The weight of chains

There are social norms, cultural norms, and societal norms. This is generally accepted. But what is less accepted is the idea that these norms are in fact prisons. For example, individuals like Nassim Taleb and Guru Anaerobic assert that employment is slavery. Sometimes, I agree with such statements, and sometimes I don’t. But what I do know is that slavery can be defined as the deliberate restriction of certain freedoms. There are some deeds which the chains of slavery permit, and others which they do not.

There’s this beautiful line in Neal Stephenson’s The System of the World: “Jack did not feel the weight of his chains unless he attempted to move.” In our own lives, we can only feel the presence and weight of chains if we attempt to move in unpredicted and unprecedented ways. We cannot know that our autonomy is being curtailed unless we try to become more autonomous. We cannot know that the available media is censored unless we try to walk through the fields of the bizarre and the fringe. We cannot know that our options are being gamed unless we explore the range of possibilities.

We can argue about slavery, about the restrictions of rights and freedoms, or we can test for its presence ourselves. But to do the latter, we have to move. After all, a slave discovers his bondage only when he tries to be free.