Those Who Walk Away From Omelas

In Ursula Le Guin’s short story, “Those Who walk Away From Omelas”, the town of Omelas is described as a place of perpetual happiness, a utopia. However, the town’s boundless contentment and prosperity rely upon the preservation of a twisted obligation, the utter misery of one small child. The child lives locked away in a small closet, deprived of proper food, medical care, and any semblance of human compassion. At least once in their lives, the citizens of Omelas must witness firsthand how the child is tormented and have knowledge of its wretched condition. Finding it unbearable to know that their complete happiness depends on the horrid existence of the child, some choose to leave the town, never to return.

What would you do if you lived in Omelas? Stay or leave? And why?

*Attempting to save the child would be one of the worst things a citizen of Omelas could do. Even if they managed to bring the child some happiness (and LeGuin makes it clear that it has been miserable for far too long to have any true happiness), this small amount of joy would pale in comparison to the utter devastation that the rest of city would experience.

http://iweb.tntech.edu/jcbaker/The%20Ones%20Who%20Walked%20Away%20from%20Omelas.pdf

Here is a link for those who want to read the story in full.

http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/dunnweb/rprnts.omelas.pdf

Well I would save the child. Fuck the city who chose to stay on his suffering. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. Karma is a bitch, what goes around et cetera.

[quote]orion wrote:
http://iweb.tntech.edu/jcbaker/The%20Ones%20Who%20Walked%20Away%20from%20Omelas.pdf[/quote]

Beat me to it seems. Thanks by the way.

But if this is ultimately leading to a debate of haves vs. have nots it won’t compute. We are discussing a hostage situation, not the merits of a welfare system.

[quote]CargoCapable wrote:
But if this is ultimately leading to a debate of haves vs. have nots it won’t compute. We are discussing a hostage situation, not the merits of a welfare system.[/quote]

I interpreted it as more of an ethical question myself. Do the ends justify the means? To some readers, Leguin is describing a place where the perpetual suffering of the lone child is greatly outweighed by the total happiness experienced by the inhabitants of Omelas, and is therefore justifiable.

To me, neither the suffering of the child nor the happiness of the inhabitants is the primary question.

[quote]Tiribulus wrote:
To me, neither the suffering of the child nor the happiness of the inhabitants is the primary question.[/quote]

What is your take on it Tiribulus?

Leave. Try to come back in superior numbers, free the child.

[quote]Sloth wrote:
Leave. Try to come back in superior numbers, free the child.[/quote]

So would you identify yourself as an adherent of moral absolutism? Nothing wrong with that. Remember that the child’s suffering is greatly outweighed by the complete happiness of the town. Let’s apply this concept on a grander scale. In a fictional scenario, the United States would be devoid of suffering and prosper boundlessly if only we too condemned a lone child to utter misery. Does your view change when the greater good is now 314,397,366 individuals?

[quote]Legionary wrote:

[quote]Sloth wrote:
Leave. Try to come back in superior numbers, free the child.[/quote]

So would you identify yourself as an adherent of moral absolutism? Nothing wrong with that. Remember that the child’s suffering is greatly outweighed by the complete happiness of the town. Let’s apply this concept on a grander scale. In a fictional scenario, the United States would be devoid of suffering and prosper boundlessly if only we too condemned a lone child to utter misery. Does your view change when the greater good is now 314,397,366 individuals? [/quote]

Not in the slightest.

[quote]Sloth wrote:

[quote]Legionary wrote:

[quote]Sloth wrote:
Leave. Try to come back in superior numbers, free the child.[/quote]

So would you identify yourself as an adherent of moral absolutism? Nothing wrong with that. Remember that the child’s suffering is greatly outweighed by the complete happiness of the town. Let’s apply this concept on a grander scale. In a fictional scenario, the United States would be devoid of suffering and prosper boundlessly if only we too condemned a lone child to utter misery. Does your view change when the greater good is now 314,397,366 individuals? [/quote]

Not in the slightest.[/quote]

A man of conviction. I respect that. Do you care to elaborate?

[quote]Legionary wrote:

[quote]Sloth wrote:

[quote]Legionary wrote:

[quote]Sloth wrote:
Leave. Try to come back in superior numbers, free the child.[/quote]

So would you identify yourself as an adherent of moral absolutism? Nothing wrong with that. Remember that the child’s suffering is greatly outweighed by the complete happiness of the town. Let’s apply this concept on a grander scale. In a fictional scenario, the United States would be devoid of suffering and prosper boundlessly if only we too condemned a lone child to utter misery. Does your view change when the greater good is now 314,397,366 individuals? [/quote]

Not in the slightest.[/quote]

A man of conviction. I respect that. Do you care to elaborate?
[/quote]

On what?

[quote]Legionary wrote:
In Ursula Le Guin’s short story, “Those Who walk Away From Omelas”, the town of Omelas is described as a place of perpetual happiness, a utopia. However, the town’s boundless contentment and prosperity rely upon the preservation of a twisted obligation, the utter misery of one small child. The child lives locked away in a small closet, deprived of proper food, medical care, and any semblance of human compassion. At least once in their lives, the citizens of Omelas must witness firsthand how the child is tormented and have knowledge of its wretched condition. Finding it unbearable to know that their complete happiness depends on the horrid existence of the child, some choose to leave the town, never to return.

