The Fall of Orson Scott Card
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20-01-2015, 08:14 PM
The Fall of Orson Scott Card
Notice: This is a long post. Proceed with patience or not at all.

Who is Orson Scott Card and Why Should I care?

I subsist greatly on stories, especially in book form. I do not think myself alone in referring to the fictional works of Orson Scott Card as landmark and mind-expanding. I was first captivated by his authorship in his series beginning with Ender's Game chronicling the adventures of a child soldier who struggles to save humanity from alien invaders. He writes from the perspective of intense and hyper-intelligent children who must struggle with and defeat an adult situation, and does so while remaining true to the nature of children as balanced against deeply mature themes. The result is an empathetic, philosophical, almost screenplay like engagement between characters who are striving to understand one another and the world in which they live. Couple this with a perspective drawn entirely from inside the mind of the main character, living, breathing, and experiencing through him or her, and I am as drawn to the character interaction as I am the epic action of war.

Although I am well beyond turning back in the face of the danger of excessive praise, and I still feel that it is not possible for me to recommend this story highly enough. Apply salt to my recommendation as liberally as you please, since no doubt I am at least somewhat blind to the inevitable mistakes and inadequacies of the story. If it is of interest to anyone, the companion novel Ender's Shadow, which chronicles the same events as Ender's Game but from the perspective of a different main character, is equally captivating.

As Mr. Card has said himself, in America we cannot help but desire our favorite stories to be transformed into feature films. When we enjoy a wonderful story in book form, we pine for the big screen. He speculates that this is because we view film as the highest form of entertainment in our culture due to its tangible nature, which may very well be true. I was certainly guilty of that desire upon completing my first reading especially after having experienced first hand wishes of that sort coming true in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Ender's Game, the movie, came out on November 1st 2013, and I went to see it immediately. As with all movies based on books, I consider it important to draw a mental line in the sand between the two versions of the story, lest I spend all two hours or so comparing two types of storytelling which can never and thus will never be identical. Taken in this way, on its own merits, the movie is excellent.

It was then that I first became aware that despite all my love of his art, I had been ignorant of Orson Scott Card when it came to his recent career. I went to see Ender's Game without any knowledge that he had made public statements, both recently and years before, of his extremely controversial views on politics, religion, and especially homosexuality and gay marriage rights. These anti-government and especially the anti-gay views had sparked a series of boycotts of Ender's Game the movie and all his other published works. Several gay rights organizations, including "Geek Out", sponsored and advocated for the boycott with the explicit goal of reducing Mr. Card's profits as much as possible.

My foremost observation was that Orson Scott Card is devoutly Mormon, which I understand all too well having once shared his views. I was one of the few who expected nothing different. I have the advantage of knowing that he is forbidden by his faith to have any meaningful alternative opinion. He not so shockingly revealed his inner fundamentalist by attacking directly the least conservative members of his faith for advocating recognition of homosexuality as an orientation within Mormonism. He made it clear in an internal essay directed at Mormon conservatives that those attempting to change "god's laws" rather than amending their behavior are hypocrites.

If anyone is interested here is a link to that internal essay.

If he is anything at all, Orson Scott Card is still as good a writer as he ever was. It was no surprise to me when I discovered several well publicized and very well written essays on his view. Having traversed them patiently, I have a number of comments to submit for anyone's comment and discussion. Although I comment directly on Card's view, I know he is merely a voice for opinions I have long since heard and opposed. It is his school of thought that I mean to most undermine, not necessarily him personally. My main source is his 2004 article published in the Rhinoceros times in Greensboro NC, which for those interested is linked to here.

The Definition of Marriage

I am baffled at Card's opinions on the definition of Marriage. Like so many others, he seems to fear the "redefining" or changing of its meaning, as though it were to have grave repercussions for all citizens. History presents to me a time not so recently past when the word "Person" did not include black people, unless you gathered eight or so of them together. Those "facts" which suggested to white people that blacks were not of their race have been utterly discredited, especially by science. It astounds me that these parallels are not ludicrously obvious to those like Card. We have learned collectively as a nation and a culture that allowing only one "type" of person to be considered legitimate is both false and immoral. Why are we now forced to face down Card and company who claim that only one type of marriage should be considered legitimate? Why haven't these people seen the writing on the wall?

Every time I read or hear this argument from the definition of marriage I am left with the feeling that those making the argument are not engaged in the protection of a valued social norm, but in worship of a tradition they choose independently to view as extra special, or hyper-sacred. They seem to be telling the rest of us that marriage is so much bigger, better, and more important than we imagine, that in fact it is a cornerstone in the very foundation of society. Is anyone else getting the impression that these people are engaged in a heated love affair not with their spouse, but with marriage itself?

