The continual expanse of western enslavement culture has never been directly about race, class, or any other perceived external divisions, rather it’s an ego sickness at its root. When the ego drive is running the show we are slaves to its impulses, subsequently the external world we’ve constructed expresses that which is within: a slavish and reactive social milieu. We are trapped in an ego-centered state of confusion believing in false identities of who we are within this contrived social strata dictated by centralized authorities, which today are namely nation states, banking systems, and corporate conglomerates. Together these authorities conjure an immersive pseudo-reality for the human animal where it is fooled into believing the agendas of the authority are for their own good and necessary for their survival. Stockholm syndrome essentially is an ego state itself, or an accepted pattern of thought mistaken for absolute truth.
Slavery is an outgrowth of ego sickness, which is at the core of all that is wrong with humans in this time Hinduism refers to as the Kali Yuga, a spiritual nadir in an ongoing cycle where selfishness, materialism, and cruelty are the manifested symptoms of the era, an apt description of our time regardless of one’s personal belief in Hinduism. Further, the idea that human cultures go in cycles exhibiting different patterns of thought at different times collectively doesn’t seem that far fetched either. In this time of ego many can see nothing else, yet indigenous cultures lived for long periods of time over wide expanses of land in relative peace and were not building standing armies or plotting how to plunder their neighbors. What is happening now isn’t a remark on our species as much it’s a commentary on our current mental disposition.
The majority are now slaves to the ego roles traipsing around in their heads, the jealousies, the pride, the perceived insults, all the petty things that can’t be let go of become persistent phantasms haunting their waking minds, giving them reason to fear, to create division in the name of security, and adhere to defensive mechanisms in order to deal with the fear of the “other”, or that which is identified as separate from us and may pose a threat to the intransigent ego identity role.
The ego’s way of dealing with fear is to swat at it from afar and continue to build up defensive structures. This is why the rich and powerful distance themselves so often from the realities they create. The ego role they have assumed is one of a successful person doing something beneficial. This delusion is easier to maintain if they can avoid receiving sensory input that disrupts their self aggrandizement fantasy.
The illness of ego manifests a buffet of neuroses where unconscious scripts play out running on the well worn grooves established in the default mode network of the brain, acting as an imperialist, expanding and defending all territory by which it defines itself both psychological and material. In its quest for more ego creates blinders for consciousness that filters out that which is profane to the desires of the ego dream. Therefore little can be seen but what is convenient to its objectives, and it is why those who are so caught up in their characters they are playing can’t see the harm they cause others while their own suffering and romance with deception continues.
The seeds of ego delusion are usually planted by people who claim to do so out of love or education. And just about everyone in our society now installs ego identities in children molding the identity of the child to suit the whims of the parent and culture. This is extremely common, and in later years we can all sense the voices of authority from childhood still echoing in our minds. Sometimes these voices are benign, but other times they are constricting and later confused as our own thoughts.
In Erich Fromm’s book Escape From Freedom, he notes this phenomena of becoming programmed by social conditioning:
Most people are convinced that as long as they are not overtly forced to do something by an outside power, their decisions are theirs, and that if they want something it is they who want it. But this is one of the great illusions we have about ourselves. A great number of decisions are not really our own but are suggested to us from the outside, we have succeeded in persuading ourselves that it is we who have made the decision, whereas we have actually conformed with expectations of others, driven by the fear of isolation and by more direct threats to our life, freedom, and comfort.
If the power of suggestion and social conditioning didn’t work, then advertising wouldn’t be such an extraordinarily profitable industry, billionaires wouldn’t own media outlets, and governments wouldn’t run public school systems and hold ongoing press conferences that are always seeking to put their own unique egotistical spin on reality in an attempt to make their fabricated reality, your reality.
Behind every ego identity in our culture of slavery is a history of conditional love typically dependent on an individual performing in a certain manner in order to be fully accepted and valued by authority figures. Many people give a cat or dog more unconditional love than they give to the people who they claim to care for or are seeking to “help.” There may, in fact, be something authentic about their love, but it’s mixed with the poison of ego needing others to be a thing for them so they can fully accept them, which is how they were conditioned as well. So children set out on a life long mission trying to prove something to an authority so they may at some point accept themselves as valid and worthy of being loved, resulting in a mindset that conflates obligatory subservience with love.
