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From the Birth of Tragedy to the Heart of Darkness

“When I do a novel, I don’t really use the script, I use the book; when I did Apocalypse Now, I used Heart of Darkness. Novels usually have so much rich material.” —Francis Ford Coppola

Nietzsche’s theory was new and innovative in terms of the age in which he published it. He had hoped to gain respect from his peers from it and, despite high praise from the Wagner family, it was generally poorly received.

His theories in Birth of Tragedy went against strong held beliefs of the day. God was not dead as far as his contemporaries were concerned. Nietzsche questioned the whole outlook of the society in which he lived and he found it to be stale.

He is not the sole originator of the ideas in Birth of Tragedy. He is strongly influenced by Schopenhauer who “has described the tremendous dread that grips man when he suddenly loses his way amidst the cognitive forms of appearance, because the principle of sufficient reason, in one of its forms, seems suspended.” (BT p.16)

Here the reason is that of Apollo. Suppress reason and you are left with the chaos and irrationality of Dionysus. Frazer tells us: “The god Dionysus or Bacchus is best known to us as a personification of the vine and of exhilaration produced by the juice of the grape.” (GB p.386)

Nietzsche quotes from Schopenhauer: “Just as the boatman sits in his little boat, trusting to his fragile craft in a stormy sea which, boundless in every direction, rises and falls in howling, mountainous waves, so in the midst of a world full of suffering the individual man calmly sits, supported and trusting the pricipum individuationis” (WR p.352).

Might not that same boatman be Marlow on his journey up the Congo or Willard on his way to Cambodia? It is quite possible that Conrad is referring to Nietzsche’s BT (p39); “True understanding, insight into the terrible truth, outweighs every motive for action, for Hamlet and Dionysiac man alike. No consolidation will be of any use from now on, longing passes over the world towards death, beyond the gods themselves; existence, radiantly reflected in the gods or in an immortal ‘Beyond’ is denied. Aware of truth from a single glimpse of it all man can now see is the horror and absurdity of existence; now he understands the wisdom of Silenus, the god of the woods: it repels him”

Thus Marlow says in HD (p112) “Destiny. My Destiny! Droll thing life is – that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself – that comes too late – a crop of unextinguishable regrets.”

Nietzsche’s theory embraces the WILL and the IDEA, which can also be compared to the Dionysiac and the Apolline, and he applies this dichotomy to art and music. This leads on to his idea of the “will to power” where the weak hold back the strong.

The closer you get to the WILL, the purer the art form. Therefore music is the purest form as it requires no intellectualisation to get its message across. However Nietzsche had a high regard for painting, though not as high as music.

The film, had it been around at the time, might concievably have topped the list as it is an ‘immersion’ experience, it draws you in. It is quite possible to follow Apocalypse Now without understanding a word that is said. Admittedly you are left with the ‘reality’ while you lose some of the insights.

Apocalypse Now is full of symbolism of the rationalisation of the Dionysiac. It is impossible to conquer the chaos and so it must be brought into the fold. For instance, the river is described by Conrad as a winding snake. This motif is carried into the film in the tattoo on Chef’s shoulder. The jungle is filled with insects, possibly dangerous but it is the giant insects, the helicopters, that bear the words “death from the sky”.

There is a fine line between the law and chaos and in Nietzsche’s view of the theatre, the Greek tragedy held the Dionysiac and the Apollonian in the correct balance. For instance in Sophocles immortal tragedy Oedipus Rex Apollo is represented throughout but Dionysus is represented through the chorus.

In Apocalypse Now this relationship can also be explored through the music, being the voice of Dionysus. When all is still the music is calm and flowing, like the mouth of the river, but when the destruction begins or when Willard is in internal turmoil there comes a change. The strains of the orchestra are replaced by the raucous sounds of the Doors.

At other times we here the Rolling Stones but one place in the film where music is used to particularly good effect is at the bridge where there is no longer a command. Without Apollo, Dionysus rules and Hendrix plays over the radio. Of course the most obvious reference to Nietzsche in the film is through Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries as the helicopters begin their attack on the rebel village.

Robert Duval’s Colonel Kilgore is an interesting aside. Throughout the film ritual is rife, from the service for the dead soldiers to the barbaric rituals of Kurtz’s tribe. However no where is it better portrayed than in the ritual of surfing. It is also interesting to note the modern widespread use of the phrase “Charlie don’t surf”. It appears that Apocalypse Now has entered the modern mythos.

Kilgore also represents the two forces in balance. Of course he appears totally insane but in the heat of battle he alone remains calm, surveying the beach while shells explode around him—sure in the knowledge that he cannot be killed.

Here the film is disturbingly accurate to life. “I am a general. No one would dare shoot a general.” – Sir Michael Rose, British commander of UN peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, on why he didn’t flinch when a sniper bullet came close to hitting him last week. (NW)

Then again this could be a reference to Nietzsche as quoted by Camus: “What is more pessimistic than the Greek maxim: ‘Happiness lies in not being’?” (YW p.141) This refers to the idea apparently accepted by the Greeks that it was far better to live a short and glorious life than a long and tedious one thus they gravitated to the Dionysiac.

The central character in Apocalypse now is Willard but his foil is Kurtz. Again they represent the oposite sides. The regimented soldier moving towards chaos, and the “man-god” ruling by absolute.

In Heart of Darkness the manager says; ‘”We must save it at all events – but look how precarious the position is – and why? Because the method is unsound.” “Do you,” said I, looking at the shore, “call it ‘unsound method’?” “Without doubt,” he exclaimed hotly. “Don’t you?”… ‘”No method at all,” I murmured after a while.’ (HD p102)

However Kurtz has gone beyond method. “It is surely undeniable that we take pleasure in dreaming, that we enjoy living in an imaginary life a hundred times more beautiful than reality. This is because we feel the need to forget our individuality and to identify with humanity as a whole” (YW pp, 139-140) Unless we take method to mean rhythm, the control of the Dionysiac. “They disciplined mystical frenzy by means of cadence.” (YW p. 141)

In Frazer’s Golden Bough there is an interesting comment: “a tradition of human sacrifice may sometimes have been a mere interpretation of a sacrificial ritual in which an animal victim was treated as a human being. For example at Tenedos the new-born calf sacrificed to Dionysus was shod in buskins, and the mother cow was tended like a woman in child-bed.” (GB p.392) Despite the insaninty of Kurtz the world of his creation is one of order and so the fine balance is retained. When Willard kils Kurtz he replaces him but he cannot rule because he has come back from the edge and so he must call in the air-strike.

Endnotes:
In this essay the following abbreviations apply:

BT: Birth of Tragedy
GB: Golden Bough
HD: Heart of Darkness
NW: Newsweek
WR: The World as Will and Representation I
YW: Youthful Writings

Selective Discography:

Jimi Hendrix
Richard Wagner
The Doors
The Rolling Stones

Bibliography:

Apocalypse Now by Francis Coppola – American Zoetrope 1979
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – Penguin 1989
Newsweek – May 30, 1994
Poetics by Aristotle – ?
The Birth of Tragedy by Friedrich Nietzsche – Penguin 1993
The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer – Penguin 1993
The World as Will and Represenation I by Schopenhauer – ?
Youthful Writings – Cachiers II by Albert Camus – Vintage, pub.

