by Nowick Gray

In the Civil War, slavery didn’t end; it just got shifted onto another segment of the population.

‘The 1860s US Civil War was primarily an economic paradigm war. The Southern agrarian plutocrats backed the Black manned slave labor system. The Northern industrialist plutocrats favored debt-wage slavery powered by European mass immigration.’ —Richard Solomon, Imagining US Civil War 2.0

In our so-called cradles of civilization, whether Babylon, Egypt, Greece or Rome, estimates run as high as forty percent of the population living as slaves: bound, beaten, and essentially forced to work to death. Wars brought new slaves. This pattern by no means was exclusive to the West.

Also in the Western system there arose principled opposition to physical slavery, so instead debt slavery was imposed. Once again the elites who pay for the system they desire turned metal chains into money chains. Those in the slave quarters now could buy comforts if they rose in the ranks by brains or brawn. They could roam free in spare time if they bought time back with genius or extra effort.

Today we are free to stare at our cell phones all day long, content again long into the night. With all the “trusted” information, virtual friends and lovers at our fingertips 24/7, who could want any more freedom than that?

If there’s something else you might want, something different, don’t even think about it. It will show up anyway on your real-time report. You can’t fool AI, even if you try. Especially if you try (that is, when we get the bugs worked out).

A Short History of Freedom

On a return flight home from a short vacation in Mexico, I finished two key books I’ve been reading in a quest to get to the bottom of the evils plaguing humanity’s presence on this beautiful planet. David Graeber and David Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (2021) sources both archaeology and ethnography to answer core questions about social inequality, violence, hierarchy, domination, and freedom. David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous (1997) delves into the origins of written language and its implications on our relationship to the natural world. The insights from both books help to dispel deeply embedded myths about our origins and intrinsic nature, to stop taking for granted our ways of living and thinking, and to open fresh possibilities for more humane and natural solutions to the challenges of life on earth.

Graeber’s survey of history and prehistory revolves around three “fundamental, even primary, forms of freedom: the freedom to move; the freedom to disobey orders; the freedom to reorganize social relations.”

Freedom to Move

It is important to distinguish the first freedom from a mere escape, or negative freedom, the fate of the outcast or exile. Graeber frames it in more positive terms: “to move away from one’s home, knowing one will be received and cared for, even valued, in some distant place.” Such an extension of nurture and care was made possible by cultural interconnection: by

far-flung networks of societies, spanning diverse ecologies, with people, plants, animals, drugs, objects of value, songs and ideas moving between them in endlessly intricate ways. While the individual units were demographically small, especially at certain times of year, they were typically organized into loose coalitions or confederacies.

Examples included the early Native American and Australian clan systems spanning continents, offering hospitality and refuge for those estranged from their own tribe.

Freedom to move in our own time entails financial means, or trespass. What rights are guaranteed are given as a favor of the state, with innumerable limits delineated and enforced as such.

Lockdown, curfew, quarantine, imprisonment, medical incapacitation: these are all currently practiced tools of authority that seek to quash the first human freedom, the freedom to move.

Now they have you tied up, they come with the needles.

Freedom to Disobey

“Just say no.”

—First Lady Nancy Reagan

The freedom to disobey has depended on one’s particular milieu, widely variable over time and geography—in contrast to what we’ve been programmed to assume.

Our standard historical meta-narrative about the ambivalent progress of human civilization, where freedoms are lost as societies grow bigger and more complex, was invented largely for the purpose of neutralizing the threat of indigenous critique. (Graeber)

The narrative of God-given hierarchy and “dominion over the Earth” was challenged in the West when aboriginal societies without such institutions of domination were discovered. Matriarchal cultures, women’s and men’s councils, even thriving cities with their pyramids long unused. In response, the dominant paradigm, the Western pyramid of power, was reinforced and further codified to justify itself as inevitable.

‘Political authoritarianism is indeed—as Étienne de La Boétie pointed out more than 500 years ago—a form of voluntary servitude.’ —James Corbett, The Law of Rule

What gives any human authority over another?

As usual in our conception-centered modern era, it all comes back to narrative, our operating system, our world view.

Freedom to Create

If we are responsible and respected in the cocreation of a meaningful narrative, an open source operating system, and an open-ended world view, we are free.

Free, we challenge authority and stand our ground. We refuse to follow dictates that would do us and others harm. And we think and act outside the box of prescribed remedies.

In the absence of state or tribal coercion, our limits are set by innate morality—what Gandhi called ahimsa, or the classic dictum, “Do no harm.” Nothing is required; and nothing is forbidden but that which would cause harm.

Of course, there’s the rub, because harm is woke-weaponized in today’s culture war. “Somebody might be offended.” “It might encourage an extremist; so it’s extremist too.” Or my favorite, “It’s missing context, and therefore dangerous.”

The Law of Rule

‘If we begin to interrogate our own assumptions, it is possible for us to formulate a seemingly equivalent but actually radically different concept of law and order. Yes, there can be no freedom without laws that form a framework for order. That is to say, there can be no freedom without common laws derived from centuries of community experience that form a framework for spontaneous order.

‘In this apparently slight philosophical adjustment, we begin to see a way to abolish the killing machine of the “law of rule” and to institute a true rule of law.

‘But as long as we continue to believe our erstwhile rulers’ lie that “the law” is whatever they write down on their magical pieces of paper, we will be subject to the current governing paradigm of the planet—the law of rule—and the killing machine to which this law of rule inevitably gives rise.

‘The choice, as usual, is ours to make. And, as usual, we find that the true battlefield is not the streets of Ottawa but the space between our ears.’ —James Corbett, The Law of Rule

Magic Spells

In the thrall of language and story, the fog of truth and lies, it helps to break the spell. To blink and snap the fingers and take a step back, looking at these squiggles on a screen, this apish primate gazing fixedly.

It’s part of The Problem, you may rightly say. These squiggles on the screen, substituting for reality. This ape on a chair, clicking his life away. We went virtual way back when, between Hebrew and Greek. We went into the cave to look at shadows and tell tales about the Sun.

David Abram, in The Spell of the Sensuous, ponders our shift in consciousness and laments the corresponding separation from nature. While making sense, in words, we have lost the exercise of our physical senses. Yet, perhaps it’s not all language’s fault.

Or at least, we can, stepping back, take note of what’s at stake, and redirect how the ensuing scene is to unfold. We might, for instance, click to another channel. We might power out and take up pencil and pad, or charcoals, to sketch what we dreamed might have been. We might drop the simulations altogether and go out to the land, the forest, the river.

We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human… A civilization that relentlessly destroys the living land it inhabits is not well acquainted with truth, regardless of how many supposed facts it has amassed regarding the calculable properties of its world. (Abram)

Language, used consciously, can attempt to sketch the visible and invisible contours of Truth… instead of blindly consuming and reciting recycled slogans and catchphrases, especially the so-called news churned and regurgitated through the daily feed of the propaganda machine. Original language, free language, can connect us directly to ourselves and to our fellow human beings who share the journey of discovery.

We choose the right to be who we are. We know the difference between the reality of freedom and the illusion of freedom. There is a way to live with the earth and a way not to live with the earth. We choose the way of earth. —John Trudell in role of Jimmy Looks Twice in the film Thunderheart

What do you experience, with your own senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and intuition?

What does your world feel like? What would it feel like, if you were free?

Claiming the freedom that is your birthright, what do you aspire to cocreate?

Nowick Gray writes from Salt Spring Island, BC. Visit his website at and subscribe to his Substack channel, New World Dreaming.

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