Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The People of the Abyss by Jack London

These people who try to help!  Their college settlements, missions, charities, and what not, are failures.  In the nature of things they cannot but be failures.  They are wrongly, though sincerely, conceived.  They approach life through a misunderstanding of life, these good folk.  They do not understand the West End, yet they come down to the East End as teachers and savants.  They do not understand the simple sociology of Christ, yet they come to the miserable and the despised with the pomp of social redeemers.  They have worked faithfully, but beyond relieving an infinitesimal fraction of misery and collecting a certain amount of data which might otherwise have been more scientifically and less expensively collected, they have achieved nothing.

As some one has said, they do everything for the poor except get off their backs.  The very money they dribble out in their child’s schemes has been wrung from the poor.  They come from a race of successful and predatory bipeds who stand between the worker and his wages, and they try to tell the worker what he shall do with the pitiful balance left to him.  Of what use, in the name of God, is it to establish nurseries for women workers, in which, for instance, a child is taken while the mother makes violets in Islington at three farthings a gross, when more children and violet-makers than they can cope with are being born right along?  This violet-maker handles each flower four times, 576 handlings for three farthings, and in the day she handles the flowers 6912 times for a wage of ninepence.  She is being robbed.  Somebody is on her back, and a yearning for the Beautiful and True and Good will not lighten her burden.  They do nothing for her, these dabblers; and what they do not do for the mother, undoes at night, when the child comes home, all that they have done for the child in the day.

And one and all, they join in teaching a fundamental lie.  They do not know it is a lie, but their ignorance does not make it more of a truth.  And the lie they preach is “thrift.”  An instant will demonstrate it.  In overcrowded London, the struggle for a chance to work is keen, and because of this struggle wages sink to the lowest means of subsistence.  To be thrifty means for a worker to spend less than his income—in other words, to live on less.  This is equivalent to a lowering of the standard of living.  In the competition for a chance to work, the man with a lower standard of living will underbid the man with a higher standard.  And a small group of such thrifty workers in any overcrowded industry will permanently lower the wages of that industry.  And the thrifty ones will no longer be thrifty, for their income will have been reduced till it balances their expenditure.

1 comment: