Could you be friends with a slave-owner?

How would you react if you learned that one of your friends owned a slave or slaves?

Inspired, in the very loosest sense of the word, by the Master’s latest column.

Here’s some scenarios. You may, of course, add your own (as if I could stop you).

  1. While out drinking with co-workers when the jerk of the group (there’s always one) starts mocking people who engage in BDSM, saying any woman who does so is a dumb slut who deserves what he gets. After listening silently to this for several minutes, a different co-worker, whom you like quite a bit, explodes in anger, saying that she and her wife are involved in a 24/7 TPE and her wife is neither stupid nor a slut–simply different.

  2. One of your colleagues is from a wealthy family in the United Arab Emirates. Back home, his family estate employs domestics native to the Phillipines who are not free to return home. This colleague is the heir to the estate but not the owner, and currently has no power to free the Filipinos but plans to do so when he has the power.

  3. Same situation as (2) except that the colleague has no intention of freeing the Filipinos when he inherits.

  4. You are good friends with the wife of an Egyptian diplomat. You discover she employs several early or mid-teen domestics from her country when you hear on the news that one of them has applied for asylum and is alleging that, though he has never been physically or sexually abused by his owners, he is neither paid a salary nor free to quit. The Egyptians let that person go, but suffer no legal ramifications because of their diplomatic immunity.

For purposes of this discussion, please assume that the person you discover to be a slave-owner has always been a good friend to you prior to your discovery.
Also assume that the slave-owner is charming, considerate, clever, well-mannered, generous, and fun to be around: exactly what you would design in a friend, except for the slavery bit.


I’ve known people like this but never was close friends with them.

Wouldn’t be a problem.

Probably wouldn’t be able to be friends with them.

It might be difficult to remain their friend due to a loss of respect for the person. The problem with this one is I am having trouble imagining myself as friends with such a person to begin with.

Interesting question.

In the case of the Egyptian diplomat’s wife, it may not end my respect/liking of her, but I’d most definitely side with her domestic. That might end the friendship.

I believe I’ve mentioned before, but just to demonstrate how recently slave ownership was in this country, I’m 41 (for another month) and there were two former honest-to-goodness slaveowners at my parents’ wedding*. I’m told I also sat in the lap of a 104 year old former slave when I was a baby, though obviously I don’t remember it.

*Grandma Becky (1855-1955) was my mother’s relative by blood and by marriage. She and her sister Sally (1858-1954) were the children of a slaveowner who died in 1861 and in his probated will left them slaves [a married couple and their future children]. My parents married in 1952, when the sisters were in their 90s but still mobile.

Most people would never dream of owning a slave. The very thought is vile and disgusting. This is not the 19th century, after all.

We are more evolved.

Slavery today is more of a time-share. I would never hold the title to another human, but I will pay the fee to lease them long enough so they can make my clothes. I will pay the going rate so that I can rent a slave on the other side of the world long enough so that they can make the stuff I need from Big Box Mart. I will shell out my portion so that a child somewhere far east of here can make my kids’ soccer gear.

More than likely you will never have to make a value judgment about a friend who owns slaves. It just is not likely to happen. But every one of us leases slaves. We just keep them far away, lest the smell make us nauseous.

ETA - I disn’t mean to shit your thread. I have strong opinions about this topic. If anyone wants to take up my comments, please start another thread. If not, just let them pass and address the OP.

If he were a good friend I’d know he bought a slave [nitpick]…but seriously, I’d have no problem expressing my opinions to him directly. Slavery is wrong no matter what the disguise.

In the words of a certain wise man: “A slaveholder is subhuman.”

Really? If slavery were somehow over the course of the next generation gradually relegalized with, say, illegal aliens and perhaps under a catchy new name like “commercial sponsorship”- you don’t think millions of Americans would take advantage of it?

The conditions in many third world sweatshops would have to take a step up to equal slavery in antebellum America, and there’s been relatively little real outcry. There are prime time exposes and reports from time to time, some activists try to bring to the forefront the knowledge that women are routinely forced into prostitution at some of these factories and that X-Mart sells their clothes, but there’s certainly no mass uprising against it and most people (myself included) couldn’t begin to tell you where their shirt is made without looking at the label. Meanwhile many U.S. executives and U.S. senators and Congressmen seem to have no problem with it whatever, even after having been to the factories. I don’t think it’s any more evolved out of our genes than belief in witchcraft or leeches; given half a chance we’d be right back there.

