Ender’s Game: Opposing Opinions

As some of you may know, one of my all-time favorite books is “Ender’s Game”. Whenever I’m asked for a book recommendation, EG always pops up. Recently though, I recommended it to one of my best friends, and she didn’t like it. And not a mild dislike either – apart from finding a few parts “interesting”, she out-and-out disliked the book and took away a message completely different from the one I did. She also thought the book was given to me too young. (EG was introduced to me through a book club at school at age 11.) As always, in book-related things, I’m going to now issue a spoiler alert. If you haven’t read the book, this article will probably spoil some parts for you – not many, but some. If you have read the book, or don’t mind, welcome aboard.

First off, what really impressed me about EG, as I’ve said in other posts, was this: Orson Scott Card gives the children in the book real voices – he portrays them as actual people with intellect and opinions, people a child can identify with, instead of the typical adult’s view of children – as ignorant dependents who parrot adults’ words, easily influenced and tantrum-prone. It gives older children a chance to explore conflicting viewpoints about important things by putting themselves in the shoes of various characters who think and act as they might do – the same privilege most fiction books afford adults. I therefore maintain, adjusting for the maturity of individual children, that the age at which I read “Ender’s Game” was the exact age at which the book could have the maximal effect on me; the age at which I was old enough to comprehend the points of debate, and yet young enough to take that journey through the protagonist’s eyes.

“Ender’s Game”, to me, was always a no-nonsense book about human motivations and capacity for good or evil, and an opinion piece on the grey area. Although it highlights the use of empathy as a tool for war, the end result it had, at least on me, was an increase in my estimation of the importance of empathy as a character trait. The “Ender’s Game” series gave me my first lesson in politics; it taught me the importance of the internet and free speech; taught me that age is just a number; taught me that grey areas exist, and the consequent importance of putting the power of decision in the right people’s hands. “Ender’s Game” also, now that I think about it, echoes Ayn Rand’s philosophy of ability and efficiency, and the command that springs from it.

My friend, on the other hand, thought the book was racist. She thought several of the plot points could have been corrected by introducing sci-fi norms such as hyperspace travel and better communication systems. Frankly, I always thought the racism made it a more plausible portrayal of Earth’s future. I read an article somewhere in which the author finds it strange that most plots based in the future show humans no longer divided on the issue of race, but instead working on a new problem. While accounting for the fact that we would bind together in the face of a new enemy or problem, I find a situation in which some remnants of passed-down racism remain to be a much more believable version of the future.

In fact, that constitutes the majority of my counter argument – EG illustrates human progress at a realistic rate. We still have problems with intergalactic travel and we still have problems with each other. My friend thought that fighting off the buggers just to ensure they wouldn’t attack again was stupid, and that an intergalactic treaty would’ve been smarter. The latter point would have definitely made sense if we could have communicated with the buggers; the fact that we couldn’t makes it a moot point. As to the former, while I don’t support xenocide, I understand it in an “it was either us or them” scenario where no communication could take place and the future of the human race was potentially at stake.

Lastly, my friend thought EG ended on a kind note with the whole “Speaker for the Dead” thing, but that kindness should be all-pervasive, and that, in her words, “all this rubbish about Ender not wanting to hurt them, why don’t they just leave him alone, is a pathetic attitude. You hurt because you want to hurt.” I understand where this point of view comes from, but I feel like the book already addresses this: Ender isn’t in denial about his capacity to hurt – he’s afraid of it, afraid to become like the image he has of Peter. He wants to be kept away from a position to inflict pain like a recovering alcoholic wants to be kept away from drink. Ultimately, she says that mostly what hurt her was the mistreatment of kids; that I can get on board with. I remember my anger towards “the teachers” still today. But. Although I don’t believe that the ends always justify the means, I also understand where Graff is coming from when he says, “Human beings are free except when humanity needs them.” I don’t like it, I would hate it if it was me, but I understand it.

I began writing this piece because I hold my friend in good esteem, and her immediate dislike of a book that has shaped me shook me. I guess I wanted to find out what my own counter arguments were. I always say that when I write, my opinions come pouring out from my brain to my fingers without passing through a filter; I write to know what I’m thinking or feeling, and now I can rest knowing why, reading this book, I came to the conclusions I did, and not the ones she did. If you have a point of view you’d like to share, or a question to ask, I’d love to hear it, so drop me a line in the comments section, and we can talk about it. Thanks for listening!

EG - 85

“Mein Kampf”, the Conspiracy Theory

The first principle of informed debate is to never allow the opponent an illogical initial premise. When reading Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” (“My Struggle”), the most important thing for a reader (especially one without a guide) to do is to pause at each statement and understand what makes it false – the first and foremost being his blaming everything on the Jews.

