Dehumanization Essay

Research paper on dehumanization or connecting it to the hunger games.

The Hunger Games goes side by side with slavery and dehumanization that has occured in history. The districts being the oppressed and the capitol rulers being the authoritarian governments. The capitol leaders had no value for humans when it came to the districts besides the resources and entertainment that they were forced to provide. African American and Jewish slavery are very comparable to The Hunger Games and the sovereign state known as panem. Overall this is a form of abuse and anyone who has experienced abuse or been oppressed by an authoritative figure will relate to my paper. Individuals who do not relate to this will simple gain insightful information on the topic of slavery and dehumanization. I grew up witnessing domestic abuse and dehumanization in my home, so I understand the lengths that an oppressor will go in order to maintain power and order.

Introduction Paragraph:
Slavery and dehumanization have several different forms and attributes, all coming down to the abuse, suffering, cruelty, and hypocrisy against an individual or a group of individuals. Dehumanization is shown by the capitol in The Hunger Games, they didn’t value the districts and used them to their advantage. There was no value of human life by the way that they treated them. There are two types of targets of dehumanization such as “socially excluded people” (Morera) and “evil people associated with harmful behaviors” (Morera). The powerful peoples that take control over the oppressed work to enslave them, and this has been in place since the beginning of biblical times, and even as recent as the 190th and 20th centuries. In every sense of dehumanization and slavery the victims are being taken advantage of by those in power.

Points I Plan To Cover:
-animalistic vs mechanistic
-the reaping connected to slavery and dehumanization
-values of the dehumanizers
-abuse, emotionally, physically,

Perception of mind and dehumanization: Human, animal, or machine? By: Morera, María D., Quiles, María N., Correa, Ana D., Delgado, Naira, Leyens, Jacques‐Philippe, International Journal of Psychology, 00207594, Aug2018, Vol. 53, Issue 4

When is a Slave Not Really a Slave? By: Huzzey, Richard, History Today, 00182753, Dec2012, Vol. 62, Issue 12

Haslam, Nick “Dehumanization: An Interpretive Review.” Personality and Social Psychology Review August (2004):

Waytz, Adam, and Nicholas Epley. “Social Connection Enables Dehumanization.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (2012): 70-76

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2008. Print.

some more sources
Perception of mind and dehumanization: Human, animal, or machine?
Dehumanization is reached through several approaches, including the attribute‐based model of mind perception and the metaphor‐based model of dehumanization. We performed two studies to find different (de)humanized images for three targets: Professional people, Evil people, and Lowest of the low. In Study 1, we examined dimensions of mind, expecting the last two categories to be dehumanized through denial of agency (Lowest of the low) or experience (Evil people), compared with humanized targets (Professional people). Study 2 aimed to distinguish these targets using metaphors. We predicted that Evil and Lowest of the low targets would suffer mechanistic and animalistic dehumanization, respectively; our predictions were confirmed, but the metaphor‐based model nuanced these results: animalistic and mechanistic dehumanization were shown as overlapping rather than independent. Evil persons were perceived as “killing machines” and “predators.” Finally, Lowest of the low were not animalized but considered human beings. We discuss possible interpretations.

Animalistic dehumanization; Mechanistic dehumanization; Mind perception

What does it mean to be human? Social perception includes the task of deciding whether other individuals are complete human beings, like the perceiver, or whether they lack some characteristics inherent to humanness. The main aim of our research is to analyze through two different empirical and theoretical approaches the dehumanized perception of two types of targets—socially excluded people (drug‐addicts and the homeless) and evil people associated with harmful behaviors (terrorists and mercenaries)—compared with a third type of targets perceived as complete humans. This analysis used the dimensions of mind perception proposed by Gray, Gray, and Wegner ([ 7] ) and the metaphor model suggested by Loughnan and Haslam ([ 24] ). Both models follow different strategies to evaluate humanness and its opposite, dehumanization.

The end of the 20th century saw a sudden interest in the perception of humanity and in dehumanization (Bain, Vaes, & Leyens, [ 1] ). Different models for studying dehumanization were developed, prompted by Leyens et al.’s findings (Leyens, Demoulin, Vaes, Gaunt, & Paladino, [ 19] ; Leyens et al., [ 20] ). They suggested that human outgroups could be infrahumanized, that is, not considered human to the same degree as ingroups, by denying them uniquely human emotions. A different perspective of dehumanization focused on the attribution of mind. From this point of view, dehumanization can be seen as a spontaneous failure when perceiving other people’s minds (Harris & Fiske, [ 12] ). But, what does having a mind mean? Gray et al. ([ 7] ) showed that the human mind comprised two dimensions: agency and experience. Agency includes the mental capacities that enable decision‐making and organizing behaviors (e.g., idea, judgment, self‐control, or communication). Experience is the capacity to be subjected to sensations (e.g., emotions, consciousness, or personality). For this perspective, dehumanization means denying other people mental capacities. So far, however, few studies have attempted to empirically check the way in which dehumanized social targets are denied mental capacities.

