SLAVERY: THE LITERAL ONE OF FREDRICK DOUGLASS TO A METAPHORIC ONE IN THIS M
“We may explain success mainly by one word and that word is WORK! WORK!! WORK!!! WORK!!!!” – Frederick Douglass, Self-Made Men Speech. The word “slave” can have many meanings, both metaphorical and literal.
Literally, being a “slave” means “a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them” (Dictionary.com). However, “a person who is excessively dependent upon or dominated by something” can also mean a slave, metaphorically. This “something” can mean anything from the federal government of a country to the Internet (also known as the World Wide Web), to a person’s own feelings and expectations. In the days before the American Civil War, in the times of famed black abolitionist Frederick Douglass, slaves were chattel, or property owned by another person and forced to do work for them. By the late 1700s, all slaves in the United States were African in origin, giving rise to the notion that all blacks, or people from Africa, were slaves.
Meanwhile, now, people have become “slaves” to what they themselves think they are capable of. Those with low expectations do not work hard, thinking that since they cannot do anything anyway, they might as well be lazy and not put effort into their work. This depravity destroys the people who create it. As such, even though slavery was and is damaging to society in both the time of Fredrick Douglass and today, the fact that nowadays, people are slaves to their own expectations hurts society even more than the traditional slavery of the pre-Civil War United States. In addition, where traditional slavery is forced upon a person, expectations are self-made, and hurt a person’s talents and ability much more than Douglass-era slavery.
In Fredrick Douglass’ day, the slaves of the plantations and households of the South did not have much of an effect on society-they were hidden away, unable to participate. Rather, it was their absence that deprived the society at large of a significant portion of potential thinkers, writers, and general contributors to society and civilization, all of whom had been shoved into sheds on plantations and into cupboards in apartments and manor homes. All of the thinking and social ideas were generated by white men, usually these with the most influence with the population at large, which, at that time, basically consisted of, once more, white male citizens. As such, the denial of new brain-power to the public restricted what new ideas and thoughts were presented to the community, opposing progress, and sealing off a plethora of opportunities for improvement and discussion. In a peculiar twist of fate, society is in even worse shape now due to slavery than during pre-Civil War times. Nowadays, many people do not have reasonable expectations for themselves.
Common sense or prudence does not play into their thoughts. For example, some people can set unreasonably high expectations- they would believe that they can be an Olympic gold medalist or the next Einstein or Newton, see their hopes fall short, and then drop out of society. Then comes the polar opposite, with people having low confidence in themselves, and never getting the courage or confidence to work hard, and, as a result, never see or get the opportunity or possibility of improving themselves, potentially even accomplishing great things. These people do not work as well as they can, because they have such low expectations for their personal ability. Should they join society, they would imbue it with much more diversity and variety than exists now, adding new perspectives and ideas to the global “melting pot”.
Traditional slavery was not optional, and these whom it imprisoned were not there by choice. In Africa, to support the Atlantic Slave Trade, the Portuguese and other European traders offered antiquated firearms such as ancient arquebuses (ancient weapons that were the highly inaccurate, imprecise precursor to the matchlock musket), gunpowder and other European goods, such as tobacco or rum, to African tribes in return for slaves. Also, the Europeans hectored local tribes into giving them human cargo, bullying them until they relented. Intimidation also had quite a lot of use to the traders-advanced firearms and cannon would have intimidated the locals to the point where they became subservient to the Europeans. Usually, slaves were captured in slave raids, or through tribal wars. Wars became conflicts of plunder, with capturing prisoners as the chief aim.
Prisoners of war were sold into slavery in return for the before mentioned European goods, and, in the case of the slave raids, noncompliant people were seized by others from their own tribes and villages in return for the so-called “protection” and firearms of the Europeans. Rich African trading nations sprung up alongside “slave castles”, basically local forts in which slaves were held before being herding and squeezed into the holds of American and European cargo ships for the treacherous journey across the Atlantic known as the “Middle Voyage”. In comparison to slavery in the time of Fredrick Douglass, the slavery to self-imposed expectations and other forms of personal opinion is self-inflicted, often willingly at the time or in the situation. A manager pushing him/herself beyond the limit in order to get enough revenue for a company would be a fine example of how this form of slavery begins. Unlike in the era of the Atlantic Slave Trade, where slaves were forcibly transferred into their condition as slaves, slavery in the modern era is often self-imposed. People nowadays may give themselves a bad opinion of themselves simply based on a few bad or so-so report card ratings, or failures in certain places.
Force from specific persons rarely comes up, and it is the person him/herself who forces him/herself into slavery, due to their low expectations, as well as the pressure of modern society to “produce more for less”, and to constantly excel. After all, nowadays, one who stays mediocre is left behind, and cannot keep up with the fast pace of modern advances. Returning to the business example, that manager will continue to push himself until he thinks that he cannot reach his unrealistic goals, and fall into despair. If he begins to enslave himself, he will begin to think that he himself is a failure, and simply drop out of society, becoming an useless to humankind, and others in the world. However, once a person has enslaved him/herself, it is incredibly difficult to shake it off.
This slavery can then affect the rest of that person’s life. Finally, chattel slavery does not really damage an individual’s talent and abilities. True enough, traditional Fredrick Douglass-style slavery can impede a person, and stamp out their intellect and education. However, once they are allowed education and proper tutoring, which did not happen often, or, in other cases, emancipation, they can produce great results when their sundered ability shines, such as that of Fredrick Douglass himself-the man escaped from slavery by learning to read and write secretly, and then running away from to South to the slavery-free states of the North. He (Douglass) then went on to become a famous orator and abolitionist. While this may be a very extreme example, it is also evident that traditional slavery does not, as widely thought, quash all ability, intellect, talent, and deprive a person of capacity.
However, being a slave to one’s own expectations can be extremely dangerous in this regard. When a person impales themselves upon the sword of foolishness, it is extremely hard to make him/her back out of that mindset. This mindset of “I-am-a-failure-and-cannot-do-anything” often leads people to be lazy, incompetent, and in general, delude themselves into incompetence and inability. This deprives people of an incentive to work hard and succeed, the content of the traditional American Dream (For these who don’t known, the traditional American Dream is: Work hard, become rich, raise a family, be independent, and practice independently.). They might as well be hermits or homeless people for all the good that they will be able to do.
Their laziness does to them what blighting does to grapes upon a vine, which, after being blighted, wither and die. Being idle is to be deadweight to society and, ultimately, a failure. Also, without an incentive to work, there can be no success, and all wishful thinking of success is to no avail, as Fredrick Douglass himself so finely (and roughly) stated- “We may explain success mainly by one word and that word is WORK! WORK!! WORK!!! WORK!!!!” (Self-Made Men Speech, 1872) Slavery, an aspect of both the historical past and the modern present, it has proved to be an oppressive, atrocious aspect of society and civilization in general. In the past, slaves, hidden from society, deprived that society of new ideas and thinkers. Also, they were forcibly taken from their homes, and treated as chattel and property.
However, the slavery of the past did not destroy intellect, ability, and talent. One would think that civilization had advanced enough to reduce the impact of slavery on the world and on the person. Yet, slavery nowadays consumes more of a person and society than ever before. Let us learn lessons from the past and from the present. Let us rid ourselves of the shackles of slavery forever!