Slavery is a very heated topic and can be defined in several different ways. Many people when defining slavery, especially Americans, think of men working in a field with a strict overseer who carries a weapon. Butler and Marcuse, on the other hand, see it in terms regarding the consciousness of the slave.
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 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 condition 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. At the same time, people have the choice to enter into this form of slavery in the first place, like avoiding peer pressure.
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.
Conscious slavery has the opportunity for those under its control to escape. They can run away, create a deal with whoever is high up, or they could choose not to enter into it. But, how does someone free themselves from unconscious slavery? People must become aware of this form of slavery and then change their perspectives and way of living in order to escape it.
How can someone escape something that they are completely unaware of? Do you swat at a fly on your leg if you don’t feel or see it? No, it will stay and walk around on your leg until it decides to fly away on its own or if you become aware of it presence. A slave can be free if the force that is imprisoning them decides to leave. In the case of current times, this is our industrial society; as of now, that will not disappear anytime soon. So, a person can only be relieved of their unconscious slavery by realizing it and converting it into conscious slavery. This is difficult to accomplish since, as stated before by Marcuse, industrial society has such a large hold on our needs and wants that we believe them to be our own. The more members under the control of a force makes that force more powerful, therefore it is harder to escape. However, no action can be taken until consciousness of this slavery is accomplished.
Becoming aware of unconscious slavery is a process in of itself. Today’s society is so engulfed in material satisfaction and industry that it is hard to see that we are controlled by it. Since almost all of society is enslaved, the only way to truly see the situation that we are in is by seeing that there are other ways to live. “Solitude, the very condition which sustained the individual against and beyond his society, has become technically impossible” (Marcuse, 71). Solitude may be one of the only ways to become aware of the hold that industrial society has on everyone, even though it is very difficult to do in our current society. Being alone will allow people to think deeply and understand the situation. The ways of doing this would be to either read a work which brings to light the circumstances that we are living in, like One Dimensional Man, or finding the purpose in beings, like how Whitman does in Song of Myself. Otherwise, seeing other ways of life would have to come from seeing how other people live, especially those in parts of the world that are less developed and not very industrialized, “It is not down on any map; true places never are,” (Melville, 61).
Henry David Thoreau completely escaped society and wrote of what he did and learned in Walden. “Thoreau sought to make himself the uncommon man among his conventional neighbors, a gentleman turned inside out, a gentleman by his own definition, which did not fit the norm,” (Abbott, 75). Thoreau refuses to become the norm, which is defined by society. He sees how ridiculous society’s materialistic values are, “he refines his life to a mockery of excess he sees in others’ lives,” (Abbott, 75). Like Marcuse, Thoreau believes that, “It is useless to work oneself to death to earn money for leisure; idleness itself is a ‘productive industry’ (Walden 146),” (Abbott, 75). Marcuse discusses how machines and working have consumed our lives. He would only support the use of technology if, “Further progress would mean the break, the turn of quantity into quality. It would open the possibility of an essentially new human reality – namely, existence in free time on the basis of fulfilled vital needs” (Marcuse, 231).
Once an individual discovers the force of industry that they are victims of, action must be taken to free oneself. “Thought has no power to bring about such a change unless it transcends itself into practice,” (Marcuse, 134). Newton’s first law states that an object will remain at rest unless another force acts upon it. Some people fear change and unless they are forced to change or adapt, they will remain the same. Change needs to be initiated, which can usually be from a belief, goal, or desire. Without change or its initiation, that individual will forever remain a victim of unconscious slavery, even if they are aware of their imprisonment. This is seen in conscious slavery as well, particularly with Joanne in Parable of the Sower. If not for her family’s decision to move to Olivar, she would have remained in the fortress of Robledo and most likely would have died with the majority of the community.
Regarding Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost, “Their immediate fear at losing a treasure familiarity transcends the far greater but deferred possibility of redemption” (Creaser, 161). Even if one is aware of the slavery that they are a part of, fear of change can inhibit them from freeing themselves. People are afraid to be outside of the norm and to “go against the grain”. As stated by Creaser, “Man equally dreads change in life itself. For [Milton], our innate conservatism, our holding on to what we know, is one of the deepest temptations we face,” (161). Yes, not everyone is afraid of change; but those who want to change need to go about it in the right way. Since industrial society is so large and encompassing, it would be nearly impossible to persuade others and begin a movement big enough to put down this force. The change should be toward the individual and not the entire society. The United States did not seek to destroy England during the Revolution; they just fought them off and gained their freedom and independence. This is what each individual should do; fight off the oppressor’s control and become free.
When it comes to solitude as the main way to come to terms with the enslavement that we are all victims of, I’m not meaning seclusion from society for the rest of their lives; that is almost physically impossible in today’s world. People just need to cut themselves off in order to see and understand the conditions that our society has placed upon us. With change, there is no way that a large uprising and the overthrow of industrial society will occur; at least not anytime soon. So, people should focus on themselves instead and maybe bring today’s slavery to light for other people.
I’m not sure whether there is any other way to free oneself from unconscious slavery without first becoming aware of it. “The consciousness becomes free for the higher historical rationality only in the struggle against the established society” (Marcuse, 222). I agree with Marcuse where the struggle to becoming free begins with consciousness of the conditions. If not for the awareness, then the person will still not realize that they are under society’s control. Just like the fly, you can’t get rid of it unless you notice it. “Change is a goal and a duty” (Creaser, 165). We must change our mindset in order to realize the enslavement that we are a part of, then we must change our lifestyles to free ourselves from this force.
Abbott, Collamer M. “Thoreau’s Walden.” Explicator 56.2 (1998): 74. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 15 Feb. 2011.
Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1993.
Creaser, John. “Fear of Change”: Closed Minds and Open Forms in Milton.” Milton Quarterly 42.3 (2008): 161-182. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 6 Feb. 2011.
Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964.