What Everybody Needs to Know About Our Actions

Eastman Johnson - A Ride for Liberty -- The Fu...

Eastman Johnson - c. 1862 - A Ride for Liberty -- The Fugitive Slaves

In 1851, American physician, Samuel A. Cartwright presented a medical paper on a disease called drapetomania. This ‘illness’ was, according to Cartwright, the reason slaves tried to escape captivity.

He believed drapetomania was mainly a result of masters who, …made themselves too familiar with [slaves], treating them as equals.(1)

Cartwright contended that with, …proper medical advice, strictly followed, this troublesome practice that many Negroes have of running away can be almost entirely prevented.(2)

In the case of slaves, …sulky and dissatisfied without cause — a warning sign of imminent flight according to Cartwright – he prescribed whipping the devil out of them as a preventative measure. (3)

Just like Samuel Cartwright we generally see the world through a lens of what we believe to be true rather than a factual lens.  As physicist David Bohm describes it,

…our theoretical insights provide the main source of organization of our factual knowledge. (4)

What everybody needs to know about our actions is that we often, genuinely, don’t realise this, so when we take our beliefs and, considering them facts, act on them – we need to be careful.


(1) Baynton, Douglas C. “Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History”. The New Disability History: American Perspectives, 2001.

(2) Cartwright, Samuel A. (1851). “Report on the Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race”. DeBow’s Review XI. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h3106t.html. Retrieved 2007-10-04.

(3) Arthur L. Caplan, James J. McCartney, and Dominic A. Sisti (2004). Health, Disease, and Illness: Concepts in Medicine. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. p. 35 ISBN 1589010140.

(4) David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Routledge Classics, 2004, p. 5