Monday, March 31, 2008

Combination post: Ender's Game and The Concept of the Political

As I was reading The Concept of the Political by Carl Schmitt one continous thread seemed to be present throughout the entire essay. The notion that the state or the political entity in power must always portray their opponent as the "enemy" or as something dangerous and poteintally harmful. Schmitt makes the argument that this is necessary in order for whoever is in power to remain in control. As long as the enemy is always viewed as such, you will have the support of the public against them. This goes back to our discussion in class about the buggers. The reason that was alluded to as justification for killing off the buggers was that they were the "enemy" and they might attack humans again one day. It was presented as humans being the good guys and buggers being the bad guys and that their was no middle ground. This very black and white argument can be related back to Schmitt. The group in power, the humans, felt the need to project their political enemy,the buggers as the "other" or as a dangerous entity to human rule and domination.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

More crap on the Buggers and Alterity

Something that I thought was very interesting about Ender's Game and our subsequent discussion and blog posts was our focus on the idea of destroying the other. When its ok to do so etc. That Thursday we had a discussion in my Cairo class where we discussed Seeing Like a State, which argues that notions of high modernism and all that sort of stuff. Essentially the obsession over totalizing narratives was big focus of high modernist thought. On both the left and right people got sucked into these questions of universality. If something didn’t fit inside their neatly constructed paradigms, then it was something Other and usually was ignored or destroyed.

I think when discussing Ender's Game its good to think of it through the gaze of modernist thought. Ender's Game is an interesting commentary on “seeing like a state” because that’s the gaze that nearly all the “important” people seem to take. The Bugger’s do not fit within their intellectual framework. So instead of putting more effort into understanding them, they seek to destroy them.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

so, what would I do

When I was supposed to answer the question about what would I do if I had the final say over what we should do about the buggers, I did go for a slight cop-out, saying I would ask everyone else. But there is a good deal of truth to this. As evidenced by the fact that whoever was told the full information we had on the buggers, was never permitted to leave Eros, I doubt that many people who where not in the executive council at the time where asked about what options they could see. Therefore, the "viable" options presented could have been very limited. I agree with Tim, that we could have probably fleshed out other options possible in class (whether we would have supported them or not).

It seemed almost everyone agreed that more attempts to communicate would have been pertinent. Graff did say that "as soon as we had a working ansible, we tucked them into our best starships and launched them to attack the buggers home systems" (250), which implies that they did not attempt to use it in serious attempts to use it to communicate with the buggers. While I will be the first to admit that the communication methods probably would not interface well with each other, the attempts should have been made, as well as serious research to try and make an ansible that used a form that could communicate. (I mean now PCs and Macs are compatible.)

Other options included a military operations that did not require the extermination of all the bugger worlds. How could we even suppose that the one invading bugger army was not a renegade army or one particular "nation" of the buggers, a hypothesis I did not think of while still in class. To guard against this, it would have been prudent to build just as strong of an army over the years, sending them out on regular scouting trips and trying to keep a section of space for ourselves. After taking several years to develop the ansible and sensing no return of the buggers, why not set up a more defensive position instead of one of such a strong attack.

So what would I do? I would set up a more defensive fleet, especially with the ansible, if the fleet was based outside the asteroid belt, or whichever direction towards the source of the buggers invasions. This is because there are many reasons for the buggers attacking with that group still being hostile but that doesn't necessarily reflect the entire race. If it could be shown that all the buggers had supported the invasion, I would be much more likely to support actions like the IF took, but I would hope I'd still believe in innocent until proven guilty, and an entire race should not be condemned base on the actions of the few.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Hello everyone!
Just a quick reminder:

1)Label all posts!! both with your name, and if it is substantive or reflective. We could potentially also start labeling them with which books/discussions they belong with. Some other groups have done it, we can debate if we think it would just make it look cluttered or if it would be useful. Personally, I think it might be handy, at least for themes.

2) Have a great Spring Break!!!!! Hope everyone has a chance to relax!


(note: originally posted 3/7, this is a bump)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ender's Game, substantive post

The one thing I noticed while reading Ender's Game is the thin line between the adults and the children in the book. Ender and the others at Battle School are supposedly these brilliant children who, we learn at the end, are the only way that the human race can win against the buggers. Yet the author still gives them very human and very childlike emotions throughout the book. The love and compassion that Ender feels for Valentine has a very childish spin to it, it is very much a younger brothers love for an older sister. Ender feels confused about what he is doing and unsure about himself, who he is, and who is becoming which are all very angsty, teenager appropriate emotions and thoughts. He wants to be rid of this "duty" to eliminate the buggers and doesn't seem to want to except the adult responsibility for what he is doing.

