Surfing the Spectacle

We as Humans


It’s important to realize that robots are created to serve man. This is a wonderful idea, especially for certain men who insist that they must always be served. These gentlemen already tend to view other humans as objects that they may own and exploit without the slightest pang of remorse. So it seems only natural that they might be drawn to cutting-edge robotic technology with its promise of absolute submission.

Which brings us to camel racing.


Amid the wildly wealthy oil nations of the Persian Gulf, the ancient sport thrives. Rich men organize and bankroll the races, enjoying the power and prestige of ownership and victory. One particular requirement of the sport, however, is that the jockeys be exceedingly small and light. Children fit the role quite nicely. Some as young as four years old are taught to ride the camel and work the whip.


Of course lovers of the sport don’t use their own children for such things. They are cultivated people. Educated people. Loving fathers. So they kidnap or purchase children from far-off regions, villages within Pakistan and Sudan, places so filled with poverty and hopelessness that the life of a child can be snatched with ease. These children are then taken to the wealthy Gulf states.

There they are enslaved, imprisoned, trained for their appointed task. They are chained up. Beaten. Some raped. Their new masters take care to give them just enough food to keep them alive – perhaps two biscuits a day with water. Anything more might make them heavier, and that would result in the camel running slower. So weight is very important, and sometimes the child jockeys are forced to wear metal helmets under the desert sun until they bleed through their noses. This is considered an effective technique of weight control.

Naturally, if the child happens to fall off a camel and die (for such is not a rare occurrence), he must be replaced in a timely manner.

Human rights groups have considered this use of children despicable and criminal. It is unclear, however, if the venerated Sheikhs hosting the races ever imagined anything wrong with this treatment.

In any case, charges of human rights abuse provide a most unpleasant nuisance. Bad press. A change had to come. So a group of Swiss engineers from the robotics firm K-Team were called in to design an alternative. They did, creating small, robotic jockeys that can fit atop the camels, flick whips, and shout commands. The sport now may be undergoing transformation with robotic jockeys increasingly replacing children, and several nations banning the practice of children jockeys altogether.


All of which is wonderful and prompts rousing exclamations, such as the following: Brave New World! Robots serving the Glorious Primates! Enlightenment Continues!

But it turns out that masters don’t often care to alter their pleasures. Child jockeys have been banned in the United Arab Emirates for years, but grand old traditions persist in the dark when they must avoid the light. Robots may help mankind, but they’re hardly in a position to replace defective souls.

Last week Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum flew in to Kentucky on his private 747. The Sheikh could do that because he is a billionaire. He is the ruler of Dubai. He came to get a good look at yearling thoroughbreds and ended up buying some for 30 million dollars. The visit was spoiled, however, when he was handed a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of the parents of camel jockey boys. It claims that the Sheikh abducted, trafficked and enslaved thousands of boys.

The lawsuit asserts that the Sheikh and other “slave-owners…perpetrated one of the greatest humanitarian crimes of the last fifty years.”


If you go to the Sheikh’s homepage, you will not find any reference to crimes against humanity. But there are pictures. And articles. And quotes. Two of his quotes may be of interest:

“Our country’s foreign policy focuses on providing aid to the oppressed, who are denied their rights. It supports human rights…and promotes peace and justice in all parts of the globe, endorsing the principle of providing security and food to all people.”

“Everything in this life is beautiful. We as humans miss that sometimes.”

Here is something else he may have missed. Two boys, former camel jockeys, rescued from one of the camel farms in his country, and taken to a shelter. Not the kind of photo one finds on the website of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.


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