Preface: This article is the fifth installment in a series discussing obstacles to abolition—the ending of all slavery—that movements for proto-abolition—the ending of human slavery—did not have to face.
Think, think, think….
Another significant obstacle that an abolition movement faces but which is not faced by a proto-abolition movement pertains to the massive amount of thinking involved. Specifically, when slaves are human, those human slaves can assist with the enormous amount of cognitive work that must be done.
Changing an entire society’s unjust laws and eradicating an entire culture’s false beliefs requires an enormous amount of analysis, research, imagination, calculation, strategizing, and planning. This intellectual dimension of a social change movement may well be the hardest part of all. In the context of human slavery, the most direct victims—slaves and former slaves themselves—can participate fully in this difficult task. They know the slavery system better than anyone, and they can use this knowledge to help identify weaknesses, formulate counter-arguments, and otherwise chisel away at the walls of collective delusion.
Unfortunately, abolitionists cannot expect the animals for whom they work to shoulder much of this cognitive burden. Horses—who provided the key military advantage in human affairs for over 1000 years—cannot offer a similar advantage in the context of research and development. Dogs—arguably the most selfless and courageous species, on average, of any with whom humans have interacted—cannot draw a roadmap for use in transforming humans into ethical nobility. Yes, both of these species can lead by example, through the testimony of their personal behavior. But it will remain up to humans to extract lessons from such examples, articulate those lessons, disseminate them, and apply them.
The fact that the most direct victims of slavery cannot fully participate in the intellectual work necessary for change should not discourage us. We will win as sure as the sun will rise. But acknowledging the special challenges faced by a full abolition movement will hopefully help to inoculate modern abolitionists against some of the burnout, frustration, and fatigue to which they may otherwise be susceptible.
A look ahead…
In this “Special Challenges” series, we’ll explore additional ways in which proto-abolition or proto-emancipation movements differ from abolition and emancipation movements. If you have comments, suggestions, or contributions, please feel free to send them along.
(Original article pub date: 11/27/13 (FB); 12/3/13 (EthicalVeganism))