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  • Unsavoury abolitionism

    So slavery is a prominent part of the setting in Exalted, particularly as pertains to the Realm. Consequently, abolitionism tends to be a noteworthy part of several motivations that people give to their characters. I'm not sure how often they would play this in terms of empowering or creating a movement for it, rather than just decreeing it unilaterally, but for the purposes of this discussion I would be focused on the idea of abolition as a social concern.

    ​There have been a couple of recent threads talking about subjects that related to slavery, and one of them referenced an extended section in the Second Edition Blessed Isle book talking about the implications of slavery on labour markets. At the time, it got me thinking about the significance of slavery in the Roman Republic, how it contributed to large scale unemployment and landlessness that contributed greatly to the tensions of the time.

    ​Recently, I also read about something elaborating on how the massive American abolition movement of the mid-19th century included a huge number of Midwestern small holders and mechanics succinctly described as people "who hated slavery in the same sense and for the same reasons as their heirs hate illegal immigration". Considering a lot of what I know became of former slaves afterwards, it makes sense.

    ​It's interesting that so many of our narratives surrounding abolition of slavery focus on the moral dimension of it, while the notion that a lot of people oppose slavery because the free labour (often connected with an exclusionary ethnic or similar element) might rankle a lot of people who want to be competitive on the market place and, having ensured the slaves' freedom, are focused more on moving in to that province than they are on what becomes of the actual slaves.

    ​It seems especially interesting in the case of the Realm, in which there are already some factors that might preclude a less happy end to slavery, whether it be people (possibly including the disenfranchised) wanting the institution gone so that the labour can be taken up by them, or it being greatly phased out by the Scarlet Dynasty in favour of their estates being worked upon by the increasingly subjugated agrarian populace. That includes questions not only about what becomes of former slaves who are left stuck on the Blessed Isle, but also of future relations with and internal affairs for the satrapies; if slaves aren't used by the Exalted, how does that transform the tributes, and what becomes of established institutions to collect slaves within the satrapies when such a large market is closed off.

    ​As regards any idealistic abolitionists, Solar Exalted or otherwise, one can get some interesting conflicts out of the idea of allying with the more mercenary abolitionists for the sake of getting force and material support behind the endeavour, and needing to deal with the conflicting ideas concerning the actual fallout of it.

    ​Are these issues that anybody has portrayed in their games? Given any thought or plans to?

    I think a discussion would be interesting.


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    Write up as I play Xenoblade Chronicles.

  • #2
    One of the characters in my game does not want slavery in the city that he co-rules with his circle. I confronted this intimacy by introducing a wide variety of the types of slavery that exist. From the worst of the worst chattel slavery, to a lowly tutor. Suffice it to say that he had an extremely difficult time on where to draw the line and ultimately ended up not doing so.

    Edit: Basically my experience has been that players tend to have different and exclusive ideas on what slavery is, that when confronted with different types and definitions from the various real world cultures, they tend to focus on chattel slavery over all others. In other games, players like to make characters whose primary goal is to abolish slavery, but once I expose them to the various types, there motivations become muddy and not so clear cut. I enjoy breaking through what they thought was a clear black and white issue.
    Last edited by Ostarion; 12-15-2016, 07:39 PM.


    How can I know if what I claim I know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I might not know? How can I know if what I claim I don't know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I do know?
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    • #3
      Ostarion , I'm not sure what moral intuitions you or your players are using, but I have a hard time envisioning slavery, defined as "human beings functioning as property" not being a black and white issue with today's sensibilities.

      Anyway, Isator Levi , from an economics standpoint, suddenly freeing thousands of people who provided excess labor but who have no capital would rapidly shift what the economy would look like in some ways, but I think overall you might be overestimating the effects. People who are established and have a stake in the game are less likely to decrease their own wages to compete with people who have just been freed, who have little to nothing. The marginal value of their labor rises, sure, but the process would be gradual and the stakeholders in abolitionism would probably not be able to suddenly reap a lot of profits.

