I am proud to call myself an American. I’m honored to live in a country that stands for freedom, not to mention the great human spirits of innovation, opportunity and creativity. From the Declaration of Independence to cultural contributions that have benefitted all of mankind, we Americans have a lot to be proud of.
The “American Dream” serves as an example that many across the globe look to emulate. My ancestors emigrated to the United States from Germany and Scandinavia to establish and demonstrate that dream in all of its glory. In addition to providing opportunity and freedom for its citizenry, America has also upheld these values for much of humanity. Many Americans, including some of my relatives, have fought against the evils of tyranny and fascism, putting their lives on the line in the name of justice and liberty.
But the greatness of the most successful republic in history is also contrasted and tainted by an ugly ball and chain of oppression. For all of America’s countless moral victories, paradoxically we have also enslaved millions. From the genocide of American Indians, to the enslavement of African Americans to Japanese American internment in WWII, you cannot talk American history without acknowledging the ‘American nightmare’ of slavery.
Thankfully, the concept of literal bondage and ‘physical’ slavery is largely a thing of the past in our country. However, an arguably worse and dubious carnage lurks in the shadows of modern America – ‘mental’ slavery. One cannot observe a news headline these days without running into the concept of subjugation of thought. Addiction, obesity, suicide, mass shootings and even the compulsive nature of social media are all examples of mental enslavement.
Throughout the course of history, popular thought accepted that certain races and cultures were subhuman, genetically different and inferior (and therefore worthy of mistreatment and enslavement). As humanity has evolved, most have come to see the thinking that brought about mass enslavement as a fabricated myth and a devious lie. We can largely agree that all human beings are truly equal and share an unlimited capacity for love and goodness regardless of color or creed.
However, while we as a civilization and society have made tremendous strides in the concept of physical slavery, we’ve yet to fully acknowledge the nefarious underlying suggestions that bring about mental captivity. The crux of mental slavery is less malicious and harder to spot. Instead of overt hatred and judgment, the conditions that bring about the confinement of thought are more subliminal in nature.
Notably, the pervasive and constant dopamine loops that permeate our constantly connected world can promote an obsessive sense of tribalism. That is, labeling one another as genetically unique, different or damaged. While commonplace, this type of thinking also carries the risk of addiction and misery, as many become slaves to their own labels.
Says best selling author and professor of ethical leadership at NYU Jonathan Haidt, “Applying labels to people can create what is called a looping effect. It can change the behavior of the person being labeled and become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is part of why labeling is such a powerful cognitive distortion.” Psychology tells us that repetition can breed familiarity, but redundancy can also breed mesmerism and addiction. It only takes so many times of being told you’re sick, different or depressed before you start to believe it.
‘Something is wrong with everyone’ is the generally and commonly held belief. Beyond the construct of individual responsibility inherent in accepting this belief, the media and many corporations also perpetuate the notion that you are a slave to your body and your genes. Case in point, prescription drug advertisements that target anyone and everyone - surely, there must be at least one affliction that requires you taking a drug for the rest of your life! According to the British Medical Journal, for every dollar spent on research and development, pharmaceutical companies spend $19 on advertising! With our media inspired, drug-infused culture, is there any we wonder we have such a tragic and pronounced opioid epidemic?
But this isn’t just the case with drugs. Heavy people are told to get their act together and shape up, yet they’re also fed a heavy dose of direct to consumer advertising promoting sugary beverages, fast food and outright junk. Children are told they deserve trophies and can be anything they want to be, all the while being held to models of unattainable physical and intellectual perfection.
We mass market toxins to our populace and wonder why we’re sick. At the same time, we market drugs, pills and potions that supposedly combat these ailments yet never quite heal or cure our afflictions. We accept our mental shackles (labels as addicts, sick or having the wrong genes) like sheep being led to the slaughter. The way out is to refute and stand up to such aggressive and misguided suggestions. You are your genes and your circumstances only up to a point.
Sick people need comprehensive care and fully functional medicine, not just the promise of quick fixes and pills. We should demand our doctors ask us about our lives, rather than demanding medications from them as we’re instructed to do on television. Heavy people need empathy and education, not the burden of shame or misguided allure of temporary ‘solutions.’ The poor and downtrodden need compassion, not contempt. Societal tragedies such as mass shootings and homelessness need to be treated as urgent mental health issues, not just chalked up as the new normalcy and the plight of someone else’s problem.
Being completely absorbed with our own self image, passions and desires leads to bondage. Breaking the chains of mental slavery means standing up for something greater than the self and feeding one’s own ego (there is a reason that the tenets of addiction treatment calls for the recognition of and reliance on a higher power). To heal and find wholeness, we must instead serve others and God first. As it says in Second Corinthians, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
We all bear some responsibility for standing up to the evils of slavery, be it mental or physical. The answers don’t come in convenient packages or pills. The answers don’t come in labeling and pointing fingers at each other. Real freedom comes when the hypnotic influence of false thinking is unmasked. Freedom is truth.