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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I'm steadily making my way through the Libertarian Reading List, and I will share any major findings along the way. I just finished reading The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. It was a solid but not outstanding book until the final few chapters, which were amazing for their insight. I will focus this post largely on passages from pg. 293-294. (Note: Shevek is the main character of the book, Takver is his partner [there are no husbands and wives, which are viewed as property], and Odonianism is the label for an anarchic ideology).

Shevek had learned something about his own will these last four years. In its frustration he had learned its strength. No social or ethical imperative equaled it. Not even hunger could repress it. The less he had, the more absolute became his need to be.

He recognized that need, in Odonian terms, as his 'cellular function," the analogic term for the individual's individuality, the work he can do best, therefore his best contribution to society. A healthy society would let him exercise that optimum function freely, in the coordination of all such functions finding its adaptability and strength....With the myth of the State out of the way, the real mutuality and reciprocity of society could give security and stability, only the individual, the person, had the power of moral choice - the power of change, the essential function of life. The Odonian society was conceived as a permanent revolution, and revolution begins in the thinking mind [emphasis added].
The chapter continues:
Fulfillment, Shevek though, is a function of time. The search for pleasure is circular, repetitive, atemporal. The variety seeking of the spectator, the thrill hunter, the sexually promiscuous, always ends in the same place. It has an end. It comes to the end and has to start over. It is not a journey and return, but a closed cycle, a locked room, a cell....

So, looking back on the last four years, Shevek saw them not as wasted, but as part of the edifice that he and Takver were building with their lives. The thing about working with time, instead of against it, he thought, is that it is not wasted. Even pain counts.
Le Guin writes from a largely anarchistic point of view, but The Dispossessed applies equally well to libertarians (I have nothing against anarchism, but this blog focuses mostly on libertarian thought).

A recurring concept in the book is that the end does not justify the means - the end is the means. You cannot achieve peace through violence; you achieve violence that spreads. You cannot achieve economic freedom through control; you achieve control that spreads.

As libertarians, we must not compromise our values in order to achieve partial success. It is our responsibility to be stubborn. We may not accomplish much, but we will not achieve desired ends through undesired means.

I do not know if Le Guin chose "four years" on purpose, paralleling one presidential term, but the lesson applies. Even when politicians are moving the country away from freedom, the time is not wasted. Pain is not wasted.

Posted by Eleutherian

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