Whenever we give a report, draw an inference or make a judgment, we…

Whenever we give a report, draw an inference or make a judgment, we deal with different kinds of beliefs. A report is a belief which describes the world in factual terms—i.e., ways that can be verified through investigation. An inference is a belief that describes the world by going beyond the facts; it takes factual information into account and then ventures an educated guess. A judgment is a belief that describes the world by making an evaluation that is based on specifiable criteria. We use all three types of belief in spoken and written discourse, but we do not always label them distinctly. Given that all three belief types bear a different relation to verifiable fact, this can lead to confusion. Consequently, it is important to be able to distinguish between reports, inferences and judgments when they appear in spoken and written discourse. Beliefs often inform our senses of morality and ethics, and it’s important to become aware of the ethical principles by which we operate, as well as the fact that sometimes those principles derive from sources that are worthy of questioning or critique. In addition, two major ethical systems it behooves us to be at least somewhat familiar with are utilitarianism and Kantianism.
Reporting A Fact
The first belief derived from Edwards’ experience. Edwards attended music school as an undergraduate, where she studied piano performance. At school, she had been acquainted with fellow students who were studying classical guitar. From her acquaintance with classical guitar students, Edwards knew that classical guitar study involves an exacting regimen concerning fingernails, such that players put a lot of time and care into filing their nails. Performers are required to cultivate long, sharply pointed nails on one hand and short, closely trimmed nails on the other. This is a function of the performance style and tradition: Classical guitar players do not use guitar picks to produce sound; they pluck the strings of the instrument with their bare fingernails. So the practice is to keep the nails long and pointy on the hand which plucks the strings, while keeping the nails short and stubby on the hand that plays the notes on the neck.
Based on this experience, Edwards had formulated, quite reasonably, the following belief: Classical guitar technique requires those who study it to cultivate long, well-filed nails on one hand and short, closely-trimmed nails on the other. Note that this belief refers to something that can be verified through investigation. One could, for instance, look at instruction manuals on classical guitar, or survey students of the art, to determine if the belief is factually accurate. This sort of belief, which describes “the world in ways that can be verified through investigation,” is called a report (Chaffee p. 165).
Going further, Edwards had turned this factually verifiable belief about classical guitar technique into a general rule: People who keep their fingernails long and sharp on one hand and short and stubby on the other are probably classical guitar players.
Drawing An Inference
Edwards then applied this general rule to the particular case of the man at the meeting. She also made an assumption, based on observations about the man’s appearance, that he might be an artist of some sort. In Edwards’ thinking, this assumption increased the likelihood that the general rule applied in this case. So she formed the belief that the man seated next to her was quite probably a classical guitar player.
This sort of belief is different from a report. It describes “the world in ways that are based on factual information” but which go “beyond this information to make statements about what is not currently known” (165). This kind of belief is called an inference .
When speaking of inferential thinking, we often use the metaphor of drawing, as in, “All the lights were out, so I drew the conclusion that you weren’t home.” This metaphor of drawing is apt, because inferential thinking requires us to add something to the facts, to be a bit imaginative. We take certain verifiable facts into account, but then we project beyond them, tracing out what we think the facts imply.
This “imaginative factor” can also lead us to draw inferences that are quite wrong. What if the lights are out, not because no one is home, but because a fuse has blown? We have to be careful in drawing inferences and mindful of their tentative status, relative to fact.
Returning to Jane Edwards’ inference, she could have been wrong. It’s certainly not the case that everyone who sports long nails on one hand and short nails on the other must be a classical guitar player. This is to say that the general rule Edwards formulated is not absolute. It does not speak of all people; rather, it states a probability. Nor is it the case that all artists sport distinctive hairdos and footwear, or that such accoutrements necessarily equate with being “artistic.” (In fact, this assumption may involve a dubious stereotype.)
