2 May 2013
Slavery and Addiction
Slavery and Addiction - by P.K.Odendaal - May 2013
Men are born free, but everywhere they are in chains ... Jean-Jacques RousseauIf a Nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be ... Thomas Jefferson
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. Joh. 8:36
After many years of meditation, I still have not come to grips with the meaning of the words Slavery and Addiction, much less have I been able to free myself from the bondage of both.
On a semantic level, I am quite sure I understand these, but on a moral, intellectual and subconscious level, I am quite sure I do not understand it. I also do not pretend to be an expert on these levels, but somehow I need to address it, to try and free myself from this bondage. I feel that if I have a better understanding of what they are, I might challenge them head on. It is only when we are not ignorant about that, that we stand a chance for an even fight against it. Although I am free in the spirit, my body, soul and emotions are at loggerheads and each vie for supremacy. I also know that my head cannot rule my life forever and that my heart must also guide me. How do I reconcile these?
Whether there is really a difference between slavery and addiction I shall find out. Superficially I think that slavery is overt and addiction is insidious and both have a very bad stigma attached to them. However, when I ponder these things, I find that there are nuances of slavery and addiction that are practised with impunity these days, and many people even get rich from this exploitation - and I am not thinking of psychiatrists here. What is the level of slavery and addiction before we start to recognise it overtly, and then condemn it as we should?
The days of slavery as the trade in and exploitation of human bodies is hopefully almost past, but the legacy lives on, as well as the practise of these on a more subtle level.
If we look at raw slavery - if I may call the trade in human bodies and labour as such - it is the acquisition of a human body, the exploitation of the body by forcing it to labour, the punishment for non-compliance and the meagre maintenance of that body.
What I have described in the above paragraph, of course, is the age old and contemporary practise we call employment today. It is just slavery in another form. Human bodies are requested to apply for slavery, and they are promised the pie in the sky. Then they are forced to labour with all sorts of contracts, disciplinary actions and verbal abuse. Instead of maintaining their bodies by giving them shelter and food, we give them coupons called money to get those for themselves, often of a much lower quality than slaves of old had. However, it remains the same old wolf practises in sheep's clothing.
I do not really mean that this practise is worldwide, as I honour, respect and appreciate the corporations and companies who train their staff, treat them as humans with self esteem, develop their careers, skills and characters, make provision for their old age needs and medical requirements and give them family privileges such as leave, bonuses and even shares in the company. This is however few and far between.
I used the above example, not as a rebuff of employers, but mainly as an example to show how insidious and subtle this form of low level employment as a type of slavery can be. I am also not so naive as to think that this type of employment is wrong or even that slavery is wrong. Both have their pros and cons. As far as I am concerned only the human dignity must be respected.
And this is why Marxism was so popular. Marx exposed employment as slavery and said that the worker should not be estranged from his work, because it takes the dignity out of the workplace. I fully agree with that. It is really the pride we have in our work which keeps us motivated. However, his philosophy was violent and one sided and had a different result from the one he envisaged. Instead of framing his dialectic, complete with synthesis, he stopped at antithesis and caused revolutions in a large part of the world with his anti everything. It was devastating and a state like Russia might not shed the legacy of this even in the 21st century. Russia, which could have been a first world state, sank into third world status and may never recover from that. The pride of the workers lost for a few generations.
(Note: Many of my readers are Russian and I appreciate their patronage. I do not mean to denigrate their country and I have a deep empathy with the suffering they have gone through during the Communist era, the Second World War and the persecution under Stalin and others. I however am expressing my own personal view here, having suffered my part under similar but more tolerable regimes. In fact, I am writing a series called 'To Russia with Love', which reflects my empathy for the people of Russia - see article elsewhere on this blog.)
The most basic addiction we get on earth is the host/parasite relationship. And for sure, a parasite is totally dependent on the host; or do we not regard it as an addiction? I cannot think of a more binding addiction than that. Alcohol addicts can live without alcohol, but I do not think parasites can go without hosts.
There is nothing wrong with being a host or a parasite either. Each may be classified as a form of slavery or addiction - but it is dignified and beneficent to both parties. I am more concerned about recognising slavery and addiction for what it is and to decide where to draw the line, than to scold it.
Man is a slave to addiction on many levels, of which the main one is substance abuse - because it is so serious and fatal - but mental and emotional abuse is even more serious and fatal, and most probably the direct cause of substance abuse, and this is what has spurned me on to take a deeper look at addiction.
