When Homer described Ulysses as saying "All slaves are slaves by choice," you can be certain this was the impression he meant to make on the listener. Given the environment of the times, Homer could well have used any phrasing he'd wanted. But there remains the statement, picked up now and then throughout the centuries. Our civilization has carried the statement in the 1100s as defiantly Anglo peasants revolted against their French dominates, and again in the 1500s as global trade created amazing networks of subservience and dominance in trade. And again in the 1790s and 1800s when the voice of Socialism and representative government reared against the totalitarian nature of the dying feudal system on the European mainland.
All slaves are slaves by choice.
It's an interesting thought. All systems of influence are in some way consensual, either by mutual agreement or by force of arms. A slave has the option to rebel. This can be a terrible option, one with no viable chance of success, as is currently the case in places like North Korea. Rebellion means certain death. But the choice remains to break the bonds of subservience to totalitarian governments. The French at the dawn of the 19th Century made the conscious and bloody (and ultimately disillusioning) choice to abandon the position of slavery. Others, like those in Thailand and Burma and Vietnam, seem to go through cycles of different classes throwing off the bonds of slavery in order to exert their new class power by repressing and oppressing those who previously stood as the masters.
All slaves are slaves by choice.
But consider a few thoughts as you craft a response and share your thoughts. Take a system like North Korea, where state re-education from childhood is commonplace. The very idea of an alternative system of governance has been denied formation in the minds of so many North Koreans. If this is the case, and the very idea of revolt is stricken from collective consciousness, is slavery still a choice? Does choice depend on a knowledge of options, or merely their existence? And beyond that, if the state makes the exercise of a choice difficult to the point of ensuring death, have they effectively removed that choice and thus rendered an insurmountable slavery?
Consider a slave who, though in bondage, never has a desire to flee because the very awareness that there exists anything outside slavery has been erased by those in power. Can one still blame that slave for a failure to recognize his plight? Can we, standing here with the awareness we have, really blame the slave and not the slave master for his condition? Can we really expect every individual citizen, without support, to rise up and exert their tiny scraps of political force?
If not, then building structures becomes important, structures that reinforce ideals of independence and liberty. And who is going to build those structures? Certainly not the government or the slave master whose goal is to keep the slave dependent. Not the private sector, which has anyway quite a profitable engagement going on between the market and the slave owner. Not the public sector, which is made up mostly of those who benefit from the current system more than they might a more enlightened system.
To whom can we turn?