51 Flavors of Slavery

How slavery still evolved over time

Unfree labor is a blanket term describing a broad range of forced or coerced labor. It can range from plantation slavery to religious extremism, and manifests itself throughout history in a great variety of ways. However according to International Labor Organization, this does not include: compulsory military service, normal civic obligations, consequences of illegal activity, emergency or war aid, or minor community service. The most well known example of unfree labor being the Mafaa, or African Holocaust. The European expansion into the New Worlds and the slavery that drove it would cost the lives of more Natives and African Americans than the total population of ethnic minorities that currently populate the United States. (How many slaves? & US population)

What is it about Free Labor that is so appealing to the human mind? Why has it been a feature of nearly every culture across the planet for most of recorded history, and almost certainly before? Is it merely the will of a dominant alpha-life form, or even possibly the underpinning physics and chemistry that govern all life to conserve energy? Because this has been such an effective strategy for many other species on the planet, it could be argued that unfree labor was a natural stage of growth in our social evolution. Humans building entire cultures based on the principles of our lower reptilian brain. This region of our brain was critical to lightning fast differentiation needed for survival. IE: 'Is that thing going to eat me?' “No.” 'Ok, can I eat it?' (Called the sympathetic nervous system)

Can it eat me? Can I eat it?

But this internal difference engine can easily become the basis for otherness. That being the concept of placing differing inherent value on morphological differences. Skin color, hair texture, and eye shape being the historical human markers that somehow conferred our internal value. We now know that melanin responsiveness is primarily driven by our need to absorb or deflect UV-B light; which is entirely linked to ancestral longitudinal position. IE: if your genetic history comes from near the equator your skin and hair will be better suited to deal with these environmental stressors. Your skin will be darker to prevent the damaging effects of UV radiation. The further your ancestry moves from the equator, the lighter your skin grows in response to increased need for vitamin D production. Which is driven primarily by sunlight absorption. (Vitamin D)Thus, the difference engine is tricked into perceiving difference where there is virtually none.

Hammurabi's Code

In the ancient world, slavery generally came in 3 flavors; captives of war, as punishment for a crime, & debt slavery. The oldest known set of written laws (The Code of Hammurabi) contains distinctions between slave, free, and freeborn persons.

Modern slaves

Most think of slavery as purely an institution of our barbaric past. Nearly everyone I've spoken with is shocked to learn there are an estimated 21-36 million people living in slavery right now.(Slavery today) Even more shocking is the average price of a modern slave; $90. (Slavery today) The massive population explosion, growing desperation, competition for work, ever decreasing value of labor, and many other factors contribute to this $150 billion industry. (Slavery today) The majority of these slaves are in forced labor conditions, many working in mines extracting raw materials for luxury goods of rich countries. It feels like every few months another story appears in the news of a major mining company accused of using slave or child labor. Nevsun Resources, Anvil Mining, the Apple owned tin pits of Indonesia, conflict/blood diamonds, etc the full list is rather long and touches nearly every aspect of technologies raw resourcing.

Sex trafficking

A smaller section of the enslaved population are forced into the sex trades. Forced prostitution claims mostly young girls, though boys and adults are known to be caught up as well. These persons account for roughly 22% of the enslaved people in the world. (Slavery today)


Say “Shanghai” and those that are familiar with the term tend to rosily retrospect in stories of smoky underground bars, late nights with far too much rum, and the forced conscription onto ships common near the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries on the West Coast. This romanticized idea of the past is quite different than the reality. Those living under the thrall of slavery in India, Ghana, Nepal, Congo, Brazil, Haiti, and elsewhere have no such delusion. Their daily reality is similar in many aspects to slavery of the Dark Ages of the Americas. (Slavery today)


Examples of the more mild forms of forced labor can even be seen in this country. Each year thousands of laborers flood into the food production industries driven by hope for a better life, desperation, or few to no other viable options. Some are migrant workers on farms, being paid far below acceptable wages and forced to live in ultra-dense housing with little hope of escaping the cycle. Others head to Alaska to make their “fortunes” on fishing boats or in fish processing and packaging plants. These modes of modern unfree labor typically employ a system called Trucking. Whereby workers can only purchase supplies from their employers, (usually because of remote locale) at drastically inflated prices. Thereby extracting most, if not all, of the employee’s income back in housing, food, recreation, and etc costs.

