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October 05, 2008

Prophetic writing?

I have recently reread a book called "Erewhon" by a gentleman named Samuel Butler. And before you all start reaching for your best seller lists, I had better explain that the book was published in 1872 and is a very clever political satire in the same spirit as those written in the 18th Century by Jonathon Swift, The title is in fact an anagram of "No where" and it is a sort of anti-Utopia tract, written, I think, as a riposte to much of the Utopian social writing of the period in which so much of our current socialist thinking is rooted.

Erewhon is set in a remote part of the British Empire, a land hidden behind a virtually impenetrable range of mountains. In contrast to our own society (or the Victorians for that matter!) it is a place where beauty represents health and prosperity, illness is a criminal offence and disability leads to banishment (if you're lucky!) or death (if you're not!). Children choose their parents and "bad" parents are punished - the definition of "bad" parents being decided by the accusations of their offspring. In short, it is a society which turns on its head all the norms by which any normal society would operate. Or does it?

Butler attacks the Ecclesiatical institutions and theology of his day robustly, but as I read through this again, I suddenly found myself wondering what he would make of the society we live in. The emphasis on "Children's Rights" comes very close to what he has written in fiction more than a century ago. So does the NHS farce which allows the wealthy to bypass the blockages and bureaucratic clap-trap the rest of us have to suffer not to mention the selectivity when it comes to the availablility of some treatments and drug regimes.

For all its age and the dating of some of the technology in which it is set, it is very readable and entertaining - but do look deeper. That is the scary bit.

Posted by The Gray Monk at October 5, 2008 07:54 AM

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