Making A Judgment
Finally, there is Edwards’ closing comment: “I felt like Sherlock Holmes.” Sherlock Holmes is, of course, the fictional sleuth whose adventures, as recounted in the short stories of Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), have thrilled generations. In stories such as “A Study in Scarlet” (see Chaffee, pp. 173-4), Holmes is portrayed as the world’s greatest detective, an investigative genius able to solve the most baffling puzzles and crimes. Holmes continually astonishes other characters with his “powers of deduction,” a term which basically means his ability to observe a situation and draw minutely accurate inferences where others see little or nothing of significance. (On the topic of “deduction,” we will have more to say in coming modules.)
In saying “I felt like Sherlock Holmes,” Edwards is voicing a third kind of belief, a judgment. A judgment describes “the world in ways that express an evaluation based on certain criteria” (Chaffee 165). Edwards has, in effect, evaluated her performance at drawing inferences and has determined that, in this case, she measures up to the high standards of Holmes. To reach this judgment, Edwards has applied certain criteria. She doesn’t explicitly describe those criteria (and indeed, her comment is meant partly in jest, since no ordinary person could ever really match the virtually superhuman Holmes). But, from Edwards’ anecdote and our knowledge of Sherlock Holmes, we might infer those criteria to be as follows: To “feel like Sherlock Holmes,” a person must a) possess the ability to draw inferences based on close observation; b) apply that ability by drawing a specific inference and announcing it boldly; and c) see the accuracy of that inference confirmed in public. (It also helps if you can make everyone gasp at the uncanny quality of your insight.)
To sum up:
A report is a belief that describes the world in terms that are factually verifiable.
An inference is a belief that takes facts into account, but which ventures beyond them.
A judgment is a belief that states “an evaluation based on certain criteria” (Chaffee 153).
Reading a Paragraph for Reports, Inferences and Judgments
To further explore the processes of reporting, inferring and judging, let’s look at the following paragraph by Naomi Wolf, which originally appeared in the nonfiction bestseller The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women , published in 1991. Wolf’s paragraph is part of a much longer discussion of the prevalence among young American women of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Wolf begins by citing statistics provided by the American Anorexia and Bulimia Association:
Each year, according to the association, 150,000 American women die of anorexia. If so, every twelve months there are 17,024 more deaths in the United States alone than the total number of deaths from AIDS tabulated by the World Health Organization in 177 countries and territories from the beginning of the epidemic until the end of 1988; if so, more die of anorexia in the United States each year than died in ten years of civil war in Beirut. Beirut has long been front-page news. As criminally neglectful as media coverage of the AIDS epidemic has been, it still dwarfs that of anorexia; so it appears that the bedrock question—why must Western women go hungry—is one too dangerous to ask even in the face of a death toll such as this. (“Hunger” 187)
Wolf’s paragraph contains all three of the belief types we’re concerned with in this module. Let’s examine it closely and carefully, trying to distinguish where Wolf is giving a report , where she is drawing an inference and where she is making a judgment . We’ll also note some basic procedures one should use when trying to determine the quality or reliability of a given report, inference or judgment.
The first sentence states a report , which is to say it makes a claim about facts which can be verified through investigation: “Each year. . .150,000 American women die of anorexia.” Either this statistic is accurate or it is not, and we can imagine investigative procedures (e.g., medical surveys) by which we might confirm or deny its accuracy. Note that the statistic has not been generated by Wolf herself. The phrase “according to. . .” tells us that the source of the information is someone other than the writer.
When dealing with a report, a critical thinker strives to identify the basis of the report and evaluate its source. Regarding the basis of this report, there are reasonable inquiries one could make about the information-gathering procedures which produced the numbers. (We will consider questions about surveys and statistical sampling procedures in module 5.) A critical thinker also strives to evaluate the source of a report. On this point, web information posted by the American Anorexia and Bulimia Association—which, since 1991, has become part of the National Eating Disorders Association—shows it to be a not-for-profit institution with a record of peer-reviewed research projects and a Research Board composed of numerous MDs and PhDs. Such credentials suggest the association is a serious and reliable source.
