Jan 26, 2014

Ender's Game: the Return of the Repressed

The appeal of science fiction, as opposed to contemporary or historical fiction, is that it offers the reader a objective 'space' between himself and the narrative. That is to say, setting a story in the future or in an alternate reality frees us from the biases of our 'collective present' or 'collective past'. So, for instance, if  the raw story of Ender's Game had taken place during World War II, even if the skeleton of the story were exactly the same, we would necessarily see it through the lens of history and apply the biases we've inherited. Jews or Germans who otherwise may have been put off by the context may appreciate it freely.

This is, of course, another way of stating the old axiom of science fiction, that it is about the present, not the future. The 'future' is merely the place from which we look back at ourselves. It is a tool that allows us to bypass the usual defense mechanisms, and it provides us with objectivity, much in the same way a psychotherapist does. So Ender's Game is a story about us, about now. It is a story about the return of the repressed and the search for the Self.

Before we dive into it, though, I suggest you take a look at the Fourfold Youniverse series (pts. 1 and 2) to get a basic idea of the fourfold functioning of the psyche. Here is a quick scheme - the four elements represent the four functions:

For those who don't know the story, here is a quick synopsis (very spoilery, but about the same as watching the movie in terms of being exposed to the plot twist).

The Earth is one day invaded by an alien* fleet, and all seems lost until a brave hero called Mazer Rakham sacrifices himself to disable the invaders. They are repealed, but this puts the powers-that-be on Earth on high alert. They create a training program wherein they abduct, to use a relevant term, the brighest and ablest children on Earth, and send them to a boot camp where they will be trained in space warfare, to prepare for the inevitable return of the non-descript "Buggers" ("Formics" in the movie).

Andrew Wiggin - Ender - is one such child. His older brother Peter and older sister Valentine were rejected from the program for being, respectively, too brutish and too loving. Ender, however, demonstrates incredible boldness and strategic acumen. He shoots up the ranks, watched over by Col. Graff. Eventually, he graduates and is taken to his real training, where he and his fellows confront simulated scenarios.

All the while, however, Ender is tormented by feelings of isolation, and his siblings are always in his mind. His playing of a "mind game" - an attempt by the military psychologist to keep track of his psyche - eventually leads him to having visions of the Bugger queen. As his training advances, he discovers not only that Mazer Rakham may not have been quite who he thought, but also that the army is preparing not for an eventual attack, but for a pre-emptive attack on the Bugger homeworld, a "war to end all future wars".

The climax comes when Ender discovers that his training was not, as he thought, a simulation, but the actual battle taking place. He was, in truth, the commander of all of Earth's fleet. He had not destroyed a virtual planet but a quite real one. Needless to say, he is torn apart by the idea that he has committed genocide, and sets off to find a new planet for the queen egg he found thanks to his 'psychic' link with the former queen.

In sum, the turning point of the story is when Ender realizes that the war he had been fighting had not been for survival, but for satisfying the aggressive impulses (Aries) of Earth's leaders. That is to say, Ender is confronted with the 'morality vs. ethics' dilemma: do I do what I do because I believe it's right, or do I do it because that's what I'm told is right?

This dilemma is the central aspect of the story which will be psycho(astro)analyzed, and it is represented in the vertical axis of the above scheme, with the military signifying 'ethics' and the buggers signifying 'morality'. However, let's take a look at the auxiliating functions represented by Ender's older siblings.

Peter and Valentine Wiggin, having come before Ender, represent the 'already there' functions which Ender needs to develop. Peter is the unrefined animus: he was expelled from battle school because he could not control his aggressiveness; Valentine is the diametric unrefined anima: she did not go further in battle school because her aggression was too contained. This is why they appear in the horizontal axis: in an astro(psycho)logical chart, the Ascendant of a male human (Ender's case) signifies his animus/masculine side, and the Descendant his anima/feminine side.

They are attributed the 'adjectives'** of Cancer and Capricorn: Peter has a complete disregard for social norms and rules, whereas Valentine is too self-controlled - these are classic "dark sides" of the signs. They are, however, absolutely essential as Ender navigates the hierarchy of battle school. His path succeeds exactly because he is able to 'balance' (notice that Libra appears at the bottom) aggression and containment. His actions, though, are still at the service of his Aries 'masters' rather than of his Libra 'conscience'.

"My daddy's taller than your daddy!"

It is interesting to note that author Orson Scott Card was born during a T-square in the cardinal signs: Jupiter in Aries opposing Neptune in Libra, both making a square to Uranus in Cancer***. He was thusly, as a writer, a vehicle of sorts for the collective consciousness; Ender's Game is clearly more of a collective catharsis than a personal one, considering that Card's overt homophobia shows how he still has a long way to go when it comes to "refining the superego".

Returning to our scheme, now it's time to take another look at the top of the cross. Throughout the story, it is perfectly visible how Ender is a puppet of the military, personified by Col. Graff - visible except to himself, of course. This is a good example of the repressive action of the nomos/superego. Any questioning on Ender's part is quickly met with an answer about the "greater good". This is, in theory, a perfectly good answer, were it not for our propensity to throw the 'soul'-baby out with the 'unrefined impulses' water.

