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A New View of Society

Or, Essays on the Principle of the Formation of the Human Character, and the Application of the Principle to Practice, 1816

By Robert Owen

Critique by Punkerslut

From RadicalGraphics.org
Image: From "School" Gallery from RadicalGraphics.org

Start Date: June 8, 2003
Finish Date: June 8, 2003


     In the four essay work of "A New View of Society," by the author Robert Owen, I found a great deal of good ideas. It proposed that society could be remolded into one of charity and virtue, by teaching each new generation to act so that they increase the happiness of the whole. The actual ideas that Owen proposed teaching to the children were much more in depth and lacked the vagueness of a summary. Though a great deal of it was informative and inspirational, I found that it was at times difficult to read, because he tended to often repeat himself and go on page after page with erroneous and often times repetitive remarks. All in all, if an individual wants to know more about education and society, I would suggest to them to read this work (and, perhaps, to skip the entire first essay?). I noticed some parts of this work which I found disagreeable, and that is the purpose of this critique: to analyze and reply to such remarks.


...the boys and girls are to be taught in the school to read well, and to understand what they read; to write expeditiously a good legible hand; and to learn correctly, so that they may comprehend and use with facility the fundamental rules of arithmetic. The girls are also to be taught to sew, cut out, and make up useful family garments; and, after acquiring a sufficient knowledge of these, they are to attend in rotation in the public kitchen and eating rooms, to learn to prepare wholesome food in an economical manner, and to keep a house neat and well arranged. [Essay 3]

     Here, in this work, we find Sexism which was typical of the early 1800's. I cannot condemn Owen for his opinion in this matter wholly. It was an opinion that was fluctuated throughout all of Europe at this time. There were, indeed, pockets of revolutionaries who refused to listen to this view, rebels who believed that the mind and heart of any woman was not in any way inferior or superior to those of any man -- the soldiers of principle who held that no person should be abused, neglected, or given up as a wretch, because of their gender. I was almost reluctant to criticize the ideas demonstrated by Owen in this remark, because he was wholly ignorant of these principles, that men and women are formed both from the same genes, that their bodies are so alike that what one completes the other is also capable of. I do not believe that girls ought to be taught to sew, cut out, or make useful family garments -- but I do believe that any child interested in such ought to be given the right to study it, whether they are male or female. I do not believe that cooking ought to be restricted to person's who have a vagina and excluded to those who have a penis; pardon the blunt nature of my sentencing, but that is essentially what is be recommended in this work by Owen. If sincerity of heart is a virtue, then every reformer should aloudly proclaim that men and women differ in that one part that is called their gender, and their intellect, their strength, their vice, their weaknesses, are dependent upon other traits.

Substance Use and Vice

Enough surely has been said to exhibit the evil consequences of these laws in their true colours. Let the duties therefore on the production of ardent spirits be gradually increased, until the price shall exceed the means of ordinary consumption. Let the licences be progressively withdrawn from the present occupiers of gin-shops and unnecessary pot-houses; and let the duties on the production and consumption of malt liquor be diminished, that the poor and working classes may be the more readily induced to abandon their destructive habits of dram-drinking, and by degrees to withdraw altogether from this incentive to crime and sure source of misery. [Essay 4]

     In criticizing society, Owen paid particular heed to the excessive use of alcohol by the poor and downtrodden. He regarded it as a source for all brutality, ignorance, and strife. However, his attitude towards it was -- as any modern scientist or psychonaut would agree -- based on ignorance. Alcohol alone cannot produce violence or idleness. There must first be a person who cannot find joy in any other activity in life, and this person also, must be given problems and hurdles so impervious, that to forget them is the only solution. Alcohol does not produce men without hope or without meaning, but those without either will tend to reach for alcohol as a means of ending the knowledge of their problems. Every person, no matter what nation or creed they are born to, will be born with an ambition, a desire to accomplish, whether for personal gratification or for the greatness of civilization. Yet, when a person is born unto an industrial society, where they are confronted with 12 hours of work a day, making barely a subsistence wage, they find themselves in great misery and vice. They then become attracted to alcohol as a means of ending their pain and suffering. That a man will be able to sleep at night, he will spend his pennies on alcohol and not on food. Perpetual poverty (or, "Capitalism") is responsible for creating a mindset where forgetting about life is desirable. Alcoholism, those who abuse alcohol because it is the only choice to forgetting life's miseries, is only the effect of this cause. To eliminate it, to make it so that people would rather spend their time with a life rather than forgetting it, the only viable option is to eliminate Free Enterprise.

     On drugs and mind-altering substances, I will say this... If a man wishes to sleep, he should drink alcohol, take Xanax, or use Benadryl. If a man wishes to stay awake, he should take twice the daily dosage of Psuedophedrine all at once. If a man wishes to be happy and full of ambition, he ought to take a small amount of Lysergic Acid Amede. If a man wishes to feel relaxed, he ought to smoke Marijuana. Upon discovering the hidden world of mind-altering chemicals, we find that any emotion, any feeling, any desire, can be created or relinquished in the mind. And with this, we become the true governers of our soul. We then are no longer risking ourselves to the winds of chance, as we may struggle with depression, boredom, apathy, hate, angst, terror, fear... By substance use, we are governing our minds for ourselves, creating happiness and putting down unhappiness. To say that a man should not have a right to his own mind, is to breach the most sacred of all rights of civilization.

