Five Stories That Don’t Understand Power & Privilege

According to Fantastic Beasts, this guy is super dangerous.

Mythcreants veterans can tell you that I talk about the dynamics of power and privilege a lot. It’s important that real people understand these dynamics, because if they don’t, they end up blaming problems on the oppressed instead of the oppressor. People operating under this misapprehension think Black Lives Matter advocates are the real racists when they interrupt white politicians, or they might blame poor people for being poor.

Fiction has a major role in shaping our understanding of the world, so we have a responsibility to portray power and privilege correctly. This sounds simple in theory: understand who actually has the power, and assign responsibility accordingly. But in practice, it can get a lot more complicated. Today we’ll look at some of the worst examples I could find. These stories each misunderstand oppression in their own way, and they provide valuable cautionary tales for the rest of us.

Spoiler Notice: Living Witness and City of Brass

Content Notice: Discussions of racism, queer-phobia, and sexual violence

1. X-Men

Blink opening a portal in The Gifted

The X-Men comics have been around for a long time, and over the years they’ve delved into more stories than I can count. But whenever X-Men is adapted to film or TV, one plot takes precedence over all: mutants being hated and oppressed by human society. The most recent TV adaption, The Gifted, has doubled down on this premise with mutants so intensely targeted that they can’t go out in public. Anti-mutant oppression comes from both private citizens and heavily armed government agencies.

X-Men writers usually try to model the oppression of mutants off the oppression of real-life groups, especially queer people. Heck, the second X-Men film has a scene where a character comes out to his parents about being a mutant.* Across multiple iterations, we see mutants harassed as they go about their lives. Then we see politicians debating if mutants are dangerous, and finally the soldiers and giant sentinel-robots show up so Wolverine has something to slice and dice.

That sequence isn’t realistic, most notably because bullies are cowards. Whether in the schoolyard, workplace, or parking lot, bullies are very good at picking on targets who can’t fight back. Sometimes they choose a physically weak victim; sometimes they go after the only person of color in a white neighborhood. Mutants can always fight back. All but a handful of mutants have powers that make them more than a match for even a crowd of normal humans. It’s difficult to imagine that bullies across the globe would suddenly find the courage necessary to take on someone who can lift cars or erase memories with a thought.

Beyond bullying and harassment, mutants are useful. Really useful. One character in The Gifted can open a portal to anywhere she’s been before. She could name her price with any company that has to deliver physical goods. Other characters have even more useful powers, like weather control or mind reading. Even the mutants whose abilities only work in combat could make a mint in the security industry.

While not every mutant would succeed, as a group they would quickly become wealthy and influential. Even if they couldn’t defeat anti-mutant laws on their own, the various corporations and agencies employing them would take up the slack for the sake of their bottom lines. No marginalized group in real life has ever wielded that kind of power. If they did, they wouldn’t be marginalized.

The way mutants are usually portrayed, it’s unlikely there would even be enough public sentiment against them to warrant a response. Bigots hate others for all sorts of reasons, but it’s rarely because those others have exceptional abilities. More likely, mutants would be celebrities, the way sports stars are in the real world.

2. Fantastic Beasts

Newt hiding behind a turned over car.

The Harry Potter books have a lot of problems when it comes to social justice, but they at least understand who has the power and what that means. We see the frighteningly realistic rise of a fascist Voldemort, while the privileged pure-bloods are either apathetic or openly supportive. The books understand that muggle-borns and half-bloods are targeted because they have less power in the wizarding world, and that muggles are even lower in the power structure. While there are a lot of cringeworthy moments around house elves, at least there’s never an indication that wizards are the real slaves.

But now we have the new films, and everything is different. It’s unclear how the story will be handled going forward,* but in Fantastic Beasts at least, muggles are the scary monster that wizards tell their children stories about. Not only are witch hunts a real problem now, which is a blatant retcon,* but wizards keep themselves secret because, if they don’t, the muggles will make war on them. That’s not quite a retcon, but it does take all the steam out of Voldemort’s storyline. In the books, one of Voldemort’s main goals is to subjugate the muggles, and it’s assumed he could do this easily, so it’s up to other wizards to stop him.

Not anymore. Now the muggles are a direct threat to wizards. We can all rest easy knowing that if Voldemort had won, some muggle would have killed him with a machine gun. This makes no sense, to put it mildly. Wizards have teleportation, invisibility, and mind control, just to name a few powers. While it’s valid to point out that the portrayal of wizard battle-magic makes it seem inferior to modern muggle weaponry,* that’s always been an audience extrapolation; it’s clearly not true in-universe. Even if we accept that premise, it would be child’s play for wizards to acquire muggle weapons, especially in the time period of Fantastic Beasts.

The premise gets even more ridiculous the further back in time we go. Sure, a muggle in the modern era might be able to threaten a wizard, but what about muggles in an age when the most advanced guns were still likely to explode in your hands? That’s the time period all these witch hunts are supposed to have happened in. At that point, a single wizard could probably have taken an entire muggle army with a few hexes and some well-placed dungbombs. This is the problem with basing fantasy stories off witch hunts: in real life, the people accused of being witches didn’t actually have any magic. If they did, they’d have used it to avoid being killed.

Beyond the obvious mismatch in power, it’s not even clear why muggles would want to make war on wizards. Sure, there’s always the basic fear of an outsider, but wizards have things muggles want and can’t make themselves. The demand for the Draught of Peace* alone would put wizards in an incredibly strong bargaining position. If anything, it’s hard to explain why wizards haven’t done this already. They hold all the cards in any interactions with muggles, and pretending otherwise in Fantastic Beasts is not only a contradiction of the original books but a basic misunderstanding of power.

3. True Blood

The cast of True Blood.

At first glance, True Blood looks a lot like the previous examples on this list. Like Fantastic Beasts, True Blood is based on a popular book series. Like X-Men, True Blood uses the discrimination against vampires as an obvious metaphor for discrimination against real groups, especially queer people. They even use the phrase “coming out of the coffin” and show extremist Christian militias rallying around the threat vampires supposedly pose to children. There’s just one major difference that sets True Blood apart from other the entries: the vampires are evil.

That’s right: for some reason, True Blood decided to do a story about an oppressed minority, but this time all the terrible stereotypes about them are true. They really do want to suck our blood, they really have an evil plan to take over, and they really are a danger to children. So that’s not great. In complete fairness, not every vampire is evil, but the vast majority of those we see are, at least in the first and second seasons.

This badly muddles the show’s message. I’d like to think this goes without saying, but in real life, marginalized groups are not evil. Bigots love to shout about the threat posed by people of color, queer folk, independent women, etc, but the bigots are always lying. Using vampires as an obvious stand-in for real groups but then making the stereotypes about vampires true is confusing at best and irresponsible at worst. It puts the audience in the position of agreeing with bigots, and that’s something I’d like to avoid, thank you very much.

Complicating this mess even further is our old friend, magical powers. The vampires have lots of magical powers. Each vampire is super strong, super fast, and nearly immune to damage. They’re so strong that a fight between vampires and humans is laughable. This destroys the credibility of the religious extremists organizing to oppose vampires. Recent election cycles here in the US have shown us how religious extremists actually react to monsters with a degree of power. The idea that they would suddenly find their moral fortitude in the face of superpowered vampires is laughable.

More importantly for True Blood’s plot, the overwhelming power of vampires makes it difficult to take the political intrigue seriously. Much of the early story revolves around powerful vampire leaders who are all in favor of preying on humans but don’t want it to go too far because the government might “bomb them into the middle ages.” This is a strange fear for vampires to have, since they live in human cities. Even if the government did engage in a massive carpet-bombing campaign of every suspected undead hangout, the vampires would come through a lot better than the humans because of their aforementioned resistance to damage.

True Blood is eventually left with a story that can’t decide if the vampires are an oppressed minority or an evil conspiracy. They can’t be both at the same time, and yet that’s how the show tries to treat them. Then it moves on to fighting evil gods, which is probably a good choice.

4. Voyager

The Doctor and a an alien historian.

Star Trek: Voyager has 172 episodes in total, but today we’re focused on just one: Living Witness. In this episode, we meet an alien civilization inhabited by two species: the Quarrens and the Kyrians. Their historical records claim that 700 years ago, Voyager got involved in a war between the two species and committed many atrocities in the process. But then historians find a backup copy of the holographic Doctor,* and he sets the record straight: Voyager did not commit any atrocities; it was just trying to get through the war zone unharmed.

That would be fine, except for the next bit. You see, the historical records also say that Kyrians were the victims of Quarren aggression. The Quarrens won their unprovoked war despite heroic Kyrian resistance, and the Kyrians have been oppressed and marginalized ever since. Even 700 years later, Kyrians have trouble accessing basic education and healthcare. But then the Doctor reveals the truth: it turns out the Kyrians were actually the aggressors, and the Quarrens were just defending themselves.

