Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Philosophical View of Speaker for the Dead

Introduction and Synopses
            Orson Scott Card is an author best known for his works in Science Fiction. His most recognized contributions to the Science Fiction genre are two books: Ender’s Game (1985) and its sequel Speaker for the Dead (1986), both of which won the Hugo and Nebula science fiction awards. Subsequently, he has written several sequels and prequels to these original works. The series currently has eleven books with a twelfth forthcoming. 
           Having read several of his books, primarily in relation to the Ender’s game Series. I noticed his books deeply embedded with explicit and implicit philosophical themes that range from genocide, protecting nature, to human behavior. I have decided to focus in on of Card's works and analyze the core philosophies and morals that are addressed directly and indirectly in Speaker for the Dead, Card’s second written book in the Ender’s Game Series
          The protagonist isAndrew Wiggin, commonly known as “Ender” or “Ender Wiggin”. The book takes place around 5270 AD, in an unknown part of the universe. A this point, humanity is continuing to expand into the universe colonizing habitable worlds.
Ender was born some 3,000 years ago on earth, before the colonization efforts had begun. Ender was recruited at the age of six to go to battle school; a military training base in outer space. In as few short years Ender, still a young child, played the leading role as a military strategist and commander in the defeat and xenocide, or extermination, of an apparent hostile alien race known by the humans as “Buggers”. Ender was viewed as a hero; a savior from the threat of the alien species.
 Shortly after the Buggers were eliminated, Ender and his sister Valentine, left the earth and the rest of humanity behind to go with the first colonization group to the Buggers home world. Ender travels at faster-than-light speeds and thus due to relativistic space travel by the time he gets to the Buggers home world all those that he knew back on earth were long dead while he had aged a relatively small amount. On this planet Ender found a message preserved for him from the Buggers. It turned out the Buggers were not the threat that everyone had assumed them to be. The Buggers had preserved an egg and psychically led Ender to it in hopes that he would take it another world and be able to perpetuate the Bugger race. 
The Bugger’s home world was not suitable to hatch the egg, so Ender once again took to the stars traveling at faster than light speeds searching for a suitable location. During this time, he wrote a book called The Hive Queen, an autobiography of the buggers' including the good the bad and the ugly.  He sent this to earth under the pseudonym “speaker for the dead” where it became classic literature. Since that time is has become a custom among some to have a “speaker” speak in behalf of the dead, telling their full story rather than the sanitized version that is so often spoken at funerals. Since the publication and acceptance of this book Speaker for the Dead, Ender became increasingly unpopular, he is viewed as the monster that had destroyed the only other sentient life that had been discovered.
Ender, now in his 30’s, identified as the planet Lusitania as the only known habitable planet for the buggers. Lusitania had already been colonized by humans for several years. However, Lusitania was already inhabited by Sentient creature called Pequeninos, commonly referred to as Piggies. As Ender, going by his given name of Andrew Wiggin, lands on the planet, he enters under the pretense of being a Speaker for the Dead. However, he secretly is there to introduce yet another sentient life form on the planet--the Buggers.
There are strong parallels to how humanity viewed the buggers 3,000 of years ago. The humans on Lusitania feared the piggies and many held animosity and even hostility towards them. While technologically the Piggies were several thousand years behind them, piggies learned quickly despite the human's best efforts to protect their technology. Further, the Piggies carry a virus that is lethal to most life including humans; which if they were to achieve space travel could effectively work as a terraforming agent for any plant they would inhabit.  To further strain the relationship, through a misunderstanding, the Piggies killed a few of the human residents on Lusitania. In response, humans on a neighboring world sent a strike force to Lusitania to eliminate all life on Lusitania including the Piggies, the humans, and the yet-undiscovered recuperating Buggers.
This xenocidal act was philosophically justified by giving ultimate value to human benefit. Any non-human was ranked lower on the importance hierarch, which degrades the value of their ambitions, pleasures, pains, and thoughts. Non-humans were place on the Hierarchy of Foreignness, which essesnsially is a heuristic that can be used to justify ultimate self-interest, ethnocentrism, and non-human manipulation for human benefit. On his website Orson Scott Card discusses different classifications on the Hierarchy of Foreignness:
By definition a varelse is someone so alien and dangerous that you can't know them and can't reach an understanding with them; but that inability to know them makes it quite possible that they are potentially raman [on the same level as human] after all, but you have no way of discovering it… Once having admitted the possibility that, to defend your own community, you might have to obliterate another, do you then find yourself leaping to the conclusion that any degree of strangeness is enough to make aliens worthy of treatment as varelse?
The Piggies are seen as less-than-human and feared because of the sentience they have and the potential competition for resources, planets, and dominance. The humans thus feel justified in eliminating all the Piggies in an effort to make human life most pleasurable at the sacrifice of other “less valuable” life. This justification seeks to employ a method of Utilitarianism; that the most happiness in the long run would come from the elimination of the Piggies and all those on Lusitania. While this is a version of Utilitarianism,  it does not harmonize with classical views of Utilitarianism, as constructed by Jeremy Bentham or John Mill.

