I Am So Much Smarter Than My Students
"The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" is a science-fiction short story by written in 1973 by Ursula Le Guin, and if you've never read it, you certainly should -- it's one of the most memorable sci-fi stories ever written -- but it is not a lot of fun; it is a philosophical allegory about a perfect city, Omelas, and the heavy cost of having such a society . . . because Omelas can only continue its existence if a single child is keep in squalor, ignored and isolated in a dark cell . . . and everyone in the city knows of the existence of this child, and knows that Omelas can only exist if the child is kept in this desolate state; most citizens of Omelas can live with the mathematics of this hedonistic calculus, but there are those that can't . . . those that "walk away from Omelas" because they cannot bear to live with this utilitarian bargain; so I made my students write about this and come up with examples of people who "walk away from Omelas," and though they came up with some decent examples (the Amish, Thoreau, people who join the Peace Corp) they couldn't compete with my examples -- I think I would do very well if I took my own English course! -- and so here they are: 1) becoming a vegetarian . . . most of us know that some animal was kept in a tiny cell, just like the child in the story, so that meat can appear on our plates, and we are willing to live with the system because meat is cheap and plentiful, but there are those that opt out for ethical reasons and stop participating in meat consumption 2) the genteel Southern plantation . . . women in fancy dresses, men smoking pipes and discussing issues of the Enlightenment, while the slaves worked the fields out back . . . some freed their slaves, but even great men like Thomas Jefferson couldn't walk away from that peculiar Omelas 3) the hippie I was talking to in Vermont at Thanksgiving, who lives off the grid in a solar powered house with a propane powered refrigerator, he spent six months at luthier school building his own guitar . . . and when I asked him if he liked to snowboard, he made me feel really bad about my lifestyle, because he said, "No, me and my girlfriend like to sled," and then he went on to describe all the sledding they do by their house, which is on a Class IV road, and I felt very bad about myself, since I require large corporations to tear apart a mountain, build giant trails, funiculars, bars, restaurants, snow-making equipment, and all sorts of other infrastructure before I can go and have some fun in the snow.