Archive for February, 2012

The Child and the Shadow of Omelas

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Reading LeGuin’s essay, “The Child and the Shadow,” really puts into perspective how and why she wrote “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” It’s pretty clear from reading both of those that LeGuin loved Anderson’s the man and the shadow story, so she essentially wrote her own version of it with “Omelas.”

“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” is incredibly simplistic, bordering on nonsensical and practically slapping you in the face with its SYMBOLISM, shouting at you to make sure you fully understand its overtones. In it, LeGuin is saying that evil and suffering and the ills of the world go hand in hand with society — an inseparable, absolute truth, or society’s “shadow.” Omelas is a city that has found away to relegate all that into one little child, banishing its shadow to the depths of a basement, behind a locked door.

The man in Anderson’s story, LeGuin argues, is bound by logic and reason, but has no creativity or drive without his shadow. The man and the shadow are dependent upon each other. But Omelas has no such dependency. There is no apparent downside in Omelas to their exiling of their shadow. They flourish without it. Everyone is happy. Even the horses are happy. There is no indication that, let’s say, their happiness is undermined by being everlasting; that without a range of emotions, the people of Omelas cannot ever truly appreciate their happiness, as in “The Giver.” They are simply happy, all the time, and there is no downside.

And while LeGuin has to extrapolate the deeper meaning behind Anderson’s tale, her story lays it all out on the table, as blunt as can be. While I can appreciate some of the ideas she outlines in her essay, I feel like she’s only able to get the theory behind them and was unable to actually execute on any of them in her own story. “Omelas” is just too simple and straightforward. It has no depth. Nothing resonates. It is the ultimate in forgettable stories. There are opportunities in it to expand and make it worth discussing (and remembering) like with the people who walk away from Omelas that the story is named for, but she doesn’t take them, unlike Anderson.

“What About That Shadowy Place?”

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Le Guin had me at “Hans Christian Andersen.”  I am familiar with some of his stories, like “The Ugly Duckling,” “Thumbelina,” or “The Little Mermaid.”  One of these things is not like the others, though.  Disney decided to tack a happy ending onto their version of “The Little Mermaid,” but the original ending was not so happy.  Andersen has a decent mix of fun and down-right depressing stories, and the tale of the man and his shadow is no different.

Le Guin emphasizes the dichotomy of good and evil in her essay, “The Child and the Shadow,” drawing comparisons between the shadow character in Andersen’s story and fictional figures like Hyde or Frankenstein.  The shadow is the evil or monstrous part of us that follows us around, is part of us, but we try to ignore.  I especially liked Le Guin’s insight when discussing ego: “Children are likely to find their ego in a ladybug, and their shadow lurking horribly under the bed.”  This reminded me of being a child and actually being afraid of my physical shadow and the shadows that were cast around my bedroom when going to sleep.

This essay seems to make a case for the innocence of a child.  When dealing with stories like “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” we can see the stark comparisons between children and their shadows, and adults and their shadows.  Le Guin suggests in her essay that the shadow of a child is not fully developed, that children want to learn right from wrong, and that they project everything bad onto “boogeymen.”  In adults, however, the shadow must at some point be embraced and recognized.

Le Guin compares good and evil to yin-yang: we need both to live.

In “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” I think that the shadow is the child who is locked away as a scapegoat.  While the child is innocent, the child is an irremovable part of Omelas.  It is an unsavory, dark, festering secret, a physical manifestation of the darkness within us all.  The child is the separation of the man and the shadow.  The shadow/child is everything that is wrong, while the man/society is everything that is good.  However, the society is weak.  It is reliant on the child.  Without the child, the society would fall, much like man would fall without our “shadows.”  Like the essay says, we have to embrace the darkness before we can go on.  We don’t have to like the shadowy parts of us, but we have to learn to work with them.

When I was reading the essay, the last thing I thought of was an example (maybe a weak one).  In the movie “The Lion King,” Simba and his father look out over the pride lands.  Everything is golden and lush and beautiful, except for the “elephant graveyard,” where the hyenas live.  Simba even asks, “What about that shadowy place?”  While the rest of the savanna is gorgeous, without that “shadowy place,” there would be no movie, no villain, no obstacles.  In a way, we need our shadows and dark sides to be strong, much like a film without challenges would be boring.