With that reveal, we have a situation where the Kyrians were conquered and subjugated after a war they started, and yet they were allowed to write the official history. While this isn’t impossible, it’s incredibly unlikely. The victorious side in any conflict is always eager to make themselves look good, whether they were actually in the right or not. That’s why we know better than to put absolute faith in Roman records about the Punic Wars. Even if the Quarrens didn’t have the moral high ground, they’d have pretended they did. If this episode took place in a rational world, any attempt by the Kyrians to subvert history and make the Quarrens look bad would have been immediately countered by more influential Quarren historians.

The rest of the episode is about the marginalized Kyrians getting angry over the Doctor disproving their version of history, to the point that they start rioting. Eventually, they just have to accept that they were the bad guys and by extension, their current situation is the fault of their ancestors for starting the war.

That’s a really ugly message, and it plays into the hands of even uglier people. In real life, it’s really hard for marginalized people to have their history told. Existing power structures have a vested interest in suppressing historical injustices, like slavery and theft of land, since privileged people are still benefiting from those injustices today.* Whenever marginalized people do manage to tell their side of history, reactionaries will always accuse them of lying, no matter how overwhelming the evidence is.

Bigots routinely claim that any version of history that treats marginalized people favorably is revisionist, the result of too much political correctness, or whatever their current bogeyman is.* They want to use history as a weapon for their ideology, which is the line of reasoning that leads to denying the Holocaust. You can’t admit that six million Jews were systematically slaughtered within living memory if your politics are based on the idea that Jews secretly control the world. I doubt the writers of Living Witness meant to align themselves with Holocaust deniers, but that’s what happens when you don’t understand how power works.

5. City of Brass

Cover art for City of Brass.

Up to now, we’ve only looked at movies and TV shows, mediums that have a limited amount of time to get their ideas across. Maybe a novel will have more success!* City of Brass centers around a complex political situation, but I’ll try to give you the key facts. Back in the day, a tribe of djinn called the Daevas ruled from their capital of Daevabad. They were super cool and built a grand and successful civilization. Their only flaw was that they really loved persecuting the shafit: djinn with one or more human ancestors. The Daeva believed the shafit were “unclean,” “corrupted,” and basically everything a Confederate slave owner would say about mixed-race children. Under Daeva rule, persecution of the shafit reached truly epic proportions, with mass murder as the official policy. The Daeva justified these atrocities with religious dogma.

Eventually, another tribe of djinn called the Geziri rose up and overthrew the Daevas. This uprising was provoked at least in part by the Daevas’ treatment of the shafit. The war was long and bloody, with lots of death on both sides. Fast-forward a few generations,* and the Daevas are doing pretty well for themselves. They aren’t in charge, but they’re rich, they have lots of political influence, they live in the best section of the city, most of them go about heavily armed, and they have powerful magic. They’re also still oppressing the shafit, who are poor, have no voice in politics, and are forbidden to carry weapons. The shafit can’t find work in Daevabad, but they’re also not allowed to leave. They’re often targeted with brutal collective punishment. It’s even against the law to give a shafit medical attention, for some reason. The Geziri are still in charge, but any inclination they had to help the shafit is long gone.

This sounds like a really obvious setup, right? The protagonist will see the plight of the shafit and do something about it. That’s certainly what it looks like the novel will be about, but as the chapters go on, things get weird. Instead of a story about ending shafit oppression, City of Brass tries to make this into a two-sided conflict. Sure, the Daeva and the other pure-blooded djinn might be oppressing the shafit in every way imaginable, but the shafit are bad too, because they want weapons to stop their kids from being abducted and sold into slavery. That sounds like hyperbole, but it’s not; that’s actually a plot point in the novel. The shafit are also bad because a group of them were provoked into rioting by a royal agent so the king could have an excuse for mass executions.

Why This Riot Is So Absurd

I don’t even know where to start with this riot scene. First, the king who instigated it so he’d have an excuse to execute a lot of shafit is later portrayed as a sympathetic figure doing his best in a difficult situation. Second, I’m awed by the sheer implausibility of it. The shafit are supposedly riled up by a rumor that the Daeva are keeping one of their own tribeswomen from marrying a pureblood of a different tribe, which is like trying to provoke black people to riot by telling them a white Texan is being kept from marrying a white Washingtonian.

But that pales in comparison to the idea that the shafit would ever be convinced to riot in the Daeva quarter. Remember, the Daeva are well armed, while the shafit aren’t allowed to buy weapons even if they have money. The shafit would all be killed the moment they set foot in the Daeva quarter, and they would know that! When oppressed people riot in real life, they almost always do it in their own neighborhoods. This is both because that’s where they live and because they know how bad things will go for them if they step into neighborhoods where privileged people live.

Meanwhile, we get line after line about how hard the Daevas have it, despite all their wealth, power, and special privileges. Sure, the shafit might be routinely rounded up and murdered, but the other pure-blooded tribes make fun of the Daeva religion sometimes! The Daeva come off like Confederates after the American Civil War, complaining about how badly the Northern states treat them while they commit countless atrocities against their former slaves.

I kept expecting the book to pull a reveal where the protagonist realizes that this bothsides-ism is nonsense, but it never happens. Instead, City of Brass doubles down at the end, painting the Daevas as victims of shafit mobs when they lose the king’s protection. The idea is that without the royal guard there to stop the shafit, they go on a rampage against any Daevas they can find. Putting aside the way this plays into toxic stereotypes about how oppressed people are dangerous and need to be restrained, it doesn’t even make sense. Remember, the Daeva are still heavily armed, and the shafit are not. If anything, the withdrawal of the royal guard would actually make the shafit more vulnerable; Daeva vigilantes would suddenly have a free hand. Oh, and the book also plays up how shafit are out to rape Daeva women, if the parallel to black people in the American South wasn’t clear enough.

I am truly baffled by City of Brass. The most optimistic spin I can put on it is that the author is waiting until the next book to explain that the shafit are not, in fact, an equal participant in this conflict. But even if that’s the case, it’s a mistake to wait that long. Framing an oppressed group to be just as bad as their oppressors reinforces terrible ideas to anyone who doesn’t know better, and it’s obviously ridiculous to anyone who does.

While it’s always been important to properly portray the dynamics of power and privilege, with bigotry being normalized at a disturbing rate these days, it’s now become critical. To do that, we need to be properly educated. I’d bet money that none of the storytellers behind this list’s entries meant to send toxic messages, but they still did because they didn’t understand what they were doing.

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  1. Michael Campbell


    Maybe it’s not them!?! Maybe it’s you???

    “You can’t admit that six million Jews were systematically slaughtered within living memory if your politics are based on the idea that Jews secretly control the world.”
    It was Albert Einstein who said;” There are two things in the universe that are infinite.
    The universe itself and the stupidity of man.
    And I’m still not convinced about the universe bit.”
    Or words to that effect.

    • Adam

      Mike, that whole paragraph makes absolutely no sense. Throwing random, unrelated quotes around doesn’t make for a decent argument. It just confuses people.

      • Michael Campbell

        Reread it.
        It basically means that human beings have an immense capacity to believe two conflicting beliefs.

    • CottageGarden


      • Michael Campbell

        It’s actually very easy to believe in the Jewish banking conspiracy and believe that the Shoah did murder six million of the estimated nine million European Jews alive at that time.
        The Nazi killing machine just got the wrong two out three.

        I don’t subscribe to that theory*; I’m just saying the math makes it easy to believe.

        *My theory, for what it’s worth, is that Nazi Germany used the S.O.P. of the bully.
        Declare that your violence, was the victum’s fault.

        • CottageGarden

          Look, I’m sorry but no, no it does not.

          • Michael Campbell

            Says you.

        • CottageGarden

          Like, frankly it’s weird and disgusting that you’d bring up these anti-Semitic conspiracies pretty much unprompted as some sort of a defense for. . . what exactly?

          • Michael Campbell

            Would I use quotation marks if not quoting someone else, specifically Oren’s article and then Einstein.

            Please read the article before commenting on the comments in the comments section.

          • Michael Campbell

            “as some sort of a defense for. . . what exactly?”

            Yeah. Good question. It should indefensible on the grounds that no one in their right mind would bother to attack it.

            Just because sane & rational people with an IQ or 120 plus and tertiary schooling view X as not needing persecution:-
            Doesn’t automatically mean that ordinary people (A.K.A. the oft mentioned Real World) would take on the same perspective.

            I’m not saying ordinary folk have some kind of special wisdom. Just that ordinary people aren’t likely to behave as the intellectual élite would assume* was prudent.

            *One percent of the world’s population has a tertiary qualification.
            Since many IQ tests have a standard deviation of 20 points (although for some it’s 15), 5 out of six people (83.3%) don’t have a 120 plus IQ.
            Expect that you are actually a member of the intellectual élite before you start to say that ordinary people wouldn’t because-you-wouldn’t.