Those Who Fly Away from Earth

I’ve read Ender’s Game a number of times and I’ve come at it from a number of angles. Now that I’m reading it as an “adult,” one big thing strikes me. This is a novel about utilitarianism and why its got some issues. The continued survival and the continued happiness of humanity are achieved through the extermination of the Buggers. Now humanity can expand past their own solar system without worry of danger, and with a slew of planets ready for new occupants.

All of this comes at a relatively low price. In exchange for some money for the Fleet and a few children, humanity can enter a new age. Yet we’re left to wonder if this is entirely moral. The children brought up in battle school are not kids anymore, especially not Ender. Not only have they lost their innocence, they’ve lost their whole damn childhood. Reminiscent of Aliah, these are adult minds shoved into that of a child. Raised on obedience, command and violence, the authorities have dehumanized them to a great extent, made them into tools who will never outlive their usefulness. Even as the war ends, various members of Ender’s jeesh have become hot commodities for the next set of conflicts. There’s no retirement for these kids, they’re condemned to a life that is not their own, unless they a trip on a colonial vessel. Otherwise they’ll be killing for the next 50 years.

When you think about the kids like this you begin to loose some respect for humanity. It reminds me of the short story “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas.” In the story a city is blessed with the utmost happiness, everything goes well, even acts of nature. Yet, it is all predicated on the total misery of one little child. Those who can’t stand it “walk away.” Here we have a less polarized situation, but children are still being dominated for the benefit of everyone else. The question we’re all left with at the end of the novel is whether we too should “walk away.” Well…would you?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Placing Ender

I feel this is one novel which the age that you are when you first read it makes a large difference. Having read it when I was only a few years older than Ender was at the end, and believing myself to be very capable at that age, it seemed no large thing that those fighting the war and being pushed were children. In fact, to me, their maturity was not due to their intelligence, but took a large part from them being treated as if they had responsibility and as if they were capable of adult reasoning. Reading this book again, I still made those connections with Ender and the other "children". Although after what they have been put through, they seem to loose most of the behavior which would be expected from a 'typical' child. The contrast is most clearly expressed by Petra when after defeating the buggers and fighting a war, they will probably have to go to school when they get home because they're not yet 17. Graff also displace them from children as when he speaks to Ender towards the beginning, he places both himself and Ender under the category of tools for humanity, as long as humanity needs them.

One thing I particularly noticed this time through, was Graff's relation to Ender and Ender's corresponding inability to tell that Graff actually cared about him. Ender assumes, even when Graff makes an unnecessary and actually impromptu genuine gesture before they take off for Command School, Ender hardly has a doubt that it is just another move to manipulate him. What is surprising is how Ender doesn't probe further into what they are manipulating him for and doesn't suspect something more is going on. Although as he is being run to exhaustion and being completely isolated, maybe it shouldn't be surprising. Commenting on Ender's Shadow off Prof. PTJ's comment on Ender's Shadow with Bean figuring out more than Ender, from what I recall was due to him having more information and actually having people talk to him. I thought it was an interesting ending and helped draw a further parallel between the two boys.

(on a side note, this is what Tim and I found in Disney:

Monday, March 10, 2008

V's explosive fetish

Hrrrrm so according to Phil I would argue that this is a novel about anarchy when it’s actually about something else. Well yes and no.. Yes I do think this is a novel about one specific method for bringing about anarchy. However it is not a book largely about anarchism and the voluntary social order that could come about later it is about insurrection.

V certainly is trying to bring about anarchy. However his strategy is not an entirely efficacious one. I don’t fall into his school of thought. That said, V is still trying to bring about anarchy. He is aiming to destroy all forms of hierarchical power so that people can self organize a cooperative, equal and free society. V’s ideological monologues are a rather clear anarchist critique of authoritarianism and the state. To reduce that down to mere vengeance, belittles V. V isn’t that one dimensional of a character. This is not a parable about crossing the wrong man. It’s a parable of what happens when the state uses naked force to achieve its ends. V is the essential byproduct of state violence; he is its dialectical opposite. He is insurrection.

