Wednesday, February 1, 2017

"Get a Job"

A homeless person is holding a sign, begging for change.  A man in an SUV drives by and shouts out, "Lazy bum!  Get a job!"

Little does the man in the SUV know that he is playing a role with medieval origins.

The concept that the poor are lazy is a very old one.  In the middle ages, the world was divided primarily between lords and serfs.  Lords owned all the land, serfs rented a portion in order to make their living.  If they didn't make enough money from their produce that year, their land was taken from them and they were destitute.

Even so, serfs didn't work very hard.  They were often considered "lazy" by their lords, who would randomly go and beat them in order to make them work. Of course, they had no incentive to work hard.  Their life wasn't going to improve, no matter what they did.  They would sometimes take the biblical advice to get drunk in order to forget their harsh lives. This only infuriated their masters more.

The feudal system slowly broke down during the industrial age, and serfs left their forefather's land in order to make a better life in cities.  However, they found much the same system, divided into hours when they used to have years.  They were still disrespected for a lack of work because they showed up late, because they took rest in the midst of their labors.

Many were fired from their jobs and they would loiter outside, trying to sell what little resources they had. This meant that they had a serious issue:  they did not have "real" work because they did not have an employer, a lord, or a master to tell them what to do with their time.  All they did was survive, which wasn't good enough in a land with lords.

In London, many of these "loiterers" were gathered up en mass and sent to North America to work on plantations or as servants.  Some were offered the opportunity to have a lesser pick of lands themselves, but by the early eighteenth century, that opportunity dried up unless one dared the savage lands of the West.   Those who remained had to find a lord or scrape up a living on their own.  Those who didn't obtain a master, or didn't become successful through entrepreneurship were called "lazy" and often shamed in public.

All along, these people were granted insufficient incentive and high shame no matter what they did.

The one today, who tells the man on the street "get a job" is enacting the role of the upper class, telling one of the poor class to obtain a master.  Because survival is insufficient a goal for those in a land of masters and servants. 

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