“The questions that we have to ask and to answer about that procession during this moment of transition are so important that they may well change the lives of men and women forever. For we have to ask ourselves, here and now, do we wish to join that procession, or don’t we? On what terms shall we join that procession? Above all, where is it leading us, the procession of educated men?…Let us never cease from thinking–what is this “civilisation” in which we find ourselves? What are these ceremonies and why should we take part in them? What are these professions and why should we make money out of them? Where in short is it leading us, the procession of the sons of educated men?”

― Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

Ursula Le Guin tells the story of a town. A town whose name she saw on a sign in her rear vision mirror as she drove away from Salem, Oklahoma.

This town was a beautiful town. This town was so happy, so joyous.  A place that seemed like a fairy tale. Perhaps it is best if I leave your imaginations there. But we push on…

The people of Omelas were not naïve in their happiness. They knew that a great sacrifice had been made for their happiness. A necessary, utilitarian sacrifice.

“In a basement under one of the one of the beautiful buildings…there is a room. It has one locked door, and no window…In one corner of the room a couple of mops, with stiff, clotted, foul smelling heads stand near a rusty bucket…In the room a child is sitting. It could be a boy or a girl. It looks about six, but is actually nearly ten. It is afraid of the mops…”

Every one in Omelas knows that this child exists. This child so filthy and undernourished, sitting in its own excrement, to be unrecognisable as a human. Who screams to be let out. Because children of a certain age are all initiated into the knowledge of their privilege through visiting it.

But the visitors just look on. Some abuse It and walk away.

“They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas…they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvestand the kindly weathersof their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.”

It. The child is reduced to an It. Subhuman so the people can better live with their choices. The necessary sacrifice for the pleasures now enjoyed.

Its have been constructed for pleasure for centuries. From the time Aristotle proclaimed women to be the first deformity, to the time Henrietta Lacks lost her name to genetics, to the March for Science told people on the margins of science to be quiet about discrimination within science *for the greater good* .

He looked at her in surprise. Horrible? Wasn’t that odd? He hadn’t thought that for years. For him the word “horror” had become obsolete. A surfeiting of terror made terror a cliché. To Robert Neville the situation merely existed as natural fact. It had no adjectives.

― Richard Matheson, I am Legend

Of course there are no adjectives. Only prepositions to objectively describe It which supports the civilisation we all enjoy.

Some of the people of Omelas walk away. We do not know why. But we do know that no one tries to rescue the child.

Eddie discovered one of his childhood’s great truths. Grownups are the real monsters, he thought.

― Stephen King, It


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