Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wage Slavery in Parable and Capitalism

The subject of slavery is a theme brought up throughout Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower and Herbert Marcuse's One-dimensional Man. The common thread between the two is also brought up in Michael Moore's film Capitalism: A Love Story. The definition of slavery should be defined as it has somewhat variable meanings in each of these three works. In Butler's book, slavery is used in more of a wage slavery way, the people of California, and other areas across the country are forced to work in terrible conditions, not for money, but for food, security, and a place to sleep. In Marcuse's book, slavery is used in the sense that people are beginning to become slaves to capitalism, in the sense that nothing will ever be enough for them. And finally in Michael Moore's film, slavery is brought up again in a very similar sense to the wage slavery discussed in Butler's America. The people of Moore's documentary are shown caught in the never ending cycle of taking out loans, and being forced into debt trying to repay them to the same banks that promised them freedom.
Throughout all three of these mediums, however different they appear, the same core message seems to be present; society is on the decline, whether it be a real or fictional society, and this decline is leading to the "enslavement" of society. The beginnings of this trend could be traced back to the separation of the middle and upper classes as far back as Europe. As the aristocracy began to grow further and further apart from the middle and lower classes, the lower classes were separated and saw the aristocracy as something to be attained and as something to work towards. Hundreds of years later Marcuse, Butler and Moore in addition to many other artists have commented on the decline of society and the slaves it makes of people. Obviously conditions have not regressed to the point of martial law as they have in Butler's book, but the non-fictional stories of Marcuse and Moore point out that this type of society could not be too far into the future.
I could pose several questions about my opinion on this situation. I feel that the success of capitalism in American society has not been beneficial in the sense that many people think it has been. In Marcuse's book he discusses that people should be happy with what they have but they will never will be because society dictates that they will always be able to have more if they try hard enough. I completely disagree with this statement and think that this idea is probably the major contributor to the decline and "enslavement" of today's society. People believe in the "American Dream" and the idea that they can achieve anything with perseverance and hard work. Instead of inspiring healthy competition and creating a better economy, this idea makes people who should by all means be content with what they have, unhappy and crave the lifestyles of the rich and famous. People of today's society do not seem to think of the countries where a minimum wage job would create riches for some families, that there are millions of people who go without food, water, and shelter let alone a Ferrari or a penthouse suite. The America of today would not only appall Marcuse, but I think he would not at all be surprised by where society has fallen to.
One hundred years ago a doctor or an entertainer did their job because they enjoyed it and they were good at it. They made decent livings, supported their families and had money to SAVE. Saving money in today's society is almost non-existent, instead of using whatever left over money they may have to put into college funds, or rainy day funds, people's extra money goes to pay for ever climbing interest rates on credit cards and loans. Both taken out to try and fund the extravagant lifestyle that everyone craves.
In closing I feel that both of these books have been extremely enlightening as well as informative on both the past and present opinions of America's society, and possibly a window into where we are headed.

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