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David Barnett

British Council

TEDCRED 20+

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Is modern man just as much a slave as real slaves of the past?

In ancient Rome, slaves were generally part of the household. They were looked after, clothed, fed, housed and given medical succour or protection if needed. During the Saturnalia Festival, they even exchanged places with their masters for the day and the masters served them.

Now I know about all the horrors of the slave-trade and the treatment they received at the hands of the slave-owners, but I want to put forward the argument that people today living off low wages and having no land but having the obligation to pay huge mortgages, buy clothes for themselves and their families, feeding themselves, protecting themselves in time of distress are probably in much more of a vulnerable situation than many slaves of the past.

Topics: freedom
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    Jan 27 2012: so you are aware of the "horrors of ... treatment", but are you still not sure whether we are in the same boots or not. just look around in your living place. look at your cellphone. look at your wardrobe. look in your fridge. dwell a little on your choices in life. consider your problems and fears. consider the possibility to change living place or job. and then think about how a slave lives. what is it to be slave. what is to be commanded, caged, owned. what is to lack the freedom to decide for yourself, to act on your own behalf, to have any kind of property. to be deprived of rights of any sort. to be subhuman.

    the notion that we would be slaves is not wrong. it is outrageous, ridiculous and delusional. or just simple propaganda.
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      Jan 28 2012: I knew somebody would over-react. The great majority of slave owners in history treated their slaves with relative dignity and respect as they knew that at any moment they could have their food poisoned, their throats slit, their secrets spilled. It wasn't a serious comparison, so need to get all revindicative. All I'm saying, is that when you have bills to pay, the mortagage to pay, your kids to feed and the wife to please, you've got precious little choice or freedom to tell your boss where to stick his job...and the bosses know it too. When people leave full-time education, they go into work with a very sizeable debt to pay-off...perfect for bosses who don't want their workers kicking up a fuss. It may not be real slavery, but in practice it turns nearly all of us into automatons.
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        Jan 29 2012: it is all your choice. you yourself are responsible for getting into this position that you overcommited yourself with loans, you can't handle money, and you don't realize that you live in luxury compared to the average human being. you are free to change your lifestyle, you are free to buy a piece of land somewhere, and make your own food, like a peasant did 500 years ago. you blame the "capitalist" or the "system" for your misery, but actually you are the one to blame.

        actually, i have a proposition. everyone who thinks that being an employee and being a slave is similar could be enslaved, since it does not hurt them, does it?
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          Jan 29 2012: You are free to buy a piece of land somewhere? If you have money, yes, indeed you are free to do that. And how do get enough money to buy land without being tied down to a job for years on end? And then where is this land? In the middle of nowhere. Why? Because the rich have for centuries owned the best placed land. No good buying land where there's no water. I put it to you that it has precious little to do with individual choice.
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        Jan 29 2012: david, it is getting surreal. you really want to sell me that you are locked in your job and in your flat/house with no chance to ever change that? i don't know your life, but i bet a thousand dollars right here that it is just false. i assume that you simply shift responsibility from yourself to "the system" so you can say "it is not my fault! i'm slave to the system!".

        observation: most of the time this kind of thinking comes from countries that are indebted and in which people are indebted. like greece, USA, spain, UK. sorry, but i'm not buying that for one second. peoples of the same countries used to say that democracy is hijacked by some shady forces, and people are not in position to change leadership. blatantly obvious defensive strategy. you screwed it up people, and now it is time to fix it.
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          Jan 29 2012: People are always in a position to change leadership...but what to choose between....Zapatero or Rajoy? We can always do it by force and take power ourselves, but if it goes wrong, there go our lives...I am in no doubt that what keeps people from doing want they want is fear. Maybe some have they courage to break out and make good...others have the courage to break out and screw up totally, most don't have the courage and trust in the devil they know. If you don't mind uprooting yourself, your wife and your kids every time you feel like a change of direction, then good luck to you...but in a relationship these days it usually takes two to tango , and it's far more difficult for two people to give up their jobs and start anew somewhere else than it is for one.