Original studies on infrahumanization contrast human beings with animals, and the degree of humanity is most frequently measured by the association of uniquely human characteristics with in‐ and outgroups. Haslam ([ 13] ) extended this reasoning by differentiating what is uniquely human from what is typically human; for instance, curiosity is not uniquely human, but it is typically human. Haslam proposed two types or metaphors of dehumanization: animalistic and mechanistic. Animalistic dehumanization leads to outgroups being considered animals because they do not have many uniquely human features. Mechanistic dehumanization strips away human nature, and human beings are subsequently seen as objects or robots (Haslam, Loughnan, Kashima, & Bain, [ 15] ). To simplify, Haslam’s ([ 13] ) model suggests that people may be considered human beings, machines, or animals.

Numerous studies about dehumanization have mainly focused on exploring intergroup biases in intergroup contexts. Less effort has been made to account for dehumanized perception of people in ordinary life, irrespective of the group belongingness of the perceiver. We set out to discover how people perceive different types of targets from the perspective of mind perception and metaphor‐based models (Loughnan, Haslam, & Kashima, [ 25] ). We expected to find different (de)humanized images for the different kind of targets. While mind perception predicts that dehumanization leads to a redistribution of perceived mind (Gray, Knobe, Sheskin, Bloom & Barrett, [ 8] ), the metaphor model is expected to show whether dehumanization takes the form of animalization or objectification (Haslam, [ 13] ).

The first study will investigate whether people negate distinct abilities (agency and experience) of the mind according to different types of targets. The second study will look at the different metaphorical representations (human, animal, and machine) of the same groups of targets. Rather than testing the two models in a single study, we decided to conduct two separate studies to ensure that the responses to one study would not contaminate the responses to the other.

In addition to a contrast group of targets of Professional people, who were expected to be completely human, we were interested in two groups of individuals. The first comprised Evil persons, such as mercenaries or terrorists. Evilness has always caused a mixture of revulsion and fascination. Those who seek to harm others by planning their violent actions, anticipating victims’ suffering, and enjoying the outcome, lead witnesses to attribute them with a special personality (Quiles, Morera, Correa, & Leyens, [ 28] ). Although evilness is a uniquely human dimension (Quiles, Morera, Correa, & Leyens, [ 27] ), we expected people to reject the idea that evil persons are human beings like themselves.

The second group comprised the Lowest of the low and was composed of drug‐addicts and homeless people (Harris & Fiske, [ 11] ). Functional magnetic resonance imaging showed a pattern of brain activation typically associated with disgust for this kind of target. Moreover, they seemed to be dehumanized, as indicated by the absence of the typical neural signature for social cognition (Harris & Fiske, [ 11] ). Further research, however, showed that these rejected groups were still considered human when concern for disgust was discarded (Buckels & Trapnell, [ 2] ; Harris & Fiske, [ 12] ). In any case, these people occupy the most undervalued position on the social scale.

For the first study, and on the basis of previous research concerning dimensions of agency and experience (Gray et al., [ 7] ), we formed the following hypotheses. First, Professional people, as well as the Self, should be seen as complete human beings with high agency and experience. Second, Lowest of the low should be dehumanized with low agency, as could be expected from the low competence attributed to them by the stereotype content model (Fiske, Cuddy, Glick & Xu, [ 4] ). On other hand, Gray et al. ([ 8] ) found that objectified perception can be associated with high levels of experience. Therefore, a moderate degree of experience at least can be expected for the Lowest of the low. Third, Evil people, as well as the Devil, should be low on experience with a moderate amount of agency (Gray, Young & Waytz, [ 9] ; Quiles et al., [ 28] ).

Gray et al. ([ 7] ) used 13 different targets in their study. Some were human (e.g., the Self, a man, a woman) and others were not (e.g., a chimpanzee, a robot, God). Participants compared the targets on 18 mental capacities. The 18 capacities were assigned to the Self, man, and woman. Other targets differed in the amount of agency and experience attributed to them. These results provide an implicit idea about what people consider a human mind to be. The present study attempts to discover how a human mind is perceived when it pertains to targets belonging to dehumanized socially relevant groups, compared to targets considered as human.

Four hundred and eighty‐five Spanish persons (66% female) participated in the study. Their age ranged from 18 to 74, with a mean of 27.4 (SD = 11.2).Three hundred and fourteen (64.7%) persons were students at University of La Laguna and received credits for their participation. Students forwarded the website link to other people in their social network. These participants (N = 171) were required to sign a form containing identification data stating that they had responded independently and truthfully. Identification data were immediately destroyed.

