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32 pages, Hardcover
First published October 1, 1973
"The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas."So what the question boils down to - does the benefit of many outweigh the suffering of few? You think you have your answer ready? Is it a resounding NO! coming from the bottom of your outraged heart? I hope it is. And, at the same time, I hope it is not. Because nothing is as simple as that. Yes, what I'm trying to say is that even if we think there's only one answer to that, we are contradicting ourselves. Because we have not only made choices that contradict our outraged and heartfelt and very human 'NO!' - but we have often flaunted them so very proudly.
"Their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it."So is there the answer to the question that Ursula Le Guin asks? From the way this story is presented, I'd say the visceral response she is going for is NO! It is not worth it. And that's what the few who choose to dissociate themselves from this happy-for-the-majority place see. That is why they walk away. Because sometimes you cannot live with yourself otherwise. Because our ultimate goal as humans, as above all compassionate species (I sincerely hope we are!) is to not be content with such a situation.
"It is because of the child that they are so gentle with children. They know that if the wretched one were not there sniveling in the dark, the other one, the flute-player, could make no joyful music as the young riders line up in their beauty for the race in the sunlight of the first morning of summer."The question is - faced with reality, knowing how the world works (or at least seems to work) which side would we choose? Or more importantly, no matter which side we end up on for one reason or another, would we continue remembering the pain of the ones that suffer and the happiness of those who do not, and would we make our choices thinking of the both sides? I hope I will. And I hope so will the others. And I also know that, sadly, even in the happiest of times to come, we will still all be living in Omelas.
"But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas."
Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive.
‘if the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which...millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torment, what except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?’
“Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last. Imagine that you are doing this but that it is essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature...in order to found that edifice on its unavenged tears. Would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me. Tell the truth.
“No I wouldn’t consent,” said Alyosha softly.
Or if the hypothesis were offered us of a [utopian] world ... and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture, what except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?--William James, The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life (credited by Le Guin as an inspiration for this story)
Let us not, however, have temples from which issue beautiful nude priests and priestesses already half in ecstasy and ready to copulate with any man or woman, lover or stranger who desires union with the deep godhead of the blood, although that was my first idea. But really it would be better not to have any temples in Omelas – at least, not manned temples. Religion yes, clergy no. Surely the beautiful nudes can just wander about, offering themselves like divine soufflés to the hunger of the needy and the rapture of the flesh.