I am grateful to some of my readers who have inquired concerning my health, this in view of the fact that I have not posted for several weeks. Imaging and I have just returned from a couple of weeks in Istanbul,Turkey. The jet lag of nine hours is a killer. I am still exhausted.
As most of you know, I was born in Wyoming and have spent most of my life here. That makes me little more than a provincial innocent who has sparse first hand appreciation of the history of the human race. My knowledge of history, as it is viewed on the ground, is one of Indians, and French fur traders and homesteaders, and when it is all gathered up it spans little more than a century. Growing up and living in Wyoming one never actually touches ancient human history. But in Istanbul it was a different story.
I was immediately taken by the history there that hit one in the face no matter where one went, the walls of the old city, several yards thick and thirty feet high, or higher – still standing after more than a thousand years. The mosques, monstrous domed buildings with inlaid tile, the palaces of the Ottoman kings – I mean, if you began to dig a basement there you would encounter centuries of civilization beneath the surface. I was astounded and left reeling.
I do not mean to turn this post into a travelogue. But I was told that thousands, yes, hundreds of thousands of slaves built the Blue Mosque in five years, a feat we could not duplicate with our modern machinery. Slavery. Nearly every great nation in history was built on the backs of slaves – the Romans, the Egyptians, yes, the castles of the English lords. The cathedrals in Italy, the Pope’s own quarters, are mostly the products of slave labor. The human race has advanced on the crumbling bodies and endless sweat of those whose lives were stolen from them by those in power. The foundation of our nation, too, was a system of slavery.
Nothing changes. But we have learned to cloak slavery with the myth of freedom. That is quite an accomplishment. Yet remember, the slave had a guaranteed sustenance. He had a pallet of straw to sleep on and he was fed, although little and cheaply. When he died he was buried in a shallow grave by the master.
Ask the millions of unemployed today who desperately search for work if they are slaves – slaves without masters. Parents struggle and sacrifice to send their children to college so they can become slaves of corporations that will use them up, and when they are finished with them, cast them out, nowadays often without pensions. In the old slavery, a child was taken from his parents and sold. In the new slavery the child, born in Seattle, will leave his family to be educated in Connececut and to work for a corporation in, say, Los Angeles. The family is no longer a unit that protects its members. The tribe is gone (unless by becoming a fan of a football or baseball team one joins such an impersonal tribe.) If we work for others we are slaves with few rights. When the dead master (the corporation that is and never has been alive) is finished with the slave the slave joins the ranks of the unemployed, feels worthless, worried, lost and wasted. If we work for ourselves we are slaves to the system, to taxation, to rules of law, to endless regulations that, at last, are mostly intended to benefit the money interests of the nation. No one can escape the slavery. The farmer works himself to the bone to reap his crop, but the price he gets is the price that all farmer slaves get – the amount that the corporate system will allow.
I am not arguing against this brand of slavery. Much of it is necessary in a civilized society, some for the protection of citizens. But at the bottom of this whole mess of rules, customs, the philosophy of free enterprise, the stock market, the entire business world, the laws and the court system is the overriding interest of power. We protect money before we protect people.
So when I got back from Istanbul I came to the conclusion that the human species, once we have abandoned the tribe, is hopelessly indentured. The trick, of course, is to become the kind of slave one wants to be, and to exercise enough control over one’s slavery that some happiness, some fulfillment can seep in. I expect that the slaves who built the Blue Mosque might well have stepped back and seen its beauty and gathered in a bit of pride that they gave their lives to such a monument, one they doubtlessly believed in, as we, indeed, sacrifice our lives to our own various forms of slavery.