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Cultured Swine
Cultured Swine

Episode · 1 year ago

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

The classic moral philosophy problem in the form of a short story! Or that's the popular perception anyway; GSV examines that reading, and Johnny presents a less popular one with more Cultural undertones as they examine Ursula K. Le Guine's "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas."

https://blog.jaibot.com/the-copenhagen-interpretation-of-ethics/ 

https://www.sfu.ca/~palys/Miner-1956-BodyRitualAmongTheNacirema.pdf 

A huge thanks to Terminal Khaos Builders for providing all music used in this episode! Our opening theme is "Oh, they never lie," off the album "12 Views of Iain M. Banks's Culture." Check out their music here: https://terminalkhaosbuilders.bandcamp.com/music

Come chat with us on our discord ( https://discord.gg/5RweN4Z ) 

Hi, this is editing GSV here. I know that we're long overdue on one of these and we're very sorry. I'm also sorry for my own audio quality in this one. It shouldn't recur, since I figured out that it wasn't using the mic I'm accustomed to and that you all know and love, or at least that I know in love. But this episode was fun to make and we hope it's worth the wait for you enjoy yourselves. Hello and welcome to a special patreon only episode of we uncultured swine, the podcast, where, this time around we will not be taking you through the wonderful worlds of NM banks, as culture series, or indeed anything remotely well, actually, it is remotely like them. If you are not a patreon subscriber and you are listening to this episode, then welcome to the future where we release this episode because we didn't care to keep it for only the patreon subscribers and also didn't care to edit it such that it doesn't say patreon subscribers in the intro. Yeah, if you're listening to this, it's because we got permission from our PATREON supporters to release it for general consumption, as we did with the eye of our gone, which, to my great surprise, might be the most popular thing that we've ever done. Yes, as we record this now, the eye of are gone has more listens than any of our other stuff, which is great on some level because it was a really fun thing to record, but also, on some level is disappointing. Yeah, it implies a lack of interest in our other content, though it is perhaps just a lack of accessibility, since anyone can listen to the eye of our gone episode, and indeed it might get shared around by people who enjoy it, but the rest of our work kind of expects you to be listening from the beginning of the PODCAST, which is a barrier to intrigue. I was thinking that as well, you can sort of pass around the eye of our gone recording or link to it to people who have no exposure to the rest of the podcast, in a way that is definitely not possible for any of our other content. So thank you to all of our listeners who have apparently been sharing the eye of our gone with people who don't otherwise listen to our podcast. I'M GSV and we're here tonight to give you a discussion of Ursula Kay la Gwin's short story, a famous one with some culture adjacent themes, the ones who walk away from Omolas. Yes, so, in the unlikely event that you have no familiarity with this story, because this one has such deep cultural penetration that I feel like even if you haven't read it, you're probably familiar with the general idea, these sort of broad strokes of this which can be given pretty easily because it's four pages long, are there is a city called Omolos. Everyone there is very happy, the reasons why we'll get into but in exchange for their happiness, in some sort of alchemical bargain of good attitude, they maintain their happiness through the suffering of a forsaken and abused child. And if it were not for that child, it is said that their civilization would not work, their city would not be able to function in the way that it does if not for the suffering of that abused child. That's a fair summary, Johnny. And there are some other details to how things work and some other social implications of this whole setup, but will get to those as they come up. diegetically. Yeah, so if you had to describe how this has captured the imagination of readers and how this story is discussed. What would you say that? The big question and the big conundrum generally is, is this actually acceptable and why? HMM, that's definitely one of them. I think a question often asked is is it right to walk away from Oh Malas and do you have an obligation to and is it useful to yes, those are better questions. The first question is the one that everybody asks the first time they read it, and if you have the median ethics in the world that we live in, it's probably the only one that you ask. But they're those. Those other questions are more interesting and better right. So the concept here is one of consequentialist ethics versus non consequentialist ethics. To a certain extent it's by being in Omlas you could be said to be participating in a system that works because it allows for evil, and you can choose to opt out of that system and leave. But if you do that you're not actually doing anything to help the child, and if you do something to help the child, you also put yourself at the risk of destroying the system and making everyone comparably miserable to the child. One assumes or at least...

