The Cost of Happiness?
Should the happiness of the majority be allowed if the minority pays the price? A common saying in a democratic society is that, “majority rules,” the majority makes the rules and the minority must follow them. In America, we have a slightly different structure and belief system compared to a purely democratic society: we have laws that agree with the majority, but at the same time keep minorities equal. In the story of Omelas, they solely follow the majority’s wishes, even at the expense of the minority. The child suffers for the city’s happiness and the citizens of Omelas have accepted that reality. While on the other hand, there are a small amount of ex-citizens who choose to leave because the price the child pays is too great for them to bare. This raises the moral dilemma of whether or not it is morally right to allow the majority’s happiness to come at the sacrifice of the minority. If I was a citizen in Omelas, I would stay because it shows my responsibility to the common good.
Utilitarianism in more recent human history, has been put under a lot of criticism. But, I believe that a mentality that favors the majority should be followed in a society. The greater good is always superior. The citizens of Omelas are put in a lose-lose situation, in the sense that everyone can be happy at the expense of child, or the city can lose its glory so that child can experience a little bit of joy. While a morally tough decision, I believe that it is necessary to put those morals aside so that the majority, 99%, can continue living their lives in happiness. It ultimately would be irresponsible and pointless for the Omelans to sacrifice everything at the expense of one.
The majority will always do what is the most advantageous for them, this includes seizing power. History contains a fair amount of examples where the minority took advantage of the majority, a more recent example would be the Sunnis’ political domination over the majority Shia muslims in Iraq. While, this is no longer the case, Sunnis originally oppressed Shia muslims because Saddam Hussein controlled Iraq with an iron fist. Eventually, Saddam Hussein would be overthrown by the United States’ coalition, and the majority Shia would take back power. While, releasing the child is not an option in Omelas, I do not believe leaving would be advantageous or make a statement that would ultimately change the situation in Omelas. If the child was released, another would be put back in its place because the majority would take back power and want their happiness back.
Deontologist believe in the opposite, it violates Kant’s principle that people should never be used as a means to an end. This is a strong moral statement and is quite popular in the modern era. This is understandable because an example of utilitarian mindset, according to my History 1 professor Peg Lamphier, would be the South’s older mentality to believe that slavery helped Africans because at their core they were dumb and lazy savages who would starve to death without being forced into slave labor. Events and time periods such as this has painted a bad name for utilitarianism. Deontologist also believe that utilitarianism disregards the importance of motives. They believe just because something produced a good output, does not mean that the action should have been taken. In regard to Omelas, deontologist believe that forcing the acceptance of the lesser of two evils prevents people from ultimately pursuing the good.
Given the two options of either leaving or staying in Omelas, deontologist would leave. This is mostly due to the concern that a human being is used as a means to an end. Personally, I do find this a difficult idea to swallow, but the Omelans would be selfish to do elsewise. In class we discussed the indians example, where we can kill one indian to save the other nine, but if we were to do this the practice would continue. But, in the long run, I do not believe making a statement to the king would benefit these indians. Ten dead people is ten dead people. You weaken the numbers that can resist this tyrannical king, and most likely enrage the king to kill off more. Standing up for your morals is a respectable action, but results speak louder than motives.
Omelans will never give up their happiness in exchange so that one child will be able to see the light of day. The statement a deontologist makes in these situations go to waste. If the group is on the border, in terms of choosing between a utilitarian mindset and deontological, then that’s when a statement of leaving counts. But, as we can see in the story, the utilitarian mindset holds an overwhelming majority. If anything, the other citizens may be happy some people left because their ideals were very different from their own. I believe the story of Omelas is similar to a democrat’s situation in a republican state. Unless an external force, such as the Supreme Court ruling that permitted gay marriage in all states, the statement of a gay couple leaving is lost. Nothing will change in Omelas, and I believe that the end result of the majority being happy should remain the status quo.