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A Matter of Culture

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

According to history…this has happened many times. The most prominent example is that of the Greek Spartans (ca. 600-300 B.C.). The government would take away boys at age seven and put them through rigorous military training (hmm…very reminiscent of Ender’s Game). They did so in order to sustain the order of their society (i.e. their exploitation of the Messenian helots, who oftentimes liked to revolt). As a result, Sparta produced the greatest fighting force known to Greek history.

Did these young Spartans lose their childhood? I think not. The procedure ascribed to a normal childhood in their society was to be taken away and become soldiers. This was widely accepted. Mothers proudly gave up their children in order to promote the greater good. I think the same analysis can work with Ender’s Game. Was their culture wrong in establishing this system? That’s debatable. However, they did what they thought best to sustain themselves and provide a future for their children – even if this meant creatively using their children (what we might call exploitation of children). Overall, I think the “right to a childhood,” whatever that may be, is designated by the specific needs of a society and cannot be compared with how we might view a normal childhood today. However, I personally believe in the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Thus, I think the best society is one which incorporates this rule, especially in the raising of their children. 

Five Year-Olds, Picketing for their Rights

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

The “right to childhood”, along with every other “right”, is subject to a diverging definition problem.  We speak quite freely about “naturally emerging order” but the reality of youth is that it needs, and indeed, it craves some degree of structure and instruction.  I applaud the amazing men and women who, for their brilliance of mind and exuberance of energy, could be making much more than they do as teachers, who give their lives to the instruction of children.  And I fully believe that they do so according to the best practices of which they are aware.  Yet they still make mistakes.  And sometimes those mistakes have lasting consequences.  It’s a difficult balance to strike.

Ender’s Game is a great book and has been one of my favorites for a long time.  Yet the urgency of the scenario in Ender’s Game is without parallel in the real world.  On the far other end of the spectrum resides those who argue that a public education system robs children of their right to a childhood since they have no choice but to be in school.  That strict parents who require extraordinary discipline in the pursuit of musical or artistic excellence in their kids are stealing their children’s childhood.  A childhood is not stolen if the child, upon arrival at adulthood is benefitted and consciously grateful for the abilities bestowed by a structured learning environment during the crucial early years of impressionability.  Besides, I know plenty of people who seem to have more than made up for their “lack of childhood” during pre-pubescence with more than adequate post-adolescent delinquency.  

The Lance Larsen definition of “the right of childhood” includes not only a freedom from fear and manipulation, but also a healthy dose of structured learning about the systems or order upon which society is built.  Children have a right to be introduced to the real world, not dumped into it.

The Ambiguity of Exploitation

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

I have little to add, as Ben and Richard pretty much made my argument for me.  First, the word “exploitation” is so incredibly subjective that its mere use negates the point of an objective argument.  Second, talking about a “right to childhood” isn’t quite as subjective, but as Ben and Richard both pointed out, there are problems with both the ages during which a child is considered to be having a “childhood”, and what constitutes a “normal” childhood.  And finally, anytime you try to base a real-world argument on a completely fictional story, it relies on way too many assumptions.

However, in the spirit of the questions…

Was Ender’s childhood stolen? No, he made choices to participate in the school voluntarily (this ignores the fact that his life was created as property of the state in the first place, which is a completely separate discussion) and thus no theft occurred.

Can exploitation of children be justified?  ANYTHING can be justified at any time and for any reason.  (The question is whether or not society and/or you as an individual accept the justification).

EXAMPLE:  I have 2 kids.  My little boy is four and he loves to help his dad.  On almost a daily basis I will have him run little errands for me (things like go to the fridge and bring me a drink) – it qualifies as exploitation (I don’t pay him for it), and I justify it because he enjoys doing it.  You can decide whether you accept my justification or not.

Invented Rights

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

There is no right to childhood unless society or the state grants the right to childhood. A right is nothing but a legalized privilege. Until a right to childhood is granted through some legal means, there is no right there at all. This means that the adults who manipulated and abused Ender stole nothing from him. What could they steal? His expectation for a normal childhood? (It must be a normal childhood that we mean when we say a right to childhood; Ender didn’t actually lose his childhood except as childhood is taken to mean a carefree space of time before adulthood.) Ender didn’t lose his expectation for a normal childhood (if he ever had it at all); at most, it was simply left unfulfilled.

This is the conundrum we place ourselves in if we insist of talking about all goods in terms of legalistic rights. How can we express what was taken from Ender using rightspeak? Since it was nothing material, it is hard to describe. In the end, our desire to condemn this action leads us to inventing rights that are neither intuitive nor derived through reason. To take a real life example, we have the debate between pro-choice and pro-life Americans. Both sides, shepherded by tradition into using rightspeak, invent rights (the right to life and the right to choose) that are obviously unintuitive, since large populations disagree over whether they exist. In addition, neither of these rights can be convincingly derived from nature, God, or science. In their urgency to condemn the other side, pro-life and pro-choice groups invent rights since they believe that only rights can be violated. In the same way, we might feel that there is something deeply wrong about the way Ender was used. To condemn the people who used Ender with a condemnation we feel is fitting to their abuse, we must invent a right that they violated. The right to a normal childhood takes its place among the right to life and the right to choose.



Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

I’ve read Ender’s Game a couple times and this summer I read the parallel story Ender’s Shadow. Ender’s Shadow explores Bean’s story. Bean is smarter than Ender by a lot, but doesn’t have the interpersonal skills. But he cares about knowing how the system operates that he exists in. That book does a better job of showing how the children are exploited and shows Ender’s brilliance as a commander.

With some additional information in mind I’m going to explore Ender’s experience. Yes the children sort of had a choice about going to Battle School, Graff is right when he said that kids that didn’t go voluntarily would only be good for “cannon fodder.” So yes they went voluntarily. And really, they could go home if they couldn’t hack it. But they were also put in situations that I don’t really think are fair, put in an institutionalized, managed, stasist system. When they got there their communication with their family was broken off. There were a lot of things that Ender didn’t choose, and choices that were made for him before he ever voluntarily entered Battle School. In another novel it actually comes out that the government probably engineered Ender’s parents’ marriage to get offspring with a combination of analytical brilliance (the mom) and empathy/interpersonal skills (the dad). Ender’s life and development were dictated by a government. Maybe you noticed that Ender’s parents were both religious, but didn’t talk about it in front of their kids. This wasn’t just because religion was frowned upon. Because he and his siblings were Battle School candidates, the government wouldn’t let his parents put ideas into their head that might make them less malleable at battle school. After Peter was rejected for Battle School and it came out that he was a bit of a bully, his parents stretched the rules and tried to teach him some basic values of right and wrong. Does anybody else think this is creepy?

I think most of us agree that the type of institutions we create and then place people in are extremely important. Think about the institutional structure that was the Battle School. It was rigid. Within the certain confines dynamism was encouraged. Ender was a dynamist, manipulated into being so granted. But they’d created and even encouraged such a stasist structure that Ender’s government authorized dynamism nearly got him killed. Dink rebelled against the system. In Ender’s Shadow Bean did too. Ender didn’t. He accepted the system and let it exploit him. But how many of people can see through the institutions that shape their lives and successfully alter them or change them?

Kids vs. Adults?

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

The whole premise of Ender going to battle school was for the “good” of society, what “good” defined was determined by the government.  Now, I know everyone is arguing that Ender had the choice to go to battle school, but I do not think this is necessarily the case. I think if he had adamantly refused to go, they would have forced him. This seems apparent to me for two reasons, one his parents had to sign him over to the government, and two the government was monitoring him the whole time to see his abilities. Thus, if he had refused to go, they would have done one of two things, first; they could state that the paper his mom signed gave them a “right” to Ender or second; they would have used the information acquired from monitoring him to manipulate him into going into battle school (which they did do).

Now, in regards to Randy’s question, “Can exploitation of children be justified even in the face of extreme danger to a society?”. Obviously, I disagree with this premise; however, I think we can find cases of this in our history. I liked Holly’s post (and Holly what is in those “happy” meals is far worse than diabetes from the soda and fries, their meat is a direct production of disgusting factory farms as McDonalds still refuses to use Controlled Atmosphere Killing. There have been a number of health claims against McDs which is why they now say their chicken nuggets are 100% white meat, not) because it is an example of media manipulation, although I guess the counter argument is that parents buy the food. I also found Josh’s comment interesting regarding signing up for the military at 18, however, a counter argument to this is that American men did not always have the choice of whether or not they wanted to join the military, we had drafts.

I also wanted to mention that the prevailing comparison of kids to adults brings about some contrasting views in this novel. It is obvious that Ender is an example of a child who is extremely intelligent and his understanding is the reason the government picks him to fight the battle, because they know the adult commanders cannot destroy the buggers. However, they do manipulate Ender into fighting this battle by deceiving him (the omission of their manipulation is on page 298). Thus, is Ender really capable of exercising his own “free” will if he cannot even decipher when he is being lied to (which would have been quite hard considering the environment of battle school)?

Now, in contrast to the view that adults always manipulate kids, we see two children (Valentine and Peter/Sicko) running the political world through their arguments. Thus, these two kids overpower the political government made up of adults.

Tadpole survival. Bleak.

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

These questions brings up a myriad of following inquiries. Is there a right to childhood? If so, does the government get to decide when childhood is over? And is there the same right to adulthood, then? Animalistically speaking (and no, that’s not a word, at least not according to my auto-spell checker), is there any further reason to inhabit the earth other than survival? But if we look at a societal view, many would argue that our obligations to our children are to raise them with sufficient nourishment and protection, and to impart upon them our knowledge so they can go on to be contributing members of society and take over for us when we die. That argument itself has endless debate depending on individual belief systems, so it is difficult to blanket-statement what the “greater good” could be, should be, or is.

