I’ve written on the phenonenon before, most recently, while examining the trite hate-fest that pretends to be media coverage surrounding LeBron James. And frankly, I’ve found myself disagreeing with Bryant Gumbel on a number of salient points throughout these discussions. This time though, Gumbel is on-point. Recently he made these comments, regarding the NBA Lockout and how NBA Commissioner David Stern is handling it:
Stern’s version of what has been going on behind closed doors has of course been disputed, but his efforts were typical of a commissioner who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys. It’s part of Stern’s M.O., like his past self-serving edicts on dress code and the questioning of officials. His moves were intended to do little more than show how he’s the one keeping the hired hands in their place.
His comments have drawn a lot of ire, much of it from black media members. (In full disclosure, I tend to discount white media member’s discomfort when a black person uses a supposed slavery analogy. Call it a personal failing.) Try though I may, I can’t find what is incorrect about Gumbel’s statement.
Reason’s Matt Welch criticizes Rand Paul for Paul’s assertion that the right to healthcare implies slavery. While it is true that in minds of many, the term “slavery” specifically refers to chattel slavery as practiced in the United States prior to the end of the American Civil War, the term itself is not so limited. And this is not the first time that a prominent person has used the term in regard to employment restrictions: Curt Flood was well known for saying “A well paid slave is nonetheless, a slave.” The same applies here. Indeed, I have compared modern attitudes and events to slavery myself, more than once. Of course, there are critical differences between Rand and Flood and myself, with melanin levels likely being the most important one. But just as Flood’s comparison in the past was apt, so to is Paul’s comparison in the present an accurate description. It is easy to see that there have been far worse tortures in the past than waterboarding, or even beatings, but I would certainly still call the latter “torture.” So, too, would I call forced labor of any sort “slavery.” Wearing a smock rather than rags does not change the name.
Consider Bastiat’s comments on Rome and how–if you substitute for slavery the drug war and tax slavery–they apply to the modern US:
What is to be said of Roman morality? And I am not speaking here of the relations of father and son, of husband and wife, of patron and client, of master and servant, of man and God—relations that slavery, by itself alone, could not fail to transform into a whole network of depravity; I wish to dwell only on what is called the admirable side of the Republic, i.e., patriotism. What was this patriotism? Hatred of foreigners, the destruction of all civilization, the stifling of all progress, the scourging of the world with fire and sword, the chaining of women, children, and old men to triumphal chariots—this was glory, this was virtue. It was to these atrocities that the marble of the sculptors and the songs of the poets were dedicated. How many times have our young hearts not palpitated with admiration, alas, and with emulation at this spectacle!
From Bastiat, Selected Essays in Political Economy, quoted in Geoffrey Allan Plauché, “Roman Virtue, Liberty, and Imperialism: The Murder-Suicide of Classical Civilization.” America is riddled with patriotism, with American flags senselessly displayed all over, and people mindlessly responding to criticism of the Fatherland with the retort, “You show me another country that’s better!” Its wars, the welfare state, its taxes and manipulation of money, its jails full of non-criminals have indeed debased morals. We have scourged the world with fire and sword, and statues of our modern warlord gods, such as Lincoln, adorn our capital city. As for the last line, about the youth swooning over our military might and conquest, one is reminded of the not completely tongue-in-check skit Wayne’s World during Gulf War I, when Wayne and Garth had fun watching the videos of US missiles destroying Iraqi targets.