Wednesday, January 26, 2011

‘If’ Is An Assault on the Community

I wrote this a few years ago and just rediscovered it.

Read this to understand: If by Rudyard Kipling
‘If’ Is An Assault on the Community
Rudyard Kipling's 'If' is a humanistic open-form poem about being responsible for your own actions and destiny. It is clearly meant to incite individualism and self-reliance. When a person reads this poem and realizes their potential, no goal will be too high and the world will be theirs. This sort of attitude is dangerous for the community. Our community needs people who think alike and do what they are told without questioning.
The tone of the poem is of a father giving his son advice on becoming a man. Kipling gives his son thirteen conditional statements using simple phrases.  He uses some metaphors for the body and aspects of human character.
The words “keep your head” mean that you can retain control of your mind and more importantly your actions “when all about you are losing theirs.” This is a disturbing sentence for a couple of reasons. First, the idea that you own your mind gives the reader a feeling of individualism. This confuses the knowledge that the mind is part of the community and should be used to help the community and not used in self-centered activities.  Second, it implies that the community could lose control, which is not realistic because the community is always perfect; thinking otherwise is blasphemy.
The phrase, “trust your-self” promotes a very self-righteous attitude. Why would anyone want to trust him or herself? How often do you make mistakes? You should trust your leaders and your role models in movies, on TV, and in magazines to lead you. Do not trust yourself because when you trust yourself you gain a sense of independence, which leads you away from the community.
The concept of a lie in the line “Or being lied about, don't deal in lies” is illogical; it is based on there being a truth. The concept of truth is far too limiting and ostracizes people causing resentment, anger, and eventually violence.  The issue of hating in the line  “Or being hated, don't give way to hating” would not be an issue if people did not go around saying there was a truth. Believing there is a truth is hurtful to the community.
“Dreaming” is acceptable as long as it is about a movie star that you want to sleep with or about buying things you want to buy. These dreams are safe for the community. Thinking should not be your aim; it leads to thoughts that are not acceptable to the community. 
Again the narrow ugly word “truth” is seen. This line is saying that a crafty person takes the words you have spoken and makes them into a trap for not so crafty people. It is teaching you not to say anything controversial.
The passage “If you can make one heap of all your winnings, ” uses metaphor of a heap or pile of wealth implying hording of money, which is self-centered. It will be much safer to spend it on things that make you happy than to  “risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,” which is alluding to gambling. You can share the wealth and show off the gadgets you buy.
The medical phrase “If you can force your heart, nerve, and sinew,” is also figurative for aspects of the human character.  The heart, the muscle that pumps blood throughout the body, is also the seat of the emotions. The nervous system is a connection of fibers, which carries messages throughout the body to the brain; nerves also refer to courage.  Sinew is muscle and tendon, which enables the body to move, and refers to strength. If you can control your physical body, emotions, courage, and strength “to serve you long after they are gone,” then you will have conquered your body and you can do anything.  However, if you do what you are told by your leaders and community, you will not have to fight with your body.  Apathy is so much safer for the community.
“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue” implies that talking with crowds would cause you to lose your virtue. Crowds are made up of members of the community who are good and respectable citizens. To think of your fellow community member as a non-virtuous person is a self-righteous perspective and should not remain in your mind.
The next lines talk about kings, foes, and “loving friends.” These terms are narrow and make some members of the community more important or less important and even imply that some are enemies. No one should prefer one person’s company to another. These words should not remain in the vernacular.
“Then you will be a man, my son.” This type of distinction is extremely sexist, and no one should ever distinguish one gender from another. Each is as valuable as the other. The author is saying that, if the reader does all the things mentioned in the poem (the author seems to think that his points are healthy and desirable) then the reader will become a “man.” The idea that one particular gender is better shows how biased the author is.
Rudyard Kipling’s “If” is an assault on the values of the community. Though the ideas of individualism and freedom seem romantic, they are very dangerous in this day and age of terrorism, mental illness and depression. We must encourage children to focus on TV and movies for their ideas instead of breaking off from the crowd and thinking on their own. If they want to pierce their eyelids and dye their hair orange and green, then they should. This sort of “safe” individuality is encouraged, if not directly, then by the media they watch. All their “uniqueness” is based on healthy consumerism and can be monitored and controlled. Teach them that they can be unique, as long as everyone else is unique also. Watching TV limits their thinking already, but we must ensure that they do not read poems such as “If” lest they wander off and begin questioning.

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