn’t going too well with more slaves today than there has ever been.

Mar 242007

I have written on slavery before in a more general sense, but this time it is more about how media represents slavery at a time when slavery is in the news because Sunday is the 200th anniversary of the British attempting to abolish the slave trade as the first step in abolishing slavery which is something that is still not finished.

Well, actually the campaign for the abolition of slavery in Britain/England is actually quite a bit older than that act in 1807; the first step was allegedly the abolition of serfdom in 1102. There were many steps forward and many shameful steps backwards (such as the start of the transatlantic slave trade). But I’ll stop there before I get carried away and just point you to the Wikipedia article on the history of slavery … [w:History of Slavery]

What this little rant is about, is how the media portray slavery as an institution where only blacks were slaves and only whites were slave owners and traders. Wrong!

Even ignoring the earlier history of slavery, it is clear from various statistics that slaves could be white or black :-

Group Number
Africans in the transatlantic slave trade 11.6 million
Africans in the Eastern slave trade 11-16 million
Europeans in the Eastern slave trade 1-1.5 million

These figures are hardly likely to be accurate … slave traders do not appear to be good record keepers for some reason, but it would appear that from these figures approximately 6% of the slaves in early modern history were European. That seems like a relatively small quantity in comparison to the number of African slaves taken from their homes, but each individual forced into slavery is a crime against humanity, and a tragedy for the individual whether the individual was black, white or any other colour.

These figures probably vastly underestimate the number of slaves throughout history even if we exclude serfs (a serf is a slave owned by the land and not a person … a distinction likely to make a difference to a lawyer but not the serf). The colour of a slave is irrelevant; it is the fact that he is a slave that is important (and important to free him). The colour of a slave owner is irrelevant; it is the fact that she owns slaves and abuses them that is important (no matter how kind a slavemaster is, she is still abusing other humans).

It is easy to overlook the African involvement in the slave trade … we are given the impression that it was solely white Europeans who threw black Africans into chains. There was certainly plenty of that going on, but in the early days at least many black Africans were involved in the slave trade.

The media needs to stop getting carried away with the easy job of portraying the transatlantic slave trade where images are relatively easy to come by, and make it plain that all slavery is wrong and that it was not just black Africans abused in this way. Given how widespread slavery has been in the past, it is almost certain that everyone alive today is descended from someone who was a slave and probable that they are descended from slave owner.

There are those who say we should compensate the descendants of slaves for the crime against their ancestors. If everyone is a descendent of a slave, this could be somewhat expensive to do! However there is some that we must do and that is to do everything we can to stop present day slavery … yes it still goes on. I am sure that many if not all of history’s dead slaves would cry out that any money that could be put into compensation should be first spent on stopping anyone else being subject to slavery in any form … that is the first priority.

Nov 272006

The UK prime minister has just released a ‘statement of regret’ for Britain’s participation in the slave trade which is fair enough … after all slavery was and continues to be a crime against humanity. Some are calling for him to go further and issue a full apology and hand out reparations, which is where things get a little tricky.

The history of slavery is a little more complicated than just excessively greedy British merchants sailing to Africa, seizing millions of Africans and dragging them across the Atlantic to live and die in atrocious conditions. For a start, many of those merchants bought their slaves from native slave traders who had been in business for many years already.

In Africa it was common for African tribes or nations to enslave prisoners of war (a common practice in many other parts of the world) and sell those slaves on to slave traders who would them take them East or later West for resale. As many if not more slaves were sold East to Arab slave traders as were sold West to European slave traders.

In addition, the pirates of North Africa had their own slave trade by seizing Europeans from sea or land and selling them into slavery in their own markets. Whilst not of the same scale as the outgoing trade from Africa, it still counts as a crime against humanity for each of the estimated 1.5 million victims. Including a number of US citizens … the Barbary Pirate attacks on US ships was the chief reason why the US Navy was started.

In fact slavery or similar states (serfdom, enforced contractual slavery, etc) has been so widespread that there are very few parts of the world that did not have slavery at some point in the past, and probably very few of us who do not have slaves as ancestors.

So when we talk of reparations for the crime of slavery, who should pay ? And who should be paid ? It is not an easy question to answer. Of course Britain is included amongst the group of debtors, but do we get credit for the amount of efforts Britain made to abolish the slave trade ? And what about the other slave traders … other Europeans, Arabs, and Africans ?