Man is Born Free and Everywhere He is in Chains

Man is Born Free and Everywhere He is in Chains

This time last year the Treasury sent out a self-congratulatory tweet announcing that millions of us had helped end the slave trade through our taxes. The 184-year loan, taken out by the government in 1833 to pay out slave owners to end slavery, had finally been paid off and we’d all played a part.

The tweet was quickly deleted when the Caribbean community reacted to the realisation they’d been paying off the people that had enslaved their ancestors.

David Cameron’s ancestor benefited to the tune of around three million quid from the payout. Lacking self-awareness, he visited Jamaica as Prime Minister and offered to build them a prison. He wanted to transport Jamaicans held in British Prisons back to Jamaica to be locked up there. Shipping people across the Atlantic in chains? The irony was lost on Dave.

Dave’s ignorance of his own family history and his general recklessness, highlight a much bigger issue. We don’t have great leaders.

The Greeks understood that democracy was always going to be flawed, because we ourselves are. Know Thyself, written on the temple of Apollo at Delphi was the best advice they could give. Notably absent from Boris’s lexicon of Classical quotes, it asks us to re-examine ourselves – to seek the answers within.

Personally, I’m tired of false prophets and snake-oil sellers peddling El Dorado. Using the lowest common denominator – an existential fear of immigrants, refugees and foreigners in general, to garner support.  I’m seeking the remarkable in the ordinary and I’ve always found my heroes closer to home.

Around here, you can find your Gandhis and your Amy Johnsons in the local store. They’re easy to spot. The one who takes his own path, has taken his trolley in the opposite direction to everyone else and caused a traffic jam in the coffee aisle. Bloody pioneers! Companies spend fortunes profiling us and designing stores so that we behave and shop in a certain way. Namely, buying a load of stuff we didn’t realise we wanted and probably don’t need. We’re being manipulated and don’t even notice it most of the time. But they can’t factor in the mavericks. Regular shoppers’ frown on their behavior, but I’m reassured; they give me hope. Not everyone’s conforming to type.

Small acts can make big statements. Like the guy who picked up a piece of red ochre and drew a picture on the cave wall. The one who melted some sand and created a window through which to view the world. They weren’t bound by convention, they thought for themselves and for the greater good. All great revolutions start with a small act of defiance.  We don’t have to follow each other blindly. It’s important to remember that it’s our curiosity that has enabled us to evolve.

Next month: Trespassing on the Duke of Westminster’s Land


  1. Not sure you want to start blaming people for what their ancestors did until you’ve spent a fair amount of time researching your own. I hardly think we can pick out our leaders by who can cause chaos in the co-OP. Why is it always suggested that someone else pick up the mantle and solve the world’s problems…what about you?

    • The title comes from Rousseau, which also alludes to the supermarket reference ie: the more we have, the more we want, which means we can never be truly satisfied.
      As for my own ancestors – they were paying off the loan too.
      Given the current debacle we find ourselves in, I’d say you’ve as good a chance as any of finding wisdom, reason and rationale in the Co-op as anywhere else.

  2. Shared on FB. Another insightful window on our world. Thanks Mark.

  3. Not met Gandhi in Waitrose yet, but have encountered lots of little people called Tabitha and Oscar. Waitrose is also getting quite diverse – lots of stores now have sushi bars, for example.

    • I hope it’s from sustainable sources?

  4. Not sure – as far as I’m concerned, raw fish is for herons, wherever it comes from.

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