The Premise of the Dispossessed
The story is set in a universe where there are 2 sister planets, which run on completely different ideologies:
- Urras: an Earth-like planet, with many states, the most powerful one described as a capitalist one
- Anarres is an arid planet with an anarchic society: no rulers, no private property, and no government.
The story follows Shevek, a brilliant temporal physicist from Anarres. We follow him growing up on Anarres and on a trip to Urras, in a series of alternating chapters. Each chapter is a philosophical exploration of concepts such as freedom, love, or property.
The Story of Shevek
Half of the alternating chapters deal with Shevek growing up on Anarres, becoming a top scientist … only to discover the utopian anarchy suffers from a lack of innovation, maintaining the status quo with social norms.
Having no chance to develop his theory on Anarres, Shevek travels to capitalist Urras, where science is much more developed and he is treated as a hero. But he soon finds out the regime was simply trying to take advantage of him and use his theories for economic and military benefit. He makes his discoveries available to everyone and escapes back to Anarres.
Anarchy, an Ambiguous Utopia
Ursula Le Guin may seem to be promoting a credible anarchist utopia. Especially to the progressive liberal audience, she was influenced by and also influential to. As an antidote to the excesses of a capitalist system. But here opposing systems are not perfect.
- Anarres is stuck in a form of religious devotion to the system that there is no development. Most people are also quite miserable.
- Urras looks much more like a fascist state than a capitalist utopia.
It is not clear if Le Guin was straw-manning the capitalist system or if she attempted an analysis of the concept of freedom.
‘To make a thief, make an owner; to create crime, create laws.’ –Odian Teaching
“You can’t crush ideas by suppressing them. You can only crush them by ignoring them. By refusing to think, refusing to change.” –Argument against Anarres’s Anarchy
It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced.
We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. There is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. The hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is.
You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give. –Shevek
The mimetics of behavior
A young Shevek and his friends are uncertain of how to make a “real” prison and grasp at approximations of one as they play at incarcerating one another. The scenario plays similar to the Standford experiment.
As some of the play guardians started to display masochistic behavior, Shevek noticed:
“At first we were playing a game, but now the game plays us.”
From the book:-
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin