MORAL POWER, by Dr. Steven Nur Ahmed

How can our earth have such plenitude of life, clean water, and dense forests just 12,000 years ago, but now have become reduced to increasing scarcity of life, unclean water, and diminishing forests along with rising human misery after only a few hundred years? What is the cause or what is to blame? I think that history reveals a clear relation between the choices we make and planetary enhancement or degradation.

We cannot blame technology in and of itself because technologies of whatever kind are merely instruments of human creation and use. Technologies do not have a practical purpose independent of the design given to them by human beings. Technologies are only purposeful when guided by the hand of a human being.

The technologies which are designed, mass produced, and marketed by corporate power elites filter down to billions of people in global markets and into homes worldwide. Then, when used on a mass scale by people who do not understand the harm such technologies do, the harm done to earth grows to immeasurable depths.[1]

The mass use of a single technology like a cellular phone or automobile by billions of human beings on any given day is causing mass irreparable damage to the fabric of our moral lives and to life forms on earth. The fact is that moral depravity and earthly depravity are positively correlated.

The signs of global resource scarcity, environmental imbalance, and rise in human misery point to specific choices which some human beings have been making with cold indifference to other better alternative choices which could have been made by them.  Their choices are ‘moral choices’.  Moral action and its opposite called negligence are the context of all human relations.

Both the Bible and the Holy Quran make the same argument by means of an allegorical story.[2] The first human beings were made guardians of a Garden; imagine that the Garden symbolizes the Earth.  A guardian is a moral overseer. Their prime directive from God was to do no harm and break no promises.  After committing harm and breaking a promise, the first human beings were condemned to physical, emotional, and spiritual degeneration in perpetuity. It is called: the fall from grace. That allegorical story implies the necessity of making moral choices so that we can have healthy social and environemental relations.

In law school, I studied the law of Torts. I studied a branch of Tort called the Tort of Negligence.[3] The central proposition in the law of negligence is simple. It is that ‘every person has a duty of due care so as not to harm another’. When one breaches his or her duty of due care to other persons and harms them, they are defined by law as having been negligent.  They are defined as having breached ‘the social contract.’[4]

Before we act, we should always consider what behavior is the best behavior so that we reduce the chance we will do harm to another including all other animals. Undeniably, the law of Negligence is a moral principle. The law of Negligence is a civil law implicit in all criminal laws; it is a fundamental principle in all human groups. The fact that human groups exist at all makes moral principles self-evident.

When a person is presented with more than one choice of action in a circumstance, the question is: which option is the best choice out of several alternatives? There is always the best choice of action out of several options in every given circumstance.

Some scholars argue that human beings are fundamentally selfish.[5] But the best choice cannot simply be that choice which optimizes what is good or pleasurable for the person making the choice. That would be an act of irrational selfishness.[6] For what is good for one person or even several persons or even a whole nation may be disastrous for billions of other persons in the short and long run.

Evidence exist to support that claim. Look at the last several thousand years of what I call the ‘Empire Game’. The Empire Game has been and is now an unmitigated disaster for all humanity. The Empire Game has even assumed the title of ‘World History’ implying that all other facets of human history are less important than it.

But there is also what are called in law ‘acts of omission’. Sometimes, under some circumstances, even making no choice can be an act of negligence which causes harm to another. Therefore, the argument that ‘some choices are amoral’ meaning morally neutral is a false premise because individuals and groups always make choices they define as good or pleasurable for themselves. And those choices even if it is a choice not to choose any course of action always cause effects. Therefore, there is no such thing as an ‘amoral’ choice because all choices and even decisions not to choose have unintended consequences on other people and the earth.[7]

For that reason, the issue of moral power and its effect on human and other environmental relations is the central problem facing us today. It is a central problem facing descendants of slaves. If that problem is not solved quickly, there will be no hope for mass survival during this age of global dysfunction.[8]

The political, corporate, and religious power elite casts a very long shadow over billions of people on this earth of ours. At the end of the day, their shadows convert to social and spiritual privation for all those living in their shadow. In a sense their shadow blocks rational sunlight from reaching into the lives of many people. It makes us less able to live moral lives because it stresses us to be less cooperative and more irrational and conflictual in relation to our neighbors and earth.

For subordinate people, everywhere, the life of the power elite is the antithesis of the life lived by those in their shadow. The elite, whether they be political, religious, or business elites, live a life of wealth and intellectual supremacy at the biological, economic and social expense of all people subordinate to them. 

What can we do? Can we hypothetically get a grasp of the gravity of our social and economic problems? Let’s imagine some possibilities and follow them through to a conclusion. Let’s do a thought experiment.