...causing enough misery that it's not a worthwhile proposition. So if you are a nonconsequentialist, absolute moral person, then you must walk away from Omolas, because it's the only choice you have that lets you avoid participating in a system that allows and thrives on evil. That's it's the only actually, I was looking for how on earth I would bring this up in the episode. But have you read the Copenhagen interpretation of ethics? It sounds familiar, but I don't recall it. It was recently discussed on a discord that we both participate in, but it's an essay by are you thinking of the Newtonian conception of ethics? Now? This is a recent thing, or well, not res okay, several years old, written by Jdanni, who's kind of a big deal in rationalist effect of altruist circles, and the tagline of Jay's blog reads up the top. Almost no one is evil, almost everything is broken, which, if you had to distill effective altruist attitudes down to ten words, are less. I honestly don't know how you do it better. But the Copenhagen interpretation of ethics says, to quote, directly from the essay that when you observe or interact with a problem in any way, you can be blamed for it. At the very least, you are to blame for not doing more, even if you don't make the problem worse, even if you make it slightly better. The ethical burden of the problem falls on you as soon as you observe it, playing off of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, where by, some sort of cosmic Voodoo, the act of a human observing the particle actually influences its behavior. And if you listeners are not familiar with the sort of thing that this is referring to, think of examples where, say, someone does a mild act for charity and is then immediately beset upon for doing it in a suboptimal way or doing it for arguably selfserving reasons, when those who are doing nothing are not equally beset upon for their part in not solving the problem. The fact that you have engaged with the problem puts you under additional scrutiny in the eyes of some people. I can't find the exact quote right this second, but an additional component of this interpretation of ethics is that, regardless of whether you're benefiting from a problem actually in impact the problem in any way, you're a monster for benefiting from a problem, and that specifically seems to be the attitude that's in play a lot when people think about this. Contrasting that, you have a more consequentialist ethical system, which tends to say that Om a loss is a great deal. You have, however many people are in the city, whether it's hundreds of thousands or maybe millions, depending on what kind of city this is, but they are all happy and lead happy, fulfilling, effective lives and also commit various secular feats of engineering and science and so forth that are mentioned. And for the suffering of one person, that's a pretty good deal. And furthermore, if you are to walk away from Omelass, then you don't help the child and you don't help yourself, so you're just introducing needless suffering, unless, of course, the moral burden that you feel, for whatever inherent reasons of your own psychology, is so great that you would be nothing but miserable and Omelass indeed, I have a bit more respect. Well, we'll get to exactly how people in the universe deal with this problem. But yes, basically, om loss is a utopia that depends on a very emotionally impactful and continuous mass of suffering in order to continue its existence. And I think that's enough set up for us to talk about the story itself. Sure, just one thing I would like to say before we hop into it is that while that question is, I think, what has captured the imagination, I don't actually think it's what the story is trying to talk about and I think the story is trying to say something completely different. That sounds like a very good thing for you to expand on when we get there. Certainly so. We start with a description in the story of the festival of summer, which is a thing that ohm loss has. Ohm loss is described in general as a very secular but very ritual driven group. It is mentioned specifically that while there are a lot of variant features in Omlass, there are definitely no clergy. There maybe churches, but no clergy, and the festival of summer seems like a secular sort of celebration which apparently appeals to horses just as much as people. Yes, quote the Horse being the only animal which has adopted our ceremonies as his own in reference to the fact that horses show up in the parade. Not sure if...