V is not the creative energy of anarchism, he is a destructive force. He is solely an insurrectionary, using spectacular acts of violence to precipitate a break in the ruling atmosphere of ideas. As I argued all throughout class and in my previous post, V is not there to build anything up. He seeks no office or post, nor has he much of a vision to offer. He’s just trying to open space. V remains an anarchist in his beliefs, but his actions only take us halfway there. There was an old anarchist federation called “Love and Rage.” V covers all the rage, but his love is a bit lacking. Hence the whole Evey situation, she’s supposed to provide the ‘love,’ the creative energy necessary for a new free society. Or at least that’s what V think’s she’ll do.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Reflective post, V for Vendetta

In class, we posed the question of whether V is a good guy. My first thought was something from another class that I am in: In the movie Fog of War, Robert McNamara, when asked if the bombing of Hiroshima during WWII was justified, he responded that, sometimes in order to do good, one must do evil. This seems to be applicable to V in the novel. In his eyes, the ends justifies the means. He is attempting to "do good" or to achieve something better than the Party. In order to do this, he must do evil by killing those who turned him into what he is today. Does this make the killings justified? This depends on whether you really think that V is ultimately trying to do good or if you believe he is simply out for revenge for his past. The same argument could be made to justify the Party's actions: in order to make society good for London, they have to do some bad or evil things first. This is anything but a black and white issue and it all depends on where you personally draw the line. Is killing only bad in certain situations and justified in others? Is it ok if the desired outcome is good? If the person's intentions are good? I don't think it is possible to answer any of these questions, which is why I don't think anyone can say for certain whether V is good or bad. Every person in the room will have a different viewpoint.

V reflection & humanity

One point in class that I'd like to offer additional evidence towards was if V's killings were justified. I think our end conclusion was that he was amoral throughout his killing process, if not immoral. The fact that he offered to kill for Evey does not have to be seen as if V thought he would actually end up killing him. Firstly, we know he was a good pawn for V's plans and secondly, he had already well established that, as a principle, Evey did not like killing. So why, after she went through a reaffirmation of her principles and honor, would she start killing? Therefore, V's question about picking the rose can be seen as another test for Evey, making sure that right away she would continue to turn away from killing. Therefore V was only asking to reaffirm Evey's principles and in no way believed he was actually going to kill Allister. So this would take away a piece of the random killing V dabbles in.

However, I have another point to add to why his killing does not discriminate throughout what level of the government/police one is in. At the vignette at the end "Vertigo" V kills the admittedly heartless man through slapstick comedy. The need to kill this man is not evident, nor is it presented as a singular instance. This incidence therefore reforms the immorality of Vs killings. Personally I see V's assassinations more as amoral, he references no normal moral codes at all in his actions.

The issue of humanity has come up in several of our discussions, and has been in fact our theme lately. But I don't think anyone has of yet not consolidated these ideas. This is not meant to be the perfect list, but is inviting discussion and additions.

In V for Vendetta: Humanity seems to be based on the idea of human dignity. We mentioned that Delia is able to preform the experiments when she sees that the people don't look human anymore, they look pathetic. Also, the last 'inch' also seems an essential key to finding one's humanity. Humanity is presented as something that must be worked upon to maintain, but that every person has within them.

Dune: Humanity is not something that everyone posses, it is defined as he ability to overcome one's animal instincts and overcome pain. Therefore in the Duniverse's philosophy, all people would not have the same rights.

He, She and It: It plays with the idea that humanity is not invested in a human being, a theme that many stories dealing with aliens brings up. That what we call human and humanity, is not inherent only in homo sapiens but also in most thinking, sentient beings.
Through this interaction, I think comes the further understanding of what it means to be human. We use the adjective human to describe all types of higher order sympathies (human dignity, human decency, etc.), however we might be able to better describe these ideas as something less species specific. Although it might be interesting to imagine a world in which it turns out that these ideas are specific to humans alone.

These are just a couple incidents in which we have discussed the notion of humanity.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


In class it was noted that Shira was hard to relate to, I found this interesting, especially concerning my post about how easy and interesting I found it to relate to Malkah. Although I see how Shira can be seen as whinny, and shallow, I think she portrays the tensions between the world the corporate society is trying to put her in, and her more traditional upbringing.

One a different note:
An interesting thought experiment coming out of our discussion of Yod would be to imagine a machine that is definitely not sentient but is programmed to learn (and for self-preservation). This machine would learn to emulate human behavior. When its program become advanced enough, when it felt it suited itself, it's behavior might become indistinguishable from that of a real person. What could be used to tell the difference, as pointed out by someone in class I believe, you can talk about having feelings and how you feel without genuinely having them, so couldn't something that didn't have feelings be able to convince someone it did. (From Mike's confusions in TMIAHM, we might be able to understand through the grasp of humor, between mechanical and sentient.)
I'm not saying I believe Yod was not sentient, for it seemed to me as if he were, but it is interesting to note how we have no way of determining if a being was sentient or not. Descarte's "I think therefore I am" is also a way that I suppose we use to show how humans are sentient beings, but this is something that we can only know for ourselves, and we transfer to all other people because of the few we know and ourselves are sentient.
Also, the "I think" might need to be modified, or at least better described for a machine. Machines commonly process information and produce results, so in an advanced machine, that eve doesn't begin to claim sentience, this process could be considered thinking in a linear manner.

