"The Ones Who Set Fire to Omelas"
When I first read the story
of the perfect city with
the hideous foundation,
I was most taken by the fact
that nobody tried to change it.
Now and then they come,
visitors to see the scapegoat
upon whose misery their joy depends.
There were only two paths
in the tale of Omelas:
to live in the city or
to walk away from it.
They look, and are appalled.
They go home, or they turn away.
So it has always been, so it will always be.
So it would seem.
The teacher asked each of us
what we would do if we
lived in Omelas.
The woman who comes to the door today
is very beautiful, her brown skin made up
with rich colors and her eyelids gilded.
Her gown is blue. Her robe is red.
Hoops of heavy gold hang from her ears.
She looks at the sniveling child in the tool room.
It is forbidden to speak or to give comfort of any kind.
So she pushes the sole guard from his chair
to club him with it until the wooden legs break
and he lies motionless on the floor.
I said that I would stop it.
I would break the scapegoat
out of the prison, walk to the gates
pouring accelerant as I went,
and throw a match behind me.
My classmates were appalled.
The teacher, knowing me,
was quietly amused.
The woman walks into the desert,
her bare brown feet leaving prints
in the dust as she steps over
the golden sparks raining
from the sky above.
Ahead of her, the scapegoat
scampers toward the distant hills,
frantic to escape the destruction
that one woman has brought about.
Behind her, the fires roar
like a pride of lions.
* * *
"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" is a famous science fiction story.
This allegory explores the idea that civilization is based on exploitation, and how that affects our conceptualization of social evolution.
Activists refuse to tolerate the intolerable parts of civilization. Instead they work for human rights, fair trade, and other principles that make life actually worth living. Because nobody should have to be the scapegoat in the basement, or have to subsist based on someone else's suffering. Here, have some matches.