Octavia Butler on How (Not) to Choose Our Leaders

Pick your leaders with knowledge and forethought.To be led by a coward is to be managed by all that the coward fears.To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who manage the fool.To be led by a burglar is to offer up your most valuable treasures to be stolen.To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies.To be led by an autocrat is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.

How does a nation, a society, a world worried with more than the shadowy spectacles of the present determine and elect such leaders to shape the long future?

In 1845, as the forgotten visionary Margaret Fuller was laying the foundation of contemporary feminism, advocating for black voting rights, and insisting that “while any one is base, none can be totally free and honorable,” she considered what makes a great leader and called for “no thin Idealist, no coarse Realist,” for a person “of universal sympathies, but self-possessed,” one for whom “this world is no mere spectacle or fleeting shadow, but a great, solemn video game, to be played with good observe, for its stakes are of eternal value.”

A century and a half after Fuller, Octavia Butler (June 22, 1947– February 24, 2006)– another uncommon visionary– offered a glimmer of assistance in her sibylline two-part series embeded in the 2020s: Parable of the Sower (town library) and Parable of the Talents (public library)– a set of cautionary allegories, future-protective and cautionary in their eager prescription for course-correctives, about the battle of a twenty-first-century society, Earthseed, to make it through the ecological collapse, political corruption, business greed, and socioeconomic inequality it has inherited from the previous generations and their heedless options.

Octavia Butler by Katy Horan from Literary Witches– a detailed celebration of women authors who have actually captivated and changed our world.Like Ursula K. Le Guin, Butler straddled the timeless and the prophetic, saturating her fiction with astute philosophical and mental insight into human nature and the superorganism of society. Like Le Guin, Butler skyrocketed into poetry to frame and punctuate her prose.

And yet our discernment in selecting wisely, Butler intimates in a cooling short verse from the very first book, can so often be muddled by our panic, by our paralyzing shock and pugilist flight:

Drowning peopleSometimes dieFighting their rescuers.

Art by Margaret C. Cook from an uncommon 1913 edition of Walt Whitmans Leaves of GrassWith shocking prescience and maybe with a subtle wink at James Baldwins assertion that “a society need to presume that it is steady, however the artist needs to know, and he needs to let us know, that there is absolutely nothing stable under paradise,” Butler lets us understand that drowning people do not select their leaders carefully:

When evident stability breaks down, As it needs to– God is Change– People tend to offer inTo fear and anxiety, To greed.when no influence and require is strong enoughTo merge peopleThey divide.They battle, One against one, Group versus group, For survival, position, power.They keep in mind old hates and generate new ones, They produce mayhem and support it.They eliminate and kill and kill, Until they are tired and damaged, Until they are conquered by outdoors forces, Or till one of them becomesA leaderMost will follow, Or a tyrantMost worry.

Again and again, Butler warns against the blindness of selecting from a state of heightened emotion– the very loss of sight which political propaganda is targeted at blinkering over the eyes of the electorate with the consistent stirring of our most amphibian worries:

When vision failsDirection is lost.
When instructions is lostPurpose might be forgotten.
When function is forgottenEmotion rules alone.
When feeling rules alone, Destruction … destruction.

Overall solar eclipse by Étienne Léopold Trouvelot. (Available as a print and as a face mask.) In a brief verse expressive of the closing lines of Jane Hirshfields sensational poem “The Weighing,” Butler beckons us to end up being Earthseed– to end up being “the life that perceives itself changing”– and to result change with our diligent choices:

There is no endTo what a living worldWill demand of you.

A century and a half after Margaret Fullers admirer Walt Whitman peered at the democratic vistas of a growing society and exhorted humankind to “always notify yourself; constantly do the finest you can; constantly vote,” Butler leaves us with this central concern of individual obligation:

Are you Earthseed?Do you believe?Belief will not save you.Only actionsGuided and shapedBy belief and knowledgeWill conserve guides and you.beliefinitiates action– Or it does nothing.

The fastest verse in the book distills Butlers biggest message:

Generosity reduces Change.

Complement with David Foster Wallace on what a “genuine leader” means and Hannah Arendt on loneliness as the typical ground for terror and how tyrants use isolation as a weapon of injustice, then review poet Naomi Shihab Nyes splendid ode to selecting generosity over fear and Audre Lordes splendid ode to selecting creation over damage.

Octavia Butler by Katy Horan from Literary Witches– a detailed celebration of females writers who have actually captivated and changed our world.Like Ursula K. Le Guin, Butler straddled the timeless and the prophetic, saturating her fiction with astute philosophical and psychological insight into human nature and the superorganism of society. Like Le Guin, Butler soared into poetry to frame and stress her prose. She opens the eleventh chapter of the 2nd Earthseed book with this verse:

In a short verse evocative of the closing lines of Jane Hirshfields sensational poem “The Weighing,” Butler beckons us to end up being Earthseed– to become “the life that views itself changing”– and to effect modification with our diligent choices: