Fuck Orson Scott Card, part-the-third

>> Sunday, July 14, 2013

The possibility that Stryka may have a legitimate reason to object to Ender’s behavior is never considered—her qualms are “fashion.”  A page later, Ender identifies Stryka’s real motivation (which Ender knows but she does not) as a fear of the stranger.  In this case the stranger is not the aliens exterminated by Ender, but Ender himself.  Stryka’s concern for the genocide of the buggers, which might be interpreted as arising out of a concern for the humanity of the "other," is presented instead as an example of scapegoating the "other"—but in this case the other is redefined as the exterminator,  not the exterminated.  This is a very clever stratagem:  those of us concerned about understanding the "other" are redirected from worrying about the alien to worrying about the killer of the alien, and thus our condemnation of genocide reemerges as a sign of our prejudice and small-mindedness. Ender is not the victimizer, but the misunderstood victim of others’ fear and prejudice.

Goodness is not a matter of acts, but of intentions, an inherent quality independent of what one does. "I don’t really think it’s true that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Card stated in a 2002 interview.  "Good people trying to do good usually find a way to muddle through.  What worries me is when you have bad people trying to do good.  They’re not good at it, they don’t have any instinct for it, and they’re willing to do a lot of damage along the way." The import of this statement is that there are some people who are good before they act, and some others who are bad before they act, and that  goodness or badness is exhibited in their actions. These "bad" people can’t do good, and "good" people can’t do bad.
- John Kessel, "Creating The Innocent Killer"

I apologize in advance if I'm belaboring a point.  But after yesterday's post, I re-read Kessel's most excellent critique of Ender's Game and Speaker For The Dead and found myself with something else to get off my chest.  Hopefully this will be the last of it, or close to it.

As I say, I re-read Kessel's piece, and my brain kept coming back to those two passages, as well as back to the line from Card I quoted a few days ago about whether his opponents will be magnanimous (or whatever) in victory.  And what I found myself thinking again and again is that Card, if he agrees with the value system elucidated in Ender's Game, surely considers himself the victim in all of this, and that he can't be anything but the victim, and that supporters of same-sex marriage can't be anything but evil.

After all, Card is a winner even if he loses: if opposing gay marriage is supporting an inviolable law of the universe, it doesn't matter how many people he hurts by opposing it.  If the National Organization For Marriage (NOM) causes suffering, financial harm, wrecks families--that's all okay, because their intentions are good.  And those who favor gay marriage may appear to be helping people, but the truth is they're incapable of it because "[we're] not any good at it... don't have any instinct for it, and [are] willing to do a lot of damage along the way."  At the very worst, so long as Card considers himself "good" (and who doesn't consider himself good, really?) he'll just "muddle through", while at their worst his opponents will likely destroy civilization.

This may seem somewhat self-evident: it's the kind of thing that gets highlighted now and again when talking about zealots.  But the major reason for bringing it up here is that it means that Card is particularly and especially unteachable.  Many bigots are swayed when they're confronted to the exception that proves (tests) their previously unquestioned rule: the racist begins to question his beliefs about African Americans because of his friend Bob; the bigoted Protestant goes to an ecumenical outreach and discovers she has much in common with the Catholics, Jews and Muslims she breaks bread with.  And the homophobe has a crisis of conscience when his son or daughter comes out of the closet.  These are familiar narratives because, happily, most human beings are educable and we're wired to adapt to new circumstances, stimuli and data.  It may not be an instant process, and humans' stubborn streak may lead to all sorts of cognitive dissonances on the way to improvement (who hasn't heard someone well-meaningly but damnably "praise" a friend by announcing, "He isn't like most ______s..."?).

But Card has an out for himself.  There's no reason to reconsider contrary evidence if your core is sound, if you're "good" in some absolute, existential sense and regardless of what your actions might (erroneously) suggest to outsiders about your intentions.  Outsiders may see your board membership with NOM as being hateful; as striking out in fear or ignorance at an "other"; may speculate as to whether it reflects some inner turmoil, self loathing or grief.  But that's just them scapegoating you.  There is nothing you can do to anyone else that isn't inherently good, because you mean well, but anyone else giving you tit for tat is a monster because they don't, even if they (mistakenly) think they do.

