I've recently read one of the most interesting articles on Wikipedia I've seen in a while. It's called the Black Iron Prison. I'm not going to try to summarize it since I'm not sure I fully understand it myself yet. Rather, I'll let you read the article for yourself by clicking HERE.
[Note, Nov 30 2008: They seem to have changed the article linked above in Wikipedia. The link now goes to an article on the science fiction novel "Valis". One section of this article briefly describes the concept, but not nearly as in depth or as interesting as the original. An anonymous poster has left a web link in the comments for this post today, which can also be accessed with the link HERE.]
It's probably best if you read that article before continuing on this post below...
After reading this article I was wondering if its possible to escape the Black Iron Prison. It seems to me that if the 'carrot and stick', and fear, are what keep us in this cycle, then many of the personal-level contemplative philosophies are good at helping to break it.
Buddhism teaches non-attachment and to seek out perspectives on the world that are free of bias and our own delusional preconceptions. Stoicism instructs us not to be a slave of our passions, which would include fear.
I have said before that a lot of evil happens as a result of our obsession with simple matters of life and death. There are worse fates than death and there is more to a good life than mere survival. Yet, the delusion to the contrary seems to be one of the elements of our imprisonment in the Black Iron Prison.