How many have marched off to wars, not because they believe in it, but because they couldn’t stand to face what their family would think or how others might judge them if they refused to take part? How many have stayed in corrosive relationships or stayed in a religion because they might lose acceptance or face judgment if they should try to change? How many have conformed to the expectations of those around them in any way because they didn’t want to be disliked? And due in large part to intentionally created indoctrination efforts by authority people are conditioned to be reliant on approval from power, to not accept themselves as enough on some basic level and use an ego construct(s) to fill in the gaps where their authentic self is not enough.
Once the ego construct is established it makes people truly vulnerable to predation because they become blind. Suckers. Chumps. Wooly-minded. Prone to insults and taking things too seriously or being easily fooled by empty flattery. The ego mind gradually replaces the context of every situation until eventually an immersive trance is all that can be seen or understood. Once consciousness is compromised people are easily infected by a motley collection of mental viruses which consume the mind with paranoia, becoming an unthinking reactionary to stimulus; narrow, uncomfortable, and befuddled.
The ruling class and those wishing to ascend to their ranks suffer from egos that deem themselves to be superior to others, and on the other end of the ego spectrum the learned helplessness of the lower classes is lost in a delusion equally as harmful where trust is placed in those they believe to be their superiors and buy into the idea they are less than, often relegating themselves to a state of perma-adolescence. The ego self is always comparing and contrasting, judging, and believing itself to either be superior or inferior to others, never an equal in innate worth, and can become violent to others or themselves when this belief is challenged, and as such, judgment stemming from ego is the ultimate source of bigotry.
Just like people cannot easily see their own ego drive they also can’t see the nature of the society their ego is invested within. The system that most people endorse and identify with, the nation states, the monetary institutions and so on, all that has a long dark history of being an exploitative slave based system rife with inequality, corruption, imperialism, warfare; i.e., rule by manipulation and force. But in the trappings of ego-centered thinking history is reduced, ignored, or forgotten, and the present possibilities are limited to a narrow set of artificial contrivances stipulated by those in power.
And so long as people implicitly trust this system and the game afoot then those in power may easily propagate confusion, which is a forerunner to divisiveness, and they do this by selling everyone their own personalized ego roles which ruling power already knows are reliant on validation from power itself and will greatly narrow the perspective of the average person.
For instance, police or military personnel, assuming they are not mostly corrupt in some way, will believe to some degree that the state is legitimate and they are the good guys there to help people. When this belief is deeply identified with they will forgive evidence to the contrary as exceptions. No matter how many contradictions there might be they all get mentally shuffled and classified as incidents that aren’t indicative of the overall good they do. It may be obvious to everyone else that the problem is coming from an imbalance in power, but if one’s identity gets validation or authority from power itself then they will never clearly see what’s happening until that ego persona they are clinging to is understood outside of the context of their culture. However, those in power can easily see the dependence they create and how that can be used as leverage to elicit the behaviors ruling power desires.
Media punditry, celebrities, the expert class, and public authority figures further serve to buttress the illusions of power via bully pulpits where a voice emanating from a centralized authority can be made to seem like it’s ubiquitous and infers a kind of consensus to the populace when there may be little, effectively manufacturing consent. Once people are physically or mentally dependent upon centralized power then the ruling authority can easily misrepresent or ignore truths that may be obvious to outsiders but can not be seen from inside the ego dream. The lies can be absurd and outlandish but as long as a mind has been properly conditioned in their given ego role, and that role implicitly trusts power on some level, then they will believe close to anything so long as power tells them it’s true.
Slavery is commonly thought of in first world countries as a dramatic and easily recognizable abuse, a barbaric direct ownership of other humans to serve the purpose of producing material gain or monetary profit for the owner. So when contemporary minds who’ve been told their whole lives they live in a free country hear the word slavery applied to their present condition they find it to ring of hyperbole, perhaps worthy of an eye roll, because in first world countries we are not direct commodities that are traded openly in chattel slave markets. The capitalist democratic freedoms we’re told we’ve won through bloodshed over the centuries ultimately must be questioned though, because to a whole lot of people this thing called a free country doesn’t feel very free.
The freedoms granted to us are that we are paid money for our labor time no matter how slight, along with the ability to choose from a small number of employers willing to hire us, most of which are abusive to the environment or contributing to abusive labor somewhere on the planet. And, of course, it’s not acceptable to be directly traded as a commodity in modernity and there are rules that prevent degrees of abuse that used to be common but are harder to get away with now. This thin veneer is all that separates the outright slavery of old from the wage slavery of today. In the end we still spend the majority of our lives doing what a master commands of us, just like the centuries of old.
