Omelas dilemma

I just read a very interesting text. The fantasy writer Ursula K. Leguin has a strange little short story - more a thought-experiment or a narrative essay, actually - called "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" (which you can read online if you follow the link). In it, a utopic but real city called Omelas is preparing for a festival. The description is of a complicated, advanced and civilised human civilisation which leaves a lot up to the reader's own utopias (he or she is encouraged to imagine one's own).

But the city has made a bargain in which for the city to remain this happy, advanced utopian community, a single child must be kept in misery, alone in a basement somewhere. That's the bargain they've made.

It's actually just an elaborate ethical dilemma, like the trolley problem or whatever, but it was thought-provoking. It's the question of what kind of suffering we are willing to accept in order for a civilisation to be sustained. Or what kind of happiness you would be willing to pay for with suffering. It's the kind of question that you will respond to in different ways depending on what value system you inhabit.


Blogger Stein said...

I always thought this story was a bit ham-fisted in it´s moralization. It kind of reminds me of Ayn Rand in both tone and technique.

March 05, 2009 10:53 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

Well, sure. It's pure game theory and totally ham-fisted. I just think it's interesting as an ethical dilemma. It's note really fiction per se, except in the sense that all ethical scenarios seem to be.

March 22, 2009 11:56 am  

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