Urras ftw

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Hm. This one actually took a little debating, but I decided on Urras. I’m gonna have to go against the grain. On a very superficial level, I’ve lived in the desert, and let me tell you guys….a good climate does wonders for your mental health!

I think living on Urras, being a woman and being excluded from the institutions, it’d give me more purpose in trying to break through those barriers and fight for women’s rights rather than the volunteer job system on Anarres. By everyone having value on Anarres, that means nobody’s job is more special than someone else’s. Not a big fan of Communism. There’s definitely a lot wrong with Urras and a lot to change, and having a hand in that would make me feel like I’m accomplishing a lot.

Also, I think it ultimately benefits a person to be exposed to the bad things in life. Shevek didn’t even really appreciate anything in his life because he didn’t have to struggle for it. There’s a sort of naïve idealism on Anarres that I don’t think I’d want to live with. Shevek “had never seen a rat, or an army barracks, or an insane asylum, or a poorhouse, or a pawnshop, etc” (284), and it may make me sound weird but I think someone ought to see those things and be exposed to them often. And I know I’ll definitely get a lot of heat for this next comment, but I happen to like capitalism. There it is, I said it. On Anarres, everybody just kind of lumps together in this amorphous mass with no individual identity. Sure, you can study what you want but you don’t get to have the satisfaction at making a living in what you love to do (ie, struggle for a satisfying, paid job). By everyone’s job being “important,” that means nobody’s job is. And as you all saw from my “You Can Do Anything” video, I have an issue with people being coddled into those ways of thinking.

Journal #4

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Living on Urras would have advantages of course, but the disadvantages are overwhelming. The materialistic values Urras believes in can provide for and destroy at the same time. The culture is embraces the different and unusual, however the problem with obsessive ownership of property, of “things”. Having a house to one’s own is most important in the Urras society. This leads to capitalism, which can be a positive addition to the economic market of Urras, yet causes the problems of diversity and political arguments that seem to go on forever. Anarres, Shevek’s home, also has positive and negative correlations pertaining to the way society is run. Unlike Urras, Anarres embraces the notion of sharing and instructing society to have equilibrium among one another. This includes the equality of women and men in the work place, as well as children growing up knowing that the others need to be treated as they would want to be treated for the benefit of society. However, there are problems with this type of radical way of society. There is no individualism in Anarres and no matter how different someone may be, they are told to be treated as equals. Anarres enforces the rule of banning outside sources, such as ideas from Urras the country their ancestors rebelled from for those hidden reasons. This is why Shevek decides to spread his ideas and theories past his homeland into Urras, where they have never experienced such a society. Although both societies constrain positive ideas for their people, the negative outcomes affect the judgment of those living in the society. Urras expresses individualism, but abrasive sexism, racism, wastefulness, and ownership completely cloud their world. Annares on the other hand groups society as equals in order to avoid conflict. The idea society can have an equilibrium is a positive, but is would be extremely difficult to work. If it came down to it, I would live in Urras because I enjoy having an individual nature. Although I would like to have equal rights among the sexes and races in society, the lack of individualism is a problem.

Journal 4: Anarres

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Given the choice of Anarres or Urras, I would have to choose Anarres. While Urras is beautiful and plentiful, women are inferior. On Anarres, women are treated as complete equals and that is extremely important. Even now, on Earth, while there have been huge advances in women being treated the same as a man, it is still not completely equal. It would be nice to see how a society would be where women and men are considered the same way. If I were to live on Urras, I would not even be allowed to study or get a career in something I enjoy doing.

I also chose to live on Anarres because you can really do what you want. If you want to study something you can get a group of people and a teacher, and learn. You don’t have to worry about having enough money to support yourself because there is no money to earn. You are free to learn new practices and skills without loosing anything. Instead of worrying about going to graduate school or applying for jobs, you can do what you enjoy.

There are many consequences of living on Anarres though. There are the obvious ones, for example the land is barren and there are no plentiful resources (except ore, which you can only do so much with). Because the land is not fit for humans to inhabit, the Anarresti struggle to keep everyone fed and clothed. After living on Earth, it is hard to imagine sharing absolutely everything with everyone.

