SkepticblogSkepticblog logo banner

top navigation:

A Crime So Monstrous

by Kirsten Sanford, Apr 17 2009

This is the title of a new book by E. Benjamin Skinner, who I had the great pleasure of meeting last week at the Conference on World Affairs.

I know that I normally keep myself to posts about science, reason, or media. However, there are things taking place in this world that are worth talking about aside from how I feel science is being presented to the public or what silly thing Jenny McCarthy said this week.

Worldwide, there are more slaves today than at any point in human history. But as a percentage of world population, there are fewer now than ever before. Within a generation, we can wipe the crime from the face of the earth.

I honestly believe that if we can’t learn how to treat humans as humans, and get rid of this kind of mistreatment around the globe, nothing we do academically will matter. I know that money makes the world go round, but it also leads to all sorts of horrendous acts in the name of profit.

How much of our world depends on the labors of uncompensated individuals? How much of this kind of activity bleeds over into American life? How much of it happens on American soil?

We should care that it happens anywhere, not just here. So, abolitionists like Ben are working to understand the problem, spread the word, and give to free the slaves.

You can support two organizations, Free the Slaves and Anti-Slavery International, by purchasing Ben’s book. Or, you can just give to the groups by following the links.

31 Responses to “A Crime So Monstrous”

  1. MadScientist says:

    Slavery exists in numerous forms; it is not limited to exploiting individuals to provide goods to other nations. Some forms of slavery are somewhat contractual and still accepted in some societies – for example, I owe you some money but can’t pay you so I give you my daughter as a slave to clean your house etc. If education and job prospects improve in such places then slavery may very well dwindle and die out. For the slaves exploited for production, one of the few sensible responses is simply to not purchase goods from such operations. As long as slave owners are rewarded, slavery will never disappear. It took about 150 years to get rid of slavery in the USA.

  2. ClockworkJim says:

    a quandary from the world of Cultural Relativism:

    Do we have an ethical basis to enforce our rules and morals upon other cultures? If slavery is an integral part of a culture, and it’s abolition would destroy said culture, do we have a right to interfere?

    • Leo Wagner says:

      If one man’s/society’s culture of slavery impact on another’s culture of non-slavery, then yes, you would have the right to fight or oppose it. If it is in your culture to live off the proceeds of slavery, you only deserve what comes your way when your own society (or any other) enslaves you or your loved ones, or fights against you.
      Slavery is a crime, and nothing good can come of it. It is born out of selfishness and disrespect towards other people. That it can be called a culture makes me wonder. I would rather call it an anti-culture. It is too destructive, too criminal, and too sick to be part of normal human upliftment and development.
      Our leaders are politically too weak willed to eradicate this inhumane behaviour. Crime pays, so does slavery. That is the reason why our governments fail to eradicate it from the face of the earth. Too many naughty fingers are in the slavery and trafficing pie, and far too many long spoons eat off the proceeds. Amen.

    • Roy Edmunds says:

      Well, ask any slave what they would prefer.

      • Aaron says:

        Mind how you go with that, Roy. Ever see one of those old Iranian hostage videos, with somebody who looks like they just went five rounds with Tyson in an ear-chewing mood, saying “I am being *twitch* well treated, and have…have come to *twitch* understand that American imperialism is *twitch* at fault for my captivity…” If you can get a performance like that out of somebody after just a few weeks or even days of working on them, imagine how natural you could make it if you had somebody’s whole life, or most of it, to work with.

    • Aaron says:

      Five bucks says this was heading for “and now you’ve just said the Union shouldn’t have invaded the Confederacy!”

  3. ClockworkJim, which in your opinion ought to have priority: Human rights or Cultural rights? In other words, are we giving an ideology equal rights over a person?

    I was debating with a friend the other day about a bill that prohibited gays from being allowed to “marry or the substantial equivalent thereof” (civil union). Her point is that marriage is sacred and ought to stay between a man and woman; and thus she voted Yes on the bill. My counter-point was the rights of individual humans ought to have precedence over any ideological, cultural, or religious so-called “rights” and of course I voted No.

    So my question again is does a culture’s right to slavery outweigh an individual’s right to freedom?

  4. Havok says:

    Clockworkjim: If slavery is an integral part of a culture, and it’s abolition would destroy said culture, do we have a right to interfere?


  5. John Powell says:

    @Matthew Hawley:

    Well in the case of marriage – either the government has to allow all marriages, or none at all. That’s what “Equal protection under the law” means. (With the exception of close relatives, but that is a public health matter.)

    To answer your friend – a legal marriage is *not* sacred – it is a legal agreement between two people and the government. The marriage that happens in her church *is* sacred, but the government is not telling churches who can and can’t marry within her or anyone else’s church. That’s separation of church and state.

  6. anon says:

    Okay, what does this have to do with skepticism? Anyways, I was hoping for the answer to Brian’s riddle.

  7. JonA says:

    If abolishing a horrible practice like slavery damages a culture, is it a culture worth protecting? The question shouldn’t be whether or not we try to abolish slavery, but how do we best go about doing it? Do we invade and force the change? Or do we use more subtle and diplomatic methods?

  8. Arturo Ruiz says:

    Slavery is goos until you realize tha you can be the slave and not the master.

  9. Max says:

    There are so many things taking place in this world that are worth talking about that have little to do with skepticism… Let’s talk about those things on Skepticblog.

  10. MadScientist says:

    @Max: Well, on the other hand we can look at those anti-slavery websites and give a skeptical criticism of all the activities described. Personally I wouldn’t want to get into that; I hate being an armchair philosopher.