Jeremy Bentham’s view of Utilitarianism was revolutionary to philosophy. Bentham asserted life should not be measured by how well one reasons, but rather their ability to suffer or feel pleasure. While humans may be able to reason better than piggies or non-humans, that does not mean human's are more acutely aware of pain or pleasure. As Bentham explained in his book, Introduction to the Principle of Moral and Legislation:
The day has been, I am sad to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing, as, in England for example, the inferior races of animals are still… The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognised that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?
            In the book Speaker for the Dead, humanity has not progressed as Bentham has seen or hoped for. Rather, humanity had digressed to inflicting pain on sentient being simply because they view them less-than-human whose pleasure or pain is less valuable than humans. They have reasoned and found it best to destroy an entire species for human primacy.
            Similarly, John Mill defended animal rights proclaiming:
It is "to most persons" in the Slave States of America not a tolerable doctrine that we may sacrifice any portion of the happiness of white men for the sake of a greater amount of happiness to black men. It would have been intolerable five centuries ago "to most persons" among the feudal nobility, to hear it asserted that the greatest pleasure or pain of a hundred serfs ought not to give way to the smallest of a nobleman… Nothing is more natural to human beings, nor, up to a certain point in cultivation, more universal, than to estimate the pleasures and pains of others as deserving of regard exactly in proportion to their likeness to ourselves. These superstitions of selfishness had the characteristics by which Dr. Whewell recognizes his moral rules; and his opinion on the rights of animals shows that in this case at least he is consistent. We are perfectly willing to stake the whole question on this one issue. Granted that any practice causes more pain to animals than it gives pleasure to man; is that practice moral or immoral? And if, exactly in proportion as human beings raise their heads out of the slough of selfishness, they do not with one voice answer "immoral," let the morality of the principle of utility be for ever condemned.
           Jeremy Bentham developed the felicific calculus to be able to calculate how to achieve the most pleasure and least pleasure for all involved.  A leading argument against equality asserts there is significant uncertainty in the levels of pain or pleasure a non-human experiences. However, recent philosophy and science has shown that in most cases the majority of these assertions against equality are false. Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher and a prevalent voice on the animal rights issues, said the following in regards to sensational equality of animals and humans:
[E]very particle of factual evidence supports the contention that the higher mammalian vertebrates experience pain sensations at least as acute as our own. To say that they feel less because they are lower animals is an absurdity; it can easily be shown that many of their senses are far more acute than ours.
            As we examine Speaker for the Dead we see that it does not discusses animals with lower level reasoning and unintelligible communication but rather a highly rational species that learns, adapts, communicates and can express themselves equally as capable as humans.  The human's responses demonstrates a degradation of human philosophy reverting to the shared foundations to racism and illogical bias.
            One of Card’s predominate themes in this book is equality, honestly, and fairness; we need to question all out beliefs in honest light and see the world as it really is. As it says in Speaker for the Dead describing the philosophy of a speaker for the dead:
No human being, when you understand his desires, is worthless. No one's life is nothing. Even the most evil of men and women, if you understand their hearts, had some generous act that redeems them, at least a little, from their sins.
For Card, a speaker for the dead is the ideal philosopher. A speaker for the dead is impartial, deals unbiasedly with the facts, and reveals the person in all honesty. They holding everyone equal as individuals and everyone with inherent worth.
Conclusion
This is a theme in many of his books and a primary theme of this one.  Who are we to judge if a species, if a person, or if an animal feels any differently about painful experiences, or joyful experiences than ourselves? We have been egocentric as a species, we prone to assume that we are the most important.  Egocentrism and selfishness is biologically bound to us individually, societally, and interspecifically. No one can feel the pain of others, and thus we deem that it worse for us to feel pain than for others. However, for the best society for everyone , for the greatest happiness for all, we need to follow the golden rule, perhaps best known from Jesus Christ when he said “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”

Works Cited
Bentham, Jeremy, and Laurence J. Lafleur. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation ;.New York: Hafner Pub., 1948. Print.


Card, Orson Scott. Speaker for the Dead. New York, NY: TOR, 1986. Print.


Card, Orson Scott. "Student Research Area - OSC Answers Questions." Hatrack River - The Official Web Site of Orson Scott Card. Web. 18 July 2010. .


King James Bible. [Cambridge, England]: Chadwyck-Healey, 1996. Print.


Mill, John Stuart. Dr. Whewell on Moral Philosophy. [Charlottesville, VA]: InteLex, 200. Print.


Rollin, Bernard E. The Unheeded Cry: Animal Consciousness, Animal Pain, and Science. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989. Print.


Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. New York, NY: New York Review of, 1990. Print.


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