...this implies that the narrator means that the horses have adopted the ceremonies of Omlass or just the horses have adopted the ceremonies of humans. Given that we later find out that the narrator is not an Omlossian but an outsider to Omlas, I feel like it makes more sense that he's just saying that horses can appreciate human ceremony. I was about to ask about that. It wasn't clear to me in my read for this episode. So this is actually a story once that I think you read ahead of me. So if it weren't for the fact that we're covering the whole story at once, you'd be in the guiding role here. Ah, but it was not clear to me on the read I did for this episode that the narrator was an Omelin and it seems that that's definitely not the case. No, no, they're definitely an outsider to Om a loss because, let me see if I can find the specific line. There's lines like quote. I do not know the rules and laws of their society, but I suspect they were singularly few, which indicates that he knows of Ohm Alass but did not live there or know them very well. So he's familiar with them but not a native. I say he. I was trying to very deliberately not do that with the narrator, because the author is female and the narrator is nonspecific. Yeah, there's nothing about the narration that gives sex to the narrator. Yeah, except perhaps the olins themselves. It's terrible fun. Nothing about that actually matters to the story, but it does provide some interesting context for the very end of the story, which I'll bring up again when we get there. Yes, yeah, we get an astonishingly detailed I did the imagery of the of the summer festival is just lovely. It is good imagery. But there's something I wish to point out about the imagery and about the the way that Omlass is described, which is that it is very nonspecific. Narrator says, quote, for instance, how about technology? I think there would be no cars or helicopters in and above the streets. That phrase there, I think, evokes to me that the narrator is not really all that familiar with Omlass or that we are so the narrator is talking to somebody. The way that the text is written makes it clear that they know they are speaking to an audience and they have certain expectations about what the audience expects from them. With phrases like I think, and I do not know the rules and laws of their society, that sort of thing, it implies to me that Omloss is Eiser of something that they are familiar with but did not have a great amount of contact with, or something that we are meant to see them as making as just an example. Fair the way that you discussed that kind of brought it back up for me, since I lost this strand of thought while talking before. The single most surprising thing about Omelass at this point is that it seems to based on the fact that it has a train station that connects to the rest of the world. It seems to somehow exist despite being completely surrounded by a civilization that definitely does not work this way, like Shangraly, except you can actually go there easily. Well, don't say that they do have trains. The line is not that they do. The line is quote. They could perfectly well have central heating subway trains, washing machines and all kinds of marvelous devices not yet invented here, floating light, sources of fuelist power, Ker cure for the common cold, or they could have none of that. It doesn't matter. So when the narrator describes they have a train station, it's a hypothetical train station, they say. Imagine a train station, if it makes this easier for you to understand. Okay. Note to future versions of GSV pay significantly more attention or stop holding to the read things once rule. Well, I only read this so closely because I have a thesis this time. Okay, well, do bring that one up when we get to it. I like that the narrator specifically averts all of the tropes that you would be tempted to assume are in play here, and very explicitly. Yet I repeat that these were not simple folk, not dulceat shepherd's noble savages, Bland Utopians. They were not less complex than us. HMM. The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. Yes, and when we get to the thesis, that's going to be a very important thing. But continuing onwards, as OMS is described, the narrator describes it once again in vague terms, making clear that the details of the city regarding its physical nature, is not as important as the thing is that the narrator wants to express are definitely true about the city, which is the demeanor of its citizens and...

...the things they do and don't believe in. So the definite points are the Omelossians are truly happy, they are satisfied. They have a complex culture, but they are nonetheless much better off than the narrator expects the readers to be. But also that quote. One thing I know there is none of in Omelass is guilt, and also that there are no clergy in Omelas. There may be religion, but no clergy. Fair a lot of their actual conduct, as you say, is kind of left to the reader's imagination. I fear that Omolas so far strikes some of you as goody goody, smiles, bells, parades, horses, the if so, please add an orgy. If an orgy would help. Don't hesitate. Let us not, however, have temples from which issue, beautiful nude priests and priestesses already half in ecstasy and ready to copulate with any man or woman, lover or stranger, who desires union with the deep godhead of the blood, although that was my first idea. As you say, the narrator clearly isn't that familiar with the place, but they clearly feel and as we read, I think correctly, that they have the essence down and I don't know what that's like like. What does that? Well, that's the other thing. I didn't notice the although that was my first idea. But there is a point, I believe, later in that same paragraph, where the narrator is talking about whether or not the people of omlass would have access to intoxicants, drugs, and they say, quote. I thought at first there were not drugs, but that is puritanical for those who like it. The faint, insistent sweetness of drews may perfume the ways of the city drews, which first brings a great lightness and brilliance to the minds and limbs and then, after some hours, a dreamy langer and wonderful visions at the last of the very Arcana and in most secrets of the universe as well as exciting the pleasures of sex beyond belief. And it is not habit for me. So yeah, magical best drug that does all the drug things. But I don't think they're talking about anything I know. But it sounds like something that would be come up with in that vein. But the important thing here being that those two lions say to me that the narrator is just positing a thought experiment. In the narrator knows they are positing a thought experiment because in two cases here they just say I had thought that the city would be like this, but then it occurred to me it would be more proper for it to be like this. So thought experiment, or maybe thing that the narrator knows from stories. So Oh malas could be a story that already exists in this world. All Right, speaking of thought experiments, how do you feel about establishing that even the people who throw money at us are not safe from the occasional nerd tangent? I think that's been well established. There's are eye of our God. Episode had a long tanngines about Indianas Brodsky's sex literature. Wait, you didn't edit that out? Of course not. Okay, yeah, I still haven't gotten around to do that one, but one of the people who this episode is being made for is actually expressed interest in being the second voice already, so I really should get around to that. excited. So the actual tangent, though, the way that drews is described like basically the greatest drug ever, with a series of highly desirable narcotic effects and then also no addictive tendencies. HMM. Reminded me of a thought experiment, or pair of thought experiments, that I developed probably two years ago at this point, in order to test for how common a particular strain of moral belief was that I really do not understand, M and I'm going to describe these two you, and then I want you to tell me what you think I'm feeling for with these. Okay, so originally there were three experiments, but I've forgotten what the third one was. Okay, these take the form of magic pills. Pill number one costs five dollars. You can get it from a vending machine anywhere, and taking it once renders you permanently incapable of contracting or transmitting any STD and also negates the possibility of pregnancy resulting from any sex act in which you participate unless you have consciously opted into that possibility at the beginning of the act, and also that everyone else has just ignore. Just assume that, whatever you know how that would work, it just works. Assume, yes, assume whatever magic this requires is accomplished. Sure, pillmer were two is a recreational drug with all of the same psychoactive effects as heroin, but it produces no tolerance, no compulsion to redose, in the specific sense that drugs produce compulsion to redose, where people who are already high and have access to more are more or less likely to take it right. And the NEPHROTOXIC, respiratory depressants and emetic effects of heroine have all been removed so that it is possible neither chronically nor acutely to die from using it. Okay, and also no withdrawal symptoms, if I didn't say that already. Sure. So, the question for each of these is...

