Imagine this: the concept of owning a slave surfaced like a boil on the face of the planet 12,000 years ago. Certainly it was not when bipedal males of the genus Homo habilis were developing stone tools over 2 million years ago and their female mates were caring for the offspring because that arrangement relies on interdependence and collaboration in order to ensure survival.
No, it wasn’t until the Neolithic Revolution that our ancestors moved from being nomadic hunter/gatherers to landowners, with the associated wealth and power, that our species discovered that we could subjugate others and direct them to do our bidding. Wealth alone cannot build an empire or constitute a legacy, for that there must be disposable labor in vast amounts, cheaply purchased and cheaply maintained. (Read: lots of slaves barely fed, sheltered or otherwise cared for.) Sounds so crass to refer to people as “disposable labor”, doesn’t it? It’s sort of like referring to the people that get killed inadvertently during military “campaigns” as “collateral damage”. Clever wording, that.
Or perhaps it was when certain organized societies, as part of an evolutionary faux pas, turned from matriarchal to patriarchal in structure that subjugation became institutionalized? (Something that modern historians now refute, much to the chagrin of some second and third-wave feminists.) What is not in dispute is that both globally and historically females have always been slaves, of course. Say what you will in protest of that statement, but what else should we call it?
Consider that it has only been 93 years since women in the USA gained the right to vote, and I have a living godmother who was born one year prior to the historic passing of that Amendment. Consider that today there are men in Afghanistan and Pakistan and other countries who ban girls from education, and prohibit women from going out in public without being escorted by a male who is related to them. Consider that in certain countries today “Eve Teasing” (catcalls, groping in public), “Bride Burning” (usually a result of dissatisfaction on the part of the groom with the bride’s dowry) and “Acid Throwing” to disfigure a woman who had the nerve to turn down a marriage proposal have all become so much a vehicle for men’s rage that women fear for their lives. And perhaps that is the point.
I know that slavery still exists in many forms today. The sex trafficking of children is slavery. The sex trafficking of women is slavery. “Debt bondage” is slavery, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) turns whole countries into slaves, in my opinion… “Pawnage” is slavery. Never heard of it? This is clever. This is where the person who is in debt (and never to be confused with an egalitarian) puts up another human being as collateral until the debt is paid off. Very clever type of slavery, that; more akin to a pimp and his prostitute, really.
Peasants. That historic little word conjures up so many quasi romantic images, doesn’t it? Busty women with their bosoms exposed serving tankards of ale; rugged men in from the fields, their hands filthy, their throats dry and their women slaving (sorry, can’t be helped) away at home, cooking and cleaning and nursing and feeding. So mundane, yes? The aristocrats, the plutocrats, the well-heeled, the titled, the wealthy… none of them to be found except when it was time to pay the taxes.Today we have the IRS for that, so the wealthy don’t need to get their hands dirty with all that germ-laden money. All of their wealth is on paper, it’s liquid as the waters that pour from their hands-free taps.
Yes, the peasants are still with us, except they rarely own or lease the land they work these days. The only peasants still working the soil today are the ones that till the soil owned by Corporations; farms that employ itinerant laborers who live more like our nomadic ancestors did. Today’s peasants are more likely to be the cashiers, the burger flippers, the people who clean your houses, feed your face, dry clean your suits, deliver your pizza, mow your lawn, wash your cars, keep the bees and collect the honey, tan the leather, kill the chickens, butcher the cows, mine the “conflict minerals” that go into your iPods and cell phones (more on that later), recycle your wine bottles and the little plastic bottles you throw away by the millions because you don’t trust the water out of the tap.
Was it Jesus who said, “The poor will always be with us…”? Did we have to take that as a given? Can we do a little better? Can we spare the pawns, empower the peasants and free the slaves- once and for all? You decide.