  2. Dave L

    First of all, I give early X-Men comics a pass, because it actually did discuss bigotry in a meaningful way for its time (1963). Note that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were both Jewish

    It looks like 3, 4, and 5 were trying to have a balanced viewpoint. But when one group is trying to kill the other group just because the second group exists, the first group IS evil. Claiming that the group that wants to enslave, torture, and/or kill the other group has just as valid a viewpoint as the group that is being enslaved, tortured, and/or killed supports evil

    This seems similar to an earlier mention of Star Trek: Discovery

    Yes, there can be complex reason why a member of the first group goes along the evil, but to claim that evil actions are valid is to support evil

    “You also had some very fine people on both sides”
    -Trump referring to the Charlottesville Clash, where one side was neo-Nazis and white supremacists

    • Michael Campbell

      X-men has always been a metaphor for being a teenager.*
      But by keeping the stories in the realm of the fantastic, people see it as a metaphor for whatever minority group comes to mind.

      *Your bodies change, no longer can a fistfight in the playground just hurt someone, your muscles mean you can “hospitalize” someone.
      You can learn to drive a car and that can easily get someone killed (just ask Laura Bush). Sure a child could steal a car but teenagers actually get given permission to drive.
      You develop “urges” that could cause a pregnancy:- an event of similar magnitude to a fatality.
      For a teenager “playing for keeps” suddenly becomes much more real and that’s the basis for the X-men and professor Xavier’s school for gifted youngsters in particular.

    • Devin

      EARLY X-men, absolutely. This is a little like the problem I have with… Shall we say “the Star Trek of my youth?” (Haven’t watched Discovery, so can’t comment there.) TOS was a brutal rejection of racism and nationalism: not just a black woman as a world-class professional and (American) network TV’s first interracial kiss, but also an Asian man is the best driver in the galaxy and the guy our American-coded captain trusts with the weapons console is proud of being Russian. And then TNG, in spite of spirited attempts from the writer’s room (certainly David Gerrold tried more than once, but it’s my vague understanding that he wasn’t alone), stuck to a network-approved “no gays in space” formula.

      Now, TNG wasn’t a step backwards: it still rejected racism and nationalism just as hard as TOS, and often with more nuance (plus, y’know, less Shatner, which helps with the nuance). But it wasn’t a step forward either, and there comes a time when “just as progressive as good work from the ’60s” isn’t a compliment anymore.

    • Dave P

      Right but the other side was not exactly comprised of saints either. I’m not going to get too much into it, but basically it was mostly two violent extreme political factions violently clashing. And I’m not entirely sure that everybody who was on the right side (rather than the left) was a Nazi or White Supremacist.

  3. Michael Campbell


    On it’s you.
    You write that things are illogical but your only proof is that you would have written it better.

    Take for example your X-men comment.
    Mathew 17:20 states fairly clearly that a person with faith as big as a mustard seed can command a mountain to throw itself into the sea and the mountain will obey.
    Yet Christian persecution exists. Indeed, I’ve seen insidious aspects of it on this very website.

    Don’t say that X is impossible or illogical or not what really happens.
    Prove it!

    • Cay Reet

      I’ve never seen a mountain obey a person, though. Neither has anyone else, in a comic or out of it. In the comic reality, the X-Men’s powers, however work.

      Oppression only works when it’s feasible to oppress someone.

      • Dave L

        Christian Persecution does exist in certain countries ruled by Islamic extremists. Not all countries w/ an Islamic majority, but certain ones

        The West has a long history of one group of Christians oppressing another, but as far as I know, in no Western country is being any type of Christian currently illegal. No Christian is prohibited from worshiping as they choose, except where such worship involves certain types of sacrifice or of child abuse. Christians are not enslaved nor killed en masse by their government. If I am mistaken, please enlighten me

        I know things are contentious in Ireland, but as far as I know, the government there does not officially condemn either Catholicism or Protestantism. I admit that I am fairly ignorant about Irish politics, so if anyone knows more about the situation, please chime in. Or if anyone knows of situations in other countries relevant to this discussion, please let us know

        In America, my own country, various forms of Christianity are losing some of the power and respect they once had, including political power, but that is not persecution

        Both Terra of the Teen Titans and Magma of the New Mutants can control earth, so either of them, w/ a lot of effort, might be able to move a mountain

        • Michael Campbell

          “Christians are not enslaved nor killed en masse by their government. If I am mistaken, please enlighten me”

          Also persecution doesn’t have to be dialed up to 11 to count as persecution.

          • Alverant

            Dave’s comment was specific to western countries. He even pointed out it does happen in islamic countries and Myanmar is a muslim-dominated country.

            “Also persecution doesn’t have to be dialed up to 11 to count as persecution.”
            Yes, it seems it can also be someone else wanting the same rights you enjoy (like giving an invocation at a city council meeting) or not being allowed to persecute others (like illegally denying marriage certificates).

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            A quick note for the record, Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country where the military government is targeting several religious minorities, which include both Muslims and Christians.

        • Cay Reet

          That doesn’t negate my comment. Christians can be oppressed, because they don’t have abilities which would make it almost impossible. The same is not true for the X-Men who can control minds, elements, or do other things far above human power.

          • Michael Campbell

            Are you’re claiming that prophecy and miraculous healing don’t exist? Or that they can’t be used in a useful manner???

            I’ld be willing to argue that even “fruits of the spirit” would be powerful enough to put a person into Professor Xavier’s school for gifted youngsters if not the actual X-men.

          • Brahn

            prophecy and miraculous healing don’t work like that. It’s not something we do, it’s something God does for his plan.
            Just remember that it was promised that we would get persecuted, so we had a fair warning of it.

      • Michael Campbell

        And what of the people whose faith is smaller than a mustard seed but bigger than nothing?

      • Dave P

        I’m fairly sure that I can find some historical records where people have stated that they’ve seen mountains move at the command of people. Now as to the accuracy of those… I don’t know, but those records certainly exist.

    • Mike


      I’m very interested in seeing evidence of a mountain throwing itself into the sea after being commanded to. If you could share with me a well-documented record of that happening, I’d be thrilled.

    • Alverant

      “Yet Christian persecution exists.”
      Maybe in a few countries, but not in the USA.

      “Indeed, I’ve seen insidious aspects of it on this very website.”
      Riiiiiight. Let me guess, it’s in the form of people not being christian (or the right kind of christian), offering legitimate criticism of christianity, people not giving christianity the respect you think its due, and/or people not believing christian persecution exists in the western world. None of that is actual persecution, it’s a refusal of christian privilege. When you’re so used to being on top for so long, equality may seem like persecution, but it isn’t.

      • Michael Campbell

        The slightest bit of able-ist rhetoric or trans-phobic rhetoric and the whole post gets deleted.
        But a little bit of “spiritual gifts” are don’t qualify as X-men level powers & abilities (even though they do) and sure enough even the moderators pile on.

        If wanting the same protections and trans and disabled people is privilege then yeah, give me some privilege.

      • Dave P

        Well to be fair, a government owned committee that was just slapped by the Supreme Court for showing clear bias against religion in their investigation of an individual immediately resumed a biased investigation of that individual in defiance of the Supreme Court.

        I mean being forced out of business by a government organization ignoring the rule of law seems a lot like persecution to me. I mean it’s not bad persecution, but it’s definitely persecution.

      • Brahn

        As someone who’s friend has been bullied at school for writing a Christian viewpoint in the school newspaper, I can tell you the Christian persecution does exist in the US, just not as prominently. Though you do have a point with your second paragraph, some Christians are a bit of a cry foal when people give legitimate criticism and refusal of christian privilege. Don’t blame everyone for the actions of a few.

        • Michael Campbell

          Your earlier comment was well considered and expressed.
          1 Corinthians 3:18-19 puts it in perspective.

  4. Laura Ess

    When it comes to magic users, I think that “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” gets it (more) right than anything from the Potterverse. Of course I’ve only every seen the screen versions of each, so I could be wrong.

    Of course JS&MN is more a critique about British customs and attitudes than anything else, but the point I’m making here is that while magic actually works in that story, if often either backfires or has unforeseen consequences, and real magic users seem to end up wanting to use it as little as possible, whereas the fans of such are full of bluster, pretence, and speculation. Also dealing with supernatural agencies and characters like “The Gentleman” is fraught with the utmost danger, because while such appear to be similar to mortals, they seem to have absolute singular natures and unrelenting goals.

    Whereas most of what I’ve seen of the Potterverse, seems more like wish fulfilment than anything else. None of the magic in those stories ever seems to make sense beyond their immediate use. If there were any real discrimination against wizardry in that world, it’s be the “immigrants are taking our jobs and stealing our homes” type, based on envy and jealousy. In real life many immigrants get ahead because they’re prepared to put in the hours doing shit jobs that locals avoid, and because they pool together on a family basis. But in the Potterverse wizards don’t need to do that when they can magic up something instead.

  5. Joe

    CW- general oppression and oppression related content

    I have been thinking about this in terms of D&D

    D&D has a lot of the same issues above (“let’s kick the sorcerers, who shoot fireballs at will!) but, more interestingly, it has the undead. If you die in an unjust, painful or emotional way in the D&D world, you come back as a super-powerful monster that wants to take revenge on its killers.