When a writer or speaker uses a phrase like “if so”—as Wolf does in the next two sentences—a critical thinker pays particular attention, because such a phrase signals that an inference is coming. As Chaffee observes, “Our language has an entire collection of terms ( seems, appears, is likely, and so on) that signal when we are making an inference and not expressing an observable fact” (143-4). An inference, we have noted, is a belief which takes facts into account but which ventures beyond them. With the phrase “if so,” Wolf is in effect saying, “Given these facts, we can say something more.” What she then has to say requires some unpacking. She refers to some other numbers without directly stating them. These statistics concern the number of deaths, worldwide, from AIDS in the period 1988 to 1991, and the number of casualties from a decade of war in the Middle Eastern nation of Lebanon. Wolf suggests that if we compare the anorexia statistics to these other statistics, we will find that the number of anorexia deaths occurring in a single twelve month period is significantly larger.
In addition to helping us identify an inference, the phrase “if so” also indicates that what’s being stated is not a certainty but a probability. In effect, Wolf is saying, ” If we assume that the association’s statistics are accurate, then certain things might be said to follow.” The writer thus avoids stating an absolute claim and sounding dogmatic. Moreover, “if so” provides wiggle room for Wolf to frame her discussion in unexpected ways. For example, in discussions of eating disorders, it’s not standard practice to bring up the war in Lebanon. Wolf surprises us by placing anorexia on the same plane as a viral pandemic and a modern civil war.
The inference: The anorexia problem is, in certain respects, comparable to the war in Lebanon or the AIDS pandemic. Now, a critical thinker might question the likelihood of this claim. Certainly the mass media have not given anorexia anything like the coverage that has been given to the other two crises. But, argues Wolf, if we look at the problem through a different lens than the one provided by mass media—i.e., the lens provided by death-statistics—we see that the comparison is reasonable.
Finally, Wolf states a judgment about this lack of media coverage. Our model critical thinker, when confronted with a judgment, strives to discern the support for it. Wolf provides support in the form of a report, claiming that there has been paltry media coverage of the AIDS crisis, and even less of the anorexia problem. This is a claim about quantity of media coverage and, as such, it could be affirmed or denied by factual investigation. Communications scholars have developed intricate methods for measuring the amount of coverage journalists give to a specific issue. Without pausing to verify that report—she assumes the point is common knowledge–Wolf transforms it into a judgment: Media coverage of the two crises has not just been paltry, it has been “criminally neglectful” (187).
Of course, Wolf is not speaking literally here. There are no legal statues under which journalists can be prosecuted for “neglect” of an issue. Wolf is instead speaking figuratively, using a non-literal comparison to make a dramatic point: i.e., the behavior of media around these issues is analogous to the crime of willful neglect. A critical thinker would pause over this analogy and ask whether it seems fitting. Is there a clear equation between, say, journalists who do not cover an issue and parents who abuse their children?
In addition, when considering a judgment, a critical thinker strives to understand the criteria informing it. (Indeed, writers and speakers who state judgments need to make their criteria clear; simply stating a judgment without clarifying criteria is not enough.) The criteria informing this judgment by Wolf are not explicitly spelled out, but the implication is straightforward: Media have an obligation to cover issues of grave public concern. When media do not cover such issues, they fail to meet this obligation. That failure amounts to criminal neglect. In short, by failing to cover these issues, the media become accomplices in these deaths.
Wolf finishes up with another inference: Given the fact that anorexia has received even less coverage than the little-covered AIDS crisis, we can infer that the fundamental question—”why must Western women go hungry?”-is simply “too dangerous to ask” (187). Given that each of us has the power to ask such a question, this last claim subtly indicts us all. With such a gesture, Wolf means to shock her audience out of its complacency. The implicit exhortation, directed at all her readers, is: “Are you going to let the silence continue? Are you going to sit by and let this go on?”
