Psychology

Cultural Norms vs Limits

One, often subtle, distinction you need to make when your making cultures is the difference between cultural norms and limits.

A norm could be something like “Women should become mothers and stay at home.” But there could (and would) be exceptions, even if they were rare. If you made it clear that ALL women were wives and mothers I would assume that I was missing something. Also noteworthy is that with norms you might have no enforcement of this other then social pressure, mostly likely from the group itself.

A limit could be “Women ARE wives and mothers.” This would mean that there are no exceptions allowed. This would also mean that you would need something external to enforce it. There will always be outliers who want to swim upstream, even if they only want to do so to prove they could.

What you can learn from Star Trek: Men of Peace

One thing it is too easy to do is to polarize people as dove’s or hawk’s. As people who want war or peace.

Few men are really going to be always for one or the other. The most ardent hawk will not want a war that he can’t win, and few doves will want peace if it would cost them the lives of everyone they know and love.

One exercise is to ask yourself what would cause your character to cross that line? What would cause your man of peace to go to war, or what would cause your man of war to sue for peace?

One thing I think Star Trek did well is show men of peace who are willing to go to war. Spock hates war, and would do his best to council against it or stop it, but there would be times and places it would be the only option and he would lead the charge. For example when it becomes clear who the Romulans are, vulcan’s who never embraced logic and who left home long before, he says war is the only way.

Kirk is more warlike for sure, and walks to the line more often then spock does. But even so he never likes it, he sees force as a last resort, but nonetheless it IS a resort.

Large Paradigm Shifts

Humans have shifted how we think on a basic level many times, this is one thing to understand when writing anything set in the far future. If you want to show someone in the year 3,000 AD you need to try and think of how he will be different, not just in body but in how he will think.

To explain what I mean I will detail out a few paradigm shifts we have gone through.

The first is the age of enlightenment in Europe. The short explanation of this is that it’s when we changed from assuming things that we did not understand were supernatural to assuming they were understandable scientific phenomena. This sounds simple but it is not, it changed everything about our civilization.

The second is who people identify with. In a very real sense civilization happens when people decide they belong to more then just their family. At first this might mean their tribe, but then it grew to a city, and the city grew to into a nation.

What shifts do you think will happen in the future? Could we even accept them today if someone came from the future and told us about them?

Nudity

One of the things that annoys me greatly is how nudity is used, and not used, by Hollywood. Nudity is almost only used for sex. While there are exceptions to this it is rare that you will see nudity for any other reasons. This annoys me because some of my favorite stories would require nudity be used for things other then bringing in the sexy.

The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein (Very good book, spoilers for that ahead) is the best example I can think of, you could not faithfully adopt it for TV or a movie if you were unwilling to use a lot of non-sexual nudity.

In the book you aliens invade who can wholly control your body if they are touching any part of your skin. They are flat and about dinner plate size so they can easily hide under clothing. When they are discovered they had been working for months and had already spread through more then a third of the country. They would have taken the entire continental US in a few more months with no real fight.

The only way to stop them required the main characters to convince congress to make wearing clothing a capital offense punishable by death. This was the only way to make sure invaders could not just walk into any city they wanted and start converting people.

That was about as easy to do as you would think, their also was the issue of winter, it was a few months away and they had to win before they would be forced to wear winter clothing.

You should not assume that everyone wears clothing like we do for the same reasons we do.

The first of many reasons for nudity would just be that a people don’t have the same taboos we do. One example of this is in the lensmen series, about half the planets with people like humans don’t have the nudity taboo.

There is nothing wrong with using this, in fact I would use it for sure if there was a huge disincentive to wearing or making clothing for a people. For example if clothing was not needed and a people were on the edge of starvation they would probably not waste time making it.

This also can be a way to show a people are different, it is easily something that could change over the course of a couple generations on a colony.

Under some conditions I would be surprised if this did not happen. For example if everyone on a colony were genetically engineered and always perfectly fit that would remove one big reasons for the taboo. This would be even more likely if we are talking about a people who live on a station or somewhere that weather is not a factor.

Another reason is humiliation, if you want to humble or humiliate someone stripping them bare can help. If your book has a slave class you could have clothing be a way that status is shown. For the same reasons it can be used for interrogation.

Honestly this is one thing that bugs me when I see someone being tortured on TV, this is the first thing you would do. Its not like you would be okay with torture but not okay with stripping someone nude.