By Chic Hollis – Philosophical Musings
George Orwell wrote sarcastically in his famous Dystopia, 1984, “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength.” Perhaps Orwell should have written more optimistically: “War, slavery, and ignorance are prevalent social problems that challenge mankind, so get used to the many adverse social/economic conditions that accompany being born a member of the human race!”
While some industrious humans actually do enjoy what they get paid to do and others become addicted to being occupied with whatever they are asked to do, many humans hate their jobs. These unhappy folks loathe doing what is necessary to survive in our modern civilized society: “Do what the boss says, because the boss is always right!” Although your boss may be a slave driver as vicious as Simon Lagree, he does sign your clock card and keep you on the payroll when times are tough as they are today in America.
Human authority figures, be they government or business leaders, have become our modern slave masters. Inhabitants of the U.S. may have the freedom to choose the yoke under which they prefer to labor, but serving as a beast of burden in carrying out orders for any enterprise is a mild form of slavery. Federal, state, and local officials and the owners of the companies that employ human labor have the power to dictate and restrict the daily behavior of their “slaves.” With professional enforcers and the rule of law backing up armed disciplinarians, the common man is virtually enthralled by the system.
Of course there is no buy/sell contract of human property permitted today, but the formal relationship between master and servant still exists as long as an employee needs a job and can’t bring him or herself to quit. As a disincentive for an employee to abandon his job, the normal state regulated unemployment compensation pact does not reward any worker who resigns. In an economy like ours today, the subtle threat of being laid-off is sufficient intimidation to keep workers loyal and obedient.
Private, but not public, whistle-blowers are more protected today from the wrath of a mean employer who breaks the law. However, finding new employment in a specialized industry where questionable practices abound can be difficult. Many employees who worked for mortgage banks during the recent housing bubble justified making very risky loans because other people in that industry were doing that and getting away with loaning money to unqualified borrowers.
The old ethics question presents itself: At what level of a hierarchy is someone responsible for authorizing and/or tolerating illegal activities? That question was debated at length in Argentine courts that tried to fix the responsibility of ordering the deaths of suspected Communist insurrectionists captured during the “Dirty War.” Some innocent people barely connected to the Communist movement died in that country. Who originated the order to exterminate them? Is justice done when a few guilty heads roll? Were all the executioners just “carrying out orders?”
Who were the slave masters responsible for the housing bubble in the U.S. that caused the implosion of mortgage banking and forced the bail-out of those banks “too big to fail?” Are those executives with dirty hands rotting in jail now? Has anyone involved been indicted yet?
The current master/slave relationship is more psychological than legal, monetary than physical. Nevertheless, the empowered master still can abuse the weaker servant/employee/worker in various ways. The growing gap of income between masters and employees is indicative of the additional monetary power an authority figure has secretly acquired. This practice can be observed in the remuneration of professors, doctors, dentists, lawyers, public accountants, and other professionals that can fix their own salaries and fringe benefits via “associations.” The usual excuse is “This is what other businesses and institutions are paying their key people.” The federal government provides perks and benefits for its employees that are more “rewarding” than those the federal government offers the general public.
In most adversarial relationships the servant can tolerate the actions of the master if he or she is compassionate, generous, and fair instead of being greedy, stingy, aloof, and biased. The feelings of jealousy, hate, and revenge come to the slave when a master is arrogant, selfish, and mean-spirited. The poorly paid in the U.S. are unhappy even when they are assessed no income taxes on their meager earnings.
In our modern civilized, democratic society, humans are free to be told what to do by bosses, governments, unions, associations, and public institutions. The opportunity to become a master instead of a servant is a strong incentive for the conscientious, industrious, ambitious, and unscrupulous. Benevolent dictators are few, and harsh tyrants are many.
But today’s spoiled kids are unaware of the dynamics of the workplace and the power in the hands of governments to regulate every aspect of society and our personal lives. Government intervention in our personal habits is increasing. Restrictions governing what we should eat, what protective clothing we should wear, how we should conduct ourselves in public limit our personal liberty to be individuals.
The masters are in charge of everything we do whether we want to acknowledge that fact or not. They have our welfare in mind of course, and their wisdom is unquestionable once they are handed the scepter of power. Ask any CEO, Member of Congress, governor, mayor, or your own supervisor.