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  1. #1
    Senior Member sofmarhof's Avatar
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    Default On being a servant

    I'm re-reading East of Eden and this stuck out, perhaps because I've also watched the entire Jeeves & Wooster series and read 800 pages of Wodehouse in the past two months. From Lee:

    "I don't know where being a servant came into disrepute. It is the refuge of a philosopher, the food of the lazy, and, properly carried out, it is a position of power, even of love. I can't understand why more intelligent people don't take it as a career - learn to do it well and reap its benefits. A good servant has absolute security, not because of his master's kindness, but because of habit and indolence. It's a hard thing for a man to change spices or lay out his own socks. He'll keep a bad servant rather than change. But a good servant, and I am an excellent one, can completely control his master, tell him what to think, how to act, whom to marry, when to divorce, reduce him to terror as a discipline, or distribute happiness to him, and finally be mentioned in his will. If I had wished I could have robbed, stripped, and beaten anyone I've worked for and come away with thanks. Finally, in my circumstances I am unprotected. My master will defend me, protect me. You have to work and worry. I work less and worry less. And I am a good servant. A bad one does no work and does no worrying, and he still is fed, clothed, and protected. I don't know any profession where the field is so cluttered with incompetents and where excellence is so rare."
    Also here's what Jeeves said in the TV episode "Comrade Bingo," don't know if it's original to the books, after pretending to be Bertie's friend rather than servant and demonstrating his knowledge of Marxism to a bunch of communists: "It is as well to know exactly what tunes the devil is playing, sir."

    On the one hand, these guys are sneaky devils and SJs as a whole must be more dangerous than they let on.

    On the other hand, eliminate the servant-secretly-being-the-master element, and anyone who is content to be a cook or a housekeeper is a lucky person. You might spend a lot of time physically occupied, but your thoughts are completely free. This is crazy coming from someone who keeps their own house as badly as I do, but it doesn't sound like a bad life.

    What do you think?

  2. #2
    Artisan Conquerer Halla74's Avatar
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    ^Not everyone can be a servant. This world needs leaders too, you know.

    I don't know if you and I have the same definition of servant in mind, but my intuitive answer to this question is that I serve my loved one's loyally, and my employer professionally.

    Other than that I am one to consider all men and women equally, but do my part to assist the weak and the needy in the course of my daily life.

    I do not see the benefit of serving people that do not respect themselves or others, but am a big believer in common courteousy.



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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by sofmarhof View Post
    I'm re-reading East of Eden and this stuck out, perhaps because I've also watched the entire Jeeves & Wooster series and read 800 pages of Wodehouse in the past two months. From Lee:



    Also here's what Jeeves said in the TV episode "Comrade Bingo," don't know if it's original to the books, after pretending to be Bertie's friend rather than servant and demonstrating his knowledge of Marxism to a bunch of communists: "It is as well to know exactly what tunes the devil is playing, sir."

    On the one hand, these guys are sneaky devils and SJs as a whole must be more dangerous than they let on.

    On the other hand, eliminate the servant-secretly-being-the-master element, and anyone who is content to be a cook or a housekeeper is a lucky person. You might spend a lot of time physically occupied, but your thoughts are completely free. This is crazy coming from someone who keeps their own house as badly as I do, but it doesn't sound like a bad life.

    What do you think?

    I think being a servant in the sense you've described here is something we don't have access to in the post-modern world. What you describe here is the gentrified middle-class of the 19th and early 20th centuries, when being a servant was indeed a comfortable and reputable job and a way to live amongst the wealthy with self-respect if one was not wealthy him or herself. These middle class servants were often decently educated and had complete job security, sometimes not only for their entire lives, but for their children as well.

    As someone who has done a lot of service industry jobs, there is a certain freedom to it, in the sense that your mind is your own and when you go home from work, no one is going to call you or page you or interrupt your free time as would happen in some more high-paying careers. On the other hand, you've got to have the personality for it, and being a servant in one capacity is not equal to being a servant in another.

    You may be romanticizing the idea of it. Working in the service industry these days is a load of crap, usually, unless you can get on at some seriously high class establishment with good benefits.

    I do agree though that a servant can have power in a dominant/submissive relationship, something you touched upon here, but I think that's a different matter entirely.

  4. #4

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    The root of the word service is the same as servant. To serve, to provide service, to pull the strings. However invisible they are to the eye. It isn't really about the work itself but about the ability to control conditions. A seemingly weak position that ultimately controls climate and conditions.

  5. #5
    not to be trusted miss fortune's Avatar
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    lol... reminds me of accidentally getting laughs from the adults when cheerfully singing "make me a serpent" instead of make me a servant in church

    of course, how you phrased it there the servant/serpent mixup might not have been as bad as I thought!