Participants were contacted in class, informed about the nature of the study and asked to voluntarily respond to a questionnaire through a university website. The procedure respected the ethical standards from ethical committees for psychological research at Spanish universities. Participants were warned that they would need 20 minutes to complete the task; if they did not have the time, they were asked to respond when they would not be disturbed by television or conversations. As soon as participants began the task they received standardized instructions. They were told that people have ideas about how other persons think, feel, and behave. Finally, they were informed that they would see a series of pictures of different targets and would be required to answer various questions by giving their first impressions. Anonymity was guaranteed.

To familiarize participants with the pictures, they first saw each of the 10 targets accompanied by a brief description. Following Harris and Fiske ([ 11] ), we selected several targets representing different Warmth × Competence clusters of the Stereotype Content Model. First, as a control to gage the other groups, we exhibited Professional people: middle class people (a female veterinarian and a male radiologist) and business professionals (a male banker and a career woman). Second, Lowest of the low targets were presented (a drug‐addict and a homeless person). Finally, a category of cruel people (a terrorist and a mercenary) was added in order to examine the perception of Evil people. The Self (represented by a picture of a mirror) and the Devil (a Devil’s pentagram) were added as elements of contrast, representing the most and the least human targets. All the descriptions were similar in length and detail. In the case of the career woman, for instance, participants read that “Rosa Martínez‐Abascal is a professional woman who had become director of the firm for which she had been working for five years.” The 10 pictures and descriptions were randomly presented and participants were required to say the extent to which each of six mind capacities was characteristic of the target. Answers were given on 7‐point scales, from 0 (not at all) to 6 (totally).

Mind measure. Measuring the mind varied in different studies. Gray et al. ([ 7] ) had 18 questions about the capacities of targets, but Gray et al. ([ 8] ), for instance, considerably reduced this number to just six. We also used six questions: three related to agency and three to experience. In each case, we asked about the extent to which the person depicted in the picture could show one capacity.

Agency. Following are the items for measuring agency. Capacity of self‐control: “To what extent is the person capable of restraining his/her wishes, emotions, and impulses?” Capacity to act morally: “To what extent is the person capable of anticipating the positive or negative consequences of his/her behavior and of being responsible for his/her acts?” Capacity to plan: “To what extent is the person capable of making plans to reach his/her goals?”

Experience. The items to measure experience were as follows. Capacity to experience emotions: “To what extent is the person capable of experiencing emotions like fear, pain, or joy?” Capacity to experience refined (or uniquely human) emotions— sentimientos in Spanish: “To what extent is the person capable of experiencing sentimientos like shame, guilt, or hope?” Capacity to experience consciousness: “To what extent is the person capable of being conscious of his/her environment and of the things that happen?”

Factorial analysis of mind dimensions
We ran a factorial analysis with Varimax rotation to verify that the six capacities fell into two factors. The KMO index (.685) and the Bartlett test of sphericity (χ2 ( 15) = 434.79, p < .0001) permitted this analysis. The factorial solution gave two factors that explained 57.14% of the total variance (31.83 and 25.31 for agency and experience, respectively). The factor loadings showed that agency comprised the three original items (.79, .71, and .52) plus the experience of consciousness (.70). Experience was thus limited to the experience of emotions (.87) and sentimientos (.85). The alpha for the agency items reached .78, while the two items of experience correlated, r(483) = .50, p < .001.

The fact that consciousness loads on agency rather than on experience may result from the translation of English to Spanish. While in English, the word “consciousness” denotes the experience of sensations such as emotions, in Spanish the word “consciencia” has a more cognitive stance and corresponds to a mentalizing state.

Cluster analysis of targets and location on the matrix
To test the utility of agency and experience in describing the target groups, we examined their two‐dimensional array in cluster analyses. Following Hair, Anderson, Tatham, and Black ([ 10] ), we first conducted a hierarchical cluster analysis to determine the best fitting number of clusters. We then conducted a k‐means cluster analysis (with the parallel threshold method) to confirm that different kinds of targets were organized as we expected. The solution with three clusters was the most stable, after the analysis was repeated several times; moreover, the center of the initial cluster did not vary. As hypothesized, three groups emerged and formed the pattern for the different[ 4] groups. The first group, Professional persons, comprised the veterinarian, the radiologist, the career women,[ 5] and the banker, along with the Self. This group obtained the highest scores in both agency and experience. The second group, Evil persons, was formed by terrorists, mercenaries, and the Devil, and obtained more agency than experience. Finally, the third group, Lowest of the low, comprised drug‐addicts and homeless people, and obtained more experience than agency.

Following Gray et al. ([ 7] ), Figure represents the 10 targets with their degree of experience and agency, as well as the three‐cluster solution.

