A Response to selected passages of Ascent of the Self, "A Treatise on Self-Consciousness Through Reflection."

By Lilaiethyn Phellanyrastralae


In the spirit of philosophical debate, I offer the below response to Tarran Waterford's "A Treatise on Self-Consciousness Through Reflection." As I am not funded by any institution, I can only hope individuals will take it upon themselves to circulate and read this response themselves. I cannot allow a philosophical justification of slavery to go unanswered.

On The Relationship of Individual Freedom and Social Responsibility

In his "Treatise on Self Consciousness through Reflection," Professor Waterford defines freedom in the terms of individual autonomy. He states that without financial and intellectual independence, one cannot be truly autonomous. He further attempts to justify slavery through defending his all-important autonomy at the cost of others. In my response, I wish to counter his justification of slavery by offering an alternative view on the relationship between individual freedom (autonomy) and social responsibility.

In the world of Tyrra, even among the gifted races, freedom of any kind is never absolute. There are certain degrees in which every being is influenced by others. I cannot change who my parents were and the traits they passed down to me, no matter how rich and wise I become. I can make choices about which influences I invite into my life, and which influences I wish to distance myself from, but I am still influenced. Decisions I make will always be within the confines of finite options, whether between two options or two-thousand.

As the gifted races each are formed into a society, society plays a major influence in what choices I can readily make. The more privileged members of a society are privileged simply because that they may have more options available to choose from. For example, a wealthy lord may be able to choose whether he wants pheasant, beef, lamb, or venison for dinner, where his servant may be limited to choosing between barley soup and cabbage soup. The wealthy lord may have more choices for dinner, yet he cannot eat stone any easier than the servant. The servant, though having more limited choices, at least has the freedom to decide he would rather be a servant than be a beggar and face the possibility of starvation.

To say that an employer is always more autonomous than the workers he employs, as Professor Waterford has, is a fallacy, for the employer is bound to see that the workers have the necessary resources and protection to complete their duties. The wealthy lord, without depending upon the cooperation of hunters and servants, would face the same starvation. Those who work upon the means of a salary are given the same salary regardless of the lord's prosperity. The servant may not be responsible to answer to anyone but his employer, but the employer has a responsibility to all those that serve him. Also, without the blessings of the seasons, the lord is left with little to harvest, regardless if it had been wheat or rye he chose in the planting of his fields. No one can have absolute control over the forces that shape one's life.

Freedom is better defined as the ability to choose how one wishes to influence and be influenced than by an "ideal" of autonomy. Influences of birth, influences of education, influences of family and society, influences of the weather and seasons, influences of economy, influences of geography, and influences of the elements and time all converge upon the individual, opening some options to fair probability, and closing others to near impossibility. A wise individual is aware of the currents that affect him, and make choices that lead to beyond survival and towards the ever-changing ideal of personal fulfillment.

Every self-conscious individual should be given by his or her society the opportunity to choose reasonably the web of influences surrounding him, so long as it does not greatly impinge upon the freedom and well-being of others. The individual cannot prosper without the support of society; society cannot continue without the cooperation of individuals.

It is for mutual benefit that individuals cooperate to attain much more than what they could as singular individuals. I could not have fine silk stockings if it were not for the cooperation of a hundred individuals seeing to the cultivation of silkworms, the spinning of the silk into stockings, the protection of the weaver's humble home. Each person gains more from cooperation than from individual effort. In exchange for having the privilege of the choice to wear silk stockings, I obey the laws of the land and live as a peaceable and cooperative individual. Also, I currently serve the Royal Healers Guild of Avendale for a stipend that may afford me silk stockings, and seek to one day join the ranks of my family who see to the security of the society of my birth. I give up some of my autonomy in order to benefit from my society; every person that has ever exchanged items or services with another person participates in this cooperation.

An individual who has but one possession created for him by another has entered into a contract with society. Through participation and contribution to one's society, one is given the means by which to attain valuable things: firstly survival, and then material comforts that allow one the time and energy for intellectual and creative self-expression that defines the gifted races from other beings. Without cooperation between individuals, each of us could only live in caves or other simple shelter, hunting animals and gathering wild plants for food. We may be theoretically autonomous in that state, however we cannot explore other potentials that are afforded us only through the participation within a larger society.

Individual pursuits and participation in one's society need to be in dynamic balance for the health of both. When an individual attempts to completely negate another person's autonomy through slavery, how can he justify that he too should not become completely enslaved for the betterment of his society? What mercy should the slave owner be shown when he willingly denies others the opportunity to choose how they shall contribute to the welfare of their society and be rewarded from that contribution ? How much beauty has been quelled because there was not room given for self-expression within the slaves of Niman? What riches can a society truly possess when a treatise attempts to justify that everything that comes into being is intrinsically better because its creation has been dictated by a small number of privileged individuals?

I challenge Professor Waterford, if he truly believes that the management of slaves to perpetuate his own will is a burden, to give up his autonomy and let another dictate for him the manner in which his tobacco fields must be hoed and what he should be served for dinner, for as he said, there must always be "leaders" and there must always be "followers." Who is to say why this Professor shouldn't be a slave instead of a master?

I have sat in the company of many just and noble individuals who abhor that Nimani society survives and prospers on the back of slave labor. I have heard it explained that if all the slaves were freed simultaneously by Crown edict, the Nimani economy would collapse, thousands may starve, and the privileged of Evendarr would no longer have as much gold to provide for the welfare of those that serve them.

I suggest that if slavery in Niman is to end, it will be from tens of thousands of individuals of Avalon over the course of many years making the conscious choice to do without Nimani tobacco and any industry or trade that is supported directly or indirectly by Nimani slave labor. Only by sacrifice, of doing with less, may the travesty of slavery come to an end. In the manner we spend our coin (an embodiment of power), we sanction what is and what is not to be in our society. If slaves represent power, it is only because slave labor gains the slave masters money.

Nimani society will not change through law and military action, but through the slow but certain choking of economic means of slave owners. If his tobacco rots in the fields because no one will buy it because of conscientious boycotting, Professor Waterford will be forced to sell off his slaves and see to his economic survival by some other means. The Professor's new life may be a more humble existence that cannot fund great disseminations of his ideas across Avalon, but in exchange, others would finally be given the opportunity to take up the quill for the first time to simply write for themselves and their village.

From Helevorn in Quentari,
The Fourth Month of 663 ER, Year 13 Loa Elenaro