Friday, July 4, 2014

Furious Freedom

Freedom is uncommon.
It's worth remembering on this Independence Day...

However inalienable and proper freedom might be, oppression, bondage, and involuntary servitude persist today more so than at the height of the Atlantic slave trade.

The freedom to choose what you say and believe, where you go to live and work, to pursue knowledge, where you choose to call home and whom you will serve ... these are uncommon today. Uncommon, as in not available to most people.  Today.

Freedom's story is about more than taxes on tea or people in chains. 

Our American Revolution included twenty years of political upheaval and eight years of bloody war that ended in 1783, but there was more.

The French Revolution followed in the same decade, and the western world was born.  Personal freedom and inalienable rights were recognized in 1791 by the first amendments to our constitution, but it was well into the next century before such rights began to emerge for blacks, even later for women, and another century before segregation began to rot away.  There's more.

Humanity and the world were explosively changed by the freedom these few in the New World had won, but they and their predecessors had been fighting for such freedom since the Bronze Age.  It is a perpetual fire that has burned in every heart since the beginning.

At the other end of the spectrum from freedom is enslavement, perhaps.  Slavery is broad-reaching and not confined to the Atlantic slave trade between Africa and the new world.  Slavery existed thousands of years before in ancient China, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, India, Rome, Greece, Europe, the Americas, and Africa.

Slavery in antiquity may have begun simply.  From year to year, there might be a good harvest, a successful season, or a dry spell lasting years; success wasn't guaranteed.  A family or a community might have plenty for generations or be driven out when the rains failed or the nearby forests were exhausted.  Having lost their livelihood, they might offer themselves as laborers in a more fruitful region to those who had good land for crops or nets for fishing.  Problems arose when those who 'had' took advantage of those who 'had not', and varying degrees of indenture and servitude were imposed.  In distress, a family might sell a child in hopes of saving the child and themselves as well.  A successful herdsman might offer a cow or two for a pretty wife.  Or servant.  Slavery by class, by birth, by conquest, by desperate choice ...

Beyond self-indenture, we find capture and forced service. Forced enslavement has a long history and persists today as human trafficking.

Only recently having returned to worldwide public attention, the slave trade affects perhaps millions.  There are 10,000+ per year that we know about. Actual (undetected) numbers will be much higher.

Children are still being bought and sold. Women and girls make up about 70% of trafficking victims.  

To continue bringing the issue forward, take a look at indentured servitude.

Indentured service was a labor system, most common in the 18th century British colonies, where young folks would sell themselves for a period of years as laborers.  They began by first selling themselves to a European sea captain who transported them and in turn sold their indenture to employers in the colonies who needed labor.

Indenture was a way for the poor youth of Britain and Germany to try for a new life in the New World.  Their plan was to work for a period of years and then be released.

During the late 17th and early 18th centuries poor children from England and France were kidnapped and sold into indentured labor in the Caribbean for a minimum of five years, but most times their contracts were bought and sold repeatedly and some laborers never attained their freedom.

Our modern version has several elements, particularly since the industrial age began.
Indebtedness is a bondage, encouraged and enforced by western culture.  Particularly for students, the legally enforced obligation of debt confines the individual to a narrow path of employment and availability in the workforce, usually for decades.  (Student debt tops $1.2 trillion, more than all credit card and auto loans combined.)  When you're dealing with millions of workers, the averages play out pretty impressively for the finance industry and the wealthy.

Wages were tied to productivity for 25 years following WWII.  In college economics, we
were taught that the two were tied by economic law, and that if they deviated, marketplace
response would force them back together.  They couldn't separate.  All that ended by the 70's
when corporations began to extract wealth specifically for the benefit of the few.  Executive
wages increased radically while labor pay rates stalled for the next half-century.  The financial
industry was turned loose to continue the wealth extraction.  Deregulation made the theft legal,
and Wall Street has extracted trillions from the economy's productivity without a penny going
 to the workers who provide it all.
Minimum wage traps unskilled workers in poor working conditions and inadequate support for a healthy life.  At first, after the plague in Europe had decimated the population and labor was in short supply, maximum wages were set to control costs for the benefit of the wealthy.  Later minimum wages were set to provide a 'living wage'.  If the U.S. minimum wage had kept pace with worker productivity, it would be more than double the current rate.

Poverty, we know, is not something anyone chooses; it's done to you.

The big players these days are the 0.01% richest folks.  Economic warfare, rather poorly disguised in the west as free market capitalism, has formalized the process by which the super-rich advance at the expense of the indentured many.  The war is now global as financial institutions extract the wealth of developing nations.  Governments serve the wealthy and the gap widens.

Freedom is not the power to rise on the backs of others.
Freedom is not the chance to get ahead and leave others behind.
The full declaration is a world-changer.


The triumph of freedom is not a war's victory of one people or ideology over another ... that which we have isn't real freedom.  It's just a taste, and there's more to come.