Image provided by Michelle Santoso
Are you familiar with Ursula K. Le Guin’s work, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas?
The story describes a city of amazing welfare. There are riches beyond just gold; there is wealth in happiness, abundance in pleasures, and an endless affluence of vibrancy. Yet there is a contingency for the city’s bliss. There is one condition that must be honored by all of Omelas’ citizens to maintain the eternal fountain of euphoria.
An innocent child must be contained and kept away from the glorious city. An innocent child must be locked in a perpetual confinement of its own despair, suffering, and filth.
Upon hearing of this requirement, Omelas’ people become — quite understandably — distressed. They become aghast at the true nature of their home and find themselves with a choice: to either stay at Omelas or to leave Omelas.
Most of the citizens decide to stay and adapt to the injustice of the city. The few that decide to leave are known as the ones who walk away from Omelas.
My initial thoughts tell me that I really can’t blame Omelas’ inhabitants. How could I? After all, I am not so different from them.
Think about it — the United States is well aware of the fact that countries like China have considerably harsh labor practices. Chinese workers are commonly underpaid and work dangerous technologies without health benefits. The New York Times published an article in 2008 explaining the unfair hours and unethical practices that even Chinese minors undergo; in fact, it was common to see “16-year-old high school students [work] seven days a week, often 15 hours a day, during peak production months for holiday merchandise.” Even though it’s been nearly a decade since the release of that article, there are more recent publications that show that people are still fighting for fair labor practices today.
We, the people in the United States, all take part in propagating cruel labor practices. Many of us unknowingly buy these factories’ products, ultimately supporting their business and furthering their incentive to continue making more.
I confess. For the sake of my own desires, I used to buy products from companies that uphold improper, cruel, and horrible labor conditions. I used to comfortably buy items that have been made by underpaid workers in corrupt and hazardous environments.
Do you have clothes or other products made in China? Then, chances are that you wear/wore the same shoes that I am in.
In one way or another, we have all contributed to being an ignorant citizen of Omelas. We have all, either unknowingly or knowingly, made circumstances worse for the children — not child — of Omelas.
I know better today. I try my best to research products — including services and foods (I’m looking at you, Smithfield) — before making the decision to actually buy them. I do believe that although there will probably always be inequalities in our world, each individual can take a part to promote egalitarian values and ultimately further a sense of empathy and sympathy.
We don’t have to collectively yield unconscious shopping behaviors anymore. We can make a difference by thinking about who we are buying from and if we want to support what they are doing.
If you have not done so yet, I would encourage you to step out of Omelas.