Humans and Yahoos

The_Servants_Drive_a_Herd_of_Yahoos_into_the_Field,_from_Gulliver's_TravelsOn page 245 of The Theory Toolbox, I read part of a sentence that triggered something in my memory. To paraphrase it, Darwin says that humans are animals just as much as any other creature on this planet. For some reason, that reminded me of the Yahoo creatures in Part Four of Gulliver’s Travels by Johnathan Swift.

In the novel, they are a race of filthy, wild creatures that are resented by the race of intelligent horses that reside in the same land, the Houyhnhnms. They have a strong humanoid resemblance to humans, but are disgusting, hairy, and lack logic, reason, and morals. It is strongly hinted in the novel that these creatures may have even descended from humans, but all of this caused me to think about morality and the concept of good and evil.

Until I entered college, I never thought much about questioning arbitrary things. In fact, I didn’t even know what arbitrary meant. I had never even heard of the word. But the more I read and explore, and meet different kinds of people, I learn that everyone has their own ideas of what may be good and bad. Everyone has their own moral code. There may be a lot of common ideas that most of us may share about certain things (like not randomly stabbing someone for the heck of it), but everyone has their own set of morals that they choose to follow, which may include more or less than others.

Bringing it back to the Yahoos, they lack all of these things. They’re very selfish, and obsess over material objects that have little value to the Houyhnhnms. The latter race lives in a utopia filled with harmony that has no real place for the Yahoos. But also, perhaps the Yahoos lack reason and morals because they were never taught to them. They don’t know what things like “good” and “evil” are just because they’ve never had a reason to. Something similar applies to the Houyhnhnms, who had no idea what a lie was until Gulliver introduced the concept to them. They always told the truth because there was never any reason for them “to say a thing which is not.”

This entire thing was just something that came to my mind that I found interesting. I’ve attached an image of the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos.

One Response to Humans and Yahoos

  1. Prof VZ February 7, 2016 at 11:32 am #

    I like the point them make here about how durable our “humanist presumption of animal lack and anthropological plenitude” really is. Here, swift seems to deflate the ideals of morality and reason that so often support that sense of anthropological plenitude, that sense that separates us from other animals. In this case, though, he is critiquing what seems to be a diminishing of those values among his contemporaries (thus, satire) rather than offering a way to think beyond the human-animal binary. Interesting connection!

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