...adding them directly into the modern world tomorrow a good or bad thing? MM. So what I imagine that you're probing for there is to get at whether people see a distinction between different kinds of seeking pleasure for pleasures sake. So if a hypothetical person says no to both of them, then they probably think that there is a harmfulness to cheap pleasure that can be acquired without consequence and that the negative effects of both extreme happiness drugs and sex are in some sense a good thing because they align people's incentives more properly towards the seriousness of those undertakings. If they say yes to both, then they are coherently pro pleasure in a simple headenism or utilitarian is in kind of way. If they say no to one and yes to the other, then that is indicative of some hang up about either sex being immoral or drug induced happiness being immoral. Okay, these are actually going after the same thing. The thing that they're trying to test for your close to the mark, based on the way that the acceptability of the various pleasures enters the discussion. But they are testing for the same thing, which is and I apologize that at least one of our patrons is definitely participated in this conversation already. The other two, I don't think have. So this is for their benefit to figure out how many people actually buy into this specific strain of just world fallacy thinking, where immoral things are supposed to have negative consequences and things that have negative consequences or immoral basically to figure out for how many people the interaction of bad consequences with the more abstract concept of sin. For how many people that's actually a thing. So, yeah, if you think sex is immoral regardless of its consequences, then it is coherent that you would want to keep the consequences so that it keeps not happening or so that it happens less. And if you think that drugs are more regardless of the consequences, than it is coherent that you would want to keep the bad consequences of drug so that drugs are done less. Yeah, that there is something wrong with getting rid of bad consequences for things that are immoral. I think it's slightly more complicated than that, because I do think that there can be a coherent world view of cheap pleasure makes other types of interesting and esthetically preferable things less likely to be enjoyed. So if you enjoy other types of esthetically interesting pleasure, than you may want less access to cheap and easy pleasure in the form of super heroine, and in that case that may be coherent, even if it is, shall we say, a bit authoritarian of you to make that choice for others. I'm prepared to accept because, after discussing these with people I trust, I'm inclined to say that one is an unqualified good. The Perfect Birth Control and STD immunity and the infinite edible Lotus might not be a good thing, not completely a good thing. Yeah, I'm not completely sold on it. But there is an actual argument to be made that I can understand and describe about how a sufficient ratio of pleasure to the effort required to achieve it can become a hedonic trap. Yes, the sort of a laugher curve type thing, where a certain amount of pleasure, at a certain amount of cheapness, makes your society crumble. Yeah, I'm now leaning in. One is obviously good, but I'm no longer as convinced as I was when I created the experiment. That too is good. So what is the relatedness of this idea to the story at hand? The way that drew's is described, after all of the desirable things about it are added. In the world in which the listener lives and in which we live, we would expect most substances like this to be harmful or at least addictive. But drew's you know, it may not be chemically addictive, but I bet you anything that's habit for me. Yeah, but the way the description is set up, and then also casually, and that is not habit forming, seems to be daring the listener to come up with an objection. Fair enough, honestly, I wasn't sure how I was going to tie that back to the store when we started. So thick, you're quite welcome, tangent, by the way, we're done. So the story continues. We see more about this procession, this summer festival. There's a child playing a flute and people are enraptured by the music. He is very artistic, and the description sort of ends with and yes, everyone was happy, and the narrator asks, do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city,...

