"Free yourselves from mental slaveryĒ
Bob Marley - Redemption Song
One of the most persistent aspects of human existence is slavery which, traditionally, has taken the form of the physical ownership of human beings. It is one of the great tragedies of modern history, and a sad indictment of so-called modern ďcivilizationĒ that, over 150 years after the British Empire outlawed slavery and more or less effectively eradicated it using a combination of gunboat diplomacy and trade sanctions, the practice still persists. In the early 21st century, from rural regions of Latin America and Africa, where exploitative economic systems place the dispossessed in a state of real or virtual slavery, through to what are presumed to be the most ďadvancedĒ parts of the world, such as Western Europe, where women abducted from Eastern Europe are literally enslaved for the sex trade, traditional slavery continues to flourish.
Yet there are more insidious forms of slavery that can be seen in the most mundane of circumstances, regardless of country, region, social class, wealth or power. These forms of slavery do not entail physical bondage, but rather a sort of mental servitude, often entered into willingly by people who prefer the presumed safety of the herd to thinking for themselves. One of the great paradoxes of mental slavery is that most of those in its clutches do not have the faintest notion that they are enslaved. Indeed, they cannot imagine that the world might be viewed any other way except from within one or more of the series of mental straitjackets they have allowed themselves to become trapped in.
Here are some of the various forms of mental slavery, in no particular order:
Slavery to religion: Religions demand certain ritual observations, constituting control mechanisms that ensure the flock are behaving in line with the precepts they have submitted their lives to. Typically, if you behave in accordance with certain commands laid down by the tenets of a religious faith, you are promised benefits in the afterlife or in the next life. Such slavery goes beyond being merely mental and extends into the corporeal domain as well. It can range from something as trivial as having to have to have your hair a certain way (for instance, shaven if you are a Buddhist monk, or hirsute if you are a Russian Orthodox monk), right through to the circumcision of male and female sex organs (if you belong to various African and Middle Eastern religions). This slavery encompasses the clothes you have to wear, and can even extend to the dictate of not wearing prophylactics on penises so as to avert Godís wrath at the wastage of semen in the name of sexual hedonism.
Slavery to the State: In the form of demands for military service to fight pointless wars, en masse adhesion to official ideologies, and blind compliance with laws that may have been written centuries ago and no longer reflect contemporary realities. Slavery to the State is a comparatively recently phenomenon, as it has only been in the last three or four centuries that Nation States have become the dominant form of government globally. Prior to the Age of Enlightenment, most of humanity was enslaved merely to a king or queen, a lord or robber baron, a chief or a hetman. What makes slavery to the modern State so special is all the hi-tech means of surveillance and coercion it has at its disposal to enforce compliance. For instance, no ancient Greek despot could have dreamed up Guantanamo Bay, and it was Great Britain, presumed to be one of the worldís more advanced, libertarian democracies, that first invented the concentration camp for the purpose of rounding up Afrikaaner women and children during the Boer War.
Slavery to the economy: Servitude in the name of turning the wheels of industry or, these days, the service sector. Long hours and little money in exchange for creating profit for those more powerful and wealthier than you will ever be. And ultimately it matters little to those at the bottom of the heap whether they are feeling the crack of the whip of a capitalist, socialist or so-called Communist economy.
Slavery to fashion: Have you got this seasonís clothes? How are you going to fit in if you donít wear what youíre told to? You canít be a fulfilled member of society unless youíre dressed like everyone else, helping to make money for the fashion moguls and confirm the organised dupery that characterises the fashion industry.
Slavery to consumerism: The same applies to consumer goods generally, pushed on us by the unrelenting influence of mass advertising, reinforced by peer pressure to buy the latest toy to keep up with the others, whether it is a certain brand of car for some manager worried about his image, or an X-Box for the kids so that they donít feel inferior to the other kids at school.
Slavery to credit: And since you canít really afford all those pointless consumer items anyway, who do you turn to in order to sustain all this pointless spending? The banks, credit card companies and other assorted species of loan sharks, who are quite happy to see you in debt up to the hilt because that is how they make money. High indebtedness has become such an everyday thing in Western societies in the early 21st century that it is considered normal for middle-class families to be just one or two pay days ahead of insolvency and it is positively anti-social to be an individual who is debt-free. But how the Joneses howl when, through the fickle whims of the capitalist economy, they find themselves unable to keep up with their payments to the bank due to ill fortune or unemployment, upon which the bank will move in and foreclose on their mortgage and grab their house, while the other credit lenders and loan sharks send the repo men in to grab anything left that isnít nailed down.
Reproductive slavery: How many people have children they either donít want or donít know how to look after, and then end up either treating them like cumbersome baggage or dumping them altogether? The spin-offs are domestic neglect, abuse and violence, substance abuse and mental breakdowns, among other things. One of the strangest of the human raceís dysfunctional features is its inability to rear its young adequately. Having overcome all sorts of suffering, the ones that donít starve to death or die of a multitude of easily curable diseases quite often repeat the very same cycle of neglect and suffering they experienced at the hands of their parents. And on and on it goesÖ
Slavery to technology: A phenomenon of the 21st century is the sight of people walking or driving around, oblivious to their immediate surroundings, while they frantically press buttons to achieve emotional fulfilment like some latter-day version of Pavlovís dog. The amazing thing about all this frenzied activity is that you will search long and hard to discern anything therein that may constitute an original thought worth expressing. More often than not, the stuff of these multitudinous communications is pointless trivia, filling in the endless hours of people with pointless lives. It is astonishing to think that never before have so many people had access to mass communications technology and yet they have so very little that is actually worth saying.
Here endeth the sermon. You can probably think of other types of mental slavery - there is no shortage of variations. The real challenge, once you have identified the chains holding you down, is to break out of them:
ďNone but ourselves can free our mind"
Bob Marley - Redemption Song
Web site © Wayne Stuart McCallum 2003-2013