Comparisons between targets in agency and experience
For each target, we calculated a score of agency and experience, and a 3 × 2 (Groups of Targets [Professional persons, Lowest of the low, Evil persons] × Mind Dimension [agency, experience]) analysis of variance (ANOVA) was run with repeated measurements. The main effect for Groups of targets was significant, F( 2, 483) = 1592.79, p < .001, ηp2 = .87. The main effect for Mind dimensions was also significant, F( 1,484) = 11.15, p < .001, ηp2 = .02. The interesting results are part of the interaction between Groups of targets and Mind dimensions, which is also significant, F( 2,483) = 776.99, p < .001, ηp2 = .76 (Table ).

Means for experience and agency as a function of the groups of targets

Mind dimension Professional people Evil people Lowest of the low
Agency 4.73 (0.54)aA 2.92 (1.02)bA 1.56 (0.99)cA
Experience 4.43 (0.79)aB 1.50 (1.18)bB 3.66 (1.43)cB
2 Note: Small subscripts compare groups of targets within mind dimension. Capital subscripts compare mind dimension within groups of targets.

For the agency dimension, Professional persons are judged higher than Evil persons (p < .001), and both groups are higher than Lowest of the low (ps < .001). For the experience dimension, Professional persons are also evaluated higher than Lowest of the low (ps < .001), and both groups are judged higher than Evil persons (ps < .001).

The results of the first study are consistent with our hypothesis. First, people use the mind dimensions of agency and experience to organize the perception of social targets. Second, targets fit into three groups that differ in scores of agency and experience. The distinction into three groups was therefore adequate, and each group tapped agency and experience. Agency is different for the three groups and the same is true for experience. As we hypothesized, Professional people are humans with high agency and experience, while Lowest of the low are perceived with the lowest level of agency and an intermediate level of experience. Evil persons were lowest in the experience dimension, showing their lack of (primary and secondary) feeling. Moreover, Evil persons were judged as more agentic than drug‐addicts or the homeless. It is tempting to conclude that, by contrast with a group of Professional people, Lowest of the low apparently fit an animal metaphor, while Evil people seem to fit a machine metaphor (Haslam & Loughnan, [ 14] ). The next study aims to achieve the objective of our research by adopting a second perspective.

Haslam and Loughnan ([ 14] ) and Leyens, Paladino and Vaes ([ 21] ) consider that agency and experience are closely related to human uniqueness and human‐nature traits. In this sense, groups that are perceived with low levels of agency would be associated with animals, while groups perceived with low levels of experience would be seen as machines, and only those groups that are perceived with high levels of both agency and experience dimensions would be perceived as complete human beings.

Following this reasoning, and taking into account the agency and experience attributions uncovered in Study 1, we might expect these three groups to elicit pictures of humans, machines, and animals. However, these representations constitute inferences that should be tested by a metaphor‐based procedure.

We followed the method originally used by Viki et al. ([ 30] ) and subsequently by Martínez, Rodríguez‐Bailón, and Moya ([ 26] ). In the latter study, the authors examined whether members of the ingroup were more associated with human words (vs. animal or machine) than members of the other two groups. Their participants were required to associate three types of words (human, animal, and machine) with the Spanish ingroup, and with Germans and Gypsies. Results showed that the ingroup names were mostly related to human words. Gypsy names were especially associated with animal words, and, finally, German names were mostly related to machine words. We hypothesized that, with the same procedure and reasoning, Professional people should receive more human than machine or animal words, whereas Lowest of the low should mostly be attributed animal words. Finally, Evil people, without any experience, should be defined by machine words.

Seventy‐six students at University of La Laguna (64.9% female) participated in the study (age = 21.37, SD = 3.6); they received credits for their collaboration.

Participants were contacted in class and were asked to respond to a questionnaire through a university website. Instructions stressed the point that people associate different persons with specific types of individuals. Students were warned that they would see three pairs of pictures of people, that they should concentrate on what these persons had in common (namely, their type), and that they would be required to indicate on a series of scales the extent to which the type of person was associated with various words. The order of presentation of each pair of pictures and the order of the words were assigned randomly.

There were three types of targets, as shown in the previous study. A brief description, as in the first study, accompanied the pictures. These pictures depicted a radiologist and a banker (Professional people); a drug‐addict and a homeless person (Lowest of the low); and a terrorist and a mercenary (Evil people). For Professional people, we selected the radiologist and the banker, since all the other targets were males.

Thirty‐three evaluatively neutral words were then presented with a 7‐point scale from 0 (do not apply at all) to 6 (apply completely). The words belonged to three categories: Humans, Machines, and Animals. Words were selected from Martínez et al. ([ 26] ) and from Viki et al. ([ 30] ) and a normative study allowed us to verify their fit to our study. In order to present the same number of words in each category of words, we added four new machine‐related words (robot, artifact, mechanism, and apparatus) not included in those studies.

