Tuesday, August 16, 2011

TTYU Retro: Cultural Diversity in the Future

I've always loved Star Trek for the way it bucked trends on race, and even species, for the way it could have an entire episode about whether Data could be considered his own being with rights or not. It has a certain sense of undying optimism as it portrays human beings in an era beyond racial discrimination, after poverty has been eliminated from our civilization.

It makes me wonder.

My husband, who always looks at America with a certain degree of humorous distance (being a self-professed Aussie descendant of convicts), has been talking a bit about a post-racial generation, ever since the election of Obama. I think in a sense that America may be moving toward this, or at least, that in a couple more generations race may not mean the same thing it always has.

But what will it mean? And furthermore, what will it mean in the far, far future?

I've seen lots of science fiction where alien invasion or at least the appearance of aliens on the scene brings squabbling humans together against a common enemy. But on the other hand, the persistence of human divisions, such as those in the middle east and even in Ireland, continues to amaze me. The other thing I noticed when I was in college was the way that certain racial groups which received public recognition proceeded to splinter further into subgroups. The particular example I'm thinking of from my past was the Asian student union, which began to break up into multiple groups by nation.

I admire the authors, C.J. Cherryh and C.S. Friedman being only two of them, who have portrayed a cultural difference between planet-dwellers and non-planet-dwellers in their science fiction. I encourage all of you writers out there to consider what kinds of distinctions between people would have staying power in a future universe.

Where are the barriers? What kind of people might be hidden from public sight, even by purely logistical factors such as jobs servicing the innards of a ship, or long hauls between stars, such that others might be inclined to fabricate perceptions of them?

Ask yourself also: where are the points of pride? Who feels indispensable, and why? Who feels superior, and why? And how do those people mark themselves, whether it be physically, linguistically, behaviorally, or all three?

History shows us that when people stop separating themselves in one way, they will often separate themselves in another, often based on new categories that take on new meaning for those who experience them. The richness of diversity will never be lost, but only shift. It's worth seeking out those places so that your universe will thrive with depth and difference like our own.


  1. This is one of my favorite topics to explore in writing, but though my stories usually end on a tentatively positive note, I'm not as hopeful for our culture. You'd think Obama would usher in a change of racial awareness, but there are many examples denying that, the most recent being the Spiderman movie controversy. People like to set themselves against other people. All efforts to point out binary is not the default position of all societies are ignored (okay, maybe not completely, but by enough), and the most successful times in almost any culture seemed to be tied to a clear other so the people can join together without needing to divide. That's why any response to alien contact is likely to be hostile. Because the benefits of having an obvious other outweigh the costs of creating an enemy out of a possible ally.

    Would you believe I'm an optimist? Sigh.

  2. Well, Margaret, I'm pretty sure that we won't have a unified response to any contact with alien species! People definitely divide themselves as much as they ally themselves. It's a conundrum, but I suspect part of human nature.

  3. True. And maybe those that have a more reasoned (which does not rule out identifying the need for a hostile response) will get there first.

    BTW, to clarify, I meant electing a non-white president, not anything he should have done.