Archive for February, 2012

Russian Emigration

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

I just stumbled across this article from November about droves of Russians emigrating out of their country, where many have finally become sick and tired of the state of their country and its corrupt government. The following paragraphs just sort of jumped out at me, as a Russian physicist speaks of his reasoning for leaving his home for better opportunities, almost perfectly mirroring what Shevek would have to say about his home world Anarres and the opportunities on Urras.

Russian nuclear physicist Vladimir Alimov, who now works at the University of Toyama in Japan, said he couldn’t survive on the $450 monthly salary of a senior researcher at the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“Yes, I miss Russia, but as a scientist I couldn’t work there with the ancient equipment which had not been replaced or upgraded since the Soviet times,” Alimov, 60, said in a phone interview. “Here in Japan, I have fantastic work conditions. I can do the work I enjoy and be appreciated and valued for it, everything I couldn’t even dream of back in Russia.”

I thought I would share that with everyone to just enlighten the possibilities of present day ambiguous Utopias.

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/nov/14/world/la-fg-russia-emigration-20111115

Journal 4: Anerras

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

I believe that one of the greatest mistakes a woman could ever make would be to allow herself to be hindered solely because of her gender, and it is with this sentiment that I would choose to live on Anarres and not Urras.

Truth be told, Urras did initially have some appeal to me, what with its lush landscape, abundant resources, and ornate society, but that appeal was immediately tarnished by the incredibly sexist manner in which the Urrasti women are treated. There is absolutely no question in my mind that living on a beautiful and stable planet is simply not worth the surrendering of my education, career prospects, and overall rights, especially considering the fact that I have never desired to be a mother or a wife. In contrast, Anarres, as Shevek displays through his inability to see women as second class citizens, is at least a place of acceptance and equality in regards to gender. The land may be arid and the resources scarce, but everyone has the potential to contribute to society and make something of themselves, hard as they may have to work.

Another major issue that I have with Urras is the fact that human empathy in general is so frighteningly absent — everything is done for profit and personal benefit. People are so preoccupied with material things and general ownership they are, in fact, willing to completely ignore the plights of others, as evidenced by the fact that great poverty exists in A-Io at the same time that the higher-ups are living lives of luxury and excess. In some cases, even, people are willing to worsen the plights of others for their own self-interest, as Shevek fully realizes when he states, “You cannot act like a brother to other people, you must manipulate them, or command them, or obey them, or trick them” (Le Guin 346). Truly, no one is willing to stand on equal ground with anyone else — they are always fighting to be alone at the very top, choosing isolation in exchange for power and materialism.

Anarres, however, is a society of sharing, of aiding others solely because that is the right thing to do. And, while the ideas that one cannot own anything and everything is to be done for group benefit seem extreme to me, I would rather live under those universal constraints than the social and gender-related constraints of Urras. Even Anarres’s lack of central government is more appealing than the corrupt one on Urras, as people are allowed to make their own decisions and thus learn to cooperate, sacrifice, and share to survive.

Granted, I am not insinuating that Anarres is without flaw — as I previously said, the terrain is terrible, the weather harsh, and the resources limited — I am simply stating that it seems like a world in which people are more capable of being themselves, of choosing their own paths and learning the value of their fellow humans. And while there are certainly societal constraints, none of them are so unjust in my eyes as the sexism and class segregation on Urras.

As Shevek said, “There is no freedom [on Urras]. It is a box — Urras is a box, a package, with all the beautiful wrapping … and what is inside of it? A black cellar full of dust, and a dead man… I have been in Hell at last… it is Urras” (Le Guin 347). To endure Hell and allow suffering, I can conclude, is not worth the beauty of it all.

Anarres

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

If given the choice between Urras and Anarres,  I would gladly choose to live on Anarres. It might not be the perfect utopia, but in my opinion it is much closer to an ideal world than Urras. I think that a world where everyone is equal but not a lush society is better than a capitalist society full of inequality.

Anarres is a world where possessions have little value and I have grown to believe that in our society the things we own are more important than the things we do. I’ve never lived in a society like the one on Anarres, but our world is so much like Urras that I know I would not like to live there. Living on Anarres would at least be a change. It would probably be hard, switching from the life I live to one on Anarres. Going from having a lot of things to sharing everything and having very little would be a major shock. I think that would be the biggest drawback to living on Anarres, the culture shock of moving there. It is hard to move from the society that you have been born and raised in to a completely different one.

