Monday, 2 June 2014

Short Story: A Coffee Break in the Coffee House with a Slave Trader from Alioth

[Foreword: Another short story this week on the topic of slavery.  Not a particularly cheerful topic you might think but still a topic that benefits the man who 'thinks' about it, and considers the merits and demerits of slavery as honestly as he can before coming to any kind of conclusion.
To do this, to consider the morality of a thing, requires one to admit that the thing may be good or bad regardless of what others may proclaim.  In this case most people proclaim that slavery is bad, as does history/tradition, so a man must admit the possibility that both people and accumulated-knowledge/tradition are wrong, and thus that his preconceptions that were created by other people and tradition are also wrong.  Only once he has admitted this, has entertained the mere possibility that he is wrong, can he tackle the topic in an open/honest manner and come to any kind of conclusive answer.  He will come to a conclusive answer, and he will do so on his terms, in his own unique way, and this is very important: all men should set the context by which they determine the truth of a matter.  Context should be determined by self, rather than by others, only then can you be sure of truth.  Because truth is context.  God is context.  God determines the truth in which other things exist.  God determines the context in which other things (duality: Yin & Yang, good & bad, male & female, A and Not-A etc) exist.  God knows both things in the context, good & bad, because he created them both.  Once a man has stood in the midst of context he can see both sides, the Yin and the Yang, good and the bad, the male and the female etc and can know them both intimately.  He can then make a judgement upon which side he should choose.  Which side is preferable.
This particular thought process must always be carried out in private, in a place where man will not be harassed or bothered by interruptions, or told that what he is thinking is wrong.  He needs privacy to think openly.  A place where he can open his heart to the wealth of possibilities that exist in the cosmos and pursue them with that essential mix of open-ness and perseverance - where mans energy is turned inward and used to explore the non-physical world.  A place like a monestary, i.e. a place that is secure & quiet, somewhere that he will not be interrupted, where his train of thought can live itself out free of outside intrusions. 

This thought process may also need a framework, somewhere with laws enough to provide stability and unbounded enough as to provide freedom.  For me that framework was a fictional world, in science fiction.  For others they may prefer the fantasy world.  The world is not important (in terms of effect a cloaking device is no different to invisibility potion, a laser gun is no different to a magic wand, and HAARP is no different to a weather dance), the world just provides a framework in which the questions (like slavery) can be considered.

Anyhoo, that's it for the foreword, now on to the story itself.]

A Coffee Break in the Coffee House with a Slave Trader from Alioth
by Miss Marggraf

Year: 3229
Location: New Rossyth, Argent's Claim, the Alioth System (The Alliance).

