Progress? A Political Cartoon

I am generally disinclined to accept arguments that "Democrats" are responsible for every horror in human history. Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner, I understand, but he was also a brilliant man whose political work has mostly laid the ground for centuries of human flourishing. So for me, the partisan angle rings hollow.

The bigger question, though, has to do with the changing of human beings into salable property. The key difference is that the human beings are dead, and so do not have to consciously suffer the indignity of being treated as property. But we wouldn't accept that it was right to kill people in order to treat them as property: if these were any other sort of person it would be no defense at all to say that you'd killed them before you sold their body parts for someone else's proprietary use. Neither do we generally allow organ sales from even elderly persons who have died, though they like others may donate their organs, precisely to avoid the moral dangers of creating a market in human organs that might encourage profit-seekers to hasten the death of human beings in order to harvest organs.

The matter should be troubling. There are a lot of philosophical angles from which to approach it. As a society, we have not given any of them adequate thought.


Elise said...

To me, this cartoon highlights something deeper than the issue of selling people; it highlights the issue of personhood. I've probably linked to this before but Megan McArdle has an interesting old post on this issue:

A Really Long Post About Abortion and Reasonng By Historical Analogy That is Going to Make Virtually All of my Readers Very Angry At Me

The underlying disagreement is that to many people who support abortion, the beings that are destroyed in an abortion are not human beings - they are not persons with all the rights that entails. Rather they are something (creatures, beings, fetuses, tissues) that are owned by their mothers who have total control over their continued existence. Thus there is nothing troublesome about "hastening their death" for any reason, including wanting to harvest their organs - provided the mothers (the owners) consent.

Grim said...

There's a good point there. Race was a false category constructed to excuse slavery. "Personhood" is another. What you're seeing in these videos, with their chopped-up feet and hands, is undeniable evidence that these are human beings. The debate over whether they are also "persons" is really a debate about when it is proper to treat human beings as property. That's exactly what racism was really about.

raven said...

I have held dying newborns in my arms. To deny them personhood is a filthy excuse for torture, death and sale of their remains.
Should one search the world over to define "innocent", could they find a better example than an unborn child, yet to have even a taste of the corruption of the world?
Evil is as evil does.
One discussion I had with a kiddie killer supporter ended with his avowal that children should be considered property until they were seven or eight years of age and able to survive independently of their parents-till then they could be dealt with in any manner including killing them with no legal repercussions. I am not making this up. Any house-cat has a higher moral standard. I felt like I was talking to an alien species.
Oh, by and large, these are the same people who wish us disarmed. Wonder what they have planned.

Grim said...

Oh, by and large, these are the same people who wish us disarmed. Wonder what they have planned.

That's an excellent point I hadn't quite considered in full light until now. No, we shall not disarm. Not before death.

Tom said...

Not sure if it was what you intended, but Jefferson was not a Democrat. That party didn't exist during his lifetime. His party was the Democratic Republicans, which fell apart in the 1820s. The first Democratic president was Jackson, I think.

Grim said...

I think of Jefferson as a Democrat, because he was a democrat. James Jackson of Georgia was the founder of our state's Democratic party, and he was a Jeffersonian (and of Jefferson's era).

Andrew Jackson, well: a lot of people don't like him, chiefly because of the Cherokee. But there would have been no America without him, not the America we know. He kept the Louisiana purchase from falling back out of American control, and ensured the expansion of the nation westwards. Plus he made sure that the War of 1812 was the last time the British thought of trying to flex expansionism muscles in North America. Whether that atones for his sins or not, he's one of the most consequential of all American presidents. If you love the America that was strong enough to win in the World Wars, you can't sneer too much at Jackson.

Texan99 said...

Elise, I've always found the analogy between slaves and fetuses very powerful. McArdle was right that it drives many people bonkers to bring it up.

There is a great deal we can deaden our consciences to only by making people into not-people.

Tom said...

A lot of pro-choice folks don't seem to understand the pro-life argument that the baby is a person in the womb. They seem to have the impression that the pro-life argument is something like this: The Bible (or Pope) says it, so it's true, and we're going to pass laws to force you to follow our religion!

They really don't know our arguments.

Tex, I agree. Dehumanization is the first step to enabling a lot of wickedness. Either the target isn't human, or has forfeited their humanity in some way, or was born not completely human.

Think about the current rhetoric of "white privilege" in that light.

Texan99 said...