Ethics Matters
Lastly, in this module, we have a set of brief readings – and a Discussion question – about the complex but vitally important topic of ethics. In his pages 370-381, Chaffee gives a thorough survey of this topic and its implications for critically thoughtful people today. In the course of that survey, Chaffee notes that while most (if not all of us) have a sense of ethics or morality (Chaffee explains that the two words often mean the same thing), relatively few of us have reflected upon where we got that sense of ethics and whether, once it is reflected upon, it can stand up to critical scrutiny. A good way to get a “read” on one’s (perhaps unconscious) ethical sense is to perform, mentally, the exercise Chaffee outlines in his pp. 381-383, concerning moral dilemmas. What would you do in the Lifeboat situation? What would you do in the Whistleblower situation? Are the two approaches you take the same, similar, or different from each other?
Chafee also notes that few people today are aware of the range and depth — or even the existence – of ethical systems that have been developed by philosophers in the past. We’re going to rectify that situation a bit in Module 4 here by becoming at least moderately familiar with two such ethical systems – utilitarianism and Kantianism (the latter system being named after its developer, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant).
We have two short but pithy readings on each system:
–“Calculating Consequences: The Utilitarian Approach to Ethics,” from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University; and
— Sirotkin, “Kantianism > Utilitarianism,” from Emory University.
Those two short readings should be your guide in understanding these two contrasting ethical systems, but let me point up a few highlights:
Utilitarian Ethics
Utilitarianism may have a fancy-sounding name, but it’s actually an approach to decision-making most of us are familiar with. Whenever we approach a possible action or potential problem in terms of costs and benefits, we’re in the realm of utilitarian thinking. Ethically speaking, utilitarianism is a consequentialist system, which means that it concentrates on the consequences of a given decision or action. Utilitarian thinking typically revolves around questions such as, “What action (or decision) will result in the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people?”; or “”What action (or decision) will result in the greatest good for the greatest number of people?” Both we as individuals and highly-placed people with power employ this approach to issues quite regularly.
As we learn in the reading though, there can be problems with utilitarian ethical approaches. These include the question of how we define abstract, ambiguous terms such as “happiness” or “good,” as well as the further question of who gets to define those terms. In addition, thinking strictly in terms of benefits that will accrue to the greatest number of people can mean that the rights of individuals or minorities (i.e., those who are not part of “the greatest number”) can be ignored or trampled.
Kantian Ethics
Regarding Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), this towering thinker formulated his ethics partly in response to what he saw as the problems with utilitarianism. Unlike utilitarian ethics, Kantian ethics focuses not on the consequences of actions, but rather on the actions themselves and the intent behind them and, in particular, whether a given action fits with what Kant argued were basic, universal rules. Thus, according to Kant, we should only take an action or decision if we could comfortably assent to everyone else in the world behaving in the same manner. As our reading points out, this is very similar to the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you – but it does not require a religious foundation. (Both utilitarianism and Kantian ethics were chiefly developed during the period of European history called the Enlightenment, when the authority of religion – which had previously been the source and guarantor of ethics for most people – began to be undermined by the discoveries of science.) Kant would argue that this idea – i.e., commit only those actions that you could live with if they were also committed by everyone else – is simply common sense. At least it’s common sense if we agree that all human beings are equal in that they are all rational actors and all centers of value, simply by virtue of their being human. (This ethical rule is sometimes called “the categorical imperative.”) Chiming with this vision is what our reading describes as Kant’s “Formula of the End in Itself.” This boils down to Kant’s assertion that, because of their rational nature and inviolable individuality, other human beings should always be treated by us as ends-in-themselves, and never as mere means to an end.
We’ll have the opportunity to explore these ideas further in the week’s Discussion.