      Those who are tradesmen and crafters are most likely to benefit the most, since a now-diverse labor pool has just opened up and once they have any capital, they would need supplies and luxury items. Increases in demand for luxury items creates substitute stratification where none previously existed, so if anything, the tributes would become probably of smaller amount but of greater quantity. As for food production, if we take the few historical mass-abolitions that happen, many people who were slave-farmers continued to be farmers, just paid a pittance. As far as the norms existed that allowed poor situations in slavery to exist in the first place (IE, your IC characters probably do not have robust OSHA regulations thought up or the mechanisms to enforce them), their lives will improve and food production will go down, but it probably wouldn't be dramatic.

      Anyway, while certainly a moral good, the real problem with freeing a bunch of slaves is a lot of very poor people who are displaced and would like to move around. Slave Collecting is probably not as huge of an industry as we like to imagine, in the same way that "collecting wild birds to make a domestic bird population" is not a high, in demand job. Most of these careers (shipping) are flexible enough that they'll start moving supplies for a new populace, rather than the populace itself.

      It's completely possible that the abolitionists were wrong about being able to capitalize on no-slavery in America, in the same way that they would be in Creation. That being said, it's an interesting question about whether intent matters when it comes to noble causes.
      Last edited by PraxisCat; 12-15-2016, 11:18 PM.

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      • #4
        One of the games I was in with the… less pleasant ST, he dealt with abolitionist goals on the part of one of the Eclipse PCs by… pretty much refusing to engage with it at all, instead throwing us into the midst of a thirty-car pileup of apocalypse plots, and when we pulled a given society out of the ashes, he'd maybe throw the player a bone by saying, "And when [GMPC] declares the laws the survivors will abide by, 'no slavery' is one of them."

        Man, no wonder he dropped. I don't even remember the details of his backstory beyond "wants to free slaves because he was a slave once." Maybe his intent was noble, but I'll never know.
        Last edited by TheCountAlucard; 12-15-2016, 08:42 PM.


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        • #5
          You can certainly do a lot with a character motivation to abolish slavery, especially if said character has little background in administration and economics, politics or even just education in general (if the character was a labour slave, a common starting point for that motivation, then education was likely not available to them). A solar trying to solve perceived problems with short sighted, heavy handed solutions is very much a thing that could happen and likely is exactly what Kejak is afraid of the most.

          That said, you should check with the player how they'd like to explore this. It's one thing to say well into the game 'slavery is more complicated than your character thought', but quite another to say either 'slavery is more complicated than YOU thought' or 'your character isn't built to ever solve this problem, you'll need to spend XP against type to get there'.
          If they want to play heroes, pushing them into realpolitik might not be the best recipe for a fun game.
          On the other hand, such a character being pushed to find help on the matter might be a great way to bind a circle together. A revolutionary Dawn or Night might find instruction in political theory with a Twilight, might seek aid from a Zenith and/or Eclipse to secure needed support and a reasonably stable future past the struggle.


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          • #6
            Originally posted by PraxisCat View Post
            I'm not sure what moral intuitions you or your players are using, but I have a hard time envisioning slavery, defined as "human beings functioning as property" being a black and white issue with today's sensibilities.
            .
            I mean that most players in my game consider slavery to be unadultered evil, in the strictest sense of the term. I have never had a player who wanted to `own` slaves. Although I have had plenty of players who played as a slave who want emancipation.


            Originally posted by BjornTheFellhanded View Post
            .
            That said, you should check with the player how they'd like to explore this. It's one thing to say well into the game 'slavery is more complicated than your character thought', but quite another to say either 'slavery is more complicated than YOU thought' or 'your character isn't built to ever solve this problem, you'll need to spend XP against type to get there'.
            If they want to play heroes, pushing them into realpolitik might not be the best recipe for a fun game.
            On the other hand, such a character being pushed to find help on the matter might be a great way to bind a circle together. A revolutionary Dawn or Night might find instruction in political theory with a Twilight, might seek aid from a Zenith and/or Eclipse to secure needed support and a reasonably stable future past the struggle.
            Actually it really depends on how one presents the information that could determine whether its successful or not.

