Are we slaves?

The question I ask today is short but not simple - Are we slaves? 

Economists, historians and other intellectuals have talked about this from time to time (including Chomsky). I think the time is very relevant to bring it up again. Why is the time relevant? Millions of hard working people payed for the mistakes of people they never met in 2008. Millions of people will gradually starve to death because of egos, fights, policies and sanctions charted out in discussions they were never part of. Millions will commit suicide in hope of government aid, big enough to repay only a part of the debt their family 'owns'. 

Traditionally the most important characteristic of slavery was defined by defined by "forced to work". The slaves were treated like objects and hence could be sold or bought. They had (in most cases) no choice in the kind of work they wanted to do. The reasons might have been more 'economic' than political or cultural. 

I am not talking about the 20 to 30 million people who still fit the traditional definition of "sold and forced slavery". I am talking about the "modern slavery" of 100s of millions of people trapped in extremely low paying jobs (owing to extreme failure of human development). I am also talking about the billions who find themselves in "rented slavery" despite having skill driven jobs. They rent out the best part of their waking hours in return of a wage. The interesting part is that they are no longer forced. They are actually more than willing to do it. 

Is ironic the right word here? Are people naturally inclined to give up their freedom? 


  1. Written some comments in facebook. Would like to add on.Early 20th century came communism, defining state responsibility and equal opportunity/ distribution of wealth based on requirement. But failed, why ? coz of slave attitude of human. Controlling everything with iron fist or printed notes, ideologically both are same. Todays scene in India, few Govt jobs in Gp C & D cat. Outsource at Govt fixed rate, which is around Rs 180- 200 per day, through tender.Around 80- 100 goes in the pockets of babus/ tenderer and poor labour gets the balance. On ground this labour is the only available head for every possible work w/o any protest.No labour act protects them being in unorganised sector. Moreover if he creates problem , will be thrown out which he cant afford being poor and remains within hand to mouth. Their population may be more than 50% of work force. What we call the system Exploitation, again slavery of 17/18th century.
    Life is like that. Sinosidal curve. Change for good, reach crest of the curve, start sliding till lowest ebb and again start climbing.

  2. Re-posting from FB

    We aren't slaves to any one else but our inhibitions. As long as a man can think on his own, he will always be able to get out of any amount and level of slavery put on him. Slaves, however are the ones who are blinded by the obvious. As DJ says at the climax of Rang de Basanti... Jab bura waqt aaye to hum do cheeje kar sakte hai, Jo ho raha hai use hone do aur chup chap baithe raho. Ya phir aawaz uthao aur waqt to badlo. If I accept every thing 'as is' I am a slave indeed.

  3. Comments from Facebook-

    Gaurav Saxena Slavery is absence of choice... we all have choices. We make them for pros and suffer for their cons. But choice isn't a choice until you can forgo it. Mosquito has a choice of going to its subject for food. The subject is generally more powerful and capable to kill it. It has a choice to be slaughtered or starve... Is mosquito a slave? Yes I would say... but only to its own needs
    10 hours ago ·

    Tamal Roy Slave, yes unless one gets beyond Maslows need hierarchy. Even great business leaders /developed countries are slaves. They depend on the market available in poor states. History repeats itself due to this tendency of slavery.What happened in 2008 had happened earlier and will again repeat.
    8 hours ago ·

    Abhishek Pratap Singh its just the way of have freedom of choice to work, travel, and live in a country.....but they all have their laws to maintain harmony and peace.
    5 hours ago ·

    Abhishek Pratap Singh on the contrary yes we of work----> they have set of rules to follow the work procedure or else you suffer the consequence, home----> if you dont follow what ur GF/Wife/Mom/Dad says you suffer the consequence, Country-----> if you dont follow the law or you speak too much against the system you are thrown somewere around but far away.
    5 hours ago

  4. Good comments! Lets take this a step further. I would want to point to 2 things:

    1. This keeps coming up in a lot of academic discussions. There are a lot of books that point to how standards of living and economic indicators improved even during peak 'dark hours' of slavery. Of course it was a 'no choice/forced labor' kind of a situation. A lot countries that are moving from autocratic to a more 'free' and democratic model find themselves in a much worse situation. A lot of them have slipped from being a 2nd world country to a 3rd world country.

    2. In "Slavery by Another Name" Blackmon (from Wall Street Journal) gives a lot of detailed empirical data on African Americans faced conditions much worse than slavery in southern parts of US in the early to mid 19th century. People were picked up from the streets for petty crimes (or no crimes) and put in jail ... only to be picked up later to work at railroads/steel workshops. A lot of that basically contributed to what we know as the industrial revolution. He traces the laws, crime rate, court cases and attendance of rail road workers.

    I am sure if such studies were conducted in the developing countries more data can be discovered. What basically comes out is that from slavery has been continuing under a different name and in a lot of cases gone on worse things things.

  5. I have another name for it; rather than "slavery" many of us are modern-day "serfs." Remember them from medieval times? In Europe (and no doubt in other parts of the world), serfs lived on their lord's land. They paid for this right with their work, the fruits of their labor - their harvests and crops, their children - as their sons had to take up arms and give their limbs and lives in whatever battles their lord was waging, right or wrong, as well as in other types of work. In addition, they were often taxed on the little they might make on the side. There were restrictions and laws galore (dress, speech, travel, hunting) often passed to keep these serfs in their place and/or workplace, and woe to the ones who broke them.
    The odd thing was that if the lord was not too demanding and generous with food and fun on holidays, the serfs were largely content with their lot. They willingly and happily answered his call to arms or gave their services to him or his lady. Their biggest grumble (so what's new?) was having to pay tithes or taxes - a few small rebellions erupted as a result - but this system lasted hundreds of years, and in another form up into the 19th century when the serfs became laborers in the Industrial Revolution.

    Where would the world be without their serfs/slaves? How willingly people today work in little cubicles, give up their lives for a small remuneration, beam with pride when the Big Boss increases market share, and tremble for their security when their company totters or fails? Where would we be without the young men and women who join the forces and march off to wars that the powers-that-be deem necessary, believing in their half-assed excuses/explanations that these are for the better good of their country/world/democracy/religion etc.?

    Yes, we live in slavery because we have little or no idea what hidden powers are using us and and our ignorance to further their own power grabbing ambitions.

  6. Slave, serf or forced labour, what we read in history are no more prevalent because of media and open society.However some amount of excesses are seen in poor African countries,Afghanistan, Tribal areas of Pak and so on. It was also seen during civil war in erstwhile Yugoslavia. All these excesses were to raise an Army of the so called Lord and keep control over the nation and its natural resources. In Islam dominated counties reasons are different and known to all.
    Question is when poor becomes poorer due to system failure and still they remain quite due to fear of unknown/ loosing whatever little they have. What do we call it? Recession, Market index beyond control or some other economic terminology. All the calculations of per capita income will look absurd when one travels through the areas of daily wage earners in cities. In villages either you have or dont have, one can not survive daily wages except probably farm labours during crop seasons.
    I think in India we never had slavery in a sense that is read in history but deplorable condition of poor and oppressed have been there for centuries.
    Solution. System change, tax reforms and very strict laws to curb economic offences.