The modern neoliberal version of slavery is perhaps best defined by a Rick and Morty episode where Morty hears what Rick is doing to another species and bluntly calls him out for using “slavery with extra steps.” And it’s that simple really what we’re doing now, using slavery with extra steps which obfuscates the ugly truth allowing for a normalization of ongoing exploitation and control. People are put in a binding coercion where their options become limited to only the choices the powers that be provide, the human herds are corralled into predefined pathways where they may choose from shitty labor from employer A or shittier labor from employer B, that or go homeless, hungry, and become a beggar, which creates a reward and punishment system of manipulation in the labor system, meaning you do what your boss tells you or they have the power to make life difficult for you, but if you do it well enough they might throw you a Scooby snack for a job well done. You may even win back a small fragment more of the profit you made for your boss/owner, but rarely is that amount enough so that you don’t have to rely on an employer anymore to live. Coercive labor no matter what semantics or legal framework is put around it is always slavery with extra steps. Power never actually changes what it’s doing. It just replays the same script with different language while functionally doing exactly what they’ve always done.
In a free world who would freely choose to clean hotel rooms for years of their life if they were not made desperate enough to endure the labor? There is no doubt very few would continue to do that job if they had enough money/access to resources where they could choose to forego that kind of work. The conservative rebuttal is that you can work your way out of the worst forms of capitalist labor so it’s not a big deal that people are relegated to those jobs for a time. But that’s not how it works out in reality. Over the centuries in every monetary system there is always life-wasting labor and people made desperate enough to do it for the long haul. For example, an average yearly wage of a “hotel housekeeper” is a bit over $22k a year. A person cannot live on that amount alone in most of the US especially in many of the expensive areas where service industry jobs often are. They will work their bodies tired while having little to show for it in pay and will likely be fatigued enough from labor that struggling to free themselves from their current predicament becomes a Sisyphean task, so most come to accept their lot in life and try to simply survive. And in an overwhelming amount of cases there is little to no democracy in the workplace, nor is there much negotiation in terms of what is paid. There is simply do what you’re told under the conditions they provide and be sure to wear a polite smile about it. The unhappy servants will be replaced with people who can feign happiness in their subjugation and pretend they like being there.
What seems to easily confuse the masses nowadays is the clean look and smiling faces of corporate culture who aren’t readily beating or torturing workers like brutish slave systems of old. Of course, the powers that be are more sophisticated exploiters now. They smartened up and realized that perception is important to maintaining power, so they are careful to administer the control mechanisms now in ways that don’t show outward bruising. Just as governments have learned over the centuries about the benefits of maintaining a good public image that doesn’t make them an easy target for retaliation over those they control.
And so it is why power no longer publicly hangs or tortures people as much these days for not obeying the demands of the upper classes, as philosopher Michel Foucault made note of in his book Discipline and Punish. He highlighted the idea that rulers eventually learned that while public torture had its advantages by spreading fear, which served as an effective tool of control; it also gave many people ample reason to rebel against power, thus making the gruesome public displays of punishment more trouble than they were worth. And the same can be said for slavery. They didn’t end chattel slavery because it was too brutal or that the powers that be suddenly became compassionate. It was because it was easier for them to rule over people by instilling the belief in them that they were free in a capitalist system than it was to keep them in a more conventional slave role.
The popular Frederick Douglass quote stating “Power concedes nothing without a demand” is lacking some nuance. Power never concedes anything. They just keep doing the same thing while gaslighting the people into believing the new boss is different than the old boss. And when people are caged in their own minds they’re in a condition which is not capable of making demands to power that would have the effect of actually freeing themselves. So more accurately, power concedes nothing, but if the public becomes unruly over a particular issue and makes a demand then power may be forced to reframe what they are currently doing. However, just for them to reframe what they are doing requires a fight from the people. And to continue on with the Douglass quote which rings more true if put in the context of just convincing power to rebrand their current abuse: “and these (the abuses of power) will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” And closer to the truth is if you make things too difficult for ruling power, they will find an alternative that more efficiently oppresses those they rule over by disguising what they had previously been doing out in the open. In reality there has been zero social progress over the ages, just rulers who are better at fooling people into believing they’re free and shifting where and how the pain of oppression is taken out.
The neoliberal version of slavery provides an illusion of freedom and democracy that makes people willing slaves living under the false pretense of equality that anyone can become part of the upper class, and supposedly with a little hard work it can then be their turn to use money to make others their servants. Capitalism plays right to the ego where each participant is encouraged to believe good fortune is right around the corner. In the process capitalism and social hierarchies of all kinds divide and isolate the people who are all scrambling after their own fortune and glory competing with one another while the people ignore that the game being played is detrimental to all.
