Last Updated on October 14, 2020
Le Guin Reminds Us To Take A Breath
The climate is in crisis, and humanity appears bent on aggravating our problems rather than resolving them. When I feel the intensity of the grind and all the work needed to improve our society, I try to find a moment to take a breath and zoom out. In that instance, I am reminded of a quote from author Ursula K. Le Guin.
In her phenomenal book The Dispossessed, she writes, “If you can see a thing whole, it seems that it’s always beautiful. Planet, lives…But close up, a world’s all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life’s a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need distance, interval.” To put it simply, we just need to take the time put in a little distance and perspective. To fully appreciate the whole, and imagine the bigger picture.
Le Guin’s Lasting Influence
I first read Le Guin back in high school, burning through The Wizard of Earthsea series pretty quick. But it wasn’t until university, that I discovered The Dispossessed. It’s a story about a man (Shevek) who questions his place in society, as well as the entire social order of his lunar colony. His is an anarchist civilization that has spurred the ways and tendencies of capitalism. However, very early on he wonders about the other. How do they function, create, and live beyond his tiny planet. And so, he visits another world in the hopes of learning more.
It makes for a great read, with plenty of interesting questions and insight. Indeed, that’s where I pulled the title quote from. The characters in Le Guin’s books, although they might be on another world, really offer up a means of better understanding our own. There are so many great questions, and possible considerations, it’s clear why Le Guin has had such an influential legacy.
Documentary Film: Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin (2018)
Facing The Climate Emergency
Given the context and magnitude of the global threat we now face, it makes sense to pull from some of humanity’s greatest thinkers. For me, this includes the great science fiction authors. They thought well ahead of their time, encouraging readers to question humanity’s path. Wether it be through artificial intelligence, bioengineering, or planetary colonization, science fiction has helped to set up a framework for contemplating the future.
In this regard, Ursula Le Guin offered up worlds to test out our ideas and experiments. The Dispossessed for one encouraged readers to examine what alternate societies might look like. We know our current economic formula of infinite growth on a finite planet is clearly unsustainable. So what happens when we question the narrative. What might an ideal society look like instead? Heavy questions, but they are clearly worth asking. It helps to take a breather, zoom out, and consider the big picture.