The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle, #6) The Dispossessed discussion


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Utopia and violence

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message 1: by Serge (new)

Serge I'm re-reading the book after a long while and have to admit it feels more simplistic and naive especially in parts comparing the societies of the twin planets. The shortcomings and deficiencies of free market capitalism are laid bare and clear, though somewhat exaggerated I'd guess for contrast. But on the other pole, while attempts to find and describe a viable alternative are certainly interesting and meritable, I fail to find the answer to one simple and unavoidable question for all utopian thinkers and writers: what happens if I refuse to do what I'm told? Do I have to work for food (as opposed to more advanced and sophisticated rewards)?
It may be that I missed this explanation in which case I'd appreciate all tips.


Outis Do people have to work for food wherever you live?
Generally there are two situations in which you might have to work for food:
-if you're a slave
-if there's so little food to go around that people who work might go hungry as well
There's a famine in the book. If you read carefully, noting who gets enough food and who doesn't you might conclude the book's "utopia" ain't all that utopian.
But when there's enough food to go around, the only sensible thing to do is make it available to everyone. This isn't utopian but simply how much of the world works today.


message 3: by Serge (new)

Serge Yes of course, all people I know either work for food (among other things) or can have food because someone else works for it. Food doesn't fall from the sky. Food needs to be made and delivered. If nobody works there will be no food.
Now, how do people organize themselves to make food (among other things) in a complex society? I know of two ways: they are rewarded to do what's needed. Or they are forced to do it whatever they want. If people are rewarded by quantity of food rather than a number in the account I fail to see the essential difference.


Outis People aren't rewarded through quantity of food in the book since it isn't about absurdly unrealistic economic theories.

It doesn't follow from the fact that some people are paid to perform work that either:
-no one works voluntarily or that
-the fruits of paid work are never available except in exchange for money
On top of being illogical, these conclusions fly in the face of reality.

Tell me, are people forced to be patriots or are they patriots because they're expecting some kind of reward?
You seem to realize that "complex societies" require something that prehistorical moneyless societies lack. But what they lack is of course not some way to motivate people to work since people have always worked. What such societies lack is professional management.
The book's solution to that problem is what's unrealistic about its moneyless society.

Growing food and so forth requires very little work nowadays thanks to technology and effective managment. Food is extremely cheap (look up the costs of the World Food Programme) and it's probably the thing people give away most gladly besides religious tracts.


message 5: by Serge (new)

Serge Almost all utopian authors I can recall focus on how utopia looks as opposed to how it works. There was a notable exception, maybe Russo? who said plainly we make people do things that are necessary for the sake of supreme rationality. Great, I understand that and there were quite a few examples. What I don't understand is, they just like doing what they're told because they are odonians, utopians etc. That isn't even close to a meaningful answer. And without some sort of an answer to the simplest question: how it may work? what is the point of that comparison?


Outis People generally do what they're told regardless of ideology.
Maybe you should research human psychology in order to find your answer. Were the subjects in Milgram's experiment forced to obey or expecting a reward?

I'm not sure what you mean by "that comparison" but I'm pretty sure it has little to do with the point of the book.
It was written during the Cold War and it isn't the only book she writes in which some dude comes down from a utopia to visit a planet which is locked in a rivalry between a country reminiscent of the USSR and a rival country which has a different economic system. The off-planet utopias differ from book to book, almost as if they weren't the point...


message 7: by Serge (new)

Serge Yeah I get that among many naive intellectuals from the West dreaming how to reconcile blazing materialism with starry-eyed utopias while in reality it's still plain old material reward carrot vs. slave labor stick and no utopian writer and humanity itself haven't invented anything new here in 10,000 years of written history (and counting)


message 8: by Serge (new)

Serge P.S. One doesn't generally do ALL what they're told unless in gulag labor camp (or utopia).


meandermind Serge wrote: "I fail to find the answer to one simple and unavoidable question for all utopian thinkers and writers: what happens if I refuse to do what I'm told?"

Well, Shevek sort of refuses to do what he's told. When Sabul refuses to publish his texts, he starts a syndicate press. No legal reprimands take place. He also gets sort of bullied off the planet.

I think LeGuin explains as much as she needs to to make it a plausible society. Actually, sort of more plausible than the current one we're in.


Outis Sabul is only sort of in charge of a small profession so you would only need to obey him if you really wanted to have a particular career.
So who was in charge of the whole thing? The society we live in is more plausible in that respect. That's fine since the point of the book is of course not to argue that it would be desirable or even possible to set up a communist mining colony on the moon if it had an atmosphere.


message 11: by Serge (last edited Mar 30, 2018 12:10PM) (new)

Serge I see the central theme of the book as bringing together the extremes, neither but both. There's a discussion on temporal theory to this extent but it's true aim is of course the Urras - Annares dilemma or rather capitalism / communism here on this Earth. And sadly for the story, the dilemma itself does not exist. Totalitarian gulag is not a better alternative to consumerism by whatever new slogan it would dress. There's nothing positive that can be taken neither from pharaoh nor central committee run society. It's only long, long past. The solution if it exists at all will need to be found ahead, from here rather than going millennia back. And finally I can't help finding it ironic that a society where the first act of human entering the world is done by some central committee computer is called "anarchy". It's typical of totalitarian regimes to call themselves all kind of fancy names (having no relevance to their true nature) as for progressive intelligentsia to fall for it in their eternal quest for better alternative to human nature.


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