28 Apr Orson Scott Card: The wrong stories are dismantling America
“A Strong Culture must have powerful stories explaining why it is a Good Culture — or it will die,” explained Orson Scott Card at a recent gathering of the Management Society of Brigham Young University.
Card is the well-known author of over 50 works of fiction, including the popular novels Ender’s Game, Enchantment, and Lost Boys, and he knows story. In this recent speech, he focused this expertise on explaining how the power of story to guide, shape, and preserve a culture can also be the cause of its demise.
“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.”
According to Card, we have already begun to tell the stories that will bring about our own destruction. Card identifies the 1960s as the time of a pivotal shift in the stories those in the United States (though, I think the same analysis could be applied across the globe) told themselves, a shift away from promoting self-sacrifice, virtue, and allegiance to promoting selfishness, atheism, and cynicism.
The stories those in U.S. began telling themselves “struck at the very heart of our Good, Strong Culture.” They were:
- Old Morality is stupid.
- America isn’t a good culture.
- God is dead.
- People with different political beliefs are evil or stupid.
- I should control the education of others’ children.
- If you don’t sacrifice your family and values to business, you’re not serious about your career.
- The “American Dream” is dead
“Do these stories sound familiar?” Card asked. “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…”
But the failure of American storytelling is not just an American failure. It is a reflection of the world-wide shift in the stories we tell ourselves about family, virtue, morality, and sacrifice. The same stories attacking God, validating promiscuity, disparaging the family, and dismissing virtue are being told around the world and are creating a culture in which values that directly undermine society are being promoted.
Card identifies movies and television as a primary medium through which these new stories are told and retold, but this is not simply a decline in the quality of our entertainment. These negative stories are being told again and again through media, politics, communities, and the daily lives of individuals. And these stories threatening the very stability of the country.
“[W]hen . . . 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.
It cannot last, because when you declare that selfishness and faithlessness are virtues, then public trust by definition disappears. The community is shattered and it’s every man for himself…Why do people do things that they know are not good for them? Because somebody has told them a lot of stories that sound good, but which are not true. Or because they prefer to go about their own business, thinking that the culture will take care of itself, without any particular attention or sacrifice from them.”
The speech in its entirety is fascinating and places the battle we are fighting to defend the family in a whole new light. If you would like to read the full text, you can access it here.
But don’t worry. Card does offer one ray of hope — you!
“America [and the world] needs better stories, and it needs people who will hear them, believe them, and act on them. You are members of the culture; you act and speak within your homes, jobs, and the many communities you belong to.
. . .
I think of the lonely voice of Winston Churchill, telling the story of calamity to come, in a time when nobody wanted to hear the warning, when they thought they could have a peaceful civilization just by giving the monsters what they wanted. That never works, but it took a long time for anyone to hear him.
When they finally did, it turned out, barely, not to be too late. But if he had not spoken, when the cost of speaking seemed to be the destruction of his career, then there would have been no story to turn to in order to stand firm in defense of civilization.
You’re not Winston Churchill? You’re no hero, no leader?
Well, why aren’t you? Winston Churchill was only Winston Churchill because he decided to speak, to act. In the world you move in, among the people you know and work with, why aren’t you?”