On the internalisation of slavery

On the internalisation of slavery
5 min read
07 Jan, 2015
Tyranny relies to a great extent on the belief by a portion of the population that authority is equal to domination.
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Slavery is a network of social relations, and not a state of mind.

Nonetheless, repression alone is not enough to secure the endurance of the master-slave relationship, because it can never be absolute and total, except in death. Even in the most extreme cases, there are always spatial and chronological cracks in the chain of repression, and thus psychological and cultural mechanisms that preserve the bonds of subjugation are needed.

These are mechanisms such as awe, resignation to fate and to an ostensibly "natural" division of the world into masters and slaves. The presumed masters themselves are also in need of such cultural devices to maintain their own cohesiveness and internal balance when they treat other human beings like pack animals.

Respect for tyranny

The scholarship on such questions is too extensive to be contained in a single, short article. My only aim here is to elaborate on one such psychological mechanism that contributes to the persistence of the slave-master mentality, and which is used to entrench tyranny by mocking the alternatives available to it.

This specific mechanism is itself a complex of a number of component devices, the most important of these being:

1. An equivalence between respect and submission to authority
2. An assumed equivalence between power and the ability to exercise repression
3.  Equating submission to an authority with respect for the strong.
4. A denigration of the weak
5. Assuming an equivalence between humility and weakness
6. Moving with ease from the belittling of the weak into a denigration of the humble

In short, this mechanism takes the form of respect for strong, powerful authority figures who grab the reins of repressive arbitrary power, which results in an unpredictability of their actions. It is combined with denigration for those who are humble and therefore presumed weak, and whose tolerance and acceptance of criticism and insult may be taken for granted. 

     Slavery is a network of social relations, and not a state of mind.

Tyranny relies to a great extent on the belief by a portion of the population that authority is equal to domination, that power is equal to repression.


In such a way, authority comes to be identified with authoritarianism, synonymous to it. Soon enough, the democratically elected alternative - an individual not imposed by force - will be regarded as a weak individual, particularly if said person tries to lead by example in tolerating criticism and not responding to it with the use of force.

By doing so, this new alternative presents itself to such people as the opposite of authority as they know it: by treating the governed with respect, this new governor appears to them not to deserve respect.

I find it particularly saddening that certain intellectuals who had earlier demanded democracy are able to belittle such a democratic personage, even when the person in question is an intellectual drawn from their own ranks. These same intellectuals are prone to respecting an authoritarian ruler, even a philistine, or a military officer using a uniform as a smokescreen.

Such a mentality prevents the acknowledgement of the authority of a ruler who is modest and who makes him or herself available for dialogue. Rulers who do so make themselves liable to ridicule and denigration, a target for the venting of some of the detritus left behind by subjugation in the minds of those afflicted with a slave mentality.

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Such people will express the humiliation that they have internalised in the form of disrespect for and refusal to meet on equal terms; they will decline to obey the law and respect the public interest if they are not compelled to do such through force or the threat of force.

Their ridicule, which grows and transforms into humiliation, of those they regard to be weak is another expression of internalised humiliation. Institutions preserve this mentality which equates fear with respect for the overlords on the part of the repressed.

Stockholm syndrome

Often, the fear is transformed into awe and total surrender, taking on the feel of a fetishist love for the oppressor. The awestruck slave turns to a tortured acolyte, a suffering lover of his master.

Use of this mechanism is not limited to the rulers and the ruled. In everyday life, one comes across people who ridicule those who treat them as equals and peers: a presumed peer relationship brings out feelings of envy and spite.

Those who decline to treat people with enslaved minds as equals, meanwhile, will be spared the lash of their tongues.

Such tendencies speak also of a level of self-loathing: a person with an enslaved mentality cannot tolerate others who resemble him in any possible way advancing, because he will be reminded of himself. When an individual who resembles him becomes known for literary or academic or political achievements, he turns either to spite ("Why him?") or envy ("Why not me?").

     Some remnants of despotism with enslaved minds treat democrats with disdain.

At this critical time for the Arab world, it would be impossible to ignore how some remnants of despotism with enslaved minds treat democrats with disdain, how they long for a tyrant who is worthy of being their ruler.

If taken by the bewilderment born of anger and naivete, one should ask the reason why, the response from the mentally enslaved is quick: "Such a people require a leader who tramples on them."

In truth, he means himself and those like him, but he project his views onto the people. A truly free citizen respects those who respect the intellects and emotions of others, and would disdain those who impose themselves through use of force and subjugation.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.