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Importing 21st century sensibilities into a medieval society

Discussion in 'World Building' started by DeathtoTrite, Nov 25, 2015.

  1. DeathtoTrite

    DeathtoTrite Troubadour

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    So, just a question about something that has always bothered me-- how do people feel about author's making their medieval societies remarkably tolerant and wise? I feel like this overlaps a lot with having Mary Sue races, which of course is part of the problem.

    And of course, not every fantasy society has to be homophobic and paranoid of foreigners, but good grief, reading about how the society is totally accepting, takes care of the homeless and orphans, etc. etc. just gets jarring, especially when systems are ripe for abuse but everyone in power is an altruist. I also feel like some of this comes from authors being overly zealous with the inclusion of minorities of all kinds.

    In the case of Mary Sue progressive societies, of course the big bad empire next door trying to invade is full of racist goose-steppers.

    Maybe a part of this is my general preference for darker settings. Also, let's make sure we don't get derailed. :)

    Thoughts?
     
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  2. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    I think it depends on the tone of the story and the world. If we are talking about a happy, upbeat story for younger audiences than i don't mind this over optimistic view on society. However, in a darker world or a very political story like my main project, it quickly becomes my main argument against the book.
     
  3. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    One of the great things about Spec fic is that you can play with ideas.

    The idea that technological development goes hand in hand with moral, social or ethical development is one that can be played with.

    If an author wants to explore say...what if a culture with medieval technology was really enlightened and does so in a thoughtful way I might well enjoy that. On the other hand one can explore what if a highly technologically advanced culture was very corrupt or feudal in governance? That could be interesting as well.

    I agree with you thought about how it can be done in a cliche fashion. That holds no interest for me. The idea of enlightened societies facing troubles, internal and external is interesting as long as there are fresh aspects to it.

    Cliched or tired writing, pops up in many ways, not just medieval societies with modern ideas.

    But if you are writing historical fiction...woe betide you if you don't invest the time to understand the period mindset.
     
  4. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    It depends on if it's an actual medieval society or not. Is it historical fiction (fantasy or not) that is meant to take place in our own history? Or is it a made up world that shares its aesthetics and other details with medieval society because that's what the author chose to use? In the first case, God, please don't "modernize" it. There's nothing I hate more than picking up a book with a historical setting where I'm expecting to get a historical point of view and finding it to be tediously modern. In the second case, whatever. As long as it's clear this is your imaginary world I'll accept pretty much anything you tell me about it.
     
    arboriad likes this.
  5. NerdyCavegirl

    NerdyCavegirl Sage

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    I find that annoying in any setting because it simply isn't true. xD It's human nature to discriminate, hardwired in our brains for thousands of years. Women and men are capable of equality but were designed for different things, other races were competition for resources because they weren't one of the tribe, the sick and disabled were a burden. I'm not saying it's very nice, but a perfectly accepting society (at least of humans) would require mass brainwashing through drugs/magic/etc in an attempt to wipe out everyone's natural instincts to only protect and provide for their closest companions. I doubt even that'd work because it'd require a level of understanding of the human whole that we'll never be able to fully wrap our brains around. xD Sure modern humans might be too lazy to go out and commit genocide, but most are a lot more sexist and racist than they wish to admit. Even the most zealous social justice warriors usually discriminate against anyone who doesn't think like them.
     
    Logos&Eidos likes this.
  6. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I'm completely along with this.
    On Earth, the medieval period had all kind of viewpoints and behaviors that we would find objectionable. But perhaps, the "medieval" period in the land of Agloria or Elffeyland had a different sociological trajectory.
    Playing with cultural attitudes like that is just part of fantasy fiction. In fact, for me, that's one of the main draws of the genre.
     
  7. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Archmage

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    I think its ok if the author actually goes through with it and has thought things through as the society may not even be recognizable as medieval if the we take away many of its defining elements and gets down to get some basic understanding for how things hang together.
     
  8. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    I don't like writing bigotry, so I don't include it in my stories – full stop. I prefer for my conflict to come from ideological and philosophical differences, as well as simple greed. So I'll still have dickhead fat cats exploiting the working classes and tyrannical lords massacring peasants, but they won't be sexist or racist dickhead fat cats and tyrannical lords.

    Because, to me at least, sexism and racism are far too cliche and boring by this point that I'm much more interested in stories that don't use bigotry as a crutch for 'grittiness' or 'realism'. Come on, guys, use your imagination! Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I hate all stories taking place in sexist societies, but I do hate it when authors include such discrimination as a reflex without actually considering the fact that they're writing fantasy and can do water the f*ck they want.
     
  9. qWirtzy

    qWirtzy Dreamer

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    No one society acted in just one way all the time, either. It's arguable that people are selfish, driven by instinct to self-preservation, but one can also argue that what makes us human is our ability to think and feel beyond mere instinct. The most hard-line feudal systems had benevolent and progressive rule, even if only in one area of society or for one brief generation. You can find historical basis for progress--consider the Japanese permission for homosexuality in the pre-Meiji period. To make a believable world, why not try mixing both modern ideas and regressive ones? Not in the manifestation of Evil Backwards Country vs. Enlightened Elf-town, but by say, having your Baron have sliding scale charges for his serfs grinding grain at the community flour mill?
     
