Ursula K Le Guin accepts the the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from fantasy best-seller Neil Gaiman
After accepting the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at last night’s National Book Awards, Portland writer Ursula K. Le Guin deployed a speech that lanced Amazon, her own publisher, and other “commodity profiteers” who “sell us like deodorant.” It went off like a bomb, bringing the entire room to its feet.
“The speech started out as a smattering of applause, but by the end she got a standing ovation,” said Theo Downes-Le Guin, Le Guin’s son who also runs contemporary art gallery Upfor on NW Flanders. We caught up with him this morning by phone as he assisted his mother through New York airport security on their way home (he also escorted her onstage last night). “I was incredibly proud of her. She made me cry.”
But those moved by Le Guin’s speech went far beyond attendees at the black-tie Manhattan event.
Overnight, Le Guin blew up web editions of the Los Angeles Times, Guardian, New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, and more. National Public Radio ran Le Guin’s anti-capitalist critique as breaking news last night and again for morning commuters. The hashtag #nbawards is almost entirely devoted to frothy Le Guin tweets (including one from fantasy titan Neil Gaiman, who introduced Le Guin prior to awarding her medal).
Theo Townes-Le Guin escorts his mother, Ursula Le Guin, on stage
What prompted the adoration? Statements like those below from the 85-year-old author (read the full transcript here).
On the commodification of art:
Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers.
We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this.
We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.
On her fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction:
I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.
Who isn’t happy about Le Guin’s speech? The contingent from Amazon, who—according to NPR’s Petra Mayer—“notably had no comment on Le Guin’s speech or the ribbing they endured throughout the night.”
Downes-Le Guin says his mom “challenged the status quo in a room not only full of writers but also book publishers.”
“The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.” –Gloria Steinem
Are you tired of floating around in that pink goop of the Matrix? Are you ready to slough off the illusion like it was an old hat? Has the White Rabbit been too fast for you so far? If you are reading this article, you are here to wake up. Here are five ways to slow that white rabbit down so you can catch up.
1) Money is a hoax
“The Western worldview says, in essence, that technological progress is the highest value and that we were born to consume, to endlessly use and discard natural recourses, other species, gadgets, toys, and often, each other. The most highly prized freedom is the right to shop. It’s a world of commodities, not entities, and economic expansion is the primary measure of progress. Competition, taking, and hoarding are higher values than cooperation, sharing, and gifting. Profits are valued over people, money over meaning, entitlement over justice, “us” over “them.” This is the most dangerous addiction in the world, not only because of its impact on humanity but because it is rapidly undermining the natural systems that sustain the biosphere.” –Bill Plotkin
It is not the more evolved aspect of ourselves that tricks us into thinking that we need money to survive; it’s the less evolved aspect of ourselves that does the tricking. With our advanced technologies we imagine that we know the way the world works, when, for the most part, we have forgotten how everything is connected.
Until we can relearn “a language older than words,” and once again engage in a healthy dialogue with nature and the cosmos, we will continue to be tricked by the less evolved aspects of ourselves. The more awareness we bring to this extremely complicated cognitive dissonance, the more possible it will be to achieve an ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable world.
As it stands, however, the Federal Reserve is a house of cards guarded by a red herring. Money is the opiate of the masses, and the masses are too busy spending it on worthless crap to get to know each other as healthy individuals, let alone as a healthy community. We have become Pavlov Dogs, and money is our dinner bell. But money was never meant to be horded, or even amassed, it was meant to circulate as a way of uplifting the community. And yet here we are, hoarding and amassing, while our communities are in unhealthy disarray. It’s high time we abandoned the force-fed shibboleth that having more money makes us better people. It doesn’t. Being healthy, compassionate and moral is what makes us better people. 2) Debt is fiction
“There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.” –John Adams
Unfortunately our nation has been enslaved by debt. Our current system is not an economic system at all, but an ecocidal system; an intrinsic obsolescence of conspicuous consumption. It’s a grave misfortune that efficiency, sustainability, and preservation are the enemies of our socioeconomic system. This has got to be the most bizarre delusion in the history of human thought, a retarded Ponzi scheme en masse.
But it’s difficult to get people to understand something when money, and especially debt, prevents them from understanding it. Instead of ownership, give us strategic access. Instead of equity, give us equality. Instead of one-track-minded profit, give us open-minded people. Instead of unsustainable monetary-based economics, give us a sustainable resource-based economy, which is basically the scientific method applied to ecological and social concerns.
As tough as it is to hear, nature is a dictatorship. We can either listen to it and fall into harmony or deny it and suffer. Ask yourself this question by Fleet & Lasn: “When the economic system fails, will we know how to behave, how to act, how to appreciate, how to value, how to survive, how to be and how to love in a world that no longer defines relations by money?”
3) Media is manipulation
“Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media.” –Noam Chomsky
Media has always been an effective method for manipulating people. We are social creatures who are also psychological creatures. This combination makes us unwittingly vulnerable to the power of suggestion. As it stands, media has been our Achilles Heel. These days the “news” we receive from corporate media is more likely to be disinformation. Skepticism is a must when reading or viewing the information provided by these outlets.
The key: Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see. Analyze the Kool Aide before you swallow it. Even then, be prepared to vomit it back up at the first sign of deception. Remain circumspect and question all authority. They don’t have our best interest at heart. They only want our money, and to remain powerful. Like Wendell Berry wrote in the Unsettling of America, “People whose governing habit is the relinquishment of power, competence, and responsibility, make excellent spenders. They are the ideal consumers. By inducing in them little panics of boredom, powerlessness, sexual failure, mortality, paranoia, they can be made to buy virtually anything that is “attractively packaged.””
We are slowly becoming more aware of corporate media lying to us. But they know we know they’re lying to us. And we know they know we know they’re lying to us. With enough inertia, this debacle of a process just continues until we are eventually lying to ourselves. And here we are. Like the great Baruch Spinoza once surmised, “The supreme mystery of despotism, its prop and stay, is to keep men in a state of deception, and cloak the fear by which they must be held in check, so that they will fight for their servitude as if for salvation.” And here we are, unless we decide to wake up.
4) Government is a corporation
“The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.” –Thomas Jefferson
Here’s the thing: we do not live in a democracy, and we probably never really have. A prestigious Princeton study recently concluded that we live in an oligarchy: rule by a few individuals. And these individuals just so happen to be plutocrats, making this particular flavor of oligarchy a plutocracy: rule by the rich.
The problem is that money itself has become an immoral agent within an otherwise amoral system that praises itself as moral. Ask yourself: do you wish to live out harried lives of nine-to-five slavery, giving up your days to heartless corporations that don’t give a damn about anything except making money, or do you wish to live a happy life of loving compassion, doing what you enjoy, in spite of plutocracy, oligarchy, and tyranny?
The Occupy Movement succeeded in shifting the tenor and shape of debate in the world, but we must not rest on our laurels. Trickle-down economics DOES NOT WORK! Austerity economics DOES NOT WORK! Corporations are NOT people. Money does NOT equal speech. It’s a trap. If we don’t get big money out of politics then everything we want to do will be hopeless. We need to be smarter with our mobilization tactics for the change and allocation of power within our society. So far the security and surveillance state has boxed us in, like the great MLK Jr. said, “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.”