    Unless you're looking at the position of executive assistant (and that job totally sucked!) there's not really that many jobs that fit into the traditional role like Jeeves filled anymore. Not in this country anyways- I ran across quite a few while in Brazil- the convent even had a housekeeper A friend from Chile told me it was some sort of noblis oblige thing... the rich hire the lower class in order for them to get a job and have some form of steady income, or maybe that was her political slant rationalizing it, I'm not sure

    I worked for a bit as an executive assistant and hated the job- I wasn't allowed to have my own thoughts, in a way, and if I came up with a more efficient filing system or fixed the computers I wasn't the one who got the credit for it That irked me... I want my recognition dammit! And the ability to do what I see fit instead of having to answer to someone else :steam:

    I suppose some people are more comfortable with swallowing their pride a bit... I can't say that I really am, I'm a GOOD leo

    I suppose some may find following orders to be as peaceful as I find repetitive activities like making bread or shoveling snow- let your body go on autopilot and let your mind wander... I'm just too damned proud for it, I fear
    “Oh, we're always alright. You remember that. We happen to other people.” -Terry Pratchett

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    I'd also like to put in here that you're specifically acknowledging the middle class servants - there were still servant servants at that time, like scullery maids, who were usually illiterate and treated poorly. Those types of servants - the less educated ones who were working class - often had hard, terrible lives and they are the very image of the proletariat.

    The only way to put in into modern terms is to compare it as working as waitstaff at Shoney's to working at a 5-star gourmet restaurant. Even then, I guess the people at Shoney's get treated marginally better than 19th century scullery maids. Not by a wide margin, though.

    The world now is too impersonal for anyone to work for a family like that for generations - that's an aspect that would be unheard of in the United States, really, and is very much an older European mindset. Servants don't have much power these days, they really don't. Not in a world of 6 billion people where you can hire out cheaper telemarketing staff in India.

    I know the allure of being an old world, middle class servant, though, and am intrigued by the idea of 19th and early 20th century British butlers, maids, cooks, etc. However, you should also bear in mind that your present-day attitude probably wouldn't jive well with the compromises that would naturally have to be made if you devoted your entire life to one wealthy family.

  7. #7
    Senior Member sofmarhof's Avatar
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    But imagine you lived in the late 19th century and you made Lee's claim. You'd still have opposition. I'd say that's where the interesting debate lies, never mind whether such positions are available today. (That's why I posted this in the Philosophy subforum instead of Academics & Careers.)

    For modern equivalents... anything that's mostly menial labor, requiring little thought, earning a decent income, which makes your parents' friends scrunch up their noses when you say that's what you're planning on doing with your life.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sofmarhof View Post
    But imagine you lived in the late 19th century and you made Lee's claim. You'd still have opposition. I'd say that's where the interesting debate lies, never mind whether such positions are available today. (That's why I posted this in the Philosophy subforum instead of Academics & Careers.)

    For modern equivalents... anything that's mostly menial labor, requiring little thought, earning a decent income, which makes your parents' friends scrunch up their noses when you say that's what you're planning on doing with your life.
    There's no modern equivalent where you'd earn a "decent income." :yim_rolling_on_the_ I'm not sure what you think service industry jobs pay, or where the hell anyone would find that particular kind of job security doing menial work unless you were a "personal assistant" to a celebrity...maybe. Even an au pair leaves when the children get older. If you're thinking about being the manager of Wendy's or something - which theoretically could pay decently - I suggest you go work there for a while to get these ridiculous notions out of your head of "using little thought" and "having power." Coal miners make LOTS of money, but they do dangerous back breaking labor for it, and they aren't usually considered "servants."

    My parents wouldn't scrunch up their noses, and neither would their friends, since I come from a primarily working class and lower-middle class background. I think the problem here is that you don't, so you have very unrealistic ideas of what it's like. There's nothing wrong with being working class. Just don't think it makes you powerful...however, it could make your life a lot simpler, and that's not a bad thing, I suppose, to avoid "the rat race" in one regard.

  9. #9
    Senior Member KDude's Avatar
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    I come from a working class background as well. It's not something I'd idealize either. OTOH I do occasionally feel the need to offer some service to those who need help. But I wouldn't call this service exactly. I'm not serving anybody. It's just simply helping. As far as "masters" go though, I'm too cynical to really comment. I don't see any power on my part, to say the least.

  10. #10

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    I don't know if you and I have the same definition of servant in mind, but my intuitive answer to this question is that I serve my loved one's loyally, and my employer professionally.
    That's a very good and accurate description, my loved ones can be sure of my complete fidelity without manipulation or inverse controlling patterns, my employers can not and in a crisis I will desert my work, I would not desert my loved ones.

    By crisis I mean the real deal defcon one style, not a difficult or challenging day.

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