Malkah, A Women of our generation

Being born in '87, just a few years max away from us, Malkah seems uniquely situated for our generation to relate to (although as the book was published in '91 it was probably aimed for our parents and their younger sibs). Also due to its early publishing date, what has happened in our youth can only be speculated with, although to me it seems unerringly accurate that Malkah would be someone a person of our generation could be. The original of the tech savvy, never wanting to allow technology to get ahead of her, and not by not keeping up, rather by making sure we keep up with it. Also the historical events seem not to be improbable in today's world. A random malcontent blowing up Israel/Palistine for who knows what reason, and then in hindsight not even really caring who did the blowing up or why, all that it matters was that it happened, and now we need to move on. It will not be a country, it might not even be a specific group, but someone will probably take responsibility for it if there's any positive PR to be gained (the last obviously not being the case in Malkah's world).

Malkah has also grown up with thinking robots in her surrounding literature, although she would have read Frankenstein, Data from Next Gen was beginning to be prominent as Next Gen was starting its 4th season in '91, and other positive literature and films dealing with thinking, human-like machines abounded. From someone who expanded the internet before it became popular, a view of a world where so many ideas about artificial intelligence seemed every-day and relatable, the idea of making sure the cyborg had human tendencies would be an easy concept for someone of Malkah's openness.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

State of ...?

Although V is the second proponent of anarchy we have encountered, his brand is quite dissimilar to that of Heinlein's Professor. V's purer brand is more idealistic as he not only believed in the power of the mob, but also in the people's ability to make decent choices. Prof did not see the masses as more than a mob to be controlled and manipulated, and while V did use manipulation, he did believe the people were capable of more, as evidenced by his last speech. This doesn't mean V believes that everyone will make the right' choice, but that some would choose it, and all would have the potential to. This differences between V and the Prof is how they view the mob: either as a hoard of people, or a mass of individuals.

Also intriguing is how V views the entire process of politics and even governance that lead up to the 20th century as a negative and hurtful process. this is not only true of his view of tyrannies, but rather of and form of governance which requires some trade offs between individual freedom with public wellbeing and cooperation

Interestingly, his view of anarchy is different then chaos. He seems to believe that although the last time chaos existed in his world, was when the Party took power. Evidently, V believes that the people able to self monitor themselves to a reasonable extent, so no space opens up for another group to take power, as some are already plotting to do. His believe is that since now the people are awake to the tyranny, they will exhibit the tendency to get along. His believe on the future seems dependent on a Rousseauian view of humanity, which might not be held by all the Vs that follow him.

Smash the State...Literally

“I guess having been out in the front lines of conflict for most of my life, I just haven't had the time to grow older. Anyway, death usually comes suddenly and unexpectedly to people in my line of work, so I don't worry about it.” Saul Alinsky

“We, the workers, can build others to take their place. And better ones! We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing this minute.” Buenaventura Durruti

“Marcos is every untolerated, oppressed, exploited minority that is resisting and saying, "Enough already!" He is every minority who is now beginning to speak and every majority that must shut up and listen. He is every untolerated group searching for a way to speak, their way to speak. Everything that makes Power and the good consciences
of those in power uncomfortable - this is Marcos.” Subcommandante Marcos

These three quotes encapsulate the key aspects of V the character and V the ideal.

First we’ve got Alinksy. This quote has a lot to do with V’s conception of freedom, namely that we can only break out of our mental and physical prison by acknowledging our mortality. Through this action we come to understand that our fears are weak and unfounded. If we are willing to accept that death may come whenever, then we must also accept that we must live life. To accede to the demands of those in power is a foolish thing under this new mental framework. For even if you may live longer as a favored pet, you’re still not free and you’re still gonna die sooner or later. It’s a matter of living “lives of quiet desperation” or truly living. The individual that accepts that they cannot live forever and understands it on that “gut level” will no longer cower in deference, because what’s the point? As the old saying goes “Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!”

Second we’ve got Durruti. This goes to V’s notion of the destroyer and creator. Like Durruti, V does not fear ruins, in fact he welcomes them. He knows that society has every ability to build something else in its place; all it needs is to be freed from the shackles of authority. This is central to understanding V. The creation of ruins is central to his belief system and mode of social organization. As an insurrectionary anarchist, V believes that the inherent dissatisfaction of the masses can explode when they witness the spectacular destruction of authority. What differentiates V from others is that he seems unable to do much more than to destroy. V is so warped from his own torturous past that he must commit a kind of suicide. Only with Evey, the girl who won’t kill, can we bring about a new time of anarchy.

