of shackles and profits, part two

Given the glimpses of Solomon Northup’s life I gave in Part One, it would take a special person to argue that he chose slavery.

“Well he did, in fact, choose to go with that traveling show to play fiddle and make money. . .”

If that’s your argument please go watch SpongeBob or something and stop reading now.

Now that it’s just us adults, let’s consider the facts: Mr. Northup did voluntarily go with a group to play fiddle and make some money, and that led to his enslavement. You can easily make the argument that his enslavement was a consequence of his choice, but I can just as easily say that this would be a cold logical syllogism rather than a compassionate exercise of human judgment. Certainly anyone could see that enslavement was not his choice, and was not even a foreseeable consequence of his choice when he made it. As I said in the last post, slavery begins with betrayal. For people who have never born the shackles or even heard them rattling on a friend, it is far too easy to dismiss the bindings as self inflicted. For those who have felt the weight, even through empathy, it’s not so easy.

I know quite a number of people I would call good friends, who trusted someone to help them feel better when they couldn’t do it themselves, and then found themselves betrayed for profit and enslaved. We call it addiction.

“Well he did, in fact, choose. . .” Stop. I thought we dismissed that already. SpongeBob is still on somewhere isn’t it?

Of course the heroin addict made a choice that led to this, but his choice was to feel better – not to be enslaved.

“Ok, Dave, you’re not going down the road where individuals shirk responsibility for their own actions are you? I thought you were more reasonable . . .”

No. I’m not dismissing people’s self-responsibility, but neither am I willing to subscribe to the view that we should turn our back on those with addictions because they chose that life. Many of them did not choose slavery anymore than Solomon Northup did.

“But they took an illegal drug. That was their choice.”

Some did, some didn’t. A significant percentage of the addicts of the current opioid crisis began with a legitimate Dr.’s prescription, and only went to street drugs when they were already addicted. Another significant percentage were convinced by a “friend” that the substance would numb the pain they couldn’t numb any other way. Slavery starts with betrayal. If betrayal is not involved and it truly is voluntary, I submit we don’t have slavery, and that’s not what I’m addressing here. “Granny” Johnson is buried in the Natchez City Cemetery. Some say she was a slave who was treated so well that she loved her master’s family and they loved her, and she stayed with them even after emancipation.  They use this to make the point that not all slavery was so bad. I say that wasn’t slavery.

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Likewise, I take my lexapro to feel better. Because it is a good thing, I don’t want out, and because I don’t even want out, it is not forced submission, as is slavery.

But in real slavery, once the betrayal is done, then comes the forced submission. The crooked doctor or the dealer has you in chains, and despite your best efforts and wishes, you cannot escape. He keeps you there for his profit, valuing it over your life without much of a pause. I’ve helped prosecute people like this when I worked for the Mississippi Medical Board while in law school. Doctors would feed “samples” of opiates to patients in exchange for money under the table, in a manner no less culpable than the basic street dealer. Plus, any knowledgeable dealer knows to give out the first hit or two for free. Forced submission is not always accomplished through violence.

In slavery, next comes the stolen credit. This reverses in the drug world to blame deflected. Big drug dealers are rarely seen. Their pawns and victims take the hits while they sit in big houses and ride behind tinted windows, removed just far enough from the messiness to stay clean. And they know better than to try their own cures. At least many of the dealers I’ve known personally did.

Finally, in slavery, once you’re freed, you still don’t get to stand up. You have a record, or at least a reputation, and even if you have been clean and sober for years, you’re always “that guy” to people. Sometimes you earned the shackles and sometimes you didn’t.

I would like to think that if I lived in the 1800s I would have been part of the Underground Railroad.  I probable think too highly of myself on that point, though, because the modern day form of the Underground Railroad is the drug rehabs.

In Central Arkansas we have Harbor Home and Renewal Ranch. Dana Davin Ward is our local Harriet Tubman. I have great respect for people who spend themselves to pull others out of slavery. I wish I could do more, and I wish more people would do anything.

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