What do slaveholders think?

What Slaveholders Think

“The public square is celebrated by scholars of democracy as a pillar of free and open society. But to slaveholders this space is a cauldron of ‘enmity, ego, and hatred’. Free workers spending their free time talking about life is what gives democracy its vitality – no wonder it’s perceived to be a threat to those who have benefitted from the caste hierarchy. To the erstwhile slaveholder, leisure activities – talking, idling, drinking – are vices, tangible manifestations of social decline.” — Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

This week, our featured book is What Slaveholders Think: How Contemporary Perpetrators Rationalize What They Do, by Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick. Today, we are happy to present a short excerpt from an article by Choi-Fitzpatrick published at Aeon.

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What do slaveholders think?: It is everywhere illegal yet slavery persists in many corners of the global economy. How do its beneficiaries justify it?
By Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

Withholding pay and limiting opportunities to mobilise are important strategies for controlling workers. But all of this is done for the workers’ own good, Aanan insists. Though landlords complain about alcohol, such indulgences are also tactics for increasing debt. Rowdy festivals allow workers to blow off steam, effectively directing frustration away from their abusers. These events also allow workers to spend what little money they have, increasing the likelihood that they will remain dependent on the landlord’s line of credit.

When asked if he needs the workers or the workers need him, Aanan explains that: ‘The worker is my cash machine, my fate.’ In this one statement, he has captured a central contradiction inherent in most human-rights violations worldwide: exploitation takes place at the intersection of culture and capital, in the overlap between relationship and extraction, at the moment where care and exploitation intersect.

Long accustomed to power, slaveholders work hard to sustain their status and baulk at any hint of equality. One previously powerful employer confided to me that his community was in decline. ‘In the olden days … labourers used to work in their fields, they used to think of their work,’ he told me. Now, however, they freshen up after work and drink coffee and tea while talking about ‘unnecessary things’, an opportunity for democratic discourse that is ‘deviating their minds’.

The public square is celebrated by scholars of democracy as a pillar of free and open society. But to slaveholders this space is a cauldron of ‘enmity, ego, and hatred’. Free workers spending their free time talking about life is what gives democracy its vitality – no wonder it’s perceived to be a threat to those who have benefitted from the caste hierarchy. To the erstwhile slaveholder, leisure activities – talking, idling, drinking – are vices, tangible manifestations of social decline.

Read the article in full at Aeon.

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