(Content: cultural supremacy, genocide, ritual murder. Fun content: I will never get tired of the graffiti of Pompeii.)
Speaker for the Dead: p. 220--232
Chapter Fourteen: Renegades
This chapter is so long that I think something has to happen, but that also means it gets split over two weeks so we can really soak up all of the ways in which this is a terrible book. Let's start with this opening exchange from one of Ouanda's transcripts:
LEAF-EATER: Human says that when your brothers die, you bury them in the dirt, and then make your houses out of that dirt. (Laughs.)
MIRO: No. We never dig where people are buried.
LEAF-EATER: (becomes rigid with agitation): Then your dead don't do you any good at all!I have some vague hope that we're about to solve the Science Mystery, so Card is throwing the most blatant possible indications at us that the trees are literally 'dead' Little Ones. What interests me more is this cliche where the 'primitive tribe' is always presented as vastly more horrified by outsiders not following the same rituals or values, compared to the wise outsiders who know everyone has different practices and remain utterly mellow about it. I'm hoping that we're about to get a little reversal of that, when humanity finally figures out what the Little Ones' deal is and they get to be shocked and horrified at the Truth About War, but I don't expect we're ever going to get the Little Ones being all mellow and "Huh, so that's what humans do; interesting". Their reactions always have to be overwhelmingly emotional, either raucous laughter or revulsion and knives, because that is how we always characterise 'primitive tribes'.
Mind you, the Lusitanians are themselves also a tiny monoculture settlement largely isolated from any other concepts of societal structure, and we've been seeing a whole lot of how that limits their capacity to understand things (e.g., bad definitions of male/female, sex and gender, social hierarchies, and restrictive expectations of alien biology in general), but I'm still waiting to see that acknowledged and not just presented in the form of "All of our science cannot fathom these strange creatures!"
Anyway. Miro and Ouanda have zero problem getting Ender through the village fence, because no one likes acknowledging that the fence is there and no one watches it. Miro and Ouanda might be the only people whose palmprints can open the door, but... security cameras? Surely this privacy-exploding settlement has space for a monk or two who spend all their time hidden away with rosary beads and a wall of TVs showing key security points around the colony?
They pause by Rooter's tree for Ouanda to exposit about how they've relied on Rooter for most of their spiritual advice over the last seven years, which they get by drumming rituals that they've heard but never seen, using fallen wood sticks. Ender thinks they would have done well in Battle School--Miro's total emotional control, Ouanda's sense of responsibility--but still quickly acts to assert his authority over these teenagers by demonstrating that he knows about Rooter and interrogates them about the trees (never planted anywhere except in corpses, no saplings elsewhere in the woods). He works out that Miro's worry is that there's a Little One in danger of getting murdered that night, but rather than hurry, he decides he can let Ouanda question him now.
He leans back against the tree, appreciating the view up through the leaves, and is struck by sudden déjà vu, though all he can think is that he's never seen a tree like this before. (He does not, for example, connect it to the last blast of imagery he got via the Hive Queen.)
Miro and Ouanda begin telling him about the "Questionable Activities", which is not a sexual euphemism (yet!) but refers to the technological meddling they've started. Ender does take a moment to think about how obvious it is that they're in love [HINT: IT IS NOT OBVIOUS] and be sad that they will hate him when he soon speaks Marcos' death and "drive[s] the wedge of the incest tabu between you". Which is a weird phrasing, to me. Like... he's not making the tabu up or anything. They are half-siblings and it would be a bad idea for them to reproduce. Focusing on 'tabu' makes it sound like he's sorry more about the social pressure they'll feel to not hook up, like it's some kind of arbitrary old tradition. Maybe I'm reading too much into what's just supposed to somehow be formal prose.
This next chunk is difficult to figure out how to approach, because on the one hand this is obviously the Turning Point where everything changes, but first Card needs everyone to lay out their philosophies so that Ender can explain to us what is True and what is Stupid. And I feel like being fair to the book means giving those chunks some attention, but on the other hand it's just so boring.
The meddling all started when the Little Ones were running low on grubs and starvation was imminent, so they expected there would be a war and they would all die. They were weirdly cheerful about this, but Libo decided he had to save them, so he showed them how to sun-bake merdona root to neutralise its poisonous enzymes. Ouanda and Miro furiously defend their actions, saying they can't be dispassionate about the lives of the Little Ones the way they would about animals.
