The last chapter was concerned with slavery, and we ended by discussing its abolition - which in turn helped lead to its near total demise in today's modern world. Consequently it's something we tend to see as existing largely in the past, with just a few pockets of it remaining in "backwards" cultures, and in a few dark, criminal parts of society. However, this view has left us with a bit of a misconception about what slavery is and where it comes from. So it's maybe worth having a little look at this.
We tend to think of slavery these days in a very basic, binary way.
People who get paid for their employment are free. People who don't get paid for their employment are slaves.
We generally see it as about being paid or not paid for work. Now, of course, being paid a wage for work is a huge step up from being in actual shackles, but it's still, nevertheless a bit of a false dichotomy. Which only really gives us part of the picture.
To understand this larger picture we need to look at how slavery arrived in the Americas. For the example to work we'll have to assume that the accepted history of the discovery of the Americas is correct. We'll also have to take a somewhat romanticised view of life in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus and his various old worldy counterparts. So I'm taking a bit of a liberty in setting the scene to get my story across, but the importance is more in the idea than in the factual history in this chapter.
Anyway, when Europeans arrived in the Americas they brought "civilisation" with them. A "civilisation" we'll be discussing more in the next chapter, but which for now we don't have to worry about too much. The general "civilised European/savage native" motif will suffice to paint the picture.
Now when Europeans arrived with this civilisation they imposed it on the newly discovered continent in two ways. Firstly, by actually building it there - i.e. by settling and living and building towns, etc. Then secondly, by foisting its economic systems upon the people already living there.
So, when Europeans began attempting to make their fortunes, be it by mining gold and silver, or by farming exotic crops, they needed people to work on these plantations and down these mines. However, the natives didn't want to do this - and it wasn't because they weren't being offered pay. It was because they didn't want to work at all. They didn't need to work no matter what the pay was. They had no need for it, and the primary reason they had no need was because they simply didn't need to pay rent or mortgage.
It's hard for us to imagine this from our current perspective - we think it's perfectly natural to pay rent or mortgage every week or month simply for the luxury of having somewhere to go to bed at night. However, this wasn't the case for people living "outside of civilisation". They lived where they lived, not unlike a squirrel in a tree, without the worry of having to pay another human being just to have somewhere to be. Paying just to have somewhere to exist. To breathe in and out. All these people really needed to worry about was finding food and water. Apart from that they just had to maintain their "rent-free" homes - be they temporary, movable shelters or fixed settlements.
So given their state of life why would they want to choose to spend hours everyday down a mine pit, or on someone else's plantation? Even if they were being paid handsomely for it? Unlike us they didn't have rent or bills to pay. So what exactly would they have been working for?
For most people today their biggest bill is their rent or their mortgage. It can consume more than half a person's entire wage. So people are largely working just to have somewhere to exist - in the evenings and at night-time when they're not working. It's like spending a lifetime in a hotel room. We just accept that this is normal because we have no other experience or concept of living, but to someone from outside our civilisation it wouldn't look like such a great deal.
So this is why slavery began in the Americas. Not because the slave owners didn't want to pay the natives a fair days pay, but because the natives didn't want to work for these people full stop. Consequently, these newly arrived European speculators had to literally hunt down natives and force them at gun or knife point into working. The term "headhunting", commonly used in business parlance carries echoes of this idea. It was also why countless slaves had to be imported from the African continent to do this work.
So in a way it's our need to pay rent or mortgage that forces us to work - or at least work as much as we do. In fact, it's said that even today tribes in the Amazon only spend a few hours a day working to gather and hunt for their food, and do their various other tasks. Whereas in the civilised world it's often 8, 9, 10 hour days - and that's excluding all the other work we're not paid for. Such as doing the shopping, or the laundry and all the other little things.
Earlier we noted how the word mortgage translates as "death pledge" (mort meaning dead, as in post-mortem, and gage meaning pledge), and we looked at some of the links between debt and slavery. Having to pay another human being for the privilege of having somewhere to exist seems not entirely dissimilar to slavery in many ways. Again, it's a huge step up from actually being owned by another person, and I certainly wouldn't want to swap places with any of the countless desperate victims of slavery we've mentioned previously. However, I think I'd be pretty tempted to swap with the "backwards" natives in their rent-free wilderness.
In this chapter I mentioned living rent or mortgage free and likened it to a squirrel living naturally in a tree. If we take this example further it can be especially enlightening in relation to how humans in our civilised state currently live.
I give the fable of the Squirrel-King.
If we imagine that there's a squirrel king or landlord, who owns all the trees in a particular area, and requires rent from all the other squirrels for the luxury of being in the said trees. We can then imagine the mindset of a particular squirrel living under that system.
Normally this squirrel would only have to worry about collecting enough acorns to feed himself, and maybe a few more to hide away for winter. He'd be completely at his own leisure. With only his own hunger to satiate. However, let's say he also had to pay this squirrel king or landlord a certain number of acorns every day just to be up in the trees in the first place. Let's say for the sake of argument that this amount is five acorns a day. All of a sudden he'd be in a position where he would have to find five acorns everyday before he even begins to think about his own needs.
Now imagine the extra work and stress this would cause. Imagine the constant state of anxiety this squirrel would be in. Knowing he needs to find five acorns everyday just to have somewhere to exist and to be, before he can even consider his own happiness and desires. If he falls behind the acorn debt then mounting up even more. Maybe he only managed to give the landlord two acorns yesterday, so now he needs to find an extra three today just to make parity.
This is the state humans live in. This is why we live in a constant state of anxiety, as we're constantly having to work for our right to be somewhere. In stark comparison to all the other animals living timelessly and at one with nature. This is why we can't just live in the moment. We're constantly worrying about finding the money to pay the rent (or mortgage) just to be in the tree, or in nature, in the first place.
Again, as per the chapter in general, we just seem to accept this as natural, because we know no other experience. We therefore don't even correctly recognise it as a problem, nor seek any solution to the situation. In fact, we're trapped in a political false dichotomy. With people on "the left" tending to think that the solution to housing lies in state ownership - which generally means people paying rent to live in state owned housing. And with people on "the right" recognising the great value that comes from people owning their own home, but with such an obsession over high house prices and this idea that someone must earn their home, that the prospect lies truly out of reach for most people. Or perhaps in reach, but only through decades of mortgage payments which are little different to payments of rent.
Really we should be trying to create a system where buying your first home is as easy and as cheap as buying your first car. This is something that no doubt sounds a little radical to anyone reading it ..but again, that's only because it's so removed from the experience we were all born into.
Finally, there's one more thing worth noting. When it comes to wealth, the two major expressions of it are the ownership of land/property, and also the power to coin or lend money. Interestingly, this neatly coincides with the ideas discussed in the first chapter. As the landed aristocracy tend to derive their power from owning land. Whereas in the city, or amongst the "city aristocracy" as I would put it, power tends to derive more from banking and finance. This is something that can be witnessed in today's world quite readily. With the most powerful people in society tending to derive their wealth through either land/property ownership, or through banking. In essence, through rent or mortgage.
Further chapters can be found here.