Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Wednesday Links

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* The hunger for crisis: All of this literature is the product of what the philosopher John Gray has described as “a culture transfixed by the spectacle of its own fragility.” Call it dystopian narcissism: the conviction that our anxieties are uniquely awful; that the crises of our age will be the ones that finally do civilization in; that we are privileged to witness the beginning of the end. I like the term, but I’d maybe push further on it — our true dystopian narcissism is our willingness, even eagerness, to bring about the final collapse.

Bradley Manning Sentenced To 35 Years In Prison For Leaking U.S. Secrets To WikiLeaks. I wonder if the decision to let war crimes slide, while maximally prosecuting those who reveal the existence of war crimes, could have any bad consequences down the line.

In every society, democratic or totalitarian, the sensible, grown-up thing to do is to commit to the long haul of sleazy conformity. The rewards are mostly guaranteed: if not freedom or happiness, then respectability and degree of security. What spoils it is the obstinate few who do otherwise – those, absurdly, who actually believe in the necessary fictions; enough to be moved and angered by the difference between what an organisation does in reality and what it says in public.

* The camp is the nomos of the modern: South Carolina City Approves Plan To Exile Its Homeless.

In order to accommodate all the homeless people who will now be banned from downtown, the city will partner with a local charity to keep an emergency shelter on the outskirts of town open 24 hours a day. However, it’s unlikely the shelter, which can handle 240 guests, will be enough to handle the local homeless population, which numbers more than six times the available beds.

To see how this all turns out, consult Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Past Tense” Parts 1&2.

How Detroit Can Help Solve America’s Student-Loan Crisis. Spoiler alert: Detroit just needs some heroic Job Creators™!

And can You Solve Slate’s Gerrymandering Jigsaw Puzzle? Pretty good demonstration of how absurd representation has become.

Wednesday Night!

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* Duke Lit is now advertising for a one-year postdoc in Marxist theory.

* Jim Henson, 1969: How to Make a Muppet. Also on Muppetwatch: A 1979 profile of Henson in anticipation of The Muppet Movie.

* The secret history of “Mahna Mahna”: “How a ditty from a soft-core Italian movie became the Muppets’ catchiest tune.”

* “Ninety-Nine Weeks”: an Occupy Wall Street fairy tale from Ursula K. Le Guin. Here’s another.

* More on the extraordinary syllabi of David Foster Wallace.

* Almost literally the least they could do: Davis Will Drop Charges Against, Pay Medical Bills of Pepper Spray Students.

* I’ve seen this movie: The Air Force “has asked industry to develop a new heat and motion sensor capable of detecting enemy gunfire from 25,000 feet over the battlefield — and then swiftly directing a bomb or missile onto the shooter.” I believe Terminator suggests the name HKs…

The full congregation of Raleigh’s Pullen Memorial Baptist Church voted Sunday to prohibit the church pastor from legally marrying anyone until she can legally marry same-sex couples under North Carolina law.

* Michael Bailey and Forrest Maltzman say their poli-sci model shows the Affordable Care Act will be upheld. Scott Lemieux says there’s no reason to think they’ll confine themselves to precedent and that it still all comes down to what Anthony Kennedy has for breakfast.

* Mother Jones reads Newt Gingrich’s dissertation.

* Google greets Thanksgiving (outside the US) with the mother of all interactive doodles.

* Massachusetts becomes 16th state to protect transgender people from discrimination. Google benefits now include transgender employees.

* Honestly, anyone who invested a dime in Groupon should have their investing license taken away. This thing was barely ever a company.

* And speaking of obvious scams: Is a Law Degree a Good Investment Today?

‘Omelas State University’

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At Pennsylvania State University, a grown man found a blameless child being put through hell. Other grown men learned of it. Each of them had to make their choice, and decide, fundamentally, whether the continuation of their utopia — or at very least the illusion of their utopia — was worth the pain and suffering of that one child. Through their actions, and their inactions, we know the choice they made.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Obamalas

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Having made the mistake of perusing the MetaFilter thread on the institutionalization of Guantánamo Bay, it’s hard not to become disheartened as literally the most flagrant violation of Obama’s campaign promises yet becomes immediately normalized by supporters as “realism” and “politically necessary.” Even the rhetoric of betrayal is misleading; as Glenn Greenwald’s reporting makes clear it was always thus:

It is true that Congress — with the overwhelming support of both parties — has enacted several measures making it much more difficult, indeed impossible, to transfer Guantanamo detainees into the U.S. But long before that ever happened, Obama made clear that he wanted to continue the twin defining pillars of the Bush detention regime: namely, (1) indefinite, charge-free detention and (2) military commissions (for those lucky enough to be charged with something). Obama never had a plan for “closing Guantanamo” in any meaningful sense; the most he sought to do was to move it a few thousand miles north to Illinois, where its defining injustices would endure.