What would you do if you lived in Omelas? Stay or leave? And why?

*Attempting to save the child would be one of the worst things a citizen of Omelas could do. Even if they managed to bring the child some happiness (and LeGuin makes it clear that it has been miserable for far too long to have any true happiness), this small amount of joy would pale in comparison to the utter devastation that the rest of city would experience.[/quote]

So, it is possible to save the child but, in the scenario people do not because of the “devastation” it will bring? Meaning, would it be necessary to leave and comeback with help or can I take the child and not give a shit about the town?

Well, one thing. I’m always suspicious about these scenarios. The large numbers are a flimsy justification. The question should be if would you do it to remove suffering from your family, and to grant them vast prosperity. If you REALLY wouldn’t do it for them, you’re likely not going to do it for 300+ million. The vast majority you will never meet, much less know. Saying yes when numbers greater than your family’s share are presented is the answer of a person who now feels safe to say yes. A person who didn’t want to say yes, but thought it, when the question was narrowed to his family. Because, hey, everyone around me must be calculating the odds of it being his/her daughter/son sentenced to misery. I’d say yes to benefit you, you say yes to benefit me. I suspect the vaaaast majority of those in the affirmative would do it simply for their family. But the knowledge that others are being seduced by promises of splendor makes them feel safe to actually say yes. And a large chunk of the affirmative would actually say yes, in their hearts, if it only benefited themselves.

Love le guin!

I have this book of short stories (and most of her other works).

Haven’t read any of them in more than a decade though.

In case anyone cares, ‘Omelas’ is Salem O(regon) spelled backwards.

[quote]Sloth wrote:
Well, one thing. I’m always suspicious about these scenarios. The large numbers are a flimsy justification. The question should be if would you do it to remove suffering from your family, and to grant them vast prosperity. If you REALLY wouldn’t do it for them, you’re likely not going to do it for 300+ million. The vast majority you will never meet, much less know. Saying yes when numbers greater than your family’s share are presented is the answer of a person who now feels safe to say yes. A person who didn’t want to say yes, but thought it, when the question was narrowed to his family. Because, hey, everyone around me must be calculating the odds of it being his/her daughter/son sentenced to misery. I’d say yes to benefit you, you say yes to benefit me. I suspect the vaaaast majority of those in the affirmative would do it simply for their family. But the knowledge that others are being seduced by promises of splendor makes them feel safe to actually say yes. And a large chunk of the affirmative would actually say yes, in their hearts, if it only benefited themselves.[/quote]

Its not a scenario per say but a fantastical form of fable: Her world, her rules. I feel that the numbers are an acceptable justification vs my family. For me its not promises of splendor but the greater good of the community that leads me to maintain the status quo. Honestly, if I had to choose between my entire extended family dying at once vs. the 2,996 dead and more than 6,000 injured on 9/11, I would condemn my family to death without hesitation. The devastating loss I would experience would be monumentally dwarfed by the total loss felt by those impacted that day. It would be beyond immoral to choose otherwise. In most cases, the end justifies the means.

[quote]Legionary wrote:
I would condemn my family to death without hesitation. [/quote]

Sorry, don’t believe it for a second.

[quote]Legionary wrote:

[quote]Sloth wrote:
Well, one thing. I’m always suspicious about these scenarios. The large numbers are a flimsy justification. The question should be if would you do it to remove suffering from your family, and to grant them vast prosperity. If you REALLY wouldn’t do it for them, you’re likely not going to do it for 300+ million. The vast majority you will never meet, much less know. Saying yes when numbers greater than your family’s share are presented is the answer of a person who now feels safe to say yes. A person who didn’t want to say yes, but thought it, when the question was narrowed to his family. Because, hey, everyone around me must be calculating the odds of it being his/her daughter/son sentenced to misery. I’d say yes to benefit you, you say yes to benefit me. I suspect the vaaaast majority of those in the affirmative would do it simply for their family. But the knowledge that others are being seduced by promises of splendor makes them feel safe to actually say yes. And a large chunk of the affirmative would actually say yes, in their hearts, if it only benefited themselves.[/quote]

Its not a scenario per say but a fantastical form of fable: Her world, her rules. I feel that the numbers are an acceptable justification vs my family. For me its not promises of splendor but the greater good of the community that leads me to maintain the status quo. Honestly, if I had to choose between my entire extended family dying at once vs. the 2,996 dead and more than 6,000 injured on 9/11, I would condemn my family to death without hesitation. The devastating loss I would experience would be monumentally dwarfed by the total loss felt by those impacted that day. It would be beyond immoral to choose otherwise. In most cases, the end justifies the means. [/quote]
I would not. This is just utilitarianism. Pure utilitarianism with no qualifiers leads to all types of stupid hypotheticals. Better bring more than 3600 if you want my kids. You can have my crazy uncle for considerably less though.