Slavery and ‘law of the jungle’ economics

It seems the Civil War began on April 12, 1861, 163 years ago yesterday. In her essay today, Heather Cox Richardson delves into the ideology on each side, and she thus, without saying it, effectively shows how little the Civil War actually solved—we continue roughly to have pretty much the very same debates today. The elites today are every bit as entitled as those Richardson points to in the Confederate South.[1] And we have swapped in varying degrees formal slavery for wage slavery, and, even worse, the “gig economy.” When we treat each other in these ways, it is hard to see how much progress has been made, really, in our regard for each other as human beings.

Some of us—I am mystified as to how this is even human—take unabashed delight in brutalizing others in any number of ways: physical, economic, financial, psychological. “Fuck Your Feelings” and “Make A Liberal Cry” bumper stickers that I saw during the 2020 campaign are simply heavy on one corner of a field spanning the blatant and annoying to the subtle and ruinous or harmful, even murderous or genocidal. And far, far, far too many of us, not by any means only on the political right, are complicit in varying ways with that brutality.

As I drive by the guns on display, the statues of soldiers, I see who our heroes are and what we admire them for: violent people doing violent things. In Pittsburgh, it often seems like we commemorate them on every spare high visibility scrap of land. Stop at a traffic signal. Gaze to your left. There might be a stone commemorating soldiers or police who died “in the line of duty,” or be taken aback as you realize you are looking right at the business end of an artillery gun. Oh, here to the right, here’s a god damned tank! Look a little higher at the banners hanging from street poles: All too often, they commemorate veterans, identified by name and rank, and sometimes list the unit they served in or the wars they fought in. Almost always, those veterans are white and male, even in neighborhoods where people of color are highly visible and even though people of color and of various genders often choose to go into the military.

We can argue whether the wars they fight really protect the country—Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq are only among the more recent dubious examples—but disproportionately poorer people, who are variably but about as often as the general population also of color,[2] put their lives at risk to serve the foreign policy goals of the U.S. elite. And we celebrate that—when they are white. This is progress?

That we hallucinate the Civil War as having settled anything more than whether the Union would be preserved—at least until the next one—exposes the superficiality of our response. If we are to survive the climate crisis, it can only be because we cooperate to do so. Cooperation is the opposite of brutality. And capitalism is “law of the jungle” economics.

  1. [1]Heather Cox Richardson, “April 12, 2024,” Letters from an American, April 13, 2024,
  2. [2]Amy Lutz, “Who Joins the Military?: A Look at Race, Class, and Immigration Who Joins the Military?: A Look at Race, Class, and Immigration Status Status,” Journal of Political and Military Sociology 36, no. 2 (2008): 167-188.

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