...the joy? Know, then let me describe one more thing, and here we get the thing, the interesting bit about ohm loss, which is the child who suffers. So the child's conditions are, I would say, evocatively horrible. It's suffering, well, not like any outlandish thumb screws, iron maiden kind of torture. Is the kind of mistreatment born of neglect and cruelty that strikes me as uncomfortably plausible and painful. Yeah, you get the sense. The way it's led into, there's a very Charles Darwin thing going on, where this whole thing has been described and the precise point at which the narrator's listener is going to ask what's the catch is anticipated and that's when they drop this. I haven't actually read Charles Darwin's writing. How is that like Charles Darwin's writing? When he's writing about specific components of his theory, he has this gift for figuring out what objections someone's going to have at exactly which points and exactly when this happens, he will break from his arguments to specifically address the objection that just popped into your mind. M sounds like a fun thing to read. Yes, he's quite good. Most people don't know or think about this too much. But the origin of species, while it's the one in which he delivered it as a coherent theory, does not present anything like the breadth of evidence on which he based that conclusion. He wrote a bunch of books in the years before publishing it. One of them a very exhaustive adaptationist examination of the ways that or kids have been altered to be fertilized by insects. HMM. If you already know he wrote origin species, then it will be obvious why he's doing this, but at the time it was just a botanic will treatise. HMM. Yeah, he was a naturalist, biologist, observer type for a very long time before he came up with it, so that does make sense that his previous work would sort of be a build up to the theory. Yeah, if you have encountered those books, reading origin of species has a really strong feeling that things are falling into place. It's a very r oddly satisfying kind of thing. Well, continuing with the story, child's conditions. Yeah, we could describe the child's conditions, we could make quotations, but frankly it makes me mildly uncomfortable. It's a very unfortunate thing, and it is if it makes you uncomfortable. Do you want me to do it? Yeah, sure. To summarize, this child in the basement of some building in ome loss, it doesn't particularly matter which one and it's not specified. This child is locked in basically a broom closet, completely deprived of human contact and the comforts of the city. Its intellect is stunted by underfeeding. It gets a half bowl of grain and grease every day, and also it suffers the constant company of a pair of mops, of which it is viscerally terrified. It is mentioned, and I think worth mentioning, that the building it is in is one of the beautiful public buildings of Ome a loss. So this is not a private affair. This is something to the city does, it says, or perhaps in the cellar of one of its spacious private homes. Damn, this time it was me, and yeah, had that infirm of me so that I could do the summary properly. H So, in addition to all of that, yeah, the child is very obviously suffering. The only time it ever seas an of the human being is when someone shows up to passing that bowl of food and the floor is covered in its shit, which it sits in all day. Hmm, I think that covers all of the major points. Yeah, in addition, from what we see later, the people of Omlass are not allowed, and never do, say any kind words to it. Or we say it, by the way, because it's mentioned that its gender doesn't matter and it is given no sucker. Basically is what we are described. And at some point in their lives every citizen of omoloss goes and sees this child. Yeah, Oh, important point. The reason for nobody ever showing it any kind of kindness is that the god, Demon, bureaucrat whatever in charge of ensuring Om loss has, you, topic, prosperity. One of its rules is that nobody ever do this and it would ruin o the loss forever if anyone did. Where is that in the text? The terms are strict and absolute. There may not even be a kind word spoken to the child. Yes, but those are not set forth by some outside entity. Those are the terms that the citizens of Om Alass obey. There's no indication in this story that there is some demon or deity or whatever that they are sacrificing this child too, and I think that's an important distinction point. The way that it's set up, in the way that it's described in the previous paragraph, does kind of suggest some sort of not fashion but nevertheless supernatural bargain at work here. 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. Yes, but the following paragraph then says this is usually explain to children and there between eight and twelve, whenever they seem capable of understanding. The most of those who come to see the child are young and 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 site. They feel discussed, which they 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 fit 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 light of omlus would whither and be destroyed. There's the terms. To Exchange the goodness and grace of every life in ome loss for that single small improvement, to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness and one. That would be to let guilt would in the walls. Indeed. So when it speaks of the terms there it's saying that would be the terms you're accepting by helping the child, is that you would help the child and you would sacrifice everything else. Okay, it is not explicit that there is some sort of force enforcing this, but everyone does seem to believe it, and at some level the difference stops being important. Yes, what I think they actually gain by having the child that way, I think, is expressed at a later point. 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 splendor of their lives. There's 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 which makes possible the nobility of their architecture, the poignancy of their music and the profundity of their science. So this child is not being sacrificed to Malock, just the fact that they know it's there makes their lives more meaningful. Okay, that seems like kind of a sour grapes argument, except that it isn't your own suffering. So there's got to be another word for this, but I don't know what it is. Yeah, something like in comparison to the child, they realize that their lives are worth living and must be worth living, and that they must do something worth while such that the benefit of their life outweighs the suffering they cause to this child by living in a society like this. I have a thought on the Utilitarian Calculus here, but I think it should wait until we actually finish the text, which we have very little love left. What is the last thing we learned about this society? The last thing we learn about this society is that there are some who cannot accept this arrangement and who instead choose to walk away from am Alass Hey, we finally got there in the last line of the story. Indeed, the narrator describes this as something. Well, they say, now, do you believe in them? Are They not more credible? But there is one more thing to tell, and this is quite incredible, and then they describe that there are some, some of them children who first learned about it, some of them adult, who come to have this feeling that eventually choose to just walk away from omelass quote. They go on, they leave Omlas, they walk ahead into the darkness and they do not come back. The place that 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 Omlass. That ends the story and, as with the opening, it's a very vivid, readily imaged conclusion to the story, and I guess I can sort of there's a facial expression I associate with that last sentence, HMM, that they seem to know where they're going, but I have hard time describing it. I would recognize it if I saw it, but it evokes to me like a blank emptiness of madness and except uptance, but perhaps a calm serenity of certitude in the rightness of their actions, is what it is meant to evote. Yeah, there's the combination of extreme certitude and depressed clarity, but since this is not a visual medium, describing the official expressions can only be so helpful. Yes, so now that we have finished, I can get to what my thesis is regarding this story shift. I'm interesting to see if we agree. Yeah, I think that the famous problem of Omloss, the one who suffers, is not actually something that the narrator believes to be true or necessary, and that what the narrator is trying to do is show that a place that does not have a...

