Sunday 20 June 2021
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Limit self-interest and self-concern: The lessons in Animal Farm 28 years later

Someone walked casually into my office last week and we engaged in small talk. We randomly discussed many things, most of which I cannot recall now. But one thing which still flashes in my mind from our discussions, for the person had the book “Animal Farm” in his arms, was how I found the book Animal Farm difficult and incomprehensible at school.  Animal Farm was written by George Orwell 61 years ago. It is an allegorical and satirical novel, apparently, about animal behaviour. Twenty eight years ago, the book was our prescribed literature in Standard 10 for English, Second Language High Grade, at Rundu Senior Secondary school. To be exact, the year was 1988; a year at the height of the struggle for national independence, which, as a consequence, was a difficult year of protests and school boycotts.  My friend casually suggested that I re-read Animal Farm because, apparently, it makes sense now in contemporary times. I heeded my friend’s suggestion.  Luckily, I had the book in my study room and it is one of those books that are short, only 89 pages, which I did read within days. As good teachers and professors instruct their students, critical reading of literature is helpful. Critical reading, or thinking, suggests “sussing – out” the question by asking searching questions (why? what is new? who cares? so what?).

Within this context, I re-read Animal Farm critically. The question I wanted to “suss – out” 28 years later was this: After the joyous and glorious moment of liberation of the animals, and with the “worthless parasitical human beings” gone, at which exact point did things get out of hand on the farm? This question is important because from the point where things got out of hand on the farm, everything that could have gone wrong went catastrophically wrong. Like most good writers, teachers and professors do, they do not provide a straight forward answer to questions. They leave it to their students to ask questions, answer them and commit. It is up to the individual to personally interrogate and discover their “Aha” and “Whoa” moment in what the writer put forward. At which point did things start to go “deurmekaar” at Animal Farm? At the point when Old Major died peacefully in his sleep (p.8) and the work of teaching and organisation fell on the pigs in general and Snowball and Napoleon in particular. In the initial stages, Snowball and Napoleon co-operated and worked well together. For instance, the two transformed Old Major’s teachings into a well-developed thought system (p.9) and led a disciplined inspection and take-over of the farm. However, Snowball and Napoleon gradually developed unexplained perennial disagreements – disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing – which climaxed in the attempted murder of Snowball and his resulting expulsion from the farm. At which point did things start to go “deurmekaar” at Animal

Farm? Arguably, at the point where Snowball and Napoleon started disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing.
The point the writer skilfully disguises in the behaviour of Snowball and Napoleon is embodied in everyday human behaviour and condition. Hidden in the human attitude of disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing is the destructive condition of self-concern (fear) and self-interest (greed). George Orwell disguises self-concern and self-interest in the secretive behaviour of Napoleon in rearing nine puppies which he used at opportune moment to try to kill Snowball. Why should one secretively rear nine puppies of which others are not aware of? Only Napoleon’s interests and concerns can reveal the true motives for rearing those puppies. Self-concern and self-interest, with their cousins jealousy, secrecy, inconsiderateness, factionalism, were at the root cause of troubles at Animal (Human) Farm. The opposite is also true: selflessness and self-sacrificing attitude are the medicine for progress and happiness. Happiness is, contrary to popular belief, not something one receives but it starts with something one gives. Whatever literature one reads on human nature, one is warned about the destructive nature of dishonesty, egoism and self-centredness. For instance, James: 4:1-3, in the Holy Bible is explicit on this point, stating:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. It is interesting to note that the same behaviour symbolised by Napoleon and Snowball, namely self-concern and self-interest that led to perpetual disagreements and factions, are the same behaviours, i.e. fights and quarrels due to self-concern and self-interest, which St. James starts his rhetorical question `to St. James, the primary problem between people can be located in the desires that battle within as a result of self-concern and self-interest; the incessant craving and covet for things. If the main problem that led to chaos at Farm Animal is incessant and uncontrollable desires, a question emerges: What can human beings do to limit desire for things: humbly asks God for what you need, period.

The author, Matthias Ngwangwama, is a Ph.D. candidate in Business Management at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. His area of interests includes Corporate Strategy and Leadership, particularly organisational effectiveness, organisational development and human evil and good. He is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. This article is written in his individual capacity without any affiliation to institutions.

One thought on “Limit self-interest and self-concern: The lessons in Animal Farm 28 years later

  1. Carajean

    Wer nach Venedig reist weiss, dass er etwas mehr bezahlen muss. Wir haben aber direkt an der Riralobtücke preisgünstig eine sehr gute Pizza gegessen.Und wer behauptet, dass es in Venedig stinkt war wohl noch nie dort. Ich habe die schöne Stadt 3 x besucht und es war immer alles ok.


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