John Scalzi, Penn State University, and the false choice of Omelas.

John comes close to enlightenment here wit “Omelas State University” – so heartbreakingly close – but in the end he accepts Ursula K Le Guin’s brilliantly malignant and endlessly corrupting false choice when it comes to The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas: when confronted with evil as the bargain for perfection, the answer is neither to accept the bargain, nor walk away from the bargain.

The answer is to SMITE THE EVIL.

It’s sad: I expected just a shade better from John Scalzi. Just a shade.

Moe Lane


  • Phil Smith says:

    I think you’re missing the point of the story; it’s intended as a criticism of all consequentialist moral theories. She is illustrating the falseness of that kind of choice.

  • Cameron says:

    If your answer to the question “What would you do if you saw someone raping a child?” is not some variant of “I would beat him bloody, get the kid to safety and then beat the person some more”, then your sense of morality is questionable.

  • Skip says:

    Actually, Phil, I think that Moe has it right – liberals in general just don’t think in terms of evil in general, so confronting evil and smiting it just doesn’t even occur to them.

  • Rob Crawford says:

    Cameron, I would definitely not beat the perpetrator. It’s too dangerous, I’m not a good fighter, and there’s no reason I should risk bodily harm.
    I would treat the perpetrator to at least a full clip from my .45. Reloading would likely cause problems during any trial later.

  • Cameron says:

    Rob, I was going for the general solution. Since I live in a State where carrying a gun is Frowned Upon, I wanted to present it in a way that accounted for not having a ballistic correction device close by.

    And hey; it’s not like you’re obliged to only use fists when applying my suggestion.

  • BigGator5 says:

    I like Rob’s solution.

  • Phil Smith says:

    Skip – liberals may or may not think in terms of evil, but Le Guin quite clearly does, and she quite clearly believes in fighting it where you find it, with the tools you have to hand. Her heroes commit violence regularly. Ged lures the barbarian invaders to their death with magic; George Orr destroys Haber’s mind; the Athsheans kill all the Yumens with knives, spears, and clubs, just to give three examples. YMMV.

  • lourae says:

    Is there a beatdown, then blast ’em option? ‘Cause I would totally go for that.

  • techsan says:

    The ensuing “Penn-t State” riot is unsettling. Why the **** would a group of folks not understand how messed up this situation is?

  • Kresh says:

    I expect nothing from John Scalzi except decent stories. Of which that new “Fuzzies” book was not. He delivers… most of the time. I do still give him money which, no doubt, makes him happy.

    I ignore his blog for a reason; I disagree with his personal beliefs and don’t wish to read his reasons for having such beliefs. I’ve heard all the excuses before and I dismissed them from people I know better and care for more.

    I did like the original post on Omelas from 2009.

  • Ric Locke says:

    I’m not disappointed by Scalzi’s reaction, but that’s because, like Kresh, I wouldn’t have expected anything different.

    I am disappointed by Scalzi’s failure to get the point of the Leguin story — but even more so by Moe’s reaction. Hint, Moe: it’s The Cold Equations in a different milieu.


  • heather says:

    Did you even read the first part of the blog?

    he states quite clearly that smiting the evil is the only choice.

    • Moe_Lane says:

      Heather: yup! I did. Hence the use of the word ‘heartbreakingly.’ So close, but just. Not. Quite.

      Sorry to tell you all, but The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas is an evil, corrupting story. If Le Guin believes its central message, well. If she does not, she should have burned it in a fire instead of sending it out into circulation – and I don’t say that sort of thing lightly. Or at all.

  • heather says:

    I believe the central message was that both the ones who stayed and the ones who walked away were equally culpable. that’s what I’ve always taken from it.

    • Moe_Lane says:

      heather: Well, they are, of course. But there’s still no room in that formulation for the right answer. which is to disable every smug torturer that stands between you/the kid and the door. And I have difficulty believing that Le Guin didn’t intend that to be deliberate – which is a major reason why I have such an instinctual revulsion against calling it a ‘great’ story, instead of, say, a ‘vile’ one.

      And that’s why I was disappointed in Scalzi, as he didn’t quite make it to that point of distinction. Not that he should particularly worry about what I think, though: I’m just this cranky guy on the Internet. 🙂

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