Swift and Free Will

The Houyhnhnms live in a utopia. There is no disease, they live simple lifestyles, and they exist peacefully among themselves. Gulliver is so in awe of this perfect society that he wishes to stay there forever. He is repulsed by the idea of returning to live with European Yahoos. Swift suggests that the harmonious lifestyle of the Houyhnhnms should be adapted by the common man. I disagree with this notion.

Swift uses the Houyhnhnm society as a metaphor for nature. Not only are they horses but they function as a pack without harming their environment. They take what they need and nothing more, much like all species besides humans. There are many lesson to be learned from nature. Nature teaches you about balance and harmony. It teaches you about life and death. One can become a much happier and enlightened individual if they implement the lessons nature gives into their life. Despite all of the good things which come from nature, there are many things which it lacks. For example (and most importantly) love. The Houyhnhnms chose their mate solely on which partner will produce the best offspring. Imagine a world where the only point of intimacy is to produce the best product. No thank you! A society where the choice of something so personal is taken away from the individual is not just. I would want no part of that society. Think of how hard people in America have fought for the right of everyone to love whoever they please in America. Marriage between same sex couples was legalized only a few years ago. The normalization of same sex couples has been met with hate and defiance for decades. In the Houyhnhnm society same sex marriage of marriage would never exist because a man with a man or a woman with a woman cannot produce a baby. This utopian society looks enticing when you read about it. But free will must always be preserved, and this is something utopias do not have.

There is also little to no pain in this society. There is only mention of “accidental bruises and cuts”, “frog of the foot”, and “other maims and hurts”. Despite these very minor ailments there is herbal medicine to cure everything. Generally they all live to be seventy and before they die they “feel a gradual decay, but without pain”. Minimal pain your entire life and when you die you just get tired. Sounds great! Except for one thing: it is impossible to feel intense joy and happiness without feeling intense pain and sadness. Humans are deeply saddened when someone they know dies because they love that person. When humans get sick they think “I will never take for granted my health”. A life without pain and sadness sounds great, but if you live this way you will also live without joy and happiness.

At first glance the Houyhnhnm society looks amazing. Especially since it is compared to the Yahoos which represent all of the terrible characteristics humans have. Swift is clearly trying to communicate to his readers that humans would be much happier if we lived as the Houyhnhnms did. I disagree. Humans are complex creatures who love, make love, cry, laugh, get hurt, hurt others, and anything else you can imagine. To live in a society where there is no free will and no pain would be terrible. Humans are messy, therefore we live in a messy society.

-Maya Gonzales


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