            For example, a game I ran a few years back had a circle with a motivation to free slaves. They run into a kingdom in which the slaves were a high political class of society. Suffice it to say that it was difficult for them to convince the slaves to free themselves since they had so much political power.

            But I didn' t come up with that on my own, I used the Janissary class (who were slaves) of the Ottoman Empire as a real world example.
            Last edited by Ostarion; 12-15-2016, 10:30 PM.


            How can I know if what I claim I know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I might not know? How can I know if what I claim I don't know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I do know?
            -Zhuangzi

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            • #7
              I had the good fortune to GM for a player with this exact quandry, which he solved out of hand in the Most Exalted Way Possible, all slaves were freed and now part of his Cult of the Sun. The character, a Zenith, was a fanatic crusader in every way possible and consequences be damned, he was going to snowball his followers into a holy war against the Realm.

              It was wonderful, even as city states crumbled in his wake and all was lost after one spectacular defeat.

              Edit: Presence charms, and Performance: Oratory (Specialty 3: Insite the Masses)


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              • #8
                Originally posted by PraxisCat View Post

                Anyway, Isator Levi , from an economics standpoint, suddenly freeing thousands of people who provided excess labor but who have no capital would rapidly shift what the economy would look like in some ways, but I think overall you might be overestimating the effects. People who are established and have a stake in the game are less likely to decrease their own wages to compete with people who have just been freed, who have little to nothing. The marginal value of their labor rises, sure, but the process would be gradual and the stakeholders in abolitionism would probably not be able to suddenly reap a lot of profits.
                ​It's not strictly about the reality; it's about what people believe and are motivated by, as well as how these things influence the treatment of the newly emancipated.

                Although...

                Originally posted by PraxisCat
                Those who are tradesmen and crafters are most likely to benefit the most, since a now-diverse labor pool has just opened up and once they have any capital, they would need supplies and luxury items. Increases in demand for luxury items creates substitute stratification where none previously existed, so if anything, the tributes would become probably of smaller amount but of greater quantity. As for food production, if we take the few historical mass-abolitions that happen, many people who were slave-farmers continued to be farmers, just paid a pittance. As far as the norms existed that allowed poor situations in slavery to exist in the first place (IE, your IC characters probably do not have robust OSHA regulations thought up or the mechanisms to enforce them), their lives will improve and food production will go down, but it probably wouldn't be dramatic.
                ​That same question of what becomes of the newly emancipated is also part of what I'm talking about.

                ​Part of it being the question of whether or not the abolition of slavery creates a political pressure to break up the massive estates and distribute the property among more independent small holders, rather than people trying to do the same work with demands of higher pay.

                Originally posted by PraxisCat
                Slave Collecting is probably not as huge of an industry as we like to imagine, in the same way that "collecting wild birds to make a domestic bird population" is not a high, in demand job.
                That's an... odd comparison.

                Originally posted by PraxisCat
                Most of these careers (shipping) are flexible enough that they'll start moving supplies for a new populace, rather than the populace itself.
                ​Well, part of it is that there's more to a slave industry than the actual transportation of the slaves. There are, for example, the professional slave breakers.

                ​There's also the matter of how the sudden addition of extra competition in the transportation of some other good might affect its market value in not insubstantial ways. That's assuming that transportation of other goods is not something that other companies already have a lock on, since legally protected monopolies are still a thing that can exist in this kind of situation, meaning that your former slavers are liable to turn to smuggling.

                ​Mostly though, it was a question concerned with how the existence of a slave trade can be transformative to a culture involved in it. I've read accounts stating that the West African cultures who actually collected the slaves to be given to the white traders at port employed practices such as cultivating widespread popular societies with things such as expensive membership fees and paraphernalia costs, for the express purpose of driving people into debt that would force them to sell their families and then themselves into slavery. The stark image of people making a certain kind of mask into a highly fashionable item, and making people destroy themselves in pursuit of participation in that fashion.

