There Is No Elephant

Cinema has an amazing way of making you feel, at least for the time that you’re watching the movie and shortly after, that you’ve got access to hidden information and finally know the truth. I thought I’d write it down so others could read it later and thank me.

I just got back from watching Ender’s Game, based on the amazing novel by Orson Scott Card. I won’t spoil it, but besides that’s not really what was on my mind.

Now Orson Scott Card, by some measures, is not a very nice man. He’s a known bigot. He struggles with concepts that are clearly more driven by his religious upbringing than his keen intellect. Which is sad, since his writings show that also inside is the mind of a great thinker.

Ender is a boy of vastly superior intellect. Even using those words strikes a little pang of concern. It’s as true today as it was when the book was written that intellect is seen by society with fear, mistrust and jealousy. Just think of all the loaded meanings and insults that reinforce the idea: smart ass, don’t be so smart, you think too much (oh really?? Maybe YOU don’t think enough?). There’s also the sneaky cousin of the insult: everyone’s entitled to an opinion (and therefore your one backed by evidence and critical reasoning is WRONG you asshole).

The discrimination is even implied deeply in how we judge people. Compare the dumb thug versus the intellectual mastermind. Who would you be more likely to forgive. But as a friend once so eloquently put it (to paraphrase), the difference between these two is not in their value as a character, it’s just one did a hella better job of the crime.

Which brings us back to the character of Ender. Ender is a very violent person. Only ever in self defence mind you, but violent nonetheless. As much as I abhor the intellectual discrimination implied, even I feel a little fear at the thought. An intelligent and POWERFUL person is an intimidating thing. Yet, let’s be honest, if you wanted to get the shit done, isn’t that exactly the person you want in charge?

Yet violence, it seems, is used as the balancing factor for those who lack in intellect. Not encouraged exactly, but excused, almost like unconsciously we’re conditioned to root for the “underdog”. “You may be smarter than me, but I can sure beat you up!” For further details see Revenge Of The Nerds.

I find it frustrating in fact, to see comments on the recent death of one of the greatest heroes of the twentieth century. I’m talking, of course, about Nelson Mandela, also known by his tribal name Madiba.

Briefly mentioned in the novel of Ender’s Game (although absent from the movie), and the main topic of the sequel, was the idea of a person called the Speaker For The Dead. The basic premise is for the speaker to speak honestly and truthfully about the deceased persons life, both good and bad. The aim being that all people will see that we are not good nor evil incarnate but simply human. By celebrating a persons whole life we truly honour the great things they achieved, and also allow ourselves the freedom to forgive ourselves and seek a higher purpose in life, regardless of our past.

Which is apt, I feel, given Nelson Mandela’s complicated life. How offensive when others point to Nelson Mandela’s violent acts as if to discredit his life. As if to say, none of it mattered.

It’s a common kind of poor thought, that something so complicated as a human life can be distilled to either good or bad. Yet funnily, we seldom apply it in the other direction, as if, for example, we should celebrate Adolph Hitler as some kind of hero because he invented the Volkswagen.

Is it, then, some kind of lazy excuse for discrimination? “Oh, suuuure he may have freed millions of people from second class status and altered the discussion on racism more than just about anyone from the twentieth century, but lets not forget he’s a terrorist (oh and black too by the way just in case you forgot)”. After all, how many so called terrorists come from privileged classes? Was Ned Kelly a terrorist or a hero? Robin Hood? William Wallace? Strangely peculiar, the fine line that divides heroes and villains.

Ask yourself, if someone threatened to enslave your friends and family, wouldn’t you do the same thing?

I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert. I can’t speak for the man nor his ideals. I’m merely trying to suggest an idea. Maybe the very language we use is corrupt. Maybe the very morals we live by are just a thinly veiled means for keeping us under control. For stopping heroes like Nelson Mandela from fighting back.

As I see it, though, there is no elephant in Nelson Mandela’s room. The man lived a life of integrity. A life of courage. For all his faults…INCLUDING all his faults…he lived a life to be proud of. The simple life of a human.

Or maybe I was right earlier. Maybe violence should be kept as the sole domain of the bullies. After all how else would the spineless pricks ever compare to truly great men?

There are many people who feel that it is useless and futile to continue talking about peace and non-violence against a government whose only reply is savage attacks on an unarmed and defenceless people.
– Nelson Mandela

I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence… I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.
– Mahatma Gandhi


2 thoughts on “There Is No Elephant

  1. No one is all good or bad. Every person can be considered bad and still be good or vice versa. Society can consider you a bad person, when in your mind, you were doing what you thought was good, was right, but the majority rules until more people speak up for them. Intellect with violence sure is a scary idea, but it does happens. I believe the person hasn’t quite figured out where they want to be and how they want to be viewed. Every human life is a test, to see what you can overcome, and what you can finally make of yourself in the end, be it villain or hero.

  2. Certainly leads to different thinking on how people react to violence and oppression. We generally tend to look at everything as black (pardon the expression) and white and so this excuses us from thinking further.

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