The stench of a slave ship
I finished "The Empire of Necessity" by Greg Grandin. I'm not sure I can replicate the thesis in a more granular way than "follow the money" -- the book is almost a picaresque -- but the "see, hear, feel, touch, taste, smell" language is amazing, and Grandin's sourcing is brilliant. It's pleasant to see that America can still produce scholarship, even if readable, popular scholarship. Here's Grandin on the hold of a slave ship. Typing it in, from page 38:
Along the way, Africans died from contagious diseases or from the miseries of crossing the ocean in a claustrophobically small space. Some went blind. Others lost their minds. Even when the circus [?] followed the best practices of the early nineteenth century, the holds were never cleaned fast enough to counter the accumulating strata of excrement, vomit, blood, and pus. With poor ventilation, baking under the equatorial sun, cargo bays festered and putrefied. Slave ships could be smelled from miles away. "The confined air, rendered noxious by the effluvia exhaled from their bodies, and by being repeatedly breathed, soon produces fevers and fluxes, which generally carries off great numbers of them." observed a British slave ship surgeon in the 1780s. When bad weather forced the portholes and hatches to be closed for long periods of time, the floors of the holds would become so covered with "blood and mucus" that they "resembled a slaughter-house." "It is not," said the surgeon, "in the power of the human imagination to picture to itself a situation more dreadful or disgusting."
Some quick reactions:
0) Really bad, bad, bad stuff stinks. It just does (though of course not all evil stinks; bits and bytes don't, and no form of money that I'm aware of does). Our backbrains found that being alerted to evil was adaptive.
1) "Slave ships could be smelled from miles away." In other words, everybody knew, much as the Germans knew, from the stench of the chimneys of concentration camps, or the arms and legs waving between the slats of cattle cars.
2) Clearly, "wage labor" (human rental) is a cultural -- rather, civilizational -- advance over slavery (human sale). No matter how bad the dark Satanic mills were, they weren't as bad as slave ships. (Now, I think the next civilizational should regard human labor as a gift, but that is a topic for another day.
3) I wonder if there was a Temple Grandin-equivalent for slaves, as there has been in this century for
other animals, in the Nineteenth Century.
4) Racism is horribly real, but money (capital) was the driver. Systemically -- and as the book makes very clear, sytems, like Soylent green, are people -- racism might be said to be the Occasion of Sin, and capital the Mortal Sin. (I'm not Catholic, so I may be getting that wrong, and in any case, by confusing a human person with a system made up of persons in social relations, I have committed a category error. Most, if not all, of the horrible events of the book have money as their root, including going into the slaving (or sealing) business in the first place. That is the "necessity."
5) Now I have to read Melville. Oddly, or not, pre-Civil War issues seem to be coming up on the charts.....
NOTE  That's why usury really does need to be stigmatized and taboos formed around it. They are social replacements or functional substitutions for the stink.
NOTE  As opposed to "the augmentation of the complexity and intensity of the field of intelligent life."