WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2022
Enslavement around the world: According to experts with whom we've consulted, Thanksgiving occurred last week. (Except of course in Canada, where things always happen first.)
Despite our current difficulties, we Americans did have certain things we could be thankful for. For one thing, we could be thankful that we don't live under some of the moral standards which have widely prevailed in the past.
In yesterday's award-winning demographic report, we quoted Professor David Silverman describing the massive enslavement of Native Americans during this country's colonial period.
Modern prevailing moral standards would balk at such behavior today. That said, over the course of the past many years, the moral standards of our human race have left a lot to be desired all around the world.
How widely was the enslavement of humans accepted in the past? Like you, we aren't experts on that question, but here's part of what the leading authority on the topic currently says about the historical state of affairs around the world after our somewhat imperfect species first crawled forth on the land:
The history of slavery spans many cultures, nationalities, and religions from ancient times to the present day. Likewise, its victims have come from many different ethnicities and religious groups. The social, economic, and legal positions of enslaved people have differed vastly in different systems of slavery in different times and places.
Slavery has been found in some hunter-gatherer populations, particularly as hereditary slavery, but the conditions of agriculture with increasing social and economic complexity offer greater opportunity for mass chattel slavery. Slavery operated in the first civilizations (such as Sumer in Mesopotamia, which dates back as far as 3500 BC). Slavery features in the Mesopotamian Code of Hammurabi (c. 1750 BC), which refers to it as an established institution. Slavery was widespread in the ancient world in Europe, Asia, Middle East, and Africa. It became less common throughout Europe during the Early Middle Ages, although it continued to be practiced in some areas.
Even the hunter-gatherers! Also, even in Sumer (no relation)!
We can all be thankful that we don't have to live with the moral standards which prevailed in those various places at those various times. Or, for that matter, with the moral standards which once prevailed even over here, in our own part of the world:
In Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica the most common forms of slavery were those of prisoners of war and debtors...Warfare was important to Maya society, because raids on surrounding areas provided the victims required for human sacrifice, as well as slaves for the construction of temples. Most victims of human sacrifice were prisoners of war or slaves...
Other slave-owning societies and tribes of the New World were, for example, the Tehuelche of Patagonia, the Comanche of Texas, the Caribs of Dominica, the Tupinambá of Brazil, the fishing societies, such as the Yurok, that lived along the west coast of North America from what is now Alaska to California, the Pawnee and Klamath. Many of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, such as the Haida and Tlingit, were traditionally known as fierce warriors and slave-traders, raiding as far as California. Slavery was hereditary, the slaves being prisoners of war. Among some Pacific Northwest tribes about a quarter of the population was enslaved.
We recall the question our fifth graders asked us way back when, during the broadcast of the highly influential TV program, Roots. Here's what those excellent children asked:
How could people ever have been willing to treat other people that way?
That's what these good, decent children, with their good, decent minds, asked us during a class discussion or three. They were asking a truly excellent question, one which came to us live and direct from their memorably good, decent hearts.
We believe we told them that moral standards were often very different at earlier times—that people had routinely accepted types of conduct we wouldn't accept today. Also, as we always did, we told them they should talk about such questions with their parents or their grandparents or their guardians, since they were the most important people in their good, decent young lives.
We were very impressed by Professor Silverman's erudition as he spoke with Martin DiCaro in a recent, hour-long interview session. (We were also impressed to see the Washington Times producing this frank discussion.)
As you might recall, we saw Silverman say the following, midway through the hour. For the C-Span tape, click here:
DICARO (10/27/22): As far as I understand, one reason why the trans-Atlantic slave trade in Africans exploded was because it proved impossible to enslave Native Americans for various reasons. But I might be getting ahead of myself.
SILVERMAN: Well, you know, the last fifteen years of scholarship, or so, has exploded that idea—which, you know, which was standard fare in colonial American history courses for a long time.
What we've now discovered is that over the course of the big colonial era—you know, so 16th century all the way through the mid-19th century—Europeans, and then European colonists, enslaved upwards of five and a half million indigenous people—
DICARO: I did not know—
SILVERMAN: Hemispherically, not within the boundaries of the United States. That's about forty percent of the volume of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
In North America, in the North American context—so this would be in English, French, Dutch and Spanish colonies—during the 17th century, so during the 1600s, you would have been as likely in a colonial setting, to encounter Native American slaves as Africans.
That will change dramatically in the 18th century...
That's what happened closer to home during that earlier period. For all our blue tribe's transparent moral posturing about our vast love for racial / demographic justice, we can all be thankful for one thing:
We can all be thankful that we arrived on the planet during an era, and in a place, where different moral standards prevail.
Those fifth grade Baltimore kids had asked an extremely good question. How could people ever have done such things?
More specifically, what could explain the brutal behavior they'd seen enacted as they watched the eight nightly broadcasts of Roots? They were troubled by what they were seeing—but they were puzzled by it as well.
We were vastly impressed by Silverman's erudition during his hour with DiCaro. We were also impressed by DiCaro's interest in the questions under review—though in some instances, we would have posed different questions than the questions which came from DiCaro.
For example, we would have asked Silverman about the way Native groups along the northeast coast of this country viewed the repeated acts of enslavement which occurred during the 16th century—for roughly a hundred years before the Mayflower, Silverman said.
Silverman described such repeated acts. What did the region's indigenous groups think about behavior like that? What were the moral frameworks which they brought to such matters in that particular place and at that point in time?
There's a great deal we all could learn about the history of human brutality. Then again, there's Silverman's approach to the history of the so-called "First Thanksgiving" in 1621.
It happened a very long time ago. Tomorrow, we'll turn to that!
Tomorrow: Demographically speaking, are "Americans" us or them?