Ursula Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” can — within just a few pages — ignite huge topics of discussion. In terms of the page-count-to-student-impact ratio, this is one of the most effective texts I’ve found for starting a cross-disciplinary conversation.
- Computer Scientists
- Big Data
- Economic Inequality
The following ideas are drawn from the syllabus of “Reading with Scientists: How to Export Literature,” a class taught by Abigail Droge in the UC Santa Barbara English Department.
“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” connects well with texts about the costs behind any seeming-Utopia. Try pairing with excerpts from the following:
- Cathy O’Neil, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Economic Inequality and Threatens Democracy
- Virginia Eubanks, Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor
For more about the experience of teaching Le Guin, see the blogpost below, originally published on the WhatEvery1Says website by Abigail Droge under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. WhatEvery1Says is a Mellon-funded public humanities project. Click on the title to read the full post.
Reading with Scientists: Ursula Le Guin’s Omelas and the Dystopia of Big Data
What should you do when you realize you’re living in a dystopia? The wisdom of Ursula Le Guin helped us to tackle this question in “Reading with Scientists.” We began by reading Le Guin’s classic short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” Coming in at only ten pages, the plot is simple, yet powerful: a beautiful city, Omelas, seems to be perfectly happy, yet each inhabitant learns in early adolescence that the social contract keeping such happiness intact is the misery and torture of a single child. Most of the inhabitants stay, living with and justifying the knowledge, but a few leave, never to return. Part of Le Guin’s brilliance is that she makes her readers complicit in the construction of Omelas – allowing you to “imagin[e] it as your own fancy bids” (278) – before revealing its fatal flaw. Our discussion first hinged on a single question: is it better to leave Omelas or to stay in Omelas? [Read more…]