Posts Tagged ‘slavery’

Literacy and Freedom

October 10, 2016

Literacy and Freedom are Chapters 7 and 8 of “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future”  by Johan Norbert.  As the purpose of these blog posts is to update our mental models regarding how much change there has been between now and the past, only the nature of the improvements will be presented, and not the innovations that underlay the improvements.  As it is only a fraction of the improvements that are in the book can be related, so this is a matter of necessity or convenience, depending on your perspective.  If you are interested in the technology and practices that underlay these improvements, please read the book.  Indeed, everyone should benefit from reading this book.

One could make a good argument that a literate society is a prerequisite for a truly free society.  The chapter on literacy begins with the following quotation from Plutarch:  “The Mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.  Literacy is one of the most important skills as it is the capacity to acquire even more capacity.  It makes it possible to make much greater use of knowledge that others, even others who long ago have passed away.  Literacy makes it possible to pick up skills and ideas that make us more productive and able to use technology better.  It is also required to be an active an informed citizen and to follow and participate in the world of knowledge.  It has a very strong influence on our health and the health of our children.

According to the OECD’s best estimate two hundred years ago 12% of the world’s population could read and write.  Until then, literacy was mostly a tool for the bureaucracy, the Church and the merchant class.  Many of the elite and slaveowner’s should they be considered elite thought it dangerous for the poor to become literate.  The fear was that they would become unhappy with their lives and stop accepting their lot in life.

Initially charity groups and philanthropists started schools for the poor.  Then, as governments realized that educating the poor would increase their productivity and, perhaps, participate in government began funding schools.  There was immediate feedback here in that economic benefits were clearly recognized.  Even when public schools were very few, there were literate people who instructed the illiterate.  One Swede noted that in the sparsely populate northern part of Sweden, “that, although public schools are very few, nevertheless the literate instruct the others with such enthusiasm and the greater part of the common people and even the peasants are literate.”

Progress in literacy followed economic development quite closely.  In western Europe, the United States and Canada around 90% of children attended school in the late nineteenth century.  In 1900 less than 10% of the population in South Asia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa had received basic education.  By the 1900s around half had.  Today it is around 75%.  In Latin America, the proportion increased from 23% in 1900 to 94% in 2010
The global literacy rate increased from around 21% in 1900 to almost 40% in 1950, and in 2015 it was 86%.

The chapter  Freedom begins with a discussion of slavery.  Norbert notes that slavery is the most brutal form of oppression the world has known.  Chattel slaves were the property of someone else, who could order them around, beat them at will, give them away or rent them. Moreover, slavery once existed everywhere.  Slavery once was so common that even the few vocal opponents owned slaves.  They were forced to perform chores and crafts, to work in the fields or down mines, and even into prostitution.

According to the Greek historian Herodotus, slaves in Ancient Sparta outnumbered free individuals by seven to one.  Even in democratic Athens there were likely more slaves than free men.  It was a sign of utmost poverty not to own at least one slave and the literation is filled with scenes  of slaves being flogged for disobeying their masters.

Julius Caesar brought slave traders with him on his campaigns and sold prisoners directly to them.  When he defeated a Germanic drive he sold all 53,000 survivors as slaves on the spot.  These slaves lived extraordinarily difficult lives in brutal circumstances.

As Spain and Portugal took control of America in the 1500s, the indigenous people were oppressed and enslaved.  There were a few brave opponents to this practice, the most prominent of whom was the Spanish Dominican friar, Bartolome de las Casas.  He argued that indigenous people had the right to their own persons, beliefs and properties.  Las Calas was an early, and perhaps the first proponent of human rights theory.

Nevertheless, slavery became a, if not the, central feature of the settlement of the new world.  Even European economies benefited. Even states in the northern United States where slavery was not practiced benefitted from the economy that was based on slavery.  England took the courageous act of banning slavery.  It took a Civil War in the United States to end legal slavery.

The abolishment of slavery was indeed an important step in the advancement of freedom.  Yet in the year 1900, exactly  zero % of the world population lived in a real democracy in which each man or woman had one vote.  Even the most modern and democratic countries excluded women, the poor or ethnic minorities from elections.By 1950, the share of the world population living in democracies had increased from zero to 31%, and by 2000 increased to 58% according to Freedom House, the civil liberties watchdog.  Norbert notes that today even dictators have to pay lip service to democracy and hold staged elections.

Communism in the west was abolished peacefully.  It still exists in Asia, most notably in China and most notoriously in North Korea.  Norbert notes that peaceful mass movements against dictatorships stand a better chance of successful democratic than violent revolutions.  Unfortunately neither peaceful nor democratic movements are presently succeeding.  And if a regime is ruthless enough, consider Assad in Syria, it is difficult to depose given an alliance from another authoritarian regime.  HM would argue that  peaceful demonstrations work when there is some predisposition on the part of the existing regime to concede.