Hypothetically speaking, if every descendant of slaves who is incarcerated in State, Federal, County, and City jails were released tomorrow; and

Hypothetically speaking, if every descendant of slaves who is released vowed to never commit another crime; and,

Hypothetically speaking, if no crimes were committed by descendants of slaves released from prison thereafter; and,

Hypothetically speaking, if all other descendants of slaves vowed that they would never break the law; and,

Hypothetically speaking, if all descendants of slaves in fact did not commit felonies ever again in the United States, then what would happen?

First, there would be an extra million and a half descendants of slaves living mainly in cities but also in small towns throughout the United States.

One million and a half more descendants of slaves would immediately add about 2% to the African American unemployment rate which already stands at about 16% or twice that of White unemployment.  That would make the unemployment rate for African Americans about 18%.   What can we compare an 18% unemployment rate to?  For that, we turn to the 20th century.

During the height of the 20th century’s great depression, the percentage of unemployed Americans was 25%. Thus, if there were a 2% rise in unemployment, descendants of slaves would experience an economic depression equivalent to the great depression wherever they lived in the United States in 2017.

Secondly, if no crimes were committed by descendants of slaves, the criminal justice system would collapse unless it seized upon another ethnic group to criminalize. Let’s assume the criminal justice system did not seize upon another ethnic victim. What would happen?

An unintended consequence of mass lawful behavior would be a second wave of unemployment adding to the 2% rise in black unemployment; but this time among whites. The ripple effect would expand far and wide into the economy. Share value in private for profit prisons stock would literally become worthless. Billions of dollars would be lost over night making wealthy white investors poor.

What would happen is that the “1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories” would get significant Federal, State, County, and city budget cuts. That would include cutbacks in criminal courts with district attorneys, public defenders, police officers, and private criminal lawyers becoming unemployed along with everyone who works in the criminal justice system from administrators, correctional officers, to janitors. It would affect over 500, 000 individual employees and their families. In dollar terms, let’s say a cutback of about $85 billion dollars nationwide.  State, Federal governments would lose money because they would no longer have a justification for increased taxation of citizens to support the criminal justice system. Look at the graph below to get a bird’s eye view of the magnitude of economic dependence governments and corporations have on crime and the incarceration of descendants of slaves.

What would all those descendants of slaves choose to do under such circumstances? The economic characteristics of the United States are changing so fast that even the most educated Americans are continually having to retool their skills to keep up with technological change. How can under-educated ex-felon descendants of slaves be expected to do so?


Robots at the “Hannover Messe” trade fair in Hanover, Germany, April 2014[9].

The fact is that there would be no jobs for most of them aside from agricultural employment. The reasons that they would have nothing to do center around 1) their general lack of education. Here are the facts: “About 41% of inmates in the Nation’s State and Federal prisons and local jails in 1997 and 31% of probationers had not completed high school or its equivalent. In comparison, 18% of the general population age 18 or older had not finished the 12th grade.”[10] The educational characteristics of incarcerated descendants of slaves change at a glacial pace. The same educational characteristics hold true in 2017.

A second reason is that negative stigmata would be attached to them for having been incarcerated and simply for being ‘black’ in this white supremacist society.

Descendants of slaves have never been able to even minimally compete with the dominate white culture on any level. Some say ‘well what about sports’? I say to them that ‘No descendent of slaves owns a professional sport team in any league or sport.’ That holds true generally in the entertainment industry as well. Some others will argue, ‘well we can restart Black Wall Street such as the one which existed in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the 1920s.’ I say, “one cannot step twice into the same river.” Times, circumstances, and especially sentiments among Descendants of Slaves completely rule out that possibility. Some others will say: we can join a church or Masjid or Temple. I say that none of those American religious institutions will bite the hand which feeds them. They have become instruments of the banking system debt slavery and therefore of Wall Street.

Furthermore, that kind of change is not likely now because of ethnic integration and the rapidity of technological changes taking place. Add to that the increasing dysfunctional social life of most descendants of slaves particularly those million and a half individuals in our thought experiment now out of prisons and jails.  It leads to one conclusion. The only rational choice, the best choice, for descendants of slaves would be the choice to exercise moral power. Simply obey all laws. 

[1] Include under technology genetically modified organisms.

[2] Genesis Chapter 2, Torah; Holy Quran 2:30

[3] The Tort of Negligence literally means: the harm of negligence

[4] The Social Contract. Jean-Jacques Rousseau

[5] Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, 1849; Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 1976

[6] All human beings are intinctual or behaviorally unconsciously driven but we are also conscious and rational when fully developed. Moral decisions arise out of rational deliberation. Out of that kind of deliberation society is made possible. There is initially an imbalance in favor of instinct. But over time conscious rationality more or less increases.

[7] I once heard George Soros say that his decisions are ‘amoral’. Soros is in conscious denial or lying.

