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Musings on slavery and wage slavery... 10/01/02

When I look back through history at the various  ways people accumulated wealth - meanings pharaohs, and dynasties and kings and churches - it seems that accumulation was either motivated by force and fear or indoctrinated belief systems (which also often carried elements of fear or perhaps ultimate reward in the here after.)

The Egyptian pyramids, for example, are amazing and incredible glorified graves for a hand full of people. How was that achieved? I think the short answer is we don’t actually know - but the two main camps are the coerced slavery theories - we’ve all seen the movies of hoards of slaves dragging huge rocks over log rollers and ramps - and the voluntary compliance theories in which the people so dearly loved their leaders and believed in their divinity and the importance of the cause that they gladly donated their time and energies to this glorious “public work.” (I’ll ignore for now the few folks who think aliens assisted in their construction since that doesn’t really fit into this slavery exploration.)

In any case we have a single person benefiting from the efforts of hundreds maybe thousands of lifetimes of work... via coercion or belief. How is it that a single person should be able to acquire the life energies of countless persons for their own benefit?

Move to the Dynasties of China and you find similar tales of power and belief. The emperor being related to God, and the peasant class building their great temples and kingdoms... same question...How is it that a single person should be able to acquire the life energies of countless persons for their own benefit?

Now to medieval Europe and Royalty and the church and you find the same thing. It isn't hard to see Kings as glorified thugs, like crime bosses and serfdom a large scale protection racket. Likewise the church was (is?) a similar belief based protection racket, and when they operated hand in glove with the Royalty of the day they lent a theological validity to the ruling monarch by declaring them chosen by God. The serfs paid taxes to their king and tithed to their church...

How is it that a few individuals  should be able to acquire the life energies of countless persons for their own benefit?

What the hell am I groping towards here?

I know slavery has something to do with it. It is the system in recent history that perhaps most closely resembles the manner in which the ancient pharaohs acquired wealth. The civil war was a moment in history when we as a nation struggled with our beliefs about the justice of such an institution - which was biblically justified by many southern slave owners. Well the slaves were emancipated by Lincoln but peoples beliefs about slavery didn’t alter overnight as a result of that legal proclamation. It usually takes time, sometimes generations for beliefs and viewpoints to evolve. You would be hard pressed to find someone today who would give approval to a plan to enslave a group of people and make them build you a plantation. It seems somewhat amazing that a short 150 years ago that was going on. But now we collectively tend to believe it to be wrong for that single person to forcefully extract the life energies of countless persons for their own benefit?

After the victory party wound down, history tells us that the slaves had been given “freedom” from legal ownership by another, but not much else. They found themselves kicked out on the streets so to speak. Without assets and without the rights of white citizens. Many went back to work for their original owners only now as hired hands or share croppers. “In exchange for working my land I’ll give you a little piece of your own that you can work if you have any energy left after doing my work.” Reminds me of the black mammy nanny system - I always wondered who was raising their children?

I don’t know who coined the term “wage slave” but that’s what slaves became. Instead of indulging in that, now believed despicable custom of being bought and sold by others, they now had the right to auction off their own lives to the highest bidder. Isn't this beginning to sound familiar? Have you ever felt like you were auctioning your life off to the highest bidder?

So now the value of a human life is set by “market forces.” Which, we are told, allowed to run their course sort things out eventually.

One of the problems of “the market” is that it tends to value what is rare and devalue what is common. What valuable common things do the market tend to devalue. The air we breath is an example - hence the problem of pollution not being put into the cost-benefit equations of corporations. Raising children for another instance. The derogatory overtones of the term “house wife” is well known, and if you are trying to break into a wage market with nothing but “mother and house wife” on your resume, good luck to you. Yet if we had to pay women to do what mothers do, it would cost literally a fortune. A small example of this shows up when a family system goes wrong. The state steps in and takes the children and puts them in foster care, where these “paid parents” interestingly are paid on average 3 times what a single mother would receive on welfare. All this I believe falls under the label of “social capital” in economic theory, and has been compared by Edgar Cahn developer of Time Dollars and  author of “No More Throw Away People” to the system software in a computer. It is generally ignored until it malfunctions. Without it no other software that is run “on top of it” is worth a thing. Yet little or no monetary value is attributed to this foundational “system software” of our culture.

The latest Enron, Worldcom and Tyco debacles have demonstrated in high relief the distortions of our economic system. Why, we grow to wonder, is this CEO who rode a corporation into bankruptcy worth millions of dollars in severance? Which leads me to wondering - even if an organization is running well, why is one person worthy of earning hundreds or thousands more than another? And as we learn of the numerous mansions and estates some of these corporate leaders have acquired all around the world, It begins to sound little different than  the, pharaoh, king or plantation owner...

How is it that a single person should be able to acquire the life energies of countless persons for their own benefit?

Where is the justice in a system that allows a single person to buy the life energies of many other people to improve the quality of their own life experience? Are capitalism & consumerism the new indoctrinated belief systems? Is slavery still alive and well and just disguising itself as capitalism?

David J. Beede