If mankind’s ultimate purpose is simply to survive, the exploitation of children can be justified because of  extreme danger facing society. But don’t deem me heartless just yet. I said “if”… Let’s be honest, if the entire survival of a species is left to a puppy, kitten, tadpole, joey, chick, or child, that species has far greater problems than just survival.  If the purpose is to impart knowledge and protection so they can take over when we pass on, then the adults should not be dependent on the children, but rather the opposite. At the beginning of the semester I put too much trust in the government, believing they, or the general public voting, understood when choices for that same “greater good” were appropriate. I have since come to realize that individual liberty is priceless.  If the children are exploited without mercy “for the greater good,” liberty is lost. Perhaps the government and world leaders should have held the responsibility to do thorough research on the enemy before sending children to their deaths in higher ranking. The enemy in question ultimately wanted harmonious lives with humans, as Ender later discovered. This is the true tragedy and exploitation of Ender, beyond leaving his innocence behind when he left his family, because Ender would have to live with actions and choices he made (heroic or not) during the stage of his life that is normally deemed preparatory. He would have to live with the guilt of unknowingly annihilating an entire species due to perceived, not actual threat. The government was wrong, which in turn infringed upon people’s basic rights, and in this case, exploited children.

Take a long holiday Let your children play

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

In society, parents are granted the legal obligation to take care of their children. For instance, parents must sign wavers for their children to participate in an event, and children are reliant upon their parents to make purchases on their behalf (because kids can’t get jobs). Society recognizes that children do not have the same mental capacity as adults; therefore, adults need to act on their behalf. The right to childhood is only as good as the parents allow it to be.

In the book, Ender’s parents gave up their right to represent Ender when they made the decision to have him. This law was installed to regulate the population which is apparently an issue. Ender’s parents made the choice, on his behalf, to give up their parenthood. When Ender was born his parents were the government. Legally, Ender wasn’t exploited because the government was fulfilling the role of acting as his parents. In fact, the government watched over Ender with the monitor until they felt he had the mental capacity of an adult (which is what parents normally do in society).

Furthermore, Ender was given the choice to go to battle school. This choice was presented to him only after he had reached the mental capacity of an adult. This situation would be the same as if I was to turn the age of 18 and then sign up for the military. Is this bad? I don’t think so.

Ender was not exploited. Society does not have the right to exploit children.

Ronald McDonald is exploiting our children

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

The prompt this week gave me shudders.  Exploit children for the good of society?  Honestly?  Over the past few weeks we have discussed what the greater good is and how to achieve the best economical free market discussing pros and cons, but never have we discussed the exploitation of children.  When we are talking about human rights, I remember a point made that one man’s right is another man’s obligation.  Is childhood a right?  The question then becomes is it our obligation to ensure that those weaker and more vulnerable such as children are protected.  We need to able them to mature emotionally and physically at appropriate ages.  From a society in Ender’s Game that sacrifices it’s children for the greater good, I would have to say that the greater good is no longer relevant because the greater evil has already been committed.  What society did they have left when they had no religious freedom and children were being sacrificed to a demigod government?  I cheered Ender on as he left the Earth to it’s own ruin and started his own society with Valentine.  What right to life, liberty, and happiness is there when you are forced to sacrifice your children to a government which decides the greater good?

Then there is the question of who decides the greater good.  In Ender’s Game it was the government who decided what the greater good was.  Ender protested at the thought of having to kill the Bugger society which might actually be similar to ourselves, but to no avail.  The government workers simply manipulated him into believing their story more.  What the people saw was so censored that the government manipulated the population into agreeing with their ‘greater good’.  Even Ender’s mother could not give birth to him without signing him over to the government.

In connection with our society today, we do have exploitation of children in the United States.  Take for example Ronald McDonald.  This very frightening clown is raking in cash on the demands of two year olds for happy meals.  Who decided that the greater good was to give children diabetes from a life  of soft drinks and french fries?  It is the people who want money and entrepreneurship at any cost who are riding on a free market to decide the greater good.  When a two year old is manipulated by commercials to buy a happy meal, the child is not exercizing their free agency but has had their agency taken away from them.  We need to be careful not to take away our liberties at the expense of the greater good, because often times the unseen becomes the greater evil.

Permission and Social Legislation

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Two thoughts came to me as I was pondering the question for this week.

First, I want to take the question further and look at what the children symbolize, along with the people that exploit them. In my understanding, the children represented us, normal people living our lives, while those leaders in the story represented the leaders we have today. As Richard mentioned, the children in this story were not exploited without their choice, each made a conscious decision to go to the Battle School, but is this the same way that it works in our society? Do we get the make the choice to give up our rights, like Ender gave up his right to a normal life? Just something to think about, but I don’t remember government officials ever coming to my door to ask my permission to increase my taxes.

Secondly, one distinction to make here is that in Ender’s Game it is not a government, but “society” that is asking Ender to make this sacrifice. The Battle School recruits children from around the globe and it is the International Fleet that comes to his home and takes him to the Battle School. Ender is not making this choice for a government, but for society. I agree with Kip that no one can pinpoint what the “greater good” really is, but since it was a completely consensual decision made not only at the family level, but all the way up to the international level it, the notion of a “greater good” might possibly be an acceptable idea. Could it possibly change the meaning of “greater good” if every individual involved agreed that one path was the best above other options? In the modern setting, would social legislation be acceptable if every American citizen agreed to it?