We can be slaves to a number of tyrants and oppressive and exploitative systems, but slavery can exist in different forms, and slaves don’t always have to be literally shackled in rusty chains, lumbering in a dark and dingy dungeon in an isolated and forgotten corner of the world. The slavery that this article is about is a form of slavery that is widespread, entrenched, and rarely discussed: cultural slavery. This form of slavery is kind of sneaky and sly; it can gradually trap you through the back door without sounding off any alarms.

We all know that there is an ocean of diverse cultures out there and many of them have taken thousands of years to shape, and some have now become so powerful and influential that they are able to shape many, many minds in many, many ways. We have all grown up around a culture (or quite a few, in some cases) and it’s just natural that we will be influenced by a particular culture sooner or later, especially by the one that we were born into. The problem isn’t being exposed to a culture or sub-culture; the problem is when so many people’s lives are controlled by the dictates of a culture, when our minds cannot see beyond the cultural prism.

I’m not demonising any particular culture or sub-culture, as we all know, or at least we should, that there are positives as well as negatives to all cultures. But I do believe that there is some validity to the claim that some cultures are more refined and progressive than others. For example, the national cultures of the Scandinavian countries are arguably far more advanced than the cultures of many, many African countries. To suggest such a belief does not imply anything that is racist. But a great number of historical factors should be thoroughly analysed if one wants to investigate why today’s world is mostly economically, politically, socially, technologically, scientifically and militarily dominated by the industrialised countries of the West and not the countries of Africa or Asia or Latin America and not focus on the skin colour of the peoples in the countries that are way behind in all of these areas.

The world certainly doesn’t lack in cultures, and sub-cultures for that matter. And there are so many different kinds of cultures that many of us know, sometimes intimately, such as political cultures, corporate cultures, gang cultures, macho cultures, literary cultures, binge cultures, etc., etc. As I said, the world is plentiful in cultures – as well as people to entrap and enslave.

The world’s first human cultures emerged in what is today Africa and the Middle East, and have been evolving ever since, picking up certain traits here and there, now and then. And cultures would obviously carry a lot of baggage, in the form of traditions, mannerisms and practises, and it is these things that so many people feel compelled or obligated to follow with blind loyalty and pass down with religious fervour. Don’t get me wrong, there are some healthy and great traditions that can be protected and passed down from one generation to the next. But alongside the good, there always seems to be the bad.

I’m sure we all know of someone who lives under the heavy umbrella of a culture or maybe sub-culture. Who knows, maybe you’re such a person, maybe I am, maybe everyone is. The influence of culture is pervasive and it has the uncanny ability to seep through our pours and penetrate deep into our minds and render some (most?) of us as cultural slaves. I’m sure there are many people who will refuse to accept the notion that they’re slaves to whatever culture or sub-culture that they’ve been enveloped in. Sometimes the truth is far more unsettling and difficult to fully comprehend, so some of us look to a more comfortable and palatable explanation to help explain why we are the way we are and why things are the way they are.

There is something very tragic about a human being who is unable to pursue an independent path in life as a result of following the dictates of a particular culture or sub-culture because of the deeply-rooted belief that there is a certain way to behave or a certain way to dress or in the belief in the importance of upholding a certain code at all times, no matter how twisted that code may be.

It’s important to note that cultures and sub-cultures shape environments as much as they shape countless people around the world. In fact, sometimes a culture carves out a huge piece of a landscape, thus becoming the most dominant force, and people who grow up in that environment tend to absorb its influences and its ideas of what is “normal” and “acceptable” conduct. Why so many people easily embrace beliefs, ideas and mannerisms that are destructive and degrading has always been a mystery to me, and why it takes them so long to finally leave the “dark to enter the light” has equally baffled me. But not everyone makes it to the light; some, sadly, take their cultural chains to their graves without ever becoming free, in the freest sense of the word, which is also very tragic.

Time and time again, I have seen and heard of individuals, families and large groups of people who have shed the blood of their fellow human beings or have oppressed and terrorised others who they perceived to be the enemy and/or somehow inferior to them because of their doctrinal beliefs that stem from whatever culture or sub-culture that has indoctrinated them through a long period of psychological conditioning (this psychological conditioning can even begin in childhood, when our minds are most impressionable and therefore susceptible to accepting certain views). One doesn’t have to look back at the annals of human history to find examples of human beings mistreating and even severely punishing other human beings just because they didn’t conform or subscribe to the “right” beliefs or belong to the “right” class that they and their forefathers belonged to.

Some have argued that religions are to blame for so much of the bloodshed throughout human history; others, including myself, argue that religion has often been confused with culture and that it is the latter that, through cultural slavery, has compelled all kinds of people to commit all kinds of heinous and unforgivable crimes against their fellow man. Although it’s undeniably true that religion has been used as a justification by some to justify their horrific decisions and actions, I wholeheartedly believe that religions don’t sanction or in anyway legitimise downright evil behaviour.

Do you know what is more sad than the murder of people’s hopes and dreams? The murder of people’s innocence. When all your innocence and compassion are gradually, but systematically, stripped away, you become an empty vessel, who will have no qualms about taking away someone else’s innocence, and life.

We can choose many different things in the world: pretend that nothing is wrong; give up trying to change anything; look at others as if we’re better than them because of the culture that we happen to belong to, etc. But thanks to the beauty of free-will, we can actually free ourselves from the strings and control of any and every culture and sub-culture, if this is what we choose. And I’m hoping that the vast majority of us are smart enough to know that the best way of living in this world and in this life is found on a path that we have carved through mastering our own destiny.