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Cap'n Blimey

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"So, I've had a career fop foisted on me!"

These were the unforgettable words of Captain Bligh in the movie the first time he set eyes on Christian Fletcher. Trevor Howard's inimitable tight-jawed, stiff-upper-lip enunciation of the line was a precis of contemporary history. In Fletcher, he encountered everything that the bourgeoisie hated in the aristocracy. Fletcher had everything that Bligh did not "" affluence, distinction, family connections, and even two ladies to see him off at the pier! One of these ladies was French and, when Bligh professed his ignorance of the language, she commented "That's unceeveelised of you!"

Clearly, the two men were denizens of disparate worlds. Bligh was a type whose standards not only disagreed with those of Fletcher, but whose standards did not even overlap. The two men lived for disjunctive goals. Bligh was the man who had to prove himself: he candidly admits his ambition to gain rewards and honours. Fletcher merely nods his comprehension: these honours and rewards had no meaning for him.

The year was 1787. Two years later, the mutiny would occur, and, according to one tradition, the death of Fletcher on the Pitcairn Islands. But consider the date: 1789 was the year of the French Revolution. The triumph of the bourgeoisie over the aristocracy would be complete, notwithstanding the events on board the Bounty. Pace Napoleon Bonaparte, the future clearly lay with the shopkeepers.

Captain Bligh and the first Homo sapiens have the same relationship to modern man. They both outlived all other types, and triumphed. Natural and social selection have acted against the Fletchers. The Fletchers have no will-power: they are unable to regard every external goal dangled by those in authority as something to be secured with canine tenacity and canine subservience for one's master. The future clearly belonged to the class that had nothing and had everything to gain through sheer doggedness and hard work. Even Karl Marx had a few laudable things to say about the species.

Their representatives are here busily at work gaining distinctions and honours "" aye, even among my compatriots. True, the nation shows no sign of improvement under all that middle-class hyperactivity, but "" mark my word "" they are beavering away to secure their own glory. And in this they resemble the Blighs. Just as Bligh was willing and eager to flog, keelhaul and starve any human being who stood in the way of his career, so our bourgeoisie will flog, keelhaul and starve the national interest "" with every slum-dweller, rickshawpuller and day-labourer as victim "" in the promotion of their own self-interest.

And hadn't an eminent Scottish thinker pronounced around the same time that the pursuit of self-interest would ensure the social interest as well? This was an unfortunate doctrine which has had calamitous results. For, taken to its logical conclusion, it exonerates every Bligh since the industrial revolution. The man who furthers his family's well being at the expense of another family's is doing nothing more than what Bligh was doing.

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But the quality that mesmerises me in its similarity with Bligh, the quality possessed by our national bourgeoisie, is their sheer will power. One cannot but marvel at humans who toil and struggle and nearly break themselves in the process to get a first class first in their exams. Men and women who practice not only industry but other less virtuous means to obtain distinctions remind me immediately of Bligh.

As Wordsworth observed around this time at Cambridge in "The Prelude":

I grieved

To see displayed among an eager few,

Who in the field of contest persevered,

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Passions unworthy of youth's generous heart

And mounting spirit, pitiably repaid,

When so disturbed, whatever palms are won.

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Iftekhar Sayeed teaches English and economics. He was born and lives in Dhaka, "ŽBangladesh. He has contributed to AXIS OF LOGIC, ENTER TEXT, POSTCOLONIAL "ŽTEXT, LEFT CURVE, MOBIUS, ERBACCE, THE JOURNAL, and other publications. "ŽHe is also a (more...)

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