America is proof that voluntariness is no proof of ethics

Against the backdrop of earlier articles on natives and migrants, what I recently learnt about the way native Indians were 'removed' from the United States of America prompted me to write this essay with a sentiment of horror mixed with disappointment.

The third president of the United States of America, Thomas Jefferson, wrote a secret letter to William Henry Harrison, Governor of the Indiana territory, in 1803, explaining his plan for 'removing' the native American Indians. The full text of the letter is fortunately available, and is as follows (I have retained what look like spelling mistakes, but regrouped the text into more readable paragraphs):
You will receive from the Secretary of War … from time to time information and instructions as to our Indian affairs. These communications being for the public records, are restrained always to particular objects and occasions; but this letter being unofficial and private, I may with safety give you a more extensive view of our policy respecting the Indians, that you may the better comprehend the parts dealt out to you in detail through the official channel, and observing the system of which they make a part, conduct yourself in unison with it in cases where you are obliged to act without instruction.

Our system is to live in perpetual peace with the Indians, to cultivate an affectionate attachment from them, by everything just and liberal which we can do for them within the bounds of reason, and by giving them effectual protection against wrongs from our own people.

The decrease of game rendering their subsistence by hunting insufficient, we wish to draw them to agriculture, to spinning and weaving. The latter branches they take up with great readiness, because they fall to the women, who gain by quitting the labors of the field for, those which are exercised within doors.

When they withdraw themselves to the culture of a small piece of land, they will perceive how useless to them are their extensive forests, and will be willing to pare them off from time to time in exchange for necessaries for their farms and families. To promote this disposition to exchange lands, which they have to spare and we want, for necessaries, which we have to spare and they want, we shall push our trading uses, and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands. At our trading houses, too, we mean to sell so low as merely to repay us cost and charges, so as neither to lessen or enlarge our capital.

This is what private traders cannot do, for they must gain; they will consequently retire from the competition, and we shall thus get clear of this pest without giving offence or umbrage to the Indians.

In this way our settlements will gradually circumscribe and approach the Indians, and they will in time either incorporate with us a citizens or the United States, or remove beyond the Mississippi.

The former is certainly the termination of their history most happy for themselves; but, in the whole course of this, it is essential to cultivate their love. As to their fear, we presume that our strength and their weakness is now so visible that they must see we have only to shut our hand to crush them, and that all our liberalities to them proceed from motives of pure humanity only.

Should any tribe be foolhardy enough to take up the hatchet at any time, the seizing the whole country of that tribe, and driving them across the Mississippi, as the only condition of peace, would be an example to others, and a furtherance of our final consolidation.
I'll let you analyze the hypocrisy of the letter in detail, but hasten myself to say what I'm most moved to say about the claimed voluntariness of Indian actions such as land cession and adoption of sedentary and hedonistic lives, and about the American justification for Indian Removal.

Anyone can feed a child with poison by sugarcoating it. The child will fall prey voluntarily. Is this ethical? Absolutely not. Therefore, the voluntariness of market transactions is no proof of ethical behaviour of the parties involved. On the other hand, voluntary market transactions which cause damages or losses unexpected by one of the parties and intended by the other is complete proof of unethical behavior on the part of the latter.

No more proof is required that the Europeans were very far from being ethical in exterminating the native Indians. It is the height of European barbarism and unethical behavior to pounce upon relative children and commit genocide so that they may spread, multiply and pleasure themselves. That it was done with the air of saints and holy men lends no fig leaf to the barbarians.

Let me take another example. Let's say my job is to cook rice. To simplify things, let's say that the uncooked rice is provided by my customer himself, so the only cost to the customer is that of my labor. Now, on what basis must I fix the price of my labour? There is no doubt that it should increase as my labour increases, but what should be the basic price itself? Everything from zero to infinity is a valid answer to that question. However, a transaction will happen only at a mutually agreeable price. So far so good, and both parties agree to forget about slight valuation errors.

However, what if my customer is blind and I make him sign on a cheque of Rs. 100 while I would have been happy with Re. 1 if the customer weren't blind? The voluntariness of my customer's payment doesn't make the entire transaction ethical, because I intended damage while he did not have sufficient information to see through my intention.

Thus, market transactions in which one party knowingly exploits the lack of information in the other for his own benefit are unethical. The question of ethics cannot be settled by examining the voluntariness of market transactions, but only by examining the intentions behind the transactions, which, fortunately for the analyst, manifest themselves in their effects on the exploited party. That is not to say that the exploitation does not affect the expoiter in any way; only that the effect on the exploited party is easier to observe and faster-acting than the effect on the exploiter. The exploiter will pay dearly for his crimes, but that day comes but late.

What hypocrisy that the 'founding fathers' of The United States of America basically did not have the disposition to grant native Indians the right to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' while assuming it for themsleves! They basically proved that the cunning can make the innocent surrender their 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' voluntarily. And that, for the hundredth time, is unethical to the core.

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