Now for today’s post. One of the results of my spending uncounted hours on a computer class lately is that my regular reading has slowed. I’ve been reading just about 10 pages a day, while I eat a bedtime snack, from Orson Scott Card’s Xenocide, the 3rd in the Ender series. But maybe an advantage to that is that I can talk about it yet again.
This isn’t a book that I recommend for its story. Storyline is more an excuse for talking philosophy from various points of view. But occasionally in these discussions there are nuggets that I want to take out and keep. In this first one, a young Chinese servant girl named Wang Mu, on the world of Path, is thinking through the eternal question of how to tell who is good and what is right to do. On her world the religion is, I think, a derivative of Buddhism, 3000+ years in the future. The religious leaders, however, are people who have been genetically engineered to be extremely intelligent but also to have an untreatable form of OCD, which they interpret as the gods speaking to them to direct them when they are going in a right or wrong direction. Wang Mu doesn’t understand why gods would humiliate people so cruelly, and she has taken what could be viewed as a rebellious position against the gods, so she is working through this decision.
She remembered Wiggin [Andrew Wiggin, or Ender, whom she has met only by computer connection] telling her what the gods would be like. Real gods would want to teach you how to be just like them. Why would he say such a thing? How could he know what a god would be?
Somebody who wants to teach you how to know everything that they know and do everything that they do—what he was really describing was parents, not gods….
He was describing good parents. He wasn’t telling her what the gods were, he was telling her what goodness was. To want other people to grow. To want other people to have all the good things that you have. And to spare them the bad things if you can. That was goodness.
What were the gods, then? They would want everyone else to know and have and be all good things. They would teach and share and train, but never force….
That was it. That’s what the gods would be, if there were gods. They would want everyone else to have all that was good in life, just like good parents. But unlike parents or any other people, the gods would actually know what was good and have the power to cause good things to happen, even when nobody else understood that they were good. As Wiggin said, real gods would be smarter and stronger than anybody else. They would have all the intelligence and power that it was possible to have. (pp. 432-434)
A dozen pages later, Valentine, Ender’s sister, has a conversation with Olhado [pronounced Ohl-yah-doo], one of Ender’s grown stepsons. Ender joined a very dysfunctional family in the previous book, and now 25 years have passed. The others all went into science fields, but Olhado is a brickyard foreman. When he was young, he had many philosophical ideas that no one listened to, so Valentine is coming now to get his opinions. He tells her what happened when Andrew [Ender] joined the family, and how it affected his life.
“I saw what Andrew did in our family. I saw that he came in and listened and watched us. He tried to discover our need and then supply it. He took responsibility for other people and it didn’t seem to matter to him how much it cost him. And in the end, while he could never make the Ribeira family normal, he gave us peace and pride and identity. Stability. He married Mother and was kind to her. He loved us all. He was always there when we wanted him, and seemed unhurt by it when we didn’t. He was firm with us about expecting civilized behavior, but never indulged his whims at our expense. And I thought: This is so much more important than science. Or politics, either. Or any particular profession or accomplishment or thing you can make. I thought: If I could just make a good family, if I could just learn to be to other children, their whole lives, what Andrew was, coming so late into ours, then that would mean more in the long run, it would be a finer accomplishment than anything I could ever do with my mind or my hands”
“So you’re a career father,” said Valentine.
“Who works at a brick factory to feed and clothe the family. Not a brickmaker who also has kids….
“Jacqueline. My wife. She followed her own road to the same place. We do what we must to earn our place in the community, but we live for the hours at home. For each other, for the children. It will never get me written up in the history books…. It’s a boring life, to read about,” said Olhado. “Not to live, though.” (pp. 448-449)
What is goodness? It is what a good parent does for a child. What is a worthwhile life? It is enjoying the peace, beauty, and love of being a good parent to children, to give them all the good you can, the way the real God gives us, His children that He loves.
If this were the perspective of a critical mass of the people, then economic problems practically disappear, and social problems are shrunken to levels manageable by these good people. When families do well what they do best, civilization happens.