...suffering child could still actually function, and trying to evoke that thought and feeling in an audience that they expect would not inherently believe that. Okay, that's definitely not the spin on this that I took. Yeah, so let me give some ideas and some quotes from the text to support this. So the narrator is talking to an audience. They refer to quote some of you in the text. So they are talking and they know they are talking to multiple people, people of a roughly contemporary set of understandings and ideologies, because the technological references are approximately modern technological references, so this isn't someone talking to like ancient people. The narrator expresses concern that we, the listeners, will not believe or understand them. Quote. Joyous. How is one to tell about joy? How describe the citizens of Om a loss? Quote. Given a description such as this, one tends to make certain assumptions. In particular, the narrator is concerned how we'll interpret the story, not just because if their failure to describe or our failure to understand, but specifically because we will have such cultural differences. Quote. The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by peds and sophisticates, of considering happiness is something rather stupid, only paying his intellectual only evil. Interesting. You mented that earlier, yes, and also quote. We have almost lost hold. We can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any celebration of joy. How can I tell you about the people of Omolas? Okay, and they say this before they got to the point where they describe anything about the child or anything like that. It's also notable, as I mentioned earlier, that the narrator willingly changes details of the city to make things more understandable. To the reader. They do this over and over again, and I think we are meant to see that the details they give are not necessarily supposed to be what they literally think is true about the city, but just what they think will make the city most understandable to the reader. So quote as you like it. I inclined to think that people from towns up and down the coast have been coming into Omo loss during the last days before the festival. I'm very fast little trains and double deck trams, and that the train station of Om Alass is actually the handsomest building in town, though plainer than the magnificent farmers market. But even granted trains, I fear, oh Molas, so far strikes you as goody goody. So granted trains they might have, trains they might not. The details of the story can be changed to make the audience understand it better, once again, like the add an orgy. If an orgy would help, don't hesitate. This is a thing that the narrator is clearly willing to do. So, after describing the city, describing the happiness of its people, never mentioning any problems that the city might have, the narrator says, quote, do you believe it? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? Know, then let me describe one more thing. And after this they go into the description of the child. So they say here, okay, here's my thesis, here's the city. Do you believe that? No, you don't. I need to add something else to make you understand this. And then they describe the child, and the child is described in such a way and the people described in such a way that, as I think, meant to evoke condemnation in the readers or in the listeners. The idea that it should be obvious to the people of Omlass that they don't actually need to do this is what it's meant to evoke. The people of Om Alass are described in a way that they are clearly rationalizing and explaining away why they have to do this, in a way that maybe morally repugnant to some people. So quote. 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 doubt, but little more. It is too degraded an imbecile to know any real joy. It has been afraid too long to ever be free of fear. And while that is somewhat true, certainly like if you've been a piece master of a thing very, very long time and it's suffering for years and years, then yes, that's going to have a major psychological effect on you, even if you are suddenly in better conditions. So I thought I was going to be offering an antithesis, but it turns out we can mostly proceed to synthesis here. I will add one thing that I think will provide context for my slight tweak of your interpretation. HMM, by any coherent utilitarian calculus, where the suffering is something that you actually weigh rather than just grand standing, where you say this depends on suffering and these people benefit from suffering and therefore they're all awful. Yeah, by any coherent Utilitarian Calculus, omolos is strictly superior to the world that you and I actually live in. Yeah, it delivers a higher standard of living and with one person suffering instead of,...

