Goodbye, Mr. Chipped
Slavery was practiced among the ancient Celtic and Nordic cultures, an enormity only incompletely suppressed through the missionary work of Saint Augustine of Canterbury and his successor, Saint Anselm, who wrote: "Let no one dare hereafter to engage in the infamous business, prevalent in England, of selling men like animals." Not that the East Saxons, West Saxons, North Folks, Mercians, Northumbrians, East Anglians, or Cantii much paid attention to the Church.
Fitting a slave – a thrall – with a thrall-ring around his neck as a clear sign of his bondage was practiced by some war-leaders and chieftains. One of the sub-themes of the novel Ivanhoe is the natural desire of thralls to be free, and thus rid of the thrall-ring.
A free man also possessed the right and the duty to bear arms, and could wear a knife on his belt. That longship has sailed.
In the High Middle Ages a free man employed by a great lord was required to wear his lord’s livery. Livery continues as work uniforms, which are now matters of safety, hygiene, and advertising rather than badges of subordination.
Logic and a sense of history suggests that men and women now would consider being enthralled (in its denotative meaning) by a master an abomination; in practice, the STEM-inistas of at least one American company seem to be eager to wear a modern and more technical version of the thrall ring: the electronic chip.
Three Square Market, in Wisconsin, is a software company that wants its thralls…um…employees to submit to the enormity of being chipped.
Instead of a blacksmith forging and securing an iron ring around their bowed necks, a medical technician will insert a microchip beneath their company-owned skin.
The fee for this procedure is $300, which the company will pay. Imagine a slave expected to be happy about not having to pay for the chains he must wear. Well, no, I guess we don’t have to imagine it.
The company avers that the harmless chip will allow their high-tech serfs to purchase snacks in the break room, open doors, and log into computers. Presumably their scientific employees were unable to accomplish buying a cup of coffee (or perhaps a bag of chips), opening a door, or logging onto a computer until they were degraded with, if not the mark of the beast, at least a beastly mark.
The company assures all that employees are free not to be chipped, just as employees are free not to join the company softball team, free not to donate to the boss’s pet charities, and free not to volunteer at the boss’s weekend good deeds.
If an employee of Three Square Market agrees to be chipped, he is given a chipping party and a free tee-shirt, that article of underwear which has been promoted to the status of our national costumery.
A free tee-shirt.
In A Man for all Seasons Saint Thomas More, learning that Sir Richard Riche has been made Attorney General for Wales in exchange for perjuring himself, paraphrases Saint Mark 8:36 with, “Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world...but for Wales?”
To which we might add: “But for a tee-shirt?”