The delight of being Human: Reading “Xenocide”

25 Feb

Feb 16th, Wed

薄霧濃雲愁永晝,瑞腦消金獸。

佳節又重陽,玉枕紗廚,半夜涼初透。

東籬把酒黃昏後,有暗香盈袖。

莫道不銷魂,簾卷西風,人比黃花瘦。

 

李清照.〈醉花陰〉

 

Cannot believe that it took a sci-fi book for me to recall how much I’ve forgotten from junior high and high school Chinese classes. Aside from elementary school and parts of junior high, when we were made to memorize the definition of terms so we can write them down word for word (tell me, how useful is that???), I rather loved Chinese class. I never got perfect grades, but I always got passable – because as much as I abhorred memorizing, I actually found it quite enjoyable to learn a lot of the cultural nuances that had been developed inside the language. I used to use 成語 all the time when I was a kid because it was so easy to just express something using four words, so quaintly, and behind those four words is an entire story! That is the amazing cultural heritage we were given.

 

And Orson Scott Card had done it again – amazed me with a sci-fi book that isn’t all about the hype of tech, the grand destiny of the human race in the space world and the weirdness of aliens (which I have found some sci-fi books dwell upon at length, which is just about as exciting and memorable as a typical Romance), but reminds us as well about the enduring qualities of humanity, love and courage, all wrapped up in the enticingly intelligent conversations. It’s kind of the The Swarm, with more liveliness of language (I keep wondering if it’s because it was translated from German that makes it sound so cold?), less fact monologues, and a more satisfying ending.

 

Btw, notice how sea-disasters most often end in the murky confusions of vast quantities of salty water drowning ships? Yeah, I mean, it was ridiculous luck/convenience that they could have seen what The Swarm did to the bait. Titanic, Moby Dick and Jaws all fit into that frightening cold quagmire of oh-where-did-his-corpse-go-? sensation at the end. The fluorescence definitely told us The Swarm was written for screenplay, whilst no media can ever do Ender’s  series justice.

 

Scratch that, it’s nothing like The Swarm, except I enjoyed it in the same way – it challenged me to comprehend what was going on, and inspired me to become a better version of myself. Kind of like an ideal mate. With books comme ça and chocolate, who needs men? (No no Eros! I kid! I kid!)

 

Anyway, I haven’t finished the book yet, so there’ll probably be another update on this note after that.

 

Interestingly, was watching this short lecture about eating disorders and neurological traits…

 

!!!!!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

and it mentioned how people with anorexia may display OCD-like symptoms, where they display perseverant, perfectionist behaviors. Neurologically this may be called difficulty in set-shifting, which is thinking flexibly and being able to change your mind. Now excuse me for nitpicking, but I think that having OCD-like symptoms should be an antithesis to being able to effectively solve problems. That is – the idea that a person is very intelligent in the ordinary sense of the word doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re very capable of solving problems in a manner that will make it easy for them. Persistence, however, is very useful for very difficult problems.

To see the lecture, search for “What Neuroscience is teaching us about eating disorders” on iTunes U. Love her speech style btw.

 

Feb 18th, Thursday

Listen to this:

“So Demosthenes was right. The M.D. Device is with the fleet.”

“Yes.”

“But Father – you joined many others in claiming that they were forgeries.”

“Just as the gods speak only to a chosen few, so the secrets of the rulers must be known only to those who will use the knowledge properly. Demosthenes was giving powerful secrets to people who were not fit to use them wisely, and so for the good of the people the secrets had to be withdrawn. The  only way to retrieve a secret, once it is known, is to replace it with a lie. then the knowledge of the truth is once again your secret.”

So according to the book, due to light-speed travel, Andrew Wiggin and his sister have been alive for more than 40 years though the world has gone through 3000 years of history. The interesting about this is that the human societies in the book have not changed much compared to modern society. There’s still the information age, and yes there are a new technologies… but the fundamental way people live has not changed by much. There is hardly any hint medical advances concerning human longevity, systems that would absolutely absolve people from laboring for their livelihoods, and still religion and tradition are very prominent things in human society. I wonder whether it is due to the limitations of Card’s imagination – to make it believable and a function-able plot, human society must not have changed too much from what we are familiar with – or due to the practicality of the issue. That it is in human nature to be so.

 

Looking at what has happened, within the span of a few months, I would like to say that perhaps a great deal could be different for the future. It is convenient that Card never touches upon such things as the economic system, how wealth will be presented and distributed, and elections – these pertinent details that are very much subject to change. For how long have we had democracy? And for equally long have we known its ills. I have hope for the recent revolutions, in both our private lifestyles and what we expect from those in power. I have hope that it will dramatically change how we function as a society – with more openness, justice, equality and respect.

 

But there will constantly be the other voice against, which brings us back to the opening quote here:  the justifiable ignorance of the masses.

