The irony of Ender Wiggin’s position is that he is the only individual who attempts to use his theory of mind (ToM) to perceive the aliens; and in doing so, he comes to empathize with them, as Carl D. Malmgren writes: “In order to defeat the Other, Ender must be able to put himself in the Other’s place. In the process, however, Ender inevitably reconceives the Other as a Self, converting it from varelse to raman” (20). Before Ender’s last battle with the Buggers, he is allowed to see his sister Valentine, and he explains to her why he has come to “hate” himself; in doing so, he demonstrates further evidence of his ToM towards his “enemies”, and how he reconceives the Other as Self:
“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them – “
“You beat them.” [His sister says].
“No, you don’t understand. I destroy them” (261).
Ender’s capacity for theory of mind is exemplified in this dialogue, and also manifests another aspect of ToM: empathy. To “understand” the perspective, the feelings and desires of another to the extent that one wholly places oneself in the other’s position, and in doing so, comes to “love” them – is the ultimate definition of utilizing theory of mind to acquire empathy. Although empathy requires theory of mind, it is only one aspect of how theory of mind can work in regards to “others.” Before empathy can occur, however, the first step in extending theory of mind to “others” is by understanding the reasoning behind the others’ intentions and actions, instead of dismissing them and their actions as “monstrous” and “evil” simply because they do not understand them. Empathy, then, can be a further extension through this understanding.
According to the “Hierarchy of Foreignness,” extending theory of mind to the Buggers the way Ender does in both instances is to rank the Buggers as “raman” instead of “varelse” – as if to recognize that they are capable of reasoning, thinking and feeling, even if they are foreign. The rest of the human population and the military, however, do not recognize the Buggers as such. This is because, as science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem declares in Microworlds: Writings on Science Fiction and Fantasy, “This Us-and-Them mentality…represents a failure of the imagination” (247). At its core, theory of mind requires imagination – “imagining” the other’s perspective, thoughts and feelings. The “failure of the imagination,” then, is equivalent to “failure to extend theory of mind” to another. And the only individual to possess this kind of imagination is, as Malmgren asserts, is Ender: “…the strategy of the Battle School calls on one of Ender’s real strengths, his imagination” (20). The humans’ “failure of the imagination” results from what Malmgren argues is “…clear that the real reason behind the human-bugger wars was the inability of the two species to communicate…the Other necessarily becomes varelse, with whom there is only one possible relation” (19), as illustrated by a line from Card’s Xenocide: “With raman, you can live and let live. But with varelse, there can be no dialogue. Only war” (338).
Unbeknownst to the humans, and only discovered later, the reason why they are unable to communicate with the Buggers is because the aliens do not communicate verbally, but through a “hive mind” – literally through telepathic mind-reading, no matter the distance. By depicting this inability to communicate due to differences in the modes of communication, Card seems to imply and symbolize something about real social consequences: that othering arises from a lack of willingness or inability to communicate with another, to the extent that two opposing sides might as well have two different forms of communication entirely, thus creating a barrier between one another where no communication can penetrate. This inability to communicate therefore inhibits theory of mind, and perpetuates the process of othering.
Because the humans are unable to communicate with the Buggers, they instantly assume that the aliens’ intentions must be to harm them, simply because they are not of them. This is evident through the words of Colonel Graff in Battle School: “If the other can’t tell you his story, you can never be sure he isn’t trying to kill you,” (Ender’s Game, 278). Graff’s words suggest that the humans dismiss the possibility of the aliens possessing any human qualities, and assume that the aliens consider them enemies, and vice versa. His words also suggest a lack of any attempt at applying theory of mind to the aliens – at trying to understand their intentions. A character in Robert Silverberg’s The Man in the Maze also echoes the same idea: “Kill the stranger, it’s the law of the universe. And if you don’t kill him, at least screw him up a little” (Silverberg, 110). Both characters voice an idea where ToM is nonexistent and inapplicable to “the stranger” – as if their rank as a “stranger” automatically abolishes ToM, and the only thing left is to “kill.”
They do kill, indeed, when the military finally trains Ender to become, as Zigo and Moore (2004) affirm, “At the age of eleven…’retooled’ as the perfect machine to eliminate the Other” (20). Ender is manipulated by the government to destroy the whole planet of the Bugger species, and is devastated and traumatized when he is told the truth:
“It had to be a trick or you couldn’t have done it. We had to have a commander with so much empathy that he would think like the buggers, understand them and anticipate them. So much compassion that he could win the love of his underlings and work with them like a perfect machine, as perfect as the buggers. But somebody with that much compassion could never be the killer we needed…If you were the kind of person who would do it even if you knew, you could never have understood the buggers well enough. If you knew, you couldn’t do it.” (Ender’s Game, 328).
Colonel Graff explains to Ender that empathy and compassion enables one to understand the “other,” yet ironically, this is an advantage in destroying them, because then one is able to anticipate them. However, he emphasizes that empathy is also what would have prevented him from being a killer, because empathy dissolves the barrier that is created through othering.