Lecture Notes – Peter Storfer

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Posted by on July 24, 2011 in Literature

 

Moral Panics

“Perhaps more than any other disease before or since, syphilis in early modern Europe provoked the kind of widespread moral panic that AIDS revived when it struck America in the 1980s. ” —Peter Lewis Allen

A moral panic, according to Barrat seems to be directly related to deviance. In the form I have chosen to display it, it is also an instance of deviance, of the so called ‘youth culture’ deviance. Since the Second World War, Britain has had to face a changing youth culture. This dramatic change, from a seemingly general passiveness and conformity, to a consumer with freedom, financially and socially. Teenagers, after the war found themselves earning a wage closer to that of the generation above them which ultimately ended up in their dependence upon the older generation as less important, therefore they had more freedom and were more able to express themselves as they wanted. This change in the nature and quality of life for the younger generation consequently resulted in various other culture groups forming within society among the younger generation. I am attempting to explain the nature of society with regards to deviance in ‘youth culture’s’ as it is directly relevant to the example of a ‘moral panic’ that I am to give. I shall be using the upsurge of ‘Acid House’ parties in the late eighties, and shall try to explain this in the form of a moral panic as Stanley Cohen did with the ‘Mods and Rockers’ phenomena.

Acid house parties really came into the limelight in the late eighties, especially 1989/90, when they received much popularity and publicity due mainly to the mass media. It must be stressed that a ‘moral panic’, a social phenomena which causes a public outcry amongst ‘right thinking members of society’ due to second-hand information being passed on is directly related to the media. People’s knowledge and opinion of certain events or trends are generally influenced greatly by what they read in papers, what they see on television, and by what they hear on the news. Consequently, it is the mass media that generally creates a ‘moral panic’.

The ‘sceptical’ revolution in criminology and the socially of deviance is different from the older style which was ‘canonical’ in the sense that it saw the concepts it worked with as authoritative, standard, accepted, given, and unquestionable. Cohen describes the new tradition in his book ‘Folk Devils and Moral Panics”, as ‘sceptical’ because when it sees terms like ‘deviant’, it asks ‘deviant to whom?’ or ‘deviant from what?’; ‘and when certain conditions or behaviour are described as dysfunctional, embarrassing, threatening or dangerous, it asks ‘says who?’ and ‘why?’. In other words, these concepts and descriptions are not taken for granted.

One of the major problems is that of ‘labelling’. The ‘labelling theory’ states that their is a good chance of those being labelled, derogatively or otherwise, will meet the prerequisites of the status they have been assigned by others, normally a representative of the establishment, e.g. teacher’s, politicians etc. This self-fulfilling prophecy seems to be a very important part of the creation of ‘moral panics’, the mass media being the major instrument of voicing a general view of what the ‘right thinking members of society’ ‘should’ think. Thus creating a one-sided view of the situation, and with regards to the popular press, we know that information is often used in a way to help spice up a good story, whether it be placing more attention and space to it, or making it one sided by leaving out the major opposing arguments. The biggest problem can lie in what is left out of a report, as David Glover said: ‘Though it is fairly easy to recognise prejudiced or loaded phrases and questions it is harder to identify ‘incompleteness’ in a news report or a current affairs programme.’

The papers also use ‘social experts’ and other professional people and people in authority. The good part of the public usually accepts these views without question, whether because this is what they want to believe or because society has taught them to be submissive and accept authority without question. These people in ‘authority’ also seem to be the furthest people from the particular problem and have no first hand experience of the situation. Cohen says that the information the public receive is second-hand, and it is another point to add that the papers usually receive the information second-hand themselves, therefore when the public does receive the information, a lot has been lost along the way.

In order to explain the creation of a moral panic, I am going to use the prevalence of so called ‘Acid House Parties’ in the late eighties. The term ‘Acid House Party’ comes from the appearance of many songs using the words ‘acid’ or ‘aciiiid’, the yellow smiley faces which were common on such records at the time, which became a symbol of this particular youth culture for a while. All these references refer, of course, to acid or trips, the drug which was and still is very cheap and widely available almost everywhere in the country. The mass media hooked on to the term, and consequently, almost any type of party or whether it had been officially organised or not, came to be known as ‘Acid House Parties’. The media had caught on to the present dance and drug scene, which probably wasn’t much worse than it was previously, but the prominence of the ‘smiley face – acid song’, as well as an upsurge of so called ‘raves’ at the time.

The ‘scene’ received much bad publicity from the popular press and thus led to a public outcry for the police to clamp down on illegal raves and drug dealers etc. The acid house parties were seen as deviant, and those who organised and attended the parties were condemned and regarded as deviants. The media distorted and exaggerated the facts, which led to the public concern of ‘something must be done’. The authorities are put under pressure as they are seen to be doing nothing, therefore they intervene. Obviously there were illegal occurrences taking place, selling drugs for example. This situation leads to what is called by sociologists as ‘deviancy amplification’. The hype in the paper etc. lead to the ‘scene’ becoming more popular amongst certain youths, it is seen as exciting and larger than life. The more people getting involved in the scene obviously leads to more and larger parties being thrown. ‘Dodgey’ promoters hold ‘rip off’ parties as a result of the media claiming that large profits are being made. Drug dealers are attracted to the parties as the media emphasise the drugs being taken. Thus the acid House culture becomes more popular and widespread.

This particular youth culture, like any other has its own symbols and trademarks. The Mods have their Parker jackets, scooters etc., the Rockers have their swastika’s, studs etc., skinheads with , obviously shaved heads, and bovver boots etc. The Acid House Culture also had theirs, as with other groups their are different strata’s within this group as well. However, it was easy to identify a ‘raver’, there were dungarees and surreal ‘acid’ jumpers, at the beginning there was the obvious ‘smiley face’ badges, T-shirts etc., BodyGlove, a make of clothes was very popular and very expensive, and there was the very popular bandanna which were seen everywhere at ‘raves’. Obviously not all people wearing these particular clothes were ravers or drug takers, but the scene and its members had been labelled.

To continue, this ‘amplification’ led to more news coverage, increased police activity and further public concern. The Government intervened here and passed the ‘Graham Bright Bill 1989’, which imposed heavy fines and sentences on promoters of illegal parties, and the police intensified their raids. Legislation had been passed because of the ‘moral panic’ that had arisen from the massive negative publicity that this scene received. Lots of arrests were made, action was being taken to confirm the validity of the initial reaction. This is the moral panic as illustrated through the ‘Acid House’ scene.