Must be nice, living inside a tautology.

And note how neatly and nicely the first paragraph I quoted from Kessel, supra, deals with Card's straight opponents.  I might, for instance, be under the illusion that I'm supporting same-sex marriage rights because I think denying people marital rights is cruel, unfair, inefficient, burdensome, irrational, etc., and I might think I'm saying "Fuck you, Orson Scott Card" because he's being an asshole about something he could easily keep his nose out of (and by that I mean nobody is forcing Card to attend a same-sex marriage, nobody is forcing him to have gay friends; nobody is going to force him to attend a church that holds same-sex ceremonies or force a church he attends to hold them--he could easily spend his whole life pretending same-sex marriages don't even happen, ignoring them completely).  I am wrong, of course, delusional and misguided and (perhaps worst of all) fashionable.  I'm latching onto the issue because it's hip (not because I have family and friends who are gay), and it's awful narrow-minded of me to excoriate poor Orson Scott Card, who I misunderstand because I willfully fail to look into his pure, clean heart.

Based on the evidence in his writing, Card may not be educable.  He may not be redeemable.   Really, seriously, truly: fuck this guy.

I'm going to close with what I think is the definitive reason for Orson Scott Card fans to stay away from Ender's Game, though I suppose it might be grounds for someone like me to reconsider (not really).  It's kind of clear to me that in Card's mind, one of the most virtuous things about Ender Wiggins is how unfairly he suffers for being Ender Wiggins, and that Ender is something of a proxy for Card himself.  Kessel writes:

Card has spoken in interviews about his tropism for the story of the person who sacrifices himself for the community.  This is the story, he tells us, that he has been drawn to tell again and again.  For example, in justification of the scenes of violence in his fiction, Card told Publisher’s Weekly in 1990 that, "In every single case, cruelty was a voluntary sacrifice. The person being subjected to the torture was suffering for the sake of the community."  I find this statement astonishingly revealing.  By "The person being subjected to the torture," Card is not referring here to Stilson, Bonzo, or the buggers, who may well be sacrificed, but whose sacrifices are certainly not "voluntary."  Their deaths are not the voluntary sacrifices that draw Card’s concern. No, in these situations, according to Card the person being tortured is Ender, and even though he walks away from every battle, the sacrifice is his.  In every situation where Ender wields violence against someone, the focus of the narrative’s sympathy is always and invariably on Ender, not on the objects of Ender's violence.  It is Ender who is offering up the voluntary sacrifice, and that sacrifice is the emotional price he must pay for physically destroying someone else. All the force of such passages is on the price paid by the destroyer, not on the price paid by the destroyed. "This hurts me more than it hurts you," might well be the slogan of Ender's Game.

Indeed.  Well, I don't think we should deny Orson Scott Card the chance to crucify himself for the sake of the community, do you?  Granted, those of us who find the man's beliefs execrable (and who maybe even find the man himself a bit unpleasant as a consequence) might recoil at proffering the writer such orgasmic pleasure as he's likely to endure if Ender's Game is a colossal flop and the fiasco is blamed upon him.  Should Card be shunned because of his bigotry and unkindness noble intentions and inherent existential goodness, it would doubtlessly vindicate him and allow him to raise his head high in exhilarated exultation.  I don't believe you'd be able to find a box of Kleenex in Greensboro, NC, for at least a month (and you probably shouldn't sit down on anything if you happen to be invited to Card's home).

May I propose we give Card the martyrdom he so amply desires?  Everybody would get what they wanted.  Except the poor bastards at Lionsgate.  But, y'know, lay down with dogs and all that.



John Kessel Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 3:11:00 PM EDT  

I appreciate your close reading of my essay. You are the person I wrote it for. It heartens me to think what I wrote is of some use to people trying to plumb the depths of Card's twisted psyche.

--John Kessel

Eric Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 10:29:00 PM EDT  

It's a strong essay, and I thank you for writing it, John.

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