I also really like the way that women are treated on Anarres in comparison to men, that they are equals unlike on Urras. This especially applies to career and child rearing. A woman takes no more responsibility for a child than a man does, and if she doesn’t want to spend her life taking care of the child she doesn’t have to. A woman is just as able to pursue her chosen career as a man is, and it does not seem that they favor one gender over the other.

Another downside to living on Anarres would be it’s harsh climate. I really enjoy the forests and mountains that are found here on Earth. The harsh climate also leads to food shortages on Anarres, which make living there unpleasant at times.

Would you miss the things of Urras?

Urras or Anarres?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

I feel like because I’m a female my obvious choice should be Anarres since women are treated as equals.  And in strictly societal terms, I would choose Anarres to avoid sexual degradation.  However, the desert landscape of Anarres is incredibly unappealing.  Shevek even says that “Compared to this [beautiful view], every scene Anarres could offer… was meager: barren, arid, and inchoate… Even where men farmed Anarres most closely, their landscape was like a crude sketch in yellow chalk compared to this fulfilled magnificence of life, rich in the sense of history and of seasons to come, inexhaustible” (65).

Urras has environmental aspects similar to Earth: there’s vegetation and animals.  I can’t imagine living somewhere that lacked those aspects. So I would choose Urras.  Even though women are no where near considered equals to men, there are some perks to being a female on Urras.  For example, shirts aren’t necessary, in fact they’re frowned upon for woman.  While this may be for the men’s benefit, that means no struggling to find the right size bra or battling underwire, and that definitely means less clothes to wash.

I’m not saying that the treatment of women on Urras is ideal, but if I’m being encouraged to choose between nature in a condescending society versus deserts and equality, I’m most likely going to go for the former.  Women aren’t even really aware that they’re being treated unfairly because they’ve been conditioned to believe that the treatment they receive is “right.”  In the case of women living on Urras, ignorance is bliss.

Urras somewhat reminds of me of Huxley’s Brave New World.  The people in the World State generally don’t question the structure and so they’re content with their status.  The people of Urras have never experienced life outside of their world and so they’re accustomed to the ways of their society.  Assuming that I would be accustomed to that life rather than being accustomed to life on Earth and migrating, I would choose Urras.

I Choose You, Anarres!

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Though I have no doubt that I prefer living in 2012 America to living in either of the two planets, Urras and Anarres, from Ursula le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed, if I had to make the choice I would more than likely end up on Anarres.

Urras seems to me to be a wholly undesirable culture. The architecture and environment seems nice enough, but everything on the planet is a product – including women as we see in Shevik’s discussion with the academics on Urras. A comfortable lifestyle isn’t worth living in a culture that seems so overwhelmingly fake and prepackaged.

On Anarres, however, the culture is exactly the opposite. Nothing is a product because there are no possessions. As much as I love my blu ray collection, if I had to choose between a culture of no possessions and a culture that consisted almost exclusively of possessions, I would go with the former.

Women also have far more rights on Anarres and are allowed to hold jobs they couldn’t even dream of having on Urras. They also have significantly more marital rights in that they can’t be bought and there is no marriage.

Taking the legality out of marriage is a romantic notion and one that I think keeps a loving partnership between two people true to the nature of a romantic relationship. However, I do believe there are some cons to taking legality out of marriage. With nothing legally binding two people, there is nothing other than their word to keep them from separating at the first sign of trouble or altercation when if they were bound legally and face with the prospects of a lengthy and stressful divorce they might be more inclined to fight for what they have. But the idea of partnership free of legality is a noble one and one to aspire to.

I also find the work ethic of the people of Anarres to be admirable. The people of Anarres work together as a whole to benefit one another, whether the job they do is glamorous or not. Does Shevik want to leave and do research? Probably not. But he does, because the culture values working for the greater good. Could that threaten individuality? Maybe to those of weak character, but I think working for the betterment of your culture and those around you is something to admire.

-Joshua Lawson

Urras?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Kat Tarr

Journal 4

Urras

I would have to choose Urras to live on if I had to choose one. I don’t think I could handle living on Anarres. The distinct differences between Earth and Anarres might be too much for me to handle. Between the landscape and the vastly different way the people there live, I would be in a major culture shock. I love mountains, trees, and lakes on earth, just as Urras has. Anarres, being little more than a desert with some settlements, would be a bit too much for me to handle in comparison to Earth. Urrasti have an interest in protecting their environment at least. They have taken care of their planet and care enough to take care their natural resources.