...as in our civilization, a lot of that being predicated on thousands of people. Yeah. So the take that I end up with after hearing your look at it, and I think you you gestured in this direct action, but didn't say it outright. The narrator is speaking to a bunch of people and saying here is a thing that is definitely better than what we live in. We have established that it is possible. Now there is one obvious way that we might improve on it, and that should fill you with motivation to do it. HMM. And by way of comparison, you might be inclined to think that you should improve upon your real world in the same way and have similar outrage about it. Yes, the story is spectacularly good at provoking moral outrage about the predication of all of this on the suffering of the child. Yes, but you would encounter resistance if you describe to most people that this is strictly superior to the world we live in morally, even though as soon as you start writing numbers down it's obvious. Yeah, I mean the people who are nonconsequentialist. Moral type certainly exists and certainly if you ask people to think about morality rather than practicality, they will tend towards non consequentialism. So the fact that this even has captured the public consciousness in the way that it has, where this story is most known for. The question of is Oh mo loss right or wrong? Is I think it says more about where the morals of people lie and where the discourse lies then it does about the story. Yeah, you can't condemn the existence of ome loss without delivering a stronger condemnation of the world that you already live in. So in that sense I get your motivational angle. Yeah, to continue a little, because I did have a little more their quote. Indeed, after so long, it would probably be wretched without walls 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. So this one specifically seems like it is calling out the audience not just to say ome loss is bad, but like, why are you seeking justification for something that you know is bad? You're just trying to live a comfortable life by not thinking about things. And after explaining the child, the narrator once again asks, would that convince you that a happy place could exist? So again a narrator is saying, does this make this seem more plausible? What they actually say is quote. Now, do you believe in them? Are They not more credible? But there is one more thing to tell, and it is quite incredible. So then they go on to talk about the one to walk away from Om loss and often, once again, this sort of discourse about this story is like, is it right to walk away from Omo loss? Do you have an obligation to? Should you? Yada, Yada. I read it more as a rejection to the idea that you need misery in the world to make it function. It's basically saying, listener, if you are repulsed by this idea, if you look at this and say, why do they actually need the child? There is no compelling reason given as to why they should. Looking. Well, yeah, like think about your existence and, similarly, just actually imagine the thing that I, as the narrator, think you will struggle to imagine. Be Able to accept that some places and some circumstances just don't have a catch and there can be a utopia and there can just be good things in the world, and try to keep in mind that that place and that arrangement of things is possible, and don't go looking for evil just because it's absence makes you apprehensive or because you sort of expect a certain amount of badness in the world fair. In fact, I can't believe that this didn't bludgeon me in the face reading it. But the narrator's level of detail, or rather the level of lack of detail about the specifics of Ome a loss, leaves entirely open that this is a fabrication on the narrator's part, merely to draw people's attention to parts of reality they don't think about. Yes, kind of like a famous essay and anthropology called body ritual among the NASA Rama, which I'm not familiar. So it was a satire of anthropological papers on other cultures that described the culture of the United States as if these were a bunch of unwashed natives in some far off land with a bone through their nose. They're described as living, I see you, in or try the Mexican desert, and the rituals of toilet training a child are described in meticulous but very other rising to tail, brushing teeth, all sorts of things that people just do. The point of the essay is to thrust in people's faces that this is not at all helpful. Yeah, that weirdly...

