This post continues my theme of drawing wisdom from UrsulaLe Guin’s Orsinian Tales. You can check out some of my previous posts for a more detailed summary of the book or the Wikipedia page.
This post is a little different for me because the subject of the quote I want to expound upon is politics. I usually don’t pay much attention to politics, much less write about political issues. Maybe this is more of a social issue. I suppose when you engage social issues, you’re going to run into politics sooner or later.
This is taken from the story A Week in the Country. This is something a man’s grandfather says to him. Remember, the setting is an oppressed [fictional] Eastern European country.
“What would we do with freedom if we had it, Kosta? What has the West done with it? Eaten it. Put it in its belly. A great wondrous belly, that’s the West. With a wise head on top of it, a man’s head, with a man’s mind and eyes-but the rest all belly. He can’t walk any more. He sits at table eating, eating, thinking up machines to bring him more food, more food. Throwing food to the black an yellow rats under the table so they won’t gnaw down the walls around him. There he sits, and here we are, with nothing in our bellies but air, air and cancer, air and rage. We can still walk. So we’re yoked. Yoked to the foreign plow. When we smell food we bray and kick. –Are we men, though, Kosta? I doubt it.”
A Point on View
There are many valid points of view from which to critique something. An outsider has a vantage point that an insider will never have. An outsider is not clouded by the emotions of the issue or distracted by personal interests. An outsider can critique without fear of reprisal. An outsider can be objective.
On the other hand, an insider perhaps, knows details that outsider does not. An insider has his or her heart and soul in the issue. An insider doesn’t need to walk a mile in someone’s shoes (he or she is the someone). An insider wants to improve something because he or she deals with it every day.
I find it interesting that Le Guin writes a character of an outsider (an Easterner critiquing the West), but she herself is a Westerner. In the context of the story a man is condemning the consumerism and extravagance of a country and a set of ideals far away from him. Stepping out of the story one realizes that a woman is critiquing the culture of which she is a part, the very land she was sitting in as she wrote these words.
This is the same point of view from which I critique the American evangelical Church.
This is the same point of view from which I critique my place of employment.
From inside, lovingly seeking improvement.
A View on Freedom
I underlined such a long section of my book because it resounds so deeply in me. Does it resound with you?
Read it again.
I love this metaphor of our Western culture, “a great wondrous belly”.
Perhaps it is overly critical to say that I find the metaphor to be true, but I too am an insider critic. I am condemning myself as a part of this culture. As an insider, I love the West but I can also see the glaring faults. I can see the hunger for more material possessions. I sense the primacy of entertainment in our culture. I feel the lust for pleasure that pervades my generation (and the ones that follow it). What is the point of being a man, with a man’s mind and eyes, if you choose to feed only your belly? What is the point of thinking if you do not think deep, complex thoughts, if you only think of how to get more food?
Or vacation time?
What is the primary goal of your life (as evidenced by what you do, not by what you say it is)?
What have you done with your freedom?
Do you use your freedom to grow and develop?
To stretch yourself?
To become a well-ordered soul?
Do you use your freedom to make your culture better?
To redeem the lives of those around you?
Can you still walk?
Or are you too full of the things you’ve acquired?
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.