I think part of the problem is that someone who believes a fetus is not human rejects the right of someone else to decide that question differently for him. And if all it were was a question of forcing someone to believe something abstract, I'd understand. But if this is a person, it's not enough for us to say, "Well, everyone's entitled to his own views about private stuff." It's a little like watching people get their young children killed by refusing to vaccinate them. I can believe they're in good faith, but kids are dying, and I have a duty to speak up. That doesn't mean, of course, that I conclude the best way to get them to change their views is to point a gun at them.

Ymar Sakar said...

It's impossible for merely a single political party to be responsible for everything, that would be ridiculous.

Evil would need an alliance to cover that much area.

Ymar Sakar said...

Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner, I understand, but he was also a brilliant man whose political work has mostly laid the ground for centuries of human flourishing.

Loyal unto death to the Democrat party. But I don't think Jefferson has enough life in his corpse for people to use that as a cover for Wilson, FDR, Hussein, Clinton, and the rest of the Democrat tyrants.

Ted Kennedy, after all, is innocent of everything because Jefferson was a slave owner with virtues? Ehhh, sure.

Ymar Sakar said...

Diaries and travelogues are also helpful in getting in touch with the pre Civil War South.

For example, consider Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation: 1838-1839 by Fanny Kemble. Fanny Kemble was an English actress who married a plantation owner.

Frederick Law Olmsted, better known as the landscape architect who designed Central Park in Manhattan, wrote a number of travelogues on the South of the 1850's.

And all of these are free for the downloading.
-Post Liberal

But I do not admit the comparison between your slaves and even the lowest class of European free labourers, for the former are allowed the exercise of no faculties but those which they enjoy in common with the brutes that perish. The just comparison is between the slaves and the useful animals to whose level your laws reduce them; and I will acknowledge that the slaves of a kind owner may be as well cared for, and as happy, as the dogs and horses of a merciful master; but the latter condition—i.e. that of happiness—must again depend upon the complete perfection of their moral and mental degradation. Mr. ——, in his letter, maintains that they are an inferior race, and, compared with the whites, 'animals, incapable of mental culture and moral improvement:' to this I can only reply, that if they are incapable of profiting by instruction, I do not see the necessity for laws inflicting heavy penalties on those who offer it to them. If they really are brutish, witless, dull, and devoid of capacity for progress, where lies the danger which is constantly insisted upon of offering them that of which they are incapable. We have no laws forbidding us to teach our dogs and horses as much as they can comprehend; nobody is fined or imprisoned for reasoning upon knowledge, and liberty, to the beasts of the field, for they are incapable of such truths. But these themes are forbidden to slaves, not because they cannot, but because they can and would seize on them with avidity—receive them gladly, comprehend them quickly; and the masters' power over them would be annihilated at once and for ever. But I have more frequently heard, not that they were incapable of receiving instruction, but something much nearer the truth—that knowledge only makes them miserable: the moment they are in any degree enlightened, they become unhappy. In the letter I return to you Mr. —— says that the very slightest amount of education, merely teaching them to read, 'impairs their value as slaves, for it instantly destroys their contentedness, and since you do not contemplate changing their condition, it is surely doing them an ill service to destroy their acquiescence in it;' but this is a very different ground of argument from the other. .. He learns to read; he feels, thinks, reflects, and becomes miserable. He discovers himself to be one of a debased and degraded race, deprived of the elementary rights which God has granted to all men alike; every action is controlled, every word noted; he may not stir beyond his appointed bounds, to the right hand or to the left, at his own will, but at the will of another he may be sent miles and miles of weary journeying—tethered, yoked, collared, and fettered—away from whatever he may know as home, severed from all those ties of blood and affection which he alone of all human, of all living creatures on the face of the earth may neither enjoy in peace nor defend when they are outraged. If he is well treated, if his master be tolerably humane or even understand his own interest tolerably, this is probably all he may have to endure: ... But how is it if his master be severe, harsh, cruel—or even only careless—leaving his creatures to the delegated dominion of some overseer, or agent, whose love of power, or other evil dispositions, are checked by no considerations of personal interest?

Tom said...

Loyal unto death to the Democrat party.

Well, maybe loyal after death to the Democratic Party. After all, they consistently win the dead vote. But since the Democratic Party was founded after Jefferson's death, he couldn't have been part of it while alive. Jackson was the first Democratic president.

And thanks for the travelogue link.