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Hainish Cycle: The Left Hand of Darkness

Linked by Paul Ciano on July 6, 2016

Why can I never set my heart on a possible thing?

Let me ask you this, Mr. Ai: do you know, by your own experience, what patriotism is?”

“No,” I said, shaken by the force of that intense personality suddenly turning itself wholly upon me. “I don’t think I do. If by patriotism you don’t mean the love of one’s homeland, for that I do know.”

“No, I don’t mean love, when I say patriotism. I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression. It grows in us, that fear. It grows in us year by year. We’ve followed our road too far. And you, who come from a world that outgrew nations centuries ago, who hardly know what I’m talking about, who show us the new road—”

But I began to understand Karhide better, after a halfmonth in Otherhord. Under that nation’s politics and parades and passions runs an old darkness, passive, anarchic, silent, the fecund darkness of the Handdara. And out of that silence inexplicably rises the Foreteller’s voice.

“You don’t see yet, Genry, why we perfected and practice Foretelling?” “No—” “To exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question.”

When he looked at me with his clear, kind, candid eyes, he looked at me out of a tradition thirteen thousand years old: a way of thought and way of life so old, so well established, so integral and coherent as to give a human being the unself-consciousness, the authority, the completeness of a wild animal, a great strange creature who looks straight at you out of his eternal present. . . .

“The unknown,” said Faxe’s soft voice in the forest, “the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on. Ignorance is the ground of thought. Unproof is the ground of action. If it were proven that there is no God there would be no religion. No Handdara, no Yomesh, no hearthgods, nothing. But also if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion. . . . Tell me, Genry, what is known? What is sure, predictable, inevitable—the one certain thing you know concerning your future, and mine?”

“That we shall die.”

“Yes. There’s really only one question that can be answered, Genry, and we already know the answer. . . . The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.”

The First Mobile, if one is sent, must be warned that unless he is very self-assured, or senile, his pride will suffer. A man wants his virility regarded, a woman wants her femininity appreciated, however indirect and subtle the indications of regard and appreciation. On Winter they will not exist. One is respected and judged only as a human being.

And in the end, the dominant factor in Gethenian life is not sex or any other human thing: it is their environment, their cold world. Here man has a crueler enemy even than himself.

On this basis of material stability Orgoreyn had gradually built up a unified and increasingly efficient centralized state. Now Karhide was to pull herself together and do the same; and the way to make her do it was not by sparking her pride, or building up her trade, or improving her roads, farms, colleges, and so on; none of that; that’s all civilization, veneer, and Tibe dismissed it with scorn. He was after something surer, the sure, quick, and lasting way to make people into a nation: war. His ideas concerning it could not have been too precise, but they were quite sound. The only other means of mobilizing people rapidly and entirely is with a new religion; none was handy; he would make do with war.

I wonder if Genly Ai sees that in Orgoreyn, despite the vast visible apparatus of government, nothing is done visibly, nothing is said aloud. The machine conceals the machinations.

To be an atheist is to maintain God. His existence or his nonexistence, it amounts to much the same, on the plane of proof. Thus proof is a word not often used among the Handdarata, who have chosen not to treat God as a fact, subject either to proof or to belief: and they have broken the circle, and go free. To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.

I should have spoken to him days ago. It is too late. Fear undoes his mission and my hope, once more. Not fear of the alien, the unearthly, not here. These Orgota have not the wits nor size of spirit to fear what is truly and immensely strange. They cannot even see it. They look at the man from another world and see what? A spy from Karhide, a pervert, an agent, a sorry little political Unit like themselves.

When Obsle and Yegey both Left Town, and Slose’s doorkeeper refused me entrance, I knew it was time to turn to my enemies, for there was no more good in my friends.

“All right.” With that he was off. I never knew a person who reacted so wholly and rapidly to a changed situation as Estraven. I was recovering, and willing to go; he was out of thangen; the instant that was all clear, he was off. He was never rash or hurried, but he was always ready. It was the secret, no doubt, of the extraordinary political career he threw away for my sake; it was also the explanation of his belief in me and devotion to my mission. When I came, he was ready. Nobody else on Winter was.

Estraven stood there in harness beside me looking at that magnificent and unspeakable desolation. “I’m glad I have lived to see this,” he said. I felt as he did. It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.

”It’s well known that honorable men come to be outlawed, yet their shadow does not shrink.”

“Why the devil did he cheat me?” he demanded in his high strident voice, and for the first time looked straight at me.

“Who?” I said, sending back his stare.


“He saw to it that you didn’t cheat yourself. He got me out of sight when you began to favor a faction unfriendly to me. He brought me back to you when my return would in itself persuade you to receive the Mission of the Ekumen, and the credit for it.”

“Why did he never say anything about this larger ship to me?”

“Because he didn’t know about it: I never spoke to anyone of it until I went to Orgoreyn.”

“And a fine lot you chose to blab to there, you two. He tried to get the Orgota to receive your Mission. He was working with their Open Traders all along. You’ll tell me that was not betrayal?”

“It was not. He knew that, whichever nation first made alliance with the Ekumen, the other would follow soon: as it will: as Sith and Perunter and the Archipelago will also follow, until you find unity. He loved his country very dearly, sir, but he did not serve it, or you. He served the master I serve.”

“The Ekumen?” said Argaven, startled.

“No. Mankind.”

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Paul Ciano

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