I have completed my reading of the fourth part of Gulliver’s Travels, “Journey to the Houyhnhnms”, and with it completed Jonathan Swift’s book. In this part Gulliver encounters a species of horses calling themselves “Houyhnhnms”, who are guided in their lives by reason and virtue, as well as a species of humans called “Yahoos”, who are guided by illogic and vice. As Gulliver comes to acquaint himself with these two species he realizes that he himself is a Yahoo, as are all humans, and finds himself not wanting to leave the company of the Houyhnhnms. However, reason dictates that he return to the Yahoos of England and the Houyhnhnms exhort him to do so.
This part is not only a satire of humanity, it is a satire of nature. No one in Jonathan’s time or our own with any knowledge of nature, of which humanity is part, would for a moment declare nature a slave to reason and virtue or free of illogic and vice.
Stepping back for the broader view, Jonathan’s book is interesting in that it criticizes all aspects of society, however he never directly criticizes religion. He instead talks of reason and virtue; of friendship and benevolence; never of god and god’s will; never of faith and obedience. In fact, the only reference to European religion is architecture and the inquisition. And perhaps that is all that needs mention.
Of course reading the work that coins the word Yahoo and directly associates it with the word “evil” makes for an interesting contemporary interpretation of our search engine landscape. If we used the term Yahoo in the same way as used by Jonathan Swift, “Don’t be Yahoo”, would be grammatically correct.
related post: Cogitators, Academics, Necromancers and Immortals