Ursula Le Guin (1929 – 2018)

Ursula Le Guin

I was sad to hear of the death of Ursula Le Guin yesterday. I heard her speak at an international anarchist symposium in Portland, Oregon back in 1980. She talked about her views on anarchism, buddhism, anthropology, science fiction, creativity and writing, and answered questions about her stories and books. The book that anarchists celebrated was The Dispossessed, about an anarchist colony on a large moon orbiting a planet like Earth. Here I reproduce a dialogue between the main character, Shevek, from the anarchist moon, Anarres, and a rich woman, Vea, living on the Earth-like planet that Shevek has secretly arranged to visit. Shevek expresses the ideas of the anarchists on Anarres, the “Odonians,” while Vea speaks from the vantage point of a cynical female member of the ruling class who cannot accept that the anarchists can live without hierarchy and authority, arguing that they have merely internalized them. It’s a great passage, drawing out some potential issues about life in an anarchist society, while showing that even a cynical “propertarian” (the word Le Guin uses to describe the capitalists) really wants to be free, but cannot see that freedom itself is a kind of relationship, and not something that can be achieved in isolation, or by exploiting others.

The Dispossessed – Chapter 7

[Vea] sat down on a low, cushioned stool near [Shevek], so she could look up into his face. She arranged her white skirt over her ankles, and said, “Now, tell me how it really is between men and women on Anarres.”

It was unbelievable. The maid and the caterer’s man were both in the room; she knew he had a partner, and he knew she did, and not a word about copulating had passed between them. Yet her dress, movements, tone — what were they but the most open invitation?

“Between a man and a woman there is what they want there to be between them,” he said, rather roughly. “Each, and both.”

“Then it’s true, you really have no morality?” she asked, as if shocked but delighted.

“I don’t know what you mean. To hurt a person there is the same as to hurt a person here.”

“You mean you have all the same old rules? You see, I believe that morality is just another superstition, like religion. It’s got to be thrown out.”

“But my society,” he said, completely puzzled, “is an attempt to reach it. To throw out the moralizing, yes — the rules, the laws, the punishments — so that men can see good and evil and choose between them.”

“So you threw out all the do’s and don’ts. But you know, I think you Odonians missed the whole point. You threw out the priests and Judges and divorce laws and all that, but you kept the real trouble behind them. You just stuck it inside, into your consciences. But it’s still there. You’re just as much slaves as ever! You aren’t really free.”

“How do you know?”

“I read an article in a magazine about Odonianism,” she said. “And we’ve been together all day. I don’t know you, but I know some things about you. I know that you’ve got a — a Queen Teaea inside you, right inside that hairy head of yours. And she orders you around just like the old tyrant did her serfs. She says, `Do this!’ and you do, and `Don’t’ and you don’t.”

“That is where she belongs,” he said, smiling. “Inside my head.”

“No. Better to have her in a palace. Then you could rebel against her. You would have to. Your great-great-grandfather did; at least he ran off to the Moon to get away. But he took Queen Teaea with him, and you’ve still got her!”

“Maybe. But she has learned, on Anarres, that if she tells me to hurt another person, I hurt myself.”

“The same old hypocrisy. Life is a fight, and the strongest wins. All civilization does is hide the blood and cover up the hate with pretty words!”

“Your civilization, perhaps. Ours hides nothing. It is all plain. Queen Teaea wears her own skin, there. We follow one law, only one, the law of human evolution.”

“The law of evolution is that the strongest survives!”

“Yes, and the strongest, in the existence of any social species, are those who are most social. In human terms, most ethical. You see, we have neither prey nor enemy, on Anarres. We have only one another. There is no strength to be gained from hurting one another. Only weakness.”

“I don’t care about hurting and not hurting. I don’t care about other people, and nobody else does, either. They pretend to. I don’t want to pretend. I want to be free.”

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] recent death of Ursula Le Guin reminded me of Louise Michel (1830-1905), the French revolutionary anarchist. For one thing, […]

  2. Reblogged this on Konst & Politik.


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