Summary
Whenever we give a report, draw an inference or make a judgment, we deal with different kinds of beliefs. A report is a belief which describes the world in factual terms—i.e., ways that can be verified through investigation. An inference is a belief that describes the world by going beyond the facts; it takes factual information into account and then ventures an educated guess. A judgment is a belief that describes the world by making an evaluation that is based on specifiable criteria. We use all three types of belief in spoken and written discourse, but we do not always label them distinctly. Given that all three belief types bear a different relation to verifiable fact, this can lead to confusion. Consequently, it is important to be able to distinguish between reports, inferences and judgments when they appear in spoken and written discourse.
The system of ethics known as utilitarianism is a “consequentialist” system because it concentrates on the consequences of a given action or decision. Utilitarianism often sees as desirable whatever action or decision will produce the greatest good, not for everybody, but for the greatest number of people. By contrast, Kantian ethics, developed by philosopher Immanuel Kant, looks not at the consequences of an act or decision but rather at whether it fits with certain basic, universal rules, such as: a person should commit only those actions that she/he could live with if they were also committed by everyone else. This Kantian idea is sometimes called “the categorical imperative.”
First, be sure you have read the section Ethics Matters as well as the two Additional Required Readings highlighted there. Now, please read our final Additional Required Reading, the very short story by the great American fiction writer Ursula K. Leguin, “Those Who Walk Away from Omelas.”
Once you’ve read Leguin, respond to the following:
–What is the tradeoff the society of Omelas has decided to make? Can you describe that tradeoff in ethical terms?
–Are you comfortable with a society whose functioning depends on such a tradeoff?
–Finally, consider our own society, where we make tradeoffs all the time (though we rarely think about some of them). For example, our society is, in major respects, built around the automobile and what it enables us to do. Yet by simply having automobiles, roads and highways in the quantities that we do, we effectively guarantee that 32,000 people will die in car wrecks every year (CDC). Do you think that’s a tradeoff worth making? Why or why not? And do you think that tradeoff is comparable to the one made by the citizens of Omelas? Why or why not?
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas From The Wind’s Twelve Quarters: Short Stories by Ursula Le Guin With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The rigging of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags. In the streets between houses with red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public buildings, processions moved. Some were decorous: old people in long stiff robes of mauve and grey, grave master workmen, quiet, merry women carrying their babies and chatting as they walked. In other streets the music beat faster, a shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dancing, the procession was a dance. Children dodged in and out, their high calls rising like the swallows’ crossing flights, over the music and the singing. All the processions wound towards the north side of the city, where on the great water-meadow called the Green’ Fields boys and girls, naked in the bright air, with mudstained feet and ankles and long, lithe arms, exercised their restive horses before the race. The horses wore no gear at all but a halter without bit. Their manes were braided with streamers of silver, gold, and green. They flared their nostrils and pranced and boasted to one another; they were vastly excited, the horse being the only animal who has adopted our ceremonies as his own. Far off to the north and west the mountains stood up half encircling Omelas on her bay. The air of morning was so clear that the snow still crowning the Eighteen Peaks burned with white-gold fire across the miles of sunlit air, under the dark blue of the sky. There was just enough wind to make the banners that marked the racecourse snap and flutter now and then. In the silence of the broad green meadows one could hear the music winding through the city streets, farther and nearer and ever approaching, a cheerful faint sweetness of the air that from time to time trembled and gathered together and broke out into the great joyous clanging of the bells. Joyous! How is one to tell about joy? How describe the citizens of Omelas? They were not simple folk, you see, though they were happy. But we do not say the words of cheer much any more. All smiles have become archaic. Given a description such as this one tends to make certain assumptions. Given a description such as this one tends to look next for the King, mounted on a splendid stallion and surrounded by his noble knights, or perhaps in a golden litter borne by great-muscled slaves. But there was no king. They did not use swords, or keep slaves. They were not barbarians. I do not know the rules and laws of their society, but I suspect that they were