Miro struggled for words. "It's as if you could go back, to old Earth, back before the Xenocide, before star travel, and you said to them, You can travel among the stars, you can live on other worlds. And then showed them a thousand little miracles. Lights that turn on from switches. Steel. Even simple things--pots to hold water. Agriculture. They see you, they know what you are, they know that they can become what you are, do all the things that you do. What do they say--take this away, don't show us, let us live out our nasty, short, brutish little lives, let evolution take its course? No. They say, Give us, teach us, help us. [....] And the longer we stay, the more they try to learn, and the more they learn, the more we see how learning helps them, and if you have any kind of compassion, if you understand that they're--they're--"
"Ramen, anyway. They're our children, do you understand that?"I absolutely understand why this would be Miro's perspective on things, but this seems to be the part that Ender agrees with, so we're supposed to take it as fundamentally right, if condescending, since he characterises the Little Ones as immature--children--simply because their tech levels are lower. Maybe the most powerful single thing I've ever read about ancient history is records of the graffiti of Pompeii, because you can only read things like "Marcus loves Spendusa", "I have buggered men", and "If anyone sits here, let him read this first of all: if anyone wants a screw, he should look for Attice; she costs 4 sestertii" so many times before you realise that humans, on a fundamental level, have pretty much been the same for untold millennia, regardless of our technological sophistication. What gets me is that Card isn't going to stop presenting the Little Ones as being chaotic and childlike, which clashes with the apparent implication that it's a terrible mistake to think of them as anything lesser than full responsible individuals.
Miro notes as well that the Little Ones insist Ender ('Andrew', still) is the original Speaker, the author of HQ&H, and they claim that the Hive Queen speaks to them and has promised to bring them endless gifts of technology. Ender realises that the Hive Queen is somehow in contact with them, and specifically learns that she's talking to a mind inside Rooter's tree, which Miro and Ouanda pretend to believe.
"How condescending of you," said Ender [inexplicably not struck down by a righteous deity of hypocrisy].
"It's standard anthropological practice," said Miro.
"You're so busy pretending to believe them, there isn't a chance in the world you could learn anything from them."I'm not sure how he reached that conclusion, since this is literally the first he's heard of it, five seconds ago, but I guess he is drawing a line from that 'they're like our children' bit earlier.
"You're cultural supremacists to the core. You'll perform your Questionable Activities to help out the poor little piggies, but there isn't a chance in the world you'll notice when they have something to teach you."I realise I've levelled this same accusation at Miro and Ouanda myself, but I have the advantage of knowing that they've been getting accurate information from Rooter for several years, whereas the only thing Ender knows they've been told is something spectacularly implausible for which they have zero evidence (that the secret Main Character of the Universe has arrived, bringing with him literally every plot-important aspect of history in the last three thousand years).
Ender continues to attack their hypocrisy, apparently daring karma to strike him down on the spot, by pointing out that they have treated Pipo and Libo's deaths as the inexplicable, unjustifiable actions of senseless animals, even as they claim to recognise the Little Ones as ramen/human. And, well, look--he's not wrong that it has been one long atrocious decision to never ask the Little Ones about why they killed Pipo and Libo, but I'm not seeing how it's valuable to cram that into his sister's special pseudo-Nordic Framework of Who Counts As People. Here on backwards pre-star-travel Earth, we're also capable of recognising individuals who aren't equipped to be held fully accountable for their actions--usually children, but also people under particular types of stress or mental illness. There are a lot of analogies that could be drawn here. Really, sticking with the 'children' thing would probably work better, because then instead of constantly shifting what we mean by 'species' (Miro says the Little Ones are 'human'; Ender makes reference to humanity having 'kicked him out'), we could continue to consider how children who are never taught about the consequences of particular harmful actions may keep doing those harmful things without caring. A toddler who is too rough with a pet isn't an alien incapable of ever understanding what empathy means. They're ignorant about animals. Little Ones are ignorant about humans and how much we don't like to be eviscerated. Adults are responsible for fixing toddlers' ignorance. Here on Lusitania, humans are responsible for fixing the Little Ones' ignorance. Ender says that ramen bear responsibility for their actions, but no one considers the idea that people take responsibility for educating themselves, either. Humans, adults, whatever our shorthand term is for 'sapient being considered worthy, independent, and accountable', are capable of asking questions and solving their own problems and not just sitting around waiting for the Main Character to explain the ways of the world to them. Yet, somehow, in all of this reminding us that the Little Ones are people, Card forgot to have the Little Ones investigate the humans, ask why Pipo didn't grow a tree, ask how humans reproduce, or make any substantial effort to solve the Science Mystery from the other direction. They've been too busy shouting that humans are 'like cabras' (which is apparently not true, given what we've heard about cabras?) and alternately revering and shunning Ouanda. The whole 'Little Ones are not like children' message is kind of undercut when the author presents them as needing to be saved from their ignorance by a sensible human.
