I have just re-read a short story called “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin. I studied this story at university and thought it was a good example of an almost utopian place.
A small blurb for this story:
“Some inhabitants of a peaceful kingdom cannot tolerate the act of cruelty that underlies its happiness.” (via Goodreads)
Omelas is beautiful city by the sea, full of people who were happy, yet were not boring or simple. There is no clergy, no King, no soldiers, no slavery, no drugs. Yet the city is not boring: the people who exist there are peaceful but as complex as normal people. Life seems fairly pleasant in Omelas.
Except that there is a terrible secret buried underneath Omelas.
A child is hidden away in the depths of the city, in a disgusting room where little light enters and food only provided every now and then. A couple of people are brought to this room from time to time to witness this poor child in such a sorry state.
The reason this child is in such a terrible condition is to ensure the rest of the city lives happily. One small act of suffering to enable mass content. And everyone in the city knows this.
Some people accept this situation. They live in the city, feeling glad they can live their lives this way.
Occasionally, there are people who don’t like it or can’t see past it. These are the ones who walk away from the city and are never seen again.
The story sounds so nice at first, but you can tell there is something amiss. It reminds me of the idea of Ying and Yang: two halves of a whole, one half good, one half bad, and each cannot exist without even a tiny piece of the other.
It is horrible to read about this poor child, left in darkness with no-one to love it, with hardly any food or drink. I can understand why people stay and why people go. It just goes to show that no kind of utopia can exist because there will always be something that can’t be resolved so that everyone is happy.