Re: Re[3]: POLI: Random democracy

Robin Hanson (
Fri, 21 Feb 1997 11:20:19 -0800 (PST)

[Sorry for delayed response to messages; I've been distracted
accepting a new position for the next two years (as a health policy
scholar at UC Berkeley).]

I wrote:
> What happened is that people were informed in more vivid detail about
> the conditions of life of real slaves, which convinced them that they
> didn't want to live in a state/nation/etc where those sort of things
> happen to people. Concrete facts were more persuasive that abstract
> arguments about what is or is not "evil" in principle.

Lee Daniel Crocker responded:
>Oh, come now. Do you seriously suggest that throughout the centuries
>of slavery in every society in the world, that the people were just
>/uninformed/ about what it was like? That argument might explain why
>it took US consumers a while to catch on to child labor in the third
>world, but you can bet your last greenback that everyone in Guatemala
>knows exactly what goes on in a sweatshop, and they approve. Americans
>always knew exactly what slavery was, just as every other enslaver in
>history has, they simply chose to approve of it and justify it until
>the moral opposition gained enough power to change it.

Guru George similarly responded:
>Sorry, this just doesn't wash. People knew damn well what was going on
>(well enough to know it was wrong), same as in Germany and Poland where
>they had concentration camps next door. They just rationalised/justified
>it, same as people rationalise/justify government. What changed things
>was people *declaring* that it was wrong, and declaring that the
>rationalisations and justifications were excuses for evil.

You're saying that people who exactly what slavery was like, they just
didn't realize it was "immoral"? I find this hard to fathom. I
instead see two major changes from the past:
1) People were getting richer, and richer folks can better afford to
indulge their "moral" feelings.
2) U.S. slave were unusual in history: the slave population grew locally.
In contrast, most slaves were spoils of war/domination imported from
elsewhere, and who didn't reproduce very well locally. Its lots
easier to be cruel to foreigners than to locals.

Eric Watt Forste writes:
>Perhaps libertarians should set up pen-pal relationships with people who
>are in prison for victimless crimes such as tax evasion, drug dealing,
>etc. That would give them something concretely unpleasant to talk about
>in vivid detail during their political arguments with their friends.

I think the biggest problem this this re tax evasion is that most
people find it hard to imagine a functioning society with government
taxes. In contrast, abolitionists could easily imagine socities
without slaves. To the extent you can point to places that function
without restrictive drug laws, you may have better luck there.

Robin D. Hanson