By Professor Doom
A recent column by Noam Chomsky on The Death of American Universities touches on a few of the concepts in higher education in my blog, but also mentions a theme of modern society, one that hasn’t been seriously investigated.
That theme? We’re turning into a slave economy.
For most of human history, societies were based on slave economies; most of the population was slaves, with the rest of society being classed as “freemen”, ruled over by some sort of untouchable aristocracy. The latter were untouchable in the sense that they made the rules, the laws, and naturally such rules were always written to maintain the status quo of keeping the rules-makers on top, forever.
Slavery is much, and justifiably, reviled in our society, but much like Fascism and Marxism, we’re told in school to focus only on the worst aspects of it. Because we’re not told the big picture, we don’t realize that that much of today’s society follows along the ideas of slavery, much like many of our government’s policies are quite in line with Fascism and Marxism…the latter for another column, today it’s about slavery.
First, there was more to slavery than just “ownership of human beings by human beings”, so I need to clarify some other things that were important to slave status. First, the rights of slaves are minimal, if any exist at all—you could beat on them, even kill them, with relative impunity. They are not just second-class citizens, they are last class, and generally not citizens (or, as per early American laws, 3/5ths of a citizen, in some sense). Even within the slave status, there was a hierarchy—mine slaves were to be worked to death, while the house slaves were treated considerably better…albeit still slaves.
We’re told slaves owned nothing, but that wasn’t necessarily true. A slave owned his underwear, a drinking cup, perhaps even a few utensils…nothing of great value, to be sure, but a slave was generally allowed to have a few things, for use if not in a legal sense.
It’s easy enough to see that, today, much of the population in the world has slave status. The United States bombs and murders with impunity across the globe, killing thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people a year…and screams bloody murder if so much as a single US “citizen”, dies in just about any circumstance that could remotely be considered as retaliation. Even our invading soldiers, if they die at around 20 at a time, will make the news, while US bombs that annihilate hundreds hardly merit a peep.
So, the US is the current aristocracy, making its own lawns and expecting the world to follow them…much of the rest of the world is just slave country, compared to the US.
Even within the United States, there are various levels of slavery. For decades, perhaps even a century, “the lower classes” (and by this phrase I mean most everyone not some sort of government employee) complained that the police were beating them and killing them with relative impunity, little different than how slaves were treated by a cruel master.
For decades, perhaps even a century, police departments investigated themselves with each accusation, and with very few exceptions, cleared themselves of wrongdoing, asserting that the slaves were just lying.
With the advent of cheap and ubiquitous video camera technology, and the ability to make such videos public in a matter of seconds, it’s becoming fairly clear that the lower classes were telling the truth, for the most part. You can spend a lifetime watching police brutality videos on YouTube…a thinking person must consider the real possibility that most of those self-investigations by police departments in the past century might not have been perfectly legitimate.
Our legal system, similarly, seems to operate differently for the slave classes—you can go to jail for years for trivial offenses with no victims, while the wealthy (especially bankers) can commit crimes damning entire cities, even countries, with no real legal penalty.
But there’s more to slavery than just the multi-tier system of rights. There’s a question of ownership of the fruits of one’s labor. I worked as a professional writer for decades; the first thing I had to do, every time, before even my tiniest article was published, was sign a document giving ownership of my rights to a corporation. Yes, the internet has changed things, but the fact is still I don’t own my work, and most everyone working in industry gives up all creative rights as a precondition of being given the “gift” of being allowed to make money for the corporation.
We’re owned by corporations now, instead of people…it’s a form of slavery unto itself, especially since the laws are written, by corporations, to favor corporations. The legal idiocy of “corporations are people” is just the icing on the crap cake of the current legal structure…when you can throw corporations in jail or execute them for crimes, I’ll revisit my opinion there. But until then, consider the rampant criminality of corporations, especially banks, who generally only pay fines to the government for their crimes, fines that really are just a percentage of the profits from their crimes, to realize we have a serious problem here. As one example of many, JP Morgan is paying 13 billion in fines, while still being very profitable…the company is just paying fines as the cost of doing business while turning a profit, while the government is profiting from the criminality. This is nothing like how it works when a citizen/slave is caught stealing.
Despite being owned by corporations, we still own things, right? That’s debatable. The median net worth of a single black female is $5…how far have they come from the years of “actual” slavery where they owned nothing past some underwear and a drinking cup? Considering how debased the dollar is, $5 just about covers used underwear and a drinking cup.
Student loan debt (bet you thought I wasn’t going to relate this to higher education!) means many of our young people start life deep in debt…they own less than nothing, and are in turn owned by either the government or the bank/corporation that holds the debt.
The economic downturn has seen an immense transfer of wealth from the slave caste to the aristocracy. We, i.e., the people of the slave caste, literally have no rights or ability to stop this.
More accurately, the slaves are so ignorant of how economics/money works that most people don’t even have a clue what’s happened to them, and what’s still happening. I suspect there are now many segments of society, not just black females and new graduates from college, that have a median net worth of basically nothing. This isn’t all that wild a conjecture, seeing as about 25% of the population has a net worth of $0 or less.
The transition to a slave economy has been coming for decades, perhaps, although the last few years have made things much easier to see. There are more aspects to the slave economy, and much to discuss from Chomsky’s article.