The Unknown Citizen by W. H. Auden

Some Connect the Dots Thoughts:

The rise of strong central governments were well on their way in 1940 when Auden penned this poem.

The Soviet Union under Russia and FDR’s America pointed at that time toward ever growing government observation and control. Ford’s assembly lines ushered in an even more regimented phase of the industrial revolution.

Huxley’s Brave New World foreshadowed an overarching society in 1932, along with outlining the consequences of the eugenics movement which was in popular discussion before the Second World War.

The character Ford in Brave New Worlds’ global state was referred to as a deity.

This worrisome concern of governmental control was sidelined with the urgency of World War II, only to reemerge most notably in 1948 with Orwell’s 1984.

Eugenics was delivered a crippling blow when the Nazis used its ideas in a horrifying and failed way to produce a master race.

Conformity again became a subject in America in the 1950s, only this time framed in the context of the business world.

The Man in the Gray Flannel suit was written in 1955 and addressed a lack of purpose in life when the only sense of purpose seemed to be to fit in.

It has been 80 years since Auden wrote this.

China is now using social scoring on its citizens and everyone in America has most of the information and events below recorded in their credit file.

The United States government may not be efficient enough to document everyone’s life but the three major credit bureaus certainly can. And do. You may not have a credit card but you have a credit score.

It’s not always Big Brother that you have to be concerned with. It’s also what we hackers called Little Brother.

The Unknown Citizen

W. H. Auden – 1907-1973

(To JS/07 M 378
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn’t a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.

Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden.

By thomasfarley01

Business writer and graphic arts gadfly.

Leave a Reply