    Even if that only happens in 1/100 cases of particularly bad deaths, it makes things like oppression, genocide and slavery /really bad ideas/. Any attempt to wipe out a native people and get their land will rapidly leave that land a wraith-haunted rotting wasteland.
    Or worse, for the conquerors, at least- oppressed people might be scared off directly going after the oppressors, but a wraith or shadow could care less about city guards, and reprisals only swell its ranks.

    I’m not sure if a D&D world can have oppression. I’m not even sure if it can have /evil/- would you be a bandit if you knew the peasants you killed and looted might show up at your house the next day with full casting and a boatload of immunities?

    The fact that unjust killings create powerful monsters might be one of the biggest social changes a D&D setting would have, but no setting has ever really gone into it.
    I guess it would be hard to do, but if you play them realistically, the ravening undead may actually be the greatest forces of goodness and justice ever created in a fictional setting.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      That is an implication of D&D magic I had not considered. It makes sense though, there’s a lot less incentive to murder someone if you know they’ll become a vengeful ghost.

      • Michael Campbell

        Yes but why should the restriction just be a horrible death.
        If you had to die a horrible death at the hands of someone who’d been tinkering around with the black arts. Your rate of undead creation would drop to perhaps 1% of what you’re currently theorising.

      • Dave P

        Well, that’s assuming that the person in question doesn’t have some way to control or manipulate that Ghost into being an asset for their goals. I mean there’s plenty of magical ways to do that. And there’s even mundane ways, like having somebody trick the ghost as to the identity of their actual murderer, then using the ghost.

    • Dave P

      The thing is that not ALL deaths that are unjust result in the creation of undead. Or at least if it did there would be a lot more undead in settings where that’s a thing. To become an undead you also generally have to be not a great person. Unless of course you’re spawned by something that has that process.

      I mean let’s look at D&D undead and see how this works. The most common types, Zombies and Skeletons are mindless and are usually created. Even if those came to be spontaneously they wouldn’t be really that much of a threat because they’re mindless. Ghouls and Ghasts result from acts of cannibalism (perpetrated by the ghouls or ghasts themselves), in the case of ghasts particularly heinous acts. They can also be created or spawned. Vampires may be suicides, but I think the only example in any setting of that happening is Ravenloft, where it’s fairly clear that the standard rules do not apply. Shadows, as I understand it, result from starvation, and that wouldn’t really make them prone to vengeance. The only undead that fit your description are Ghosts and we can see that those are clearly only present in some instances, because that’s not the most common monster in any setting (save for maybe Ghostwalk, but again that’s a setting where the rules change).

      Also with the exception of ghosts (and liches, but those are a different deal), most undead aren’t interested in whatever they were in life. A ghoul or a shadow is only interested in feeding, it doesn’t care about it’s previous obligations or vengeance on it’s old foes, it might eat them, but it would try and eat just about anybody. This is reflected by the changes in alignment that undead go through, they aren’t the same as the living things that they were. Not even ghosts.

    • American Charioteer

      That is an interesting take.
      Another spin is that if the conquerers/tyrants were led by clerics of a less-than-good god, then the emergence of ghosts from their enemies (and everyone’s dependance on the clerics for protection) could be powerful propaganda for the tyrants.

      Also, I haven’t seen this in DND but in Celtic folklore keeping the head of a slain enemy kept their ghost away.

      • Dave P

        In D&D, it really depends on what edition (and more importantly which setting) you’re talking about. In Ravenloft, basically nothing will keep ghosts away, and undead can spontaneously spawn. If a powerful person comes to Ravenloft they’ll eventually be corrupted and become a dreadlord (which typically results in them becoming undead).

        As far as your Tyrants/Conquerers scenario. One thing that is significant is that the Clerics of evil Gods can generally create undead (depending on their particular Gods’ inclinations). So if undead are generally only spontaneously created from the death of evil people, or that’s believed they could definitely use that as justification.

        I think the evil people thing though isn’t necessarily a rule for mindless undead, only for the ones with intelligence, IIRC. Like Zombies can come about from diseases or all kinds of things.

        • American Charioteer

          Those are good points. In the conquest scenario I was thinking specifically about Hextor, who is the closest thing to a Catholic Inquisition/angel of light evil type of evil god. (2 Corinthians 11:14 for Michael Campbell. I really think DND could use more morally ambiguous gods, or evil gods who present themselves as good).

          The scenario could also occur for elvish or dwarven clerics, who are good but so arrogant that they could get stuck in a cycle of violence. They fight a small battle against some temporary enemy. Some of their slain foes rise, and the horror they bring makes people angry and thirsty for revenge. Meanwhile only the clerics can protect their people, so their power and their certainty that they are in the right will grow. Both of those things increase the odds of another battle, and the cycle repeats.

          This is of course a lot more likely if the clerics are already the most powerful people in society, which I think would be extremely likely (we’re still waiting on Oren to write “Five Ways Clerics Change a Fantasy Setting )

          • Dave P

            I don’t think that Hextor is particularly interested in the Undead one way or the other, and given that he, himself is evil. I don’t think the negative alignment the undead pick up would be much of a concern for him. I could certainly see his clerics using that as a pretense. But I doubt that they would be using that as doctrine. At least not from any of the stuff I’ve read on him.

            Now if you want a less pleasant deity that would be opposed to undead Wee Jas is probably your best bet in Greyhawk. She hates undead for reasons unrelated to their alignment, although she herself is not evil, there could reasonably be a large evil faction of her clergy that would use the creation of undead as an excuse for war. Wee Jas is also very morally ambiguous, so she’s an excellent contender for this.

          • American Charioteer

            Yes, I suppose Wee Jas is the best example of a morally ambiguous DND god.

          • Dave. P

            I don’t know if she’s the best example. I think that there a few other candidates, but if you’re looking for moral ambiguity and a serious anti-undead doctrine, she’s your lady for sure. As long as you’re in Greyhawk that is. In other settings you’d have to look around more. And you could certainly have a faction of Hextor’s Church that opposes undead, it just would be most likely to deal with maintaining power or control in some way instead of an opposition to undead because of their nature.

  6. Dave P

    The problem with this kind of thinking is that you’re assuming that power and privilege are simple and are a spectrum that runs from powerful to not powerful. Rather than the complex mess they are. For example, being a former Marine, who does strongman and combat sports and currently works physical jobs. I would bet that if you took most CEOs, and most world leaders and put them into a ring with me one-on-one, I’d kill them in a fist fight, most of them wouldn’t even stand a chance. So that’s a circumstance where I’d clearly have more power than they do, but I don’t in society.

    I mean I’ve had bosses who were not from the same ethnic groups as I am, and they’ve had power over me, despite me being from a more ‘privileged’ group in your calculus. One of them was a DI, who is probably the person who has more power over my life than anybody before or since. But power is complicated, in one environment a person can have a whole mess of privilege. In another they lose it all.

    Let’s take another example to show that power is more complex than you would think. Let’s take a CEO, who is we’ll say a former military guy, he’s in charge of a mercenary company, he has a rolex, all that. And then let’s take homeless black guy. Now in most situations the CEO is going to have drastically more power and privilege but if you transport both of them to a dark alley in certain US cities, then the CEO suddenly is an out of place rich white guy with a rolex, and the homeless guy is a bum that nobody pays attention to. Who has more power then?

    The point is that power is complex and not always driven by the same things. Just because many of the X-Men could physically win in a fight with most of the people on Earth, doesn’t necessarily give them more power than most of the people on Earth, because (even in comics) most things aren’t decided by physical fights.

    Also you clearly haven’t even thought about some of the basic logistics in many of these stories. Take your vampire example… they die in sunlight, bud. So it doesn’t take much bombing to expose sections of roof that would you know kill them. Or even just to have somebody remove the roof without bombing them in their known hideouts. And in the X-Men examples the humans had powerful robots, and collars that suppress mutant powers, which is a pretty big edge.

    • Cay Reet

      Power has a lot of different meanings. There is the physical power which, for example, makes it possible for the average school bully to take out their frustration on the physically weaker victim.

      Then there’s the power of money which means that even if you’re physically weak, you can afford to buy the muscle power you need to stay above the others.

      Then there is political power which means you can simply command government agencies to act on your behalf.

      All these sorts of power and others make it hard to impossible to oppress you. The physically strong, but poor man is weaker than the physically weak, but rich man. If that rich man also has a few politicians in his pocket, he’s even stronger. Power is complicated, but the difference between the powerful who oppress (if they wish) and the powerless who are oppressed (if someone wants to) is always there. And in that power-structure, neither mutants nor magic users are ever likely to end up on the side of the oppressed.

      And not all X-Men have physical powers. A man like Professor X can make you think you’re actually fighting for him when you come to kill him. He could turn a whole army against their original commander and simply sent them out to seek and destroy.
      As far as vampires go … a lot of them will seek places which are not easy to destroy to rest during the day – cave systems, graves (which cannot be identified easily and you’d have a lot of people angry, if you just destroyed a graveyard on a whim), deep cellars, old bunkers… Not to mention that vampires are also known for the ability to enslave humans – humans who would protect their sleep and take care of them while they can’t leave.