In Card's case, I know right where he lives on this issue. Mormonism teaches that only a married couple, a man and a woman, can experience an eternity of the highest form of heaven. They consider their marriages the pinnacle of sanctity, love, and righteousness that will be the only couplings to outlast death into eternity. Is it any surprise that someone who includes marriage as an institution within their already fundamentalist worship should be utterly un-accepting of alternative forms? To admit that homosexuals can also engage in marriage would be a denial of its supposed sacred religious connotations, thus harming Card's view of his own "special" marriage. Thus the only context in which I understand the claim that homosexual marriages do damage to heterosexual ones is fundamentalist religion. What are the chances that most of those with this view are deeply religious? Need I say more?

Picture now that you believe as card does and a happy homosexual couple moves into your local neighborhood. They live happy stable lives and are well adjusted loving citizens. I can understand why Card and company view the whole enterprise as a slap in the face to both their struggles and their religious values. The very existence of the successful gay couple is the ultimate evidence against the view that one type of marriage is somehow more special, happy, and religiously sacred than another. It is evidence that Card and company are desperate to destroy.

The Decline of Traditional Marriage and Family

Part of me wonders if this is intimately bound up in the insecurity of married heterosexual people. We are now capable of an incredible view of the man behind the curtain. Card would no doubt say that the decline of successful happy marriages is due to a breakdown of the family unit and marriage as an institution. I suspect that it has never been the rainbow show tunes paradise they have been chalking it up to be all these years. In fact, I suspect that as an institution it has protected as many abusers and wrongdoers as it has happy couples in a good relationship. It has been at times a vehicle for the suppression of women, the abuse of children, and an excuse for male authoritarianism and domination. Isn't anyone else more than a little tired of white men pining for "the good old days" when "marriages meant something" and conveniently consisted of white males giving orders and their wives and children obeying them? Is it really all that surprising that this male dominated top-down structure is collapsing to make way for a new era of women's rights and equality in decision making?

I view it as a major improvement that a women hitched to an abusive incestuous drunk can now swiftly seek divorce and protection. I have never forgotten how my grandmother told me of how she escaped such a man back in the early 50's, all bruised and bloody, only to be rounded up by police and returned to the custody of her owner, I mean husband. As if that outrage alone were not enough, the police involved knew the family well after years of breaking up then ignoring brutal spousal beatings. While Card and company moan and whine at "the decline of the family", I celebrate the emancipation of those quiet sufferers who have only recently been permitted and encouraged to free themselves. It may very well be the case that marriage more easily dissolved is not as cohesive, yet it becomes so much easier to extract any poison.

Card makes what appears to be a valid point when he appeals to biology and the manner in which children learn their roles from their respective gender parent. Without two parents of different gender, how can the children ever cope with relationships of their own one day? He points out the old cliche that we all ultimately marry a person exactly like our opposite gender parent.

This argument appears to me to be only as flawed as the heterosexual parents are. Which of us after an observation of relationships among adults desires all children to emulate whichever person they happen to call mother and father? My own parents were an embodiment of social and emotional sickness during my young years and ultimately contributed to my own interpersonal struggles over the years. It has only been through overcoming their mistakes that I have learned to engage in a meaningful marriage. Ultimately, which of us would prefer a chance at a healthy home life, even if we sacrifice social alacrity with one particular gender, and even that only temporarily until our experiences can fill the gap?

The Purpose of Marriage

Arguments against homosexual marriage and parenting seem to begin and end with the idea that marriage is for an utterly exclusive singular purpose, the birth of children and the survival of our species. (As if anyone denies those purposes do play a role.) Card writes a number of coherent arguments in this vein which are only worth consideration if one agrees with that premise. I am reminded of what is so commonly said to me by religious people about the purpose of life. If I don't believe in an afterlife or a supernatural objective purpose, why do I do anything? What is the purpose of merely acting out the mindless impulses of our evolutionary struggle, especially since we know for certain that we cannot survive as a species forever? Yet, here are the same people determined to act out that hopeless cycle as though all of society were committed to that end. I believe I am entitled to the same view in both instances, that life is more of what we make of it than any predetermined destiny. We will not survive eternity, but we have love here and now along with everything else with the potential to make us happy.