One of Ender's strategies as he climbs the military(/corporate) ladder is to beat his opponents in such a way that others will be afraid of making a move on him. As we know, though, as above, so below: he's just doing what 'mankind' as a whole is doing to the Buggers. In other words, what's taking place in the 'war theatre' is merely a reflection of what's going on in his 'mind's battleground'. So if the military signify the repressive and powerful, what 'shadow' do the Buggers come to mean?

Kafka would know

In psychoanalytic theory, the 'monsters' in our imagination represent the unacknowledged libidinal forces within an individual's psyche, whose appearance might upset the social or familial environment. A simple example is a little girl who has terrible nightmares about a werewolf after being repeatedly cut off from contact with her sensuality. Thus, the Buggers represent that aspect of Ender which has been repressed since before his birth - his thinking, peace-making function, represented by Libra.

Why do start the clock before his birth? If Ender had not been born at the time of the Bugger invasion, then this is an event that took part during his gestation: his mother's thinking function had been repressed (no dictator/"president" likes to be questioned) to an extent that the repression was transferred onto him during that pregnancy - after all, a baby is made up of the 'stuff' that its mother 'ingests' during pregnancy. It's worth noting Orson Scott Card was born in 1951, when the repression of thinking that was made necessary by WWII was still fresh in everyone's minds.

You don't have to be Freud, though, to know that our impulses can only be repressed for so long. The various neuroses that we see every day are reminders that, try as might to 'civilize' ourselves to the utmost, our 'dark sides' will not be denied. In Ender's case, his need to understand the Buggers so as to be able to defeat them shows how he started to 'rescue' his thinking function (his 'screw-the-system' Cancer Ascendant leads him naturally to his 'let's-think-first' Libra IC).

Ender's thinking function is also neatly represented in the "mind game" he plays in his free time. Ostensibly a way for the military to probe his mind, via a 'game' that plays out a bit like a Jungian active imagination: a scenario where the unconscious plays out. They were, though, like any good Aries, a bit too hasty, because the game ends up inadvertently bringing Ender into contact with his unconscious. They are a bit like parents who send their child to a psychotherapist in an attempt to control his behavior, without realizing that most of what he does in his sessions is criticize and question them.

And so, the Bugger queen inevitably appears in the mind game, and his thinking function begins to be brought out of the unconscious (where it was under the control of the nomos). Nevertheless, his "therapy" does not conclude before the human fleet is at the enemy gates. Here we have the nomos's last-gasp attempt at annihilating the instinct: the fleet completely destroys the Bugger planet. It's worth noting that the most destructive weapon ever built is called the "Little Doctor" - Ender, for all his power, is still subject to castration fears. Calling it the "Big Doctor" could invite the fury of a jealous colonel.

But of course, it's impossible to truly annihilate our instincts and our unconscious functions: the Buggers survive in the form an 'egg' containing a new, future queen. The difference, though, is that Ender has 'redeemed' his thinking function enough this time that his Cancer instinct (Ascendant) to nurture and protect can be correctly applied to both his 'inner-Peter/animus' and his 'inner-Valentine/anima'. His military training taught him the value of expressing his aggressively protective impulses, but it took "inner genocide" to teach him the value of expressing his self-controlled, rational side.

But if the Buggers initiated the conflict, how can they signify 'Libra-peace'? This point isn't really detailed in the movie, but the novel explains that the Buggers attacked only because they assumed that humans were not sentient because they did not express a collective consciousness like the hive-mind of the Buggers (thus the comparison to ants - "Formics") - that is, they 'thought' (Libra) about humans before they had the chance to have a 'real experience' (Cancer) of them. In other words, even the unconscious function of thinking needed some refinement of its own.

Yet we must not forget the value of the nomos. It is only thanks to his training and to the encouragement of his superiors that Ender is able to trust and access his intuition (Aries). Granted, the initial results were catastrophic, to say the least, but Ender will still have all of his strategic skills as he sets out to seek a new 'planet' for the Buggers. It is very easy to get caught up in the blame game and forget the fact that even peaceful countries need to have a standing army.

The role of the nomos is to provide us with the resources we need to carry out our lives, but Ender's Game reminds us that it is very important to allow the heiros, the connection to our Higher Self/greater-than-sum-of-parts-soul, to ask exactly whose battles we are fighting, lest we end up committing 'xenocide'. This term describes not only what the human military commit in the story, but also what our superegos attempt to do to our own primal instincts. The best they can do, though, is to repress (much like the Buggers cannot be truly annihilated) - and the repressed always returns, causing trouble that's proportional to the repression.

We must all be Enders then - to 'end' the dominance of arbitrary rules, and to 'end' the unrefinement of our unconscious functions. We try to play whack-a-forbidden-mole, but the minute the hammer comes down another mole pops up 'from the underground', as it were. If we allow our superiors to dictate our actions without balancing their 'orders' with our 'conscience', the only possible result is a "Bugger" invasion. Just ask Robert A. Heinlein.

* Ridley Scott knows all about the 'aliens' in our minds;

** If we were to make an analogy between the elements of a chart and the elements of syntax, we would have the houses as the archetypal 'nouns' of the zodiac, while the signs would be the 'adjectives' - thus, we can describe a 5th-house cusp in the sign of Taurus as "patient/slow self-expression";

*** Card's birth time is unknown, but my bet is that his Ascendant is somewhere in Cancer - probably near Uranus, given his propensity to shock the world with his homophobic views;