Meaning of slavery
• Slavery is lack of freedom and liberty. Freedom means you are unobstructed in living your life as you choose it. ‘Anything less is a form of slavery’ (Wayne Dyer). The great French Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau said that, ‘man is born free and everywhere he is in chains’.
• Man was condemned to be in chains for one reason or the other, right from his birth. From ancient times, man was forced to live amidst one or the other kind of slavery. Fear and hegemony are natural instincts in man, as much as in animals. The weak and ignorant people came under the hegemony of the strong and the wise. In due course of time, when civilization developed, man became subservient to social structures, its mores, manners, beliefs, etc.
• Religion and religious codes evolved over a period of time, which needed the followers to be compliant of a set of regulations. The role of religion became so over-arching in due course of time that man lost all his existence to religion and religious codes. The Churches in Europe and other religious establishments elsewhere came very hard on those, who questioned their authority or legitimacy.
• Kings and monarchs ruled people in the past by virtue of force. When monarchy gave way to oligarchy, and later on, democracy and republicanism, a few people ruled and governed over a vast number of people. With the growth of capitalism, based on the idea of laissez faire (non- intervention), it seemed that freedom and liberty have come permanently to free man from slavery, but it did not happen.
Slavery in the era of Capitalism and Industrialization
• Capitalism led to the advent of an industrial age, in which a few who had capital started exploiting and ruling those who didn’t have it. Globally, capitalism led to the birth and progress of imperialism and mercantilism, leading to exploitation of one nation by the other. Then came a beautiful idea called socialism, which believed in state intervention, centralization, and state-ism, preventing the institution of property (capital) to exploit the have-nots (those who did not have capital). But, it ended up in being undemocratic and excessive power and privileges to a selected few.
• It also proved detrimental to free enterprise. Thus, the past history of the human kind for a major part had been struggling to come out of the danger of slavery. Man, now started experimenting with technology rather than various ideologies, in a much more intense and focused manner, to find the freedom and liberty he could not get from both the systems- capitalism and socialism.
• Technology led to immense growth of wealth through industrial progress, improvement in transport and communication, trade and commerce, and improvement in living standards of the households and individuals. It provided them with machines of convenience in day-to-day life, freeing them from menial labour, and allowing them to accomplish their tasks faster. But, excessive reliance on machines is no less menial and ironical than slavery.
• Man’s freedom and liberty became so reliant on machines that rather than being a means to an end, machines gradually became an end in themselves. And, two miracle machines, computer and robot, became central to human lives, so much so, that not a single moment could be conceived without them. Computers and robots are, however, made up of hardware and programmes called softwares and they are not sensitive and emotional like human beings. They have programmed minds for particular situations, but they are heartless. And, the loneliness and hollowness of the industrial world increased, due to over-reliance of these heartless machines.
The world is in the danger of an invasion by machines, where computers and robots may subjugate man.
• In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, particularly after the great renaissance in France and other parts of Europe, individualism, freedom, liberty, and equality became popular ideas.
After the industrial revolution, freedom of enterprise and laissez faire led to the growth of capitalism and it seemed that slavery has become a thing of the past. The firm believers in the laissez faire (free-market) believed that a free-market system allows all parties to compete, which ensures the best, and most competitive project emerges, and ensures a fair and democratic process.
But, capitalism that led to advent and growth of an industrial era was marred by exploitation of labourers, by the owners of capital-extended working hours, bad working and living conditions, lower or fixed wages, poverty, unemployment, etc.
Changed Garb of slavery
• Slavery did not end; it only changed its garb. Michael Moore reacts very aptly on the falsehood of freedom and liberty guaranteed by capitalism. He says, ‘Capitalism is an organized system to guarantee that greed becomes the primary force of our economic system and allows the few at the top to get very wealthy’. At international level, capitalism led to the growth of imperialism and mercantilism. One country was subjugated to cater to the economic well being of the other country.
• Then, a new system was born, called, socialism, based on centralization and statism. Centralism and statism was juxtaposed against the ideology of laissez faire in the belief, that it will be able to remove the aberrations of free-market, that it will eradicate the very basis of inequality, that is, the institution of property by nationalizing it, that it will not leave unequal men on the mercy of market, but governments will intervene to maximize welfare of the people, so on and so forth.
However, socialist governments over a period of time turned against freedom, democracy, and equality, because a small oligarchy in its self-righteousness, forced its laws and regulations on the vast majority on the one hand, and on the other, this oligarchy became more equal than other equals, in the sense of availing unbound power and privilege. John Kenneth Galbraith, an American thinker tightly points out that, ‘under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite’. Winston Churchill was right when he pointed out that, ‘the inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of
miseries. Slavery exists, this way or that way’.
• Slavery to a man, to a power, to a system, to an institution, or mental slavery- all are against freedom and liberty. Edmund Burke said, ‘slavery is a weed that grows on every soil’.
• The threat of slavery has been weakened, but not vanished altogether. The existence of democratic welfare states has reduced the possibilities of slavery by institutionalizing freedom and liberty to a great extent. But, today man is looking on to a future which would be over reliant on machines-heartless entities with programmed minds! Computers and Robots signify such machines in general.
• Their importance has increased so much and poised to increase further, that if computers and robots fail, man would be relegated to ancient hunting and gathering level! If computers and robots fail, humanity and civilization may fail. Such a stupid reliance on machines we have chosen that our natural power, sentiments and humanness is under threat. Andre Norton says,
‘I think the human race made a big mistake at the beginning of the industrial revolution, we leaped for the mechanical things, people need the use of their hands to feel creative.’
• Thus, both the dangers, slavery from the past and over reliance on machines today and in future, persist. Friedrich Nietzsche rightly points out, ‘today as always, men fall into two groups: slaves and free men. Whoever does not have two-thirds of his day for himself, is a slave, whatever he may be: a statesman, a businessman, an official, or a scholar.’
What is the way out?
• The way out to slavery or over-dependence on machines is education, reason, and knowledge.
The way out is courage. The way out is institutionalizing freedom and liberty. But also, we need to practice and pervade human values- love, kindness, compassion, friendship, live and let live etc. Machines need to give way to human spirit, endurance, and creativity. This can be inculcated in society only through education and awareness. Life needs fulfillment coming from a hard-earned success or realization of our goals. Machines may be a means to an end, but the end is human-satisfaction and sense of fulfillment. A heartless world, howsoever prosperous, would never be beautiful. For achieving freedom, we need to dare.
• Sometimes a technology is so awe-inspiring, that the imagination runs away with it- often far- far-away from reality. Robots are like that. A lot of big and ultimately unfulfilled promises were made in robotics early on, based on preliminary successes. Artificial intelligence is growing up fast, as are robots, whose facial expressions can elicit empathy and make your minor neurons quiver.
• Looking ahead, future generations may learn their social skills from robots in the first place. The cute yellow Keepon robot, from Carnegie Mellon University, has shown the ability to facilitate social interactions with autistic children. Morphy, at the University of Washington, happily teaches gestures to children by demonstration.
• However, we’re not like robots. God promises to guide us through the Holy Spirit, but he gives us the freedom to make our own decisions. But, over reliance on machines would snatch creativity and fulfillment from man. May be, a day comes, when Claude Shannon’s nightmare becomes true- I visualize a time, when we will be to robots what dogs are to humans, and I’m rooting for the machines. In fact, if we were to lose the ability to be emotional, if we were to lose the ability to be angry, to be outraged, we would be robots. That will not be less painful than slavery.