If I look at my own life, I find that there is nothing that I like that I am not addicted to, and even some things I do not like. Some people even call it routine or custom, shielding them from the general opinion of humiliation towards addicted people. I am, you might say, addicted to addiction.
I will not go into substance abuse here - it is not the purpose of this article. But if we look wider than that, we find mental abuse far more devastating and shameful. It is very difficult to bracket and expose mental abuse, but it is prevalent and pervasive in all societies. Mental addiction is just a way of manipulating and torturing people on a more subtle emotional level. We even kill people this way emotionally and spiritually. The origin of this type of addiction stems from our attitude that 'You owe me' and 'You better listen to me' and 'You don't care for me' and 'If you do not, I will kill myself' and 'It's all your fault'. It breaks down human dignity even faster than raw slavery, and almost all the psychiatric diseases stems from this.
The fact of the matter is that we tend to overdo and overindulge in things we like - be it power or food or adrenaline - and it is only natural that we would do it. Little do we know that we pay a price for it - a price much higher than the temporary joy we extract from it.
Why do we not get this behaviour from other animals? Is man the only abuser of privileges? I call it a privilege because everything we enjoy on earth is a privilege.
Many of us are totally addicted to being praised. I think we all are to a larger or lesser extent addicted to this. But it devastates our lives on the long run.
And what is the antidote? I have written a lot on these pages about a balanced life, and it is evident that addiction pushes one into a totally unbalanced life - and that is the point.
I personally am addicted to work, an ailment called workaholism. I do not even try to be freed from it, because I enjoy it so much. My standing prayer is that I do not want to retire before I die. If I am idle I get irritated, uncivil and a complete pestilence to my wife and family. What else shall I do? Be idle and get addicted to alcohol or drugs instead? I regard that as an even worse malady, so I take the easier addiction, but addiction is has got to be.
When we get to power addiction things get really bad and bloody. The current war instigated by the ruler of Syria is a case in point. He is prepared to offer more than one hundred thousand lives of his own people on the altar of power.
I get an ironic smile when the US President says that if Assad uses Chemical weapons on his people, it will be a game changer. What changes? I would much rather agree with Bill Maher who says that if you wish to kill people, does it matter with what you kill them? I would think theoretically that he might as well use an atomic bomb and kill all his people in one day. That way he can end the war in a day; or is it his intention to prolong their agony for another few years? After all, everybody says that they want this conflict to end as soon as possible. And talking of intervention; which part of sovereign do we not understand?
But that was just by the way.
Have you and I not offered some lives on our addiction altars? How many people have we hurt because we clung to our mental addiction and in the process hurt them badly? Sadly, I have no solution for this malady. How can we even begin to treat it?
I have hope for certain communities where people are brought up on a balanced diet of learning, sport, religion, culture, politics, history and philosophy. There are many of these - especially in the highly civilised countries, but some of us who have been brought up in third world or even barbarian or rogue states, there is really no hope of escaping our addictions, so we will have to live with that, however much pain it brings us and our victims. Let us drink and be merry.
If we look a bit further, we find that we are addicted to our opinions, our experiences and our prejudices. We cannot seem to vie away from our stereo typed behaviour. It feels like we are programmed to follow certain behaviours in certain circumstances. It is what we call a rut. How many ruts are there in our lives? In mine there are zillions. It keeps me from thinking what to do and allows me to act automatically - like a robot. It is so much easier to act robotically than to think about what my reaction should be - and it does not call for any exertion. If there is any reaction that I will take on anything, you can be sure it will be the most lethargic and effortless one.
And then there is our addiction to conventional wisdom - so deeply ingrained. We will almost never consider acting differently than prescribed by conventional wisdom, and by now you might have shared my scepticism of the validity of this type of wisdom or folly, the latter being its real name. It is loaded with old people's fables, lies and misunderstandings and is sure to let you make that same mistake for the umpteenth time. And try as we may - we continually come up with the same old boiler plate response. It is like weather and economic forecasters. They go solely by conventional wisdom. They will tell you exactly what is going to happen, and when it does not happen, as it never do, they will tell you exactly why it did not happen. It exposes us to routine and takes away excitement.
I am sure that slavery and addiction is much more exciting than the drab and monotony of conventional wisdom. Maybe slavery and addiction are not so bad after all. It keeps us away from the more humane and embarrassing activity of caring for our fellow men in a certain sense. We are on our own - a symptom of the new society. We will slug away as slaves just to more fully enjoy our addictions, whatever they are. After all, everybody has a human right to be addicted to something.