Freedom in Mind

Chapter 2
The Joys of Slavery

If you were asked, as an intellectual exercise, to list theoretical advantages of slavery, would you list the advantages of owning a slave, or of being a slave? You might say that there is no advantage to being a slave, but only of owning a slave.

Take a closer look, and you might decide that the truth is the other way around.

If you were a slave, you would have an owner. The owner could order you around and mistreat you—even kill you. But of course, the owner of a car does not crash it on purpose, and the owner of a house does not burn it down on purpose. In order to own you, the owner must maintain you. He must provide health care, of a sort, and dental care, of a sort, and education, of a sort. Either he chooses to be responsible for you, or he chooses not to own you.

You the slave must do as you are told. But a good portion of what you are told must be aimed at feeding you, clothing you, sheltering you, and caring for you. You are not responsible for these things, but your owner is. To keep his property, he must keep it up. If you go hungry, it is not your fault, but your owner's fault.

If you are a productive genius, but still a slave, then your owner could make more from your work than it costs him to own you. He could profit from slavery. But if you are a genius, will your efforts really go toward production for your owner, or escape for yourself? Your owner can order you to think, but how will he check your thought? Either he can outthink you, or you can outthink him. Will he consider it safe to own a slave who can outthink him?

Imagine yourself a rich landholder, and the owner of many slaves. They do everything for you, so you are dependent on them—not necessarily on any particular one, but on the body of slaves as a whole. In a sense, therefore, you are owned by them. You have taken on the job of doing their thinking for them, and unless you do that, they will starve and then you will starve. And your slaves are not ignorant of this. They play their little power games in subtle ways. You sometimes wonder if they are worth all the trouble. You feel like a slave to your slaves.

In a primitive world operating on muscle power alone, one can imagine economic benefits to be gained by owning slaves. In the modern world, machinery is always cheaper. Once you get a machine to do what you want, it goes on doing what you want. It needs but a fraction of the maintenance that a slave needs.

For the modern owner, a slave is a costly luxury, owned solely for the sake of power. For the modern slave, the advantage is that somebody else is responsible, somebody else does the thinking, and somebody else is at fault.

When somebody else does the thinking, then somebody else makes the decisions. If you hate making decisions, slavery will serve you. If you want to make your own decisions, slavery will stifle you. If you want to make your own decisions sometimes, but not always, can you be a sometime slave? Well, you can try.

"During the day, I'm a wage slave. In the evening, I'm a slave to the TV."

Why would I talk that way? Because I don't like the job I chose, but don't want to change it. And I get bored with TV, but don't want to do something else. So I pretend that these were not choices, but things forced on me. I was not free, so it's not my fault.

That's the advantage of slavery: if you're a slave, nothing is your fault.

Imagine living a life in which nothing is your fault. Would you give up freedom for that? Successful people say that when you're the boss, you make the decisions, so everything is your fault. The culprit is decision. To never be at fault, you'd need to live a life without making a decision. If you never make a decision, what's the difference if you are legally slave or free? You regard freedom as useless.

Well, no, it would make a difference. If you are free, then refusing to make a decision is wrong. Indecision is your fault. For a slave, there is no right or wrong, since there is no choice. Freedom puts you at fault. You regard freedom as a threat.

It's an irony. Slaves long to be free. Others hate deciding, and secretly long to be slaves—as long as the owner is benevolent.

Those who advocate a slave state are practiced at slipping into their arguments the implication that government can be a benevolent owner. It can be "democratically controlled", with "checks and balances", and "built-in safeguards". It can make all the nasty decisions for you, but let you make the fun decisions. It can cure your scary smoking habit, forestall your temptation to try drugs, remind you to use a safety belt in the car, make sure you keep your job, and provide health care. But you get to choose your mate, your movies, and your music.

Even as an intellectual exercise, listing advantages of slavery is offensive. To some it is offensive because it assumes they would not rather die than accept slavery. To others, it is offensive because it lists things they want, but don't want to connect with the idea of slavery. They want the advantages of being taken care of, without the disadvantage of being despised.

In other words, they don't want to be slaves; they want to be pets.

A pet, like a slave, has an owner who is responsible for care and makes the decisions. Unlike a slave, though, a pet is presumed to be a prized possession with a loving owner. Advocates of the slave state could use the advantages of being a pet instead of the advantages of being a slave to argue for their cause—except that the idea of being a pet is as offensive as the idea of being a slave.

The slave and the pet are two offensive ideas with one thing in common: ownership by another. Are there more offensive ideas with the same thing in common? What about the oldest profession?

A prostitute is despised for being a time-share slave. Ownership is bought and sold for a period of time. By extension, one who sells out personal convictions for money is also called a prostitute. Selling your convictions is equated with selling your body.

Why is the idea of relinquishing self-ownership so offensive? Is it mere custom, or does it spring from our nature? Well, note that convictions are included. It is not offensive to consider an animal a pet, because the animal has no convictions. Only a reasoning mind can form convictions. You might think that your pet could survive on its own, but you know that only under your reasonable care can it thrive. People who do not use their minds to care for their pets get accused of cruelty to animals.

So the thing in our nature that makes self-ownership imperative is our use of reason to survive. Having a mind of my own and being able to use it is not a matter of custom, but a matter of life and death. Slavery is scary for the same reason zombies are scary: the body moves, but the mind is dead. Self-ownership is imposed by our nature. Ownership and care by another is forbidden by our nature.

But surely we don't have to go that far! Children are cared for. The old and infirm are cared for. These are not slaves, pets, or prostitutes. Making such an equation would be extremely offensive. The whole idea of caring for others is based on caring for the immature and the infirm.

The intellectual exercise that began by considering advantages of slavery has now become a consideration of the advantages of childhood and infirmity. Now we can list exactly the same advantages, but without giving offense. Children are owned by their parents, and nothing is their fault. Adults too sick or old to take care of themselves are treated like pets, and nothing is their fault. Adults accustomed to independence don't like being cared for. Children take it for granted. We all take for granted that the young and the infirm have a claim on our effort.

This does not go unnoticed.

If I want to be cared for, but do not want any stigma of accepting slavery, then the answer is at hand. I claim childhood rights. I claim the rights of the sick. I claim the rights of the old. I claim the rights of a disadvantaged group. I claim that I am free, but something is wrong, and that gives me a right of redress. I am not a sometime slave, but I have all the advantages of being a sometime slave.

Freedom was the threat, and I have triumphed over the threat.

It is not said that we live in a society of slaves; it is said that we live in a society of victims. It is not said that we have traded freedom for slavery; it is said that we have traded freedom for security. It is not said that politicians know how to enslave us; it is said that they know how to take care of us.

We think that this will work, because we assume that those charged with doing the thinking will do the thinking. They will take care of things. They will make the necessary arrangements so that food is provided and the comforts of this non-slavery that is also non-freedom will be provided by the non-owners. We think it clever when the non-slave enslaves the non-slaver.

Then we discover that there are no such people. We find that in a society comprised entirely of the young, the sick, the disadvantaged, and the old, there are no providers left. The advantages of slavery, when given an alluring name, will convince more and more to be on the receiving end, until no one is left on the giving end.

A slave society is a society of unreason, where slave and master are mutually enslaved, and equally incapable of surviving. The legacy of slavery is death.

We secretly thought that as long as some are free, not all have to be free. But we were wrong.

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