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Semiformalishmaybe

Kessel and Ender

Those of you who liked (or disliked but found interesting) 「Ender's Game」 might find this philosophical review by John Kessel interesting.

I'm not a fan of Orson Scott Card's politics in general; Science-Fiction has long had some conservative streaks, and Card's mormonism comes out here and there (see Heinlein's 「Starship Troopers」 for comparison). I found 「Ender's Game」 to be good science-fiction, although some of its elements felt cliche in a Piers-Anthony-esque way.

I don't think I agree with Kessel's moral conclusions much, although the reasoning I use is mentioned in a postscript that summarises responses; it may depend on how much we believe Card is providing moral reasoning for a highly contrived situation versus getting his foot in the door for more broad reasoning. If Card is doing the first, I have basically no objection to Ender; the combination of intentionality and reasonability-given-available-information-and-alternatives made Ender's moral compass ok by my book throughout the entire first book (no comment on the later books); it may have made him a highly unpleasant, brutal person, but not through any moral failing, just through the need to deal with circumstances that permitted no other response. If Card is, as Kessel asserts, doing the second, we'd have to judge by what broadening of circumstances we're imagining, but harsh judgement is certainly possible.

Could genocide of an alien race be forgiven? Under some circumstances, yes; if there were no visible alternative or pursuit of an alternative posed too much risk; in that circumstance it might come close to being obligatory. Still, in the novel the specifics of the situation (namely, a war game where the participant did not know the crucial information) shields him from moral guilt (although there may be related appropriate feelings that don't impact his character).

I am more interested in Kessel's criticisms of "the way to be" inherent in Ender's work, and the patterns of thought it empowers; those have considerable weight.

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