In 1991 Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman mentioned that a London Newspaper          200 years earlier explained that 742 million people were led by arbitrary government and only 33.5 million people live in reasonably free countries.  That meant that freedom deprived people outnumbered free people by 22 to 1.  When Friedman spoke, he updated those numbers using Freedom House’s estimates and said that the ratio had fallen to about 3 to 1.  Friedman concluded that “We are still very far from our goal of a completely free world, but on the scale of historical time, that is amazing progress.  More in the past two centuries than in the prior two millennia.”

According to Freedom House 40% of the world population now lives in free countries, while another 24% live in partly free countries.  Norbert notes that this is more progress in two decades than in two millennia.

If you have yet to do so, go to   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Enemy

May 13, 2016

The fourth cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is the Enemy.  The most conspicuous example of the enemy is in warfare when there is an explicit enemy to be fought.  Enemies are usually demonized.   However, there are more subtle examples of the enemy.  When cheap labor was needed during the colonization of North American, Africans were regarded as being sub-human.  Consequently, they could be captured sold into slavery and treated as farm animals. Frequently, they were treated worse than farm animals.  Then, there were the native americans who already occupied North America.  They were the unfortunate occupants of the land these Europeans wanted.  Consequently, they were dehumanized and regarded as the enemy.

How could the holocaust happen?  Through an extensive and elaborate propaganda program conducted by the Nazis, Jews were dehumanized.  There were side benefits of this dehumanization.  Jewish property was confiscated and the Jews provided a cheap source of labor.  However, Nazi ideology required that Jews be exterminated.  This extermination was so important to the Nazis that when they were losing the war, they devoted sources needed to fund the war effort to the extermination of the Jews instead.

Actually it is easier to understand what the Nazis did that what the remainder of the free world did not, with a few notable exceptions, do.  And that was to offer refuge to the refugees.  While Jews were not explicitly the enemy, they still had a lower status that allowed them to be ignored.

The response to the holocaust was “Never Again.”  But it has occurred “again” and several times already, and it will continue to occur.

Research has indicated that it is remarkably easy to create enemy groups.  The authors state that three elements are required to form these enemy groups.  The first is the opportunity for kindness or cruelth, situations in which people can interact either nicely or nastily.  The second element is reciprocity.  Reciprocity is when you are friendly to people who treat you nicely and unfriendly to people who treat you nastily.  Healthy memory feels compelled to state that while these elements might be required in research designed to study artificially created enemy groups, this certainly was not true of the Jews in Germany.  Utilitarian need is more likely the requirement in the real world.  The third element is transitivity.  Transitivity means sharing your group’s opinion of others—liking the group’s friends and disliking the group’s enemies.

Research has indicated how easy it is to form us versus them groups.  To do this, social psychologists have created the “minimal-groups paradigm.”  In one experiment participants were shown hundreds of dots and asked them to guess the number.   The researchers knew the exact average of the number of dots and divided the participants into two groups, “Underestimators” and Overestimators.”  People in each group were kind to those in their group, but cruel to people in the other group.

A creative third-grade teacher, Mrs. Jane Elliot, in rural Iowa as a result of the assassination of the Rev Martin Luther King, Jr., wanted her students to learn firsthand about the pernicious effects of prejudice.  She made a new racial distinction proclaiming that children with brown eyes were inferior to children with blue eyes.  In no time the blue-eye children grew smug and powerful and treated their brown-eye classmates with condescension and cruelty, seeing them as less than human.

The social psychologist Muzafer Sherif conducted the classic “Robbers Cave” experiment at a boys’ summer camp.  The camp had two cluster of cabins dividd by a small forest, and boys randomly assigned to one side, “the Eagles,” or the other, “the Rattlers.”  In short order the boys had bonded strongly with their own groups and held nothing but contempt toward the other group., in spite of them all being fundamentally the same.  The authors note that in real life boys no older than those in this Robber’s Cave Study are told that they are a Crip( blue) or a Blood (red) and are expected to show unwavering allegiance to their brothers and ruthless cruelty to their rivals.  In these gangs handguns are used to claim and hold drug-distribution territory.

Another group that is technically not the enemy, but which is regarded as being unworthy are the homeless.  These people are regarded as psychotic, substance abusers, or bums, and not worthy of our consideration.  This provides a means of avoiding the problem rather than feeling empathy towards these people and working to solve the problem.

Can anything be done about this problem?  One approach is to get people in the different groups to work together to solve a problem  During wartime in the military it has been found that different racial groups need to depend upon each other in combat.  Consequently, they bond and there are few interracial problems.  There was a very good documentary on this topic during the Viet Nam war titled “same mud, same blood.”
Racial problems are more likely in support units who are more likely fighting boredom than the enemy.

One group doing yeoman’s work to address this issue is the Southern Poverty Law Centers  .In addition to programs on teaching tolerance they have worked with individual members of hate groups to remove the source of their hate.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.