      After buying a cup of Riedquatian Coffee and a Jutish pastry from the counter of the coffee house, I took a look around the shop to see where the nearest unoccupied chair was. There weren't any. It seems like the bad weather outside had driven everyone and his wife into the coffee shop. What an inconvenience. Then I caught a glance of a lone chair over by the front of the shop: a two seater table by the front window, with only one man sat at it. A bearded man, scruffy hair and grey jacket over a pair of interstellar traders overalls. Quite out of keeping with the rest of the clientele. He had a mix of electronic, paper and documents of other mediums on the table top. He was probably an interstellar trader doing some last minute paperwork before leaving the system. They were quite a common sight in the coffee houses around that taxes are collected. Staying in civilisation only when they needed to, and only for as long as the needed to. Then taking off again into the dark beyond. I strolled over towards him.
     "Excuse me, is there anyone sitting here?"
     "Err, no."
     "Do you mind if I take a seat?"
     He reorganised some of the disorganised files on the table into a single pile to make some room for me. One of the folders had a familiar logo on the front of it: the Alioth Interstellar Merchants Association.
     "Sorry to bother you, I couldn't help but notice the Alioth Interstellar Merchants Association logo on your folder. One of my brothers works on the board of the Grain Merchants division. Andreas Marggraf. You wouldn't have heard of him per chance would you?"
     The man looked up from his PDA and glanced at the manila folder to which the I was gesturing. "No I haven't heard of him. I left the Association last year, I'm just filling out some paper work that they requested."
     "Why did you leave the association?"
     "Because they closed the division down that I'd been a member of."
     "Oh? I wasn't aware that they'd closed any divisions recently. Andreas hasn't mentioned anything about it."
     "It was the Slaves Merchants division. It was closed down immediately after the abolitionists managed to get their legal proposals ratified by the upper house of the new Alliance government."
     "Slave Merchants division?"
     "So you're a slave trader then?"
     "Not at the moment no. I'm still trying to find a new solar system to trade in."
     "So, you buy and sell people?"
     "Not for the past month I haven't. But yeah, on the whole, I buy and sell hominids."
     "And you don't have any problems with that? I mean, your conscience doesn't bother you about it. Treating people like savages, like animals, like objects, like merchandise?"
     The man looked at me quizzically. I continued.
     "Tell me why it is that you think trading in humans is acceptable in your mind. No, really, tell me. I'd love to hear your reasoning."
     The man looked at me with a minor degree of bemusement.
     He picked up his coffee mug and had a sip of it. "Dogs." he said.
     To which I raised an eyebrow. "Pardon?"
     He put his coffee mug down and continued. "Do you know how many similarities there are between quasi-humans and dogs?"
     "People that look like humans, that walk like humans, that act like humans, but aren't really humans."
     "Right. I don't know what you mean. But carry on anyway. What are the similarities between them? These 'quasi-humans' as you call them, and dogs then.? Enlighten me."
     "Love of casual sex: in a park, down an alley way, at the beach, wherever."
     "Ball games: tennis balls, footballs, either watching or playing with."
     "Cheap cuts of meat: corned beef, jellied eels, pork pies, marrow bone jelly."
     "Use of inflection over actual language: pining, whining, howling, snarling, whatever."
     "Epilepsy: common in humans and dogs, as is a similar disease, rabies."
     "Facial expressions: inane grinning, eyebrows, snarling."
     "Casual fights with strangers: in the park on a Sunday afternoon or on the high street on a Friday night."
     There was a brief pause for a moment. His PDA conveniently bleeped, indicating an inbound message. He turned his attention to it. I waited for a moment before continuing.
     "I take that to mean that you must consider yourself to be better than them? Superior to them. Assuming you don't see yourself as dog of course."
     He gave a few final jabs on the PDA before looking up again. "Not superior to them in all aspects. Just that I am more human than them. Many of them may, and probably do, have superior technical skills, motor skills, powers of observation, memory and so forth. But those are just animal skills. Elephants and wilder beast can successfully navigate themselves to small water holes hundreds of miles away, something that I'd almost certainly fail to do. But having outstanding animal skills does not make you human. The ability to forge the environment rather than the environment forging you is one of the marks of a human."
