"incentives" and The Dispossessed

Lisa Rogers eqwq.lrogers at email.state.ut.us
Fri Sep 29 13:26:26 MDT 1995

Ursula K. Le Guin's _The Dispossessed_ was recommended by someone on
this list, as an exploration of socialism in a [science] fiction
novel.  I'm about half-way through it, and enjoying it very much. 
(Even my "light" reading is serious stuff lately.  Steve, I checked
out that calculus book, but Ursula is a bit more engaging at the

In another solar system, communists formed a large movement within a
fammiliar-looking capitalist society, but they were all sent to the
habitable moon/co-planet, rather than being exterminated.  

Seven generations later, one scientist goes back to Urras [Earth] and
is shown about by his colleagues and guides, sight-seeing in one of
the dominant/wealthy countries of Urras.

"He had been taught as a child that Urras was a festering mass of
inequity, iniquity, and waste.  But all the people he met, and all
the people he saw, in the smallest country village, were well
dressed, well fed, and, contrary to his expectations, industrious. 
They did not stand about sullenly waiting to be ordered to do things.
Just like the Anarresti [moon-dwellers], they were simply busy
getting things done.  It puzzled him.  He had assumed that if you
removed a human being's natural incentive to work - his [sic]
initiative, his [sic] spontaneous creative energy - and replaced it
with external motivation and coercion, he [sic] would become a lazy
and careless worker.  But no careless workers kept those lovely
farmlands, or made the superb cars and comfortable trains.  The lure
and compulsion of *profit* was evidently a much more effective
replacement of the natural initiative than he had been led to
believe."  (Emphasis in original)

Of course, he doesn't know the whole truth yet, but there is a point
to this partial truth, which came up on list recently in talk about
TV and artistry/lack thereof.  Sometimes, even under capitalism, one
can get money for work and still use initiative and creativity at the
same time.  And under socialism, there is still work to be done that
few will find rewarding in itself.  Of course, if one gets decent pay
and human respect, and even job sharing/rotation, it is probably
easier to put one's mind and body into any job that would be
otherwise unattractive.

Lisa Rogers

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