Next week’s story Sodom and Gomorrah by Adam Mcomber

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Rated G

Please Pardon the audio quality on this episode. I upgraded editors and am still learning all the bells and whistles in the hopes that future episodes will be much more clear and enjoyable.

Gerald is now in France and we are missing our best buddy. We had a great co-host scheduled but he had had technical difficulties so it was just us girls. We had a lot of fun discussing the political underpinnings of The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. The big question still nags, is the well being of many enough to out way the misery of one. Maya tried to play devils advocate and see the story from a conservative point of view; spoiler… she failed.

Don’t forget, to rate the story! For the history of our goofy system, see Anais’ post “Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries.” If you want to design a Bradberry, we’d love to see it. Y’all rated The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe 4.33 bradberries.

Next week’s story Sodom and Gomorrah by Adam Mcomber

5 comments on The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas – Ursula Le Guin – Literary Roadhouse Ep 20

  1. Todd Williams says:

    This story actually put me in a bad mood for a couple of days. The central conflict with the child is so blatant and clunky yet really made me think.
    Since the “torture kid vs. quality of life” mechanic is a mental exercise and we’re not told what abandoning the ritual would do to the happiness of the citizens of Omelas it’s pretty hard to have a meaningful debate about the “one vs many”; knowing how the child is chosen could change the debate considerably as well.
    By making it about quality of life rather than life vs death, LeGuin brings “optional” selfishness into the equation and makes it seem easier to answer the central question. Not as easy as it would seem though.
    Western-style societies are pretty much a less extreme example of the moral dilemma in this story; we get to live prosperously off the misery of others. For me this knowledge taints any chance at true happiness and I’d like to say I’d be one of the ones who walk away from Omelas. The problem is that, even when you walk away, the situation still exists; leaving absolves you of contributing directly to the problem but doesn’t solve it.
    Perhaps it is even more cowardly than staying and living with the guilt or trying to change the society.
    I’m a big fan of the old saying “be the change you wish to see in the world” and LeGuin doesn’t seem to offer that option to anyone in the story. Things are too black and white; can we have one less orgy a week to give the child a decent meal? Can’t I just share my Skittles with him?
    Maybe the ones that walk away get to find a more balanced place to live.

    4.5 Bradberries for me.

    1. Great comment. I think the stark presentation is intentional (and so Le Guin). In your comment you write, "Things are too black and white; can we have one less orgy a week to give the child a decent meal? Can’t I just share my Skittles with him?"

      The story’s prohibition of this type of negotiation is, in my opinion, exactly the point. It extracts and concentrates the problem so that the reader can’t worm out of guilt through some type of deal-breaking.

      It reminds me of riddles. It’s really common to ask a riddle and have the listener try to wiggle out of the central dilema ("Ok but can I have a jet pack and fly over the riddle’s obstacle?") The riddler insists that the only thing that exists in the universe of the question is what has been furnished in the prompt. Deal. with. it. That’s what makes it difficult and unsettling. That’s what makes it stick with you afterwards.

      I probably wouldn’t have rated it as high if the story asked "How much will you give the child? For every meal with protein in it, add one day of sadness in the lives of every citizen of Omelas."

      Also, the orgies were optional, and, based on your comment, you seem to have kept them in your version of Omelas. 😉 #TheMoreYouKnow

      1. Todd Williams says:

        All good points, and LeGuin was certainly successful in making me think about related issues which are less black and white. I guess I have trouble with being forced to choose from two absurd options when more logical and sensible choices (should) exist. AS you say, I agree this would dilute the story quite a bit.

        Using your riddle example I see it the opposite way; ie the riddler is trying to wiggle out. (You can’t use a jetpack, because… umm …yeah there is an anti- jetpack forcefield there..).

        Haha! Obviously I have no trouble with less absurd (and more Freudian) options like orgies. 🙂

  2. mconcepcion says:

    I loved this story and the podcast discussion! This story has brought out so many thoughts and ideas in me that I find it difficult to properly articulate them all and trying to keep my comments short. I agree the story is an allegory, but the theme to me is more about morality than politics.
    “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime.” This is a quote from Honore De Balzac. Le Guin is exploring this issue. The first two paragraphs paint a perfect picture of a perfect utopian society, but in her Meta-conversation with her audience she asks: “Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No? Then let me describe one more thing.” She understands our cynicism, we always think, “what’s the catch?” The catch is the idea of sacrifice, the sacrifices of the ancient Mayas and the Incas, of the Old Testament’s scapegoat, and in Christianity, Jesus, the sacrificial “lamb.” This story is an exploration of the question; are we justified in sacrificing one person, or a few people for the good of many? This is the moral dilemma.
    I see a contradiction between her thoughts on war, and the sacrifice of one innocent child. “The joy built upon successful slaughter is not the right kind of joy, it will not do; it is fearful and it is trivial,” but of the things she establishes even before she tells us of the boy is “One thing I know there’s none in Omelas is guilt.” An innocent child sits naked in a dark room in the most horrible conditions, in total neglect, everyone is aware of his existence and of his condition, she tells us “they know compassion,” and yet they feel no guilt?
    In war the soldier is stripped of his/her humanity in order to justify the killings, just as in slavery the slaves are dehumanized for the slavers to be able to “keep a clear conscience.” In this case the child is not killed or sent away, it is kept there. Why? She tells us why, “Theirs is no vapid, irresponsible happiness. They know that they, like the child, are not free. They know compassion. It is the existence of the child, and their knowledge of its existence, that makes possible the nobility of their architecture, the poignancy of their music, and the profundity of their science. It is because of the child that they are so gentle with children.”
    Unlike war, their happiness does not depend on winning or losing, but in knowing its own value. They accept the terms because if they start to question the terms, guilt would return. I don’t see conservatives vs. liberals, I see idealists and pragmatists. The ones that walk away are not entirely idealists. An idealist would stay and try to change what he/she sees wrong. They are the nonconformist, they are not in agreement with the status-quo, but all they do is just walk away.
    I’m giving the story a 5.5 and not a perfect 6 because like Anais, I find something not quite fitting the definition of a short story. To me this is more like a parable or even a philosophical essay.

    1. Great comment! I think our discussion of politics was a layer above the core of the story, which we got away from because the political question was so interesting to us.

      When Maya and I started debating conservative v. liberal, I think it’s shorthand for the tug between pragmatist v. idealist. Typically, conservatives present themselves and their beliefs as pragmatic, and liberals strive for idealism.

      I think the choice to walk away is also, in a way, an admission of defeat.

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