The essence of slavery


The essence of slavery - by P.K.Odendaal - March 2015.


So we say slavery is an abominable thing, a crime against humanity, a thing of centuries past and the only slavery of any import today is in the trading of humans and of sex. Or is it?
Similar to my views on sanity are my views on slavery, and it is not by any co-incidence that I worked on an article named 'Playing sane', when this one pleaded for precedence. This article may well have had the name of 'Playing free' or 'Playing normal'.
The idea of playing sane comes from Herman Charles Bosman's excellent book named Cold Stone Jug, in which he relates his experience in jail for killing his half-brother. After a decade in jail he realized that he and other inmates were getting insane, and it took quite an effort from them to stay or play sane. On moonlight nights, in jail, some of them would start howling like wolves, without intending it or without admitting it and sometimes even without knowing it.
This idea and concept is so real and powerful that we can apply it to many facets of our own lives in which we are playing normal, because we would hate to be regarded as abnormal. For me, of course, the reverse is true in that I have exactly the opposite desire and would hate to be regarded as playing normal.
It brings me to the wonderful and insightful play which I saw some decades ago when my children played it in a school staged play. The writer I cannot name and the year I cannot remember, but the ploy is real and potent and insightful. The story is about a lunatic asylum where the lunatics have taken over the management of the asylum and have taken the doctors, psychiatrists and staff hostage and regarding them as the lunatics. Someone else then comes for a visit to the asylum and tries to make out who are management and who are lunatics and finds himself unable to distinguish between the two groups or between the two types of people. Even today we have the saying of 'the lunatics have taken over the asylum' when we find that the people in charge of an institution are inept in managing it.
Are we really able to tell who is sane and who not, or who is normal and who not, or who are slaves and who not? I am not so sure.
To start with we will take a person from the lower middle class who has a very challenging job which saps all his energy, power and willpower to do his hateful work and in return he gets a remuneration which barely covers his family's accommodation and food. The question which begs itself is: how does his life differ from that of a slave? I do not think in any way. Here we might think of the devastating conditions of the industrial revolution or the mines of a century ago - and even some of today.
I do not wish to get too technical and philosophical about it, but this is exactly the point made by Karl Marx, namely the alienation of the worker from the product of his work. The ironical outcome of the latter is that it was exactly this philosophy or ideology to free up the workers from bondage or repression which was implemented by his followers in the Soviet Union after the 1917 revolution and which placed them in bondage for almost forever.
Why does slavery have this bad name? Think as I may, I cannot classify slavery in its pure definition in a class of being amoral or inhuman. It may be true that slaves have been mistreated, abused, tortured and humiliated over millennia, but that is mistreatment, abuse, torture and humiliation, not slavery. It is really this abuse which makes one shiver with disgust and pain on their behalf. However, this kind of abuse is not restricted or patented to slavery - it is a worldwide phenomenon, and it is usually implemented by people who have themselves been the subject of abuse by someone else and uses this opportunity for revenge on those who did it by doing it to these innocents. They have no respect for themselves and can therefore have none for their brethren.
In history, some slaves were even treated better than many employees of today, although the instruments being used today to inflict pain has changed somewhat. Just thinking of the Inquisition, I shudder, because more pain and death were inflicted in that misguided human 'purification' or 'religious cleansing' (or is that religious contamination?) than slavery could ever have done - and what's more, none of them got any remuneration for that.
I see less wrong in keeping someone in bondage to get them to work, but in the process giving them food and shelter and treating them humanely, fairly and with respect, than many other human activities. I know of millions of roofless and starving people all over the world who would happily be the type of slaves who only work for accommodation and food.
Just think about it. It is not the bondage part which is abhorrent. We are all in the bondage of Adam and of sin and of many other human inflicted ones like addictions and neurosis. Just being subject to an incompetent government where the lunatics are running the state, is already much worse than slavery to me - and there are many of them all over the world. And worst of all - we have to pay those governments to be their slaves and to be ridiculed and humiliated. Just ask the Syrians who pay for the armaments which they are being killed with!
To come back to the purist view of slavery: The condition in which one person is owned as property by another and is under the owner's control, especially in involuntary servitude. How many employees would qualify for this!
 

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