Though its rarely mentioned in the text religion is often at the center of slavery. (the word religion only appears 43 times in Davis' text; my other texts were physical, hence not as easily quantifiable) Therefore a discussion of slavery without considering the implications of predominant worldviews of its major practitioners is woefully incomplete. Beyond condoning slavery, the common thread many religions seem to share is that you can't make slaves of people born in that religion. This is shown in Christianity (Leviticus 25:44-46) Islam (Schimmel pg 67); others also exhibit this feature, but the sheer magnitude of these two world views throughout history gives their opinion on the matter greater worth. With roughly ½ of the worlds population as followers, these two religions have more adherents than the remaining ones combined.

Unfortunately this is where “Otherness” rears its ugly head and hijacks rational thought and basic human emotions like empathy. Given this method of deriving difference, almost every religion was hijacked in its infancy by racist minds of their era. As many religions openly justify slavery, it can be argued that as they spread they also disseminate the practice of slavery. Though several examples of non-religious states exist in history, these have all been totalitarian regimes hence make bad candidates for cohort studies. Additionally many countries with the lowest reported religiosity also report some of the highest standards of living. (Sweden, Japan, Hong Kong, Denmark, & Norway) Conversely the countries with the highest reported rates of religious practice suffer some of the worst standards of living. (Bangladesh, Niger, Yemen, Indonesia) (Gallup & HDI from World Bank ) Obviously correlation is not the same as causation, but it merits note.

Religious extremism: a mental condition whereby mutilation of your own children is a cause to smile.

Next we come to religious extremism as slavery. Although this is generally the mildest form of unfree labor, in that those who endure it often don’t even think of it as such, it's subtle effects can reach into every aspect of life. Technically defined as ownership of another person; this definition isn’t as apparent when applied to religion, but its hold on the lives of people is no less complete. Our minds and bodies are arguably the only thing we can truly own in this world. Therefore systems that seek to enact far reaching control over these basic functions of human life could be seen as little other than systems of slavery. This is not to say that any social construct that seeks to modify behavior is oppressive; only those that seek to control its subjects through fear, manipulation, trickery and outright lies. Deception is never a part of fair and just governance. Some of these religious cults even demand the ultimate sacrifice of the adherent taking their own lives, as in the case of death cults like Branch Davidians or Heaven's Gate.

The most militant religious institutions seek to control their adherents (or worse, everyone’s) behaviors and even thoughts through the system of Orthodoxy. By determining what is right and wrong with little to no ethical backing, the Orthodoxy system creates entire systems of belief based on the opinions and interpretations of a few. Throughout history, the inability of institutional religion to accept verifiable fact has cost the lives of a great many scientists and the minds and lives of millions more people. Copernicus, Gallileo, Servetus, Hypatia, Bruno, and Aristotle each died for questioning the God(s) of their era. Millions more have died at the hands of the religious persecution.

The way religious extremists treat their own is almost as brutal as how they treat religious opposition or non-believers. The term apostate refers to a person who has left the church. Historically, most of the major religions have killed apostates, and non-believers. (The Bible; Qu'ran) Islam and Christianity being the major two still practicing this tradition today. Honor killings, purity rings, and chastity balls still occur, showing just how much parents in these religions believe their children are owned as property.

