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Gulliver's Travels

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Gulliver's Travels (1726) is a work of fiction pseudonymously authored by the British satirist Jonathan Swift. Posing as "Dr. Lemuel Gulliver", he purported to report his travels to a series of strange cultures. This mimicked a style of travel reporting that was common at the time, including the outright invention of outlandish and "savage" cultures deliberately designed to shock Englishmen in particular.

Gulliver's Travels is sometimes perceived as a story for children. It is generally thought to be concerned with Lemuel Gulliver's adventures in Lilliput and Blefuscu[?], where the protagonist is surrounded by people 6 inches tall (15 cm). This, however, is a supreme irony since this overlooks the fact that this is one of the most coruscating satires on morals and behaviour ever written. It still stands as one of the great and timeless satires of all time, and one of the best primers ever written on political science, such as it exists. It anticipated many current debates in law (versus precedent), philosophy of mathematics, the seeking of human immortality, personhood and animal rights.

Lilliput, the first part, is concerned with Gulliver's supposed adventure in a land where everyone is small, and their concerns very small and petty, but are relatively morally upright, God-fearing, and honest, like the stereotype of English country people of Swift's time. It is essentially a utopia which Gulliver is obligated to protect, settling disputes by acting as a militarily invincible giant, then seeking to intervene to make peace. Some think that Swift was idealizing the role of Britain and its sea power in the world as it was then, in the 18th century, not very long after the beginnings of the British Empire.

Brobdingnag[?], the second part, moves Gulliver to a realm of giants where everything is huge, and the people extremely crude and greedy, as Swift had perceived British aristocrats. Nonetheless, they are astonished at Gulliver's account of English law, in particular his savage account of precedent:

"It is a maxim among these lawyers that whatever has been done before, may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice, and the general reason of mankind. These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never fail of directing accordingly."

This is part of a critique of law that, aside from style, might well have been written today:

"In pleading, they studiously avoid entering into the merits of the cause; but are loud, violent, and tedious, in dwelling upon all circumstances which are not to the purpose. For instance, in the case already mentioned; they never desire to know what claim or title my adversary has to my cow; but whether the said cow were red or black; her horns long or short; whether the field I graze her in be round or square; whether she was milked at home or abroad; what diseases she is subject to, and the like; after which they consult precedents, adjourn the cause from time to time, and in ten, twenty, or thirty years, come to an issue.

It is likewise to be observed, that this society has a peculiar cant and jargon of their own, that no other mortal can understand, and wherein all their laws are written, which they take special care to multiply; whereby they have wholly confounded the very essence of truth and falsehood, of right and wrong; so that it will take thirty years to decide, whether the field left me by my ancestors for six generations belongs to me, or to a stranger three hundred miles off.

In the trial of persons accused for crimes against the state, the method is much more short and commendable: the judge first sends to sound the disposition of those in power, after which he can easily hang or save a criminal, strictly preserving all due forms of law."

In this section especially, Swift clearly was not writing for children:

"I must confess no object ever disgusted me so much as the sight of her monstrous breast, which I cannot tell what to compare with, so as to give the curious reader an idea of its bulk, shape, and colour. It stood prominent six feet, and could not be less than sixteen in circumference. The nipple was about half the bigness of my head, and the hue both of that and the dug, so varied with spots, pimples, and freckles, that nothing could appear more nauseous: for I had a near sight of her, she sitting down, the more conveniently to give suck, and I standing on the table."

Laputa, BALNIBARBI, LUGGNAGG, GLUBBDUBDRIB, and JAPAN, are all covered in the third book, which satirizes among other things academia and science. It is widely supposed that Laputa was a strict satire of the Royal Society, which Isaac Newton also despised:

"Their houses are very ill built, the walls bevil, without one right angle in any apartment; and this defect arises from the contempt they bear to practical geometry, which they despise as vulgar and mechanic; those instructions they give being too refined for the intellects of their workmen, which occasions perpetual mistakes. And although they are dexterous enough upon a piece of paper, in the management of the rule, the pencil, and the divider, yet in the common actions and behaviour of life, I have not seen a more clumsy, awkward, and unhandy people, nor so slow and perplexed in their conceptions upon all other subjects, except those of mathematics and music. They are very bad reasoners, and vehemently given to opposition, unless when they happen to be of the right opinion, which is seldom their case.

