Science Fiction? Still Relevant – Contemporary Takeaways in Ender’s Game

Although Ender’s Game was set in a completely science fictional context and also was written in 1991 (with parts of the story in conception even before that), I found that this novel had a lot more resonance with contemporary issues and debates than some of the other novels we have read (even though those were ostensibly grounded in “real-life” world issues). In my post, I’m just going to go through some of the quotes that I found that, for me, really addressed some of the issues America, and the world, grapples with today.

Manipulating Citizenry Fear: GOP Power Grabs and Islamic Fundamentalism 

On page 110, Dink, when discussing the I.F. manipulation of First and Second Invasion propaganda with Ender, says: “Because as long as people are afraid of the buggers, the I.F. can stay in power, and as long as the I.F. is in power, certain countries [i.e., America] can keep their hegemony.” For me, this echoed both George W. Bush-era policies and some of the fear-mongering rhetoric we see in the GOP debates today. In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush very openly played on the fears of his citizenry and the need to keep “our nation” safe in order to justify previously unheard of Presidential power grabs and control (i.e., the Patriot Act). Even as support for the War on Terror and seemingly never-ending interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan waned throughout his time in office, President Bush continued to draw on the rhetoric of fear and needing to protect our nation from the specter of terrorism in order to maintain power and some semblance of an approval rating. Nearly eight years after the conclusion of the Bush presidency, we see the same rhetoric utilized by GOP presidential candidates in order to garner support from potential voters. Donald Trump doesn’t have tolerance for ISIS, and has openly advocated to water board members of the Islamic State in order to protect American’s from further harm. If he were president, Ben Carson would not let Syrian refugees into the country because one of them could be a “rabid dog” that would hurt us. Furthermore, President Obama and Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton have come under fire for not being fearful enough of the incoming deluge of Syrian refugees, and putting our nation in jeopardy.

By playing on the fears of  the American citizenry, these presidential candidates have been able to claim that they are protecting the interests and people of America while simultaneously advocating for  things that are wholly against American values (i.e., waterboarding, painting an entire swathe of the American population with a broad brush, anti-refugee policy, etc.) Through these tactics, candidates like Trump, Cruz, and Carson have been able to either garner more support for their presidential races or hold onto their strong position in the pack.

Humans vs. Computers Debate: Why Computers Aren’t Overtaking Humans Anytime Soon 

On page 271, Mazer talks to Ender about the advantages that humans did have over the “group-think” buggers, saying: “They have great response time and a lot of firepower, but we have a few advantages, too. Every single one of or ships contains an intelligent human being who’s thinking on his own. Every one of us is capable of coming up with a brilliant solution to a problem…The buggers think fast, but they aren’t smart all over.”

I’m friends with a lot of Computer Science concentrators here, and one of the things that always comes up in our debates is the fact that one day artificial intelligence (AI) will take the place of all human jobs and humans will eventually become obsolete. This quote, for me, gets at the crux of why I disagree with that statement. Like this article by Nick Jankel, humans will always have a greater innovate/creative capacity than computers (although computers and AI may have faster processing times and act with greater precision and accuracy). Because we have the ability to think as an individual and can innovate/create on the spot, we will always be more flexible and adaptable when it comes to problem solving than computers. Accordingly, while computers may replace humans on many fronts, they will never ultimately make humans obsolete or the “lesser” of the two.

The Reality About Growing Up: Adults Don’t Always Tell the Truth

On page 82, Petra tells Ender: “the adults are the enemy, not the other armies. They do not tell us the truth.”

This was one of the toughest things I had to break out of when I came to Brown — my partially Southern background and the fact that, growing up, my parents hadn’t always told me things that were correct. In some cases, these lies were benign and harmless, such as Santa Claus (which I cracked long before I got to college, luckily). However, in some cases, the lies that we learn growing up are because parents and adults do not want to face an ugly truth themselves or they want to maintain the social status quo (i.e., why Columbus is still seen as a hero in many history books). In other cases, the lie, in a strangely twisted sense, is a way to protect children from the “real world,” such as why parents are so unwilling to talk to their children about sex. In the case of the I.F. and its lies to children, my personal stance is that their reasoning lies with the former (the desire to keep the status quo by not having to explain the way gravity works in the Battle School). Of course, the I.F.’s need to remain in power by manipulating fear responses also plays into the I.F.’s approach towards its child trainees, which I think does make Ender’s situation a bit more severe than a parent’s lie to their child.

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