Would you ever sell yourself into slavery? If you think this is a paradox, remember that slavery is not simply unpaid labour, but giving up our control to the whims of another. Slaves were property, not unpaid labourers. The conditions of the slavery aren’t even that important; I don’t think anyone would go back in time and choose to be a slave, even if they got to be a house slave. Slavery isn’t abominable because of the conditions, though they certainly didn’t help, nor was it anything to do with the type of labour involved since all of that labour still exists today with little controversy. Slavery was abolished because it took away our liberty as human beings.

Maybe you’re a bit more cynical. I was a quite vague in my offer, but perhaps a huge cash sum might change your mind? The thing is, though, if any amount of money tempts us to give up a fundamental condition of our human nature, then that desire can only be driven by desperation. If the thought arises that this amount of money might make life more livable, it is only blinding us to the fact that a life of slavery is less than a life. We cannot abandon liberty and still be fully human.

Now, if we wouldn’t accept a single cash buyout to enter into slavery, then why do we accept smaller, biweekly payments in the form of a wage? The conditions of our labour today remove from us our autonomy just as much as any plantation, even if the conditions might be better. If you disagree, ask yourself how able you are to say no to your boss, and how able your boss is to say no to you. There is a disparity in freedom there, and it very likely isn’t favouring you. Any ability to say “no” to your boss that you possess today was fought and bled for by unionists before you. The pittance of liberty we possess at work was not given but taken, and, under many employers, is slowly being clawed back.

You might be skeptical. If you aren’t happy with your job, you can just pick up and leave for another, right? But consider this: how many employers are there out there right now that allow you to say no to your boss? How many employers are there that don’t follow this fundamental relationship of capital ownership? Trading one plantation for another is not liberty.

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“Let’s work next door. I hear they only give out ten lashes for insubordination instead of twenty!” Businesses might offer perks to compete for your labour, but never liberty; all you receive are allowances from your master.

Maybe you dream of one day becoming the boss, then you’ll have freedom! Climb that corporate ladder! Regardless of how unfeasible this might be in reality due to the disparity of opportunities, the number of aspirants, the nepotism and politics of advancement, this is still the dream of the hooker wishing to become the pimp. Regardless of where you might fall along the spectrum of middle management, it is still an immoral system. Self-interest and greedy delusion are not sufficient justification.

The movie Office Space exists and is so relatable because we all inherently recognize that the disparate hierarchy we possess in our workplace is ultimately degrading. We agree to it because if we don’t work, we starve. We agree out of desperation.

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And yet if Peter’s new boss asks him to come in on Saturday, he is still in the same predicament as in the beginning of the film. His relationship to work has not changed.

In our work today, we live less than a life. What we need is autonomy in our labour. What we need is a voice in the conditions of our labour. We demand democracy in our politics, but remain blind to it for the eight hours or more we slog through in our employment. We’ve been convinced we’re free because we have a few tired hours after work to spend the money we’ve been allowed on streaming television, forgetting that those hours required workers to die because the bosses of the past couldn’t be bothered to allow us even that.

Is that what we want? A life where our few pleasures are those “allowed” to us by our employer? Or do we want a say in our lives? Do we want real choice? If we do, what then are we willing to do for our liberty?

Freedom isn’t free. Notoriously it costs $1.05, but generally the metaphor is assumed to mean that freedom is incessantly under attack, and therefore must be defended. There are terrorists and rogue nations who hate our way of life, and if they are unchecked, the freedom to live our lives the way we choose is imperiled. We must therefore adhere to a universal responsibility to fight wars, or at the very least, support those who fight them for us, against these existential threats. However, implicit responsibility suggests that those who adhere to this belief are not actually free: they are slaves to conflict. If we must fight, then we are no longer free to engage in peace.