      And with the X-Men … even if the technology exists, it’s still highly unlikely that the oppression would ever come about in the first place. Technology has to be developed and it will most likely take ages for that to happen. During that time, oppressing the mutants would have been impossible. As pointed out in the article, it would have been much more likely for mankind to instead strike deals with the mutants to a ) make use of their powers and b ) ensure the help of the ‘good’ mutants against the ‘evil’ ones. Something like that will not happen if you oppress people – because then, even the good ones will rather see you die than help you.

      • Dave P

        But that’s still an oversimplified and inaccurate situation. Let’s take physical power, a situation where you have the ability to beat somebody in a fight is only one dynamic of that power.

        Again, “the power of money” and “political power” aren’t exactly easy to hold on to or assess. They’re complex things. I mean the President has more political power than I do. But if my brother throws a communist revolution and we seize power, then abruptly I have more power (drastically) than he does. And there’s situations where even say the President doesn’t have political power, he can’t just use his power to “do whatever he wants” he is limited, and even the most extreme dictators need to self-limit or they lose power.

        We have not seen Charles Xavier use his power on the scale you’re discussing. Not even close. We have seen him manipulate people in a small scale, but nothing like just controlling an entire army.

        The thing is that you can’t break down society into just oppressors and oppressed, reality isn’t simple like that it’s complex and intricate. And just having any one sort of power doesn’t at all mean that you’re going to be on the powerful side of things. Look at Louis the 16th, who ruled France which had rapidly become one of the absolute monarchies in Europe. A place where people believed that kings were divinely appointed. And he wound up on the side of the oppressed and lost his head.

        Imagine all of those powerful landowners in Russia in 1918, they had money, they had political power, and they wound up on the side of the oppressed, very rapidly, due to a small shift in situation.

        Rich Jewish bankers in Germany in 1933, they might have wielded enormous influence and owned great amounts of money, and then they didn’t.

        Southern Slaveowners in the US, immediately before and then immediately after the civil war, they had again, enormous amounts of power, and after that economic misery. (Although not so much as the poor white folks in the south and the recently freed slaves), but there was definitely oppression against their interests.

        Oppression is tricky, people who were powerful are not always powerful. Soviet Generals who commanded absolute loyalty in the military were summarily executed and wiped out of the history books.

        And in the case of the X-Men, we have an active struggle between a group that wants to abuse their power, and a group that is actively morally choosing not to. I mean in your dynamic, I have great physical power, if we were in the same room and I were having this conversation, I have the power to physically beat you for disagreeing with me. But even if we were in the same room, and this argument was drastically more heated, I would not, because I choose not to use my power that way.

        As far as the Vampires go, I work in construction, there is no area you can hide where you would not be able to very rapidly demolish it. Their ability to enslave humans and the things that you suggest are things that would make it more difficult to find them. But Vampires don’t want to be stuck hiding in mausoleums and in cave systems, guarded by drugged out servants (in the True Blood world, the Vampire Enslavement has a drug like effect IIRC) they want to enjoy luxury, and the way to do that is by playing nice with the government, at least in such a way that they aren’t driven underground.

        That’s the other thing, in any conflict even one where the side that has more power has more power, they’re going to lose something, and they might not be willing to lose that. They might settle for less absolute power so that they can avoid a war that might whittle their numbers to nothing.

        Last point. In X-Men they are not DEVELOPING the tech that I mentioned, it already exists in the time of the continuity of the show and the comics. So if the mutants had a window to seize power, they’ve blown it, because now Sentinals and collars are a thing.

        • American Charioteer

          You keep proposing “what if” scenarios, but your scenarios are implausible. Power doesn’t mean certainty; it isn’t particularly profound to say that nothing is certain and sometimes the mighty fall. In fact, it is a statistical certainty that SOME people with power will lose it and some people without power will gain it. It is also a statistical certainty that SOMEONE will win the powerball.

          Note that one definition of power is as follows:
          Power = Sum over set of all human goals[difficulty of achieving goal * probability of success].

          Power is a measure of how many goals you can achieve and how likely you are to achieve them. If we look at money in particular (only because that is the easiest form of power to quantify), we see that a person’s net worth includes the *expected* value of their assets. Net worth is still a real form of wealth (and power) because it can be borrowed against, but it is based not on how much money banks/the market know for certain the person can produce, but the most likely amount of money they will be able to produce.

          Thus even if you could beat up a CEO if he got into a cage with you; it is far more likely that the CEO could find a way to financially ruin you (depending on the extent of his resources) than it is that you could get him into the cage in the first place. Thus, he has more power, and we can expect him to continue to have more power in the future.

          That means that saying “The CEO isn’t more powerful than me; because I could beat him up if he got into a cage with me” is no more meaningful than saying “The CEO doesn’t have more money than me because I’d have more money if I hit the jackpot.”

          • Dave. P

            I’m not discussing “what if” scenarios. I’m literally discussing the scenario that are explicitly mentioned in the comics. In the world of the X-Men these aren’t things that might happen, they’re things that did. And the other concrete examples I’ve been providing have been examples of things that DID happen.

            My point is that power isn’t simple, it’s complex, even in your ridiculously oversimplified equation. Let’s say that I am a chubby out of shape rich guy. I want to become a Olympic gold medal pole-vaulter. That’s my goal. Now as a rich guy I can hire dieticians, I can hire trainers, but lacking that talent… I could have near infinite wealth and be completely unable to achieve that goal. Whereas a broke kid in Uganda, who will have less money in his whole life than I spend on one charity dinner, might be able to achieve that goal with significantly less effort.

            As far as the CEO getting into a cage with me… you’re assuming that he is acting logically. Floyd Mayweather is a very wealthy man, he got into a ring and fought other men, even when he didn’t really stand to gain all that much from it anymore. Even when his financial ability far exceeded his physical ability in terms of influence, most likely. People aren’t motivated by only power or only one axis of it, they’re complicated.

            That’s all I’m arguing for here. I mean in the world of X-Men that’s shown, there is a faction of mutants trying to use their power to gain more political power over the humans (The Brotherhood), and other mutants are choosing to go a different route because of their moral foibles and are in fact directly opposing the brotherhood.

            Oren is assuming that all of the mutants would find common cause to stop the oppression. But the story shows that they don’t. Some of them would find the things needed to do to seize power abhorrent, and they choose to use their power to directly oppose the sort of increase in mutant power that Oren imagines would happen, and there’s historical precedent for that sort of thing.

          • American Charioteer

            What oversimplified example? Do you mean the cage fight between you and a CEO that you proposed in your original post?

            You are right that power is complicated and situational. But that doesn’t mean we have to be agnostic and say that it is so unstable that it cannot be understood. To use your pole vaulting example: power isn’t the ability to do one specific thing. We don’t need a measurement called “power” to measure how good you are at pole vaulting, or fighting, or anything else. Those things already have measures. The reason that the word “power” exists in the English language is because we needed a measure of how many things in *total* a person can do. If power were as unstable as you seem to be proposing, then social hierarchies wouldn’t exist.

          • American Charioteer

            I’ve realized that we are talking past each other. You are definitely correct that people do not always behave rationally, which is why Col. Boyd introduced the concept of mental power and Sun Tzu wrote that the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans. Physical power can be thought of as a measure of what cards you are dealt. Mental power can be thought of as how well you play them. My argument is that not all forms of physical power are equal, and that money is generally a more reliable form of physical power than violent force. (Note that even in Venezuela, only Chinese investment in the state-run oil company keeps the army fed; and that if business men don’t get the oil flowing soon China will essentially reposes a quarter of the country’s economy with little or no force.)

            You are correct that it is quite possible for a fighter to outsmart a wealthy person and force them into a position where money won’t be much use. That would essentially mean the fighter has greater mental power.

          • Dave P.

            Well greater mental power or more luck. Or the other person has a moral failing, or has other objectives than just engaging in terms of power dynamics. That’s the thing. Even the more interesting model used by Boyd is only really good at describing things. And fiction and reality the things that are most memorable are often the exceptions to the rule.

        • Dave P.

          I think the problem is that this article and others like it try to use the concept of power and social hierarchy in ways that it shouldn’t be used. It’s a model, and not a completely accurate model. We use it to describe things we’re seeing, but something not fitting those descriptions doesn’t necessarily render it “unrealistic”

          Also, I’ve not only provided theoretical examples. I’ve provided multiple real world examples of things not working as this article suggests they should. If you can’t accept dozens of real world examples then there is no point in attempting to convince you that the article is seriously missing the forest for the trees.

    • American Charioteer

      Those are good questions, and the short answer to both of your CEO scenarios is that it would take a lot more power than either you or the hobo has to transport the CEO to the ring or alley.

      For the long answer I refer to Col. John Boyd (USAF) who identified three levels of power: physical power is the lowest, then mental power, and the most important is what he called moral power. These are very similar to what Cay Reet referred to as “physical power,” “the power of money,” and “political power.”

      A good example of these three comes from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” chapter 3 lines 2-3: “Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting [moral power]. The highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans [mental power]; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces [mental power]; the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field [physical power]; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities [physical power].”

