On Slavery Symbolic and Actual

March 2, 2008 at 2:59 pm (Free Market Capitalism, Music)

wage-slavery.jpg

In the song “Soul Singer in a Session Band,” Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst sings about the pitiful state of the person (in this case the soul singer) who sells his art for wages. He sings:

“See the soul singer in the session band,
Shredded to ribbons beneath a microphone stand;
Saw the conflict of interest, slipping cash in the hand
Of the soul singer in the session band.”

The lyric reminds me of what the German libertarian Wilhelm von Humboldt said about the man who labors as a wage slave at the behest of a master: “We may admire what he does, but we despise what he is.” Like the singer bearing his soul while keeping one eye on the clock, to perform solely for the enjoyment or enrichment of another is little different from prostitution. Hence the line from the same song:

“I had a lengthy discussion about The Power of Myth
With a postmodern author who didn’t exist;
In this fictitious world all reality twists:
I was a hopeless romantic, now I’m just turning tricks.”

There was a time in this country when “wage slavery” (working for wages) was considered almost as dehumanizing as actual slavery. Both entail working for a master (either in a manor or a boardroom) who profits from the worker’s output, and who controls the conditions of the workplace.

Is this all overstated? Have we grown so used to “wage slavery” that it doesn’t bother us anymore? Should it bother us today, or should we just bite our tongues and make the best of it?

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