There is also the freedom implied in the Free Market. No interference, no subjugation, allow the whims of the Market to dictate social direction. The ebb and flow of supply and demand will nurture and care for us. Yet, if our ability to participate in the market is determined by our wealth (either in the ownership of the supply side or the purchasing power of the demand side), then indeed social direction will be commanded by the wealthy. Voting with your dollar naturally leads to those with more dollars owning more votes. Even in the free market we are not free: we are slaves to wealth. Even the wealthy are encumbered by their duties to wealth perpetuation. If we seek responsibility toward externalities and an equality of opportunity, we will not find it in an ideology with implicit responsibility toward the profit motive.

Is it controversial to say that freedom requires submission? Bob Dylan waxed poetic that it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but we’re gonna have to serve somebody. Human beings have needs; we will always be beholden to bread. What are we willing to submit to in order to enjoy other freedoms? Who then benefits from that submission? What if we want to live in a world with freedom from conflict? What if we want to be responsible toward other human beings rather than to an abstraction? Maybe it would be nice to be responsible to your neighbours instead of responsible to a conflict with them.

Anyone who preaches freedom is preaching slavery on some other level. This is not always a terrible thing; responsibility is a necessity for social cohesion. The despots who hide its presence in their proselytizing are seeking only to deceive their listeners into accepting their shackles without critical thought. Be open about where the restraints will lie, and allow them to be justified. We were never free. We will never be free. We will always need to submit. The question is: where do we wish to place our submission?

We all know what left-wing identity politics looks like. It’s someone saying, “I’m black, and that’s the only thing that’s important about me!” Or someone else saying, “I’m a woman, and therefore I’m oppressed!” Historically marginalized groups whining about how they’ve been historically marginalized, and how that marginalization bleeds into the present. Boo-freaking-hoo. Also, they’re all postmodern neo-Marxists on top of it. This doesn’t actually mean anything, but that doesn’t stop it from being the highest condemnation of left-wing identity politics that most people can think of.

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Stalin’s best-kept secret was all the hidden pogroms for those who used the wrong gender pronoun

What’s interesting is the less-considered right-ring identity politics. And I don’t mean the, “I’m a straight, white male, and I’m being replaced by a black, dyslexic trans-woman!” kind of identity politics, though that certainly plays into it. I mean more the, “AH! That Muslim is going to blow up my twin towers!” or, “AH! That immigrant is going to rape my entire extended family!” or, “AH! That Mexican is going to bring the drugs into my delicate community!” Whereas left-wing identity politics is about the identity of the self, right-wing identity politics focuses on the identity of the Other.

Now, this isn’t some romantic idealization of the Other as some exotic utopian fantasy (which is very much a thing, and has its own problems as an ideology), but one driven by fear. Machiavelli is credited with prioritizing fear over love as a method of governance, and while he is commonly interpreted to mean fear of the ruler, that fear can be directed outward to great political effect. If the populace is afraid, it is far more likely to accept authoritarian control. There’s no need to worry about the bogeyman, daddy’s got you. Just do as daddy says, and things will be okay.

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Whatever kind of Daddy you’re into

A big problem with identity politics, left and right, is that no group is homogeneous, and so categorizing any group will always be disingenuous. The problem with right-wing identity politics in particular is that the reality and statistics are often skewed because fear is the ultimate goal, and if reality doesn’t back up that someone who looks different is inherently a threat, by Jove we’ll make them a threat.

The politics of fear never lets up, which is why right-wing identity politics is so dangerous. Imagine if the white nationalists get their wish, and all the blacks, Jews, Muslims, Mexicans, gays, whatever, leave America. We’ll even say peacefully to avoid any overt Nazi parallels. Since the politics of fear was never based on reality in the first place, the underlying goal being emotional manipulation in order to maintain dominance, new out-groups would need to be created. All of a sudden people might start remembering that the Irish and Italians weren’t considered white, once upon a time, and then it’s time for them to go. And so on.

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Do you really think ‘hate’ has a retirement plan?

Diversity is a thing forever now. The world is global. This is not something that can be undone. Sorry? But also, at the same time, I’m not sorry. What this means is that pluralism must be included as a given in any on-going political conversation. Fear of the Other reeks of obsolescence and hangs on only in the propaganda of despotism. There’s no such thing as the bogeyman. It’s time to grow up.