      These different levels of power exist because an army will always defeat an individual. In your post you are only talking about one type of physical power (violence). But money can be used to create physical power, and the CEO in your example probably knows how to use money well [mental power]. As I said, the problem with both your examples is it would require a tremendous amount of power (or luck, but you can’t count on that) to get the CEO into the ring or the alley in the first place. If the CEO knew that you were after them or had to go into the alley, they could hire more bodyguards than you could possibly fight. Though it would take physical power for the bodyguards to actually subdue you, the CEO is employing mental power in using his resources to create a situation where your physical power is inferior.

      Of course, the CEO might not have to invest heavily in their security at all because of the third kind of power: moral power. The CEO is under the protection of law enforcement, and you could never force them to step into the ring. If you tried to get into a fistfight with the CEO, you would find yourself having to effectively fight our whole society, because we’ve collectively agreed to abide by certain rules and fund law enforcement agencies to pursue people who violate them. Though it would again take physical power to actually subdue you, it is because of the moral power that the CEO has just by being under the protection of the law that you would find yourself in a situation (pursued by law enforcement) where your physical power is inferior.

      This also helps us understand the point that you and others have raised about the X-men. Even if the government could marshal enough resources to fight the X-men, it wouldn’t waste all of those resources unless there was a compelling reason. Maintaining power could be such a reason, but even dictators need to find ways to keep popular support for their wars and programs (note that Hitler did not bring the German homefront out of peacetime status until 1943, because he was concerned that there would be revolts when he did). For a government to convince an entire nation to support a war against the X-men would be at least as difficult to convince a nation to support any other war, except without a history of hatred or possibility of seizing resources that exists in most wars. It could be done, but none of the X-men movies even attempt to show how.

      • Michael Campbell

        But the threat isn’t a full scale war.
        It’s secret kidnappings and government labs doing research that violates human rights (but mutants ain’t human under law).

        • American Charioteer

          We see entire societies motivated against the X-men, especially in the recent TV show. I suppose that is more analogous to a genocide than a war. But Oren’s main point remains true: genocides are normally perpetrated against people who are (a) not easily able to defend themselves and (b) have little outside support and few places to flee too. Neither of these are true of the X-men. They can fight back, and there are bound to be some countries eager to give them refuge and take advantage of their talents.

          • Dave P

            But we’re not at the point of genocide… yet. The X-Men are only able to defend themselves for so long before they’re stopped by the Sentinel program, which we’ve seen because we’ve seen a possible future where that happens in the comics.

            People’s ability to protect themselves can shift drastically and instantly without a lot going on. The X-Men could protect themselves from modern soldiers reasonably well. At least some of them could. But they couldn’t protect themselves against Sentinels particularly in a war of attrition.

      • Dave P

        Well the CEO could have made a wrong turn, or his car could be out of gas, or he could have to drive through that region and wind up stopped there for some other reason. And you’re not really at all even addressing my point, which is that power is slippery and not at all easy to hold on to. My point is that power is not a consistent thing. It’s not the same in one situation to the next.

        • American Charioteer

          You are right, though not all forms of power are equal. Money is sticker than physical force, it is more likely that you will throw out your back and be unable to fight than it is that the wealth man to lose his money. Money provides power in a much wider range of situations than physical force, especially in a society where the state has a monopoly on physical force. And because money is more flexible, it is much, much easier for a rich person to stay out of fist fights than it is for a fighter to stay out of debt (again, this is especially true when the state has a monopoly on physical force).

          • Dave P

            I don’t know. Money isn’t nearly as sticky as you imagine it would be. I mean you can lose your fortune very quickly if you aren’t savvy or good at planning. Also you’re looking at things in a stable modern society. Where money is incredibly powerful and useful. In a societal collapse money often becomes useless and physical force is suddenly a “better” form of power. Which again goes to my point, power and privilege are complicated and sticky issues. They aren’t easy to discuss, you can’t just describe society in terms of “oppressor and oppressed” and be at all accurate.

            So I would say that, yes in a modern developed society that’s doing fine, money is vastly superior. But if there’s a collapse of any kind, money can rapidly become useless. And then other forms of power become more significant.

          • American Charioteer

            Money is stickier than fighting ability.
            How many fighters become sick or injured at some point and are useless in a fight? Well boxers are injured in about one out of four fights (, and that isn’t counting illness or aging, which affect everyone.
            How many people in the upper middle class lose their wealth? Given how strongly a person’s wealth is tied to their parents’ wealth, very few.

            This article and I are both talking about societies with some rule of law because that is what we most commonly observe in the world and thus that is where most stories are set, especially stories about oppression.

            And yes, money could in theory lose its value in a global societal collapse, but it would probably take nothing less than that. Even when one currency has become devalued, wealth retains its value (this is why people who can afford to do so diversify broadly). It is not true that money becomes useless after “a collapse of any kind.” Even in the complete social collapse we have seen in Venezuela, a tough guy who saw hard times coming and stocked up on MREs will be starving by now. A wealthy person with hard currency could be just fine.

          • Dave P

            Money is sticky in a different way. And it’s not always a guarantee of avoiding social ostracization and oppression. In fact having money or political power can almost guarantee it if regimes shift. Again, in our present society money is sticker. But that’s not the case throughout most of history.

            The Jews in medieval Europe were the only group that was allowed usury (loaning at an interest rate, and this is excluding the Templars but they had many of the same problems.) And they were horrifically oppressed, in the first crusade they were murdered by the thousands. And they were richer than anybody, kings had to borrow money from them, because nobody else had the capital or the inclination to lend. But that did not translate into an ability to avoid persecution. The Templars were a powerful banking organization that was absolutely destroyed despite having vast wealth.

            And these are societies ruled by the rule of law. I mean the French Revolution happened in a society that was previously ruled by the rule of law, then it immediately collapsed. The problem is that money is only good when it spends.

            I mean in recent times we’ve had things like the great depression and recessions were lots of people have lost their shirt, even people who had some pretty nice shirts to begin with. We’ve had government seizure of assets and wealth. Technology has advanced and made some forms of wealth obsolete as values dropped.

            Also, you know that the currency of Venezuela is now worthless right? So even if you had a lot of it, you would be stuck, unless you managed to leave the country. Also the rich in Venezuela had their property seized by the government. So being a tough guy in the military of Venezuela or with friends in the government would make you a lot better off than the rich guy holding a lot of now worthless currency.

          • Dave P

            And just to caveat the Venezuela thing… if you were hoarding gold or goods that could retain their value, and anybody else knew about it, then the government would likewise have seized that, making that exercise fairly pointless.

            And if you were a tough guy, you wouldn’t be starving. Cause if my family were starving, and I saw somebody else had food, I’d make sure that my family ate, if it was that or starve. And I’m fairly sure I could accomplish that.

          • American Charioteer

            In regards to Venezuela, that is why I said “hard currency” (which mostly means dollars or euros). While everyone else is stuck with savings that are completely worthless when a country experiences hyperinflation, the wealthy in unstable countries almost always keep reserves of hard currency. Or they invest in overseas assets (the Chinese middle class has invested so much in US, British, and Australian real estate that Xi Jinping has set up an agency to stop it). No amount of doomsday-prepping could help you in Venezuela, the people who aren’t suffering are the ones who had hard currency or foriegn assets and can get out of the situation entirely.

            You mentioned “Being a tough guy in the military of Venezuela.” This is a different scenario than you fighting a CEO because different forms of power are important in different places. It is true that in Latin America, being wealthy isn’t quite as good as it is in the US. American flag officers have very little political power compared to Latin American officers, and the American wealthy have more power. If your point is that different types of power matter in different regions, then that is both trivially true and different from the “Marine vs CEO” conversation.

            Still, if we apply the conversation about physical force vs money to Venezuela or any other place, we find that physical force is only important if you have no other type of power. You are correct that flag officers in Venezuela have a lot of power, but they are not what you would call “tough guys.” In the US (in the Army, anyway) our PT test had to be adjusted for age because the most important people in the military aren’t expected to fight or even be particularly fit. And in Latin American countries it is common for commissions to be sold or given as political favors, meaning that the skills of a general (especially in a place like Venezuela) align more closely with what we would expect from a businessman or politician than a cage fighter.

            If you were referring to grunts, they do get fed but they also get shot at and have no control whatsoever over their future. It probably feels powerful to be the thug with the gun keeping protesters away from the presidential palace, but the soldiers have no more say in their own futures than the protesters. Giving soldiers that little *feeling* of power is how dictators keep them loyal without actually sacrificing power.

            Finally, even if we look at a group like the Jews who had less power relative to almost everyone aroudn them, having enough money to flee to the Netherlands or America would help a lot, whether fleeing the Inquisition or the Holocaust. Being tough wouldn’t help at all.

          • Dave. P

            I wasn’t arguing that physical power is superior to monetary power. I was arguing that sometimes it is. Because again, power is not a simple issue it’s a complex issue. Power is not simple, and you can’t divide societies into only the powerful and the powerless because that isn’t a consistent standard.

