Sometime in college, an acquaintance told me that the main Ender series sucked, and that I should skip straight to Ender’s Shadow_. I just finished the latest installment in the Shadow Saga (_Shadow of the Giant) and was blown away by what an ethically challenging book it was. I had never seen such big issues (future human interactions with alien species) effortlessly mingled with “medium sized” issues (a three-way war between Islam, China, and India) and “small” issues (a mother’s love for her children)
I was especially affected by this passage:
Mine mine mine. That was the curse and power of human beings — that what they saw and loved, they had to have. The could share it with other people but only if they conceived of those people as being somehow their own. What we own is ours. What you own should also be ours. In fact, you own nothing, if we want it. Because you are nothing. We are the real people, you are only posing as people in order to try to deprive us of what God means us to have.
Speaker for the Dead introduces a concept of categorizing things that are foreign to us. “Framlings” are humans of a foreign culture. “Varelse” are animals or non-intelligent alien species. We could probably include dogs or chimps as varelse. Although harming them is frowned upon, under specific circumstances we might sacrifice varelse for research or population control. “Raman” are intelligent aliens that we could possibly communicate with and achieve peace.
Humans do not have a good track record dealing with framlings. I don’t have to belabor the point that when two human cultures meet, it usually does not take long for things to degenerate into bloodshed. We don’t seem wired to accept humans of other cultures as real full members of our same species. Which is inherently ridiculous, as we are all biologically equivalent.
We can only imagine the culture shock that comes with meeting telepathic insects, or plant/animal hybrids (as in these books). The challenge for humanity to establish a dialog with a truly alien culture is daunting, and even a bit depressing. We can’t even achieve peace on our own planet.
In Speaker, Card uses a mean-spirited alcoholic abusive father as a parallel for his aliens. Here is a man, even of the same culture as his neighbors, who becomes varelse in their eyes. The people avoid him and are afraid of him. But they do not reprimand him, because as an animal, they have no moral expectations of him.
Similarly, we do not need to look to things like the Holocaust to find examples of dehumanization, of people being turned to varelse. It happens at any time we are prejudiced or afraid of someone foreign. In the last week, this book has colored how I view all human interaction around me, especially at the hospital. (just search “hospital dehumanizing” on google. ) I see this especially with the elderly.
Basically, I think the whole book is an extension of the Parable of the Good Samaritan . One must ignore prejudices between groups and take action to help others. I think in all interactions with people of different cultures, I must ask myself, “am I treating this person as a neighbor, or as a varelse? If I have lost sight of this person’s inherent humanity, what am I stumbling on? What can I do to regain the common ground?”
In Ender’s Game, the first time humans made contact with an alien species, we destroyed them completely. Hopefully, if we ever do meet extraterrestrials, we will be at a point in our history where we can all survive the encounter.