“America has been a remarkably good and strong culture,” Orson Scott Card said at the 26th Annual Gala dinner of the Washington DC Chapter of the BYU Management Society this weekend, “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.”Card was honored by the society as a Distinguished Public Service Award Recipient for this year for his notable contributions as a best-selling author, columnist and lecturer. He 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.Former senator Gordon Smith told the attendees, that included federal lawmakers, CEOs of corporations and heads of foundations, that if ever there were a group that epitomized BYU’s motto of “Go forth to serve,” the people in that banquet room surely did.
However, it was to this group of powerhouses that Card’s message was delivered, asking them to be leaders and heroes to reclaim the culture.
Card answered the alarming question of how America began to be dismantled as a storyteller would. What follows is an excerpt from his talk:
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…Mostly I do only one kind of storytelling: fiction. There are many other kinds. In fact, storytelling is the primary human activity whenever we’re together in groups.
Gossip — telling stories about people that we know or know of — and why they do what they do.
Biography — telling really detailed stories about people alive or dead, and why they did what they did.
History — telling stories about human communities and their leaders, and why they did what they did.
Science — telling stories about nature and why it does what it does.
Politics — telling stories about what you’re going to do, and why it’s not your fault that it didn’t work the way you said.
News — telling whatever story the leaders gave you and pretending that it’s true. Oh, wait — I think I’m telling a different kind of story, called:
Criticism — telling stories about other people’s stories.
There are also rituals that bind a community together — rites of passage, experiences we all share. Watching movies or television is a Ritual; the content of what we watch is Story. We have rituals like graduations, marriages, passing through airport security, sitting in classrooms, playing sports and games. But we also tell stories about all our rituals — what they mean. Why they matter.
The stories and rituals of a culture define the culture to its members and to outsiders. The self-definition of a culture is the single most powerful tool in passing the culture on to the next generation and constantly buttressing the allegiance of its members.
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, like:
1. Paying taxes and other costs in property or service.
2. Obeying laws even when they don’t fit in with your desires of the moment.
3. Letting the culture educate your children in its values.
4. Sending your children off to fight in wars to defend the culture from its rivals, or going yourself to fight and risk death and injury.
5. Tolerating people and events that the culture insists its members have to tolerate — including such obnoxious groups as the rich and powerful, the poor and untidy, the foreign and odd, and all others who deviate from the norm in ways that the culture has determined to allow.
6. Confining your sexual and reproductive actions to the boundaries set by the culture.
7. Making the effort to become educated enough in the culture to participate in its propagation.
8. Conforming with the outward values of the culture even when you disagree with them, in order to help maintain the illusion of unity.
These sacrifices are hard, every one of them.