Q&A

Can I Craft a Setting Without Bigotry?

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First off, I love this whole website with my whole heart. Second, my question is: Is it possible to write a story/craft a fictional world where bigotry and discrimination is completely nonexistent?

I think in terms of racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. it is entirely possible to make them be nonexistent, but then I think that humanity as a whole is usually always afraid of differences and the new and unknown – from class-based discrimination, to cold nativist attitudes toward outsiders and those of other nationalities, to people of differing political ideologies, not even taking into account if your fictional world has different sapient species.

So is it possible? And if it is, how would conflict work in such a free and equitable world/story?

-Tucker

Hey Tucker, thanks for writing in!

We’re of course thrilled to hear how much you love our site. We want to be a helpful resource to storytellers everywhere, and messages like yours show that we’re succeeding.

Now, for your question: Is it possible to craft a world where bigotry and discrimination doesn’t exist, and how would you tell a story in such a world?

The short answer is yes, you can absolutely create a world without bigotry, but it comes with several caveats. As you’ve surmised, good stories require conflict, and it can be difficult to generate conflict in utopian worlds. However, a world without bigotry or discrimination does not automatically equal a utopia.

Even in a world without overt bigotry, you can still have conflict between groups. It wasn’t bigotry that pitted France and Britain against Germany in WWI; it was a conflict over Germany wanting to carve out its own empire in world where all the good colonies were already claimed. Even that original colonization wasn’t primarily caused by bigotry. Instead, bigotry came after, as a way to justify the destructive extraction of resources by imperial powers.

So if you want to do large-scale political or military conflict without bigotry, then you just need to focus on the root causes. If you want to do smaller-scale personal drama, it’s even easier. Two people can compete over ideas without being bigoted toward each other. You could tell a story about two siblings who bicker over their inheritance without any bigotry at all. Instead, they’re motivated by good old-fashioned greed.

Resources and monetary gain are always good motivators for conflict, and they work just as well without bigotry. You can also use political differences, personal slights, the list goes on. In fact, we have two articles on this subject!

Whether humanity is doomed to always have bigotry and discrimination is a question for philosophers, but in storytelling it’s all a question of what we choose to focus on. It may not be 100% realistic, but neither is a story where no one stops to go to the bathroom. Some people may object, but in most cases they have ulterior agendas and aren’t the audience you want anyway.

Hope that answers your question!

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Comments

  1. Dave L

    One question is:

    Is your story about the lack of bigotry? In other words, do the characters talk about how wonderful it is that there is no prejudice? Or are they just naturally not bigoted?

    If the former, take care not to be preachy and sanctimonious. If the latter, just go ahead and skip the bigotry

  2. Lizard with Hat

    I found that a world without the most overt forms of bigotry (sexism, racism etc.) is easier to build and keep track of than a world with bigotry.
    I have also made a world for my homebrew campaign that left out most of the most common “-isms” focusing more on the clashes between groups and nations than individuals, seems more interesting to me and opens up better story-telling

    Hope this makes a little sense…
    Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas

  3. Tifa

    Thanks to help from the ‘five dualities’ articles, and ‘light stories’ podcast, I managed to make my overall setting bigotry-free yet also have meaningful conflict. It’s a tricky balancing act, that’s for sure.

  4. Mike

    Great tips!

    I’ve found that what works best for me is to write a world how I think it should be: no one really cares about someone’s gender, sexuality or ethnicity. If none of that is relevant to the plot, there’s no reason to make it a problem. You can mention off-handedly that a certain character is a lesbian and move on.

    It reminds me of a book I read where an important character was a trans man. We get a scene where he says he was born female and briefly explains how he feels, and that’s it. The only ever mention of it we get is right towards the ending of the book, when this character’s brother corrects himself after referring to him as his sister. It’s more of an endearing detail than anything else.

    That book came out in 2005, so I’d say it handled that pretty well.

  5. Bubbles

    This is a question I’ve encountered for some time. However, I think there are several things to consider that may be somewhat mixed up here. There is a difference between a setting that is truly without bigotry and a story without bigotry involved.

    The thing is, when Oren mentions a story in which characters don’t go to the bathroom as not being 100% realistic, well, generally, I assume that in such stories, characters do go to the bathroom, but we never see it “on-screen” as it were. Somewhat similarly for dialogue, I assume that the dialogue in the story is polished up and is not what was “really” said. (No, I don’t believe that fiction is real; I’m just talking about realism, not reality. Also, similar things are often found in non-fiction stories, in fact.) But the thing is, bigotry tends to be more impactful than the previously mentioned things, so it’s harder (though not impossible) to just not mention in your story. That said, it is still entirely possible to write a story without bigotry. Not every time, place, or situation in the past or the present is one where people (even those from oppressed groups) has experienced bigotry, and this will (hopefully) become more prevalent in the future.