Another thing that would be bad about living on Anarres would be the government that has developed over time. People are not acutally free on Anarres. Yes, you can study and learn what you would like, and if you are placed to work somewhere you can decline, but you are socially shunned if you do not share or contribute. I do not like that if you come up with new ideas that people don’t understand, you cannot go on with the idea because then you aren’t sharing. These social pressures suffocate originality and incentive.

Anarres is secretly controlling and takes sharing to the extreme, but Urras is even more controlling and women are inferior. So if I had to choose, I would pick Anarres because I would be treated as an equal.

-Sarah McDermott

Anarres: Still not free, but it’s better than Urras

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

If faced with the choice to live on either Urras and Anarres, I would definitely pick Anarres. I agree with a lot of anarchist ideology, so I wouldn’t really have to change a lot of my viewpoints. However, I’d probaly end up a nuchnib, or outsider, like Shevek because I wouldn’t concern myself with what others think is acceptable.

On Anarres one is more or less free to take up whatever work they wish, the only block being the opinions of one’s neighbors. I’d be happy to help out with farming, mining, and other task necessary for the smooth running of society, sometimes. However, most of the time I would likely devote my efforts to creating art that challenges Annaresti society as it stands. Annaresti society seems to have fallen under a ‘tyranny of the majority’ (an idea introduced by Alecis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman commenting on American society), where unorthodox and minority viewpoints are stamped out and made illegitimate by mainstream ideology. I would go out of my way to expose this fact on Anarres, even if it meant being ostracized by my neighbors.

The PDC is a wonderful concept for organizing resource distribution in a complex anarchist society in theory, but in execution it prefers mainstream uses of resources. That is not always a bad thing as in the case of allocating resources to save lives during times of famine. However, it can also stifle intellectual growth as in the case of Shevek’s physics being denied by Sabul and the PDC for being “propertarian.”

A major source of this ‘tyranny of the majority’ is how children are educated. It doesn’t have to do with the group education and life in dormitories, which I believe forces children to accept other humans as they are. It has to do with the way Odoianism is taught, children don’t learn Odo’s teachings through experience, but through rote memorization. Bedap says this about Anarresti education: ” We don’t educate for freedom. Education, the most important activity of the social organism, has become rigid, moralistic, authoritarian. Kids learn to parrot Odo’s words as if they were laws – the ultimate blasphemy” (168). Anarres has developed a kind of authoritarian anarchy, where people have internalized and become their own ‘Big Brother.’

Despite all these limits to freedom I would prefer Anarres because it seems easier to do things outside of the established order. On Urras when the massive protest occurred, protesters were shot and killed indiscriminately to suppress rebellion. When Shevek and Bedap start their own Syndicate to publish Shevek’s physics they are only met with mass disapproval, hey at least they weren’t killed.

Journal 4: Anarresti

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

For me, Anarres is the logical choice. I am already a Libertarian, and as much as I’m not an advocate of anarchy, I prefer it to the commercial society Urras presents. I also enjoy the idea of being able to do my creative work without worrying about being a starving artist. I could write and act and work on my singing, all without worrying about money. A society stripped of coin has, I think, fantastic potential. I could also, were I an Anarresti, work on a farm with animals and help raise crops in my spare time. I overall prefer the structure of Anarres, and their attitudes towards government regulation.

I do recognize that society pressure is a problem on Anarres. Peer pressure, in a way, takes the place of government. Bedap points this out, especially with regards to Tirin and his play. But the individual has more power, more ability to do what he or she needs to do. For instance, Bedap and Shevek are able to start their Syndicate to publish the things that the PDC will not publish. They are able to distribute their materials. They do meet with hatred and bigotry and anger from the general populace, and threats of violence follow them, but they are not immediately squashed by the police force or the military. Their resistance isn’t declared a matter of national security. Peer pressure is a valid problem, but it’s not as severe in most cases as the government on Urras would be.

I disagree with the idea that the individual’s rights are the most important, but I see Anarres as the far lesser of the two evils. Shevek, especially in arguing that he should be allowed to leave Anarres and go to Urras, emphasizes the right of the individual to do whatever he or she wants. I can see that this is a tenement of anarchy. I do disagree with it, but that’s a personal belief, and one I am well aware others in any society would disagree with me.

