Sunday 24 June 2012

Ender's Game

I’ve been rereading Orson Scott Card’s Ender series.  And I think he is very much off in the ages he gives his children in the books.  I love the concept of children playing a simulation which proves to be an actual war.  Children do have faster reflexes than adults, they’re more willing to take chances and try weird strategies.

But I have spent time with six year olds and I would not be counting on any of them to save the world anytime soon.  Teenagers I might buy but not pre-teens.  Teenagers have the nice obsessive interest levels which would help them in training, they have the drive to prove themselves better than the adults around them.

I still like the concept though and I find his view of the political world interesting.  Right now I’m going through the Shadow series, which focuses on Bean and the events on Earth after Ender’s great victory.  I’m no political theorist but the model of the world that OSC is manipulating makes sense to me.  Nations, like people, get complacent in success and comfort.  Unification would be possible, but not by conquest.  Conquest leads to resentment.  A charismatic enough leader might well be able to unify the world in a single lifetime, especially with the thrust of a charismatic villain to play against.

But could such a unification hold past a single lifetime?  We’ve never had a historical example of voluntary unification on a mass scale.  Alexander the Great, the Romans, the British, China, they all conquered their expansive territories.  And the empires of conquest invariably fall apart.  It may take centuries, but it happens.

Then there’s the problem of rulership.  A single leader can be efficient and effective, particularly if he doesn’t have to worry about public opinion.  But that kind of power inevitably attracts bullies and despots who are hungry to use the power as a hammer against their enemies, both real and imaginary.  OSC recognizes this and has his Hegemon give up power to committee rule after his lifetime.

Except that committees make crappy rulers.  Consensus turns quickly to tyranny of the majority and fear of unpopular decisions, no matter how right and necessary.  Eventually bureaucracy overwhelms effectiveness and governments become easy prey for the charismatic bullies once again.

Maybe the knowledge of sentient extraterrestrial life would make a difference, forcing us to band together.  But I think humanity still has a lot of growing up to do before a truly beneficial world government would be possible.

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