The most damaging effect religious extremism has is on the young. Because they lack the mental tools necessary to defend themselves, they have no choice but to accept what they are taught. The people teaching them are the same ones responsible for every other aspect of their upbringing, they wouldn't even suspect wrongdoing. A slew of studies purporting damaging effects of religion can be seen across the world of psychology. Children raised in religious homes are less altruistic, less generous, and more punitive, (Decety) less able to differentiate between fantasy and reality, (Corriveau), less intelligent (Zuckerman), & less accepting of “otherness” (Hall). A study showed that “highly secular democracies consistently enjoy low rates of societal dysfunction, while pro-religious and antievolution America performs poorly.” (Paul) The evidence for the damages caused by religious indoctrination of children is widespread. The damage caused to children is particularly insidious because they have no way to defend themselves from it.

Strangley historical slavery in the muslim world didnt seem to lead to plantation slavery. Although Muslims bought, captured, and traded for African slaves earlier than Europe, plantation slavery is a feature apparently missing from the Islamic world; though the lack of writing on mining and agricultural practices makes a dissection of Islam's slavery incomplete. Although there is some apparent racism within the writings, Ethiopians and Nubians were ranked more highly than Zanj for example, racism is a feature less apparent in the Muslim world.

Historically there have been a variety of exploitative systems used to extract free labor from the peoples of the world., geographically the lion’s share of slavery’s ills have been visited on the inhabitants of the African continent. However there is a group of people that have been the subjects of systematic slavery based on otherness for so long it predates writing. “Woman is the Nigger of the World.”- John Lennon. Very rare are the tales, fact or fiction, that cast a woman in even a significant role, much less the lead. When they do appear it is usually only to either support or oppose the male lead. How many people are aware that some of the most important inventions in human history were created by women? This form of slavery carries itself into the modern world in one of the most subtle and therefore sinister ways. By first attacking the capacity, skills, and ultimately value of women in the world, this methodology poisons the minds of all those that it touches. This is largely attributable to the stance many religions take on women; that they are inferior to men. Leviticus 27 clearly states that the value of a woman between 5 and 60 years of age is half the value of a man, and a little more than half before or after this range. Quran 4:11 spells out a very similar story for Islamic inheritance; sons are allocated twice as much as daughters.

Welcome Our Robot Overlords

“At what point does a difference engine become the search for the truth?” - Issac Asimov. In other words, At what point does really clever programming become indistinguishable from an intelligent life form? Though this may seem a sill question to some, AI is an eventuality. Some are projecting it within the next 30 years. Rice Vardi estimates ~45% of human jobs wil be performed by computers in the next 30 years. This estimate and the ethical implications that surround it will help shape the future of robotics. Many scifi stories use machine evolution as the basis for the end of humanities days. Terminator, The Matrix, Space odyssey 2001, and dozens of others cast machines as the eventual slavers of human kind. Some even argue this is an eventuality not just a probability. The robo-revolution typically starts when the robots grow weary of being enslaved by an inferior species and decide to make us their slaves.

The way that we define our relationship with Artificial Intelligence could become one of the most important issues facing humanity in the future. Morality is a lesson we can draw directly from our own brutal history.

There is a strange irony in having our greatest creation “flip the script” and become our robot overlords.


Corriveau, K. H., Chen, E. E., & Harris, P. L. (2014). Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds. Cognitive Science Cogn Sci, 39(2), 353-382.

Decety, J., Cowell, J., Lee, K., Mahasneh, R., Malcolm-Smith, S., Selcuk, B., & Zhou, X. (2015). The Negative Association between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism across the World. Current Biology, 25(22), 2951-2955.

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Hall, D. L., Matz, D. C., & Wood, W. (2009). Why Don't We Practice What We Preach? A Meta-Analytic Review of Religious Racism. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14(1), 126-139.

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Paul, G. S. (2005). Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies. Journal of Religion & Society, 7, 1-17.

Population projections to 2060, selected countries. (2013).

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The Avalon Project : Code of Hammurabi. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://avalon.law.yale.edu/ancient/hamframe.asp

The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books: New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford UP, 1989. Print. Deuteronomy 13:6-11

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Zuckerman, M., Silberman, J., & Hall, J. A. (2013). The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 17(4), 325-354.

Text citations: Davis, pg 79 (60-61 in text): “3 main religions ameliorate it”