It seems as though these episodes of ‘moral panic’ are part fabrications and part exaggerations. David Barrat, in his book ‘Media Sociology’ tells us that moral panics not only appear on a national scale but also within local communities. He states that local media, newspapers and radio, often run campaigns on issues ranging from ‘juggernauts’ to ‘gypsies’. Most people are aware of local issues that have created a local outcry, such as new-age travellers or drug dealers in their community. These can also lead to moral panics. Barrat gives us five things in particular to look out for: 1. Distortion and exaggeration, inaccuracies in reporting and language (‘military’ and ‘animal’ analogies are common). 2. The classification of unconnected events under the umbrella of the ‘deviant’ label. 3. Evidence of ‘official’ responses (societal reaction) and policy changes. 4. The relative space given to different groups (hierarchy of access). 5. Evidence of ‘effects’ on the behaviour and self-concepts of those who are labelled.

It is this sort of activity, according to Barrat, that we should look out for to possibly identify the occurrence of a moral panic. Barrat emphasises various aspects of the factors that create a moral panic. He says that, as Cohen and Young (1981) have argued, the “‘moral panic’, unlike a rumour, is not a process everyone can join in ‘democratically’, contributing their own slant on the message like a game of Chinese whispers.” This is partly the result of mass communication, which is a ‘one-way’ process of communication. As Barrat states, there is no equal access, and the views of the powerful occupy a privileged position in the media. In the case of reports of ‘deviance’, as already mentioned, the view aired is usually that of professionals, e.g. opinions of “judges and magistrates, of members of parliament and senators, of police chiefs and senior officers, and of those public figures who claim a mandate as the ‘moral guardians’ of society.” We rarely receive a first hand account from ‘deviants’ themselves.

Much of the problem with regards to ‘moral panics’ seems to be the lack of communication between members of different groups of society. Most post-war youth cultures seem to have been ostracised by the mass media, and consequently, those ‘right thinking members of society’ who seem to believe everything they are told by the establishment, even when hyped up and exaggerated.

These ‘youth cultures’, according to Cohen (Folk Devils and Moral Panics), find a solution to what they see as a problem. For example, the Mods were bored and disillusioned and wanted to be free to do what they wanted, therefore they hit the road. They went to Clacton, Brighton etc. and were ostracised and condemned without total justification. Obviously there was trouble, but a lot of this seemed to happen after they had already been labelled as ‘a bad group’, and they were consequently turned away from cafes etc. They found a solution to their problem but were condemned for it. It does seem that moral panics will continue, and it is unlikely that they will ever disappear, therefore Cohen’s ‘folk devils’ will continue to be created: “This is not because such developments have an inexorable inner logic, but because our society as present structured will continue to generate problems for some of its members – like working-class adolescents – and then condemn whatever solutions these groups find.”

Bibliography:

All quotes and information regarding Stanley Cohen from – Folk Devils and Moral Panics, Chaucer Press, 1972.

All quotes and information regarding David Barrat from – Media Sociology-(Society now), Tavistock Publications, 1986.

The Sociology of the Mass Media, David Glover, Causeway Press, 1984.

Policing the Crisis-Mugging, the State, and Law and Order, Stuart Hall et al, The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1979. (background)

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2011 in Society

 

The Red Tops

“News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.” —Lord Northcliffe

The story of the Daily Mirror begins in 1903 in Fetter Lane, Fleet Street, London, EC4 at Geraldine House (named after Northcliffe’s mother). To this date Alfred Harmsworth had known only success. He had bought the Evening News in 1894 and it was making money. He had created the Daily Mail and it had expanding profits. The Daily Mirror was an historic mistake.

“I advertised it everywhere,” said Harmsworth,”…if there was anyone not aware that the Mirror was to be started they must have been deaf, dumb, blind or all three.” And so on Monday November 2 the paper ‘produced by women for women’—the Mirror went on sale for 1d.

Its aim was to “present in new ways; cookery, fashion…”. It aimed to be entertaining but not frivolous, serious but not dull. Later said he was wrong in launching “so mad a frolic as a paper for ladies.” The first issue sold 265,217 copies, the second 143,000 and the third less than 100,000. After 3 months the circulation was down to 24,000 and Harmsworth said that he had learned that “women can’t write and don’t know how to read.”

The Sun began life as the Daily Herald. The International Publishing Corporation acquired the paper when they bought a number of profitable publications from Odhams Press in 1961. It was a socialist newspaper tied to the Trades Union Congress and had been the country’s biggest selling daily in the 1930s. When IPC got it was rather puzzled about what to do with it. They already owned the Mirror and did not want to run in competition with it but the had a commitment to the TUC to keep it running for seven years.

To cut their losses in 1964 IPC relaunched the Daily Herald as the Sun, the broadsheet ‘born of the age we live in’. Its circulation fell from 1.5 million to 850,000 by the spring of 1969. IPC decided to sell. Robert Maxwell, who had already lost the News of the World to Murdoch, offered to take the paper from IPC and keep it running but after his job cut plans were announced IPC was threatened with union action against the Mirror. Needless to say that Rupert Murdoch jumped in and bought it.

Back at the Mirror in the early 1900s there was about to be a change of staff. Northcliffe sent for Hamilton Fyfe who became editor, succeeded by Alexander Kennedy in 1907. “To Fyfe fell the distasteful task of sacking the women, and the rape of the Sabines wasn’t in it. ‘They begged to be allowed to stay,’ he recalled. ‘They left little presents on my desk. The waylaid me tearfully in corridors. It was a horrible experience, like drowning kittens.'”†

The paper was revamped and the use of pictures made a real impact in its sales as did the cut in price to a half penny. From here on things improved remarkably. By 1906 the Mirror staked claim to be “The morning journal with the second largest net sale”

Northcliffe sold the paper to his brother Harold (later Lord Rothermere) for £100,000, apparently the loss he had made on the paper originally. On 18 November 1949 the paper printed “Latest certified circulation more than 1,000,000 copies per day.” By 1918, “Certified Circulation larger than that of any other daily picture paper.”

February 3, 1921 and the Daily Mirror is the first to get pictures back from Australia of the Cricket test series. January 23, 1924 — Ramsay MacDonald leads the Labour Government and the Mirror leads with “Socialists Take Over the Government.” It is now 1926 and the Mirror continues to print through the general strike. June 29, 1927, the Daily Mirror leads with photographs of a total eclipse of the sun [Murdoch later hoped that the Sun would totally eclipse the Mirror]. And so the Mirror continued under Rothermere and later Bartholomew. It had achieved a circulation of over 7 million with its coronation day issue but its real peak came in the late 1960s, just as Murdoch turned the Sun into a tabloid.

Murdoch hired Larry Lamb to be the editor. He was working on the Daily Mail at the time but he had only recently moved from the Mirror. After the relaunch sales reached one million within 100 days. IPC had mad a fatal mistake. They had failed to see the market and then given it away. Indeed in 1978 sales of the Sun finally overtook those of the Mirror.

There was at this time a distinct difference between the Sun and the Mirror which is much less evident today. The Daily Mirror had been ‘the’ paper to work for, having the highest circulation and some of the most notable journalists on its staff. You might even say that it had become a paper ‘run for journalists by journalists’. Its alumni of columnist include; Godfrey Winn (1936-1938), Cassandra (William Connor, 1937 until his death in 1967), Peter Wilson (1935-1972), John Pilger (1962-1986) and Keith Waterhouse (1970-1985).

