Erewhon

Over the holidays I picked up Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, a utopian satire that has been sitting on my bookshelf since my undergraduate days.  Butler’s protagonist, circa 1900, has left England to establish a working farm in one of the colonies.  His employment is restricted to the coastal region and the mountains have been placed off-limits by authorities and seem to raise the anxiety of local natives.  Drawn by the possibilities of future financial rewards lurking in the mountains, he journeys into the mountains and eventually traverses a difficult pass.  He enters an isolated civilization that has forsaken machinery (he immediately becomes suspect with his watch) but has proceeded to advance on a different level.  Some of his revelations, as he explores this society, should cause us to pause and wonder if Butler’s Erewhon has finally arrived.

  • The wanderer’s host is a financial leader in the capital who has just completed a hospital stay to correct his behavior for absconding with funds from his investors.  In this society, embezzlement, fraud, and other business malfeasance are not criminal crimes but are treated as sickness.  Once treated the individual can return without a stigma and continue to manipulate his finances.
  • Thrust into his first criminal case, the observer finds that it is a crime to become sick.  The sick are tried in a court and sentenced to penal colonies until they recover or die.  Physicians must work underground and are persecuted publically.  As the judge orated, our society is for the healthy and good looking.  Even those who do not possess the physical features favored in the society are persecuted.
  • Finally a visit to their university found students exploring inane subjects.  The most sought-after fields of study were those most irrelevant to society.  In other words,  the learned were totally not needed in the general society.

Wow! I felt utopia was at my doorstep.  No criminal charges for any financial malfeasance, sick can only expect to die (poor and dejected) with no access to health care or a means to pay for it, plus college curriculums totally askew from everyday life.