Racism has been a hot topic for over a hundred years throughout most of the world, and continues to remain a big issue today. Even countries generally considered to be some of the most advanced and civilised have had massive civil rights problems centred around particular ethnic groups.
Thus, it’s not surprising that racism tends to be a big feature – whether overtly or covertly – within a great amount of literature. Fiction tends to be a lens through which we can differently view the reality of our world, especially since it’s clear that there are plenty of people today who don’t read history books.
In our ‘more enlightened’ times, it’s easy for us to talk badly about the cultures of the past, about how they were misguided, foolish or even stupid. What is, perhaps, a better way of looking at the past, is to suggest that the people of the age did the best they could with the knowledge they had.
The Aztecs didn’t sacrifice people and merely pretend that it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t because their priests liked chopping out the still-beating hearts of slaves (though maybe some of them did). It’s because they thought it was the right thing to do, and that it was a part of the natural order. The kingdoms of Central America had been fighting each other for hundreds of years, so it could perhaps be expected that they would believe that conflict was merely the way of nature.
“But Alex,” you say, “are you saying we can’t judge the Aztecs because they did the best they can with what they have?” No, I think that it’s important to judge our modern society by how far we’ve come, and by comparing our goods with the shortcomings of the past. Aztec society may have been brutal and violent, but it also produced magnificent works of science, including farms that floated on water, which scientists have only begun to understand in the modern age.
Aztec society was not perfect, and neither was the Spanish society that replaced it. Now I don’t want to get on an extended anti-colonialism rant, really. The invasion of one society and its destruction is not necessarily a justified act merely if they are considered immoral or unjust (and especially not if you really want all their gold).
The point is, even some of the most evil countries throughout history have still made great contributions in areas beyond the destruction they may have wrought. The Aztecs had one of the most accurate lunar calendars EVER. The point I’m trying to make is that a country or society is never ALL bad. Well, almost never. I suppose there are points that could be made about some of the less-salubrious countries in the world, but that’s a whole other story.
Even dictatorships make roads, build houses and expand settlements. Sure, the dictator’s army will come along and demolish a town once in a while or have their political enemies assassinated, but there are always people who do their best to keep things moving.
Currently there are many people who wail and bemoan some of the world’s democratic leaders (and rightly so), but history has shown us that things have often been worse. The United States is a good example. Whether you love or hate Donald Trump, it’s important to understand that most of the country just keeps moving. They don’t pay him much heed, because their states are able to continue on with business as usual.
These are points I like to keep in mind when writing a dystopian society in particular. The most horrifying ideas of ‘frozen’ societies come from Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Huxley’s ‘A Brave New World’, where nothing changes and, if anything, they only get worse. I personally believe them scary, but unrealistic. Something is always moving, always changing. That’s the nature of human survival, not just of human thriving.
But hey, do you think I’m also a little bit wrong?