The Mirror was the quality tabloid. It lost readers because of the fact, but it had a ‘mission’. “Forward with the people” had been its motto and it had tried to bring culture to the average reader in an easy and understandable form in the ’60s in the shape of Mirror-Scope. It was a total failure but it illustrated the Daily Mirror’s commitment to do more for its readers.

The biggest change came in 1984 when Robert Maxwell bought Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN). Until now there had been a difference in style between the two papers. In 1982 the Sun would lead with the ‘GOTCHA’ headline on the sinking of the Belgrano. This simply would not happen at the Mirror. The Maxwell take-over saw the war heating up. Bingo was introduced but more than ever the two papers could be seen to be alike in the respect that they were both reduced on many occasion to being voices for their proprietors. This was not to change at the Mirror until Maxwell’s death. However the similarities are still there.

I would like to end with a comparison of Monday’s 29 November 1994’s copies of the Daily Mirror and the Sun. The Daily Mirror is about an inch taller than the Sun but apart from that it is difficult to see their differences. They both have a bright red and white banner. They both have an ‘Aladdin’ offer.

The Daily Mirror’s Headline is “MAJOR’S LIES PUT PEACE IN PERIL”, the Sun’s is “HYPOCRITE! Two days after IRA killed my son Major talked peace to them” The Sun has the more grabbing angle but they both condemn John Major.

Page two reveals the political slant to some extent where the Sun is more lenient on Kenneth Clarke’s tax plans than the Daily Mirror. Page three of the Daily Mirror is about Madonna with another article on ‘Di’

Page four and five carry the ‘exclusives’. The Sun on Major’s lies and the Daily Mirror on Peter Lilley’s niece, an unwed mum.

Page six carries the comment. This is where political bias is usually most evident.

The layout and content are startlingly similar, so much so that a foreigner unfamiliar with British politics would find it hard to judge which paper was supposed to appeal to which audience. Perhaps this is because they both seek to appeal to the same audience – the working man. The Daily Mirror reader is more likely to belong to a union and vote Labour but a recent ICM poll found that a surprising 36 per cent of Sun readership claimed to have voted Labour at the last election.

Year
(July-December)
Sun
sales (millions)
Daily Mirror
sales (millions)
1969
0.65
4.92
1970
1.51
4.70
1971
2.08
4.38
1972
2.63
4.29
1973
2.93
4.26
1974
3.30
4.19
1975
3.44
4.02
1976
3.64
3.84
1977
3.72
3.84
1978
3.95
3.83
1979
3.71
3.65
1980
3.74
3.63
1981
4.14
3.46
1982
4.18
3.21
1983
4.14
3.27
1984
4.08
3.50
1985
4.13
3.03
1986
4.05
3.14
1987
4.05
3.13
1988
4.22
3.16
1989
4.02
3.09
1990
3.85
3.05
1991
3.75
?

Source: Audit Bureau of Circulation. Average daily sales over a six-month period ending 31 December of each year unless otherwise stated.

Latest Circulation Figures:Sun – 3.78, Daily Mirror – 3.32
Note – the Mirror figure is incorporating Daily Record.

† Publish and be Damned!, Hugh Cudlip, 1953.

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2011 in Media

 

Liberty in the Post-Industrial Society

“We must plan for freedom, and not only for security, if for no other reason than that only freedom can make security secure.” —Karl Popper

Do the ideas of 19th century philosophers on ‘liberty’ have any relevance to society following the advent of the ‘technological revolution.’

“Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”(1) So speaks Mr Gradgrind in Hard Times by Charles Dickens.

The character Gradgrind expresses the Utilitarian view held by ‘philosophical radicals’ of the nineteenth century such as Jeremy Bentham, a friend and close political associate of one James Mill, father of John Stuart Mill.

What is particularly interesting about this admittedly loose connection is that Theodore Roszak in Cult of Information (1986) begins the chapter entitled ‘The Politics of Information'(2) with this same quote and lends weight to my argument that the ideas of 19th century philosophers, and John Stuart Mill in particular, have a direct relevance in today’s society and the society that we may find ourselves in tomorrow.

Allow me to elucidate. Roszak’s work, subtitled ‘The Folklore of Computers and the True Art of Thinking’ deals with the rise in the status of ‘information’ through three decades of rapid technological advancement and puts forward the view that “like the unfortunate emperor in the parable, the computer has been overdressed with false claims by those with something to gain by it-elements in our society who are making some of the most morally questionable uses of computer power”.

The abuse of technological power is rife in today’s society and there are many examples of computers being used as a tool to control the masses rather than as an aid to the advancement of society and the benefit of the individual. It is particularly sad that those who have set out to subvert the development of technology in an effort to bring it to the people have generally failed.

In 1984 with its Orwellian overtones a company started by two college ‘kids’ in a garage launched a new computer; “Apple announced the Macintosh’s arrival with the most famous advertisement in the history of the high tech industry. Into a dismal workhouse full of inmates with shaven heads, being harangued by the magnified face of Big Brother on an oversized screen, runs a brave young woman athelete who hurls a sledgehammer at the screen, shattering the image of Big Brother. The symbolism may seem overblown now but at the time it represented the way Jobs [Steve -, then head of Apple] fel about himself, Apple, and the Macintosh. IBM then seemed to be an unstoppable force, and Jobs saw himself and his computer as instruments of liberation and democracy”(3)

The two ‘kids’ were Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak. The computer was the Apple, it was built out of surplus chips from the aviation industry and along with the Altair was one of the first ‘personal computers’. But, I hear you cry, where is the argument concerning liberty? Liberty, in at leat one form at any rate, is concerned with freedom, and Jobs and Wozniak brought a stake in the computer revolution to the man on the street.

There is always the possibility for corruption unless society ceases to exist. Therefore, perhaps Jobs’ view that he was bringing ‘liberation and democracy’ to people was founed on the belief that the big corporations were treating their users as if they belonged to them and were under obligation to support them. This is typical of IBM’s attitude to business in the 1970s.

Generally speaking, most major technological developments are related to the military, usually through research grants etc. This means that a situation occurs that Marx would have attacted as strongly as he did capitalism. Technology is power. In capitalism the means of production are held by the few and the proletariate are shackled to the system. In a society where the military has all the computers it is not difficult to envisage a police state.

In Singapore today computers pervade every part of daily life. Any transaction that takes place, all the work of government and its services, including the police and military, is monitored and controlled by computer. Every citizen carries an electronic identification card. The possibilities are terrifying. The British government wants to introduce a similar identity card scheme. It has said it will not force people to carry them but once retailers start asking for them, then the police, they will become a requirement.

In the past there have been many views of liberty but there are two that arise on a regular basis; the negative and positive ideas. The positive holds that a man is unfree to do something when is prevented by his passions. However, in today’s society this is seldom the case. Governments have legislated against most known drugs with no other function than to induce good feelings and they the British government have made it clear that were alcohol introduced for the first time tomorrow they would ban it. This may sound like a good idea but then you are unfree to do as you wish, to ‘shoot up’ on heroin, ‘drop’ ecstasy, smoke ‘dope’ or just get plain old drunk.

