A Brief Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin

In late-2016 - becoming more and more disenchanted by capitalism - a friend recommended: "The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia" by Ursula K. Le Guin to me. This week, Ursula K. Le Guin passed away. In honor of her life, I want to talk about how "The Dispossessed" became the most influential book on my politics. 

Starting in mid-2015, living in Portland, I grew uncomfortable with the neoliberal views I held. Rising inequality struck me as a dangerous problem, and the economic solution of increasing the top marginal tax rate struck me as unrealistic. I followed many leftist programmers on Twitter and would read their views to challenge my own. Over time, the philosophy of the far left intrigued me. I read up on the Occupy Wallstreet movement. I read works by Noam Chomsky and Christopher Hedges. I read Karl Marx and Emma Goldman. And, their dreams for a better world gave me hope.

However, A future without capitalism still felt like a utopic fever dream. It ignored everything I knew about people.  If capitalism collapsed or we had a revolution, I thought, people would rally behind the authoritarian leader that painted the most glorious future and gave the most powerful speeches. People would be scared, and their fear would destroy any hope for a better tomorrow.

Then, I read "The Dispossessed." Le Guin depicts three societies: a capitalist society that resembles the United States, one like the Soviet Union, and an anarcho-syndicalist society on a moon, Anarres. The society on Anarres captured my imagination like no other discussions of alternatives to capitalism had. Le Guin incorporates the flaws of people into an anarchist society. She doesn't pretend that anarchism is perfect - and that if we throw off capitalism, everything will magically be better. No. Instead, she emphasizes how much work leaving the safety of the status quo requires, for everyone. She doesn't act like everyone will be better off. She honestly shows how inefficient some systems will be.

Le Guin's honesty allowed me, for the first time, to relax. Utopia wasn't necessary to achieve the world in which I wanted to live. Creating a society where equality and solidarity are the central values requires active participation by all. Le Guin's writing permitted me to dream about imperfect solutions and make economic trade-offs that had never occurred to me.

Ursula K. Le Guin changed my life. Her words, passion, and radicalism live on in her many works. In honor of her passing, I recommend that you go to your local (anarchist) bookshop and pick up a copy of one of her books.