Re: Re[3]: POLI: Random democracy

Robin Hanson (
Mon, 24 Feb 1997 10:18:06 -0800 (PST)

I wrote:
> You're saying that people [knew] 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.

Lee Daniel Crocker responded:
>Both of those seem plausible, but I still think the most fundamental
>underlying change is moral belief itself. People believe all kinds of
>crazy things; why is it so hard to accept that they believed any of a
>number of justifications for the common practice of slavery: racial
>inferiority, economic necessity, right of conquest. It is part of our
>mental machinery to de-sensitize ourselves to everyday things.

Perhaps part of what changed was beliefs about "racial inferiority,
economic necessity, right of conquest", but I don't see these at
beliefs about what is moral. If I believe it is moral to enslave
inferior races, and turn against slavery because I learn this race is
not in fact inferior, my moral beliefs have not changed.

Robin D. Hanson