Space Ramblings

John Kessel’s Misguided Attack on Ender’s Game

Orson Scott Card’s right wing politics have inspired a certain amount of political hostility toward him. Of course branding the author of Pastwatch as a right winger is a touch simplistic, but Card’s position on the War on Terror and gay marriage stuck him in the right wing camp, and seem to have inspired some dubious attacks. Most notably from vastly overrated author John Kessel who tries to sell the rather weak argument that Ender’s Game is actually Orson Scott Card justifying genocide.

What should be obvious to a Science Fiction “author” is that drawing direct parallels between human history and a scenario taking place in an interstellar environment is a little two dimensional. Kessel charges Ender with genocide, but Ender had no way of being certain that he was taking out an entire race. And considering how easy it was to restart the species with an egg, it’s obvious that genocide wasn’t even committed here. Only the queen of the buggers represented an intelligent organism, which raises the question of whether genocide was even committed here, or can be committed against a hive mind at all.

The entire double blind setup in which Ender did not know he was fighting a real war and his commanders did not know what Ender was willing to do, was obviously intended as a commentary on war. Kessel instead uses it to psychoanalyze Card’s motivations. But if we’re to take Kessel and Card’s critics at face value then, in what humans thought was a zero sum game at the time, choosing humanity over the formics is a war crime. And that kind of attitude only contrasts Card with his critics. After all would we really want someone defending us who wasn’t prepared to make that choice?

If choosing to destroy the Buggers is genocide, isn’t choosing not to destroy them in a zero sum game genocide as well? If we were to take a less sentimental version of the war, in which only humanity or the buggers could survive, would Kessel argue that pulling the trigger is a war crime? And if so isn’t inaction the greater crime?

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  • Terrahawk April 21, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Kessel is wrong that intention has no affect on morality. Intention is only inadequate if you understand the means and/or result of your intention. In other words, a three year old who pulls the trigger on the gun to hear the boom, but accidentally shoots someone is not morally culpable. He only wanted to hear the boom but didn’t understand the result of his action. According to Kessel, he is a morally responsible.

    In Ender’s case, he thought he was playing a simulation and actually thought they would wash him out for destroying the planet.

    Anyways, everyone on Earth thought the buggers were going to exterminate them and twice humanity had been on the brink of defeat. After that, what other solution is there but to try and eliminate the buggers?

  • O_Deus April 21, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    Sure. Morality requires a rational actor. Handing someone a button marked “fun” that turns out to launch a nuclear missile doesn’t make the pusher a genocidal monster.

    The whole argument makes absolutely no sense to me either. It’s in line with the same kind of people who were accusing Gary Gygax of genocide

    And then Kessel cites Radford, who claims Orson Scott Card was secretly writing about Hitler (or someone secretly ghost wrote Ender’s Game for Card to make it about Hitler). This stuff is like a leaning tower of crazy.

  • Terrahawk April 21, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    I don’t understand his complaints about what Ender did to Stilson and Bonzo. Both were fights of self-defense. At most, you could claim Ender was guilty of manslaughter in the sense of carrying his self-defense too far. However, that’s hard to prove when it’s a heat of the moment situation.

    The Radford stuff is crazy. Although, Kessel does have a valid point about Card’s reply that the adult humans didn’t know they were wiping out the buggers. They obviously knew that destroying the planet would wipe them out. However, it seems reasonable to assume that had Ender been able to destroy their fleet without destroying that planet, that would have been just as acceptable. They hadn’t been destroying planets up to that point.

    Again, Ender expected to be flunked for destroying the planet. In his mind, it was an unacceptable action and he only did it because it was a game.

    Kessel likes picking and choosing his facts.

  • O_Deus April 22, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Yes, hitting the planet was a way out of the box tactic, and wasn’t even on the charts. And in the fights Ender was a small kid trying to survive.

    The really weird thing is how much obsessive analysis and conspiracy theories, a decent kids book inspires from some people. What’s next, arguing that Harry Potter is really Stalin. It’s like they keep suspecting it of having some deep political agenda, designed to program people into believing violence and genocide are good, which is a major sign of the wacky. Especially when there have been tens of thousands of US vs Bug Eyed Monsters novels, where the BEM’s get blown up, and the main character doesn’t sit around feeling sorry for them.

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