America has been a remarkably good and strong culture, but the Goodness of the culture has already been so damaged that it can barely be said to exist. And the Strength of the culture is eating itself up from within.
Orson Scott Card delivered an address on the dismantling of American culture at the 26th Annual Gala dinner of the Washington DC Chapter of the BYU Management Society on April 24 of this year. Card was honored by the Society with its Distinguished Public Service Award for his notable contributions as a best-selling author, columnist and lecturer.
Card is the author of the novels Ender’s Game, Ender’s Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read and increasing used in schools. Ender’s Game is in development as a film at Warner Brothers. He has also written other science fiction novels, contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah) and many plays and scripts.
Card asked his Washington audience, which included federal lawmakers, CEOs of corporations and heads of foundations, to be leaders and heroes to reclaim the culture of our nation.
Card’s remarks were incisive, insightful, and deeply thought provoking. A valuable synopsis was provided by Meridian Magazine’s Maurine Jensen Proctor, and is available at Meridian’s web site. The complete text of the address has been published at the Nauvoo web log.
Selected passages appear below.
How did this happen? It’s simple enough. We changed our stories. That’s right. I, a professional storyteller, am telling you that storytelling is the glue, along with ritual, that holds a culture together. In fact, storytelling is the primary human activity whenever we’re together in groups.
A Strong Culture must have powerful stories explaining why it is a Good Culture — or it will die. Even the best culture can destroy itself if those who hate the culture are successful in getting its members to believe stories that discourage them from having enough allegiance to make sacrifices for it.
In the 1960s, we started listening to stories that struck at the very heart of our Good, Strong Culture. These destructive stories fall into several groups:
1. The old morality is stupid. You can’t stop kids from having sex. Sexual fidelity is old-fashioned and selfish. It will liberate women to let men have sex with them without demanding any kind of commitment from them. Fetuses are not persons and you can kill them without conscience. Men have no right to have opinions about abortion. A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Marriage should last only as long as you’re enjoying it and it’s nobody’s fault if it ends. Everybody lies about sex.
2. Amerika isn’t really a good culture. We mistreat other countries. We mistreat the poor. When we’re in conflict with other countries it’s our fault. Of course they hate us — we deserve their hatred. Their cultures are just as good as our culture — in fact, they’re better. Anybody who wants to be a soldier to fight for Amerika is a crypto-fascist, a violent dangerous person. Good people don’t want to be soldiers because soldiers are just killers with permission.
3. God is dead. People who believe in God are ignorant or stupid or, at the very best, deceived. Conservative Jews and Christians who try to promote their values are forcing their religion on other people. Political decisions should all be made without regard to the desires and opinions of religious people.
4. People who don’t have the same political beliefs as me are evil or stupid. They should be fired from their jobs. The law should be whatever I want it to be, and laws I don’t like should be struck down in any way possible. Speakers, writers, and demonstrators on their side are a public danger and must be stopped, but speakers, writers, and demonstrators on my side are exercising their sacred rights. (Please note — it’s easy to see how this paragraph describes your opponents, but you’re not getting the point if you don’t also look at the same attitudes when they show up within your own ideological camp.)
5. My side should have complete control of the education of everybody else’s children. School is only a meal ticket; all education is vocational training.
6. If you don’t give unlimited overtime to the company that hired you, then you’re not serious about your career. If you put your family first, you’re not a team player. The only law in business is do what works, as long as you can get away with it. The answer to all doubts is: It’s business.
7. Forget about the time when the “American dream” was to be independent and self-reliant. Now it’s to have all the same stuff other people have and to be guaranteed that you’ll have the same rewards as people who are luckier or harder working or smarter than you.
Do these stories sound familiar? They should — and because so many people believe them, we have the horrible social chaos that surrounds us. Millions of fatherless children, unwed mothers, broken homes, delayed marriages — in other words: Visible widespread reproductive failure…
If you really believe that all the old American stories were evil and worthless, then of course you should try to replace that culture with a better one. But before striking down the old stories, be sure you have new stories that will create a culture at least as Good and at least as Strong as the one you’re tearing down.
We stand at the cusp. The people who are trying to remake America according to their theories refuse to see that the result of their replacement stories has been and continues to be devastation. They always assume that the destruction caused by their changes in the culture can only be alleviated by implementing those changes even more fully.
A Strong, Good Culture can tolerate a certain amount of deviance — as long as it is marked as deviant behavior. A few rapacious businessmen, a few adulterous Alpha males, a few secret alcoholics, a few atheists on the faculty —these don’t damage the Stories of the Strong, Good Culture, in part because they prove the culture’s self-story of tolerance.
But when the deviancy from the norms becomes the norm, and the people who keep to the rules of stability, decency, fairness, fidelity, loyalty, faith, honor, generosity, courage, respect, conformity, and consistency are depicted as deviant in the replacement stories, then you’re looking at a society that has decided to die.
I think that for America to survive as a Culture Strong and Good, we must stop telling the stories that are destroying both our Strength and our Goodness, and work to combine the best parts of what’s old and what’s new into stories that will remake us, into not only a society that can last, but also one which should last.
The stakes are so high that it’s worth making the attempt, even if it turns out that it’s already too late to keep this culture from self-destruction. Even then, there would still be the hope of building something Good and Strong among the ashes.
America needs better stories, and it needs people who will hear them, believe them, and act on them.
In the following short video from ClipSyndicate, Orson Scott Card is interviewed about his novel Empire, which was published in 2007. A brief advertisement must be endured first.