Science Fiction: Jo Walton on C.J. Cherryh’s Cyteen
“Not Even Wrong” Is Not Praise

How Many Layers Are There Here?

From George Bernard Shaw, Candida:

Act I: BURGESS [in a paroxysm of public spirit]: I acted in the interest of the ratepayers, James. It was the lowest tender: you can't deny that.

MORELL: Yes, the lowest, because you paid worse wages than any other employer--starvation wages--aye, worse than starvation wages--to the women who made the clothing. Your wages would have driven them to the streets to keep body and soul together. [Getting angrier and. angrier.] Those women were my parishioners. I shamed the Guardians out of accepting your tender: I shamed the ratepayers out of letting them do it: I shamed everybody but you. [Boiling over.] How dare you, sir, come here and offer to forgive me, and talk about your daughter, and--

BURGESS: Easy, James, easy, easy. Don't git hinto a fluster about nothink. I've howned I was wrong.

MORELL [fuming about]: Have you? I didn't hear you.

BURGESS: Of course I did. I hown it now. Come: I harsk your pardon for the letter I wrote you. Is that enough?

MORELL [snapping his fingers]: That's nothing. Have you raised the wages?

BURGESS [triumphantly]: Yes.

MORELL [stopping dead]: What!

BURGESS [unctuously]: I've turned a moddle hemployer. I don't hemploy no women now: they're all sacked; and the work is done by machinery. Not a man 'as less than sixpence a hour; and the skilled 'ands gits the Trade Union rate. [Proudly.] What 'ave you to say to me now?

MORELL [overwhelmed]: Is it possible! Well, there's more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth-- [Going to Burgess with an explosion of apologetic cordiality.] My dear Burgess, I most heartily beg your pardon for my hard thoughts of you. [Grasps his hand.] And now, don't you feel the better for the change? Come, confess, you're happier. You look happier.

BURGESS [ruefully]: Well, p'raps I do. I s'pose I must, since you notice it. At all events, I git my contrax asseppit [accepted] by the County Council. [Savagely.] They dussent'ave nothink to do with me unless I paid fair wages--curse 'em for a parcel o' meddlin' fools!

My economist's response is that Shaw is portraying Morell as a total prating ass: inducing their employers to substitute capital for labor and fire all their female workers does not make the female ex-workers better off at all, and should be greeted nt with enthusiasm but rather horror by their supporters. But is that the lesson Shaw draws? I am not sure...