Fri 13 May 2005
As all men I hate household chores. There are of course variations in the intensity of this emotion, I can withstand dishwashing (although I swear I would buy a dishwasher some day) and washing is supportable (after all, I have a washing machine and the only task remaining is hanging the things to dry) but I positively hate cleaning and ironing. As most men I know (except those who were in the military) I not only don’t like ironing, I also can’t do it properly especially with shirts. It’s somehow too complex for me (I can hear you laughing there, lady, cut that!) so I just don’t do it. Vacuuming of course is not complex but I hate it too since childhood (it was one of my parent’s bright ideas to make me responsible for vacuum cleaning our home on Saturdays) – and so do my cats, who hide under the bed as soon as they see the vacuum cleaner being taken out of the closet.
Is there a point in all this whining, you ask? Yep! While doing one of those things, which are laborious but necessary it occurred to me that with the social change we underwent in 20th century we lost something without gaining anything in return. I’m referring to household staff.
Somewhere between 1901 and 2001 the household staff – maids, butlers, cooks etc. – disappeared from all but the most rich households. Somehow the idea of working as one is now seen as derogatory, below dignity of modern people. Conversely, having household staff is seen as funny, not modern, somehow snobbish etc. However, when I think of all the hours spent cleaning, washing, cooking and shopping for food and other basic items that even a simple, bachelor household requires I come to conclusion that having household staff was a good idea. All those hours each day I could devote to work, meditation or simply thinking if someone would take care of all those mundane tasks….
All great men from history books, especially my favorite chapters on history of science, didn’t waste their lives on cleaning their rooms. Do you think Pasteur did shop for his groceries? Did Liebig iron his shirts? Did Kierkegaard wash? Or maybe Newton cooked his breakfasts? No! All of them had household staff who ensured that they could have more productive hours each day (and, while we are at it – none of them commuted anywhere either).
However, they had the luck of living in times when household staff was a norm amongst what would be now called “middle class”. Granted, most people who also benefited from that by having more time each day wasted it, but that’s not the point.
OK, so by now any leftist who was able to read that much of this heresy would scream on top of his lungs “And what about those poor people who had to be servants or maids”! Well, in human society there is a considerable number of people who are not bright enough to do anything complex and are best at performing simple tasks. I know it’s not politically correct to say that openly, but that’s a fact. And this doesn’t mean those people are less human because of it. That’s just the way they were born, they are quite happy working in jobs that don’t require subtlety or intellect. What has changed is the location – they now work at numerous restaurants, bars and retail shops. Do you think work of a waiter or a cook at McDonalds or an attendant at a supermarket is that better a job than being a butler or a maid? It’s nature didn’t change, what changed is shortness of relation with the ones being served.
And, of course, in this area the promise of the 20th century was: “OK, so we won’t have household staff but it wouldn’t be necessary since we would have machines that would take the burden off our backs”. But it turns not to be true so far, because even the most complex machines we have can’t do what stupidest of housemaids could. We have dishwashers, but none of them is able to collect the dishes from the table. We have vacuum cleaners, but only recently it’s possible to buy one who would act on its own – and still in a very limited way… We have electric irons, but none of them is able to take the things out of the washing machine, iron them and then put them on the shelves. Same applies to all kinds of fancy kitchen tools, ironically called “robots” in some languages. And there is still nothing that would be able to arrange the things in a room, cook breakfast or clean windows.
So, unless the robotics would get to the point of creating androids that would indeed be capable of performing all those tasks I would go on missing household staff.