     "Taking fate into your own hands you mean."
     "Well then, if you really see yourself to be superior to them, then that puts you in a position of responsibility over them then, doesn’t it? I mean, you should be trying your hardest to raise them out of their mental stupor. Certainly not buying and selling them like they are sacks of potatoes. If you don't do that, don't try to generate that spark of humanity inside of them, then that makes you less than human doesn't it. Wouldn't you say?"
     "Oh don't give me any of that moralising crap. I've had enough of that jip from the Liberationists over the years. If the slaves had any capacity for self advancement then they would use it, and it would become evident in the way they behave. Instead of playing ball games and eating low grade meat covered in jelly, they would be visiting opera houses and eating quality steaks. But, as you can see, they don’t. They don't want to. They have no inclination to do so whatsoever. They prefer their casual sex with anonymous partners, their cheap food, their ball games, their arse sniffing, marking their territory and all the rest. Even if I wanted to, it would make no difference. You can take a horse to water but you cant make it drink. You can take a slave to a library but you cant make it read. It's just the same thing. You could even get it to read, but it doesn't mean it'd be thinking.  They'd just be memorising ideas that other people have thought.  They wouldn't be thinking their own thoughts.  So, all in all, I'd be wasting my time and their time if I bothered trying to elevate all of them from their mental bestial state."
     "So it isn't even worth trying then? You believe the possibilities are so slim its not worth even bothering?"
     "It's not that their is only a slim possibility of edifying them, it's that there is almost no possibility of edifying them. It'd be like trying to educate a chimp or an ape; it's just more effort than its worth. There are a few, a very select few who want to better themselves, but they appear to be in the minority. As far as I can tell anyway."
     "I can't agree with you on that point. That's just too pessimistic for my liking. If there was no chance of educating, elevating people at all, then society wouldn't advance at all, and we'd still be behaving like tribal savages."
     "Who says we aren’t?"
     "Well look around. People are speaking and not grunting. They're paying for their drinks and not stealing them. They're wearing woven cloth and not animal skins. Doesn’t that strike you as a sign of a civilised population?"
     "Why not?"
     "They're just imitating other people, or following orders from a superior, or conditioning by their parents from when they were younger. That's all. They're like a chimpanzee that has been trained to speak a few words and dress up in human clothing. They are not as human as you really think they are. If there wasn’t a strong personality, an authority figure, a strong masculine type to influence them, then they would degrade themselves and those around them to the level of beasts, and then would be largely indistinguishable from other primates. So that's why I call them 'quasi-human': apparently human but not actually human."
     "Then you think that they are just imitating other people even when they speak in English?"
     "That's all it is. Just imitation. Imitating the superior culture of the vanguard, be they scientists, religious figures, military leaders, or some other person who excels at something. Underneath the spoken word of the quasi-human is a mess of inflection, emotional word association and body language. When speaking to a dog, you use inflection, when speaking to a quasi, you communicate using inflection. The words are largely superfluous. High grade humans communicate using words, which are modified by inflection, low grade humans communicate using inflection modified by words."
     His PDA bleeped again, another message, and he turned his attention to it.
     "What about that group over there? Do you reckon they are quasi humans?"
     "Over where?"
     "There, the, uh, ones wearing the flamboyant scarves with sunglasses on the tops of their heads."
     "You mean the MCs?"
     "The who?"
     "The MCs, the middle-class types."
     "Possibly. It can apply to all people, whatever subculture or tier of society they belong to. Just because they may appear to display more human traits, or more complex behavioural patterns doesn’t mean that they are human, simply that they are higher quality imitators."
     "And thus it follows that if they're imitators and not human, then they are no better than dogs. And if you have no problem with dogs being bought and sold.."
     "I really don't like where this is leading."
     "..then it follows that you should have no problem buying and selling quasi-humans."

