How the bodies of slaves became something on which our world was built — the advance of modern medicine.
By Greg Grandin, introduction by Adam Hochschild
…For instance, an epidemic of blindness that broke out in 1819 on the French slaver Rôdeur… helped eye doctors identify the causes, patterns, and symptoms of what is today known as trachoma…
…“We were blind — stone blind, drifting like a wreck upon the ocean,” he recalled. Some of the sailors went mad and tried to drink themselves to death. Others retired to their hammocks, immobilized. Each “lived in a little dark world of his own, peopled by shadows and phantasms. We did not see the ship, nor the heavens, nor the sea, nor the faces of our comrades.”
But they could still hear the cries of the blinded slaves in the hold.
…By now, a few of the crew, including the captain, had regained some of their vision. But 39 of the Africans hadn’t. So before entering the harbor the captain decided to drown them, tying weights to their legs and throwing them overboard. The ship was insured and their loss would be covered: the practice of insuring slaves and slave ships meant that slavers weighed the benefits of a dead slave versus living labor and acted accordingly…
…He wrote up his findings — which included a discussion of the disease’s symptoms, the manner in which it spread, and best treatment options — and published them in Bibliothèque Ophtalmologique, which was then cited in other medical journals as well as in an 1846 U.S. textbook, A Manual of the Diseases of the Eye…
…How would we calculate the value of what we today would call the intellectual property — in medicine and other fields — generated by slavery’s suffering?…
… Almost a century ago, in 1915, W.E.B Du Bois wrote, “Raphael painted, Luther preached, Corneille wrote, and Milton sung; and through it all, for four hundred years, the dark captives wound to the sea amid the bleaching bones of the dead; for four hundred years the sharks followed the scurrying ships; for four hundred years America was strewn with the living and dying millions of a transplanted race; for four hundred years Ethiopia stretched forth her hands unto God.”…
Leviticus 25:39 “‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. 40 They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. 41 Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. 42 Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. 43 Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.
44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
Isaiah 42:18 “Hear, you deaf;
look, you blind, and see!
19 Who is blind but my servant,
and deaf like the messenger I send?
Who is blind like the one in covenant with me,
blind like the servant of the Lord?
20 You have seen many things, but you pay no attention;
your ears are open, but you do not listen.”
I’m not saying this to get out of anything. I’m not. Because at this point I sort of think that God imaginary. And therefore is more or less just a code word for ‘us’.
Why are your servants blind, God? Isn’t it sort of magical how, as soon as they start following your orders, hideous atrocities are ok with them?
And yet God is sooo surprised at how EVIL the humans are.
God needs to go home and rethink his life, my imaginary reader-friends.
And by God… I mean religionists.
I’m starting with me.