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The Truth About Human Nature

In Swift’s poem “The Beasts’ Confession” (1738), written several years after Gulliver’s Travels was published, he makes clear that lying, as a human condition, is neither accidental nor escapable. The beasts, speaking as the voice of this poem, do confess their faults, but they defend themselves also, on the basis that what they do is simply who they are. If that weren’t true — if the beasts could be mistaken about who they are, or could deceive themselves — then they would “degenerate into men.” Swift’s essentialist understanding of human nature — what distinguishes it from all other natures — is that we are the creatures who lie to ourselves about who we are.

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Still curious? It might be a good time to re-read Gulliver’s Travels.