Volunteered Slavery

08 Jul 2022 11:49 - 10 Feb 2024 07:00
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    • A catchy song by the great Rahsaan Roland Kirk
    • But I'm using the phrase to denote this thought that troubles me: that the true horror of slavery (or imprisonment or any other form of total control) is how it requires the active participation of its victims.
      • As a white guy I am leery about saying anything about the experience of slavery, but my close relatives were enslaved and murdered in Nazi concentration camps, which I guess maybe qualifies me under the current stupid rules of political discourse.
    • That is to say – imagine yourself a slave or prisoner, subject to the direction of overlords under the threat of physical punishment. You must pick cotton, or face the whip, the facts of your life are very simple. But – in order to pick cotton, or do anything, you still have to will your body into motion, your being has to engage with those tasks just as much as if you were doing them voluntarily. The master doesn't animate you, you must animate yourself. You still have freedom, sort of, but you "decide" you would rather work as a slave than face torture or death. Slave is a verb and the slave is forced to be a subject in his own cruel treatment, to participate in his enslavement.
    • I hope this doesn't sound like I'm trying to blame the slave for his predicament, or saying he should choose punishment or death rather than do the forced labor. No, just trying to capture a certain horrible aspect of slavery, how it forces the assent of the slave, entrains the mind as well as the body.
    • Or part of the mind. To exist under slavery requires a splitting of the yourself into the part that obeys and the part that retains its freedom.
      • ...precisely because the Lager was a great machine to reduce us to beasts, we must not become beasts; that even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last — the power to refuse our consent. So we must certainly wash our faces without soap in dirty water and dry ourselves on our jackets. We must polish our shoes, not because the regulation states it, but for dignity and propriety. We must walk erect, without dragging our feet, not in homage to Prussian discipline but to remain alive, not to begin to die.
    • It is not, therefore, the kind of genuine obedience that MoTT talks about, which is more like submission, which is actually volunteered and has to be total, unconditional, no part held back.
    • If you are not a slave, but an ordinary worker in American capitalism, you still end up in this predicament, although its not as obvious. The self-enslavement is even more insidious. I'm trying to make this point without complaining, I feel like I am very fortunate to do work that I basically like to do, but I still end up compelling myself to do x and not y because bosses or clients want it, because dollars depend on it.