First, we calculated the reliability for groups of words within each category (α from .73 to .90[ 6]). A 3 × 3 (Targets [Professional people, Evil people, Lowest of the low] × Words [human, machine, animal]) within‐subject ANOVA was run. The main effects for targets and words were significant but will not be presented because of their lack of meaning for our purposes. The interaction between targets and words is also significant, F( 4, 72) = 84.24, p < .001, ηp2 = .82 (see Table ). For Lowest of the low, human words apply more than animal words (p < .001), and both types of words are judged as more adequate than machine words (ps < .001). Evil people receive more machine words than the other two categories of words (ps < .005), which do not differ (p > .12). The three means for Professional people are significantly different (ps < .001), with a majority of human words and a minority of animal words.

Connections between types of words and types of persons
Perception of mind and dehumanization: Human, animal, or machine? By: Morera, María D., Quiles, María N., Correa, Ana D., Delgado, Naira, Leyens, Jacques‐Philippe, International Journal of Psychology, 00207594, Aug2018, Vol. 53, Issue 4
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When is a Slave Not Really a Slave? By: Huzzey, Richard, History Today, 00182753, Dec2012, Vol. 62, Issue 12
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Britain and Slavery

After bringing slavery in the West Indies to an end in 1834, Britons differed over how to treat other forms of bondage and oppression around the world, says Richard Huzzey

Sir Arthur Helps, author and later dean of the Privy Council, turned his eyes to the stars and cast his imagination towards alien life in far-off places. Writing in 1855 he mused that other planets in the galaxy might be very similar to Earth in their histories and developments, throwing up equivalent civilisations and institutions, but that any visitors from those worlds would sadly discover that the most unusual thing ‘in the records of our Earth may be its commercial slavery and its slave trade’. He viewed an inter-racial, intercontinental slave trade as distinctly aberrant and abhorrent because it existed outside the patterns of history that he assumed to be natural, inviolable and progressive. Helps discerned that there was a ‘natural’ phase of slavery in ancient societies, such as Greece or Rome, which was ‘gradually modified by Christianity and advancing civilization’. However, he believed that the early modern slave trade of the New World indicated Christendom sliding backwards, with Europeans re-establishing forms of slavery in their Atlantic empires.

Not everyone in 1855 thought about extraterrestrials when they imagined the schematics of history, civilisation and labour. But Sir Arthur was typical in considering slavery in these broad terms as he and other Britons attempted to categorise and explain the great variety of forms of human labour and servitude they encountered around the globe. In the 20th century, bodies such as the League of Nations and the United Nations have struggled to create their own concrete and legal definitions of slavery. Their problems mirror those that Victorians faced when projecting British power or ruling imperial territories. Following the acts that abolished the slave trade in 1807 and West Indian slavery after 1833, Britain’s empire was transformed into a declared enemy of human bondage. Yet the inadequacies and omissions of subsequent debates over slavery do not simply reveal the limits of British abolitionism; they also demonstrate the complexities of Victorian thinking about race and empire.

Closer to home
Deciding how to recognise slavery was not simply a question for imperialists or diplomats abroad. Plenty of reformers within Britain used the popular campaigns for slave-trade abolition and Caribbean emancipation to demand that similar attention be paid to the political rights or material comfort of working people at home. The industrialist Richard Ostler, in an 1830 letter promoting factory regulation, pitied those children:

… who are compelled (not by the cart-whip of the negro slave-driver) but by the dread of the equally appalling thong or strap of the over-looker, to hasten, half-dressed, but not half-fed, to those magazines of British infantile slavery- the worsted mills in the town and neighbourhood of Bradford!!!

His description of industrial toil as ‘Yorkshire Slavery’ caught on with American slaveholders in the following decades. Eager to rebut British taunts or deride visiting abolitionists, partisans of the US South produced pamphlets, such as the White Slaves of England (1853), or cartoons contrasting happy African Americans with miserable factory employees in Manchester.

Because Victorians overwhelmingly rejected human slavery as a barbaric, savage practice, there was great advantage for any domestic cause appropriating the motif, whether in the manufacturing squalor of northern England or the rural poverty of Ireland. The British actress Fanny Kemble, criticising the slave system she had seen in America, rejected such crude comparisons, with the oft-repeated logic that while ‘the negroes are fed, clothed, and housed, and though the Irish peasant is starved, naked, and roofless, the bare name of freemen – the lordship over his own person, the power to choose and will -are blessings beyond food, raiment, or shelter’.