                ​Many or all of the satrapies are required to provide slaves in tribute to the Realm, which drives me to wonder what transformation in their cultures occurs to acquire those slaves, and what might become of those transformations in the event that the slave market ends for whatever reason.

                Originally posted by PraxisCat
                That being said, it's an interesting question about whether intent matters when it comes to noble causes.
                I think it's more elaborate than just intent.


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                Write up as I play Xenoblade Chronicles.

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                • #9
                  ah yes - slavery. Its funny how it seems to much more prominent in Exalted compared to games like D&D


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                  • #10
                    ​Part of it being the question of whether or not the abolition of slavery creates a political pressure to break up the massive estates and distribute the property among more independent small holders, rather than people trying to do the same work with demands of higher pay.
                    Probably not. Political pressure really comes from three places: Political imagination, political / institutional leverage, and interpersonal leverage. Emancipation doesn't do much to increase anyone's political leverage inherently it only increases the number of people on the bottom. If the conditions are right, then that could increase the political will exerted by the population. But the realities of slavery and post-slave societies mean thats usually not how things break down. This whole discussion, really, comes down to what conditions are right for what outcomes. Like everything, it's about resources and incentives. Ultimately this is a make-believe setting wrapped in a make-believe game, and if an ST thinks that certain outcomes make sense for them and they want to follow a "realistic" way to beneficial (or non-beneficial) emancipation, then they can just say that's what the setting is.

                    Something that's true is that large farms and plantations need slavery (or close to de-facto slavery) because they need people willing to live on the farm and who are willing to sign away their freedom of movement in order to keep everything running smoothly. Without slave, large plantations may become more fractionalized or specialized or force to include town-accommodations, but the estate itself, its ownership, would probably not change. The transition away from serfdom in Central and Eastern Europe kind of has flavors of this, where landowners owned the land itself still, even after the serfs were emancipated.

                    That's an... odd comparison.
                    I don't think it's *that* weird. It's more to say that people, like most animals, can create or be forced to create more people. The population of slaves rose in America even after new slaves were banned on being brought in. The point was that the demand for slaves, if you're not literally working them to death (which is seems the Realm might be doing) is elastic and diminishing over time. There's some good work on how the "Great Compromise" on Slavery in the US constitution was actually not as great as a compromise, as many Southerners had realized that continuing to import enslaved labor over time was a bad proposition, especially when it was racialized.

                    There's also the matter of how the sudden addition of extra competition in the transportation of some other good might affect its market value in not insubstantial ways. That's assuming that transportation of other goods is not something that other companies already have a lock on, since legally protected monopolies are still a thing that can exist in this kind of situation, meaning that your former slavers are liable to turn to smuggling.
                    It depends, really, on how the markets are set up and how things are transported. If demand for goods matches pace with demand for transporting those goods, then the costs would probably not change a lot. It's also the question of how big the slave trade is relative to other trades.

                    I think it's more elaborate than just intent.
                    I mean, the point of the people who are "unsavory abolitionists" is literally that their intent for political change is 100% self motivated or selfish. I don't see how it's more 'elaborate' than intent?


                    Like, either way, this feels like a weird conversation to have. Slavery is an abhorrent institution, but we can recognize that it did influence economies. I'm not sure how "deep" we want to take a conversation about slavery before someone attempts to justify it economically, but it's just a weird thing to talk about. To my knowledge, there's not a great literature on actual economic effects of slavery abolition, quantified.
                    Last edited by PraxisCat; 12-16-2016, 02:35 AM.

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                    • #11
                      My Dragon-Blooded Satrap found slavery distasteful and inefficient, preferring that people work for her of their own accord. Thus she kept a large cadre of "slaves" whom she treated like servants and allowed to use a specific monthly fee that was totally not just another word for a monthly wage.

                      But then, it's not really like she needed slavery given that she was a pretty potent sorceress and when she needed something built, she just kind of cast a spell for it, just like she used demons for basically any menial tasks. Sure, it got her a lot of bad press, but she kinda relied on the fact that she was a sorceress and therefore was allowed to be weird and creepy as long as she was competent.

