A Slave’s Situation

I’ve had various thoughts today surrounding absolute enslavement as a limit-situation, something I’ve blogged on previously, and the idea of situation in general and how it relates to consensual slavery. Situation in general is my term for the human condition, a condition of possibilities proffered and decisions required. Even the most brutal poverty, for example, remains a situation, no matter how limted the possibilities or how painful the decisions. Whereas total destitution, were it possible (without termination of life) would no longer be a situation. In total or absolute destitution there are no longer any options and no decisions to be made, and this non-situation is essentially inhuman.

So an absolute enslavement viewed as an actuality, rather than a vector of possibility, would by the same token be inhuman. Not simply in some sense of inhumane, which would be to reposit a priori human rights and the rest of the metaphysical baggage, but inhuman in the sense that the human condition always contains possibilities and always requires decision.

So what then could absolute enslavement mean or look like? It means that the options put before the slave are those of his/her Master’s choosing, and the decisions made are made, to the highest degree attainable, as the decisions that his/her Master would take. This in its turn is made available to the slave through the shared world, or meaning-context, that the Master gives the slave. It looks almost like a normal relationship to the outside world, because the slave is seemingly free to make decisions and choose from given possibilities just as any other human being is. That the slave will in all probability choose the Master’s will is inherent, but not necessarily apparent.

A limit-situation is defined as a situation in which the absolute, in some way, irrupts into the world of finite beings, mortals, humans. Being mortal itself is the fundamental limit situation, because death is a limit that we can never outstrip or breach, and that we are always in some way, dimly, aware of. Absolute enslavement is a more specific and determined limit-situation where the limit is, quite literally, that of being human and in a situation at all. As an absolute enslavement relationship progresses along a vector that approaches the limit, the slave’s meaning-context becomes more and more aligned with that of the Master until the it approaches a probability of one that the slave will, in any specific situation, act as his/her Master would have them act. As a vector it never quite reaches a probability of one, because in remaining a human situation the slave never has 100% of the information required to be perfectly aligned, and thus is never perfectly sure that the Master’s wishes are in fact being carried out until after the decision is made and enacted. And in never reaching it the slave’s humanity is never lessened, nor his/her ethical responsibilities removed. The ethic involved here, a slave ethic, is the inherent rightness for the slave of doing what his/her Master would will, and it remains an ethical problem and not a moral imperative because what the Master wills cannot be predetermined in an always changing and new situation.


2 responses to “A Slave’s Situation

  • A

    You wrote: “And in never reaching it the slave’s humanity is never lessened…”

    Doesn’t that depend, though, on the “goodness” of the Master? Slaves do belong to bad men, or even to men who truly have no business owning anyone…and to that extent, a slave’s following the Master’s direction, or making her decisions based on the Master’s will could, in fact, lessen her humanity, no?

    -A

  • Mitdasein

    There are two possible directions to answer this objection, which is a thoughtful objection and not entirely simple to respond to.
    The first direction would be that in speaking of a Master/slave relationship and differentiating it from a Dominant/submissive or even Dominant/slave relationship, I’m invoking the idea of Mastery in terms of the Master’s ownership quality.
    The second, and probably more cogent argument, would be that a “bad” Master/Owner/Dominant could do substantial harm to the slave, but it would not lessen the slave’s responsibility to make ethical decisions and thus not lessen his/her faithfulness to the human condition. The decisions themselves might be considered wrong or inappropriate by someone outside the relationship, but within the dynamic the fault lies squarely with the Master and in no way maligns the slave’s humanity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: