Introspection, With Some Help From Mark Twain
“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 know all about the one but haven’t tried the other. But I know all about both; and so 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.”
This quote is over two hundred years old, and it's just as relevant today as back when it was first transcribed to paper. It ain't something grabbed from the splash-screen of an EasyBet online casino game. The quote is from the inner thoughts of Hank Morgan, the main character from Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court."
It's a satirical novel about a man being hit over the head and waking up back in the age of King Arthur. It's full of adventures, and the man character does his best to introduce the 19th century thirteen centuries early by opening patent offices, establishing newspapers, setting up telephone and telegram lines, and maneuvering himself into power by taking credit for a convenient eclipse.
The story also serves as a critique of monarchies and retrospective analysis of European history. While the protagonist abhors monarchy, slavery, and feudalism, with his power, he can't simply remove these facets of society everyone was a part of in the time. The book makes it very clear that while we cannot condone these things, we can't judge history by modern standards.
The quote I opened this article with comes after Hank Morgan attempts to explain to King Arthur what its like to be a peasant. While the King is eager to learn, it's shown that he genuinely cannot comprehend it. While Hank can describe in vivid detail the feeling of hunger, the burden of responsibility for a family, and submission to authority, Arthur, who has lived like Royalty his whole life, can hear the words but not grasp their meaning.
He's dismissive of the lower classes and their struggles because he has never experienced a true struggle in his life.
My lengthy, rambling, round-about exposition was to get to this: In our quarantine, we're discovering that we're all human. Covid-19 doesn't care about class or race, or country.
For the first time, millionaire celebrities are being shut up, and they're spewing their terror at being locked away at their multi-million dollar homes all over twitter. Can I just say that there's something really satisfying watching them bemoan their "struggles"? Although I should probably get off my high horse - I'm only a blogger, after all.
No, the real heroes of this quarantine have been those who venture out day after day to keep society running, not to mention all the doctors, nurses, and volunteers who are literally risking their lives to help the sick.
But just think about that for a second - I get to stay at home and write, safe and sound from global pandemics because of delivery men, sewer workers, garbage men, grocers, and everyone else who still works for the rest of our benefit, and who I just put alongside doctors as necessary for the continuing function of society.
Ain’t that eye-opening?
Our society only continues to function because of the working class. Not politicians. Not journalists. Not celebrities.
And in Conclusion...
To close off, here’s the second half of that quote:
“Intellectual ‘work’ is misnamed; it is a pleasure, a dissipation, and is it’s own highest reward. The poorest paid architect, engineer, general, author… actor, preacher, singer, is constructively in heaven when he is at work; and as for the magician with the fiddlebow 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.”
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