In a letter Charles Bukowski penned to his publisher John Martin he speaks the simple truth about wage slavery:
You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”
And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does. As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?
…They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they?
A World Without I, You, Us, or Them
Ending this slavish way of being means to no longer be seduced by the schizophrenic ego patterns we’ve come to accept as normal. There is no easy fix here, only an inward journey to see ourselves and our mental attachments in meditative silence can break the spell cast by our accumulated thoughts. Policy decisions and economic reforms won’t cure the underlying motivations towards self aggrandizement of those who rule over us, nor will it end the base servility of the masses. Rather ending the cycle of dependence can only come through the acceptance of truth, ending the lies about who we are, and consequently debunking the lies we tell ourselves about others in reference to our false selves.
The often asked question to address the melange of social and environmental dilemmas humans face is “What is to be done?” And to answer that question, at least in part, is that nothing should be done. What is likely to bring about authentic action is to do nothing first. Meditation, or just doing nothing but creating a gap in the ongoing cycle of thought, has the potential to cut through the ego mind in stillness, but it takes discipline, patience, and courage to see and understand the convenient rationalized lies we’ve been accepting for far too long. A rushed impulse to fix the world will damn it at a faster rate. So just be. Be empty. Be open. Defend nothing. Kick the ego crutch out and allow innocence and emotional vulnerability to reemerge which the ego mind blocked off long ago stifling our true selves so far down we forget what’s important, as evidenced by so many who have succumbed to social pressure to become socially programmed automatons. So this work of doing nothing allows us to see past our own subjectivity in order to accurately prioritize what is important so that real change can occur in a very genuine way.
On the path to liberation there will no doubt be hucksters along the way, false idols who will tell you they are there to help and some of them truly believe that; however, who they really want to help is primarily themselves. So many devilish costumes have been unwittingly sewn from threads of good intentions. Politician, activist, union representative, journalist, doctor, entrepreneur, engineer, philanthropist, teacher, lawyer, investor, scientist, cop, banker, soldier, marketer, entertainer, artisan, statistician, expert, and clergy, have collectively served more to prop up the system and legitimize it than do any real good with each group along the way doing things that are truly wicked at times.
The decades roll by and the do-gooders swear to each successive generation they are there to help, giving the people false hope while the rolling tyranny continues its march through time. Those good intentions inevitably decline into being part of the problem they set out to initially solve when do-gooders sell out to their own ego drive as they always seem to do. In Camus’ The Plague he wrote about the harm of good intentions: “The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding.“ The ego hides in the cracks and crevices between good intentions and their implementations, and it is under the premise of good intentions that power always operates while people fall into subjugated ego roles becoming more dependent on the supposed benevolence of authority. And to quote spiritual teacher Shunyamurti: “…you don’t have to be a rescuer, but what you do have to do is rescue yourself from the illusion.”
Further, a truly free society that actually has unconditional love at its core won’t need do-gooders because people will genuinely just do good all on their own most of the time, meaning instead of something like environmental damage being the norm it would be the exception because there would be a different understanding, and understanding is all that is keeping humanity from changing from its current locust consumption mentality into that of a sustainable grasshopper. And a society based on love rather than ego drive cannot collectively arise out of self-serving intentions, no more than a flower can grow from being showered with gasoline. At best a superficially good thing done for the wrong reasons may produce a temporary respite from suffering, but due to the direction of the self-oriented thinking the cumulative results over time will almost certainly produce a more selfish society and greater inner discomfort in those maintaining their do-gooder ego when the nagging truth about what they are really doing needs to be further buried from their conscious mind.
Selfishness is so corrosive because it gnaws away at trust over time, thinning relationship ties due to the consistent encroachment of self- serving interests in each interaction. Eventually, if followed to its ends, a me-first based society or person will devolve into the embodiment of Narcissus, who falls in love with their ego image and turns a blind eye towards potential danger while consumed with vanity, which always ends in more suffering.
Transcending all forms of slavery requires reaching a point of understanding beyond self-serving pursuits, where the discomfort of our own emotions is confronted in real time in a honest forthright manner allowing for openness and space in the moment so we may see with clarity and act with wisdom. We may either face the haunting spectre of ego in the ghost house of our minds or resign to the fate of an even scarier material world our impulsive ego-led minds will inevitably create.