I might not agree with many Urras practices; the government, or the way women are treated or what they wear, I would have a better idea of what is expected of me. They have a capitalist society that sounds very similar to what we have here in America. I would be able to figure out how to live there a bit easier than on Anarres; the concept of no government would be completely alien to me.

While Anarres sounds amazing, with gender equality and more freedoms than even we have (no laws), I don’t think I could actually grasp the concept in practice if I was suddenly forced onto the moon. I don’t really agree with the pressures that society puts on the individual in Anarres either, while it’s better than laws in some respects, there’s no protection for people that break the society’s norms. There are no laws at all, which would leave people—like Shevek’s daughter or Tavek without any rights. I can’t say I know if Urras has that, but they have the ability to change; albeit slowly I’d imagine.

Child Issues

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Reading LeGuin’s essay on The Child and the Shadow, I was reminded of the broken child in The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. LeGuin says that “at age ten [she] had a less concious mind than she has now,” which made me think, if looking at how this relates to Omelas, that the people who stayed might have thought the child incapable of consciously understanding what they were doing to it. Further down in the essay, she also claims that a child has no “shadow,” or dark side of human conciousness. I disagree with this idea.

A child may not be able to put their thoughts into complex words; their thoughts may even seem simple to us, because they only know simple concepts. But back in elementary school, we had just as many social complexities as we do today as adults, and as such must have been capable of the complex thoughts to sort through those issues. We had to remember that Jack was the bully, that Jane was our friend, that Billy was the cute boy, and that Timmy was the weird kid who ate paste. While keeping straight who was who, we also had to remember that the teacher this year liked to do things one way, while last year’s teacher did things differently. If we said the wrong thing, we could be socially ostracized; but under that same rule no one could explain what was the wrong thing to say, so we had to work out on our own what the wrong thing was. We had to learn which games were fun and which were not, and what other kids’ perceptions of “fun” were, too. And I haven’t even mentioned homework, studying, and the social problems associated with being a “know-it-all”.

Kids are more complex than we give them credit for. Just because their problems seem shallow compared to ours, or they can’t easily explain their problems, does not mean that they are incapable of complex thought; they lack the vocabulary to express it. As for kids not having a “shadow” side to their conciousness, I remember at least five bullies in elementary school that knew what they said was bad. Every one of my friends, including myself, at least once did or said something malicious out of greed or anger or just for the hell of it. The complexities in their psyche that I explained above has their dark side as well, just as capable of malice as an adult but again lacking the knowledge to express it in a sophisticated manner.

So the child in Omelas did understand what they were doing to it, even if it couldn’t say why. It sees people (the spectators) every day that are better treated than itself, and on some level it understands that these are the people calculating its misery. Those who stayed in Omelas are those like LeGuin and Carl Jung, who believe that the child wouldn’t understand. Those who walked away are the ones who know that it does.

Societal Quandaries

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

I have grown up outside of the United States for the bulk years of my life, intermittently returning so that my father could learn the language of the next embassy post that we were assigned to. Up until my college career, the longest that I had lived in the US for was four years, and for the most part was when I was much younger, now I can add another five years to that count. I never really understood what it meant to be American; I had an ideal of what it was and drastically defended my ‘heritage’ as such from the barrage of anti-American flak that I faced from xenophobic foreigners because I felt it was my duty. However, these past five years that I have spent experiencing the US for what it has to offer has left me more than ashamed to call myself American, it consistently leaves me questioning the values of what our society have degraded to.

I assume Urras, and more specifically A-Io, was the end point of the path that Le Guin envisioned capitalistic societies such as the United States would eventually reach through not only their emphasis on individuality, but also a fierce drive for attainment of resources. By attainment of resources I am grouping together both positions within society, socio-economically and skill based. The competition that can be seen and felt on every rung of the ladder, through every step of your life, can be one of the most discouraging and despise-mongering feelings. The yearn for hate and segregation seems to fuel the furnace that powers our society, and it is truly sad to have to bear witness to this in almost every aspect of life here in America, from something as simple as trying to watch a tv show to something as difficult as procuring a space within a college’s student base or a job’s workforce.

I have always been a fan of the Marxist ideal from having gleaned through the Communist Manifesto, but of course everything looks and works so much better on paper than when played out in real life. I believe Le Guin’s depiction of Anarres is a perfect analogy for Marx and Engels envisioned socialist world, showing how it would work if the power and resources were truly divided between all, and if all were equally capable and willing to share in the work for the betterment of society. It does however show that even when all those aspects succeed, there are still problems to be encountered by such a system. Striving for such equality eventually leads to homogenization of personality and drives, which can coincide directly with a lack of personality within a human, defined as ‘egoization’ by the Anarresti. This begs the question what is the best use of human consciousness, separation through a single unit’s competition against one another, or mutual collaboration to form a greater whole?

