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6 Made Up Nerd Words That Made it to Common Usage, and 8 That Should
by The Mary Sue Staff | 12:32 pm, January 24th, 2012
Utlanning, Framling, Ramen, and Varelse
The Hierarchy of Foreignness is one of the core concepts in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, but it doesn’t make an appearance until the second book Speaker for the Dead. See, first, humanity has to considerably violate the ideas present in the Hierarchy of Foreignness by destroying an entire sentient race, the Buggers, or Formics.
Indeed, the remorse humanity feels for this act galvanizes the next few thousand years of human moral development, as we use the technological advances made during the Formic wars of Ender’s Game to colonize our galaxy, always hoping that we might find another sentient species and get another chance at first contact.
That’s what the Heirarchy of Foreignness is all about: replacing the word “alien” with several different more useful definitions. Utlanning, the first category, describes a stranger of your own species and culture. You don’t know who they are, but you share the experiences of your culture: like high school, voting on election day, or celebrating New Years on December 31st.
Framling describes a stranger of your species who does not share your culture. In the time of Speaker for the Dead most individual human colonies have wildly different cultures, but in our own time a good comparison might be a person from Middle America and a person from North Korea. The two are obviously human, but might find it very difficult to find shared cultural experiences.
With ramen, we get to actual aliens. Someone who is ramen is a person of another species, but is most definitely a person. More than that, they are demonstrably fully capable of communicating with human beings, and reaching understanding with human beings despite the fact that they are at least as culturally different as two framlings. They are also capable of existing peacefully with humans, although it may take much work on the part of both species to bring that existence to reality. The point is that if the species is ramen, it would be just as immoral to exterminate or enslave or harm them as it would be to exterminate or enslave or harm humans.
Finally, there is varelse (pronounced with three syllables), a species with which it is impossible to communicate with, completely incapable of common ground with humanity and anyone considered ramen. A good example from another work of science fiction would be the xenomorphs of the Alien series. This does not necessarily mean that the species must be exterminated if it poses a threat to humanity and its allies. After all, terrestrial animals count as varelse, and even though we can be killed by lions we fight to keep them from disappearing from existence.
The onus, and the subsequent blame or shame, is on humanity to know the ramen from the varelse, not the alien species to present itself as ramen as soon as possible in a clear and present fashion. To quote the books: “The difference between ramen and varelse is not in the creature judged, but in the creature judging. When we declare an alien species to be ramen, it does not mean that they have passed a threshold of moral maturity. It means that we have.”
I’d like it if we became a species that accepted the Hierarchy of Foreignness, if only because it is a system of classification that demands that we be constantly evaluating and re-evaluating the nature of humanity, striving actively to see sentience in the species around us. We name things varelse at our own moral peril, a lesson that science fiction has been attempting for years to teach us in allegories for racial/social conflict, hoping that we can manage to stop calling ourselves alien before before we actually run into some real ones. (Frankly, I’d be satisfied if Orson Scott Card himself didn’t seem to designate so many of his utlannings as varelse.)
On a related note, if scientists are right and dolphins are not animals but non-human persons, then there are already ramen living on earth who deserve our consideration.
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