          Didn't mean to get into a whole existential debate but thanks for participating.
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        Jan 29 2012: and why do you think you have to choose from those two candidates? i tell you why: because most people like them. it is the same in the US, which probably better known, so let me talk about that instead. so we have that obama guy, who promised end of wars and restoration of human rights, but did the opposite. so people are pissed, right? and they go to the other party to vote for real change, right? so they support candidates that really wants to end the wars, right? well, no. people support romney and gingrich and santorum who all pro-war candidates, and not paul, who is a reliable anti-war candidate. not the presidents, but the people are responsible for the wars.

        the thing is that i do mind uprooting myself. but it is MY DECISION. that is why i'm not a slave. i can move. i can give up my current life and choose another. i don't do that, because i believe that all things considered and all risks accounted, it is the best choice for me. and i can do something or not do something, as i anticipate is better for me. that makes me FREE. should i see an opportunity that is, all things counted, seems better, i will go for it. i CAN. freedom does not mean you have a better choice. it means that IF you have, you can go for it. if you are a slave, you can not make decision about your life even if a better opportunity presents itself.

        you are not a slave. you just want to be one, so you can blame your problems on someone else.
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          Jan 29 2012: That's right. I'm just a moaning minny. As for choosing between rajoy and zapatero, I actually have neither choice, cos despite living here for the past fifteen years, I still don't have the right to vote in general elections.And Democracy, however wonderful the theory, is rarely justly implemented. I once heard it said that the first great example of Democracy in action was when Pontius Pilate asked the crowd whom they wanted to free, Jesus or Barrabas...and the crowd shouted for Barrabas. Now, they were expecting the question and could careful place a few agents provocateurs strategically in the crowd to shout at the right moment. Present-day politicians do just the same and in many ways. Now, all I want to say is yes, of course we are free and to compare ourselves with past slaves would be silly....that was just the question to draw people in...but I did expect people to recognize, at least, that our freedoms have, to an extent, been withered away by an all too pervasive emphasis on materialism, capitalism and corporate control and anyone thinking, these days, that all people are born equal and have equal opportunity are severely deluding themselves to say the least.
          Barry Schwartz also had something interesting to say on the Paradox of Choice...and it wasn't liberating. Having choice does not necessarily make us free or freer, but actually burden us with more responsibility...sometimes it is a lot easier to be told what to do...especially in this modern age where specialization is everything and jacks of all trades no longer exist. Do I let the doctor decide my treatment or do I decide myself? Does deciding yourself make you freer? No...it just puts the responsibility of the decision into the hands of someone with no medical qualifications.
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    Jan 27 2012: Hi David,

    I guess we are all slaves to something, whether it be money, power, fashion, drink, sex, or whatever. Many are trapped by peer pressure, & the things that the telly tells them they need.

    I used to visit shooting lodges for my work. Normally the gamekeeper was in charge. He had a house, a 4x4, some guns, & a small wage. The owner of the estate was his boss. The keeper was vulnerable, he had to keep the boss happy, or he could be homeless & jobless, together with his family. Often his wife, & sometimes his children would muck-in as well. It was a shop-steward's nightmare.
    Although it appeared like a slave-master situation, in reality it was more like mutual dependence. The keeper knew that he could rely on the boss to look after him. The boss knew that when he flew in with his paying guests that everything would be in place for a successful hunt. For most of the year the keeper was left to maintain the estate. No set hours, no set work pattern. These guys are among the most contented people I know. City folks pay thousands of pounds to go to work with them for a few days.
    Did you hear about the keeper who was treated to a week in a London hotel by his boss? When the boss got the invoice he nearly choked. The only variable was the food. What on earth were you eating ? Oh, just the usual that we have at home; Salmon, Pheasant, Venison, nothing special.

    :-)
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      Jan 28 2012: My best friend's a butler...and he works damn hard. But his wage comes tax free...his food is free...his house is free...his holidays are often free...he has four kids and a wife who doesn't have to go to work...when he retires, he gets to keep his home. I usd to make jokes to him about being a servant in his footman days....now he's the one who is laughing.
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    Jan 28 2012: How are those whip marks on your back?
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      Jan 28 2012: Some slaves got whipped...yeah, I know. So did, sailors and soldiers. And they were still getting whipped for years after slavery was abolished.
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        Jan 29 2012: My point was actually that people won't get physically penalized for refusing to participate (never mind "revolting") and yet we don't.

        If we are living in slavery at this point, it's a mental slavery and we're keeping ourselves in it.
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        Jan 29 2012: I'm clicking it, but if it's actual slavery discussing, I know it's going on. And comparing someone who works in McDonalds and who lives paycheque to paycheque to people who are kidnapped and held against their will is denigrating the full horror of what those people are living.
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      Jan 28 2012: Yeah, I know all about this movement as I live in Madrid, where it all started. There's a problem though...most of the time you don't know who to protest against. When the politicians come to power with high ideals, others in the background tell them exactly why they can't put their ideas into practice....the poor people who work at the bank have nothing to do with bank policy and the gas station is not responsible for the price of oil. Personally, I think we should all do as Iceland has....arrest the politicians and bankers responsible, bring them to trial and refuse to pay a debt which we didn't create in the first place. Now why do they never mention Iceland on the news? Good ideas spread quickly....
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    Jan 27 2012: Irrespective of time even the most free woman/man was/is/will remain enslaved to her/his consciousness........... if it's positive thats a good slavery!