                      And hey! A happy populace with a high quality of living and high, protective walls and wards to protect them from enemies make for a pretty damn productive populace.

                      (She also despised taking other people's freedom away. It was her Sacrifice that she could no longer ignore the plight of those who toiled beneath her.

                      It... Changed her.)


                      "There is a remedy for everything but death, a hope for everything but wickedness, and everything will lapse except righteousness."

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                      • #12
                        I never run black and white settings. I'm currently at the quite early stages at bouncing around character ideas with a new group with the plan to have the first session of Exalted in mid January, so I'm not sure they currently remember the ban on having only modern values. So, hopefully I will not end up with a group of slavery abolitionists that also want to introduce democracy everywhere.

                        Two books I recommend when it comes to learn a bit more about slavery in ancient times, which probably is more fitting Exalted than the 17th-19th century slavery in the US, are "Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology" by Moses I. Finley and "How to manage your slaves" by Jerry Toner. The first one is a bit more academically dry, while the other is historical research rewritten into an instruction manual by a made up roman.

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                        • #13
                          Most characters I make who don't have a specific opinion of slavery I tend to think find it occasionally distasteful and occasionally unobjectionable but mostly just a fact of life, really,

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by ManusDomine View Post
                            But then, it's not really like she needed slavery given that she was a pretty potent sorceress and when she needed something built, she just kind of cast a spell for it, just like she used demons for basically any menial tasks.
                            Because demon summoning somehow isn't slavery...


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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by PraxisCat View Post
                              Ostarion , I'm not sure what moral intuitions you or your players are using, but I have a hard time envisioning slavery, defined as "human beings functioning as property" not being a black and white issue with today's sensibilities.
                              What exactly is property?
                              If I have legal rights over you as a guardian, are you a slave?
                              If you have to work for me for no pay, but no law says I am property specifically, am I a slave?
                              If I commit a crime, and am forced to do unpaid labour, is that slavery? Is it wrong for a society to make people do unpaid labour as punishment?
                              A couple of years ago, in Britain, there was a bit of a campaign against the government's forced labour for welfare system. If you'd been unemployed for a certain time, you had to do a certain amount of hours in a job for no pay (beyond the welfare). People said "this is unpaid labour, it's slavery". But is it? Welfare is pay after all.
                              What if I'm not a slave, and I'm paid... but I have no choice but to work for you for a pittance, where I'm abused and worked to death, because of economic circumstances.

                              What if I'm the feudal property of a feudal Lord? I live on my land, work my farm, get married, but I have to give 40% of my labour to my lord because I'm his servus; a word we translate as serf in the latter Middle Ages, but literally means slave. Is that slavery? Is it pure evil? Because we give a percentage of our labour to our governments today anyway.

                              What if I'm a slave to a King, and tutor his children, live in a palace, have loads of food, and if anyone tries to hurt me the King will kill them. While my brother is a free, dirt-poor peasant... until he starves to death. Who's really the slave?

                              If I sell myself into slavery to pay a debt... is that slavery? I mean, I got paid, possibly a lot. Just all at the beginning.

                              Property, slavery, wages or lack thereof, freedom... these are all words that can mean slightly different things in different circumstances.

                              And I haven't even got into marriages, which depending on their legal status in a particular country, can sometimes be effectively slavery.


                              And of course, as Octopoid points out, many PCs regularly engage in binding demons and using them for all kinds of horrible things. Isn't that just slavery? But I don't see many PCs saying "binding demons is wrong!"
                              (Actually, just a couple of sessions ago, for the first time, I saw a PC argue that binding ghosts was wrong and convince another PC to just let his bound ghost go.)

                              Then as Ostarian points out, there have been real-life slaves who had very good situations. The Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire forced the government to enslave the Jannisary's own children... which eventually fed into the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, as it made the slave bureaucrat/warrior class too corrupt and nepotistic.
                              Last edited by The Wizard of Oz; 12-16-2016, 11:18 AM.


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