Slavery as an institution is pretty far removed from the minds of most of us residing here in 21st century America. Slavery sits back plenty far enough in the faded, yellowed and brittle pages of history to create a more than comfortable chasm between us and itself. We view that chasm of time and social development and modernism as broad enough to keep slavery from leaping from the past across that chasm into the present. The idea of slavery seems to evoke dusty black and white tin-type images of the Civil War, the expansive plantations of the Deep South, bloodied chains, inhuman whippings, and wild-eyed slaves fleeing through swamps, thick underbrush and the wilderness of their own fear.
Those kinds of pictures have become our definition of slavery; the visual that creates a picture of what slavery is. That definition is nearly exclusive, making our definition of slavery so incredibly tight that we can’t see any other kind of slavery at all. And if we don’t see slavery, we assume freedom. That assumption in and of itself can be enslaving.
Slavery to Ignorance
Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Ignorance is being oblivious, to one degree or another, to the obvious. It’s not seeing what actually ‘is’ to the point that whatever it ‘is’ that ‘is,’ isn’t . . . at all. It’s having no recognition of something that exists despite how very real and very powerful that thing might be. It seems that kind of living can be freeing in some cases, and horrifically dangerous in others. The worst kind of ignorance is when we’re ignorant that we’re ignorant. At that point slavery leaps out of tin-types and into our worlds.
Ignorance can open the doors to a lot of things and give a whole lot of space for a whole lot of things to exist in our lives. Yet I think that ignorance of slavery or our enslavement is one of the worst things of all. To be ignorant and to be enslaved at the same time seems to be the absolute worst kind of slavery since we don’t even know that we’re enslaved.
What Enslaves Us?
How many things enslave us? We tend to see that things demands things of us, that we struggle with certain behaviors or attitudes, that we have our holes to dig ourselves out of, and our mountains to climb over. We look at our lives and see what we need to change, what should be altered, where we need the proverbial “nip n’ tuck,” a bit of “cut and paste,” or maybe a little bit of Botox for the personality. We likewise see the pieces of ourselves that need to be entirely eliminated in some sort of wholesale, demolition-like fashion.
We see our foibles, the fallacies of false fronts, our warts and things that warrant our attention. We know that we’re not where we should be and that where we should be isn’t anywhere along the road of where we’ve been going. We know at times that our values have been compromised, our integrity has been marred, and that far too often our morality has had the air completely sucked out of it. We know that we haven’t been accountable when we should have been, we haven’t apologized when we should have, and that we’ve never restored even half of what we’ve stolen along the road of our lives. We know.
Ignorance in Action
Yet, we tuck these things in the file of ignorance and then we file it away in the filing cabinet of forgetfulness. In reality, we walk with all of this stuff hanging on with claws embedded in our hearts, and roots entwining our souls. Yet we ignore them. We skip and cavort through life to some sort of fabricated tune whose verses sooth us with lyrics that all is good and our lives are squeaky clean and polished to a mirrored surface.
Or we manipulate ourselves into believing that whatever good that we have is good enough. That life is more about the business of survival which doesn’t afford us the larger luxury of introspection, personal evaluation and the sweaty rigor of change. We don’t see anyone else focusing on all that negative stuff and so we assume that it must not be all that bad or everyone else would be focusing on it . . . wouldn’t they? We find some comfort in the belief that overall we’re good people and at least we try to do the good thing even if we don’t end up doing the good thing. We create expansive and ornate rationalizations to justify ignorance, and we do a bang up job of creating them. We lull ourselves into belief that in the end, all of that stuff really doesn’t matter all that much anyway and that it will sort of eventually fall off behind us and kind of blow off the road of our lives, somehow getting lost somewhere in the wilderness of our journey . . . so we think. Therefore, we settle in ignorance and let ignorance give all of these things space to enslave us.
We are a peculiar people indeed. We tend to focus on the tasks that will either achieve our goals or keep our heads above water, whatever our situation might be. We’re notorious for feeding, watering and carefully attending to all the superficial stuff, but we put the real stuff out of sight behind the impermeable veil of ignorance. And we live as slaves to that stuff. We work to tactfully or not so tactfully counter the real stuff and we futilely attempt to offset it by managing and manipulating the superficial things and focusing on the things that don’t hit us too hard or upset us all too much. Yet all of our efforts to offset all of the things stored in ignorance are wholly insufficient. We live trying to change things by ignoring them. We attempt to resolve them by countering them with something else that isn’t as difficult or problematic dealing with. We try to cheat ourselves to health and wholeness.
The end result is slavery to those things we’re chosen to ignore. They drive us to futility attempting to compensate for them by ignoring them. They pound and thunder and bend us from behind the veil of ignorance. They dog our steps and flog our minds. They draw us down and drag us out. They impale us as they impact us. In short, we become subject to them whether we wish to acknowledge its happening or not. We become so enslaved by our own foolish and short-sighted vision that we become ignorant to that which enslaves us. When that happens, we become slaves in the most awful manner possible.
Refute and Refuse Ignorance
We refute and refuse ignorance by being honest about our weaknesses and failures. We acknowledge and bring to the forefront all of those things, we work to work through them with diligence and beat them by resolving them. In that way our enslavement can truly end.