635: Locke and Demosthenes

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Locke and Demosthenes
Dear Peter Wiggin: This letter is to inform you that you have received enough up votes on your reddit comments to become president of the world. Please be at the UN tomorrow at 8:00 sharp.
Title text: Dear Peter Wiggin: This letter is to inform you that you have received enough up votes on your reddit comments to become president of the world. Please be at the UN tomorrow at 8:00 sharp.


This comic recasts a scene from Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. This is shown in the first two panels depicting the siblings Locke and Demosthenes, as Cueball and the girl. Their real names are Peter and Valentine Wiggin (and these first names are used in the official transcript on xkcd). In the book these two kids write their opinions on their world's version of the internet to gain extreme political influence. Below is a synopsis:

Spoiler alert!
In the book, Ender is an above-average-intelligence boy who is selected to become a potential leader of Earth's "Defense" Forces in the event of another Bugger invasion (later re-titled the Formic invasions). Meanwhile, Ender's two older siblings, Peter and Valentine decide to save the world from itself. They do this by asserting themselves as wise demagogues who comment on political events on what are known as the "free nets" which are nets open to comment by anyone in the world. They choose pseudonyms to write under, as no one would take the words of children seriously, choosing Locke (Peter's pseudonym), and Demosthenes (Valentine's). Eventually they gain enough respect to be invited to participate in moderated political debates in the higher-class nets. By the end of the book, Peter has become the leader of the world, and Valentine runs away with Ender to a planet formerly inhabited by Buggers to live out their lives in peace.
End spoiler alert!

Ender's Game was published in 1985, when most people had never used (and some had never heard of) the internet. The first webpage set up with individual personal opinions (leaving out forums and bulletin board services) was online in 1994, the word "weblog" was invented in 1997 and "blog" in 1999. When Orson Scott Card wrote Ender's Game, Peter and Valentine's plan was based on a sci-fi idea expected to occur in the near future.

However, this apparently science-fictional future concept is now just the mundane (and extremely un-influential) act of blogging. In 1985, Orson Scott Card's idea of how politics works in practice may have seemed a little naive, but now that blogging is an everyday phenomenon, Peter and Valentine's aspirations seem downright silly. We see their plan to win vast political influence manifest itself as a WordPress blog, and a particularly unimportant one at that, with 0 comments on most posts.

The joke hinges on the underwhelming reversal of Peter and Valentine's expectations. It forms both a parody of science fiction that has been rendered outdated by technology, and also a parody of the expectations well-intentioned people have going onto the internet to express their opinions.

The titles of Peter's blog posts parody the arrogance of internet commentators, with names beginning with things like "Everyone's wrong about..." This further underscores the lack of influence his WordPress blog would have and his naivete, as this is a typically unconvincing way to speak to people about politics, but someone with the arrogance to think everyone will naturally see their genius and insist they are put in charge of the world would not realise it.

In the bottom right corner, there are links to other blogs. One is for Demosthenes, but the other is for FiveThirtyEight, a political blog founded by Nate Silver in 2008, more than a year before this comic was released. It was still owned by Nate in 2009, the year of this comic's release, but in 2010 the blog became a licensed feature of The New York Times online and in July 2013, ESPN announced that it would become the owner. The blog takes its name from the number of electors in the United States electoral college: 538. It is a website that focuses on opinion poll analysis, politics, economics, and sports blogging. Nate Silver has been referenced, several times in xkcd, though mainly in the title text, before this comic for instance in 500: Election.

The title text uses Locke's full name, Peter Wiggin, and is formed as a short letter that informs him that he has become the president of the world, and that he should meet tomorrow 8:00 sharp at the United Nations (UN) headquarters. This is either a very child-like representation of how a presidential appointment might be announced or a sarcastic comment someone has left on his blog — either way, further riffing on the naivete of the plan in the first place. Also note that the note is addressed to "Peter" rather than "Locke"; Peter's attempt to remain anonymous has failed miserably.

During their conversation, Peter is shown feeding a squirrel. In Ender's Game the character of Peter Wiggin is a sadistic sociopath - and there is a particular scene in the book where Valentine stumbles across a squirrel skinned by Peter still twitching in pain.

xkcd has referenced Ender's Game before this, specifically in 241: Battle Room, dealing with Ender's experience during his training, and 304: Nighttime Stories, dealing with the sequels to Ender's Game.


