Monday, July 30, 2012

Two Minutes

In the two minutes it will take you to read this blog post, between fifteen and forty-five human beings will have been trafficked into slavery, and the odds are good that at least one of them will be bound for the United States. In these same two minutes, the world’s slaves will have generated about $135,000 for their owners, who will use some of this money to improve the quality of their own lives, some of it to hire more security to protect their “assets,” and some of it to expand their operations by finding still more vulnerable individuals to trick, coerce or kidnap into “the industry.” 

And even where the world is moving in the right direction, its momentum may still be incidentally aiding and abetting the slavers. The Arab Spring may have brought democracy to several Middle Eastern states, but its more violent revolutions have created hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of them now severely vulnerable to trafficking. Myanmar, in opening its borders over the past year, has greatly increased the profitability of its already-extensive trafficking epidemic. By opening up the country to the multinational corporations of the world, Myanmar’s leaders are exponentially increasing the value of the nation’s slaves, further incentivizing the “peculiar institution” and potentially further entrenching its place in the Southeast Asian economy. Every step towards freedom, it can seem, is another step trudged into a vast, waist-high sea of steely shackles.

It can be terribly depressing to watch the wheels of injustice turning ever so rapidly as they go about their grim work. It can be utterly overwhelming to realize that our work will be done on behalf of fewer than a dozen women at a time, even as the traffickers coerce about that many young people into slavery every single minute of the day. I am guilty of slavery, for I have let this happen, it is easy to think. Without me and people like me, there would be no market for this brutal trade. No matter how much I do to wipe away my guilt, there will still be far more women being bought and sold than Amirah could ever hope to serve. In the grand scheme of things, how much does our project matter?

Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself the same questions. But ultimately, what matters most is the fact that we do what we can, not what we would like to do. I’m pretty sure that if any of us were given a magic wand and were told that waving it would set all of the world’s captives free – not only from physical bondage, but from the terrible shackles of pain and guilt and trauma and emotional dependency and every last intangible chain link that Amirah will strain to break - we would do it. But that’s not an option, and it never will be. So the thing we have to remember about guilt is that we deserve none of it. In the words of Kevin Bales, president of Free The Slaves, “there is a moral watershed… We’re not guilty of slavery. The corporations aren’t guilty of slavery. The slaveholder’s guilty of slavery.

“But,” Bales adds, “we’re responsible. We’re not guilty… but we’re responsible.” And there is a world of a distinction between the two words. A responsibility is a commission, not a condemnation. It is the difference between being condemned to hell and being commissioned by Christ to go out and make disciples of all men. The one is a terrible burden, but the other is a joyous duty, one that can bring light into our lives like few other earthly things.

We should all be thankful that we are responsible. Because even if we cannot save the world, we can at least help a few survivors of the worst system on earth learn how to cope with their newfound freedom. And that is truly a blessing.

Jack is a sophomore at Gordon College, where he studies English, political science, human nature, and how to make the world a better place. 

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