We must constantly liberate ourselves from existing in slavery.
Slavery, properly so called, is the establishment of a right which gives to one man such a power over another as renders him absolute master of his life and fortune. The state of slavery is in its own nature bad. It is neither useful to the master nor to the slave; not to the slave, because he can do nothing through a motive of virtue; nor to the master, because by having an unlimited authority over his slaves he insensibly accustoms himself to the want of all moral virtues, and thence becomes fierce, hasty, severe, choleric, voluptuous, and cruel. … where it is of the utmost importance that human nature should not be debased or dispirited, there ought to be no slavery. Montesquieu
We humans have been and still are slaves to many masters. That fact may be observed by a cursory look at the functioning of past societies. The grip of the Christian Church on the mind of Western society since Constantine made it the state religion in 332 AD is easily demonstrated, but there have been many other examples, and all societies are locked in some form of mental master-slave-grip. Even small social groups have their taboos. In our American society, which loudly proclaims liberty as its basic living quality, we are awash in efforts to manipulate our minds and behavior. Manipulation comes in many forms, and for most people advertising is the most annoying imposition on personal liberty.
Use of time and attention is our most basic liberty and it is under constant assault by advertising, as it is impossible to totally avoid advertising. Civil and criminal laws are another imposition, but we accept those limitations, if they are enforced fairly on everyone. Those forms of slavery are recognized and accepted, but the abstract ones are less observed.
Slavery may be defined as being compelled to behave in some defined way. Slavery becomes oppressive when we are compelled to do something we don’t want to do. Thus, being forced to spend your time and energy enduring advertising is a form of slavery. We like to believe we can turn away from what we don’t want, but even that action is something that is wasting your time and attention.
Often these demands for compliance are invisible but absolute, such as nature’s gravity or humanity’s social conventions. We readily accept that we must live within what is provided by nature. Sometimes this is called physical law, but no one goes around responding with Newton’s laws foremost in their attention. We respond to Nature with inborn and learned habits, and Nature is simply what it is. When we understand nature better we can use it better, but we can not violate the basic laws, even those of random chance. Our social conventions are similar to gravity. Our speech is a huge collection of conventions, as ubiquitous as gravity and not just the words but the arrangements of the words, the pronunciations, and so on and on with speech, but the rest of our behavior is just as controlled. It works.
Governments try to impose their will on human nature and on physical nature too. Stalin tried to force people to grow warmth-adapted crops in cold regions. That failed and people died. Top-down imposition by poorly informed individuals doesn’t work, unless it works from the bottom up too.
What is to be shown here is that one form of social organization when it is imposed on some other one, in an absolute way, brings about the problems usually associated with the term slavery, and that is the imposition of an idea or method that doesn’t work as well as an existing one previously adapted to its particular environment. In Medieval times it was the imposition of the church and its revealed religion on science, philosophy, politics and everyday personal life. All of this was done with the good intention of lifting everyone into the kingdom of heaven, but it interfered with the naturally functioning systems of living people. That degraded the whole society and impeded its moving on to something more productive of happy, healthy fully functioning individuals. The warning that a problem exists is when anyone can compel another to behave in a particular way. That situation is ubiquitous; thus it is a question of degree.
A living balance is needed between the effective power of many systems.