Friday, January 28, 2011

Slavery: Conscious vs. Unconscious

In general, slavery is the bondage of human beings against their will. Marcuse and Butler have very different examples of slavery throughout their works and are unique with their definitions depending on the consciousness of the slaves.

The forms of slavery in Parable of the Sower are those where the slaves know that they are imprisoned. Debt slavery is popular in this futuristic time period where companies have employees work for room and board and they constantly owe money to the company. Therefore, they can't leave due to their debt and they realize it. This is brought up when the members of the Robledo community were debating whether or not to move to Olivar even though they knew what life would really be like under the control of the company.

Drug addiction is another form of slavery in which people are aware of their bondage but, in this case, they are biologically imprisoned and controlled by their habit. They cannot resist the urge to steal and kill to get money in order to replenish their supply. The only way out would be through the painful process of withdrawal and, in this time period, not many people would choose to be vulnerable as well as go through more pain than what they already endure on a regular basis. Drug addiction can spread through peer pressure or biologically, like what happened to Lauren. Lauren is a slave to her biological uniqueness. She is dependent upon the emotions of surrounding people. Her biology does not completely control her but, at the same time, she is not entirely free.

Marcuse, on the other hand, focuses on the slavery of those who do not realize that they are restricted by another force. He discusses "professional enslavement" and how people have become slaves because industry has made man a thing (32). Although industry has reduced man, people do not realize what is occurring. "All liberation depends on the consciousness of servitude, and the emergence of this consciousness is always hampered by the predominance of needs and satisfactions which, to a great extent, have become the individual's own" (7). Marcuse believes that industry has morphed society to believe that they need materialistic items in order to control them through the idea of consumption and the necessity of money to achieve it. Since companies and industry have this hold over people, he thinks that people can't choose or make their own decisions. He also thinks that advertisements and politicians use "hypnotic language" in order to have people believe what they are saying.

I believe that both Butler's and Marcuse's definitions of slavery are applicable to our world today although, each definition may need to be applied to different countries or regions. There are countries that have the form of slavery most people think of when they hear the term, which is conscious slavery. Today, there are countries with this type of slavery, like with the diamond fields in Africa. Drug addiction is seen all over the world and it will never end. I'm not sure if debt slavery is seen much today, but I think it would be a very good possibility if the world turned sour like that which Butler describes. Unconsious slavery that Marcuse speaks of is definitely seen today in the more developed and industrialized countries.

I think that there will always be some form of slavery in this world as long as currency exists. Human beings are greedy, selfish, and will do almost anything to get more money. It seems as though "masters" of slaves are only using them to gain higher productive yields and, therefore, more money. If we lived in Marcuse's utopia, we may not have much of a need for money and slavery could be very rare.

The only thing that will be different is the varying degrees and types of slavery over time. The more developed countries will have the unconsious slavery through corporations and politicians while the less developed countries will have the physical bondage, rather than strictly mental. Either way, there will always be some slavery in this world, conscious or unconscious.


  1. I don't like your initial definiton: "slavery is the bondage of human beings against their will." I don't like it because "will" and "bondage" are themselves big, complicated terms.

    You then do a nice job of going through different forms of slavery in the novel - but while your examples are great, I'm not convinced that your definition does that great a job describing them. For instance - is Lauren really more in "bondage" to her biology than you or me (differently in bondage, sure - but more?).

    Your discussion of slavery in Marcuse was good - you present complicated material in a straightforward way.

    In the final three paragraphs, I don't think you really say anything substantive about our world - and especially not about your views on it. Simply checking off a list of forms of slavery that exist (when your definition of slavery is very broad) in our world, and then responding with what seems like vague handwaving (indicating that the status quo will always be the status quo) simply isn't very productive. What are you trying to convince us of? The middle section of your essay was thoughtful and interesting - but what are you trying to demonstrate with it? Where are you going?

  2. I really really like the concept of conscious and unconscious slavery. It's something I've been thinking about in regards to our readings also. It's a really fascinating subject to elaborate on. You did a very good job laying out examples of each type of slavery. It was very clean-cut and clear.

    The one thing I might say is to delve deeper into the idea of unconscious slavery itself. Maybe you could consider whether unconscious slavery really counts as slavery, and whether it is possible to escape unconscious slavery, like you discuss with conscious slavery, without being informed of your enslavement. What I mean to say is, can you get out of unconscious slavery without it becoming conscious slavery?

    That's just something I think you could maybe wrestle with in the course of this essay. I was genuinely excited to see someone else had been thinking about the role of consciousness in enslavement.