     Furthermore, though perhaps not evident in the time of Owen, moderate consumption of alcohol has a great deal of health benefits associated with it. Individuals who drink moderately will have better cognitive functioning, less dementia (Alzhemiers), and other mental faculties improved. Moderate drinkers also have better mental health, work performance, social inegration and adjustment, and less stress.

Resources (acquired from www.peele.net)...

Carmelli, D., et al., 1999. The effect of apolipoprotein E e4 in the relationships of smoking and drinking to cognitive function. Neuroepidemiol. 18, 125-133.

Christian, J. C., et al., 1995. Self-reported alcohol intake and cognition in aging twins. J. Stud. Alcohol 56, 414-416.

Dufouil, C., et al., 1997. Sex differences in the association between alcohol consumption and cognitive performance. Am. J. Epidemiol. 146, 405-412.

Elias, P. K., et al., 1999. Alcohol consumption and cognitive performance in the Framingham Heart Study. Am. J. Epidemiol. 150, 580-589.

Hebert, L. E., et al., 1993. Relation of smoking and low-to-moderate alcohol consumption to change in cognitive function: A longitudinal study in a defined community of older persons. Am. J. Epidemiol. 137, 881-891.

Hendrie, H. C., et al., 1996. The relationship between alcohol consumption, cognitive performance, and daily functioning in an urban sample of older Black Americans. J. Am. Geriatr. Soc. 44, 1158-1165.

Launer, L. J., et al., 1996. Smoking, drinking, and thinking: The Zutphen elderly study. Am. J. Epidemiol. 143, 219-227.

Orgogozo, J-M., et al., 1997. Wine consumption and dementia in the elderly: A prospective community study in the Bordeaux area. Revue Neurologique 153, 185-192.

Peele, S., Brodsky, A., 2000. Exploring psychological benefits associated with moderate alcohol use: A necessary corrective to assessments of drinking outcomes? Drug Alcohol Depend. 60, 221-247.

Rehm, J., Bondy, S., 1998. Alcohol and all-cause mortality: An overview. The French paradox and wine drinking. In: Chadwick, D. J., Goode, J. A. (Eds.), Alcohol and Cardiovascular Diseases. Wiley, Chichester, UK, pp. 223-236.

The Poor

     The attitude that Owen takes towards the poor classes who are dependent upon state welfare is similar to my own, but differing in respect. First, he believes in ameliorating welfare...

Benevolence says, that the destitute must not starve; and to this declaration political wisdom readily assents. Yet can that system be right, which compels the industrious, temperate, and comparatively virtuous, to support the ignorant, the idle, and comparatively vicious? Such, however, is the effect of the present British Poor Laws; for they publicly proclaim greater encouragement to idleness, ignorance, extravagance, and intemperance, than to industry and good conduct: and the evils which arise from a system so irrational are hourly experienced, and hourly increasing.

It thus becomes necessary that some counteracting remedy be immediately devised and applied: for, injurious as these laws are, it is obviously impracticable, in the present state of the British population, to annul at once a system to which so large a portion of the people has been taught to look for support. [Essay 4]

     Aside from this, Owen also proposes that the poor who were naturally dependent upon the state for food and housing, ought to be employed to the state instead, that their labor may produce wealth and that they may receive payment. As he wrote...

It would, perhaps, prove an interesting calculation, and useful to government, to estimate how much its finances would be improved, by giving proper employment to a million of its subjects, rather than by supporting that million in ignorance, idleness, and crime.

Will it exceed the bounds of moderation to say, that a million of the population so employed, under the direction of an intelligent government, might earn to the state ten pounds each annually, or ten millions sterling per annum? Ten millions per year would be obtained, by each individual earning less than four shillings per week; and any part of the population of these kingdoms, including within the average the too young and the too old for labour, may be made to earn, under proper arrangements, more than four shillings per week to the state, besides creating an innumerable train of other more beneficial consequences.) [Essay 4]


The labour of every man, woman, and child, possessing sufficient bodily strength, may be advantageously employed for the public; and there is not, perhaps, a stronger evidence of the extreme ignorance and fallacy of the systems which have hitherto governed the world, than that the rich, the active, and the powerful, should, by tacit consent, support the ignorant in idleness and crime, without making the attempt to train them into industrious, intelligent, and valuable members of the community; although the means by which the change could be easily effected have been always at their command! [Essay 4]

     As far as abolishing welfare goes, I am entirely in agreement with that. However, that would only be permissible under the most ideal of conditions. In a Capitalist economy, employment and low wages are so prevailing, that it necessitates welfare. The workers do not want welfare. We want fair paying jobs. We want to be able to work so that the fruits of our labor will become our own -- not so that some bourgeoisie class can receive the profits of our working. We do not want hand outs -- we want to live in a society and an economy where every night we have to decide whether to pay for food or rent, where homelessness is not the only other option to working under these brutal conditions, where starvation is not a typical part of life. Society only needs welfare today because the workers are paid less than 10% of what they produce. The Capitalist class only provides the machinery to produce that wealth, machinery which was, of course, produced by the working class. I agree with Owen in eliminating welfare, but only if Capitalism is also eliminated. Also, I believe that the workers should be employed to the public, just as the means of production ought to be owned by the public, but I do not believe that "public" is synonymous with "government," nor do I believe we ought to have a government.


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