Sunday, April 06, 2008


I started writing a post earlier today suggesting that returning to the custom of household servants was worth considering as an alternative to the welfare culture, in response to reading something at Instapundit's wife's blog on the subject, and the extensive comments thread there. But I got stuck because (as a person socialized--if not particularly well--in this culture) I am uncomfortable with servants. I'm uncomfortable in several ways with the idea of having people in my home whose job it is to take care of me.

The obvious one is having strangers around. Granted, after a while they wouldn't be strangers, but they would be other people for quite a while before I became comfortable with them as members of the household...if ever. I mean, I occasionally fantasize about living completely alone, without even my husband, and I adore him!

Working out the relationship boundaries would be a tough task. Formal? Informal? Familial? The last thing I need is more people to whom I feel obligated; and I would not be the only one in the relationship, so despite the fact that I would be paying an employee, I would still be ethically obligated to respect and consider their desires for the relationship.

I don't know how good I'd be as a boss. I don't share power well; I delegate wonderfully, but I can imagine myself as quite imperious (I'm sure I am, in fact).

Then there's security. One of my fear fantasies about being incredibly wealthy is that I would be at risk from all the people I would need (to pay) to take of me and my money.

But mostly it's my self-image: I think of myself as a person who takes care of others, and I have a huge barrier to letting people take care of me, even when they want to. I only want what is given freely, as arrogant as that sounds. Forcing other people to provide care that I need is one of the scariest things I can imagine. And paying them to provide it is forcing them, it seems to me.

I think it shows a flattening of income value, that just a few generations ago it was ordinary for middle-class and even working-class homes to have a servant, maybe a day housekeeper or once-a-week heavy work girl, but now we take for granted that each tiny nuclear family can do all its own homemaking work. And we do. But at what cost?

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