It then becomes clear that we live in a society where the negative view of liberty becomes prevalent. This states that a man is unfree to do something if another preventing him from doing so. The government is preventing you from being free by introducing legislation. If freedom then is the specific liberty to ‘do as you please’ (Plato) then the government would probably rather stamp it out so that everything you do would be covered by some legislation. With the introduction of technology they now have the means to do this.

Did you know, for instance, that many of the automatic teller (cashpoint) machines that you use on a regular basis have hidden video cameras behind them? They are there to catch fraudulent card users but in a society that already has a declining level of freedom, some would argue, how far down the line is it until the government is using these cameras to monitor suspected dissidents etc.?

After the Hegelian period of thought follow Marx, Mill and Bakunin and others. Mill argues for absolute freedom of action. The freedom to do what you want, but with the proviso that no one else must come to harm because of your actions.

. Marx argues that liberty does not come from being free to do as you wish but from society.

In his lecture on Individual liberty J.P.Day points to the generally accepted view of liberty. Day is only concerned with individual liberty and he defines this by what it is not, i.e. collective liberty of religious organisations, individual liberties (as separate entities) etc. Individual liberty then is the freedom of the individual and it is this ‘moral right’ that he argues must be safeguarded. It may only be restrained, he argues, “if the moral obligation to respect the right is overborne by some stronger moral obligation”. By this he means that for example C1 is free to do X where X does not impinge on C2 and should C1 attempt to do X if it does then R has a moral obligation to prevent C1 from doing so (where C1 and C2 are subsets (individuals) of the group C (citizens), X is an act causing harm to any C (e.g.. murder) and R (Rex) is the government). Thus if I am free to do as I please I may choose to kill you but this would cause you harm and so the government has a moral obligation to restrict my freedom to prevent your harm.

Day starts out by defining two concepts of liberty, 1) the intrapersonal concept (A is unfree to do X because he is a slave to his passions), and 2) the negative or interpersonal concept (A is unfree to do X because A is restrained by X from doing B; as in the previous example). Day selects the latter definition as the more accurate and goes on at some length to explain it.

He argues for the right of liberty of tastes and pursuits pointing out “R injures each individual C if R deters or prevents him from his pursuit of happiness”. He carries on by essentially summing up the U.N. declaration of HUMAN RIGHTS;
liberty of association (to belong or not to any group of your choice) etc.

Finally he mentions the differences between moralistic, ‘good Samaritan’, and paternalistic legislation. For instance you can legislate to ensure a person’s right to live (moral) and this is acceptable to all, it is negative in that it prevents an ill action from taking place. Also you can legislate to ensure a person’s right to shelter (‘good Samaritan’) however where the person receiving is CN, the group that must support this right with their income is all C. Finally (this time I mean it) You may make paternalistic legislation designed to prevent C from self injury by doing activity X (Day gives the example of taking heroin). Through paternalistic instincts R can seek to protect C from himself based on a ‘moral’ right to do so. However where do you draw the line at self abuse – drinking is bad for you so therefore is not morally right to ban it and set up punishments for those doing so?

Quote from Alduos Huxley, “But if you want to be free, you’ve got to be a prisoner. It’s the condition of freedom – true freedom”. He also discusses ‘Freedom and Liberation’ by Benjamin Gibbs whose main conviction lies in the belief that a free society is “one that makes its people do what is right and good…[while also] making them desire to do it understanding it is right and good”. Again we get the subjective moral judgement of the majority over the minority (see other lectures).

Flew claims Gibbs is quite critical of Mill’s theories of liberty, almost a ‘mirror image’, but Gibbs responds to this claim in the following lecture. Flew criticises Gibbs’ terms of liberty but he does not give the whole picture. The main argument is over whether a person who sells himself into slavery is free because he has chosen to do so. Flew argues he is not, Gibbs that he is.

Gibbs states that Flew has made a ‘grotesque misrepresentation’ of ‘Freedom and Liberation’ and that he was misguided to couple his views of freedom with the phrase from ‘1984’.

Gibbs notes that freedom has different meanings and tries to correct the ‘damage done’. Gibbs’ work is concerned with the rights and wrongs of slavery (see above). He also argues that liberty is not necessarily violated when people are coerced to conform to a given set of moral standards, he raises the examples of life style , alcohol abuse etc.

In Liberty & Compulsory Education, P. Gardner presents the argument that we treat children as having fewer rights than adults and that this is the reason we treat them the way we do. He refers to Mill’s ‘Subjection of Women’ and likens it to our treatment of children. He also points out that it is not usual for unruly adults to be sent to corrective schools (while they remain inside the law), or for illiterate, inummerate and otherwise socially handicaped grown-ups to be sent to institutions to correst their problems. Why then, he asks, do we force our children to go to school.

He continues to argue that children have as many rights as any other group of individuals and it is only because society as a whole refuses to think in this way that the process of ‘subjecting’ children is legitimated. In other words the ‘moral’ majority has control over the minority (children) and while the intentions may be good the result is a restriction of freedom. This refers back to arguments for individual liberty (see previous lectures).

Shelly’s ‘Prometheus’ shows another idea of freedom, the stoic, as the man enchained by the ruler of the rulers and discusses the idea of ‘Promethean Freedom’ which I cannot claim to fully understand. He goes on to show that the true spirit of freedom that cannot be shackled (as in the quote) is that of inner sanctum. You still remain free to some degree until they take away your life.

He refers to Marx’s view that materialism reduces freedom. He also mentions Thomas Mann’s ‘Dr Faustus’, “Law, every law, has a chilling effect, and music has so much warmth anyhow, stable warmth, cow-warmth…that she can stand all sorts of regulated cooling off–she has even asked for it”

D. A. Lloyd Thomas discusses the relationship between property and liberty and Mill’s arguments about property rights and freedom. The simplest way to sum up Mill is to say ‘Do what you like’-Plato, ‘but don’t harm anyone’. First part fine, last part subjected to moral judgements (if you kill yourself do you harm your family?). One argument runs you are only free if you have the means to do what you want to do. I’m free to travel to Mars. No-one is stopping me from going. The problem is I am earthbound because space travel costs money. However, it could be argued that money itself is a restriction on freedom quid pro quo ‘all property is theft’-trad.

1) page 1 Hard Times by Charles Dickens (Oxford University Press 1989)

2) page 180 The Cult of Information by Theodore Roszak (Paladin Books 1988)

3) ‘The Computer Wars’ – James Fallows, published in the New York Review of Books, Volume XLI, Number 6, March 24, 1994

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2011 in Politics, Society

 

Profile: John Birt

Despite what many would consider a liberal background at LWT, when John Birt became Director General of the BBC people realised he was there to put the Government’s proposals into action.

In the 1980s Thatcher, angry about coverage of her government, had intended to scrap the license fee, make the BBC carry advertising and effectively privatise it. Fortunately this did not happen but her complaints; that there was not enough choice, that pay was excessive, that the trade unions had the BBC in a vice-like grip, and that news and current affairs coverage was anti-government were effectively incorporated into the BBC’s Charter when it came up for renewal. It was Birt who would do the streamlining.