...clinical and not identifiable language used in those papers is not the best way to understand why people do things, and also that the people that it was meant to punk were blind to the unusual features of their own culture are blind to a lot about their own culture. My experience of sociologists and anthropologist has broadly been that they take great pains to avoid ethnocentrism. However, I can certainly believe that some do not, and also that there are times where that was not so. It's some of that, but also, you know what? Scott Alexander, blessed be his return, said something very good about this in his review of a David Freedman Book. Let me go find that. So what it's specifically trying to caution against is neatly encapsulated by this paragraph, which is not from the essay, but Scott Alexander said about this book. Whenever I read a book by anyone other than David Freedman about a foreign culture, it sounds like the One du give their motherinlaw three cows every monsoon season then pluck out their own eyes as a sacrifice to Humonga, the volcano God. And when I read David Freedman it sounds like the Wonda ensure positive some intergenerational trade by a market system in which everyone pays the efficient price for continued economic relationships with their spouses clan. They demonstrate their honesty, but the costly signal of self mutilation that creates common knowledge of belief in a faith whose priests are able to arbitrate financial disputes. I do appreciate the way that ecomomists are able to break things down into always being the same set of system that essay, and I think now that it bludgeons me in the face. The narrator telling this story about a vague, ambiguous utopia that runs on suffering. The thing that's being cautioned against is look at these people and their weird way of existing, rather than okay, what are actually the moving parts of what's going on here? Yeah, if I had to describe the sort of arc of this, it's not any arc for the Omelassians. It's an arc that the narrator is going through with the listener where they basically are saying, do you believe in a place that has only happy people and is only good? And the listener says no and the narrator says okay, would you believe in that place if there was a suffering child, who suffering powers the city, basically, and the listener says yes, and the narrator then says, okay, let's examine why that would actually help. Why would that be necessary, and would that be necessary? And having gone through that, the listener is expected to determine that no, it's not actually necessary, and the narrator is then saying okay. Then, as an exercise for the reader, imagine a place that's the same as Ome a loss, but it doesn't have the child. So can you now imagine a place that is just happy and just has happy people? And by the end for the Bene actually, I again more detailed. That retroactively bludgeons me in the face, asking the listener, well, what the fuck do you think they're going for if they leave society over this? What do they actually have in mind, because I certainly can't imagine it. Yeah, because they do literally say the place they go towards it a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. So because they don't say unimaginable to me, they say unimaginable to most of us. I read that once again as people struggle to imagine a place that is just happy and doesn't have a catch. So once again, this hypothetical place it would be even harder to imagine than this hypothetical city powered by the suffering of a forsaken shot. Okay, yeah, I follow. And with all that said, I think this story is really relevant to the culture novels, because a thing that comes up a lot in the culture novels is that people from the culture will try to describe the culture to people from outside the culture and be immediately met with suspicion. And fundamentally that suspicion is well, there are practical concern is raised that from time to time. You know, it depends on who they're talking to, but there seems to be a more general concern of there's got to be a catch. This is also a reaction that a lot of people in real life have on hearing the culture described to them. Yeah, surely the are evil or something. There's got to be something. Not Having people work nine to five's would give everyone depression. Yeah, that is one that I've heard from people close to me, indicative of a startling lack of imagination. Quite frankly indeed, speaking of lack of imagination. I don't know that there's that much left that I wanted to discuss about this story. I think we've hit all the points I wanted, and several I didn't think of until we were in the process, and we are coming up on time. Yeah, I got my whole thesis out, so I'm happy. All right. Well, thank you to dug the Hobo Demon West ends up,...

Daniel Nadolni and any future patreon supporters who may be stumbling onto this episode long after we've published it. This was a fun one to do and we're probably going to do more short story episodes like this. I hope so. I am not doing the ship gag this time because we're not specifically talking about a culture story. Like I said, Ben's been great to do this and good night everybody. Enjoy yourselves. It's later than you think. I'll let you have that because, again, you're not talking about helpers. Yeah, we get to do suppers and none canna.

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