Once upon a time in The Gallant South, a benevolent slave owner named Orrin noticed some of his property acting…restless. When I say benevolent I mean he recognized that a well-fed slave, one with decent housing and a mattress would be more productive. So Orrin went the extra mile to provide certain amenities, certainly more than his neighbor the Cruel Slave Master, who had a different business philosophy. This Cruel man starved his chattel and then whipped them to extract as much labor as possible before they perished. The Kind Slave Master thought this foolish in the extreme. Like leaving a perfectly good tool out in the rain.
Still, he was nervous about his slave’s grumbling and the hard looks they would at times send his way. So he came up with a brilliant plan. He called them all together one Sunday after Church and announced that he had decided to let them vote! Not on everything, of course, but on minor decisions. For instance; whether to have grits or oatmeal for breakfast, when to plant the corn and cotton, or which mule to use for the day’s plowing. The slaves knew these “choices” were predetermined and of course the Master knew this was a stylized, ritualistic exercise but both parties played their parts in this kabuki dance and called it “politics”. The kind slave master let his slaves elect a representative who might visit the Big House on occasion. He even began to address the slaves as “associates” so they might feel invested in the operation.
All this accommodation was looked on as madness by the neighboring slave owners but it proved itself to be a brilliant stroke of…well, you hate to use the word, but yes, genius. Where the other slave holders faced violent revolts, the Kind Slave Master found his property thoroughly immersed in “politics”, forever deciding where to build a soccer field or whether to ban abortions. Where cruel Slave Masters had to spend all their profit chasing runaways, the Kind Slave Master just threw in a Bingo Night! Where the cruel Slave Masters were slaughtered in their beds, the Kind Slave Master found his property arguing among themselves. They fought over who was corrupt, who was extracting a few more favors. They fought over their various identities, they fought over religious differences, they fought over Outsiders and Rights and morals and such. They argued over whether it was better to vote or to pray. ( Both equally effective, it turns out)
What they never argued about, however, was over who was the most cruel; the Slave Master who treats his property poorly or the one who treats them nice.
Shamefully, I have not read Sheldon Wolin but from listening to the description Chris Hedges brings, I believe this formula is related to what Wolin called “inverted totalitarianism”. Here we have the prisoners, granted enough liberal, social democratic reforms, locking THEMSELVES up at night. This could also extend to the Gramscian notion of hegemonic control or internalized coercion. Who needs a slave master when his legitimacy has been thoroughly embedded into our consciousness!
First and foremost we have to fight for our mind. Nothing less than full and total emancipation will do. Demand full control over your destiny and true self-determination over all aspects of your existence. The illusion of “democratic politics” has been carefully constructed by slave masters who understood how easy it is to kill through kindness. A little salary raise at work, maybe a little subsidized health insurance, we’ll even throw in a no-down, low interest loan so you can buy that thing that makes you feel whole. But you won’t find dignity in any of those catalogues. And as Audrey Lord instructed, “the Masters tools will never dismantle the Masters house”.