In 1989 Birt was promoted from Deputy Director General to the top position. Change came quickly. He stripped down the organisation, merging the News and Current Affairs operations to a great degree and putting Documentary and Current Affairs in one building. To help justify this he brought in a series of consultants. This cut the amount of money available for ‘minor things’ like floats to virtually nothing.

Birt introduced the concept of ENG (Electronic News Gathering) into regional news. The idea, borrowed from north America, is that a news crew consists of two people. One is the cameraman, who also does sound, lighting, driving, and sometimes editing. The other is the reporter who also does the directing, research, and the job of the Production Assistant.

The BBC had been a vertical organisation with jobs for life in a duopoly with ITV. But, just as Thatcher had hoped, Birt smashed the unions. Ideas such as ENG which merged jobs were dubbed ‘multi-skilling’, but they amounted to de-skilling. The days of 3-month paid holidays ensured by BECTU (the broadcasting technician’s union) were over. Massive redundancies followed and it was also the end of internal training so now the employee has to pay.

With the renewal of its charter the BBC had to commission 25% of its programmes from independent producers. Birt pushed for far greater reliance than the charter requirement. He also made BBC an internal market. The ‘internal market’, where everything is priced and producers are given a budget has proved virtually unworkable. There was also a levy known as the “John Birt Tariff” of 20% to pay for consultants (such as John Birt as it later emerged). Producers who had spent their lives working at the BBC had never had to do costing before. This was a disastrous mistake which is only now beginning to be undone.

Due to the reliance on independent companies the BBC now buys many of its programmes from the ITV companies who are busy swallowing each other whole. At the other extreme stars have their own production companies which must be employed to get the star in front of a camera. For instance, if you want Lenny Henry to do a show, you have to hire his production company too. This means stars can dictate programming to a degree.

When Birt was promoted from Deputy DG to DG in 1989 he was faced with revenue problems due to the low license fee (which is not linked to inflation), and facing the prospect of having to re-equip every three years he decided that the BBC would focus on what he called “distinctive programming” to justify the continuation of the license fee.

Birt was about instituting authoritarianism on the BBC because of past programmes that had been critical of government and because it represented a large, public, high-cost, bureaucratic organisation that could not easily be privatised. He was determined to do something about “radical” programmes such as ‘Panorama’. Birt’s hopes to streamline the BBC made it amorphous. It was no longer financially inefficient but it stifled creativity. It was broken up into different department heads who made programmes but didn’t broadcast them.

The main drive of Birt’s changes came in factual programming. It was summarised by the ‘mission to explain’. In practical terms Birt aimed to remove the divide between the TV and radio branches of the news organisation. Birt thought the BBC didn’t explain enough about what was going on in the world. The emphasis was placed on being less populist than World in Action (to be “distinctive”). Current Affairs programmes were more analytical, often backgrounders to a news story. They were inevitably boring. As Panorama became less investigative it also became less challenging to do. The reasoning was to differentiate from ITV with Weekend World, On The Record, Public Eye, the return of Costume Drama.

The argument was “Current Affairs is emotive but has no context or background.” Birt went on to make the BBC’s current affairs all the same. Worse than that, the structure was set up before filming. With a pre-shooting script you are supposed to know what your interviewees are going to say before you interview them. This saves money but journalism it is not.

The other bone that caught in the throat of journalists was the emphasis on “good news” that was probably responsible for putting the Queen’s speech in front of the M40 motor-way crash.

Birt’s overriding mission was to pacify the BBC. He managed it but viewing figures dropped and journalists deserted it. Today the BBC tends to hire people who have already made it on ITV/C4 rather than taking chances. Cable and satellite TV were introduced as part of Government policy but they did not intend to hand Murdoch a monopoly.

As the situation stands the BBC now does deals with BSkyB, negotiating for second showing rights to major sports events. And while the corporation is running World Service TV on tax-payers’ money it is also seeking to buy in more American drama to compete with Channel Four’s ‘ER’ and ‘NYPD Blue’. One of the biggest producers is Fox TV, of ‘X-Files’ fame, so ultimately there are very close ties between the BBC and Murdoch. Unless legislation is put in place to secure major sporting events such as Wimbledon and people become more reluctant to pay the license fee, the future of the BBC seems increasingly uncertain.

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2011 in Media, Profile

 

Humphrey Clinker

“When every benefit received is a right, there is no place for good manners, let alone for gratitude.” —Theodore Dalrymple

In Humphry Clinker, a novel written using the epistolary method, the case is put that the situation of the underclass cannot be entirely the fault of society.

Firstly let me explain what the ‘epistolary method’ is. It is a style of novel writing in the form of correspondence, or letters. It is very different from other methods as it shows a more ordinary view of the world, through the eyes of a ‘real’ person. Smollett was not the first to use this method and many followed him. Other notable authors who used this method include Richardson, Fielding and even Austen.

The ‘first person’ is an interesting form and is often used when writing a semi-autobiographical. Smollett’s earlier work Roderick Random is semi-autobiographical, however Humphry Clinker is not. Rather, it is a reflection of Smollett’s views on the society of the day told in an entertaining manner.

The ‘first person’ method can be limiting because the central character must be where the action is happening or have heard about it. Smollett gets around this problem by using multiple first persons. In this respect he was a pioneer of the epistolary method. There is a great contrast in style and subject of the various letters. Matthew Bramble, the country squire writes eloquently and at length as befits someone of his social standing . Tabitha Bramble, Matthew’s sister, however writes in a lyrical, if obscure style full of dreadful spelling mistakes. These mistakes serve to illustrate her lack of academic education but also provide light relief. For example, in a letter to Mrs Gwyllim dated June 14 (pp 189-190), she writes, “I can’t help thinking it very strange, that I never had an answer to the letter I wrote you…concerning the sour bear, the gander, and the maids eating butter…I wrote to doctor Lews for the same porpuss…I shall never favour him with another, though he beshits me on bended knees.” The language is robust but in general all the women are undereducated in this book.

The ‘first person’ is a narrative style, and while in Humphry Clinker there is more than one writer, Matthew Bramble emerges as our narrator while the other characters serve to fill out details, give different perspectives and tell stories of their own. They also illustrate class divides. Besides Tabitha they are Lydia, Matthew’s niece and Jery, Lydia’s brother and a student at Oxford. They are the wards of Bramble who is apparently reluctant about this situation. Winifred Jenkins is a lady’s-maid. The English in her letters is of an even lower standard than that in Tabitha’s. Here the class divide is really emphasised. The lack of education is clear as in her letter of May 15 (pp 101-102), “We are all upon the ving – Hey for London, girl! – Fecks! we have been long enough here; for we’re all turned tipsy turvy…”

One important aspect of the epistolary method is that it allows you to show yourself in your writing. You can say anything you want to by making a character say it in your novel. Thus opinions and ideas that would not be readily acceptable at the time of writing can be written without fear of reprisals. In this respect the Bramble character can be seen as an medium for expressing Smollett’s own views. In the text his observations are intended to illuminate ageing (Bramble himself), human suffering, filth, compassion and to illustrate Smollett’s own awareness of medical controversy and theory etc. However Bramble often contradicts himself but this has not stopped certain biographers looking to Humphry Clinker in attempting to chronicle the latter part of Smollett’s life.

