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View Diary: About That Kid in Omelas (291 comments)

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  •  culturally specific logics (8+ / 0-)

    Why should that be, though? Why does the logic of perfect happiness dictate that there be such a room, such a child? Is this a point about human nature or a point about the believability of the stories we as humans tell, and is there a difference?

    I am always struck by how quickly pattention to these issues can move from a culturally specific context to a universalizing focus on "human nature."

    I think this is part of the specific culture's own logics. It does not exist as specific or limited or particular to itself. It is supposed to be universal. In its own self-referential logics, it is at least the most advanced and best and "modern" etc etc, so its logics must come from "human nature" rather than its own specific (and IMO diseased/distorted) context.

    The specific culture I am speaking of is the European cultural system, which is not specific only to Europe at this time and most certainly includes the United States.

    This cultural system has a core of disconnection, domination and control. From its logics comes a global system in which any sort of well-being for some is built on horrors for others. This is  real situation. It is also a specific situation from a particular cultural system's violently aggressive prevalence on this planet at this time.

    I think the idea of the story is that the narrator cannot violate the logic of human happiness, which requires a price, a flip-side. Our very conception of happiness, perhaps, has built into it a notion of the impossibility of perfection.

    Again, I see a culturally required confusion here between a culturally specific situation and some imagined universal "logic of human happiness." If we can normalize the specific and twisted core logics of this cultural system, pretend that it is not making this disease but rather the disease is so normal as to be the way things are, then the sickness of this cultural system's specific logics -- and wellspring of the horrors their lived realities -- are protected from scrutiny.

    All of this is enough to make you wonder how the very way we think has been twisted by the war on terror. Have we gotten to a place where we cannot imagine "safety" or "peace" without a prisoner in a room, somewhere? Worse, "happiness"?

    This is literally how this system operates at its deepest and broadest layers. We can pretend that it goes away with Guantanamo's end, but it is not so simple. Who suffers for some in this country to have a "good life"? Where do the worst of the actual poisons go, for example and who is affected? Who hurts (and/or dies) so we can have the things we buy, even the necessities? How did this land come to be "the United States" in the first place? What species are hurting and dying right now from this way of life?

    Too easy to see this as just Guantanamo. I don't know what Ms. LeGuin meant to say, but that story to me shows the disease of a cultural system that gives us this calculus to begin with.

    LeGuin's narrator finds she can't describe what is outside of this horror. I am not surprised. It is very nearly impossible to speak of that kind of thing in this cultural language.

    The task before us is not to walk away from this Omelas we have constructed, but to find a way to redeem it in the eyes of the world, and in the eyes the children we held there.

    Interesting and oddly fitting end to the essay. Apparently, the task before us is not to stop the horror wherever it is, however it might make us "look" or feel or lose to do that. It is, instead, to "redeem" this thing in the eyes of others.

    Trying to affect others' perception of us has  likely always been part of the European cultural project in dealing with others; this task set before us at the end itself appears to be part of the culturally specific logics.

    •  Excellent response, thank you. (8+ / 0-)

      Yes, you're right that I conflated the culturally specific concepts of justice, happiness, and so on, with "human nature."  I tried on occassion to be clear that I meant the "the cultural logic of late capitalism" or something like that, but I slipped back into "human nature."

      I did not take myself to be describing a cosmetic project of redemption, at the end. I took myself primarily to be asking about the concepts themselves.  But I can see how it reads as you say.

      Space. It seems to go on and on forever. But then you get to the end and a gorilla starts throwing barrels at you. -- Fry, Futurama

      by LithiumCola on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 06:01:39 PM PST

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      •  I wouldn't worry too much ;-) (9+ / 0-)

        the power of Le Guin IMHO lies in her fundamental grasp of cultural paradigms and how they effect each and every one of us in our understanding and recognition of what is human.

        So if she's got you talking about 'human nature' that's exactly what she is aiming for, because it means she's made you think about all those fundamental definitions from within your and my cultural paradigm. There's no doubt in my mind that she certainly aimed her story at her own culture, and was asking a very pointed and painful series of questions, which to me at any rate boil down to one: - not what, but who are you willing to sacrifice for your own happiness? -

        "This just can't get more disturbing!" - Willow

        by myriad on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 06:06:22 PM PST

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      •  *nod* (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Matt Z

        I did not take myself to be describing a cosmetic project of redemption, at the end.

        I hear you.

        It's just that so often that is where things go in this culture's actual practice on stuff like this.

        Thank you very much for the reply (all of it)!

    •  All life is suffering (9+ / 0-)

      That common paraphrase of the First Noble Truth of Buddhism should suffice to show that these notions aren't limited to the European culture sphere.

      And in the story of the life of Buddha we find out what one man did and thought, who walked away from his own Omelas, once he found out what had been hidden from him.

      •  not what I am actually talking about (1+ / 0-)
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        All life is suffering

        That common paraphrase of the First Noble Truth of Buddhism should suffice to show that these notions aren't limited to the European culture sphere.

        Just to be clear: this is not what I am talking about in my original comment.

    •  I know of another society... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cassandra Waites

      There was once the story of society of people who lived in perfect peace with themselves and their environment in a beautiful place.  They had plenty of food and enough clothing and shelter, and no desire for anything else.  

      The price was coming to the temple when the air-raid siren sounded to get slaughtered by the Morlocks

      We pity the Eloi, but envy the residents of Omelas, even though the Omelas had to live with the knowledge of their original sin and perhaps the guilt.

      2009: Year of the Donkey. Let's not screw it up.

      by Yamaneko2 on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 07:11:06 PM PST

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