After their revolution stalls, Odo’s followers flee their home world to settle desolate planet Anarres. “The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin tracks their experiment living in an anarchist society ruled only by Odo’s principles. Centuries without government, religion, or private property go by, until the word “propertarian” becomes the worst insult.
Humans are always prone to ideological squabbles and the settlers of Anarres are no exception. But when a widespread drought causes a planetary crisis, Odo’s teachings become relevant again to see them through. Though entirely fictional, we thought a few excerpts from Odo’s philosophy could help you in our current planetary crisis here on Earth.
Here’s Odo on work, jobs worth doing, and what we now call the “Great Resignation:”
“A child free from the guilt of ownership and the burden of economic competition will grow up with the will to do what needs doing and the capacity for joy in doing it. It is useless work that darkens the heart.”“The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin
As you might expect from an anarchist, Odo also talked about the role of each person vs. the role of society as a group, and we found that the following selection applies just as well to artificial intelligence and the risks of losing your job to automation:
“Sacrifice might be demanded of the individual, but never compromise: for though only the society could give security and stability, only the individual, the person, had the power of moral choice—the power of change, the essential function of life.”“The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin
Finally, some of Odo’s ideas reminded us of why we sometimes find it hard to think about retirement:
“You could go in a promising direction or you could go wrong, but you did not set out with the expectation of ever stopping anywhere.”“The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin
Anarres is a different planet to Earth, but we don’t find Odo’s ideas alien (read the novel to see how Anarres and Earth are connected.) Le Guin published “The Dispossessed” in 1974, sweeping the major science-fiction awards the following year. She explained at the time that Odo’s followers are non-violent anarchists, calling violent anarchy a form of terrorism. Like the best science fiction, Le Guin’s imaginary future still helps us make sense of the present.