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Friday, June 22, 2012

A Gentleman's Gentleman

Back in the day, everyone had servants. The rich employed the middle class as servants, the middle class employed the impoverished as servants. Only the poorest of the poor would not themselves have servants, and even then, they occasionally employed each other in critical tasks such as wet-nursing.

The best servant was the manservant - the gentleman's gentleman.
His job was to know the wishes of his master before his master knew them. Clothes were laid out, baths were drawn, meals prepared before any request need be made.

He knew where all the skeletons were buried, but, being the soul of discretion, never revealed any family secrets to anyone outside of the family, nor even to those within the family, if that level of secrecy be required. Such is the legendary manservant of England.

Now, in order to accomplish these deeds, he needed to know his master perfectly, down to the merest whim. He needed to be able to predict his master's next move without fail. In short, the very best manservants were often smarter, more empathic, more discerning then the men they served. This is the dichotomy portrayed most perfectly in Wooster and Jeeves but also in myriad other art forms of a century long gone to us.

Gentleman's Gentleman 2.0

Why do I bring this up?

Well, the Gentleman's Gentleman has expanded his role. In centuries past, he could be afforded by only the richest of men. Very few men were good enough to fill the role, and they served only the cream of society. Today, everyone wants the job. Moreover, they are willing to serve the absolute lowest common denominator of economic classes.

I refer, of course, to Target. Target, Walmart, Kmart and similar enterprises are trying to create an advertising model based on your buying habits, an advertising model so perfect that they know you are pregnant or ill before you do. They lay out for you the products you will need in your upcoming travail before you are even fully aware that your travail is upcoming.

Now, we kick and moan about this as an "invasion of privacy." And it is, no question of it. But ultimately, we don't mind it because they are molding themselves into being our butlers. And we like having butlers. That's the whole point of the restaurant industry, right?

We create the societies we like to have serve us.
But we haven't fully realized what it is we want.

To Serve Mankind

For instance, take insurance companies. Just recently I had a discussion with another college professor about insurance companies. She was aghast and agog at the possibility that insurance companies might get a hold of her genome, sequence it, and drop her because she has some as yet unknown genetic problem.

I pointed out that, given her own attitudes towards genetic testing, they could hardly be expected to do otherwise. She was shocked by my response.

"Kate," said I, "you fully support genetic testing for Down's syndrome and you fully support aborting any fetus that tests positive for it."

"Well of course!" she replied, "Not all parents have the emotional or financial resources to care for such children. It's better for everyone if the fetus is simply aborted."

"Quite," I replied. "And that's exactly what our insurance companies are telling us. Not all companies have the emotional or financial resources to care for us as our genes start to express. They don't want to have to change their business model to accommodate us anymore than our exemplary parents want to change their lifestyles to accommodate a Down's syndrome child. So, they abort us from their policies. You can hardly fault them for that."

"But the two situations are not the same!" she answered.

"You are quite right," I agreed. "One is built on a parent-child bond, the other is a mere business contract. If parents can genetically profile their own children and kill whichever children turn out to be beyond the parents' resources, then certainly you would agree that business owners - who have much less duty towards their customers than a parent has towards his child - have at least the same right not only to genetically profile us but also to kill off any relationship that they judge is beyond their resources."

"We expect businesses to be butlers. We expect from them the same level of care that parents and children give towards each other. We intensely dislike it when businesses don't provide it. Certainly, if we expect that level of support, we must expect that level of personal inspection. We can also expect to be aborted. Any business or government capable enough to care for us is within their rights to abort us."

She insisted that the situations were different, but suddenly remembered a previous engagement and hurried off.

In short, she had not the resources to handle the conversation, so she aborted it.


1 comment:

mrsd said...

Well said. Very good post.