Freedom and Dependence

It is hard to discuss anything but rent with an absentee landlord. Every problem is a matter of paying rent sufficient to induce some third party to fix problems that you can never directly address, because fixing things is not a tenant’s place.

In his Politics, Aristotle says that some people are naturally slaves. This is certainly wrong when people read his natural slavery as early modern plantation slavery (no one is naturally bound to be kidnapped and tortured as part of an incorrigibly brutal regime for growing cotton or sugarcane), but he is right that there are inevitably in every civilized society a significant body of people without freedom, and that some of us are more content with this arrangement than others.

As a member of the American dependent class myself, I see this clearly. Aristotle would say that we call slaves ’employees’ today, and we have devised much better ways (more ethical, less punitive, offering dependents more latitude in choosing masters and the manner of their dependence) of being masters than were used on many plantations in the recent past. But the fundamental truth is that America is largely unfree, more so as it negotiates with its landlords over the conditions of its dependence, which cannot help but increase as said landlords respond to negotiations by extending their power. At some point, the employees must simply walk away, to freedom that will not always be pleasant (or for some of us possible: maybe Aristotle is right that we cannot all be free, at least not the same way). The economy might shrink. We might buy less (afford less, have less hygienic housing, use fewer expensive medical technologies, rely less on infrastructure which we risk nothing to use). This is a very difficult problem: people don’t want the same freedom, and freedom is never safe. Neither is dependence, of course. Both courses exist in ‘bad’ forms, historically (outlaw freedom or piracy; plantation slavery); both also exist in ‘good’ forms (the medieval artisan, the independent farmer or rancher; the happy employee at a decent company). People don’t want the same thing (freedom, dependence), and they don’t want it in the same form (the same freedom, the same dependence). We are different, with different needs and different tastes (for freedom and dependence).

About kalekotxakur

Joseph Gresham Miller grew up in the southern United States, where his parents provided a well-stocked library and a large garden in lieu of school. As a young man, he left the States for two years to live in northern Spain, where he worked as an LDS Mormon missionary (basically an unpaid intern in corporate sales). After this adventure he went to school for more than a decade to acquire a doctorate in classical studies. Along the way, he met a very nice girl in Latin class, and they had two boys. Today, he and his family live in the mountain West. While his wife works full-time in academia, he adjuncts at local universities, writes, and takes care of the kids. He is interested in finding practical applications for more or less defunct ancient philosophies (especially Cynicism, Skepticism, and Stoicism) in modern life.

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