Matthew Bramble’s views in particular portray the class separation idea. While staying in London he says of the rural working class (pp 118-119), “plough-boys, cow herds, and lower hinds are debauched and seduced by the appearance and discourse of those coxcombs in livery…They desert their dirt and drudgery, and swarm up to London, in the hopes of getting into service, where they can live luxuriously and wear fine clothes, without being obliged to work; for idleness is natural to man — Great numbers of these…become thieves and sharpers; and London…affords them lurking places as well as prey.”

Bramble is really saying that while London attracts these country men it is not the capital’s, or indeed society’s fault that they become thieves and brigands. He says that they were bound to because they came to London seeking to escape work in the first place. This idea reoccurs throughout the book.

Another idea that Smollett conveys through Bramble is that of the decadence of urban life. Even early on in his stay in Bath he writes, “What sort of monster Bath will become in a few years…may be easily conceived: but the want of beauty of these new mansions; they are built so slight, with the soft crumbling stone found in this neighbourhood, that I shall never sleep quietly in one of them, when it blowed (as the sailors say) a cap-full of wind; and, I am persuaded, that my hind, Roger Williams, or any man of equal strength, would be able to push his foot through the strongest part of their walls, without any great exertion of his muscles.”

When the party moves to fairer fields the sense of the serene is there, however, unlike Rousseau, Smollett does not value the wilderness for its own sake alone. Indeed, Smollett’s idea of nature is of properly maintained farms, of the successful exploitation of nature e.g. breeding cattle etc.

This idea of the great divide between the rural and urban becomes clear when the travellers leave the city for Scotland. Here there is evidence of the Romantic movement but Smollett is more down to earth. He presents a truer picture than that of the Romantic idealism of Rousseau. Bramble congratulates the Scots on gaining affluence (presumably in a manner described in Rousseau’s Origins of Inequality). However, Smollett does not consider the American Indian to be a noble savage. His view is portrayed in Jery’s letter of July 13 (pp 226-237). We join the story as Lismahago and ensign Murphy have been captured by Indians; “The intention of these Indians was to give one of them as an adopted son to a venerable sachem, who had lost his own in the course of the war, and to sacrifice the other according to the custom of the country.” He goes on to detail the tortures an humiliation that the pair were put through until Murphy finally dies singing the ‘Drimmendoo’. Perhaps it was symptomatic of the time that native Americans were idealised in England and Europe and that there was such a fascination with these ‘savage’ Indians.

Lismahago, a retired military officer, is essentially a character of fun, a generalisation of ‘Scots’ to Smollett. He presents himself very brusquely, almost in a manner befitting a modern day Scottish nationalist (p 316), “True (said he with a sarcastic grin), in debates of national competition, the sixteen peers and forty-five commoners of Scotland, must make a formidable figure in the scale, against the whole English legislature.”

In reference to the use of the epistolary method to present the truth it is fair to say that all the ‘pens’ of the letters firmly believe what they write. Indeed much of the content is purely factual. The party basically goes on a journey across the country picking up a servant called Humphry Clinker on the way (though not until p 113) and then relate their experiences to various other characters. They travel from Gloucester through Bristol, Bath, London, York, Scarborough, Durham, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow etc. on a ‘journey of discovery’. The underlying message is that the further north you go, or the further you get out of the urban wasteland the healthier you will become and the more pleasant will be your surroundings.

What is ironic is the discovered truths in the book, Humphry Clinker’s true origin of birth, and Wilson’s for that matter. The reactions to these two are completely changed. Jery suddenly finds Wilson very agreeable and Humphry is also held in high regard by the party where previously he was scorned. Indeed the change in Jery’s attitude when compared with his early letters is marked.

A further device used to give the epistles validity is the self reference (where Smollett complains bitterly how hard it is to write novels — p 28 “Writing is all a lottery…” He also refers to other authors of books on travels ad again he includes himself (p 29). This gives extra credibility to a story that attempts to be true to life.

Then, towards the end of the book Smollett changes tack. Baynard’s estate is rescued from insolvency. As Lydia writes in her letter of October 14 it is revealed that Humphry Clinker is actually the bastard son of squire Bramble. The various romances are brought to a conclusion as Lydia finds out that Wilson is in fact a gentleman. Something about the three romances reminds me of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. There are two final twists however. Winifred marries Humphry but as he is the squire’s son she is effectively moving out of her class and scaling the social ladder. The other is in the fabric of the epistles themselves. While Jery sees writing as a worthwhile pursuit, Bramble is fearful of the “vulgarisation of the upper [class]” and (p 394) resolves to give up writing letters.

In conclusion it seems prudent to ask what Smollett is attempting to achieve. He appears to be looking to better things [than the metropolis he foresees]. He wants to give ordinary people a share of the land. The idea of property and independence is clear when he refers to the influence of the Scottish Chiefs over their clansmen (pp 293—). Smollett is also showing his own anxieties about mass dissent. Indeed he goes to lengths to demonstrate the difference between social and economic conditions of the rank and file, and the privileged in society.

He is also writing about writing. He humorously refers to the poor authors (p 156) who have been served with writs and may only venture out on Sundays. This illustrates the fact that writing for money in eighteenth century could be a very hazardous business. Smollett also tries to portray sense of honour and morality in his characters. Indeed the strength of these epistles is such that the only deviance from this method found in the book is the poem (p 287) and this serves mainly to illustrate the scenery in a way that simply cannot be done through a simple letter alone.

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2011 in Literature

 

Gulliver’s Travels

“The … greatest victory is to conquer yourself; to be conquered by yourself is of all things most shameful and vile.” —Plato

Lemuel Gulliver undergoes a Platonic education – from being the uninformed, prejudiced observer to being to someone with tragic self-knowledge of what it is to be human. Swift uses the Platonic Form for his narrative structure, and shows us what proper human beings should be like.

Lemuel Gulliver is a perpetual traveller, he is trained as a ship’s surgeon and has taken the time to set down his tales in a book. Each of the four books contain a different voyage and different people.

Swift uses Lemuel Gulliver as a dialectic narrator to guide the reader through the separate chapters of the book. Each chapter contains a different criticism of human nature and often eighteenth century England. These criticisms are often executed through Swift’s satire. The first person narration is a useful device in lecturing and teaching the reader about human life. Gulliver’s narration seems very innocent and objective, thus lulling the reader into a false sense of security. It can be argued that through Gulliver’s Travels, Swift sets a precedent for the development of the novel as he “provides a fully realised premonition of the dialectic encounter.” It was not until about twenty years later that the dialectic became a recognised device.

Swift attempts to demonstrate, through travel and experience, a Utopian state. He shows us how he thinks humans should behave towards one another. And how society should be based on reasoning, logic and rational thought. Perhaps one of the dilemmas the reader faces is, “Which is the real Utopian state ?” It is important to note however that Jonathan Swift is not Lemuel Gulliver, as this is an easy mistake to make due to the first person narration.