[8] William Vogt, Road to Survival; chapter 2, ‘Biotic Limits’, 1944

[9] Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee, and Michael Spence July/August 2014

[10] Education and Correctional Populations, Bureau of Justice Statistics, by Caroline Wolf Harlow, Ph.D., 2003



You’ve heard of John Henry haven’t you? John Henry was a steel driv’en man. He was a manual laborer. He was strong and tough,-a survivor.  Most of us have heard the ballad of John Henry. When pitted against a steam driven drill he was confident he would beat it.  But “…before the machine could beat him down John Henry hammered his fool self to death.” You should listen to the ballad of John Henry.


There is a moral to the folk ballad of John Henry which all African Americans and indeed all Americans should comprehend. A book written and published by Sidney M. Wilhelm in 1971 entitled: ‘Who Needs the Negro?’ will facilitate your understanding of the moral behind the ballad of John Henry.


Wilhelm’s basic thesis is that: “Negroes may enjoy equality insofar as they are first made economically irrelevant.”[1] African Americans finally achieved political equality under the law but at the same time for the past 50 years have not been cognizant of the fast pace of technological change taking place in the United States.  But this lack of  understanding is not surprising for some since most African Americans are not educated and do not have leadership at the local or national level to warn them of what is coming in the future.


What Wilhelm observed is that most African Americans came out of a work tradition of manual labor which required no technical training or expertise.  Three economic epochs define the economic necessity for ‘negro’ labor in the United States. All but one occurred in the 20th century. It is an ongoing tragedy of separation.


The first economic epoch was that of preindustrial agricultural labor intensive work or slavery primarily in the South; the second economic epoch was that of sharecropping under Jim Crow segregation in the South. It too was characterized by manual intensive labor.  The third economic epoch was that of unskilled industrial manual labor especially during World Wars I, II, and during the Vietnam war.  In each of those epochs, African American labor can be generally characterized as necessary unskilled ‘manual’ labor.  As such African Americans were wholly dependent upon the context or the where-ness and infrastructure of production or how production would be carried out.


Both the context and infrastructure of production began to change for African Americans when after 1945, the mechanical cotton picker and then later the mechanical tobacco harvester were applied to agricultural production in 1965. One of either of those machines could do the work of a 1000 workers in a day. The introduction of farm automation ended the need for manual farm labor in the south. Two things resulted from farm automation. One reality was that African Americans were no longer needed for manual labor in the South.  And two, automation caused the acceleration of a mass migration by African Americans out of a rural context into a city context. For a while the new city context for African Americans gave them respite, but not for long. The infrastructure of production was changing rapidly.


Wilhelm observed that as the urban African American population grew by 86% between 1954 and 1966 that parallel to that population growth there was a 50% growth of industrial and mercantile construction outside the core city. The unskilled jobs were taken out of the urban center where African Americans lived. This shift was a national phenomenon. For example it happened in Oakland California. Between 1950 and 1960, 100,000 Whites moved out of Oakland to surrounding suburbs. By the late 1970s manufacturing companies were also moving out of Oakland. It was by design. Not only was there an increase in industrial production outside of city centers but there was also an increase in automation in factories.


This brings another problem to the forefront. That problem is the lack of education and more specifically the training of African American youth into the vocations and sciences. The controversy begins at the turn of the 20th century. Then only one man argued that African American youth should be trained to master the trades and vocations. That man was Booker T. Washington.[2] He established the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama. But his idea was opposed by those who argued for liberal arts educational opportunities particularly for children of the talented 10th elite of which W.E.B. Dubois was a member.


Booker T. Washington’s idea was also opposed by those who argued for entrepreneurial and Black Nationalists’ agendas. Those two agendas were most aggressively pushed by Marcus Garvey.  Though there is some merit in both Dubois’ and Garvey’s strategies both Dubois’ and Garvey’s proposals, now tried and tested over 100 years, have been proven to be defective means for the social and economic improvement of African Americans.[3]


Wilhelm wrote in his book that just when the civil rights laws were enacted by Congress or by a Supreme Court Ruling to insure equal access to public schools and universities the standard for entry into those schools was elevated. For example, prior to 1968 there was no SAT test requirement for application to a University of California. Grade point average was the major criterion. The pattern is clear.  Just as the first wave of baby boomers started graduating from high schools in the mid and late 1960s the SAT test was introduced to eliminate minorities.  That was by design. That same method is now being proposed in 2013-14 to make the GED (General Education Test) test more difficult; that will affect ethnic minority chances to overcome failed high school experiences. More African Americans will fail to pass the test because of the pervasive weakness in mathematics among minorities.


By disqualifying African Americans by the use of standardized testing those minorities will be precluded from the training they need to compete for post-industrial jobs. The high school dropout rate for African Americans nationally is over 50% for men and 46% for women. Consequently, there are millions of unqualified African American high school drop-outs.