Imagination, fancy, and invention, they are wholly strangers to, nor have any words in their language, by which those ideas can be expressed; the whole compass of their thoughts and mind being shut up within the two forementioned sciences."

They also rely on showing each other visible objects rather than speech in words wherever possible, considering it "purer". It is not recorded whether any of them ever spelled out "Welcome to Macintosh", but it seems likely. Again, Swift's satire stands to this day.

Among the Luggnaggians he finds immortals, the Struldbrugs, about whom he is told:

"they commonly acted like mortals till about thirty years old; after which, by degrees, they grew melancholy and dejected, increasing in both till they came to fourscore. This he learned from their own confession: for otherwise, there not being above two or three of that species born in an age, they were too few to form a general observation by. When they came to fourscore years, which is reckoned the extremity of living in this country, they had not only all the follies and infirmities of other old men, but many more which arose from the dreadful prospect of never dying. They were not only opinionative, peevish, covetous, morose, vain, talkative, but incapable of friendship, and dead to all natural affection, which never descended below their grandchildren. Envy and impotent desires are their prevailing passions. But those objects against which their envy seems principally directed, are the vices of the younger sort and the deaths of the old. By reflecting on the former, they find themselves cut off from all possibility of pleasure; and whenever they see a funeral, they lament and repine that others have gone to a harbour of rest to which they themselves never can hope to arrive. They have no remembrance of anything but what they learned and observed in their youth and middle-age, and even that is very imperfect; and for the truth or particulars of any fact, it is safer to depend on common tradition, than upon their best recollections. The least miserable among them appear to be those who turn to dotage, and entirely lose their memories; these meet with more pity and assistance, because they want many bad qualities which abound in others.

If a STRULDBRUG happen to marry one of his own kind, the marriage is dissolved of course, by the courtesy of the kingdom, as soon as the younger of the two comes to be fourscore; for the law thinks it a reasonable indulgence, that those who are condemned, without any fault of their own, to a perpetual continuance in the world, should not have their misery doubled by the load of a wife."

The account goes on to tell that they are considered legally dead at eighty, lose their teeth and hair and have:

"no distinction of taste, but eat and drink whatever they can get, without relish or appetite. The diseases they were subject to still continue, without increasing or diminishing. In talking, they forget the common appellation of things, and the names of persons, even of those who are their nearest friends and relations. For the same reason, they never can amuse themselves with reading, because their memory will not serve to carry them from the beginning of a sentence to the end; and by this defect, they are deprived of the only entertainment whereof they might otherwise be capable.

The language of this country being always upon the flux, the STRULDBRUGS of one age do not understand those of another; neither are they able, after two hundred years, to hold any conversation (farther than by a few general words) with their neighbours the mortals; and thus they lie under the disadvantage of living like foreigners in their own country."

This stands as one of the most devastating accounts of what human immortality would actually be like.

Houyhnhnm, the final book, relates the story of the author among a race of noble and intelligent horses, whose society is peaceful and ideal and noble in every way.

This is by contrast to the dirty foul hairy creatures called Yahoos, who plague them, and who are a deliberate satire of the human race itself. The horses are astounded to find a Yahoo even as cultured as an Englishmen (lawyers and all), and entertain him until they realize that ultimately, he, too, is a Yahoo. The Yahoo Internet refers to its users as "Yahoos" in honor of this view of humanity, which Yahoo's original business plan claimed it was fully willing to indulge. Some would argue that given their current list of most common search terms, they have admirably and totally succeeded. Others would argue that they cannot succeed in totally emulating Gulliver's Yahoos until it is actually possible to kill someone through the service...

Gulliver returns to England:

"to apply those excellent lessons of virtue which I learned among the HOUYHNHNMS; to instruct the YAHOOS of my own family, is far as I shall find them docible animals; to behold my figure often in a glass, and thus, if possible, habituate myself by time to tolerate the sight of a human creature; to lament the brutality to HOUYHNHNMS in my own country, but always treat their persons with respect, for the sake of my noble master, his family, his friends, and the whole HOUYHNHNM race, whom these of ours have the honour to resemble in all their lineaments, however their intellectuals came to degenerate."

However, he ultimately fails, and goes to live in the stable.

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