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Multiculturalism in Fantasy


Introduction

Much of modern fantasy often shows various degrees of multiculturalism and, particularly, multiracialism. In Elder Scrolls, various human races and species of intelligent humanoid beings mix and coexist together.

There are different reasons behind it. In role-playing PC games, it allows players to customize characters as they like. In books and movies, it is largely the influence of United States, themselves a multicultural society, and of modern-day politics which see “diversity” as good and “cohesion” as evil. However, is it realistic?

Realism

When it comes to fantasy, societies portrayed there are typically medieval or Renaissance, with somewhat fewer examples based on Antiquity. There is one problem with that: such societies were not multicultural. Not only was there not enough travel for different races to mix (with, perhaps, few exceptions), but people generally did not even travel between different villages – or towns, with the exception of traders. In fact, a person from one part of country may not have been able to understand a person from a different part of that same country. Roman Empire is often portrayed as multicultural and – by BBC – as multiracial, yet it was neither; when a Roman Emperor saw a black soldier at Hadrian’s Wall, he took it as an omen of death. All Roman emperors were white.

There was little travel between different parts of the Empire – if more than during Middle Ages – and, especially in rural parts of the Empire, people and societies generally maintained the culture and religion they followed before the conquest. Greek paganism survived in inner Peloppones until 10th century or so. While this is a form of multiculturalism, it is not the form of multiculturalism that is typically seen, as different cultures within the Empire had very little to no interaction with each other. What interaction there was came mainly through the army; yet army never numbered more than 1,5% of the populace in unified Empire. By the time it broke that mark – even reaching 2,4% in 1025 – the Empire was highly monocultural, being predominantly Greek and almost wholly Orthodox.

Until 20th century, percentage of immigrants in e.g. Britain was always below 5%. In earlier times, it was even less. In other words, Britain has never been a nation of immigrants – at least not until after World War II. Majority of genetic code in islands comes from before Roman Empire. The last group which had appreciable effect on genetics of British islands were Anglo-Saxons, and that impact is mostly limited to southeast of England and is very small to begin with. Largest difference is between Orkney and North Wales (0,3%); differences for major continental groups (European, African, Asian) are 5-15%. This is no different for other countries: mass migrations were rare until 20th century, and usually involved only a small warrior elite taking over much larger sedentary population (e.g. Franks in Gaul, Croats in Illyricum, Anglo-Saxons in Britain), while leaving little genetic record of their presence.

Social and political consequences

A multicultural or multiracial society is simply not stable enough to last for long. Central driving force in defining a state is desire to have a relatively homogenous population. If diversity is great, there is significant incentive for people to spend their efforts in efforts to redistribute income rather than create new value. But since no new value is being created, and efforts to redistribute already existing value are always damaging, this leads to gradual undermining of social structures.

The only solution is splitting the multiracial empire into several homogenous states. This split can be deep – creating completely independent states – or shallow, creating a federation of states. If this does not happen, the only other possible outcome is either genocide or expulsion of a minority group (e.g. expulsion of Chinese from Malaysia and Vietnam, of whites from Africa, and conlficts in Sri Lanka and Tibet).

In US and Western Europe, indigenous minorites as well as immigrants feel entitled to social support without giving anything back. They intentionally decrease their work efforts and live off social assistance in order to avoid benefiting the whites on the other side of transaction. Therefore, it is a fact that Abraham Lincoln has presided over the greatest error in American history. Freeing the slaves could have been accomplished by buying off the slaveowners, as British did in 1830s, and it is not clear that fighting the war significantly accelerated the end of slavery. Last country in Western hemisphere to act, Brazil, began the process in 1871. and finished it in 1888. US civil war ended in 1865.; it is rather unlikely that two decades head start was worth extreme devastation which war produced.

Small countries are not economically disadvantaged. If anything, empires produce much greater levels of economic and social stagnation, as they spend too much resources on wasteful internal conflict and maintaining the status quo. Redistributive efforts which are a consequence of ethnic diversity lead to damaged economy and internal conflict, which damages society itself.

It also makes it more vulnerable to external attacks. Divide-and-conquer was always a practice of conquerors, and unity – political, religious, cultural, racial, ethnic – was always the enemy of same conquerors. Therefore, diversity has always been promoted as a way to enable exploitation. Group is based on intimate relationships within the group. Once that is broken, individuals are isolated, vulnerable and open to external exploitation and conquest. That is why open borders and free trade were always a tool of imperialists, conquerors and the like – it is no accident that British Empire was one of greatest promoters of free trade, historically.

And there lies issue with capitalism. It is a system where there is only sacred profit, and nothing else matters. Everything which is a barrier to free trade – ethnic / racial / religious loyalty, national independence, tradition, history, sanity – has to be destroyed. That way, a small elite can steal resources which rightfully belong to the people and then sell those same resources back to the people at exurberant prices.

Implications for fantasy

While multicultural or multiracial empires are not impossible, this is largely due to communication: migration in premodern world is impractical. As a result, most communities had no regular contact with each other, and government was largely faraway, abstract thing – except for taxes and when defense was necessary. What is not possible is the situation akin to that in many RPGs, such as Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, where different races and even species happily stroll among each other. Not only is such a situation physically impossible, but it would also lead to internecine conflict within society.

5 Comments »

  1. This is a good read. Loved TES as a boy. Morrowind will likely always be the best in my book. I will say, I did appreciate the tension between dunmer and Cyrodiils. What with the Dark Elves being nativists and the Imperials being snooty, well, imperialists. Great point about Rome though.

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  2. Ouch, this post goes under the politically oriented, and it’s fine, but the history bit is problematic: Rome was de facto a multi-ethnic state. And of course it’s wild to find a black warrior at the Hadrian’s wall, we know where that wall is. Legions were mainly formed by other ethnicities than romans though. But you were expected to assimilate in the roman culture (that often let the people live with parallel law/tax systems).
    The fact is that Romans were more at home in Egypt than in Northern Italy, and to be tall and blond was seen as a sign of weak nature. BUT it was not really multicultural, because you were expected to abandon your culture
    More than this, the main problem were the christians: in those centuries the Islam welcomed the Jews from Europe and ruled over a christian/jewish/muslim country without problems for centuries.

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    • Rome was a multi-ethnic state, but these ethnicites did not mix at a large scale. You had some mixing in large ports – Constantinople IIRC had Jewish and Arab quarters in Middle Ages – but the kind of “everyone is everywhere” mixing you often see in fantasy games was physically impossible, with the sole exception of said large ports. But as a rule, Gauls stayed in Gaul and Histri stayed in Histria. Large ports, as noted, were an exception – and because of that, they also saw serious ethnic conflicts. Constantinople was a hotbed of conflict in part precisely because it was multicultural. One (but far from only) such conflict was massacre of Latins in 1182.

      Islam had its ups and downs in tolerance as did Christianity… there were times when they were tolerant, and times when they were extremely oppressive. But I have found that many cases of “multicultural tolerance” in history are either seriously misrepresented (such as the above mentioned question of multiculturalism in Roman Empire – yes it did exist, but it was very different from what we see as multiculturalism – in fact, it was closer to Tolkien’s ideal of ethnic subsidiarity) or outright made up (such as the myth of Islamic tolerance, and specifically the so-called “Andalusian Paradise”; see the link below*).

      *link:

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