     A few moments of quiet passed. I had a few nibbles of my Jutish pastry and a sip of coffee. The man returned his attention to his paperwork, scratching his head absent-mindedly. Then waiter in the cafe had an accident and dropped a tray of bone china cups, causing us both to look up. Then a thought struck me: "Didn't you say that you believed that there were a minority of hominids who wanted to better themselves?"
     His eyebrows raised. "Yes I did."
     "So how is it that you know that all of the slaves that you buy and sell are inhuman then, and that none of them want to better themselves? Aren't you being presumptuous in assuming that 'all' homo sapiens have no human traits?"
     "That's true. It'd be wrong of me to assume that all hominids are inhuman based on observations of the general population. Which is why I run tests on all of the slaves that I trade."
     "You run tests? What kind of tests? Where?"
     "At my warehouses where I store my merchandise. I've got a few buildings located here on Argent's Claim, and on other planets in nearby solar systems. Ya’ know, wherever I ply my trade."
     "So how do these test work then? do you take them to a room, sit them down and run through a list of yes and no questions on a piece of paper and then tell them whether they are human or not?"
     "No, they don't know that they're being tested."
     "If that's the case, then how do the test works? I mean how do they know that they are not being tested?"
     "I have a couple of rooms in the warehouses that have peep-hole cameras and other monitoring devices in them. After bringing in a new batch of slaves to the warehouse, I tell each of them that they are going to be showered, clothed, fed and given some medical probes before being resold. A single slave then goes into a waiting room, which has the hidden cameras in it which I can use to observe them. Then they are then tested. I test them for human attributes like compassion, curiosity, creativity and so forth."
     "How so?"
     "For the compassion test I've got a cat that has trapped its head in a ventilation shaft and is meowing for help."
     "How awful! How could you do that to a cat?"
     "The cat isn't real. It's robotic. It's a perfect life-like imitation. If you were shown one of these sitting next to a real flesh and blood cat, you wouldn't be able to tell which one was robotic and which one wasn't. I just use it to see the response of the slaves to the cries, the meowing, for help. You see, the cats head is trapped, and so the rest of its body is completely exposed and vulnerable. The slave can only see the cats body, from the rear. The test is too see what the slave does when confronted by a helpless creature that is completely at its mercy. The cat can't move anywhere. It's stuck, trapped, completely at the mercy of whoever is behind it. Whether for better or worse. If the slave has compassion, then it will try to release the cat as best it can, which usually means risking being clawed by the cat, and being cut by some sharp metal in the ventilation shaft."
     "What's the point of exposing the slave to the sharp metal?"
     "To see if the slave will endure short term, minor hardships, you know, small cuts on the skin, in order to relieve a suffering creature of long term hardship and potential death."
     "So what happens? What do the slaves do?"
     "A few of them hear the cats meowing, try to help it, endure the cuts and scratches and then successfully release it. Some of them try to help the cat, but give up after suffering some cuts. They're willing to help, but not at their own expense. Some of them see the cat and try to relieve it of its suffering by putting its out of its misery: breaking its neck. Many hear the cat but just ignore its cries. Others get really narked off by its constant meowing and try to shut it up by shouting at it or hitting it. A few get really hacked off with its meowing and kill it. Then there's the really sadistic types, a minority thankfully, who see the suffering cat, see how helpless it is and go and abuse it."
     "Umm, how do they abuse it?"
     He looked up at me. “You know how cruel some little kids can be when they trap a spider in a glass, and then set about pulling its legs off?"
     "Yeah, well, take that disposition, add ten years of pent up anger from abusive slave owners, and 100 kilograms of well honed-muscle, and you get the idea. There's a thousand and one ways to be cruel. And I've seen my fair share."
     "The other tests are similar, in that they are practical tests. Curiosity tests for general inquisitiveness, a desire to understand the world and how it works. Creativity: whittling an image into a piece of wood, or shaping some clay into a figurine, stuff like that. Those and others, just tests for human attributes. Nothing special. Nothing fancy."
     I managed to speak in a quiet voice. "And after all of that, what happens? What happens if you determine that they are human?"
     "If they are human, and they've passed the test, then I release them, if that's what they want."
     "After they've showered, dressed themselves, eaten and been medically examined, I bring them to my office sit them down, and tell them that I have a vacancy on a farm that I own that needs filling, as a free worker, and would they like it. If they say yes, then we sign a year long contract, which they can renew later if they want, and then cancel their slaves status. If they want help with other matters, education, training or anything else, material or immaterial we try out best."
     "Do many of them stay on the farm?"
     "No, nearly all of them leave within two, two and a half standard years. A few have stayed on longer. But they're in the minority. The rest leave the farm and do whatever it is they want to do with their lives."
     "And that's how you treat those who you think are human."
     "It's the best way I can think of. Give them a stable foundation in material and immaterial terms until they find out enough about themselves that they know what they want to do with their lives. It's like taking in a stray dog. Stray dogs normally suffering from physical and mental problems. It takes time to rehabilitate them in body and mind. You build up their strength with food and affection, slowly reintroduce them into contact with other humans, and other dogs one at a time. And during that process of rehabilitation, the dog can find out what it wants to do. Shepherding, guard dog, sniffer dogs. The same principle applies to humans, give them a sound physical and mental base to stand on until they're found out enough about themselves and they're ready to leave."
     "That sounds like a rather caring, paternal-like approach to me. Perhaps you're not as inhuman as I first thought you were."
     "If all of the hominids that I traded in passed the humanity test that I gave them, then I'd give up being a slave trader, because it wouldn't be profitable. Buying something only to turn it loose isn't financially sustainable."
     It was at that moment that his PDA bleeped, indicating an inbound message. After reading it, he said that he would have to leave to go and speak with some officials at the Merchants Association. He filed up his paperwork into a briefcase, put some credit coins on the table to pay for his drink, said goodbye and exited the cafe into the rainy street outside, leaving me alone with my own thoughts to consider what he had just said.


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