There is yet another problem. It is the problem of leadership or the lack thereof.  Today, civil rights law is not the central issue facing African Americans.  The problem is automation and the inability of millions of African Americans to retool their skills to compete within the post-industrial context. Liberal democrats will not speak in public of the issue while racist extremists and right wing republicans along with Tea Party advocates are pushing aggressively for privatization of Government. People they put before the public are silent on this issue, too. Those misleading public figures make the old argument for civil rights at a time when the law supports civil rights. But anyone who studies U.S. Labor Department Statistics will see the real issue of the day. They will see that there are 73 million unskilled workers in the job market. Of that number 4.5 million are African American. African Americans have the lowest paying jobs and belong to the most unstable families than any other group in the United States. Wilhelm states that African Americans are those who are increasingly ‘unnecessary’ in post-industrial America.


What Wilhelm did not see is that a last ditch effort would be made to make the ‘Negro’ economically necessary. First, the unskilled would find a new role as inmates in the prison industrial complex but not to work rather for government to justify increased taxation on citizens to support inmates who sit idle in prison and jail custody and to generate profit for corporate prison enterprises such as ‘Corrections Corporation of America’. Secondly, yet another way to make the Negro economically necessary was not foreseen by Wilhelm. This form of exploitation attaches to AFDC and Welfare income recipients to support small ghetto businesses which depend upon government entitlement money to survive. Here, too, as in the prison industrial complex there is no need for African Americans to be skilled or educated or to do any work at all. Just spend money. Both ghetto businesses and companies like ‘Corrections Corporation of America’ will fight tooth and nail to make the Negro economically necessary for their kinds of businesses. But they have one insurmountable problem and that is the demographic decline of African Americans over the next 46 years. Consequently, the general thesis of Wilhelm remains a cogent one.


Robotic technology is increasing at an accelerating pace. Factories and warehouses are employing robots run by computers to do the work that hundreds once did on a single shift. The cost for using robotic technology is cheaper than the cost for human labor.[4] The cost is even cheaper than what is paid to overseas workers. So, though we may see manufacturing return to the United States it will not be to hire unskilled Americans.


Unskilled African American workers are in the category of unnecessary. A humungous 72% of all African Americans with college degrees work for some form of Government. They too will be made ‘unnecessary’ because another post-industrial likelihood is the privatization of Governments at all levels. Look at Detroit as a model of a totally financially broke and dysfunctional Government.  Detroit will not be resurrected to it former form. Much of it will be privatized.


The United States Post office is another example of the privatization of Government movement. Already, as it stands it is partly privatized. In the years to come, it too will no doubt be completely privatized. Most State and City Governments are teetering on the edge of financial collapse and will seek alternative ways to govern and decrease expenditures due to shrinking tax revenue. Many of them will privatize departments and African Americans though educated will become ‘unnecessary’.  When Army and Naval military bases and hospitals closed in Oakland and Alameda, California during the 1980s and 90s that is exactly what happened. Thousands of African Americans lost their jobs. They too were unskilled for the post-industrial infrastructural changes.


Sidney Wilhelm ends his book with a very existential prediction. He states: “Under the economy of past technological configurations, it was incumbent upon White America to balance racial values against economic incentives. But with the introduction of automation, the necessity virtually disappears, since it is economically feasible to negate the traditional rational for the Negro’s existence. …the affected Negroes will not be so much abused as ignored. There will be no necessity to maintain measures of intimidation for purposes of economic returns as the Negro shifts from the economics of exploitation to the economics of uselessness.”[5] Later he states: “It is the double curse flung upon the Negro by White America to judge competency against the performance of a machine and the person by the color of their skin.” [6]


John Henry was a steel driv’en man. But John Henry died. His heart just popped wide open. His heart could not take the strain from competing with machines and he could not imagine, manufacture, and produce machines himself. John Henry did not have the foresight to see the age of automation.









[1] Sidney W. Wilhelm, Who Needs The Negro?,  Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York, 1971, p.p. 265

[2] Booker T. Washington, The Future of The American Negro, 1899, Seashore Classics,

[3] The FBI undermined Marcus Garvey but realistically, it is very doubtful that it would have worked for the masses. For example, Liberia was purchased by President Madison in 1822. It was headed by ex-slaves and Free Blacks. But it became a plantation for American companies like Firestone, Inc. and the Liberian leaders were nothing but brutal dictators over African people.

[4]  60 minutes, Businesses Use More Automation, Fewer Workers, July 21, 2011, by Kelly Cobiella, CBS News

[5] Sidney M. Wilhelm, Who Needs The Negro, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1971, pp. 223

[6] Ibid, pp 265