June 15, 2008

"The Nordic language recognizes four orders of foreignness. The first is the otherlander, or utlänning, the stranger that we recognize as being a human of our world, but of another city or country. The second is the framling ... [t]his is the stranger that we recognize as human, but of another world. The third is the raman, the stranger that we recognize as human, but of another species. The fourth is the true alien, the varelse, which includes all the animals, for with them no conversation is possible. They live, but we cannot guess what purposes or causes make them act. They might be intelligent, they might be self-aware, but we cannot know it."

... "Since we are not yet fully comfortable with the idea that people from the next village are as human as ourselves, it is presumptuous in the extreme to suppose we could ever look at sociable, tool-making creatures who arose from other evolutionary paths and see not beasts but brothers, not rivals but fellow pilgrims journeying to the shrine of intelligence.

Yet that is what I see, or yearn to see. The difference between raman and varelse is not in the creature judged, but in the creature judging. When we declare an alien species to be raman, it does not mean that they have passed a threshold of moral maturity. It means that we have."

- Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead


Above all, family is Orson Scott Card's credo. It is central to his belief structure and his community, as it is central to the vast majority of belief structures and communities all over the world. Though a religious person might cite God's purpose where an atheist sees only propagation of the genes, the end result is no different. While the specific structure of marriage and what constitutes family may vary, the fundamental purpose of a human being is always to marry and have children.

Within this perspective, only in family and children and geneological roots can lie maturity, and connections, and the willingness to accept consequences. Outside family can lie only a perpetual adolescence -- of passion and freedom yes, but also of irresponsibility and of a deep, unfulfilled loneliness. Adolescents are the uncommitted nomads of life. Family is the root of all civilisation, and there can be no civilisation outside family.

"... almost all the heroes [of SF] seemed to spring fully-grown from the head of Zeus -- no one had families. If there was a mention of parents at all, it was to tell us they were dead, or such miserable specimens of humanity that the hero could hardly wait to get out of town.

Not only did they have no parents, few science fiction heroes seemed to marry and have kids. In short, the heroes of most science fiction novels were perpetual adolescents, lone rangers who wandered the universe avoiding commitments.
[Shades of Captain Kirk!- T] This shouldn't be surprising. The romantic hero is invariably one who is going through the adolescent phase of human life. The child phase ... is the time of complete dependence on others to create our identity and our worldview. Little children gladly accept even the strangest stories others tell them, because they lack either the context or the confidence to doubt. They go along because they don't know how to be alone, either physically or intellectually.

Gradually, however, this dependency breaks down -- and children catch the first glimmers of a world that is different from the one they thought they lived in, they break away the last vestiges of adult control themselves, much as a baby bird breaks free of the last fragments of the egg. The romantic hero is unconnected. He belongs to no community; he is wandering from place to place, doing good (as he sees it), but then moving on. This is the life of the adolescent, full of passion, intensity, magic, and infinite possibility; but lacking responsibility, rarely expecting to have to stay and bear the consequences of error. Everything is played at twice the speed and twice the volume in the adolescent -- the romantic -- life.

Only when the loneliness becomes unbearable do adolescents root themselves. It may or may not be in the community of their childhood, and it may or may not be their childhood identity and connections that they resume upon entering adulthood. And, in fact, many fail at adulthood and constantly reach backward for the freedom and passion of adolescence. But those who achieve it are the ones who create civilization."

- Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead (introduction)

Although on the surface the belief structures coring most of Card's writing seem ultimately inclusionary, anyone who cannot be made to fit into the three permissible human roles is necessarily excluded. A child must be reliant upon others, and cannot be capable of true solitude. An adolescent must be fundamentally unconnected -- and only in this rootlessness and loneliness can passion survive. Finally, only in the rooted path of family and children can responsibility exist, or any kind of deep commitment to one's fellow man. Implicit (but never examined too closely) is that only in irresponsibility can lie growth; and that the mature ideal of humankind is to reproduce and oneself cease to grow. Risk -- including the risk inherent in any degree of challenge -- is only ever something taken by those who have no children: and thus a willingness to be challenged and surmount challenge is fundamentally immature.

"But now that it comes to a choice between the future of the world and the future of my children, the choice goes the other way. For me there's no world without Cammar and Bessa and Dallat. They're asleep in there right now, and for me all that matters in the world is that they wake up tomorrow, and every tomorrow from now on. You and Wiz, you have no families, you can decide for yourselves. And Dilna, she has courage that I can't find. But I am a father and that's all that matters to me now ..."

- Orson Scott Card, The Worthing Chronicles

Thus the family roles go even deeper. Although Card is careful to paint them in kinder colours, always pitting the family against impersonal external forces and never family competing against family for survival or even for less drastic personal benefit, the mature choices as outlined here do amount to letting the world burn, so long as my children survive. In fact, by choosing to have children, we make it impossible to take all humanity to be our genepool, not without also taking from our children the bias that is fairly theirs to expect.

(Larry Niven makes a very logical extrapolation in his concept of the Pak protectors, utterly dedicated to the preservation of their own individual genelines, who finally destroyed the world in protecting those genelines.)

And what of those who cannot be so neatly pigeonholed?

The firm family belief structure has now decided not only that the child and the adolescent one oneself has once been has been completely understood, but also that all possible life choices can be reduced to one's own understanding. If the shoe does not fit, it is solely because the other is not yet mature enough to understand the speaking of the true adult. This places responsibility entirely upon the other to become mature within the perspective of the family belief structure.

For a person who firmly believes that not to marry is perpetually to remain in the careless, irresponsible, lonely freedom of the adolescent, what possible communication can there be with those who have chosen a different path other than, "Don't worry too much about it, you will understand when you have children of your own"? ... when you erase your own culture and your own choices and even your own self-understanding to become more like me?

What else is this, except the determination to fit the other into one's own mold of understanding, of communication, and thus of humanity -- or else deny the other membership in humanity? Where, here, is the moral threshold of raman and varelse?


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