I think the thing I’d have the most trouble dealing with on Anarres is the lack of marriage and the frequency of people bouncing from one lover to another. I like the idea of the stability of monogamy, and I hope to one day be married. I suppose my future spouse and I would just have to have our own private ceremony, regardless of the customs of the planet. We would commit to one another as Takver and Shevek did, hopefully more faithfully than Shevek with his indiscretion with Vea.

Overall, the lesser of the two evils to me is Anarres. I would choose it over Urras quite gladly, and live out my days fighting the arid landscape for my freedom.

– Julie Allbeck

Journal 4: Urras Is My New Home

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Given a choice between Urras and Anarres, I would choose to live on Urras because of its lush, supple environment. It is green and is abundant with resources necessary to sustain life. When I imagine it, I don’t see it being too different from earth or terra, in resources I mean. Though Urras is capable of sustaining life, it does not possess the optimal environmental necessities for a comfortable life. Its desert-like surface is not what I would consider a comfortable environment. I can only fathom how hard it would be to live in a desert here on earth. Super hot days and really cold nights, humidity out of controle, and the worst part, NO FOOD or WATER! I know that the conditions are not quite the same on Anarres but neither of them seem to be a pleasant choice. At least if you were to live on Urras you would have some chance at a pleasant life. 

Urras, though in possession of the many resources to sustain a comfortable life, does have a few minor draw backs as well, such as their unfair political situation. I feel that Howard said it best in his journal entry on the same topic when he spoke about the Occupy movement that we have going on now. I feel that this a very clever representation of what seems to happening in Urric society in the novel. While no one would choose to live in a country under turmoil, in many cases the benefits out way the detriments. Though both planets have an extensive list of pros and cons, I would choose Urras every time. 

As for the political situation, I feel that neither Urras or Anarres are really a good choice. Both seem to be having their fair share of political turmoil and we all know that when a place is under political turmoil it means a heavy loss for the people under those governments. If I was forced to make a choice, though, again I would side with Urras, hands down, of course with consideration to my first point again.


Evil Revisited

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

It has been a while since this post was due, but I want to discuss the manifestations and implications of evil.  Evil isn’t inherent.  One simply doesn’t wake up thinking, “I’m evil and I’m going to make the world see just how evil I can be.”  Rather, evil is thrust upon someone, generally by the society where they live, without their knowing; many times a person will do something only to look back on it and realize that what they did was evil.  Similarly, in the few times that someone commits a premeditated evil act they generally have a reason or an excuse for doing it, thus in their mind what they are doing was not an evil act, but an act of retribution.

For example, the narrator in “The Country of the Kind” had evil thrust upon him by the utopian society around him.  He was sedated in one way or another until his was fifteen, and after coming off the sedation he tried to frighten a girl and ended up killing her.  Due to his behavior the elders in the society made everyone stay away from him and made him repulsed at the thought of hurting someone.  This action however was a mistake as it would only lead him to want to hurt more.  His complete isolation and alienation from the society made him attention-starved.  Now the only way to receive attention would be to lash out at the society that left him alone, without any possibility of a social encounter.

In “Rappaccini’s Daughter” none of the characters are evil.  Instead, they mistakenly do evil things out of love.  Rappaccini makes Beatrice very powerful, but at the same time isolates her from the rest of the society.  He wanted to help Beatrice, not hurt her.  Similarly, when Giovanni entered Rappaccini wanted to provide a companion for his daughter, rather than show her the horrible powers she had in her control.

Finally, in “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” the Master Timekeeper had to do exactly what his name implies: keep the time.  In a society where the smallest change can upset or set back months of work, the Master Timekeeper has to ensure that everything goes according to plan.  In his mind, if he has to turn off the cardioplate of any individual then it was worth it because the individual caused the malfunction of the most important aspect of their lives: time.

The trace of evil can always be tracked back to the society.  Evil isn’t an act of individuality, but a release of the oppression of one person by an entire society.

This is why there should be harsher grading in school

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

Today in class I mentioned this to Dr. Rochelle. This is why there needs to be harsher grading in school. I’m also an advocate of not giving kids ribbons for participating and wish bloody dodgeball would make a comeback 😉 Plus there’s Daniel Radcliffe, so of course it’s worth it!


Side Note: I laugh my face off every single time I watch this