Slavery is not "Self-Control", it's control by others.

I just read a very misguided post over at Overcoming Bias1which surprisingly seems to be getting everything wrong and coming to the conlcusion that humans are naturally “self-domesticating themselves” for the benefit of production. I just had to take a stab at it as some of the thing I read there were just so wrong.

First of all, “self-control” here is used not as self-management but rather as self-restraint; as willingness of humans to voluntarily submit to slave-like conditions. It is a very misguiding term that implies voluntary submission to rigid organization when the truth is that the control comes from external forces, from managers and bosses and masters. Looking at it this way, makes it obvious that it’s a form of slavery.

The basic argument rests on the discoveries of economists (who else) that slave-driven production and rigid organization was “more effective” than self-managed organization and therefore “free-labour” farms had to copy this kind of organization to compete. We are also told that because firms and factories could more efficiently wield the carrot and stick, it provided a bigger incentive which eventually led to city bred humans to choose such positions while their more free brethren in the countryside starved rather than submit.

There are a lot of important things here which really throw a spanner in the way the argument has been constructed.

First of all, the carrot and stick leading to greater productivity and therefore production methods that perfected it out-competing free labour conflicts with actual Science which has shown us that the carrot and stick doesn’t work except for the most menial and repetitive jobs, of which farming isn’t. Experience has shown that self-managed (note, not “self-controlled” as the author defines it) are far more productive than managed ones.

Second, the economists doing the comparisons, as is common with economists, don’t really mention anything else of the surrounding circumstances. Why where free farmers “less productive”? Could it be that they didn’t require that they overworked themselves for the benefit of a rich white man who could then sell all that extra product on the market for his own benefit? No. Lets not get caught in the details shall we?

Third, the absurd point that:

This dramatically illustrates the huge self-control innovations that came with industry. School, propaganda, mass media, and who knows what else have greatly changed human nature, enabling a system of industrial submission and control that proud farmers and foragers simply would not tolerate – they would (and did) starve first.  In contrast, industry workers had enough self/culture-control to act as only slaves would before – working long hours in harsh alien environments, and showing up on time and doing what they were told.

This is a blatant and common reworking of history by those who would like it to say something positive about brutal and inhumane production methods. That societies somehow “evolved” towards factory production as those who did not accept it where out-competed. This ignores the very significant violence enacted from the state, the theft of a genocidal size of the common lands of farmers, forcing them to either become proletarians or starve. People did in fact NOT starve when not following factory production. They were quite capable of living “inefficiently” through their free labour. This is why they had to be forced out of it, as they would not do it voluntarily. Who would discard Self-management in favour of wage-slavery?

Finally the conclusion that workers voluntarily chose to become wage-slaves because the rewards were bigger is goes contrary to the history of the labour movement and basic psychology. Not only do humans value self-management and freedom far more than they value extra money but we have a very clear history which shows us how violence and terror was required for workers to “choose” to become wage-slaves and how, further to that, the state was all too willing to attack them when they tried to resist this process or improve their lot. There is no need to theorize randomly based on economic nonsense and lack of context. We know why humans “chose” to become wage-slaves and it definitely wasn’t for the money.

In conclusion, humans are only “self-domesticated” to the extent that those who “domesticated” humans via violence and coercion are also human. But there’s nothing voluntary in there and the sooner we discard such propaganda and realize the true history and extend of our oppression, the sooner we can get rid of it.

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  1. Funny note: A commenter informed me that I had referred to them initially as “Overwhelming Bias” which is quite an interesting Freudian slip to make :) []