In case you haven't seen the pattern yet, Card's assumption is once again rooted in Mormon theology. Just as eternal paradise is contingent on heterosexual marriage, it is also contingent on child rearing. As opposed to mainstream Christianity's view of god as a timeless singular being, Mormons believe in an endless cycle of god's and humans where humans are merely adolescent gods. They believe that child rearing in life is training for what is to come on a large scale. You know, when they grow up from parents to gods of their own world, obviously. Mormonism doesn't just encourage family, they insist that it provides the exclusive path to true happiness, just as they insist theirs is the only "true" church in the world. It is official dogma.

If it is no coincidence that Card's political views fall perfectly in line with his theology, it is also no coincidence that they both directly appeal to authoritarianism. In this way Card reminds me of the Christian apologists I sometimes listen to who, rather than creating their own views, accept the commandments of an unquestionable authority. Merely stating this is not an argument to those who abstain from the process, so they masquerade as intellectuals, pretentiously rehearsing arguments that never convinced them to begin with, in the hopes of casting a wider net in freethinking waters. Maybe we can never know if Card holds his views primary due to his religion, or if he believes the surface arguments he publicly claims to, but I consider it bad enough that we are forced to speculate.

My eyes were first opened to this connection by Dr. Darell Ray's book The God Virus, which I heartily recommend. His hypothesis is that, like viruses, religion's primary imperative is propagation. This is a stunningly simple and obvious explanation for why traditional marriage and family structure are so obsessively defended, since they are the best organizational model for religion to be passed on and survive outside influence. Rather than butchering his excellent arguments and examples, I refer you to his book.

The Hostility of Marriage Supremacists

The following is a quote from Card's 2004 essay that I find particularly interesting.

"But homosexual "marriage" is an act of intolerance. It is an attempt to eliminate any special preference for marriage in society -- to erase the protected status of marriage in the constant balancing act between civilization and individual reproduction. So if my friends insist on calling what they do "marriage," they are not turning their relationship into what my wife and I have created, because no court has the power to change what their relationship actually is. Instead they are attempting to strike a death blow against the well-earned protected status of our, and every other, real marriage. They steal from me what I treasure most, and gain for themselves nothing at all. They won't be married. They'll just be playing dress-up in their parents' clothes."

Did you notice the explicit references to the "special preference" and the "protected status" of heterosexual marriage? Did you notice the insulting and bitter tone that comes out when Card feels the supremacy of his own marriage type has been threatened? Did you notice how Card smoothly transitions between accusations of the "intolerance" of others and statements of his own intolerance and personal attacks? I hear in this rhetoric the same tones of an arrogant elitist group of people trying desperately to keep the "riff-raff" away from the spoils of privilege. Time and again it conjures up images of the civil rights movement in my mind.

It has sometimes been speculated that we are seeing in the early 2000's the first death throes of organized religion in America. This seems an excellent explanation for how frantic the religious atmosphere has recently become. I sometimes wonder if the same is true of the marriage debate. We might be witnessing the death throes of patriarchal religiously bound form of traditional marriage, soon to make way for gender and sexual equality.

The only part of Card's opinion that I simply cannot follow is his insistence that the proponents of gay marriage are actively seeking to marginalize or otherwise remove heterosexuals from influence or as role models, especially in public schools. He seems to treat the movement as a conspiracy theory that is actively engaged in turning the tables on heterosexual people and oppressing them, rather than merely seeking legitimate equality. I can feel his rage when he complains about being labeled as a "homophobe" or an intolerant, yet I can't understand how he doesn't take those accusations seriously. Rather than processing the criticism and attempting to understand his opposition, he dismisses it all as a calculated propaganda campaign designed to silence those like himself who's views are unpopular.

The Fall of a Deeply Empathetic Writer

Card stands out for me on this issue because his writing is so obviously empathetic and emotional. He takes you inside the minds of characters with sharply differing world views in a way that lets you know he understands the issues. Marriage equality and sexual freedom are such empathy driven movements that it seems obvious that someone like Card ought to be capable of better view. What a loss this man's voice is on an issue that could have benefited greatly from his analytic empathy and passion for individual freedoms. Even though I try to appreciate the art without reference to the artist, I have difficulty reading his work now without disgust. Now that gay marriage has been so successfully passed all over the USA, Card has publicly said that his opinion is now "moot". I couldn't disagree more. I think views as eye opening as his ought to be heard and confronted more often. May they serve as a reminder of what we will face if we do not win the important social battles of our time. Without care, we could end up taking orders from people like Card.

Lessons learned: Meeting your hero(s) isn't required in order to lose respect for them.

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness.

