Letter to the Citizen Volume 2

Alan Cai

July 8, 2022

To the citizen,

I recently picked up a copy of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and was quite intrigued by many of the warnings subtly provided within the text. Notably, the third voyage to Laputa provided a stark warning that should be heeded by members of our society today.

Unquestionably, the world is evolving technologically at a rapid rate. Countless time, resources, and brains are spent on exploring and stretching the limits of the scientific world and its practical application. This apparent drive for perfection is justified by our evolutionary nature which provides us with satisfaction upon reaching a state more prosperous than we have reached before. However, psychological standpoints aside, there is undoubtedly a limit to which innovation could help humans achieve. On the other hand, a lack thereof will prove to be a bane.

In his novel mentioned previously, Swift writes about Gulliver’s journey to Laputa, a supposed floating island whose people are so eternally dedicated to music, astronomy, and mathematics, that all practical issues and matters of concern are completely ignored. Although the three subjects do serve as refining practices for the mind and are not completely useless as Swift seems to suggest, no advancement in these fields could improve the capacity for human development. In other words, no matter what civilizations funnel their creative energy into, the pool from which it is drawn cannot be indefinitely expanded. Thus, if the entire Laputan world is concentrated on pushing only the limits of said subjects, practical issues of proper governance, philosophy, and civilian well-being would be promptly ignored.

The elusive opposite to the pressing concern posed is a realm constantly attempting to find solutions to problems either fundamentally trivial or unattainable. In Swift’s writings, the city of Lagado is situated on the ground below the floating city of Laputa. Lagado’s people gradually sapped their affluence into an extremely impoverished and degraded state by allocating massive amounts of scholarly resources to solving problems such as using pigs to plow land, turning feces into food, and replacing silkworms with spiders to produce silk. Although the above listed technically can be considered improvements, the benefits attained are overshadowed by the larger costs for implementation and research.

A system investing the entirety of its resources into studies with limited benefit to humankind or one which is bent on solving unsolvable or inconsequential both suffer from the same lack of stable tranquility. This seemingly contradictory situation is what our modern world suffers from to a vast and growing extent. Improvements in technology and scientific studies bring little value to the public good, but are often overly treasured and maintained. An absence of the two would certainly be unfavorable to the advancement of humanity, but its prevalence will ultimately lead to an inevitable downfall.

The recognition of certain boundaries to which technology and science should reach is of more importance than the understanding of the boundaries of the universe itself. Developments that backtrack the lives of their users are better off undiscovered. To anticipate the obvious is the greatest gift one can acquire.


Alan Cai