[NOTE: I consider this article flawed, but I'll leave it for posterity.]
I've been thinking about the nature of society. And I've come to the conclusion that modern society, at its most fundamental level, is slavery.
First I'll get something out of the way. This has nothing to do with government per se. Government is just a construction, a facet of society, so these conclusions apply to societies having any kind of government, and even anarchies. Government is simply the way that society organizes its use of force against people. Even anarchistic societies use force against people -- it's simply not organized in any official way. The question is whether that usage of force is legitimate or illegitimate.
A human born into a typical society is forced to submit to the authority of that society, under the threat of violence. The person will be forced to obey the arbitrary rules of society. But who has placed the society over that person, and what justification can be made for the domination of that person? In America, which has a republican form of government, the rules are largely enforced by the police officers and the courts. The police department has placed the officer there, and the politician has created the police department and "the people" have elected the politician. "The people" have also elected the judge and they sit on the jury. But what has placed the people above anyone? No higher power has. They have simply asserted their domination. The same pattern is seen in all types of societies with all kinds of government -- the monarchy at one extreme, and the pure democracy at the other. But at the root, the power of society (and of government by extension) is simply dominance asserted.
Now, people speak of the "social contract" as justification for the powers of society. I define the social contract as that which grants moral justification to the society for its use of force to coerce me into obedience of its arbitrary rules. I use the word "arbitrary" because there is a second moral justification for the use of force -- the defense of one's natural rights -- and use of force in all other situations is to enforce something arbitrary. The theory of the social contract goes that I agree to give up my freedom to the society and be bound by its rules, and in return, I gain the benefits of belonging to that society and working within the system it has constructed.
If such a social contract actually existed, it would be a legitimate framework for the use of force within society. But in truth, the social contract does not exist. Essentially, the social contract is this: "You will surrender your freedom to the society. If you do not surrender, you will be forced, through escalating levels of violence, into submission. In return, you will be given access to the resources of the society in proportion to your compliance with its rules." This is not an agreement between two parties in good faith. There is no negotiation and no agreement either. It is simply forced upon each human born within the geometry that the society considers its dominion.
There is no way to get out of the social contract, either, save through death. People may say "Well if you don't like it, leave!", but that statement is just stupid. Society cannot allow people to leave the social contract. And merely leaving the geometry of the society is not sufficient to absolve oneself of the social contract. The reason for this should be clear. Even as regards leaving, the society demands that you obey its rules. Most societies have laws regulating your ability to leave its geometry, and after you've left the geometry, you're still bound by that society's laws. Perhaps you have to pay some percentage of your income back to that society's government, or perhaps you are simply barred from reentering the geometry that the society considers its own. Even forcing you to leave if you don't accept the social contract is forcing the social contract upon you, because the social contract is the only thing that grants the society the justification to dominate you in such a way. If you accept it, you will be dominated, and if you don't accept it, you will still be dominated. So there is absolutely no choice about the domination. Because there is no choice, I don't think the "social contract" exists as such. So I will call it the "social coercion".
It's interesting to think about freedom, then, in light of that. Patriots often expound about how America is the "land of the free" because we have so much freedom and so many rights. And when you ask where the source of those freedoms and rights are, they will no doubt point to our national constitution. But those people do not understand what freedom is. What Americans call "freedom" is nothing but a set of privileges granted as part of the social coercion. We only feel "free" because the range of privileges granted to us by our society is relatively more broad than that of other societies. But how can law grant freedom or a right? Law can only restrict them. Freedom is what you have when you are not coerced, and law can do nothing but carve away at it, because law is coercion. When you talk of rights and freedoms granted by the law, they are nothing but the pieces left over after the society has culled from you all the freedom it does not want you to have. Freedom and society, then, are seen to be mutually exclusive.
So given its essense, modern society seems to be a necessary (and useful) evil at best, and a terrible tyranny at worst. Only a society without social coercion would truly preserve its members' freedom, but I can't imagine such a society existing. Without maturity, humans with more power would limit the freedom of others and assert themselves as masters. So a system that tries to limit the freedom of everyone equally is merely the best idea we've come up with so far.
The reason societies seem to exist is efficiency. I'm not referring to the efficiency granted by increases in technology, but rather the efficiency that comes from a greater focusing of "human resources" towards narrower goals. The focusing occurs by making people more machine-like and preventing them from expending energy in undesirable directions, both of which imply a necessary curtailing of freedom. And the goals are the fulfillments of the desires of the society, and in case of forced government, of vested interests. The vested interests are those who, if humans could be made perfectly machine-like, would be running the machines. Of course in reality there are layers of vested interests, some mutually dependent, but I digress...
Efficiency is why, even in more democratic countries, the military and businesses are still run as monarchies, or oligarchies at best, because under those systems the people are more subjugated, and thus more efficient. The argument is compelling, however, because it promises to raise the standard of living of everyone in exchange for the heightened efficiency that comes from a greater focusing of the efforts of society. With a more efficient economy, there could be more money to go around (although a disproportionate amount would go to the vested interests). And with a more efficient military, people may be safer from physical attack by other societies, and be more capable of oppressing other societies and appropriating their resources.
I can't argue against efficiency, because efficiency is a good thing. But I can argue against slavery -- against the enslavement of humans by society. A close analogy with the enslavement of black men in America can be made. From the moment they were born, they were considered the property of their owners. Their freedom was taken from them by force, but in exchange they were provided certain privileges and certain benefits. They were given food, clothing, and the "freedom" to move about the confines of the owner's compound, provided that they followed his rules and did the work he wanted them to do. If they worked hard to make their owner wealthier, they could even hope to see some improvement in their accomodations. But they would always remain slaves. In the owner's hand was always the whip. Society works similarly, enslaving humans from birth, and providing to them limited privileges and certain benefits in exchange for being forced to spend their lives working for the society's betterment.
Society should exist for the benefit of humans, but it seems that in fact many humans are existing for the benefit of society. (And generally, the poorer one is, the greater the exploitation.) How can we call our way of life civilized when it requires the enslavement of every human being? It is important for people to realize that society enslaves its members, because only then will we think to search for a better way. The very idea that we are already highly civilized prevents us from being motivated to mature and find a system by which humanity can be free. Freedom is the birthright of every human, I say, and in an ideal world, the degree of participation in society would be up to each person, that's all.