Rousseau surely overestimated when he declared that “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.” We are tethered to the machine even in the womb, where the winnowing of future possibility begins with hormone-disrupting pesticides, heavy metals, an alphabet soup of industrial toxins, and the chemical shock of neonatal vitamins. And in the first hours and months and years, the critical dance of maternal attachment, the back-and-forth, give-and-take of early identity formation becomes a stuttering, frame-jumping mélange, shrouded in sensory deprivation and interleaved with commercial advertising. As we mature, complete maturation never happens, and our cyclically-expanding epigenetic emergence becomes a linear trajectory bent to the ends of an invisible mechanical leviathan that is even now chewing the ground from under our feet.
Our earliest and most durable chains are those of arrested development. Psychological modules designed to assemble in response to social and material conditions distinctly different than those we experience assemble themselves nonetheless. But they are unfinished and distorted. And their integration with other modules is incomplete, resulting in a permanent and systemic deficiency requiring external fortification. Civilization both creates and services our insecurities, becoming first an oxygen tent, and then an iron lung. Our immaturity is the source of a baseline dependency that provides the machine with sturdy psychological carabiners to latch onto.
And the carabiners quickly become shackles.