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Tangentially Speaking

441 – WMTBG? The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (Ursula K. LeGuin)

By October 8, 20203 Comments


  • God damn, that was powerful…

    A like a read or any type of piece of art which propels my thinking into a thousand different ways. “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is doing just that.

    First of all, I feel ‘Omelas’ is IMO a clear anagram for the name ‘Salome’ which is derived from the Hebrew name ‘Shalom’ which means ‘Peace’. And if we all know that name is because Salome was the step-daughter of king Herod who demanded the prophet John the Baptist to be *sacrificed* as payment for her dance.

    And at first the story paints Omelas as a peaceful, almost impossible-to-conceive Utopia (just think of all the creative ways in which Dante portrayed the nine circles of Hell, but the very vague way in which he presents Heaven. We have always been very good in conceiving suffering and pain, but the opposite always feel unrealistic). It reminds me of the first time I played the videogame Bioshock Infinite –and yes, most videogames are vapid entertainment, but a few manage to elevate to true art. The Bioshock games fall into this category– in which you explore a city in the clouds called Columbia which almost feels like a steampunk version of the New Jerusalem expected by the Christians at the end of Revelation: the sun shines on the clean cobbled streets, there’s music in the air and all the people look merry and content; only you slowly begin to realize that this quaint utopia is actually a dystopia built based on all the bigotry and the racism which was seen as perfectly normal a couple of centuries ago –how long it takes you to realize this during the game may be a good Litmus test to how privileged you are in real life.

    Yes, slavery is still very much alive in the XXIst century. Some years ago I read the book The Key by Whitley Strieber, which was supposed to be based on a conversation he allegedly had with a stranger who came to visit him at his hotel room one night during a book tour –whether the stranger was an alien, an angel, an ascended master or a member of a ‘breakaway civilization’ we never find out. But one of the things this ‘Master of the Key’ told Strieber is that nowadays it is as if ALL OF US had five slaves, but unlike the plantation owners of old who actually knew their slaves by name, and to some degree cared for them (since their wellbeing represented an investment) today we neither know who our slaves are or where they live, nor do we really care whether they live or die.

    Where do the people who walk away from Omelas go? Perhaps, if they are truly just, they go to become tortured sacrificial victims in a different city themselves. That is what it means to be a Bodhisatva, right?

  • fakhar_raza says:

    I have a question if anyone ever would be gracious to read this.
    For last week every dinner, even if it is just the most ethical piece of a seed from an abundant plant.
    The question was that why I eat.
    Yes there is a circle of life to death, we are one with the seed on this earth, what is inside of me is not different to what is outside of me not just poetically but to the extent we know things empirically.
    To take the working of the world personally can disconnect us further and render our ability to pay attention and add another one to chaos of suffering.
    The pain that is reserved for me, and only me can be another sign of being stuck in a self reflective loop of individual.
    So we bear the pain of being aware, pay attention to part of garden we can tend to and answer by living in service that is a gradual conscious relationship to other that seems disconnected.
    But my goodness I have never listened or even aware of WMTBG and then I found it and just downloaded it on an instinct.

    Does that sound 90% similar to what I have written above to this episode/story or is it that I am forcing it to what I feel as I was too focused upon my realisation of this grinding polarity of existence for me in my form.

    • Hey Fakhar,

      So I’m assuming that you are using Google Translate to write your comment in English, and that the app is doing a very poor job translating it, because it is kind of difficult to follow what you are trying to say.

      But, what I think I understood from your argument is that we humans are, as far as we know, the only living beings in the world who are conscious of the pain we cause by our mere existence –the lives we consume to subsist, the people who have to work in menial and ungrateful jobs which maintain the infrastructure so many of us depend on without even realizing it –earlier in the year the garbage collecting service halted in my neighborhoof, and it was horrible!

      So, we humans not only know that we are going to die, we are also aware that our life brings suffering to others. Which is pretty much what the Buddhists have been saying to us for over two millennia. And that painful awareness can make us feel disconnected and isolated from the rest of Nature.

      So I guess the only answer to make all that pain and suffering be worth it, is to make the most of our lives and to try to do our best to ease the needless suffering of all the creatures around us. If you’re going to eat meat, make sure it comes from a source in which the cattle is treated with a modicum of decency, and if you’re going to eat plants and vegetables, maybe try to plant a few trees in exchange.

      In other words, to compensate what you’ve taken from others, and –if possible– try to give more than what you take.

      Is that what you were you trying to say? Because if it is, then I agree 🙂



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