Traveling Man

By Ta-Nehisi Coates


I am bursting with things to tell you guys--things I've seen in the last week. I started out in at the Ideas Festival and then found myself in Chicago (in Bricktown today) rolling with an eviction team. In between this I'm reading Rousseau for the first time and having my mind blown.

Like dig this:

The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty.

How real is that? It's not just enough for me to subdue you, I must make your subjugation into something more than "I've got more glocks and Tecs than you." Power has to be sanctified. Charlemagne must have the Pope. Subjugation must be official. Must be biblical. Must be scientific.

Here's something else:

Even if we assume this terrible right to kill everybody, I maintain that a slave made in war, or a conquered people, is under no obligation to a master, except to obey him as far as he is compelled to do so. By taking an equivalent for his life, the victor has not done him a favour; instead of killing him without profit, he has killed him usefully. So far then is he from acquiring over him any authority in addition to that of force, that the state of war continues to subsist between them: their mutual relation is the effect of it, and the usage of the right of war does not imply a treaty of peace. A convention has indeed been made; but this convention, so far from destroying the state of war, presupposes its continuance.

So, from whatever aspect we regard the question, the right of slavery is null and void, not only as being illegitimate, but also because it is absurd and meaningless. The words slave and right contradict each other, and are mutually exclusive. It will always be equally foolish for a man to say to a man or to a people: "I make with you a convention wholly at your expense and wholly to my advantage; I shall keep it as long as I like, and you will keep it as long as I like."

This is exactly what I was trying to get at in my Civil War piece from a few years back. America's slave society was a kind of of "useful killing." To strip a child from their mother in 1845 and sell the child to Mississippi is not literal death. But that child is no longer in the mother's world, and will never be again. To the mother, imagining the child in Mississippi is as "real" as imagining the child in Limbo.

Also I've been reading the Bible:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

36 And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.

37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

40 He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.

41 He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.

42 And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.

I sort of love that. These are the kind of words that could inspire you to a great principle--or a psychotic one.

I leave for France on Friday. Won't be back until the end of the summer. I feel like I've got that plug jacked into my head from The Matrix. Except nothing these days comes across with the clarity of, "I know Kung-Fu." It's all a scramble.

More soon.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/personal/archive/2013/07/traveling-man/277490/