Plato envisaged an ideal society based on rationality and reasoning. A society where goodness and beauty are not skin deep. His writings were concerned with more than just aesthetics, but with what lay under the surface.

On his first adventure Gulliver reaches a country called Lilliput and finds an island inhabited by miniature people. The people are so small that Gulliver appears to them as a giant, and to Gulliver the Lilliputians seem aesthetically perfect because his eye sight is not as precise as theirs. He finds that although they look perfect, in actual fact they are corrupt and devious. An example is when the secretaries of state sell licences to people to view the “Man Mountain”, and when he is accused of treason.

One of Swift’s Utopian touches is in the communal education system for children. Although it seems cold hearted to place children in a communal state education system, it is a process based on rationality and reasoning. Parents forego their right to educate their children and are only able to see them twice a year. Presumably this would be one step closer to creating a better society. This is a theme slightly reminiscent of Swift’s essay “A Modest proposal” where he suggests ways of controlling the amount of children born to poor people in society.

Gulliver sees the education system in Lilliput as two tiered. It creates a division within society. The ordinary labourers keep their children at home because “…their business being only to till and cultivate the earth; and therefore their education is of little consequence to the publick.” The division in society has been established – the rich and the poor, or the educated and the uneducated. Here we see Swift’s own values come through. For although he believed in a class based system, he reasoned that power should be equally distributed between the different tiers of society.

When Gulliver makes his second voyage he travels to Brobingnag and finds himself in the opposite scenario. He is tiny compared to everyone else, and thus because of his size and novelty he is exploited as a circus attraction. He is used for personal gain by a Brobingnagian, this is similar to the situation in Lilliput where he is used as a weapon of defence against a neighbouring island. It is possible to argue that Swift is making the point that human nature is the same the world over. Shape and size make no difference, people will always try to exploit anything new for personal gain.

There is an interesting comparison to be made between the inhabitants of the two countries. To Gulliver, the Lilliputians appear perfect to look at, their complexions are good and their limbs perfectly apportioned. However, when he looks at the Brobingnagians he can see the blemishes in their skin and they appear quite repulsive to him.

Although it is at times difficult to make a distinction between Gulliver’s thoughts and Swift’s beliefs, it is almost certainly Swift who is commenting on society when the King makes a fool of Gulliver over the gunpowder. Gulliver, in an attempt to ingratiate himself with the king, offers to tell the him the exiting secret of gunpowder. The king is horrified by the thought of the destruction it can cause and he wonders how people can “entertain such human ideas.”

In Lilliput Gulliver realises his self importance as he is probably the single most important thing to happen to that country, conversely in Brobingnag he is made to feel his own pettiness and triviality. This is all to do with size and stature.

By the third part of the book Swift’s use of the Platonic Form more apparent. The island of Laputa is a satire of eighteenth century science and reasoning. Swift creates a flying, science obsessed island which hovers above everywhere else – demonstrating moral superiority. “Swift is hitting at what he considered to be abuses of reason.” He meets scientists who are incredibly intelligent but have no common sense. The inhabitants of Laputa are concerned with music and science, they have no powers of reasoning and whenever they describe things it is in a scientific way, “Their ideas are perpetually conversant in lines and figures.”

Swift considers the use of science without an application to human betterment futile. To the modern reader this may seem obvious, but to the eighteenth century reader it may not have been apparent. It is in chapter five that Swift addresses the point directly where he visits the academy of Lagado and meets a scientist trying to reduce human waste to its original food. In what way can this be used to improve human life?

In a voyage to Glubbdubdrib (also in the third book) Swift deals with corruption in office. “Here I discovered the true causes of many great events that have suprized the world; how a whore can govern the back-stairs, the back stairs a council, and the council a senate.”

It is the fourth book of Gulliver’s Travels that is perhaps the most important in Swift’s demonstration of how humans should behave. The country of the Houyhnhnms can be seen as a Utopia of logic and reasoning The land is inhabited by horses and other creatures who bare an uncanny resemblance to humans. The Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos are the two classes in their society. The Houyhnhnms are intelligent and articulate creatures, who regard the Yahoos with contempt and disgust, often referring to them as thugs. Gulliver automatically identifies with the superior breed and comments upon his feelings for the Yahoos, “I have never beheld in all my travels so disagreeable an animal, nor one against which I naturally conceived so strong an antipathy.” When he first meets inhabitants of the island he is perceived to be a Yahoo, but it later evolves that Gulliver is neither. Gulliver is ashamed that he looks like a Yahoo and he often tries to defend himself. This is demonstrated in Gulliver’s letter at the beginning of the book. “Yahoo as I am, it is well known through all Houyhnhnmland, that by the instructions and example of my illustrious master, I was able in the compass of two years (although I confess with the utmost difficulty) to remove that infernal habit of lying, shuffling, deceiving, and equivocating, so deeply rooted in the very souls of all my species, especially the Europeans.”

Basically he looks like a Yahoo but thinks like a Houyhnhnm. This becomes apparent when he returns to England and spends most of his time talking to his horse. “My horses understand me tolerably well; I converse with them at least four hours every day.” Gulliver is strongly influenced by the Houyhnhnms. They teach him that because of the devious nature of the human mind, reason and intelligence are not sufficient for the conduct of human life. While he is spell bound with the virtues of these great creatures, Gulliver cannot help realising the vices of human beings. It is easy to think that in this chapter Swift places all his criticisms of the human race into one creature – the Yahoos, and all his thoughts for a supreme race – the Houyhnhnms to highlight the short comings of mankind. What we probably see is Gulliver’s views of a supreme race through his obsession with the Houyhnhnms. and his behaviour on returning to England. It is unlikely that Swift would have advocated such a state. “Because they are guided by reason rather than by appetites their life is without conflict.” A world devoid of enthusiasm or passion. Life would be too boring and plain. In fact the Houyhnhnms have virtually a self governing state where parliament only meets for five or six days in every four years to settle outstanding business. Interestingly Swift does not remain consistent to the Platonic form in this book. Gulliver mentions poetry recitals in his accounts of Houyhnhnmland, and although Swift might not be particularly inspired by them, it is known that Plato had little use for poets and he excluded them from his republic.

It is right at the end of the fourth book that Swift seeks to distance himself from Gulliver, he does this by satirising Gulliver. This is executed in his behaviour when he returns to England.

Swift does not necessarily set out to show us how humans should behave, but he does highlight many of the vices of Eighteenth century society. In Lilliput Gulliver experiences malice at the hands of miniature people. In Brobdingnag he is seen to take a offence at the strong criticisms of the human race. The third chapter is really an attack upon science and Swift’s questioning of its importance. In the fourth chapter Gulliver finds his ideal nation among the Houyhnhnms and discovers all the vices of humanity. Thus each chapter highlights an aspect of the human race. However, it is worth remembering that, “His work is not an attack upon the common man, but on those who, corrupt by their passions or self-interest, misuse their reason to deceive and enslave.”

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2011 in Literature