Thursday, September 1, 2016

Work and Marriage: Dispossessed

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

In this science fiction novel, a man from an anarchist society leaves his world to pursue his own scientific research and to attempt to persuade his people to reconnect with the worlds outside their own.
He looked up, and as he stepped off the ramp onto the level ground he stumbled and nearly fell. He thought of death, in that gap between the beginning of a step and its completion, and at the end of the step he stood on a new earth.
I have read a few books by Le Guin, and every time I find myself wondering what I'm supposed to take away from them. While reading this one, I often considered rewards and punishments, and the purpose of Work. Why do people do hard work? This book suggests a few answers: because it is pleasant to change our work sometimes (in the anarchist society, the more dangerous and unpleasant jobs are rotated between people ); for the challenge in doing something difficult; to show off; to earn the respect of others in our community.

The final response of the protagonist was the most compelling.
But really, it is the question of ends and means. After all, work is done for the work's sake. It is the lasing pleasure of life.
In the Odonian (anarchist) society, work therefore became more than just a job or some task to be accomplished and ended.
For her as for him, there was no end. There was process: process was all. 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. All responsibilities, all commitments thus understood took on substance and duration.
Against the norms of their society, the protagonist and his partner established a "long-bond," essentially a marriage.
So his mutual commitment with Takver, their relationship, had remained thoroughly alive during their four years' separation. They had both suffered from it, and suffered a good deal, but it had not occurred to either of them to escape the suffering by denying the commitment.
Given our current society, it was refreshing to read about why someone would establish a marriage in a society that did not value it.
For after all, he thought now, lying in the warmth of Takver's sleep, it was joy they were both after--the completeness of being. If you evade suffering you also evade the chance of joy. Pleasure you may get, or pleasures, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home.
The marriage enriches their lives, provides a base for everything else they do. Of course, he leaves her to return to their ancestral planet, but perhaps her love and commitment is partly what makes it possible for him to journey into an alien society.

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