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On Labor and Luxury
by [?]


{260} Burlak, pl. burlaki, is a boatman on the River Volga.]

This: that one, perhaps two men, will pull; a third will look on, and will join them; and in this manner the best people will unite until the affair begins to start, and make progress, as though itself inspiring and bidding thereto even those who do not understand what is being done, and why it is being done. First, to the contingent of men who are consciously laboring in order to comply with the law of God, there will be added the people who only half understand and who only half confess the faith; then a still greater number of people who admit the same doctrine will join them, merely on the faith of the originators; and finally the majority of mankind will recognize this, and then it will come to pass, that men will cease to ruin themselves, and will find happiness.

This will happen,–and it will be very speedily,–when people of our set, and after them a vast majority, shall cease to think it disgraceful to pay visits in untanned boots, and not disgraceful to walk in overshoes past people who have no shoes at all; that it is disgraceful not to understand French, and not disgraceful to eat bread and not to know how to set it; that it is disgraceful not to have a starched shirt and clean clothes, and not disgraceful to go about in clean garments thereby showing one’s idleness; that it is disgraceful to have dirty hands, and not disgraceful not to have hands with callouses.

All this will come to pass when the sense of the community shall demand it. But the sense of the community will demand this when those delusions in the imagination of men, which have concealed the truth from them, shall have been abolished. Within my own recollection, great changes have taken place in this respect. And these changes have taken place only because the general opinion has undergone an alteration. Within my memory, it has come to pass, that whereas it used to be disgraceful for wealthy people not to drive out with four horses and two footmen, and not to keep a valet or a maid to dress them, wash them, put on their shoes, and so forth; it has now suddenly become discreditable for one not to put on one’s own clothes and shoes for one’s self, and to drive with footmen. Public opinion has effected all these changes. Are not the changes which public opinion is now preparing clear?

All that was necessary five and twenty years ago was to abolish the delusion which justified the right of serfdom, and public opinion as to what was praiseworthy and what was discreditable changed, and life changed also. All that is now requisite is to annihilate the delusion which justifies the power of money over men, and public opinion will undergo a change as to what is creditable and what is disgraceful, and life will be changed also; and the annihilation of the delusion, of the justification of the moneyed power, and the change in public opinion in this respect, will be promptly accomplished. This delusion is already flickering, and the truth will very shortly be disclosed. All that is required is to gaze steadfastly, in order to perceive clearly that change in public opinion which has already taken place, and which is simply not recognized, not fitted with a word. The educated man of our day has but to reflect ever so little on what will be the outcome of those views of the world which he professes, in order to convince himself that the estimate of good and bad, by which, by virtue of his inertia, he is guided in life, directly contradict his views of the world.

All that the man of our century has to do is to break away for a moment from the life which runs on by force of inertia, to survey it from the one side, and subject it to that same standard which arises from his whole view of the world, in order to be horrified at the definition of his whole life, which follows from his views of the world. Let us take, for instance, a young man (the energy of life is greater in the young, and self-consciousness is more obscured). Let us take, for instance, a young man belonging to the wealthy classes, whatever his tendencies may chance to be.

Every good young man considers it disgraceful not to help an old man, a child, or a woman; he thinks, in a general way, that it is a shame to subject the life or health of another person to danger, or to shun it himself. Every one considers that shameful and brutal which Schuyler relates of the Kirghiz in times of tempest,–to send out the women and the aged females to hold fast the corners of the kibitka [tent] during the storm, while they themselves continue to sit within the tent, over their kumis [fermented mare’s-milk]. Every one thinks it shameful to make a week man work for one; that it is still more disgraceful in time of danger–on a burning ship, for example,–being strong, to be the first to seat one’s self in the lifeboat,–to thrust aside the weak and leave them in danger, and so on.

All men regard this as disgraceful, and would not do it upon any account, in certain exceptional circumstances; but in every-day life, the very same actions, and others still worse, are concealed from them by delusions, and they perpetrate them incessantly. The establishment of this new view of life is the business of public opinion. Public opinion, supporting such a view, will speedily be formed.

Women form public opinion, and women are especially powerful in our day.