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PROVIDENCE


                                         (That's Ed Brenner,
                                         of course, aka     
Ed talks about a concept he              The TOADKEEPER.)   
calls "Providence", which is             
the best of all achievable               
realities, as opposed to                                    
Utopia which literally means        Another word for               
"no where".                         Providence might           
                                    be Omelas.            Or "An Omelas"?
                                                          Suggesting that 
                                                          there are many 
    "He had fled from Salem to Providence -               local maxima? 
    that universal haven of the odd, the                  Or perhaps just 
    free, and the dissenting ..."                         that there are 
        -- H. P. Lovecraft,                               many visions. 
          "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" 
                                                                               
    


Some paragraphs quoted from "The Pompous Rose" by
Charles Platt and Gregory Benford, from the
March 1985 Patchin Review.  Also published as
"Reactionary Utopias" by the University of Southern Illinois.
(Book title unknown.)
    
          _The Left Hand of Darkness_, her first novel
     with a strong social message, postulated a colony
     of human beings who have become hermaphroditic.
     Interviewed in _Mother Jones_ magazine, Le Guin
     has said that eliminating gender was the only way
     she could postulate a society without war; to her,
     men -- or at least, the differences between them
     and women -- evidently seem the root cause of
     human strife.
    
          In _The Dispossessed_, _The Left Hand of
     Darkness_, and _The Eye of the Heron_, the small
     communities of idealists are nonviolent,
     thoughtful, compassionate, and hard-working.  They
     reach decisions by consensus.  When a member of
     the group is too disagreeable to be reasoned with,
     he is simply ignored; exclusion is the only form
     of punishment.
         Again, it seems mean-spirited to disparage
     such right-minded behavior.  And yet the very idea
     of anarchy by consensus is an oxymoron.  Freedom
     to do as we please, so long as we all agree with
     each other and remain in a state of Zen harmony
     with the cosmos, is no freedom at all.  It is
     little better than a religion in which faith in a
     deity has been replaced by faith in some
     half-baked historical truths of the human spirit.
     It is a single-party political system that seems
     congenial only because the people in it are
     somewhat implausibly easygoing and nice.
          The result is a system as superficially
     benign, yet as subtly authoritarian, as
     Disneyland.
    
         But ever-so-gently disapproving of traits such
     as aggression, leadership, defiance, and
     acquisitiveness, and ever-so-gently suggesting
     that our only choice is to cooperate with (her
     interpretation of) the way things really are, Le
     Guin is an authoritarian writer.  She may express
     doubts about the fate of her cause, but never
     about its justness.  She may depict her gentle
     people losing a brave battle against oppressors,
     but she never casts doubt on the _rightness_ of
     their struggle.  Her politics may seem radical,
     but in fact she is advocating an inflexible,
     permanent status-quo.

        Possibly, Ursula Le Guin might argue that her
     social models are not intended to be taken as
     literal prescriptions for utopia.  Perhaps it is
     the role of the idealist merely to encourage hope
     and the dream of transcendence, just as it is the
     role of a fantasist to remind us of the myths that
     make us human.
        In that case we would reply that it is
     misleading and dishonest to couch such vague
     promises in such seemingly concrete terms,
     depicting make-believe as if it _could actually
     happen_.  Le Guin's societies are anything but
     realistic, in that they deny all the harder
     lessons of history.


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