            Having hard currency isn’t going to prevent that currency from being seized any more than having gold would prevent that gold from being seized. Currency is extremely difficult to travel with as well, it’s heavy and it’s extremely flammable. And if that currency collapses or there’s something global going on, you might be screwed. Which is all I’m saying, having power doesn’t mean that you always will. The whole “fighting in the ring” scenario was meant to demonstrate that, without having to get bogged down in examples as we now are. I think that I’ve proven sufficiently that powerful groups do not always remain so and that power can be lost in hours, or less.

            And you’re assuming that the government is going to: A.) Let people leave, which is not a given in that sort of situation, and B.) Not confiscate all the goods of people leaving, which is very nearly a given in that sort of situation. China is not Venezuela the Chinese aren’t grabbing up assets for the kind of collapse we see in Venezuela. They’re grabbing up assets because they’re concerned about economic stability in a more stable situation. I’m not sure that one can do anything in the Venezuela type scenario outside of leaving BEFORE it happens.

            If you’ll note, my Jewish example was about 600 years prior to the holocaust. When the Jews in Europe (or at least some of them) were far wealthier and more influential than they were in the 20th century. And they were still massacred and pogromed and all that. Because being wealthy one day doesn’t guarantee anything, because power is tricky, it’s a complex subject. And for analysis purposes you can break it down. But you can’t really argue that a power dynamic is “unrealistic” when the ones that have occurred in real life have been so varied and complicated.

            Also I don’t know what part of the Army you were in, but I knew Staff Officers (not flag rank but fairly close) who would have been able to pass a young man’s PFT regardless of their advanced age, and would have been horrifically embarrassed were that not the case. (I also knew a few who couldn’t but that’s beside the point). And the skills of a politician are useful until there’s a general mutiny, then you might have to depend on other skills. Which again is a thing that has happened.

            I mean I can continue to provide you with historical examples of the complexity of power, how different kinds of power are useful in different scenarios, how a group that was previously marginalized can abruptly become an oppressive body. There are many historical examples of this. Enough complexity is present in history to suggest that scenarios like the X-Men being oppressed could probably happen, particularly when not all of them have world-shattering power, and at all of the X-Men (not the Brotherhood) are choosing to work within these systems to try and change them, which involves allowing themselves to be oppressed.

            The Vampires is an easier one, since they want to maintain their standard of living. While they might be able to survive and hide in a war with a reinvigorated angry human mob. They probably couldn’t do that and continue as they were. So they take on a few minor restrictions, to basically allow them to maintain their standard of life. That’s historically extremely common as well. So no problem there.

            Harry Potter and the Potterverse is so unrealistic that if social power dynamics are where you’re drawing the line, you’re probably already too deep in the weeds to really be able to competently deal with that world, cause there are much bigger problems, that world isn’t intended to be realistic.

            And I haven’t read City of Brass, so I can’t comment on it’s veracity here. I have seen that episode of Voyager but that was like 9 years ago on deployment, so I don’t remember it very well.

          • Cay Reet

            @Dave P: I’d be a little more careful with equating the Jewish populace (which has been in trouble in medieval Europe ever since Christianisation) with ‘the rich.’ A lot of Jews in Europe were just as poor as the rest of the society. While it is true that the Jews (and the Templars) were the only people allowed to lend money at an interest, not all Jews did that (because you need to have money to begin with). The huge majority of them were working in regular jobs, maintaining a regular life, with the only differences to their neighbours coming from their belief. Most atrocities committed against the Jews were not committed against the rich ones (even during the time of the Nazis, rich Jews were much more likely to survive, because they could leave Germany before the genocide properly began). They were committed against the poor ones, the regular ones.

          • Dave P.

            Thing is, Cay, many of the Jews were “the Rich”. Rich people aren’t a homogeneous group, not even then. And in the medieval times, the atrocities were explicitly committed against the rich Jews because they were looting them, you can’t loot a poor person. The same reason that the Danes attacked churches, because you can’t loot the poor.

            And yes, in the 1930s being a Jew with financial resources would definitely have been an advantage, but it was no guarantee, especially since those were seized fairly early on.

            You can’t realistically argue that the rich are one group, and you can’t realistically argue that being rich has protected groups from all of the problems that happen in this world. That’s just not a defensible statement.

            Again Louis the Sixteenth was among the most privileged people who have ever lived. Rich and powerful in an absolute monarchy. And he went to the headsman all the same. Because it turns out that power and privilege can be lost in a single evening.

          • American Charioteer

            (1) Reserves of hard currency are often stored in American or European banks. People figured out how to maximize the leverage and security of money through diversification a long time ago, otherwise globalism would have failed a long time ago.

            (2) I am not familiar enough with the wealth distribution of German Jews in the early twentieth century to be comfortable making a comment. I am aware that in Poland Jews were typically not particularly wealthy.

            (3) I am however quite familiar with Louis XVI. Correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds like you are saying that power is unpredictable and volatile. As I said before, it clearly isn’t as volatile as you think, or else there would be much greater social mobility. Louis XVI did possess tremendous physical power, but lacked both the will and skill to use it, and this general incompetence led people to question the legitimacy of his absolute power. Thus, he had physical power but not mental or moral power.

          • Cay Reet

            @ Dave P: most Jews living in Europe, during the middle ages (when the first big troubles came their way simply for being Jews and nothing else) and later, weren’t any richer than the people around them. They lived in towns and bigger villages, often in specific parts of those, and had their own work which didn’t differ that much from that of the Christian populace. They had a different belief, observed different holidays, dressed a little differently, spoke their own dialect (Jiddish). They often lived a little by themselves, since they had to observe religious rules about their food which made it hard to buy some foods from people outside their own group. Only a relatively small group of Jews in the free cities of Europe (Germany and other countries) were rich and lived off money lending. Quite some of them founded the oldest banks in Europe, but they were a minority among their own religious group. There weren’t more rich Jews (in percentage to all Jews) than rich Christians whose wealth often came from trading (such as the big winners from the Hanse organisation who traded all around the Baltic Sea and parts of the North Sea), crafts, mining, or the first manufacturing.

            A lot of atrocities committed against the Jews (in Germany, in Eastern Europe, and in Russia) were committed against the rural populace, where it wasn’t too unusual that all Jews in a village or town were killed (often for false accusations such as ‘well poisoning’). There were also attacks on the wealthy Jews, but that wasn’t the majority. They had a higher chance of being attacked than their rich Christian neighbours, but they weren’t the main target of everyone who wanted to take out their frustration on some Jews.

            ‘The Rich’ weren’t one group, but ‘the rich’ among the Jews pretty much were. Since Jews had no chance to ascent into nobility in medieval Europe (the odd Jewish woman marrying into nobility would have had to convert to Christianity and all her children would be Christians, too), they were equal to rich merchants and suchlike in the free cities. The difference was mostly where their riches came from (although Jewish merchants and craftsmen did also exist). Jews could grow rich by instating the basics of a banking system, because Christians (apart from, as you mentioned, the Templars) weren’t allowed to lend money against interests. Christians could grow rich from trade, from crafts, or from other incomes which fell somewhere in between. There was the occasional rich farmer, too. The only alley closed to them was lending money to their fellow Christians.

  7. Prince Infidel

    Slightly off topic, but I was curious as to your thoughts on this. In the Magic the Gathering setting of Kaladesh, there is magic everywhere. Society is run & maintained by powerful wizards & artificers. They have clear & undeniable power over those that don’t have magic, & strictly control who can learn & gain access to magic. Yet in this setting sorcerers (who are born with powerful magic, much like X-Men’s mutants) are hated & hunted by the state.

    A sorcerer’s magic works very differently from the wizards’ & artificers’ magic in this setting, & can’t be controlled or restricted the same ways. I personally think that’s a good set up for a believable system of oppression. What do you Oren, or others, think?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I haven’t read that series, but based on your description I’d say it probably has some issues. On the one hand, an existing power structure trying to stamp out a power they can’t control is plausible, though I would expect them to try recruitment first. On the other hand, I still don’t see a plausible reason for sorcerers to be hated by regular people.

  8. Michael Campbell

    “graves (which cannot be identified easily and you’d have a lot of people angry, if you just destroyed a graveyard on a whim),”
    Be careful of using grave to mean mausoleum or tomb or crypt. It will throw people.

    “because then, even the good ones will rather see you die than help you.”
    That depends on whether or not “good” is malleable.

    • Cay Reet

      I refer to “grave” as any means of burial, as it is used in ‘graveyard’ which might, indeed, include a mausoleum, a tomb, or a crypt as well, just as graveyards include several different types.

  9. Mac

    As City of Brass is based on various bits of Islamic history, written by a person whose ethnicity (or ancestry — I’m aware she currently resides in NYC) would put her at the crux of clashes predominantly between Islam, Hinduism, and other belief systems… mapping it onto US/American examples might not be the best plan for interpreting it. It might be a really bad plan, honestly. (US/American history is rarely the best template for understanding anything but US/American history, I’ve found, and yet we kind of insist on throwing it out there.) I’m inclined to believe that better parallels exists in the actual history being referenced.

