Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

I found the Le Guin parable cited by this article really very powerful, as it goes back to some deeply held intuitions of mine about "not being happy until everyone is."

Usually I am weary of conservative Catholic articles about abortion, given how political their focus always is; I am not one of those who believes a politician must support criminalization of abortion, let alone that individuals can't vote for a politician based on their views related to abortion. Politics is, largely, pragmatic, in my view. I'd rather a world where abortion was legal but few occurred, than a world that paid lip-service to its illegality but many occurred. So though my own voting record has been and will be absolutely pro-life, though I personally am a one-issue voter in that sense (you might even accuse me of moral cowardice in that regard; it certainly makes voting easy), I definitely understand and think valid the choice of people who decide that a given vote won't effect the status quo one way or the other (at least not as far as their limited knowledge can guarantee), and therefore vote otherwise.

However, in terms of peoples attitudes and those of society in general, this article realy hit the nail on the head, I thought, by referencing Omelas. It's haunting really:

If you support abortion, you’re not allowed to look away. Sorry. You don’t get that privilege. You don’t get to wrap yourself in nice little slogans about “women’s rights” and “my body, my choice,” or the most nauseating one of all: “well, no one likes it, but…” If your oh-so-enlightened views are predicated upon the existence of horrible things happening in tiny rooms to people you don’t know, you should at least have the moral courage to understand what happens in those rooms. This applies as much to those on the right who support torture as it does to those on the left who support abortion.

In her fable “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” Ursula K. Le Guin offers her idea of a utopia. Her perfect world of perfect happiness can only be sustained by one child living in a locked, damp, darkened closet and subjected to constant abuse. The citizens all know this, and most accept this horror as the price for the world they live in.

But some cannot:
At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or a woman much older falls silent for a day or two, then leaves home. These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight outof the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman.
Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. 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.
I’ve always felt that the point of LeGuin’s fable was this: the only people worthy of all that Omelas had to offer were the ones who could never have it, because they found the cost too high.

What Dr. Levatino describes does not happen to one child: it happens to over 3,000 human beings every day in the United States alone. Too many people accept this as a price of the world they live, or perhaps just the cost of their own moral and political views. Maybe they just haven’t looked hard enough. Maybe they don’t care, or have convinced themselves that this isn’t really a life, or at least not an important life, and certainly not one that feels pain: well, not much pain (probably), and certainly that pain is nothing measured against the inconvenience faced by the mother. Hard choices, you know. No one is “pro-abortion,” it’s a private matter, safe-legal-and-rare … well, you know all the lies. People can convince themselves of all kinds of things. People used to convince themselves that Jews and blacks weren’t actually human. They’ve progressed beyond that. Now they’ve convinced themselves that humans aren’t even human.

It’s hard to change a deeply-held conviction, and abortion is a hard subject to change your mind about. In her story, LeGuin emphasizes that the people who walk away, do so alone. She uses the word “alone” three times in two paragraphs, and emphases the darkness, fear, and unknown elements of what they face by making their choice. So much of our self-identity and politics and relationships are bound up in our beliefs on subjects just like this. It’s a frightening thing to change your views so radically on such a volatile subject. It certainly wasn’t easy for me.

Yes, I used to be one of those loathsome “well, no one likes it, but …” people, and that was the worst possible position to take, because I was admitting that it was a horrifying thing but saying it should continue anyway. I acknowledged injustice and brutality, and said, “I’m okay with that.” I gazed upon the child in the basement closet of Omelas and decided his misery is a fair price to pay for the world I lived in. It took time–years, in fact–but I finally looked a little harder in that closet, and I became one of the ones who walked away.
However, what I think I find so haunting is that even those of us who are pro-life, who vote pro-life even...are not really "walking out" of Omelas, are we? Not even those who avoid even some remote material cooperation in the form of boycotting the list of companies that support Planned Parenthood, etc. Are we really going "out from her, my people" ? Or are we complicit in Babylon's sins? How does one "walk out" though? Does a certain level of active protest or volunteering count? Does simply remaining personally aloof? Even if one does do something like go off to Africa, or drop off the grid...isn't this shirking responsibility too? (Especially since a First Worlder will never really be precariously poor, inasmuch as he will always have a social safety-net he can invoke again if he wants to, just by virtue of his citizenship even.)

This is a question that always concerns me. And it concerns me when others aren't too concerned, even though I'm not claiming my concern or Hatred of the World itself justifies me any moreso. But it really does shatter the progressive narrative to pieces, and makes me look extremely cynically on any claims that there is anything good about modernity or the Enlightenment project as such (philosophically speaking) that doesn't pale in comparison to all the bad consequences, to the human cost of it all...


Nick said...

You cannot "walk out" of Omelas (SALEMOregon), so I think any idea of boycotting is simply not going to change anything.

With a majority of the Supreme Court being Catholics, they could strike down Roe yesterday. So until the Holy Spirit awakens in their hearts, the political rallying stuff wont do anything. In fact, LifeSiteNews came out with an article last year saying the Pro-Life movement has made no progress because they prostituted themselves to the Republican Party. That explains why nothing has been done, and that caused me to rethink it all.

My view now is that our job is strictly on the grassroots level, and the most fundamental step to take is to eliminate "ecumenical" Pro-Life efforts. That's because it's a flawed approach at it's foundation. If Protestants accept contraception, they've implicitly given the green light to abortion and homosexuality, so standing 'side-by-side' with "conservative" Protestants does nothing at the end of the day. That's precisely why the Supreme Court decided in 1992 that overturning Roe is impossible since contraception has made people's lives utterly dependent on abortion as "Plan-B" when contraception fails.

So until Catholics realize the Pro-Life movement has been more or less a failure on the 'foundational' level, they will remain in this cycle. It almost makes an inevitable Obama victory nothing to worry about, simply because you know he's pro-choice only because of votes and not because he's actually going to change things; the status quo is doing the job just fine.

Mark S. said...

Reminded me of this from Simone Weil:

"Speech of Ivan in the Karamazovs: 'Even though this immense factory were to produce the most extraordinary marvels and were to cost only a single tear from a single child, I refuse.'

"I am in complete agreement with this sentiment. No reason whatever which anyone could produce to compensate for a child's tear, would make me consent to that tear. Absolutely none which the mind can conceive. There is just one, however, but it is intelligible only to supernatural love: "God willed it." And that reason I would consent to a world which was nothing but evil as readily as to a child's tear."

From "Gravity and Grace"

Donna said...

What is really sad is that Ms. LeGuin, who wrote this insightful little parable, is a fervent 'abortion rights' activist. Omelas does not extend to the womb, it seems.

A Sinner said...

Sad. But also rather irrelevant to the point of this post, which really was not supposed to become an ad hominem about Ursula LeGuin...