 

I really need to talk to someone. Staying at home for an entire week conversing with myself… there are days when this drives me wild with a sense of ennui and suffocation.

 

Feb 19th and 20th, Weekend

The anger of a crowd is a terrible thing, and it can be used for terrible things.

 

I’m amazed, actually, that Card’s book should bring me now to exactly that which I have been contemplating over the past few weeks – the movement of crowds. There have been so many times when such confluence of information has come whilst I was looking completely disparate sources of information, that it is easy to concludethat life consists of a net – where every single issue in the universe is connected to each other.

I know that would be too universal a way to look at it. So I cannot conclude in this manner. However, the strange sensation of having many chips fall into place cannot but thrill.

 

The stirring up of a crowd usually requires a cohesive chanter – someone who can start up a cry, a song, draw a mystical fervor over the crowd… this I have always admired in others, never feeling myself capable of shouting to a crowd with such audacity, with such a assuredness. Restless in the knowledge that whatever I proclaim cannot be the absolute truth, and shameful that I should dare speak so rashly. So people who are capable being the chanter, either by calculation or passion, fascinate me.

 

It was partially due to coming upon the narrative about the personal history of some of the protestors the author had met whilst flipping randomly through The Art of Moral Protest, that made me wish to borrow the book in the first place. It mentioned how some of the protestors he met are emotionally unstable and prone to being incensed. Emotional instability is not necessarily a mental deficiency. I myself recall a very astute young man, who could speak with every reason, who angered easily at the system as a sort of prevailing passion. I found him very a very whole individual, but perhaps I am biased for I tend too easily to empathize with people I meet – to the extent of losing myself sometimes. But that should be besides the point. I’m not really very good at making a strong argument for delving into the specifics. Ambiguity thrives in the clearest made points.

 

On the other hand, I have also been very absorbed, sort of as a personal quest, to find that which is enduring, so that I may take them upon myself and be not a transitional creature of life. For me, expressing very strong emotions are not enduring, so that I have banished them from my repertoire. The eternal is to me not only a matter of sense, but of pride (so proud am I that it’s hard to admit this). To be the conversation peace of a jaded cynic… the very idea is a blow to my ego.

 

On the manufactured OCD: Apparently it is exceedingly useful for controlling the rulers of Path… and the story plot follows that the OCD can apparently be a handicap, especially for minds where the justification of their obedience has been so necessary to themselves, to act not with perfect rationality.

 

Wang-mu’s fore-sense of her marriage… now that is certainly a bit much.

 

Feb 21st, Monday

Finally finished the book in the AM. People are very adorable. There was this kid the other day who had asked me out, and immediately stopped saying nice things to me after I told me, as kindly as I knew how, that I couldn’t possibly be his girlfriend. What is there in such an immediate proposition but the idea to own someone? But then, what is there wrong in our instinct to seek something assured, so that we need not worry over it? At least, I applaud his honesty in cutting his losses, as much as I like being given sweet attention to. Though I think he knows very little of women to give up so soon – most women do not know what they want, and an initial rejection can give way under prolonged tender assault.

 

On a side note, did you know that men look more attractive/macho when they stare off into space for profile pics while women look more attractive when they stare into the camera? For illustration, check out this pic for ethical man http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/images/episode/b00t6cln_640_360.jpg

 

Card’s theory about philotes, as the essence of life coming from nothing in a disparate space, I found as intriguing as Phillip Pullman’s theory of death’s resting form in His Dark Materials (though I found his story horribly depressing). He explains so prettily the idea and how it could give birth to universes. And how it ties in with the philosophy that “wishing makes it so”. It is dazzling.

 

I’ve never read any serious work on the theory of parallel universes – only two or stories – so that I cannot imagine what is going in physic science concerning this. The idea I have is that there is too little fact to support these theories at present. In Card’s world, it depends on the known existence of philotes – a force that allows for the connections in life and is the substance (if you can call it that) of life itself. Both Card and Pullman put forth the idea of a disparate space as the logical conclusion to the origin of life, though Pullman’s was certainly more religious, whilst Card’s more historical. I wonder if, by reasoning myself, I could have come up with the conclusion of a disparate space as well? Alas, there is no hope of that now.

 

Also I’d like to mention the unspoken atheism in Card’s books, which gives a nod to religion being a comfort to people’s lives. It seems that the more that we are aware of, the less likely we’ll believe in something so consuming as a religion. It is not nice to say that superstition and religion go hand in hand, but I think it may be true. On the other hand, could this perfusion of knowledge give way to a lessening in such “wasteful” emotions as guilt and shame? To think of them first theoretically and then, only then, perhaps experience them as emotions one “ought” to experience?

 

All in all, I find Card’s work on Ender as delightfully mindset clearing as the work of Madeleine L’Engle.

It is so interesting being a human.

 


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