Lessons from “Omelas”
Chapter 12 explores Ursula K. Le Guin’s famous 1973 science-fiction short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” which describes a picturesque utopian paradise and the dystopian bargain necessary to maintain it. The great happiness of the citizens of Omelas is premised on the continuous and abject suffering of a “feebleminded” child who lives alone in a basement. Most Omelans submit to this horrifying bargain with a sense of resignation, but each year a few who can no longer tolerate the bargain walk into the darkness and “do not come back.” Mohamed and Murray compare this story to what the criminal law says about those who attempt to walk away from group criminality. The legal defense of renunciation or abandonment for crimes such as conspiracy requires an active thwarting of the crime, which may underestimate the difficulty of extracting oneself from an environment of pervasive wrongdoing.
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