Intellectually Dispossessed

By | January 9, 2010

Ursula K. Le Guin is, or had been, one of my favourite authors. In 1974, she published an excellent thought experiment, set in a science fiction setting, titled, “The Dispossessed.” The book discusses a group of people who built a culture and society around the idea of non-possession; nothing belonged to anyone. People lived in whichever house was vacant, people worked together to feed and shelter themselves. Their language did not include concepts of “my” or “mine,” and their children were raised by the community at large.

In some ways, “The Dispossessed” picks up where Richard Stallman’s Short Story, The Right To Read, published 23 years later, left off. The similarity is striking, yet the current stance of the two authors is startlingly different.

“The Dispossessed,” was a masterpiece, yet it is only one of several books Le Guin has written that seem to support cultures of freedom and creativity. I always believed this author was one who supported freedom and creativity.

Apparently, her works are fiction after all.

In December, 2009 Ursula K. Le Guin resigned from the Author’s Guild due to their settlement with Google on their book scanning policies.

I question how a woman who so clearly understood and documented the benefits of “dispossession” could now be in favour of intellectual property and copyrights. How could she write such an innovative novel, one that she apparently believed in, and yet, now that the world she describes is within reach, she fights it?

Yes, the culture described in Le Guin’s 1970s-era book is similar to a culture the open source and creative commons movements are now so effectively living. Her dream, nearly forty years later, is now becoming a reality.

I’m not sure what has changed in the decades since The Dispossessed was originally written and published, but I would like Ms. Le Guin to reconsider her stance, to study these new movements. Please, ask Lawrence Lessig to explain his views. Most importantly, I sincerely encourage her to publish her next work under a creative commons license. I think she’ll find that she will profit, rather than lose, from such a venture.

One thought on “Intellectually Dispossessed

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    A mature utopist understands his utopia is always a skyline and that in the world you do what you can do, assuming the force of history. In an utopia like Le Guin’s, there’s a social contract that makes property a taboo. But in our world, google isn’t about dispossession, but appropriation (since it’s capitalistic). I’d say that right now, she’s got her credo about google being the devil (since they’re pretending to free knowlege while really trying to make a private profit off it) and she’s fighting a war and using copyright law as a weapon.


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