The dispossessed (Ursula K. LeGuin, 1974)


The dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin (1974).

Score: Excellent.

Absolutely brilliant and a must-read for everyone who is at the least interested in politics. Both critical and constructively critical with both sides, or I like to think that. The use of the two entwining timelines serves the storytelling just right and the plot and characters are easy and enjoyable to follow without being obvious.

The dispossessed tells the story of a system with two twin planets. Urras is a planet with a laissez-faire capitalist system like any you can think of, where there happens to be an anarchist revolution that ends when every supporter of this revolution is sent to the other planet, Anarres, where they are allowed to build an anarchist society the way they please. The story starts when, after almost two hundred years, Shevek, an Anarresti scientist, decides to contact Urras for the first time.

Probably the only thing worth criticism is how Anarres is sometimes underdeveloped as a utopia, in the way that it basically works like a capitalist state but just with the addition that there is no law, no property and no money, but LeGuin never addresses fully how it’s achieved. I was mostly concerned with the issue with lack and surplus of resources, one of the most important cons of controlled economy, and I don’t know enough economy to say if even with a network of supercomputers it could be done, so I’m unable to tell if this is a case of ‘a wizard did it’ or you’re supposed to actually take it seriously as an argument towards anarchy/socialism. They do have private property, mind you. And Shevek is quite zealous of his intellectual property, that is, until he understands the hard way that it’s also an instrument of power.
It’s kind of creepy when you see that Anarresti are basically slaves of each other that have been indoctrinated into believing they are happy being slaves, and convinced that they do what they do because they want to but not because they’re being coerced into it by the whole social body: every time someone feels like doing something that falls out of the social organism’s plans they are reproached for egoizing. But in the end Shevek (and LeGuin, I guess) choose that slavery over the guilt of eating when someone is starving. I would never. I suppose I’m too selfish to be an anarchist.

Anyway, Shevek is perfectly aware that the system he believes in is flawed but he still wants to fight for it. Probably what I liked the least was that even though Anarres and Urras are constantly compared and contrasted there is no such feeling for Urras. Shevek is thoroughly disgusted with capitalism and luxury, he is in fact jealous of Urrasti for the wealth they hold and that he feels they don’t deserve, and at no time he has this feeling that people could work to make Urras a better place. However, there are good lessons to be learned from this book by libertarians, even if Shevek feels no sympathy for them.

Bonus: It’s the book where they invent the Ansible!

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