Back in 1978, Alexander Warbucks released an article titled “How I Manage My Slaves”. There is very little information about Warbucks on the internet, and he never released any other work. Nobody knows much about this mysterious figure or his motivations for writing this. We can only infer what his purpose was and guess as to who he was.
Let’s look at the opening few sentences of his article:
“If you wish to keep slaves, you must have all kinds of guards. The cheapest way to have guards is to have the slaves pay taxes to finance their own guards. To fool the slaves, you tell them that they are not slaves and that they have Freedom. You tell them they need Law and Order to protect them against bad slaves. Then you tell them to elect a Government. Give them Freedom to vote and they will vote for their own guards and pay their salary. They will then believe they are Free persons. Then give them money to earn, count and spend and they will be too busy to notice the slavery they are in”.
Truly a frightening thing to write. But what was the purpose of this article? Written in 1978 it surely could not be about owning real slaves. Maybe instead he meant to criticize society.
After reading, Warbucks paper a few times, I believe he is simply referring to society in the modern age. We are all “slaves” to the system of capitalism in a sense. We’re bred to go to school at a young age, follow orders of teachers and education leaders, and then maybe even continue our education. Depending on where you live, choosing further education, as a university, costs you an arm and a leg. It’s dreadfully expensive and therefore forces those graduates to work for years to pay off loans.
Take a look at this quote below.
“They are lucky to be allowed to buy all of the wonderful things which make work and play so much easier. If they didn’t buy these fine things they would have no reason to work for money”.
This seems like a direct hit on capitalism. In modern society, people are told they need to buy the latest iPhone, Nike shoes, or whatever it is. Companies are constantly hurling advertisements at us through a variety of mechanisms. On your phone you see hundreds of ads a day. Driving down the road you see restaurants, shops, and factories all advertising something. In public transportation systems, walls are always displaying ads.
Not only are we encaptivated by advertisements, but we are also born and bred to be consumers. In our society, the more objects you own, the larger your house is, the more expensive your clothes all lead to status. In society, most people are never content with what they have. People believe they can buy their way to being of elite status. Of course, they need to make money to do that.
They work. And we all work. We work more than 40 hours a week often, giving us less waking time at home with our family than we spend at the office. Does that not make us slaves?
We are slaves to the system. Being born into a capitalist, consumer-based society means 99% of us will follow the group. We work to support our families, but we also work to consume more. We consume more food than we need to; we consume more media than is good for us; we consume more material wealth than we should.
We have a consumer problem. Not only is it making us slaves, but it’s destroying our planet.
In the opening quote above, Alexander Warbucks says the best way to manage slaves is to get them to pay for their own guards. Warbucks says slaves must pay taxes, elect a government, and establish some law and order and they will feel free.
If he is not criticizing modern society, I’m not sure what else he is referring to. His words directly describe the system and society we’re all living in today. We believe we are free. We’ve elected governments, established police forces and armies to protect us from the bad people. However, we seem to be stuck in slavery, as Warbucks would say.
Our freedom is only an illusion.
Now take this quote.
“It is becoming necessary to provide better working conditions to stop slaves from dropping out. As more drop out and provide for their own needs and direct their own lives it leaves less people to control them. It is necessary to keep them dependent on jobs or government money to maintain our control”.
Warbucks finds that many “slaves” are learning they can provide for themselves. People can live a life separate from society, not focused on consumerism and increasing their wealth. Warbucks says it’s necessary to provide better working conditions to make it more appealing to the slaves.
It’s bad for the system if people begin leaving work, finding their means to make money, and provide food. Rather, Warbucks says by making working for a company more appealing, slaves are more incentivized to stay in the system.
Think of a large company that offers nice chairs, free food, and a gym, free child sitting, or whatever it may be. These are just ways to convince people they’re happy working. Maybe they are or are not. Who is to say, but themselves?
Regardless, we should take Warbucks’ work and ideas sincerely. He has described modern society very carefully and accurately. We’re all working because we think we need to. We all want to buy more goods whether we need them or not. All of us have a sense of freedom yet we are completely dependent on society’s institutions which hold us captive.
Alexander Warbucks is acting as a philosopher attempting to shed light on the modern age. He used a great example that is emotional and effective. By relating the masses to slaves should cause many people to think about their place in the world. Are they succumbing to what societies tell them to do? Are they really free?
This piece is intended to spread Alexander Warbuck’s work and ideas. Each reader should find think and meditate on the subject. Really analyze your situation and your freedom. Are you happy living in a society where most people overwork to overconsume?
Unfortunately, we have no other work from him to learn more about his thoughts. Alexander Warbucks left us with one piece of work that is ground-shaking. And that was his intention. He wanted to shake things up and make people think for themselves.
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