The Servitude Of Our Times
The streets of Oxford are full of vans doing plumbing, roofing, gardening—all jobs that would have been done by the downstairs servants of yore. Men in vests unload commodities from wage-slaves even further off-shore. We think the days of slavery and servitude have passed, but they haven’t. They’ve just stepped out the door. Thanks to the chemical slaves of fossil fuels, we can have the service we’re used to without having to live with the servants.
In Sri Lanka, we literally live with our servants, and look like assholes. If we don’t share a roof we (the respectable rich) build houses for them, employ their extended families, it’s basically a feudal relationship. This seems backwards and people are embarrassed to talk about it. Indeed, there are many abusive feudal relationships that people should be worse than embarrassed about. And yet I increasingly thing that western servitude at a distance is not a qualitative difference but a quantitative one. It’s the same servile relationship, just at a distance where the enserver gives even less fucks.
As I’ve said, tourism is colonial servitude with tips. Can I rub your feet sir, can I scrub the villa, is the curry too hot for you? What the west calls the ‘gig’ economy is really just a distributed servant class. All the stuff we in the Dirty South would use a driver for (get the groceries, bring some food) western people use an app for.
Those distributed servants brings your goods and you don’t even have to look at them, let alone buy their kids school shoes. And yet their kids still need school shoes. Technology hasn’t removed the problem of inequity, it’s just removed the need to look at it so much. Instead of having one servant and potentially his entire village to bother you, you just get a different person from the lower classes all the time. So digitally divided into pieces of men that you don’t have to confront any of them as a human being. You can just get your shit and close the door. I think of the John Ruskin quote, via Tolstoy:
“It is not, truly speaking, the labour that is divided, but the men — divided into mere segments of men — broken into small fragments and crumbs of life; so that all the little piece of intelligence that is left…