singularly few. As they did without monarchy and slavery, so they also got on without the stock exchange, the advertisement, the secret police, and the bomb. Yet I repeat that these were not simple folk, not dulcet shepherds, noble savages, bland utopians. They were not less complex than us. The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any celebration of joy. How can I tell you about the people of Omelas? They were not naive and happy children – though their children were, in fact, happy. They were mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives were not wretched. O miracle! but I wish I could describe it better. I wish I could convince you. Omelas sounds in my words like a city in a fairy tale, long ago and far away, once upon a time. Perhaps it would be best if you imagined it as your own fancy bids, assuming it will rise to the occasion, for certainly I cannot suit you all. For instance, how about technology? I think that there would be no cars or helicopters in and above the streets; this follows from the fact that the people of Omelas are happy people. Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive. In the middle category, however – that of the unnecessary but undestructive, that of comfort, luxury, exuberance, etc. — they could perfectly well have central heating, subway trains,. washing machines, and all kinds of marvelous devices not yet invented here, floating light-sources, fuelless power, a cure for the common cold. Or they could have none of that: it doesn’t matter. As you like it. I incline to think that people from towns up and down the coast have been coming in to Omelas during the last days before the Festival on very fast little trains and double-decked trams, and that the train station of Omelas is actually the handsomest building in town, though plainer than the magnificent Farmers’ Market. But even granted trains, I fear that Omelas so far strikes some of you as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. If so, please add an orgy. If an orgy would help, don’t hesitate. Let us not, however, have temples from which issue beautiful nude priests and priestesses already half in ecstasy and ready to copulate with any man or woman, lover or stranger who desires union with the deep godhead of the blood, although that was my first idea. But really it would be better not to have any temples in Omelas – at least, not manned temples. Religion yes, clergy no. Surely the beautiful nudes can just wander about, offering themselves like divine souffles to the hunger of the needy and the rapture of the flesh. Let them join the processions. Let tambourines be struck above the copulations, and the glory of desire be proclaimed upon the gongs, and (a not unimportant point) let the offspring of these delightful rituals be beloved and looked after by all. One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt. But what else should there be? I thought at first there were no drugs, but that is puritanical. For those who like it, the faint insistent sweetness of drooz may perfume the ways of the city, drooz which first brings a great lightness and brilliance to the mind and limbs, and then after some hours a dreamy languor, and wonderful visions at last of the very arcana and inmost secrets of the Universe, as well as exciting the pleasure of sex beyond all belief; and it is not habit-forming. For more modest tastes I think there ought to be beer. What else, what else belongs in the joyous city? The sense of victory, surely, the celebration of courage. But as we did without clergy, let us do without soldiers. The joy built upon successful slaughter is not the right kind of joy; it will not do; it is fearful and it is trivial. A boundless and generous contentment, a magnanimous triumph felt not against some outer enemy but in communion with the finest and fairest in the souls of all men everywhere and the splendor of the world’s summer; this is what swells the hearts of the people of Omelas, and the victory they celebrate is that of life. I really don’t think many of them need to take drooz. Most of the processions have reached the Green Fields by now. A marvelous smell of cooking goes forth from the red and blue tents of the provisioners. The faces of small children are amiably sticky; in the benign grey beard of a man a couple of crumbs of rich pastry are entangled. The youths and girls have mounted their horses and are beginning to group around the starting line of the course. An old woman, small, fat, and laughing, is passing out flowers from a basket, and tall young men, wear her flowers in their shining hair. A child of nine or ten sits at the edge of the crowd, alone, playing on a wooden flute. People pause to listen, and they smile, but they do not speak to him, for he never ceases playing and never sees them, his dark eyes wholly rapt in the sweet, thin magic of the tune. He finishes, and slowly lowers his hands holding the wooden flute. As if that little private silence were the signal, all at once a trumpet sounds from the pavilion near the starting line: imperious, melancholy, piercing. The horses rear on their slender legs, and some of them neigh in answer. Sober-faced, the young riders stroke the horses’ necks and soothe them, whispering, “Quiet, quiet, there my beauty, my hope. . . .” They begin to form in rank along the starting line. The crowds along the racecourse are like a field of grass and flowers in the wind. The Festival of Summer has begun. Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No? Then let me describe one more thing. In a basement under one of the beautiful public buildings of Omelas, or perhaps in the cellar of one of its spacious private homes, there is a room. It has one locked door, and no window. A little light seeps in dustily between cracks in the boards, secondhand from a cobwebbed window somewhere across the cellar. In one corner of the little room a couple of mops, with stiff, clotted, foul-smelling heads, stand near a rusty bucket. The floor is dirt, a little damp to the touch, as cellar dirt usually is. The room is about three paces long and two wide: a mere broom closet or disused tool room. In the room a child is sitting. It could be a boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect. It picks its nose and occasionally fumbles vaguely with its toes or genitals, as it sits haunched in the corner farthest from the bucket and the two mops. It is afraid of the mops. It finds them horrible. It shuts its eyes, but it knows the mops are still standing there; and the door is locked; and nobody will come. The door is always locked; and nobody ever comes, except that sometimes-the child has no understanding of time or interval – sometimes the door rattles terribly and opens, and a person, or several people, are there. One of them may come and kick the child to make it stand up. The others never come close, but peer in at it with frightened, disgusted eyes. The food bowl and the water jug are hastily filled, the door is locked, the eyes disappear. The people at the door never say anything, but the child, who has not always lived in the tool room, and can remember sunlight and its mother’s voice, sometimes speaks. “I will be good,” it says. “Please let me out. I will be good!” They never answer. The child used to scream for help at night, and cry a good deal, but now it only makes a kind of whining, “eh-haa, eh-haa,” and it speaks less and less often. It is so thin there are no calves to its legs; its belly protrudes; it lives on a half-bowl of corn meal and grease a day. It is naked. Its buttocks and thighs are a mass of festered sores, as it sits in its own excrement continually. They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery. This is usually explained to children when they are between eight and twelve, whenever they seem capable of understanding; and most of those who come to see the child are young people, though often enough an adult comes, or comes back, to see the child. No matter how well the matter has been explained to them, these young spectators are always shocked and sickened at the sight. They feel disgust, which they had thought themselves superior to. They feel anger, outrage, impotence, despite all the explanations. They would like to do something for the child. But there is nothing they can do. If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. Those are the terms. To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed. The terms are strict and absolute; there may not even be a kind word spoken to the child. Often the young people go home in tears, or in a tearless rage, when they have seen the child and faced this terrible paradox. They may brood over it for weeks or years. But as time goes on they begin to realize that even if the child could be released, it would not get much good of its freedom: a little vague pleasure of warmth and food, no doubt, but little more. It is too degraded and imbecile to know any real joy. It has been afraid too long ever to be free of fear. Its habits are too uncouth for it to respond to humane treatment. Indeed, after so long it would probably be wretched without walls about it to protect it, and darkness for its eyes, and its own excrement to sit in. Their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it. Yet it is their tears and anger, the trying of their generosity and the acceptance of their helplessness, which are perhaps the true source of the splendor of their lives. Theirs is no vapid, irresponsible happiness. They know that they, like the child, are not free. They know compassion. It is the existence of the child, and their knowledge of its existence, that makes possible the nobility of their architecture, the poignancy of their music, the profundity of their science. It is because of the child that they are so gentle with children. They know that if the wretched one were not there snivelling in the dark, the other one, the flute-player, could make no joyful music as the young riders line up in their beauty for the race in the sunlight of the first morning of summer. Now do you believe in them? Are they not more credible? But there is one more thing to tell, and this is quite incredible. At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go to see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or woman much older falls silent for a day or two, and then leaves home. These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl man or woman. Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

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