I’m gonna go with Anarres

dL

Afri– Oops, I mean Benbili!

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

If given the choice to live on either of The Dispossessed’s main planets, I’d have to go with Urras.  More specifically: Benbili.

The thing about A-Io is that we never hear about a middle class, so we are left to presume that there is none, or that if it does, it is negligible.  The polar social stratification of A-Io limits its citizens to two possible lifestyles: wealth or squalor.  While wealth is the obvious choice, each is boring in its own right.  You are either born with a silver-spoon in hand (and thus inured with your own privilege), or you are at the bottom of a social ladder that is missing a dozen or so rungs.

With Thu, you are essentially choosing Cold-War era Soviet Union– an incredibly centralized government with superfluous and debilitating social structures.

With Anarres, you have the majority-rule normative forces along with the handicapping bureaucracies.  Oh, and the constant struggle to survive on a stale, barren desert-planet.

Benbili, on the other hand, is where the action is at… literally.  Benbili is depicted as the Urrasti equivalent of Africa.  The social strata are constantly changing as populations rise up against their leaders/oppressors and swallow them with violence.  You are likely to be born into poverty in Benbili, but there isn’t much you can’t change for yourself with an AK-47 (laser edition), some charisma, and a few good dice-rolls.  Or, if the power-vacuums become tiresome, you can choose to abandon your quest for influence and become a neo-Odonian.  See, since Benbili lacks the structure of Thu and A-Io, its political landscape is much more diverse.  You have your fascist regimes, your corrupt democracies, anarchistic experiments, etc… and you always have the ability to move with your own two feet, meaning you can run from the deadlier areas towards the relatively pacific regions.  Of course, your flight might be unsuccessful, but at least there is that hope of escape, of getting to somewhere better.

So yes, I would choose Benbili.  Oh, and I would try and stay as far away as possible from the Thu/A-Io conflict.  Surely, their battlegrounds do not include the entirety of the continent.

Journal 4: Anarres

Monday, February 27th, 2012

As it would appear, living on Anarres seems to be preferable to living on Urras. Of course, there are many benefits and detriments to living in either world. But in the end, I think I would rather live on Anarres because there seems to be more freedom (and I stress the phrase more freedom because even though there are perhaps no official laws or punishments, social norms have been established and there are certainly consequences to breaking the social norms), equality among classes and gender, and more wholesome happiness among its inhabitants.

Total freedom is a very integral and crucial concept in this Odonian society because it was founded on just that: the freedom to do whatever you wish. Although you are expected (well, unofficially…) to contribute to the community because you are supposed to support one another, it is not necessary. You are free to do what you want and how you want it, even if this means that you are looked down upon. This freedom of course also includes romantic freedom, as sexual relationships with different genders are encouraged from childhood. By showing no judgment and letting children find their own preferences and loves, you are not limiting or shaming them into living lives that they don’t want to lead. It also leads to un-institutionalized “partnerships”, which means that people aren’t pressured or trapped in relationships they aren’t happy with and that they don’t have to endure the pain of being with someone they don’t love. Chances are, if you’re in a voluntary partnership with another person, you truly love them and are happy. These kinds of systems and freedoms lead to greater happiness and the ability to truly be one’s true self, which I would enjoy if I lived on Anarres.

Equality is also another value that Anarres depends on to maintain stability. Everyone is a part of one class, or no class rather, so there is no discrimination or unhappiness because of that problem, like there is on Urras. There are also no issues with gender discrimination because everyone is considered equal, and as gender imbalance is prevalent and crucial in the social systems of Urras, I would rather live on Anarres (you know, being a female myself and all). As a whole, people seem happier on Anarres. Their happiness does not result from material or superficial things, like it does on Urras, but rather their love of each other and the freedoms that their society encourages.

Of course, there are downsides to living on Anarres too. I’m not sure I could adjust to how ugly and barren the land was, or how uninhabitable it really is. The shortages and dangers of living there always seem too scary and stressful, even if supposedly we could all make it through by helping each other. I would also not enjoy living with many people for the rest of my life, because I have grown up in a society where privacy and personal belongings are a must. But I think I could become accustomed to these things and would find true happiness in the long run if I lived in Anarres.