I think this points to the main weakness in Vs ideals. The “land of do what you please” is awesome. As yall have probably surmised I’m all down with it. My issue is that by simply destroying the authoritarian apparatuses, V does not create an environment for positive social organization. He creates a system that may or may not produce a new norsefire. Why? Just like V, all of society has been warped by centuries, even millennia, of hierarchical rule. Yes we all have a very strong cooperative instinct and when push comes to shove, most folks are whole lot more cooperative than competitive. But the matter remains, that whatever competitiveness they had has been exacerbated a million fold, while cooperative behavior has been crushed. We cannot overlook the massive power that socialization has on people and their behavior. By and large what we term as “human nature” is really just what we’ve socially conditioned people to engage in. Unsurprisingly our current sickly batch of prominent businesspeople, public intellectuals and politicians seem to think we’re all greedy bastards. How convenient for them.

Under a different social setup this “human nature” would be different. The great problem with V is that he does not try and change anyone’s socialized behavior…except for Evey. Everyone else is still programmed as they were before, to be sheep. And while their natural impulses to egalitarianism and freedom are certainly heightened in this environment, they are also hungry, confused and unsure. I can only hope that their recent encounter with the State has left them with a bad taste in their mouth.

Though all is not lost. For at least here our revolutionaries are faceless and unable to take up a seat in government. This is where the third quote comes in. For those that don’t know, Subcommandante Marcos is a spokesman for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation or EZLN. The EZLN rose up in 1994 in the Mexican state of Chiapas. They soon declared a ceasefire and have since used a mix of violent and non violent tactics to secure better lives for their communities, which are mainly composed of poor Mayan farmers. What makes the EZLN special is that they advocate for revolutionary pluralism and participatory democracy…not Marxist Leninism. They place heavy emphasis that their leaders are accountable and controlled by the communities at large. Part of this is expressed in that all major EZLN leaders wear ski masks at all public events. Thus the leadership can never fully develop a cult personality. Further this seemingly mere security measure forces the observer to think that the Zapatista could be anyone, anywhere. The mask, much like V’s, is a way to include others in the movement and to destroy the potential of charismatic leaders. For just as Evey points out, the man or woman behind the mask will always turn out to be smaller than the symbol they became.

This is important to understanding V. His insistence on retaining total anonymity is probably his best organizing tool. He forces the rest of us to take responsibility for ourselves and each other. We can’t put our faith in him as he’s just a shadowy figure, one without a mass organization behind him or a specific party line. V, as any good organizer knows, seeks to open space so that others can step in and organize/transform for themselves. He does not seek to lead or control them; rather he is a grand facilitator… a facilitator of people and high explosives..

Reflection on He She and It

Scot’s uncomfortable, felt as he read the female chapters that he was being wrung out.
Seems like folks either like the cold analytic examination or the inner emotion stuff. This book has more inner emotional stuff.

Is this a warning or something else? Nobody seems to know.

There’s this debate over whether or not this book is anti male. But it seems more like this is a book about gender and the danger of certain traditionally, but not exclusively, male characteristics aka violence.

What is Yod? Glop? Free town? Free towns rock, but rock within a precarious existence. The multis aren’t too bad when compared to glop which is feudalism with weak feudal lords, aka the thirty years war

YS is a disciplinary culture similar to Disney. Novel shows neoliberalism and social disciplinary power run amok.

Jews…They survive. Are they religious or more of a culture? Gimmel sucks Yod is a puzzle for Judaism

Is Yod a person? He has agency mostly, but cannot harm certain folk. Cannot create a new Yod, he is unique, gives him some personhood. Yod has consciousness. Personhood is something of a social construction

We may not be able to transmit experience, we only have words. thus it is hard to know what or who Yod is.

So yeah those were the notes from last class. Probably should have put them up earlier...whoops.

Anyway, I think Marge Piercy’s novel is a good example of internalized disciplinary power, but Tikva is not a very good example of “libertarian socialism.” Overall I thought the novel was uneven in its more social science focus. While the multi enclave’s are incredibly detailed, the free towns don’t seem to offer a coherent political alternative. In comparison to the multi enclaves and the Glop, the free towns are a great deal better. However the free towns remain indistinct. Yes they’ve got the town halls, but aside from that, things don’t seem all too different.