Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Transparent Swindles"

"There are wise people who talk ever so knowingly and complacently about "the working classes," and satisfy themselves that a day's hard intellectual work is very much harder than a day's hard manual toil, and is righteously entitled to much bigger pay. 

"Why, they really think that, you know, because they all know about the one, but haven't tried the other. But I know all about both; and as far as I am concerned, there isn't money enough in the universe to hire me to swing a pickaxe thirty days, but I will do the hardest kind of intellectual work for just as near nothing as you can cipher it down--and I will be satisfied, too. 

"Intellectual "work" is misnamed; it is a pleasure, a dissipation and its own highest reward. The poorest paid architect, engineer, general, author, sculptor, painter, lecturer, advocate, legislator, actor, preacher, singer, is constructively in heaven when he is at work; and as for the magician with the fiddle-bow in his hand who sits in the midst of a great orchestra with the ebbing and flowing tides of divine sound washing over him--why certainly, he is at work, if you wish to call it that, but lord, it's a sarcasm just the same. 

"The law of work does seem utterly unfair--but there it is, and nothing can change it: the higher the pay in enjoyment the worker gets out of it, the higher shall be his pay in cash, also. And it's also the very law of those transparent swindles, transmissible nobility and kingship."

--Mark Twain,  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

I've been thinking about this topic--the "transparent swindle" of work and wages-- as I leave the nursing home (that's what it is, even if they call it a senior residence) to take up writing again: 
even though it's hack writing (to a publisher's specifications), it pays twice as much but is far easier than being a nursing aide (work I've also done).

I told one of the nursing aides that I was leaving because I'd begun to dread coming to work and facing the overwhelming needs of thirty-one people.

This woman, pregnant with her third child, said, "I feel that way every morning."

Yep, all my heartbreak aside (the pain of leaving people I've worked closely with for six months), the truth is I am now going to make twice as much doing easier work. Easier for me, that is, because I've been trained to it. 

 Working in activities is a bit of a mix---it's not going to break your body down (I quit being an aide after I damaged my wrist tendons), but in the World of Work, it's bottom of the barrel: you earn even less than nursing aides, and only a little more than workers at Walmart (Walmart's just raising their minimum pay).

It's high in meaning, though, and I hate to leave that. I am going to look into volunteering a nearby nonprofit senior day center that does a lot of community outreach.  


The Crow said...

My admiration for you and 'the content of [your] character' knows no bounds, but is ever-increasing.

Lucky are the clients at any care facility you toil within; lucky, indeed.

Zhoen said...

Scrubbed with a foot surgeon for an ankle fusion, while his fellow and resident worked on another patient. Took him a half hour to do a beautiful job very efficiently, with just me to assist, no one to teach.

The guy who installed our light took about 15 minutes to do what would take us hours and a lot of shoulder pain.

Pay is not for time, but experience and efficiency. And rarity. We expect to pay for caviar, but not much for bread. We can give up the one, but when we need the other, we need it, even if we can't pay.

The elderly with dementia are, in strict economic terms, no longer necessary or valuable. So, there is no money to make their lives easier, and people who do that aren't paid.

Render unto Caesar sort of thing.

Writing well and clearly, is fairly rare, so better paid, with a market to pay.

Fresca said...

Thanks, Crow.

I just deleted a couple responses about economics--don't really want to get into it!

Fresca said...

P.S. I mean, I deleted a couple of MY responses!
(I don't think I've ever delete others' comments, unless they were spam.)

Zhoen said...

Spam, spam, spam, spam.
Spam, spam, spam, spam!

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

You can delete any comments of mine that drift from where you want to lead. I promise, I won't mind.

Laura B said...

Yes, I'm currently in the former east Germany, where theoretically every work was equal & equally regarded: cleaning toilets or writing plays...a great theory, but didn't work out so well in practice....
Love that Mark Twain! He can point out with humor so easily what would take me paragraphs of pedantic overstatement to get at!

Fresca said...

ZHOEN: I can sing that! (Spam, spam, spam, spam...)
Oh, no, I wouldn't deleter your comments--I'd started to write about social injustice--and garbage! and I thought, oh, Fresca, do that elsewhere.

LAURA: Yeah, people never really welcome good ideas that are jammed down their throats.
Not that I think it was very workable anyway, given human nature...

Still, we could try a little harder here and now to reign in the tryanny of greed.

Fresca said...

"It might be useful to wonder which of the idealisms that make our hearts beat faster will seem wrong-headed to people a hundred years from now."
---Doris Lessing

Twain's character was saying, "It may be this way, but don't kid yourself about the nature of work."