Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

If you were to meet an Alien who knows nothing about your species or society, how would you describe it to them. How would you answer the question why do we fight wars? 

“Difference in opinions has cost many millions of lives: for instance, whether flesh be bread, or bread be flesh; whether the juice of a certain berry be blood or wine; whether whistling be a vice or a virtue; whether it be better to kiss a post, or throw it into the fire; what is the best colour for a coat, whether black, white, red, or gray; and whether it should be long or short, narrow or wide, dirty or clean; with many more.  Neither are any wars so furious and bloody, or of so long a continuance, as those occasioned by difference in opinion, especially if it be in things indifferent.”

What is law and who are lawyers? Would you go something like this! 

“there was a society of men among us, bred up from their youth in the art of proving, by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is black, and black is white, according as they are paid.  To this society all the rest of the people are slaves.”

“after which they consult precedents, adjourn the cause from time to time, and in ten, twenty, or thirty years, come to an issue.”

Gulliver doesn't spare his own tribe too, doctors, 

“One great excellency in this tribe, is their skill at prognostics, wherein they seldom fail; their predictions in real diseases, when they rise to any degree of malignity, generally portending death, which is always in their power, when recovery is not: and therefore, upon any unexpected signs of amendment, after they have pronounced their sentence, rather than be accused as false prophets, they know how to approve their sagacity to the world, by a seasonable dose.”

Gulliver finds the Yahoos of the lands of Houyhnhnms obnoxious before long he identifies human beings with those beasts, only with more disadvantages and a little bit of reason that they use it for the worse and, is extremely ashamed of being one of them. While we have the advantage of speech, we use it for ignoble purpose

“that the use of speech was to make us understand one another, and to receive information of facts; now, if any one said the thing which was not, these ends were defeated, because I cannot properly be said to understand him; and I am so far from receiving information, that he leaves me worse than in ignorance; for I am led to believe a thing black, when it is white, and short, when it is long.”

I attempted reading Gulliver's Travels almost a decade ago, a few pages into the foreword, I decided to read it later when I have the time to read it slowly and enjoy it. This time I didn't read more than a few pages at time and every time I read I couldn't help smiling. Some of things that Swift talks about are still true. Why don't we reward somebody who follows rules rather than admonish somebody who breaks them? Gulliver visits a floating land controlled by magnetic suspension which looks very much similar to London of the future with floating buildings I read recently somewhere. 

I am happy that I didn't read Travels as a child and think of it as another adventure but waited until I really could enjoy the satire. 

Gulliver's Travels published in 1726 is available as a free download from many sites including the Project Gutenberg.

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