I am from the Chain Gang


I am from the Chain Gang - by P.K.Odendaal - August 2013.

You are now used to my favourite quotation by Jean Jacques Rousseau: 'Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains'. It takes some thought before we will realise that we are in chains. Apart from chains as physical things we are also bound emotionally and spiritually as we are in bondage and victims of somebody else's war.
The idea of the Chain Gang is as old as man himself, but it has been more vividly portrayed in the book of Victor Hugo: 'Les Miserables'. In the book a person called Jean Valjean must serve his jail term in hard labour as part of the Chain Gang, because he stole bread for his sister and her family. In the Chain Gang he had to do hard labour like the breaking of stones.

Upton Sinclair described this word as: 'So long as there shall exist by reason of law or custom, a social condemnation, which in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age - the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night - are not resolved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.
We know from experience that he is right.
Our company bought a piece of land about ten years ago, to develop a few hundred housing units for the lower to middle class. I was the instigator of this project, and did not realise that the majority of the site was underlain with very hard rock. So, we had to have a team of labourers to install services, roads and foundations for this project. Just after we have appointed some forty 'slaves' to do the work, I realised that the work would be very much like that of Jean Valjean, and I christened this team as the Chain Gang, knowing that a major part of their work would be to break down rocks, and Jean Valjean being such an excellent example for me, I was adamant to shape them in the form of forced labour mimicking Valjean - maybe somewhat as a tribute to hundreds of millions before them who were also in spirit part of such a Chain Gang. Just think of the Israelites in Egypt, the Jews in Second World War Germany, Slavery in America and Britain and countless others.
Of course we treated them well, and we made it an honour to work in the Chain Gang - so much so that this Chain Gang became known in the city and many labourers stood in line to have the honour to work in the Chain Gang. And of course, they did not know the origin of the name. If I asked one of them what work they did in our company, they would not say that they were pipe-layers or road builders, but only that they were part of the Chain Gang. That was their claim to fame. For them they were all equal, they were all free to express themselves, they were all very happy and honoured.
About ten years later we had a meeting with them and told them what the origin of the name Chain Gang was all about. They immediately asked that we change the name of the team to the 'A Team'. After that the glamour was gone. There was only a name between them and fame. It all depended on how they looked at themselves. A free man will be a slave if the thinks he is one.
They never thought of bondage or slavery or humiliation - they just were very proud and enjoyed their freedom and opportunity to be part of the Chain Gang. For all intents and purposes they were free and expressing themselves by their work and their dedication to their fellow labourers and the company. It was fulfilling for them.
And … nearer to home.
Most of us are in bondage due to our own free will or bound to others or to governments.
In the first place we are addicted to things we like and we get into bondage by those things. You may read my article on Slavery and Addiction elsewhere on this blog.
In the second place we are in bondage due to our subservience to convention in all its forms. We are also in bondage to people who are parasitic on us or those who manipulate and dominate us.
And then we are slaves of the State. Yes we all are in a more or lesser degree slaves - and some of us are even real slaves, like in previous centuries - and that in this age of freedom and human rights.
And then finally and most importantly we are all slaves to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1Jn 2:16) and we are part of this real spiritual Chain Gang - and that is why Scripture says that 'He came to set the captives free'.
Isa 42:6  I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; v7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. If you read the allegory of Aristotle of the people in the cave (discussed elsewhere in this blog), you will know exactly what the latter Scripture means.
Although we can reach high levels and freedom and peace in this world, we are all bound to one bondage, and that is stated in Gen 3:19  In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
So, whilst we have this burden, we might just as well make the best of it. I think the most fulfilling way of doing this is to really sweat it out, and that is why the words of President Roosevelt are so apt and insightful:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.When I think about this, I come to the realization that our company's Chain Gang was indeed a privileged group, and I was often envious of their dedication and the privilege bestowed on them, but we also have this privilege of being in the arena, with our faces marred by dust, sweat and blood. All we need to do is dedicate ourselves to our work, whatever the circumstances are. The bondage is mostly of the mind.
Can't all of us who toil by day in this dust, sweat and blood form a fraternity of human empathy and oneness all over the world? That will be real Marxist if you ask me - without the poisonous overtones of socialism and communism. No estrangement there between the worker and his work.
Chain Gangs of the World Unite!

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