Mar 10 2011

Walking Away from Omelas

(4 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Ursula K. LeGuin, a sorely underappreciated sci-fi writer, wrote a short story in 1974 called The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. It’s in pdf, but take five minutes and read it.

Then follow me below the fold.

If you didn’t bother to read it, here’s the gist:

The Omelas live in the perfect Utopian society. The details don’t matter, but everybody is happy and rich and has no cares in the world. There’s only one catch.

Locked in an old closet somewhere is a child. At one time the child knew the joys of living among the Omelas. But one day, the people locked the child in an old closet. There the child lives, wallowing in her own feces. She is scared and alone. An old, crusty mop sits in the corner and the mop scares the child.

It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect. It picks its nose and occasionally fumbles vaguely with its toes or genitals, as it sits haunched in the corner farthest from the bucket and the two mops. It is afraid of the mops. It finds them horrible. It shuts its eyes, but it knows the mops are still standing there; and the door is locked; and nobody will come.

But somebody does come eventually. Every now and then some people come to feed her a miserable meal and gawk at her. You see, the Omelas made a pact. They get their perfect Utopian society and the price is negligible. As long as some child suffers in the darkness with his/her terror, isolation, misery and pain the rest of the Omelas will prosper. Every member of the Omelas society must see the child at least once and some come back for their own reasons.

Ursula’s story ends with a powerful note that some of the Omelas decide to leave. It doesn’t matter where they go. They just leave, presumably because they can’t live with the idea that the most vulnerable of our society must suffer so that everyone else can be happy and carefree.

But there is a caveat to the story. Ursula leaves it unaddressed for a reason. If someone would rescue that poor, abused, frightened and lonely child, then then the whole damned thing falls apart. But nobody rescues the child. They either live with it or leave. We are left to assume that the Omelas won’t actually die from losing their Utopia. They would just have to rebuild a society that is not predicated on abusing one helpless child for the “greater good.”

And that is what is happening in America, folks.

The lilly-white (okay fine, pure white plus Alan West and Alan Keyes) right wing has this vision for a Utopian society. Sorry, lefties. There’s no room for you. You get to be the child in the mop closet.

Who are the pathetic, disease-ridden children who deserve to be locked in a closet?

Let’s take a look.

In Wisconsin, it was the public sector unions just tonight. In Gov. Scott Walker’s world, we killed the private sector unions and the final coup de grâce is killing the public sector unions. We will be prosperous only when the teachers, clerks, urban planners, et al work for minimum wage with no benefits. Notice there is no mention of Walker or the state legislature taking a pay cut. It’s not like he has to work out of a mop closet.

Remember the sub-prime mortgage “crisis”? The deal was that banksters would give you a mortgage you clearly could not afford and place a bet that you would default sooner or later. If you managed to keep up the payments, good for the bank. If you defaulted, good for the bank. Damned shame about the catering of the real estate market, though. Eventually, though, a scary mop closet looks like a reasonable alternative to that nice house in the ‘burbs.

Tomorrow we also have Rep. Peter King’s revival of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). In case you haven’t heard, Rep. King intends to haul some Muslims in front of Congress and ask they why “all Muslims are terrorists.” This from a guy who loved the Irish Republican Army. (Disclosure: I sort of agreed with the IRA’s goals, but I detested their tactics of killing civilians.) Peter King is a symptom of a larger Xenophobia, though. The tighty-righties have this notion that morality comes only from their ancient texts and none other. They say fuck the Muslims and Hindus and Taoists and Wiccans and atheists and agnostics. They say suffer the Catholics and Jews and Mormons as long as they stay in their place. In short, pray in your mop closet; we got this.

Or we could just take a look at the tea party philosophy. Never mind that the entire thing is funded by corporate interests well beyond the Koch brothers. The whole movement is predicated on the idea of “I’ve got mine, jack, so fuck you.” In other words, screw that whole social safety net thing. If you fall on your face financially or do something silly like grow old then you need to just die already and let the rest of us enjoy our money. Throw those poor and old people in the mop closet, too.

And here in my beloved state of Pennsylvania, our (Republican) governor proposed a budget plan to cut just about everything except corporate taxes and law enforcement. We have an awesome state system of higher education with 14 schools (shout out to Mansfield University) owned by the state. Our tax payers generously fund these schools so that 120,000 students a year can get a good education. Most of that could go away. That is on top of deep cuts in public education for the Commonwealth’s 500 public school districts. But never fear. Gov. Tom Corbett wants vouchers!!!! That should do the trick. The rest of you: get in the mop closet.

Speaking of closets, let’s talk about LGBTQ folks. To the Far-right Republicans and their enablers in the media, you are at best an interesting cultural phenomena to be quickly crushed and at worst the reason the Western world will disintegrate into madness and chaos. Get back in you mop closet, fags and dykes, they say. Otherwise, this country is doomed I tell ya. DOOMED! (btw, fuck those guys.)

Or we could talk about the environment. There are a lot of corporate interests out there that would like to quash the environmental movement so that they can keep making money. They have gone as far as to use sock puppets on Wikipedia to make themselves look good. The reality is that climate change is real and could kill us all. But everyone from the Republican Party to the t-baggers to most of the media would like you to think climate change activists need a room at the mop closet motel or else the entire economy goes down the toilet.

Or we could talk about the the folks who want to smoke a joint to forget all of this. If the cops get you, welcome to the mop closet. If you fail a piss test for a job, welcome to the mop closet and fuck you, even if you have a prescription. If you drink yourself stupid, however, congratulations, Mr. Speaker of the House.

Finally, there is Bradley Manning. Here is a guy who is quite literally stripped naked and locked in a room for hours. Why? He exposed “secrets” that the State Department and CIA would prefer not see the light of day. Manning and Julian Assange may have their personal problems, but the information they are putting out there cannot be overlooked. But it is. We, as a society, would rather kill the messenger than grapple with the nasty reality that the message reveals. For that, we will stick them in the mop closet. (Note: if Assange is guilty of rape, he probably does belong in the mop closet, but only for that and not for leaking secrets.)

And that’s just a small sampling of the right wing’s efforts to keep us all in the mop closet. Every four years I hear the refrain. If X gets elected, I’m moving to Canada. Well then you are walking away from the Omelas. I also hear, I’m not voting this election because Obama did X. Great job walking away.

We don’t need to walk away from the Omelas. We need to pull the “children” out of the mop closet and treat them with the respect they deserve. If that means some delusional 1950s image of the country is destroyed, so be it. We cannot let the right wing lock certain people in a mop closet in order to validate their version of the American Utopia.

Don’t walk away from the Omelas. Destroy their utopia. Take care of the child in the mp closet. We can rebuild our society so that we all benefit and no one has to suffer in a mop closet. The good of the many does not outweigh the good of the one.

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