    A whole setting without bigotry requires more thought into how this happened. There is evidence that to some extent, bigotry has evolutionary developed in humanity (and this may be true for all species that have developed through evolution). Of course, humans can overcome these natural impulses to some extent, and I believe that bigotry is gradually decreasing over time. However, the question is why this has happened, especially relevant to historical settings or even settings that are, in some significant respects, like our past. I wrote a lot about this in comments such as “Five Anachronisms That Fantasy Needs” and “Why ‘Historical Accuracy Isn’t a Reason to Exclude Diversity.” Basically, there have been some arguments that this decrease is due to technological advancement, so a setting with humans or human-like creatures, without high technology or magic that fills a similar role or some other extreme circumstance (such as higher powers that mandate egalitarianism), will have bigotry. I am not saying that this argument is true at all, only that it hasn’t been 100% proven false either, so it is something to consider. For example, why have most (some would say all) historical societies been patriarchal, not matriarchal or egalitarian? Regardless of the reason (there has to be some sort of reason for this, unless I and several others are very mistaken about the prevalence), you have to think about what caused this not to apply in your setting. Again, I’m definitely not saying this is impossible, and you should be putting thought into every aspect of your setting anyway, but it has to be carefully considered.

    • Lizard with Hat

      I offer my take on it.
      I should begin with that: The population of was already very diverse because most species where the slave race of the empire that doom the world and shattered it in one harebrained scheme.
      After the world broke into flying Islands the folks had the choice: Work with the other species and the other people around or don’t and not have necessary skills for survival.
      So most bigotry never really got a chance but in the present of my world there are many groups, nations and powers that struggle for dominance for different reasons.
      Hope that made a bit of sense

      • Bubbles

        Sounds interesting! However, I would wonder why in this circumstance, there were no divisions between species or races, only divisions between nations and so on. After all, your logic of “you need to work with others to survive” would seem to apply to the competing nations as well as the species.

        If the slavery was race/species based, then perhaps beings would be averse to that sort of bigotry in particular because they had experienced it themselves. But then, there would have been bigotry in the past, and I would suspect in the present, at least some would resent whatever species had formed the empire. Furthermore, not everyone learns the lessons of history, and there are cases where it just forms a cycle of oppression.

        Do the species have different abilities, each playing an important role in survival? That might lessen bigotry in some ways, but it could lead to strict, confining societal roles.

        I suspect that the differences between species might be so great that they show how insignificant any other differences, such as racial ones, are, ending that kind of bigotry – but allowing for species-based bigotry instead. But perhaps combined with the previous options that could explain the lack, or at least low amounts, of bigotry.

        • Lizard with Hat

          Thanks for your insightful comment
          Intressting points to consider.

          You are right, there is some bigotry left and not on all flying islands they learn from history and in some areas some people are way more common than other. Most hunters are animal-folk or bird-folk and most fishers are amphibious seahorse-squid-folk
          A point is made (in the world) that your birth and the random factors that come with it will not hamper you much in your life choices.

          It’s actually a point about my world:
          “We can be better people even if it’s hard, it is worth it. But we won’t get there if we don’t try.”
          I think it isn’t the point that bigotry never existed or doesn’t not exist in my world but most inhabitants see such things as something that gets in the way of their lives and reject (most) notions of bigotry.
          I think that makes the statment more powerfull.

          • Bubbles

            Thanks! What you’re saying here makes sense to me. I would like to note that technically, this does make it a setting that is not totally free of bigotry. Note, however, that I am not criticizing you for making this authorial choice at all. I would say that for many, though not all, stories in which the author doesn’t want to include bigotry, merely not having bigotry feature in the story and not mentioning its status in the general setting can work better than a purely bigotry-free setting. The reason is that not mentioning bigotry at all can help normalize egalitarian treatment (this was mentioned in a social justice article). In contrast, unless the whole history of your setting is part of your story, you will have to specifically mention the perpetual lack of bigotry, which can make you sound preachy and raise many coherence issues that you need to deal with. I’m not saying it can’t be done, just that again, it needs more work to be done.

        • Lizard with Hat

          I can’t reply to your latest comment so this has to do

          Thanks again for the insightful comment.

          I think won’t feature this massage as much as I initially thought. I will tell the main story and wait until a good opportunity presents itself for the characters (and the reader) to learn more about my worlds past.

          I think not mention why a setting is egalitarian quite nice – but i think is good to keep an nice explain ready, just in case (and the explanation might chance a bit till then).

  6. Firework

    In my opinion, settings without bigotry can be even more valuable at social justice than those who call the bigotry out, because they not just point the inequality out, but also show the world with the equality.

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