Ender hints that he really is the first Speaker, but before that can go much further, they find Leaf-Eater. He immediately recognises the Speaker and then retreats into the woods again, and there's more hostility between Ender and Ouanda as he questions whether they actually know how to read Little One body language, she admits they don't always but also that he can't possibly to learn all they know in ten minutes, and Ender says he doesn't need to since he's got them there assisting. Ender really can't decide whether he's got any respect for these two. Miro not-very-reluctantly admits that Ender is right, they've been making lots of foolish assumptions, but then Ender goes back to 'but that's impossible!' thoughts himself when he hears about the bread.
In the face of starvation, Libo taught the Little Ones how to make merdona safe, how to make bread, and then as soon as the first loaves had been delivered to the Wives, Libo was killed. Ender thinks it's completely unthinkable that the Little Ones would murder somebody who helped them so much, but then, I kid you not, he compares it to Miro and Ouanda: despite them being "better and wiser" than Congress, they'll be hauled off for trial and prison if they're ever caught. Yes. Murdering someone who teaches you how to bake is definitely similar to enacting judicial measures against people who break galactic law to completely reshape the development of the only known sapient aliens. Ender, however, thinks that this would only make sense"if you viewed humans as a single community, and the piggies as their enemies; if you thought that anything that helped the piggies survive was somehow a menace to humanity. Then the punishment of people who enhanced the piggies' culture would be designed, not to protect the piggies, but to keep the piggies from developing."
I haven't said much thus far about cultural contamination, because human history again tends to show that when we meet strangers with cool toys, we want to make with the sharing. Even in the most atrocious cases, in genocides like the European colonisation of the Americas, the Aboriginal peoples did like the idea of steel and horses and trading, and Europe just about fell over itself when it came to flora, fauna, and that all-important 'How Not To Die In Canadian Winter' knowledge. (Or, if you're more into Asian history, one of the reasons the Mongol Empire was a lot better than it gets credit for is that they worked that scientific exchange like mad, spreading Chinese medicine west and Arabian metallurgy east, leading to a mess of new inventions.) So my default assumption about humans, at least, is that while we'd really prefer not to have our culture stolen or dictated to us, we do love us new technology a lot of the time. The goal should probably be to allow that while not allowing one side to take control of the other's way of life.
But, personally, I think Ender is missing the even-more-obvious conclusion, which is not that humanity sees itself as one community and the Little Ones as the Other, but that humanity sees itself as a bunch of communities and the Little Ones as a political football that they can cheerfully toss around in order to enable themselves to make statements about morality and virtue and protecting the weak, thus gaining credibility and public favour over their opponents. Y'know, just like current politicians and literally every marginalised population slice (like women, POC, queer folk, people with disabilities, or some kind of impossible individual who is more than one of these things). Ender has, for no apparent reason, concluded that people really care what happens to the Little Ones, because they are potentially a super-dangerous enemy, while also viewing them as primitive child-animals incapable of real understanding.
Ender makes a really blatant title-drop, quietly mulling over how, in his theoretical framework, Miro and Ouanda would be seen as traitors to their species.
"Renegades," he said aloud.
"What?" said Miro. "What did you say?"
"Renegades. Those who have denied their own people, and claimed the enemy as their own."
"Ah," said Miro.The Hugo award and the Nebula, folks. Like... both.
Ouanda objects to this, but Miro says that according to the bishop, they denied their humanity a long time ago (I legitimately have no idea what he means by that), and Ender explains that they are renegades when they treat the Little Ones like people, but when they treat them according to congressional law, they treat them like animals.
"And you?" said Miro. "Why are you a renegade?"
"Oh, the human race kicked me out a long time ago. That's how I got to be a speaker for the dead."I'm not a historian, but I'm pretty sure Ender got to be a speaker when he discovered that he hadn't actually killed every formic and decided to relay their history, and I'm pretty sure he got kicked out when he prosecuted one of his pseudonyms under the other (Andrew Wiggin used the Speaker for the Dead to explain the consequences of the work of Ender the Xenocide). I'm reminded that Ender was actually prosecuted by proxy, right after the war, and was righteously acquitted. The best way I can read this is that he thinks humanity kicked him out when they made him their general, turned him from a child into a weapon and a celebrity, untouchable by mere legal systems, which in turn necessitated that he create another larger-than-life-persona to make sure that his memory (but not him personally) suffer some conviction. The only person who could make everyone hate Ender was Ender himself, and as soon as he realised that, he realised that he was not really human anymore, but some kind of mortal god, a force majeure. But if that's how Card wants me to read that line, he's going to need to do a little more of the heavy lifting himself.
Next week: a brief and unnecessary interlude in the Ribeira house, and then, yes, it's finally here: plot happens.