While there were plenty of rhetorical appeals to make comparisons between slavery and other forms of suffering, the ownership of human beings as property was commonly accepted as a literal definition. Poverty, political exclusion or dependence on wages were usually compared with slave ownership, rather than defined as forms of slavery. However British radicals’ comparison of New World slavery with British industry was influential enough for ‘wage slavery’ and ‘chains’ to figure prominently in the work of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. While they differed from liberal economists in casting wage exploitation as a new manifestation of the evils of slave ownership, Marx and Engels shared with most Victorian Britons a view of past human civilisations progressing through stages of development. This model of social change is familiar today as part of Marxist theory, but their view of slavery owed far more to British abolitionist debates than the historical realities of the ancient world or feudal Europe. If an establishment courtier like Sir Arthur Helps disagreed over parallels between slavery and industrial waged labour, he and other authors shared this historical perspective with Communist thinkers.

Civilisation and the Americas
At an 1858 meeting of Liverpool’s Historic Society the local attendees listened to a paper about Anglo-Saxon and Norman slavery and villeinage, quite conscious of the parallels between African slavery in America and the coerced labour of the ancient Britons. The vote of thanks noted an important distinction, however, as US slavery ‘was a perfectly new thing’ since it placed ‘an active, commercial, intellectual race’ in dominance over ‘a race occupying a position in the social scale distinctly lower’. While the ‘study of past slaveries would be valuable’ in contemplating the dismantling of modern ones, the society’s grandees saw the racial difference of skin colour (and with it presumed inferiorities of mind or culture) as marking a sharp break from historic systems of coercion and human ownership.

Among those Britons travelling to the early United States, many authors committed to paper their impressions of the South’s so-called ‘peculiar institution’. One of them was James Stirling, a reformist free trader, whose Letters from the Slave States (1857) offered some crude remarks about American slavery. It was doomed to the within the young republic, Stirling thought, because’ [s] lavery may subsist in Brazil or Cuba, among degenerate, sensual races, but it cannot exist side by side with Anglo-Saxon civilization’. By drawing a distinction between Anglo-American cultures and those empires of Mediterranean extraction, Stirling offered an unusual interpretation of slavery between races. For him the abuses southern European whites wrought on Africans might continue as a symptom of Brazilian or Spanish degradation, but British and American civilisation could not be likened to such a primitive throwback. He was on safer ground in advising fellow Britons that ‘ [t]he course of all modern civilization has been from serfdom to freedom’ and that maintaining slavery in a modern society would be ‘to reverse the course of history and civilization’.

Still, if most Victorians agreed that human slavery moved against the grain of modern civilisation, they disagreed quite violently about how it should be dismantled and when or where it was Britain’s place to intervene. In some cases this hinged on technical or ideological differences over a matter such as using the Royal Navy to suppress the transatlantic slave trade. Even more problematic, some radical abolitionists wanted to see Victorian Britons abstain from importing or purchasing the produce of slave labour. Clashes over the practicality or desirability of this tactic necessarily ventured onto questions of how far an ‘advanced’ power like Britain should hold trading partners or allies to the same moral standards. Debating the importation of sugar from Brazilian and Cuban slave plantations, the MP and founder of the Economist James Wilson admitted in 1848 that ‘as soon as civilisation had sufficiently advanced, it was the duty of every country to increase the liberty of her people as far as possible, and to put an end to slavery’. However, he explained, no nation ‘in the course of its rise from barbarianism to civilisation had not passed through a condition of things, wherein a great mass of her population were exposed to slavery’. On this basis, he suggested, it would be impractical and counterproductive to cut off commercial and fraternal links with the slaving powers of the New World, which could not be expected to embrace enlightened Victorian views of anti-slavery.

While trade allowed businesses to profit legally from slavery in such circumstances, ownership of slaves or participation in slave trading was wholly forbidden. In the years after the emancipation of West Indian slaves in 1834 a series of further laws or instructions had closed the possibilities for British slave ownership on foreign soil. However there were semi-legal and illegal evasions, many of which we will never uncover. In a rare documented example the St John d’el Rey Mining Company, based in London, maintained a contract hiring Brazilian slaves from their owner. This was legal because it was signed before the 1843 British ban on the practice and treated them as contractors supplied by an employer, not slaves leased by their owner. However in 1879 Brazilian campaigners revealed that the company retained them in slavery, even though the contract of hire had expired a decade earlier. Some dodgy accounting and fictional contracts did not convince the British government, who left the company to the mercies of Brazilian law. However there was never any prosecution in the British courts of the directors, who were conveniently oblivious.

Members of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce discussed their own concerns about profiting from slave labour in August 1858. The merchants were debating a possible alternative supply of cotton, from West Africa rather than the slave plantations of America. While their mills’ dependence on the raw produce of slave labour was morally or politically embarrassing, the West Yorkshire entrepreneurs were more worried about the security of their supply. While advocates of a scheme to develop cotton plantations in Africa admitted that forms of slavery did exist in that continent, they argued that ‘[s]lavery in Africa was a very different thing from that which prevailed in America. It was domestic slavery, in which the intellectual condition of the slave owner was very little raised above that of the slave. Indeed there was such an equality between the slave owner and the slaves that they stood on nearly the same footing and there was none of the degradation associated with the condition which prevailed in America’. This meant that intraracial slavery could be accepted as a feature of their cotton supply chain, especially since this ‘traditional’ slavery was stable and natural for an ‘uncivilised’ society, unlike African-American servitude.

