To those unfamiliar with the libertarian-anarchist world, this is probably a jarring headline. I’m not a slave, you may think, I don’t have a master. I don’t work for free. I don’t get whipped. I own property. I am free. Libertarians and anarchists take heat for using the word “slave.” It’s not a light word to throw around, either. I agree. Slavery is very serious. To clarify, though, I’m not talking about chattel slavery. Chattel slavery is a horrific blight on the human race. It’s reasonable to interpret the use of the word as crass or naive. But not being bound by chains or ropes, and living in a nice house with nice amenities, and voting, and thinking you own yourself, does not mean you are not a slave. It’s not the physical condition of slavery that makes it slavery. Slavery is the denial of self-determination.
In the 1880s, former slave John Parker wrote that “[brutality] was an incident to the curse, but the real injury was the making of a human being an animal without hope.” While the pain and savagery of chattel slavery were inflicted on people, those were additional injustices to the state of being owned. The definition of slavery from Oxford Dictionary is:
“a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them.”
Now that we have the definition, let’s test my claim.
Do you work for free? Most people think this is one of the main characteristics of slavery. Historically, this is only partially true. Not only were there servants and house-slaves that were allowed a pretty high standard of living, but even those who worked the fields were paid in shelter, food, and clothing. Slaves with greater skills were even allowed a meager wage to spend when they were allowed to go to town. If being denied 100% of your labor makes you a slave, at what percentage are you no longer a slave? Today we pay taxes. While we may keep a large portion of our income, we do not keep all of it. When you file your taxes, take into account not only your income taxes, but sales tax, gasoline tax, sin tax, and every other tax imaginable, and you’re likely to have something close to a 50% tax burden. Make sure to remember that you may never see the products of your taxes in your community, since much of it goes to paying off debt and fighting wars. If you only own half of your labor, then you are a slave.
Do you get whipped or bound? To answer this question, we have to look at why slaves were whipped and bound. Firstly, it was a punishment. But really, it was to intimidate other slaves. It’s very important to understand that on the average plantation the proportion of slaves to non-slaves was at least five-to-one. So, it was necessary (in the mind of a slave-holder) to intimidate the slaves in order to prevent an uprising. To illustrate that we can compare chattel slavery to citizenship, keep in mind you are bound in a much more intelligent fashion. 5,000 innocent Americans were killed by police in the last 13 years. You’ve probably heard about the mass-surveillance and government intrusion into our privacy, as well as assassination and kidnapping of innocent individuals. While the purpose of this brutality on the part of State officials may not be to intimidate or control us, the effect has certainly been achieved. Consider those along with the Patriot Act and the NDAA, and you have a powerful recipe for rule by fear.
Do you own your property? The short answer is no. You probably didn’t build your house, but even if you did, the land at some point belonged to the government. The builders obtained permission from the government to even begin building. And even after all this, you still pay property taxes. As for other property, you pay sales taxes when you purchase it. You probably pay taxes on vehicles and most other things. So, if we apply the same logic to property as we did to income, if you do not own it entirely, is it really yours? No. You are borrowing your house and your property from the government. If you do not pay your taxes, the State will “re-possess” your property, implying that the State possessed it first. The government assumes you are only renting your property from them. You do not own it. You have never owned it.
Here’s the most important question: do you own yourself? A slave, by definition, is the legal property of someone else. If you were born, you are a citizen of the country you were born in. The “social contract” is said to be an implicit agreement all citizens make when they are born to follow that country’s laws, and prostrate themselves before the authority of the State. It is sometimes argued that voting gives you a voice in the political process, and you are therefore autonomous. That is not true. A slave who can pick a master is still a slave. Ask yourself these questions: Can you renounce your citizenship and still own property in your country? Can you renounce your citizenship and still trade in your country? Most importantly, can you ignore the law? No. The government suffocates any hope for true free will, even regarding victimless crimes, because a slaveholder must deny the self-determination of their slaves, or else they aren’t slaves. You are subject to the will of the State. You are not your master.
To conclude, there are a lot of noticeable differences between chattel slavery and modern slavery. Those differences afford us much more safety and comfort, but this is an evolution in slavery, not freedom. The chains are invisible, which makes today’s slavery much more effective. We are regarded by the State as livestock to supply the master with money. A “free range” tax cow. We are given a degree of freedom that chattel slaves were not, because being cramped and locked up drops the productivity of the livestock, due to sickness and depression. Taking livestock to pasture benefits the farmer. Occasionally an animal will run off, but if you set up enough punishment, and you give your animals a comfortable cage, they will return.
Today, the average citizen thinks life is good overall, and that the system is necessary. In reality, humans are manipulated by the State, allowed to choose their occupation, to think they own property, and to feel free, so they will pay more taxes. So, the next time you say, “I’m not a slave,” look around you. This is serious.