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Clearly, from the story they were all happy as we can be, and in fact they did not suffer from guilt.Over the years, in discussions, we concluded that, for the ones who walk away, happiness as pleasure is not the greatest good – or they would not have left paradise.But, considering the anarchist interests in mutual aid and human solidarity, I have found that it can also provoke a liberatory imagination – what would it take to put communities and societies, our cultures and institutions, in the service of ending suffering and restoring the dignity of the brutalized?
Very importantly, all the children of Omelas, I assume around the age of reason, are taken to see this wretched child and it is made quite clear that the very existence of their paradise depends upon the sacrifices of the child in the cellar. Why would people leave paradise because of the suffering of one or a few? Le Guin gives us no clue but she is quite clear that , stating this fact more than once.
Most people in Omelas, all of whom know the child is in the cellar, continue with their quite happy utopian lives however, each year, a few people walk away from Omelas. In our public discussion of moral self-deception and in letters to Le Guin, readers implore her to say why they walk away and she refuses, often with a chuckle.
” After we spend time telling one another the story, filling in the pieces we remember and listening to someone else tell the ones we forget, we talk about the way Omelas must work, what must happen, for it to provide its denizens a utopia.
We must, I insist, try to take as much care in reading the fine details as Le Guin put into crafting them.
Hands went up and several students explained their take on the abstract ideas and concepts, such as “fairness,” and “guilt,” and “self-interest.” The professor looked around and said, “No, tell me the story. As I and my peers had done, students leap to discuss meaning while ignoring Le Guin’s intent.
“Le Guin wrote a story,” I tell them, “and we’ll take it from there, what does she want us to imagine?
She refuses any and all requests to spell out her intentions, no matter how the questions are phrased.
What I offer here is what sense I make of this story and how I used it to teach important material in undergraduate moral philosophy classes.
So, today, in my retirement, when I hear from students about the impact of this story on their learning, I respond by saying it was my honor to teach this and that we are all indebted to Le Guin for this story. Tell me about Omelas.” Slowly, we relinquished our drive to outline an argument and illustrate the premises, and we told the story.
Christian Matheis “Tell me the story of Omelas,” the professor said to our introductory undergraduate philosophy course. I have, ever since, followed this approach and issue the invitation to tell the story.