Serfdom vs. Freedom

Reeve and Serfs, circa 1310.

Both medieval and modern serfs tend the fields of others. Medieval serfs were bound by law, enforced by rigid hierarchies, oppressive regimes and fears of marauding invaders and bandits.

21st Century serfs are also bound by fear—and other emotions, by the allegiances of the modern tribes they choose and by powerful algorithms, who often know more about us than we know about ourselves.

Medieval serfs toiled with their hands and bodies in their lord’s soil. Modern serfs tend with their eyes and minds in the apps, websites and other media properties of today’s most wealthy and powerful.

It may not seem like work. It’s hardly back-breaking labor; physical* distress is little more than cricked necks and occasional carpal tunnel. It often even seems like play. But, at the very least, it means we’re not tending to our own fields.

Tend, of course is the root of “attention” and “intention”.

When we tend our own fields, we need to intend and attend—then follow up with effective action.

But today’s feudal lords: cable news, social media, conspiracy theorists, clickbait shops, famous-for-being famous “influencers”, etc. don’t need—or even want—our intention. Action—beyond an easy ‘like’, share, or other click—is usually optional as well.

Ergo, the easier choice is to tend others’ fields.

It’s also easier:

• than choosing which, among our many fields, to care for

• to merely care about something than it is to care for it

• since we don’t need to be authentic: there’s little risk for growth, scant chance for becoming (more than we now are)

• to simply respond than being responsible (response-able). We seek stimulation (from Latin, “something that goads a lazy organ”) and whether that’s our little brain or our big brain, whether porn in the traditional sense, or in one of the newer flavors, like outrage porn, or any vicarious consumption (food porn, real estate porn, productivity porn…).

So, what we reap won’t truly nourish us and those we care about.

Instead, by serfing the web, we build other’s castles (in the cloud), click by click.

*Of course, emotion, psychological, and cognitive strains are much greater.