Schoolmaster Daru of Albert Camus

We accept these injustices because in theory the poor and the suffering can better themselves through hard work, due to the nature of the capitalist system. We try to rectify these injustices to some degree through social support safety nets: yet for many individuals, there is too much to overcome, too many obstacles placed in their way even before they are born.

On a macro level, the developing world often profits off of the developed world: the developed world uses products made in sweatshops, casually spends dollars at the mall, when those same pennies could buy a starving child food. This raises the question: if Omelas was destroyed, and the child was saved, would a civilization such as our own arise in its place, with many other starving children? As much as the utilitarian questions it provokes, “The ones who walk away from Omelas,” also says a great deal about human nature — we are horrified by injustice when it is embodied in a single, innocent individual, but not in the abstract. When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, many people watching TV were dumbstruck by the images of extreme poverty and deprivation exposed in the coverage of the tragedy. They could not believe that people still lived in shacks, without access to transportation, in contemporary America. Yet people had done so for many decades, unbeknownst to the majority of our own population. This example shows how easy it is to hide ones eyes from uncomfortable realities.

At least in Omelas, people must gaze upon the suffering child. In America and in the Western world in general, it is all too easy to insulate ones self from the fact that we have so much, and others have so little. Yet Omelas is portrayed as a basically happy place — not even habit-forming drugs are needed. The example of the child, the one marring of perfection in society is portrayed as a great moral teacher that gives their society a complexity and depth it would otherwise lack. Our own society lacks the heavy self-consciousness of Omelas about our own devils bargain, even while we recoil from its open acceptance of injustice.

Instead of asking would I walk away from Omelas, a better question to ask of ones self is if I am living in my own Omelas, today. Simply because ones life is not perfect, it is easy to become obsessed with trying to make more money and ignore how much deprivation exists in America, hidden from the eyes of others. We are making a utilitarian bargain of our own, it could be argued, and there is even less of an excuse for doing so than in Omelas, as far more individuals are suffering than one child, and the benefits we gain are not nearly.

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