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The Misanthropic Principle

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A series of cartoons and a desperate attempt from Ted Danson and company have stopped a lot of people from giving Gulliver's Travels a fair appraisal.

It is most vehemently NOT a book for children. If you haven't read it, put aside the rubbish versions and get to the real thing.

Jonathan Swift was obviously not enamoured with the way in which the society (political, social and economic) of his time was organised, despite the fact that he spent a lot of time trying to get a position in court. In Gullivers Travels he is attacking the basis of European society in the eighteenth century and its norms (or its aberrations that had come to be seen as norms). There are many instances in the novel where Gulliver finds himself explaining the foundations of government and society in Britain and Europe at that time. As his speeches about the beauties of a certain system are related to the various people Gulliver encounters in the novel, he speaks in such a way that the complexities are decipherable to people with no preconceived ideas about what they are hearing. This means that we too find that we are hearing about ourselves in a different light.

These highly satirical passages include a wonderful lampooning of the legal profession:

"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 are slaves."-

Later, when cross-examined by the Brobdingnagian King (Lilliput is the small people place, Brobdingnagians are the giants) he finds himself wishing":

"for the tongue of Demosthenes or Cicero, that might have enabled me to celebrate the praise of my own dear native country in a style equal to its merits and felicity."-

Gulliver wants to prove the beauty of the Western systems to the King. After several eulogies about such things the King can only say that the system of government, which Gulliver believes encourages virtue (not Machiavellian Virtu), is in fact a filthy vice-ridden conglomerate where:

"laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied by those whose interests and abilities lie in perverting, confounding and eluding them."-

This resolves itself with the most memorable:

"I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of odious little vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth."-

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Scotland's Michael Greenwell has worked, at various times, as a university tutor, a barman, a DJ ("not a very good one," he clarifies), an office lackey, supermarket worker, president of a small charity, a researcher, a librarian, a volunteer worker in Nepal during the civil war there, and "some other things that were too tedious to mention." Nowadays, he explains, "I am always in (more...)
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