History, Slavery, and Pecking Orders

About a year ago I was standing, hanging on the corner, with a friend, notorious thinker and man about town, Khalid Bey, when he threw out a provocative little line:

“Kemal, there are two, and only two, types of people; Masters, and Slaves. Whether this is for better or for worse is irrelevant, it’s a fact that must be understood if you’re going to do anything about your own place in these categories…”

Well, after some introspection and thought I have to agree. If “slavery” means working for others, putting their benefits before your own, then you can argue that our whole society is skewed towards a subtle form of slavery. You get paid? Well, fine, through history many slaves have gotten paid. In pre-modern Arab and Turkish lands, urban slaves generally received wages for their labor. Sometimes they were paid poorly, sometimes they were paid quite well and used their wages to purchase their freedom. Sometimes (historically documented fact) they invested their wages into enterprises and attained some measure of wealth even whilst remaining slaves.

They were still owned, quite literally property, however.

Who owns you? One not-so-astute reader totally misunderstood my point in this. Where do you stand? Are you owned? Or are you a free man or woman?

History is often a subject that few pay more than scant attention to. This is a shame, for history’s not just dates and names of battles and wars, but history is lust and desire, blood and fire, human passions and efforts as they attempt to navigate their way through their lives.

These brief flashes of light and fire that we call “lives”. History built the world we live in, only the ignorant fail to see how the dusty perfume of history lies underneath everything we take for granted.. and that understanding it can help us understand ourselves more.

Slavery, as an institution of course, exists still in our world. It is illegal, mostly, this is true – but it is far more massive than one would expect. Human trafficking, that polite BBC euphemism for slavery, is widespread and a multi billion dollar industry. While Western governments officially frown upon it, it is the case that many of our corporations benefit financially from slave labor while looking the other way.

Why? Because to paraphrase the French Jewish philosopher and policy wonk, Jacques Vatalli, in every order there are winners and losers.

Those who fail to realize this and come to terms with it may find themselves beaten up as one of the losers in this order. Those who realize it may see creative ways to manuvere within this system, within this order, within this age, and find greater measures of autonomy.

Quite frankly, cheap labor has always been necessary to civilization. The one form of legal slavery, ownership by the state for criminal offenses, is live and well though somewhat kinder than in the past. But the illegal forms of slavery still persist and I contend will never, ever, go away in spite of our most progressive attempts to do away with them.

This is not to give up in creating a more moral and liberated world, but it is to reach a certain degree of realism…
So many people tend to ignore History, the few who actually pay a bit of attention to History tend to view the past as a more simple age than the present. An ideal age, or sometimes a worse age, if they believe in progress. Time moves on, things improve – but the truth is not exactly that simple.

The people of the past were not necessarily more simple than we people of the present. Many could have been more sophisticated in their thought, more cosmopolitan. In fact the main reason that we often think that the past is simpler than the present is that people of the present learn about the past from history books written and taught simple-minded people.

Long dead men and women of the past had desires, ambitions, lusts, loves, loathing’s and burning hatreds, intelligence, debts, and inner demons that were as complex, if not more so, than many people of today. Life during the French Revolution, the First Roman civil wars, or the end of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty was in some ways as complicated, if not far more so, than life today, even though in other ways it seemed more simple.

So reading history written by the simple minded makes us into simple minded people, in turn. Ignoring History makes us oblivious to the reality of what is going on around us, because the world of today was built by people of yesterday. Ignoring history sets us up for subtle and even not subtle manipulation by others who understand history and history’s lessons well. Because often the rule of the day is “same shite, different day” the battles and dramas that make up our lives have been repeated in certain basic forms for thousands of years.

What we take for granted as the natural way of things is often unique to our age. But one thing isn’t unique, and that’s Man’s life is a pecking order, you sit and wait your turn to be pecked.

There are two types of people; Masters, and Slaves. Whether this is for better or for worse is beyond our scope today. Think; “what do I personally control in my life?” “how autonomous am I?” “What do I have to go through to get to what and where I want?”

These questions reveal much about our situation. The job we seemed married to out of hear, the roof over our heads and the rent or mortgage we have to pay t keep ourselves from having to sleep outside in our car. What forces and needs drive our daily lives?

I think that to some degree knowing our position in society’s pecking order; master, or slave, has a bit to do with how well we understand history. Or at least the few aspects of history directly relevant to our situation. And changing our position is also somewhat contingent on this..



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