Happiness in Slavery

“I’ll never understand why people celebrate new employment,” he said, looking for the reasons in the bottom of his glass. He squinted, but that didn’t help.

“Not everyone sees it the same way you do,” Pater replied, and put his hand on Jack’s shoulder. The weight of it seemed to force a sigh out of the younger man, and he clapped his drink down on the bar top.

“But they could, yeah? If they’d had the same experiences I have.”

“Maybe. We’ll never know. Our lives are our own. We can try to share them in a conversation or over years of partnership, but we can’t fully appreciate the things that others have gone through. Even if someone were to have the same experience you did, who’s to say they’d view it through the same lens?”

Jack nodded, then beckoned the bartender over. His glass refilled, he took a deep draught and shrugged. “I’d never thought of that. But still,” he turned to his oldest friend and smiled.


“I’ll never get why someone would celebrate enslavement.”

Pater laughed. “So dramatic.”

“It’s not.”

“Then tell me how it is.”

“Okay. I’ll have to use broad generalizations, but I think I can lay it out for you.” Pater motioned for Jack to continue. “First of all, an employer revokes your

freedom. Sure, it’s only an imagined revocation, but it’s contingent on the condition of employment.”

“What, you mean like how we have to stick to certain responsibilities?”

“Right, despite a great many of the employed spending a lot of their time on their jobs looking for ways to shirk them.”

“We want to make things easier for ourselves.”

“Of course, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We hate suffering, after all. And if an opportunity presents itself then you’d have to be foolish not to take advantage of it. But physically, we’re confined to a certain routine. We get leashed to a certain space for a certain amount of time.”

“For example?”

“Most jobs. The requirement of making your body available, behind a desk or a counter, inside a predetermined range of hours. The ‘meat in a seat’ condition.”

“That’s unavoidable.”

“Yes. You’re right. And it’s because it’s unavoidable that it constitutes a form of slavery.”

“What about the people who work from home?”

“One foot in, one foot out. Only halfway free unless they’re working for themselves. The thing is having a taskmaster, one whose purpose is to evaluate your performance and reward you for it. Or punish you.”

“But then, by that logic, isn’t someone who’s self-employed also self-enslaved?”

“Depends on what kind of a taskmaster they are, I guess. There’s a lot more flexibility there.”

“How so?”

“By defining your own tasks, you levy the greatest amount of responsibility on yourself. It’s a closed circuit of sorts, a loop that runs in on itself. No outside evaluator can step in with a glad hand or a scourge to qualify your efforts. You’re free to reassign the parameters of success whenever you like. With most of the

employed, those parameters have been fixed. Standardized. You either toe the line or you’re out.”

“But someone who’s self-employed who isn’t the greatest of taskmasters?”

Jack nodded. “Therein lies the risk. With the employed, the risk is largely on the performance of the entire body of the organization. If the managers do their jobs and the demand for whatever they’re doing continues to afford the employees their rewards, keeps the lights on and the cogs greased, then everyone’s happy. If this falters, then the suffering starts. With the self-employed, that needs to be measured according to the ability of a single person. Many things can go wrong, more than with an established system of pulling profit from the market. The risk is increased, yes, but there’s the real price of freedom. If responsibility is a spinning sawblade, then the self-employed dangles much closer to it than someone who relies on a structured organization.”

Pater grimaced. “But a person with a job can choose to walk away from it as readily as someone who’s made a job for themselves. No?”

“Again, it depends. Physically, perhaps. Mentally? Does this person have a family to support? Debts to pay? A social circle that’s entrapped them with quasi-responsibility?”


“Maybe meta-responsibility would be more accurate. A not-real obligation to look good. Save face. Not be unemployed because of the effect that would have on the person’s social condition.

“So, you’re saying that the enslavement—”

“—is mental. And on one hand, the employed accept their chains from the hands of others. Outside influencers whose morals and mores may or may not be in line with their own. Whereas the self-employed only have the contents of their own heads to contend with. That is a much greater degree of freedom, as far as I’m concerned.”

“Independence versus interdependence.”

“Or complete dependence. Many folks agree to employment contracts that they then cling to for dear life, hanging onto some piece of flotsam that could sink at any time. These people can work their whole lives, as hard they’re capable of, and still end up terminated and bereft.”


“Forsaken might be a better word. Either way, the amount of contribution an individual makes to their taskmaster’s organization is in no real way reflected in the amount of reward they’re capable of receiving.”

“And a self-employed person’s is?”

“Not at all!” Jack laughed. “Like I said, there are many more layers of responsibility draped over self-employed shoulders. Strategy, design, execution. They’re like tumblers in a lock, rumbling around, and they’ve got to line up just so to unlock success. Many self-employed or entrepreneurs lack the tools to pick those shackles open. But at least in the attempt, for however long they work away at them, they taste a purer form of freedom than they would under the thumb of some taskmaster.”


“So. Why celebrate employment? Congratulations, you’ve just been enslaved. Best of luck with that!”

Pater grumbled. “I still think you’re not giving it a long enough view. What about the years you spent ‘enslaved’? How do justify those then?”

“I see where you’re getting at, old man. Everything is a means to an end if the participant is clever enough to have a plan of action. I don’t think most of us do. We have our dreams, certainly, but long-term visions of the future? It’s hard enough to see what’s coming tomorrow and how to get through it, let alone five or ten years down the road. Some people can, sure. I was lucky to be one of them. I had enough awareness of my position and was able to use it to my advantage, to free myself. I also never had a family to worry about. There are a lot of factors involved, Pater. Some people never wake up to it. Some people do and then reject it. They see that kind of freedom as too much of a hassle, or an impossibility because they lack the skill or quickness to pull it off. Lots of factors.”

“Does it make them any less—”

“—human? No. It’s just one of those things. What’s worked for me doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. I know this.”

“Then we come to a reasonable conclusion. You’ve asked, ‘why celebrate employment’, and now you’ve given yourself the answer.”

“I’m sorry?” Jack said, and finished his drink. “I must have missed it.”

“There must be some subset of humanity that has resigned themselves to the fate of employment. And in doing so they’ve created a culture where it’s something to be celebrated. They’ll go through the motions whenever one of their number achieves it. Much like a funeral, not everyone cares for the ceremony. Why not just toss the body into the garden and let the worms deal with it? It’s cultural.”

Jack nodded, slowly, then stood. His head was clear, despite the liquor that he’d been hammering it with for the past hour. He smiled down at Pater and shook the old man’s hand. “Thank you. I do appreciate you setting me straight like this.”

Pater smiled back, returning his young friend’s strong grip. “My pleasure. When will I see you again?”

“Soon, old man. Soon.”

2014.10.15 – 2023.06.06

Next: A History Of Violence (157)
Previous: On The Road (155)