  11. Brian M says:

    I had an argument the other day with someone about slavery, where he claimed that slavery could be abolished by capitalism/free market alone. He even hinted that slavery WAS abolished in the USA by the free market since there is a paper stating that the cost of owning slaves v. paying workers was at par when it was abolished. Sometimes I am utterly shocked by some people.

    In any case, I will run out and buy Ben’s book. Perhaps he has some real solutions.

  12. Max says:

    Slavery, sea piracy, witch hunts, all mostly in Africa. What century are they living in over there? Now the Nigerians, their scams are keeping up with the modern times.

  13. Anthony O'Neal says:

    A lot of slavery today is what debt slavery. Simply put, they put you in a situation in which they basically force debt upon you and make the conditions of being released from that debt impossible, and force you to work to pay it off. This often happens to Eastern European women who are forced into prostitution in western Europe to pay a “debt” for being smuggled there illegally. Clearly, they can’t just go to the authorities, because they were complicit in the smuggling.

  14. MadScientist says:


    “Slavery, sea piracy, witch hunts, all mostly in Africa.”

    You hear a lot about the Somali pirates but piracy is alive and well elsewhere. I know next to nothing about contemporary witch hunts so no comment there. As for slavery, why would you say “mostly in Africa”? I have seen slavery in many forms throughout many of the Asian nations and have seen stories on slavery in South and Central America. I’m afraid slavery is still alive within the continental USA as well; it’s just not so widespread or tolerated by society or the law. When I say “not so widespread” I mean you no longer have large plantations run on slave labor with a fairly large percentage of the population enslaved. So, while slavery still exists in the USA it is illegal and people will be prosecuted as a case against them develops.

  15. Max says:

    “As for slavery, why would you say ‘mostly in Africa’?”

    According to “Free the Slaves”: “The majority of slaves can be found in India and in African countries.”
    In India, that might be due to the large total population.

  16. MadScientist says:


    “In India, that might be due to the large total population.”

    Africa has an enormous population as well. I see no support for the “mostly in Africa” assertion, not that it matters much to me but I think it would be incorrect to make such an assumption.

  17. Max says:

    I misread their map. They have India in red and all the African countries in yellow. So I’m thinking, if you add up all the yellow African countries, you get one very red continent. But the way they colored it, the yellow applies to the whole continent rather than each country. Bottom line, South/Southeast Asia has 17th century problems too.

  18. Roy Edmunds says:

    Where a worker pays taxation without political representation they are a slave. Of sorts. But can one be a little bit free?
    Where a worker has not the right to form association to represent them in their quest for better wages and working conditions they are a slave, of sorts. A little bit free?
    Where a worker has no right to strike, they could be a slave. Granted some tasks are so sensitive , of such consequence, that not even the worker would consider strike, but if that is a choice to do that task in a community where generally ordinary workers have the right to strike then you do have a choice. Its where you have no choice to strike whatever you do that you are a slave.Of sorts.
    Where a worker has no recourse to appeal to some independent authority as arbiter of disputes and has no hope of strike because of debt or poverty, they are a slave, of sorts.
    Where the press is not free, and people are fed lies and distortions of the outside world, and even their own world,they are slaves, of a sort.
    Where a worker lives under the threat of jail if they speak their mind in opposition to the government or authorities, they are a slave, of sorts.
    Where a worker can be punished by a death penalty for crimes not against a person, and they are not afforded adequate counsel for their defence, they are enslaved.
    Where a worker is considered guilty of a misdemeanour unless they can purchase their innocence, they are a slave, of sorts. Bribery and corruption is a way of life in some countries.
    Where a female whether working or not, is restricted in their movements within a country, or from obtaining education, or work at all, or from exercising their choice of dress, purely because they are female, they are a slave, most definitely.
    Where there is a class system subtle or otherwise which perpetuates the leadership of the priviledged and people cannot rise on the basis of their merits, there is slavery, of sorts.
    Can then, a slave be happy? Of sorts,for “where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise”.
    But then who was it said,”give me liberty or give me death”. The latter has more appeal I think.

  19. Roy Edmunds says:

    If you Google “Stop The Traffic” you will learn much more about human trafficking in the world. There are more slaves trafficked now than ever before!!! For sexual exploitation, women, children, for the manufacture of clothing, gathering crops, tilling the soil, cleaning and etc. People who are ‘bonded’ by trickery, by force, or taken advantage of because of their dire circumstances or mental condition. We live in a sick world while we take advantage of slave labour. And we are all guilty of doing this. Every cheap garment we buy, may have been produced by people working in inhuman circumstances. It may be that the canned fish, or some other item, is produced by people who are simply coerced, or are less than free to bargain for the circumstances of their employment. It is time to re introduce tarriffs to stop the exploitation of slave labour by taking advantage of cheap products. We are guilty be default.

  20. Linda Rosa says:

    Dr. Sanford suggested the problem in her statement. I suspect slavery today is, to a large degree, an effect of over-population. Population pressures and scarce resources.

    By the way, I was once sold by two Chileans in Cusco to a cacique. The price was two ponchos. (The Chileans were cold.) I got away the first day.

    • Roy Edmunds says:

      Cripes, Linda!! you were sold by two Chileans for two ponchos!!
      I can see the Judges face when the defence counsel offers the excuse that Chile is overcrowded and has scarce resources so you were sold out of necessity.
      His reply might go something like, “I care not about the circumstances it was your amoral choices which caused you to trade someone elses freedom and dignity for a couple of ponchos”.
      The fact is that freedom is not free. Usually there has been a price paid. Often it is with human beings making a choice to lay down their lives in a cause which results in greater freedom for individuals.
      Sometimes it is through the courts if the rule of law exists.
      But it starts with a deliberate choice to be free which you made when you escaped.