-Karl Marx
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20-01-2015, 08:24 PM
RE: The Fall of Orson Scott Card
He is a tool.
Won't read his books and I won't pay a dime to see any movie of his.
I prefer not to give money to bigots if at all possible.
I respect his right to say whatever the fuck he wants but there are consequences to saying vile things.
Suck it up cupcake.
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20-01-2015, 09:06 PM
RE: The Fall of Orson Scott Card
Barely relevant, but: As a long, long time SF reader, I have never understood the awe and admiration expressed by readers (mostly of a certain age, perhaps) toward "Ender's Game."

Polls of the "best" SF novel of all time now routinely end up with Frank Herbert's "Dune" at the top, and "Ender's Game" not far behind.

I'm sure I'm being a homer here, but I see these results and I think, "The mature readers choose 'Dune.' The pimply, misunderstood kids of yore choose Card."

And Card is an egotistical dick. He got so deeply into his foolish defense of anti-gay bias—rooted in his firm belief in what may be the most transparently bogus and ridiculous religion of all time, Mormonism—that he's just stuck there now.

A little like Dan Simmons, a once thoughtful man who got swallowed up in post-9/11 chickenshittery and paranoia and now mostly writes novels full of bitter political screeds, anti-gay among them.

Ah, I miss Asimov. Not a great writer, but a good storyteller and a great man. And Clarke, and Bradbury.....

God does not work in mysterious ways — he works in ways that are indistinguishable from his non-existence.
Jesus had a pretty rough weekend for your sins.
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21-01-2015, 12:45 AM
RE: The Fall of Orson Scott Card
While I hate his personal views, his ender series is still one of the best I've ever read, and I'll maintain that regardless of what he says in the future.

You don't have to agree with someone's personal opinion to enjoy their writing on a completely non-related subject. For fucks sake the dude writes Sci-Fi, not Historical Novels.

The OP is right on the money with Card's writing and characterization, but sometimes it's vastly easier to see the flaws in others, rather then look at your own.

@Claywise: You state the mature readers choose 'Dune' and the misunderstood kids choose Ender's Game. My response to you is "Generalizations? Really?". Dune is by far an away the better book/series, but that doesn't mean it's more "mature", or that the people that read Ender's Game are lesser individuals. In my Opinion, ANYONE who reads EITHER book should be pat on the back for at least picking up a damn book with today's generation snubbing any form of literature that isn't US or People Magazine.


TL;DR: I enjoy the stories, I don't have to like the author on a personal level to enjoy their stories.

Shock And Awe Tactics-- The "application of massive or overwhelming force" to "disarm, incapacitate, or render the enemy impotent with as few casualties to ourselves and to noncombatants as possible"
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25-01-2015, 12:32 PM
RE: The Fall of Orson Scott Card
(21-01-2015 12:45 AM)Likos02 Wrote:  TL;DR: I enjoy the stories, I don't have to like the author on a personal level to enjoy their stories.
Hear hear. I think Card's Mormonic views are so obvious and silly, that it is almost quaint. But his writing is still great and I personally haven't seen any hints of that.

Hell, I have read his "Alvin the Maker" series and it's chock-full of anti-slavery, anti-racism and female empowerment themes. (no anti-gay themes detected)
I think his Mormon antics are putting on the show to preserve his familial and social circle or something like that.

His books are too good to waste.
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25-01-2015, 06:54 PM
RE: The Fall of Orson Scott Card
(21-01-2015 12:45 AM)Likos02 Wrote:  @Claywise: You state the mature readers choose 'Dune' and the misunderstood kids choose Ender's Game. My response to you is "Generalizations? Really?". Dune is by far an away the better book/series, but that doesn't mean it's more "mature", or that the people that read Ender's Game are lesser individuals. In my Opinion, ANYONE who reads EITHER book should be pat on the back for at least picking up a damn book with today's generation snubbing any form of literature that isn't US or People Magazine.

I won't disagree with you, Likos. And my general rule in life—obviously violated here—is never to carp about what people like and don't like. I may not like NASCAR racing, but what's the point of criticizing it?

I like "Ender's Game" well enough, but to me it's something like the Harry Potter of SF, where I view "Dune" as akin to "The Lord of the Rings." Much deeper, more carefully wrought, more thoughtful. All IMO, of course.

I think I'm a little older than most of the die-hard Ender fans, but it always felt a little like a YA/juvenile to me. Of course, I don't really like Heinlein, but I confess his juveniles have a lot of pop.

So, mea culpa. Didn't mean to be dickish and violate my own rule!

God does not work in mysterious ways — he works in ways that are indistinguishable from his non-existence.
Jesus had a pretty rough weekend for your sins.
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