The preservation of the crux of the Bush detention scheme was advocated by Obama long before Congress’ ban on transferring detainees to the U.S. It was in May, 2009 — a mere five months after his inauguration — that Obama stood up in front of the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives and demanded a new law of “preventive detention” to empower him to imprison people without charges: a plan the New York Times said “would be a departure from the way this country sees itself.” It was the same month that the administration announced it intended to continue to deny many detainees trials, instead preserving the military commissions scheme, albeit with modifications. And the first — and only — Obama plan for “closing Guantanamo” came in December, 2009, and it entailed nothing more than transferring the camp to a supermax prison in Thompson, Illinois, while preserving its key ingredients, prompting the name “Gitmo North.”

None of this was even arguably necessitated by Congressional action. To the contrary, almost all of it took place before Congress did anything. It was Barack Obama’s position — not that of Congress — that detainees could and should be denied trials, that our court system was inadequate and inappropriate to try them, and that he possessed the unilateral, unrestrained power under the “laws of war” to order them imprisoned for years, even indefinitely, without bothering to charge them with a crime and without any review by the judiciary, in some cases without even the right of habeas review(to see why claims of such “law of war” detention power are so baseless, see the points here, especially point 5).

In other words, Obama — for reasons having nothing to do with Congress — worked from the start to preserve the crux of the Bush/Cheney detention regime. Even with these new added levels of detention review (all inside the Executive Branch), this new Executive Order is little more than a by-product of that core commitment, and those blaming it on Congress either have little idea what they’re talking about or are simply fabricating excuses in order to justify yet another instance where Obama dutifully “bolsters” the Bush War on Terror template. Indefinite detention and military commissions are continuing because Obama worked from the start for that goal — not because Congress forced him to do so.

On Twitter Traxus dug out an 2009 piece on “Where Obamaism Seems to be Going” whose cynicism seems a remarkably prescient encapsulation of the last two years:

But here’s the catch-22: The left version of the lesser evilist argument stresses that it’s unrealistic and maybe unfair to expect anything of the Dems in the absence of a movement that could push them, and no such movement exists. True enough, but where is such a movement to come from if we accept the premise that the horizon of our political expectation has to be whatever the Dems are willing to do because demanding more will only put/keep the other guys in power, and they’re worse?

They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.

This is usually explained to children when they are between eight and twelve, whenever they seem capable of understanding; and most of those who come to see the child are young people, though often enough an adult comes, or comes back, to see the child. No matter how well the matter has been explained to them, these young spectators are always shocked and sickened at the sight. They feel disgust, which they had thought themselves superior to. They feel anger, outrage, impotence, despite all the explanations. They would like to do something for the child. But there is nothing they can do. If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. Those are the terms. To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed.

The terms are strict and absolute; there may not even be a kind word spoken to the child.

Often the young people go home in tears, or in a tearless rage, when they have seen the child and faced this terrible paradox. They may brood over it for weeks or years. But as time goes on they begin to realize that even if the child could be released, it would not get much good of its freedom: a little vague pleasure of warmth and food, no real doubt, but little more. It is too degraded and imbecile to know any real joy. It has been afraid too long ever to be free of fear. Its habits are too uncouth for it to respond to humane treatment. Indeed, after so long it would probably be wretched without walls about it to protect it, and darkness for its eyes, and its own excrement to sit in. Their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it. Yet it is their tears and anger, the trying of their generosity and the acceptance of their helplessness, which are perhaps the true source of the splendor of their lives. Theirs is no vapid, irresponsible happiness. They know that they, like the child, are not free. They know compassion. It is the existence of the child, and their knowledge of its existence, that makes possible the nobility of their architecture, the poignancy of their music, the profundity of their science. It is because of the child that they are so gentle with children. They know that if the wretched one were not there sniveling in the dark, the other one, the flute-player, could make no joyful music as the young riders line up in their beauty for the race in the sunlight of the first morning of summer.

Now do you believe them? Are they not more credible? But there is one more thing to tell, and this is quite incredible.

At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or a woman much older falls silent for a day or two, then leaves home. These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman.

Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow- lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.