Damien Sullivan phoenix at ugcs.caltech.edu
Wed Jan 19 01:29:06 GMT 2011

On Tue, Jan 18, 2011 at 04:22:29PM -0800, Agnes Charrel-Berthillier wrote:
> On 1/18/11 4:05 PM, Damien Sullivan wrote:
>> Anyway, lots of fanfic potential in the more mundane details of
>> Cordelia's adjustment.  How did a proud egalitarian adjust to having a
>> horde of scurrying servants?  Did she upset things by trying to treat
>> them as equals?  Does she still feel a hidden twinge of guilt when she
>> pulls "I *own* you" on some District doctor?)
> I am puzzled about the part readin "as equals". Servants are employees,  
> not backward children. Respect them as professionals (and be a humane  

That's a very modern attitude, and not what you seem to find in societies
that actually have very wealthy upper classes with hordes of live-in
servants.  It's what Cordelia would try, but not necessarily what the
servants would expect or know how to respond to, let alone what Piotr,
Aral, or Alyc would tell her to do.

> boss) and there is nothing about the relationship that should be  
> disturbing. You mention the maid at your friends' and it just blows my  
> mind. Do you volunteer to do the dishes in restaurants? Do you vacuum  
> your office?

There's a Kantian element to this: "is this sustainable?  Could everyone
do this in a fair society?"  In a perfectly egalitarian society, you can
still have restaurants and cleaning specialists.  You save up to pay
extra for the special service, or they use specialization efficiency to
serve multiple people, or both.  You can even have a temporary full-time
maid or helper, for a new mother, say; it'd be an expense for a few
years you'd save up for or pay off out of the rest of your lifetime.
But you couldn't have a full-time personal servant indefinitely: you
make $40,000, they make $40,000, it just doesn't work.  (Though a
working couple could afford one.  Doesn't apply to my example, she's a
housewife.)  To have one person serving another full-time takes a lot of
economic inequality.  At the nice end, it's because one person is
naturally more productive.  Less nice, it's because they got a better
start in life in education... or because they're in an overall poorer
country... or because the employer is a miliary landowner.

Cordelia doesn't have to feel guilty about it, it's not her fault, but
I'd think less of her, especially as a Betan, if she's not at least
conscious of it.  She can have lots of servants largely because Barrayar
is the sort of society to have a caravanserai slum, and poverty that
means "you starve" rather than "you have a smaller apartment and a
slower comconsole".

-xx- Damien X-) 

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