The racial distinction – between the evils of slave-ownership amid ‘civilisation’ and the naturalness of ‘domestic slavery’ amid ‘barbarism’ – would take on new prominence in the years after the American Civil War. While the Bradford merchants and other investors enjoyed little success in cultivating alternative sources of cotton, their tolerance for African slavery, as distinct from its western form, illustrates an important body of thought. Some Britons, unlike the cotton dealers, thought that this was a weak excuse. One newspaper letter-writer noted that when seeking cotton from Africa, as advocated by missionary David Livingstone as the best way of breaking dependence on US slave cotton, ‘you must, in the first place, in my opinion, do away with the African system of domestic slavery, or, otherwise, I fear, you would only be shifting the locality’. In general, though, in the 19th-century British Empire, administrators and the public following their deeds back home clung to these historical excuses for ‘domestic slavery’ in very different societies, shaping the context of colonialism and revealing the intricacies of racial and civilisational thinking.

Slavery and empire
If traders could accept the produce of slave labour legally, then recognising or encouraging slavery in Britain’s overseas colonies was definitely unacceptable. This was less of a clear-cut rule than we might expect, however, given the fluid way that Britons define what was (and what was not) slavery or what was (and what was not) one of their colonies. Before the last quarter of the 19th century little of Africa was occupied by Britain or its European rivals. However, from narrow coastal bases such as the Cape Coast colony British administrators could wield powerful military and political influence beyond the formal borders of colonial occupation. In 1842 a government inquiry had exposed problems in the Cape Coast, where the governor sat in judgement on African disputes involving slave property. While these slaves resided in the informal protectorate of the colony, his involvement set a worrying precedent for British complicity and legal recognition of African slavery. These forms of servitude were ignored by British law, but as the political frontiers of the empire expanded into the poorly charted interior such ‘traditional’ slaveries survived in various forms across the continent.

‘The slaves are not worse treated than the wives,’ reported a Belfast newspaper in 1851. ‘Domestic slavery in Africa itself is not a very bitter servitude. The African who has not been a slave is almost always a good-humoured master,’ it suggested. Such arguments excused Britons from moral obligations to end an institution that did not stimulate a rapacious, foreign slave trade to export captives or involve uncivilised backsliding by modern European nations. As the Pall Mall Gazette reminded readers, while ‘we may think it right to deal with domestic slavery as an institution, the slave trade from without stands on quite a different footing, and we are bound not only in humanity but in policy to check a traffic which tends directly to promote bloodshed and violence beyond our territory and to endanger peace within its limits’.

The treatment of African slavery in the Gold Coast and other colonies was heavily influenced by British experience in India; on the subcontinent the East India Company removed the legal status of slavery in 1843 but took no action to alter existing obligations and coercion of labour among Indians. Remarkably, British officials banished the word ‘slave’ from their vocabularies, discovering that their households instead employed ‘servants’. When change seemed impossible, despite slavery being unthinkable on British soil, a change of language and a silent alteration of the law could offer emancipation with less pain, expense and danger than the more meaningful alternatives. Moreover the 1840s also saw the creation of a new supply of labour migration to the underpopulated reaches of the Empire. Contracts of debt labour, called indentures, were sometimes offered to Indians, some of whom were forced to enter into them.

The idea of ‘delegalisation’ by the stroke of a pen, rather than emancipation by state interference, was easily transferred to West Africa. By 1874, as the Gold Coast colony was reorganised following a war with the Ashanti people, one journalist observed that ‘the idea of letting slavery quietly remain a recognised institution in a place over which we have such a control and such an influence, did not sound well’. A group of African intellectuals in the colony formed their own anti-slavery society, lobbying the governor and his London Colonial Office superiors to destroy ‘domestic slavery’. Slaveholding elites and cowardly Britons were less enthusiastic, but the metropolitan press and humanitarian lobbyists were eager for action. When Conservative ministers attempted to rehabilitate old American arguments of slavery being a ‘peculiar domestic institution’ best left alone, they were openly mocked. As some historians of Africa have recently uncovered, the carefully-cultivated ‘official mythology’ of slaves’ satisfaction with ‘domestic slavery’ was disproved by the eager response of those liberated. Indeed the experience of the Gold Coast emancipation was so dramatic that British administrators sought indentured labourers from elsewhere to maintain export production; moreover in other colonies officials ensured it was far harder for slaves to escape and strike out on their own, thus ensuring that legal freedom did not result in political, social or economic change. A modified version of this formula provided the basis for Frederick Lugard’s famous system of ‘native rule’, which removed the sanction of British law from institutions such as ‘domestic slavery’, allowing existing rulers or religious courts to maintain the status quo.