[The "real" names and the fact that the squirrel is vomiting comes from the official transcript on xkcd.]
[Valentine (a.k.a. Demosthenes, with long dark hair), is laying on her back on the ground looking up at the sky with her hands behind her head. Peter (a.k.a. Locke, looking like Cueball) is attracting a squirrel with some food his hand.]
Valentine: Ender's up there saving the world, but down here it's falling apart politically. What can we do?
[Peter turns towards and sits down, leaning back on one hand. Valentine sits up in a similar position. Her hair looks like a mix between Megan and Hairbun's hair. The squirrel behind Peter is bending over the food Peter has thrown out for it.]
Peter: I know — we get on the nets and anonymously post political opinions. People reading our articles will see our intelligence, recognize how clear and logical our arguments are, and insist that we be put in charge, so we can fix everything!
Valentine: Brilliant!
[Beneath the first two panel is large panel displaying a blog page. The background is light gray and then there are four white rectangular sections with rounded corners.]
[There is a heading in the top central section:]
Powered by Wordpress
[Below is the largest section, which extends below the panel. It has a scroll bar to the right which is partly scrolled down. The last sentence of a post can be seen at the top, with a time stamp below. Then follows the heading of a new post and the first line of this, which is partly cut off at the bottom of the panel:]
which is why we must reach out to the Russian leadership.
Posted at 3:15AM by Locke
Comments (0)
The Problem with China
In recent months much has been made of
[To the right is two sidebars. The top one shows recent posts:]
Recent posts:
>> A few thoughts on...
Comments (0)
>> Russian Aggression...
Comments (1)
>> Trade policy and the...
Comments (0)
>> And one more thing...
Comments (0)
>> Everyone's wrong about...
Comments (1)
[Below this is list of links to other websites, this section also extends below the panel. The second link is partly cut off at the bottom of the panel, so it is not possible to see that this is probably also underlined:]
>> Demosthenes
>> FiveThirtyEight

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...may someone explain FiveThirtyEight? Greyson (talk) 15:34, 19 November 2012 (UTC)

FiveThirtyEight AFAIK is the Twitter handle (and the name of his blog, which is now a part of the NY Times) of statistician Nate Silver. He may have chosen to use that handle as it is the number of votes in the Electoral College. And now that I've done all that research, I might copy this into the explanation. lcarsos_a (talk) 17:13, 19 November 2012 (UTC)
This is important and should be part of the explanation. I might add it, if I can find a way to work it into the current explanation. --Kynde (talk) 20:21, 8 March 2016 (UTC)

I didn't add this because it might be wrong, but I'm fairly sure that Ender and Valentine aren't going to the formic homeworld, since that was destroyed by the M. D. Device, and I think that in Ender in Exile, Ender is shown to have gone to a mere colony of the formics. Athang (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I agree with your interpretation, but the book does not come out and say such. For this reason, I changed the wording from "the former Bugger homeworld" to "a planet formerly inhabitted by Buggers". Smperron (talk) 04:55, 14 November 2014 (UTC)

Someone may want to change the transcript about the squirrel vomiting. It's far more likely Peter is holding food in panel 1 and has dropped it on the ground for the squirrel to eat in panel 2... 05:02, 17 December 2014 (UTC)

The official transcript states the former, so that was most likely Randall's intention when drawing it. Zowayix (talk) 18:55, 18 April 2015 (UTC)
True to both. I have added that it doesn't look like it is vomiting, but added the link to the official transcript and noted both that it does vomit, and that it looks like it eats from the ground. The transcript here should describe the comic. Not copy the transcript from xkcd. But use it for clarifications. For instance the names are also not given in the comic, at least not for Valentine, whereas they are given in the official transcript. --Kynde (talk) 20:21, 8 March 2016 (UTC)
It makes sense that the squirrel is vomiting. Peter Wiggin, in the books, was a psychopath and an animal abuser, so what he fed the squirrel might have been poisonous. 18:49, 5 November 2023 (UTC)