The best way to communicate the error of your friend’s ways if he buys a slave is to punch him in the nuts…for starters.


2. One of your colleagues is from a wealthy family in the United Arab Emirates. Back home, his family estate employs domestics native to the Phillipines who are not free to return home. This colleague is the heir to the estate but not the owner, and currently has no power to free the Filipinos but plans to do so when he has the power./quote]
I know people like this. But there is no “ownership” - they just take the passports. Your scenario is too, well, American.

They get expelled, that is what happens, diplomatic immunity only protects against arrest.

Happens rather … too often, although not just with Arab diplos, Asians even more so.

Well, that all depends, your use of slave here goes well beyond my understanding of the word.

The UAE and Egyptian hypos are a bit more like human-trafficking than chattel slavery - but still despicable. And as for a chattel slave-owner - not only would I refuse to be such a person’s friend, I would feel honor-bound to do that person harm, were I able to do so.

You see, though, that’s not the same thing. It has a different name.

A slave only in name, and not my business.

A disgusting situation but not his fault; and one he plans to rectify when he can.

Scum, in both cases. I’d cheerfully kill either of them. They are Hostis humani generis, the enemies of humanity.

Awfully quick at the trigger you are, amigo. I’m not entirely certain how your incarceration would benefit the slaves. Perhaps you could explain.

Yah, Der Trihs is a bit bloodthirsty, but he’s got a bit of a point. If I knew a southern-style chattel slave owner (somewhat different from your hypotheticals), and killing that person would provide the best chance at freedom for his/her slaves, I’d do it. I can’t say I’d be cheerful about it - but slavery is a hideous condition, and someone who’d inflict it on another human being is a monster. That said, I wouldn’t kill my former friend just to make a point - rightly or wrongly, I value my own life too highly for that.

As to how the death of their owner could benefit the slaves - perhaps it affords them an opportunity to run away. Or perhaps they are manumitted in the owner’s will.

I said I’d cheerfully do so, not that I would off the cuff. But this is exactly the type of situation where violence is justified, including civil war levels of violence. Ideally, ALL the slaveowners would die, and I can hardly do that myself.

And if the owners die, and any prospective new owners will be killed for taking possession - that’s how it would free them.

As we are in GD, and thus I am in grownup mode rather than Fabulous Creature mode, let me point out that there is a virtue in gradual escalation. In the situation you describe, in which slavery is legal, killing the slave-owner, however gratifying, will have the effect of causing you to lose your freedom or your life, thus removing your ability to help other slaves. From a practical viewpoint, killing should be a last resort.

What’s TPE?
I agree with the above post that we’ve evolved out of permanent slave holding and into timeshares.

While it’s a far cry from what American’s generally think of as slavery, it’s also a far cry from what we consider freedom. (ETA: there’s a very powerful video out there that split-screens two kids getting up and going about their day: one to school the other to a factory. Anyone remember it well enough to link?)

I consider it the second great hypocrisy of the modern age (I don’t actually call it that, but I couldn’t think of a better term. Plus it has some flourish to it.). I avoid shopping at many stores that could save me a couple grand a year when I can, but “avoid” is the operative word. I could entirely escape wage slavery products (again with the lack of a better term), but doing so is above my threshold capital and effort-wise.

(The other great hypo is eating meat. I don’t even squash bugs if I can help it, and could never off Bessie myself, but I’m not an ardent/complete vegetarian.)

Total power exchange. One person has total control over the life of the other, free to order her around, compel her into sexual acts, embarrass her in public, et cetera.

I think this:

Except, of course, that in TPE, most of the time there is a contract worked out with the “slave” whereby she or he has certain rights and what happens is within the bounds of his or her “limits”. It’s absolutely not slavery in any real sense and including it here is just going to confuse people.

Although I would agree that it’s a perfectly ethical practice, I would argue that it belongs in the listed scenarios. The dominant person in that relationship absolutely has a slave – a willing slave, but a slave nonetheless, and it’s perfectly reasonable for someone to be uncomfortable with that. If we’re demarcating levels of slave ownership, this is probably the best case to make up the rear.