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  10. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    I assume you believe in the hobbesian nature state then, as opposed to Rousseau's view? Hobbes believed that humanity is inherently selfish and that we need a state to keep humanity nice and orderly. I believe that this way of thinking does apply in some societies but that it isn't the only possibilty.

    I believe, like Rousseau, that humanity is inherently good and empathic towards eachother, but that increased populations and the devaluation of individuals by the state combined with our tribal brains (haven't had enough time to fully adapt to modern life) has led many to become detached and selfish.

    Don't see this as offensive or anything, i just wanted to tell you and the OP that there is an alternative to Hobbesian thinking. :)
     
  11. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I think conflict in fiction is good.

    ;)

    For me, I do prefer worlds where there is some seriously major conflict going on, and someone finally steps up to say "enough is enough." Yes, I liked Margaret Atwood's messed up future in Oryx and Crake… even though (for a feminist author) it was full of misogyny, bigotry, racism, rape, 'perfect woman' who was also a child sex slave… I liked the book. I liked the story.

    I like George RR Martin's world which is pretty messed up.

    I like District 12.

    I like conflict in fiction. Rape, bigotry, child abuse… honestly, it doesn't bother me (in fiction… IN FICTION)… as long as someone is fighting against it.

    Perhaps why I wasn't super into the blue guys… Avatar. Sort of boring for me.

    I liked Elysium though… (I know, I know, don't judge… perhaps I just like Mat Damon…) because of it's post-apocalyptic terrible a-moral world…

    Oddly enough, I am of the Rousseau philosophy that humans are all inherently good… but I feel like it perhaps makes for boring fiction. (can of worms…sorry..)

    And I think that is where I like fantasy/sci fi over contemporary fiction. I don't really want to read about contemporary issues. I want to read about a world that is worse than our world. Terrible, really, really, bad, and I want to see someone rise above it. THis is also, perhaps why I also enjoy historical fiction. I liked "The Help" for example, specifically because it dealt with issues we don't face any more.

    "Gone with the Wind" was funny for that. It made it look like all the slaves were all friendly with the plantation owners and everyone was happy with their lot in life, and it was all this beautiful utopia… so what was the point in the war then? Just because the North didn't like the south?
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2015
  12. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    But greed is not cliche? lol that's kind of a weird point of view.

    I'm not saying you should start writing sexism or anything, but I mean, greed is the primary reason for all the conflict in the entire world since the dawn of time. I'm just not seeing how it's better than racism or sexism as a source of conflict.
     
  13. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    The way I define greed is very vague, basically any mentality that involves valuing yourself over others, wanting more than others, etc. It's an umbrella concept that can take many nuanced forms, and arguably is the source of all conflict (not to get too philosophical). Whereas racism and sexism and homophobia are more specific things that can more easily unincluded.
     
  14. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    So, by your definition, racism and sexism are just specific forms of greed.
     
  15. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    *shrug* Sure, I guess. But I just prefer using other forms as my conflict points.
     
  16. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    If you think about it all seven sins are forms of greed. SLoth is greed for laziness, Lust is greed for sex, Pride is greed for self-worth. Everything bad can in someone way be attributed to greed i think. Just something to think about :)
     
  17. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Well, I think that's a little simplistic. As a Christian, I think it boils down to 3 categories: lust, greed and pride. But I can understand your point of view as well. I'm not arguing with it. I just found it a bit funny to see someone say sexism and racism were cliche, but he liked to write about greed, the most cliche of the cliche motivations. But of course, like with anything (including sexism and racism), it's really only cliche if you're simplifying it.
     
  18. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    Sure i understand that. I consider Greed and selfishness to be extremely similar. The point i wanted to make is that with Abrahamic religions all sins are about selfishness of some kind, while its virtues are about selflessness. Just something i find very interesting and kind of beautiful about these religions.

    I suppose i've derailed another discussion once again. It's very difficult to stay on topic. :)
     
  19. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    While I think that competition can naturally lead to bigotry, intolerance, persecution and so forth, I don't think the models need to follow the most successful real-Earth models. By "successful" I do not mean that real-Earth models of persecution have succeeded in doing something particularly beneficial or are in any way proven and justified methods, but only that their entrenchment happened and, once entrenched, they endured.

    There is a case to be made that the ball, once it's rolling, can continue to mow down a wide swath and greatly shape the environment. Having shaped the environment so greatly, little may exist to obstruct its continual motion, at least for long periods. Another analogy: the formation of a planet that clears a path around a star. If nothing from the outside comes to upset the balance in the system, then the system itself will have to decay/evolve before the planet's dominance of that orbital path ceases.

    But this doesn't mean that the particular ball–say, persecution of homosexuals–is inevitable for every society of intelligent beings at a certain stage of development.

    I also tend to think harsher environments and limited resources will exacerbate the negative side effects of competition. I'm certainly no expert in the field, but I wonder if "21st century sensibilities" might have more to do with the way technological development has artificially created Realms of Plenty–than to some vaguely established abstract called "social progress." A progress toward plenty, perhaps.
     
  20. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    What an excellent post with some great thought provoking material.

    But let me suggest I think the reverse may be the case. I believe that for social animals the harsher the environment the more the value of co-operative behaviours and the less tolerance for group in fighting. I would suggest that the negative side effects of competition come along when there is a surplus that allows people to make war without risk of group extinction. For instance the climate of the arctic is very harsh indeed and the Inuit had very little inter or intra group conflict.

    Lots of room for creative thought in that field.
     
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