In the last quarter of the 19th century Victorian ideas about anti-slavery contributed to Britain’s role in the scramble for new African colonies. In January 1874 the former colonial official Sir Bartle Frere addressed a crowd in Edinburgh, standing somewhat bizarrely alongside a life-size model of the missionary David Livingstone, who was reported missing (and, as it turned out, on this occasion he really was dead, whereas he had previously defied such rumours). Frere preached about Britain’s obligation to attack the slave trade in East Africa, in one of a series of public appeals for renewed anti-slavery activity. He saw slave trading as the root of all problems on the continent, since a ‘slave-hunting war’ to acquire captives for sale to dealers left famine, disease and political collapse in its wake.

The first generations of abolitionists, who had convinced their country to give up its transatlantic slave trade to America and the Caribbean, had succeeded in identifying the trafficking of African people as a peculiar evil, deserving particular condemnation and censure, apart from other cruelties and oppressions in a fallen world. Victorian anti-slavery champions such as Frere relied on the same rhetoric, emphasising the need to suppress East African slave trading as an ahistorical, regressive violation of societies’ usual patterns of internal tyranny. Abolitionists tended to play down the effects of ‘traditional slavery’ in order to mobilise and focus righteous anger against the export slave trades and inter-racial slavery. Frere explained that an attack on the Arab-led East African slave trade was not pointless or quixotic when

The slavery of the negro in his own country is a state of comparative freedom, since the master and the slave are never far separated in their condition, habits, or feeling, and the general status of the slave differs hut little from that of the wife or child of the master of the family. It may be a very degraded state, but it is not the state of a being cut off from the rights and capacities of the master of the household.

One newspaper, supporting the calls for action against the slave trade that surrounded Livingstone’s final expedition to Africa, noted that Islamic societies supported ‘an institution coeval with Oriental society, of which the history has never been interrupted’. For the African slave arriving in the gulf states and the Ottoman Empire ‘the treatment he receives is not materially different from that of the freeman, and on his emancipation he may rise to such honour and dignity as are attainable by Orientals’. However, having excused this ‘oriental’ slavery, the paper explained that ‘the sufferings of the maritime transit’ and ‘the demoralization, debasement, and disorganization of the African communities’ provide ‘our true justification for intervention’ in suppressing the traffic.

Action against the east coast slave trade – from missionary enterprise in Nyasaland, to a chartered company in Kenya and Uganda, to control of the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar- was not accompanied by British action against forms of slave ownership within colonised societies. Rather, officials permitted it to continue, although with the legal status of slavery removed sooner rather than later. This ‘clean hands’ approach to imperial morality was founded on half a century of anti-slavery ideas distinguishing between inter-racial export slave trades and intra-racial ‘domestic’ coercion. While this left British anti-slavery rhetoric as a dead letter in practice, it is important not to make the simplistic conclusion of condemning African servitudes as the moral equivalent of slave trading. The varied forms of ‘slavery’ or coerced labour in different African societies, however unpleasant many of them could be, did differ in important respects from the industrial, invasive and growing demand for west and east coast slave trades. Victorian abolitionists had a point in suggesting that export trafficking was uniquely dehumanising and deadly, unlike present-day racists dismissing the suffering of the Atlantic slave trade because it co-existed with African forms of slavery. It is not the business of historians to act as moral arbiters of guilt or shame, but close study of the past can dismiss and debunk simplistic attempts to weigh certain sins against others.

Founded on models of civilisational development, the distinction between natural and unnatural slaveries in ‘barbaric’ or ‘civilised’ societies relieved British imperialists of formidable social reform within the societies they claimed to rule. Moreover, such currents of thought help reveal how definitions of slavery hinged, like so much 19th-century thinking, on interpretations of history and the primacy of civilisation. Most authors and their readers would not have followed Sir Arthur Helps in applying their expectations to alien civilisations, but they often shared a racist expectation that other peoples were moving more slowly along a path comparable to Britain’s historical experience. In uncovering this messy line in Victorian logic, it could be tempting for historians to conclude that this was purely an excuse for lazy connivance in oppression. While this may have been the case, accommodation with slavery as a natural stage of human development had a longer heritage. And however much the problems of defining slavery seem to warn against indulging cultural relativism, the impossibility of categorising and accurately characterising the diverse forms of labour found in Africa, or even in Europe, let alone the world, is sobering, too. History seldom teaches usable lessons, but rather gives us a broader and better perspective in understanding the complexity, contingencies and choices framing all human societies.

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