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FireMadeFlesh's avatar

How would the world today be different if there had never been slavery?

Asked by FireMadeFlesh (14590 points ) June 4th, 2011

For nearly two hundred years, the developed world has seen slavery as degrading and immoral. In the past though, many of the tasks we use technology to perform were performed by slaves. Slaves would keep the fires burning in winter, harvest crops in the spring, and keep their master’s house and clothes clean.

If there had been no slaves to perform these tasks, and everyone had to do them for themselves, the well to do would have had much less time for politics, art, philosophy etc.

I am not for a moment advocating slavery, but I would like to hear your thoughts – would we be in the same position we are today without the slave trade of the past?

For the sake of the exercise, I’ll allow servants providing they are well paid and possess freedom and land.

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9 Answers

woodcutter's avatar

There would never had been the pyramids.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@woodcutter Actually, the pyramids weren’t built by slaves. They were built by just regular Egyptians, possibly out of religious devotion, before Egypt was conquering other nations and thus before Egypt had slaves (or at least before they had mass amounts of slaves; there may have still been the occasional person who had to sell himself into slavery to pay off a debt).

iamthemob's avatar

If colonialism in the U.S. had still happened like it did, I’m pretty sure that we’d be part of Mexico.

The Spaniards didn’t use slavery so much as interbreed with the native population to create a working class. That would have been whoa more successful in terms of building up their nations and fighting for the U.S. colonies if the British didn’t use slavery.

The_Inquisitor's avatar

Hmm.. if slavery did not happen, perhaps we’d not find it immoral right now, and we’d eventually start up slavery until the day we find it unjust. Prolonging the inevitable… for mistakes are what we learn from.

josie's avatar

Abraham Lincoln would have been just another grubby politician
Nobobdy would give a shit who Moses was
It would have cost Hitler a lot more to prosecute World War II, and it might not have lasted as long
Prince Faisal would have had to carry his own luggage-see photo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faisal_I_of_Iraq
In fact, the spread of Islam might have been drastically different (read The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa by John Azumah)
There might not have been a U.S. Navy (read Dawn Like Thunder by Glenn Tucker)
Since nobody really knows who contributed the labor to the pyramids, I am joining @woodcutter
Etc.

mattbrowne's avatar

As sad as it might sound, but overall progress would have been slower. It took a while to employ animals as our “slaves”. Again it took a while to use fossil fuels as our “slaves”. And now we’re in the process of tapping into solar energy directly and use it as our “slaves”.

incendiary_dan's avatar

All of civilization is based on slavery, going back roughly 10,000 years. Stanley Diamond summed it up in the sentence “Civilization began with conquest abroad and repression at home.” Cities wouldn’t exist, since the first cities were created as resource centers for the rulers to store their larders and distribute stuff to their slaves/serfs/whatever. Instead, humans would have stuck to smaller camps and villages. Technological complexity would likely have reached some sort of cost/benefit plateau resembling something like what we think of as neolithic or early “Bronze Age”, with some exceptions. Without slaves being forced into monocropping, free individuals would probably have continued their sustainable lifestyles of hunting, gathering, gardening, permaculture, etc, and so the formerly fertile areas of the Middle East and the Mediterranean would still be fertile and thickly forested; the thick forest canopy that once covered present-day Iraq, scarcely letting light hit the ground, might still be there. It would also mean improved overall health; archaeological and historical records show consistently that the adoptions of monocrop agriculture creates reduced overall health within communities, which are especially apparent in bone and tooth related diseases and drastically reduced lifespans, as well as endemic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Without slavery, economic systems would have remained largely gift economies augmented with limited trade. Women in such societies always fair better than their agricultural counterparts, having equal and sometimes greater political power than men, longstanding and effective family planning traditions, and freedom to divorce errant partners.

I’m sure I can think of more, since this has one of my keenest interests as an anthropologist. Maybe more to come.

flutherother's avatar

@mattbrowne I don’t think the word ‘slavery’ goes very comfortably with the word ‘progress’.

mattbrowne's avatar

@flutherother – Well, progress in the analogy means replacing human slaves with animal slaves and then inanimate slaves.

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