“Mein Kampf” reads like a conspiracy theory. He begins by seeing Jews in every institution he despises (conveniently blaming Germans’ behaviour in those fields on the Jews’ supposed influence) and goes on to build up a conspiracy theory in his head about Jews planning on taking over the world. Literally. By attributing invented motives to the entire race, and by seeing in each of Germany’s misfortunes the planned influence of the entire Jewish race, he sinks further and further into a sort of mania from which he never escaped.

The racist theory he’s known for – that of Aryans being the most superior race, springs from his notion that all the greatest creative advances in the world spring from the minds of men from the Aryan race. More than anything, this displays his (willful?) ignorance of the contributions of people around the world to science and progress, from the architecture and embalming practices of ancient Egypt to the mathematical, astronomical and medical knowledge of ancient India.

Although he proved himself a master manipulator, he conclusively proved little else.

“Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and , in so far as it is favourable to the other side, present it according to the theoretical rules of justice; but it must present only that aspect of the truth which is favourable to its own side.” – Adolf Hitler

One thing I admired about Hitler was his thorough understanding of politics. In the first volume of “Mein Kampf”, A Retrospect, he talks about the importance of building up a comprehensive understanding of ideals and opinions, or a Weltanshauung. This, Hitler believed, would mentally equip people to form their own opinions on current affairs, and would also prevent a person (particularly a politician) from being in a situation where he must either retract an earlier statement, losing the support of his followers, or continue to fight for a cause in which he has lost belief, which Hitler considered morally reprehensible and thought would lead to the ineffectuality of further activity in pursuit of that belief.

An interesting question is whether Hitler genuinely believed that Jews were the primary cause of Germany’s downfall until the end. From his book, his views on politics make clear that he has a poor opinion of the common man. He believed that multiple aims of a movement tend to divide its following, resulting in non-achievement of any of the aims. He thus suggests that one aim should be selected and impressed as the sole aim on the masses. He also states that altering the aims of a movement, once begun, can be detrimental to the movement as it opens up the fundamental principles of the party to debate and shatters the blind faith and obedience required to bring the movement’s aims to fruition. Could this be what happened with the Jewish question? We may never know whether Hitler stuck to his ideas till the end because he believed in them or because, despite being disillusioned, he believed retracting this belief would stop the movement and stop Germany’s efforts at grabbing back power.

Finally, it is easy while reading “Mein Kampf” to view it solely as a discussion on ideology and politics. Only when you read about the means he employed to reach his ends is it possible to understand to what extent he believed that non-Aryan races were lesser than human. Final words: Hitler’s mania might have been nipped in the bud if he had had access to unbiased information about other countries and nations. This speaks wildly in favour of educating children on world history and the promotion of international educational institutions. I read “Mein Kampf” mainly because I believe that every point of view is based on something, either fact or an experience, and I wanted to find out at what point Hitler’s statements veered from factual. I can happily say that after reading his defense of his beliefs, his very first premise is easily countered, making his entire argument, while extensive and on the surface well-rounded, entirely baseless.

I found myself agreeing with some of Hitler’s views on politics, including his opinion on the failings of the parliamentary system of democracy; on the whole, he displays a comprehensive understanding of national and world politics as well as psychology. It was truly sad, and instructive, to observe the effects racism, springing from misinformation and bias, had on a man with such potential.

"Mein Kampf", Adolf Hitler

“Inferno” – Dan Brown

Daily Prompt: Bookworm

June 16, 2013

Tell us about the last book you read (Why did you choose it? Would you recommend it?). To go further, write a post based on its subject matter.

The last book I read was Inferno, by Dan Brown. Apart from having exhilarating plotlines that hook you in every time, Dan Brown ensures that we take home a lesson of some sort every time, either a history lesson or some moral food-for-thought. So much for why I chose it. As for recommending it, I would always recommend a Dan Brown book, and this one is no different.

Inferno focuses on the dire threat of population. It points out, correctly, that all our other sustainability problems (less food, less water, less land to grow food, less land for housing, disease, global warming, etc.) are NOT problems, but symptoms of something else entirely – the much-too-huge population of human beings, currently on a frighteningly rapid rise.

  • Mystery/Adventure lovers: you will love this.
  • Dan Brown lovers: you will love this.
  • Thinkers/Philosophers: you will especially love debating the subject matter and the new points of view he puts forth.

So basically, if you have just the fifteen minutes required to get yourself to the bookstore, I highly suggest you do it – you’ll have loads of fun and enrich your understanding as well.