    That said, I agree that maybe the next installment will explain things better.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      To the extent that it matters, the author is a white American who converted to Islam:

      However, I don’t believe the author’s religion or race is particularly relevant here. The basic dynamics of power and privilege do not change across cultures. The context of that power and privilege do change, but City of Brass provides its own fictional context that has little relation to any real world history.

  10. N

    Ah, I think you’ve finally put the finger on why, in City of Brass, I found Ali’s story way more interesting than Nahri’s. Ali’s initial siding with the shafit and stance against the Daeva resonated with me much more than Nahri being pushed to sympathise with the very people who would have killed her without a second thought if she hadn’t been Special (TM). I am willing to give this series another chance because of the graphic Scourge of Qui Zi explanation at the end (and also partly because gay Muslim characters are hard to come by) but I hope they don’t double down on the sympathy for the Daeva.
    (The other problem I had with Nahri’s storyline is that she basically had zero agency; Ali was at risk of being manipulated by everyone around him but at least he made his own decisions more often than Nahri did.)

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I was way more into Ali’s story at first, even though Ali really annoyed me as a character because he seemed to have a contrived lack of self control (the early chapters are full of him making weird outbursts he supposedly didn’t mean to).

      Unfortunately, Ali’s story quickly goes into the Both Sides arena as well. It did strike me as really bizarre that Nahri was almost completely removed from the shafit story, since she certainly appeared to be a shafit for the first half of the book (I’m still not sure if that reveal about her being pure blood is supposed to have been a lie).

      I also appreciated having at least two openly queer characters.

      • N

        (Spoilers for city of brass below).
        Agreed on both Ali’s vacillation and Nahri’s lack of even inner conflict over her human identity (whether or not she was “really” pure blood). I am hoping that Ali’s exile will push him properly into the anti-Daeva camp in book 2, and that there is some follow up to the Scourge infodump (unfortunately Nahri still appears to side with the Daeva because Reasons, but hope springs eternal). The second book will probably be the last chance I give the series though.
        Regarding Ali’s outbursts: well, the hotheaded protagonist is a well worn fantasy trope, for better or for worse, and I was okay with the explanation that he wasn’t prepared for politics and was floundering under the weight of his deceptions; but that explanation may not be sufficient for everyone.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          You’ll have to let me know how it is. I’m fairly certain that in book 2 we’ll learn that Dara didn’t actually do the Scourge stuff, or some other mitigating factor since he still seems to be the main romance interest, but maybe the book will surprise me!

  11. Oren Ashkenazi

    Editor’s Note: I have removed a comment here for homophobic content. That sort of thing is not acceptable, no matter where it comes from.

    • Scott S

      I suspect my comment, since it is not being shown here, is the one you, Oren, deemed homophobic. Unfortunately, that word has varied definitions, but often is a blanket term for anyone that holds a view that homosexual behavior is morally wrong, and so all discussion is shut down between those that hold such a view and those that do not.

      I had tried to convey that I do not fear nor hold animosity toward those inclined to homosexuality any more or less than I hold fear/animosity toward myself with my own sinful propensities or toward anyone else for their sinful propensities. We are all sinners in need of being saved by God’s grace.

      So while I respect your decision to censor my comment (it is your site, your rules, and your opinion on those rules that matters for posting), I had hoped an opinion/worldview radically different from yours would be allowed to be expressed, especially in this context where you brought up such things within your post. That is, I had hoped it would have been deemed a “discussion” not a “promotion” (per your comment policy) related to homosexuality/homophobia as used in your parallel example with True Blood. Obviously, you apparently deemed it as a “promotion” and therefore against your comment policy, so again I respect your decision, though I then wonder how one can participate in any “discussion” of it on this site, if merely taking the opposing view is deemed itself as promoting homophobia.

      Feel free to email me directly if you want, as I do have a high respect for your “thinking” about various things in your posts, even though our views are radically different. It is often hard to have discussions when one person sees homosexuality as evil (like I do), and another sees the view of ‘homosexuality as evil’ as itself evil (as I am guessing you do).

      • Bunny

        Scott – I didn’t actually see the comment that got deleted, but judging from your response: here we don’t consider any type of sexual orientation a “sin” or an “evil” and calling it such is an attack on people who identify themselves differently than straight. This type of verbal (er – textual?) harm violates the comment policy, specifically “Be respectful” and “Carefully consider what you post.” A subject is not up for discussion if it involves striking at a marginalized group such as the LGBTQ+ community, and/or inviting others to do so (which would have been one side of your “discussion”). It seems that you asserted your opinion that homosexuality is bad, evil, or in need of fixing, which definitely qualifies as homophobia (which is defined as a dislike or prejudice against homosexual people) and therefore got deleted. I hope this clears a few things up. I have nothing against you personally – your opinions are really not my business – but I want to help you understand that homophobia in any form is not tolerated here, and why your comment qualified as such.
        (Oren, feel free to correct me if any of this is inaccurate. I didn’t see the comment, after all, and I’m not an Mythcreants officiator like you or Chris.)

        • Scott S

          Bunny, thanks for the reply. I did realize that the power and privilege the moderators hold on this site might suppress the expression of my views. That is their right under the authority they have over this site (so I do not feel oppressed by the suppression of my views, but this does serve as a small example of Oren’s power & privilege being those who are in control—to relate it to the topic of the thread).

          Even though I attempted to express those views in as non-confrontational form as I felt I could (obviously, when people differ in views, there is an inherent confrontational aspect) and had clearly related them to the topic of the post, it was still chosen to censor the views on the grounds of the blanket term homophobic. If “be respectful” also means not even expressing an opposing viewpoint on something (including homosexuality), then one could not follow the other comment policy of “respectfully disagree” ever on that topic. So I do not think (logically) that policy was broken by my statement. However, you are probably right that “Carefully consider what you post” was what Oren considered violated (as I had noted, he must have felt I was promoting homophobia). I do realize that a lot of vitriolic content gets spewed out on the internet against both homosexuals and Christians like myself, so I can understand trying to maintain a “respectful” discussion.

          For the record, I neither “dislike” nor am “prejudice” toward people who identify as homosexuals (though that latter term also has varied definitions with people), but attempt to always remember that I, too, am a sinner just as they, and equally in need of salvation through Jesus Christ.

      • Leon

        The seven deadly sins are the seven deadly sins for good reason;
        Greed, diminishes the happiness one brings to others.
        Sloth, causes illness and poverty.
        Envy, diminishes ones own happiness.
        Wrath, well, just turn on your t.v.
        Pride, leads us to folly and ruin.
        Gluttony, diminishes enjoyment and leads to illness.
        Lust, leads to heartbreak and loneliness.

        How does loving somebody of the same gender negatively effect a persons life, or the lives of those around them?

        • Scott S

          Leon, I have an answer to you question, but I do not believe Oren would want a discussion of the reasoning behind my views (some of that was given in the initial, censored post), nor do I believe that my answer to your question here would be in any way on-topic to *this post* of his.

          My view needed to be *expressed* to make my on-topic statement (that was censored), but this is not really the right place to have a back-and-forth discussion about my view.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          Editor’s note: Beyond blatant homophobia, we also disallow comments attempting to debate whether someone’s sexual orientation or gender is valid. Our comments section is not the place for that.

      • CottageGarden

        Scott, I’m sorry but homophobia is not an “opposing viewpoint” it is a form of violence. The indoctrination imposed upon you by people like church elders or even parents is a memeonic weapon of oppression.
        As I said, I’m sorry.

        • Michael Campbell

          By you logic arachnophobia is a form of violence against spiders.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            Editor’s note: Please see my comment at the end of this thread.

      • CottageGarden

        Scott, there is no god.

      • CottageGarden

        Why are you afraid to respond to me Scott?

        • Michael Campbell

          I’m not sure if the technical term is trolling or simply on-line bullying but I believe the moderators need to take to task your behaviour.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          Editor’s note: Please see my comment at the end of this thread.

      • Xzenu

        It is not okay to claim without evidence that a category of people (in this case homosexuals) life in a way which is dirty/harmful/sinful. It is one thing to personally live by any specific code of purity versus sin, but it is quite another to go around proclaiming everyone who doesn’t follow this particular code to be dirty or sinful.

        What you THINK of other people may be your own business as long as you keep it to yourself, but it is something else when you openly make judgements about how valuable or worthless you consider other people’s living to be. To do so deserves to be called categorism, racism, or in this case homophobia.

    • Leon

      Sorry, was that mine? I can’t imagine how I could have written anything remotely homophobic. Is there some new slang I don’t know about?
      If it was a bout the [appropriate insult here] bit, I certainly wasn’t thinking of a homophobic slur, I’m bisexual.
      Honestly, how does one express contempt on this site without being accused of some kind of phobia or ‘ism’.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        It was not yours.

      • Michael Campbell

        “Honestly, how does one express contempt on this site without being accused of some kind of phobia or ‘ism’.”
        I’m still learning that one.
        But my best advice would be.
        Don’t express contempt.
        Express a better idea and let it compete in the market place of ideas for its own customers.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Editor’s note: I’ve deleted a comment for the implication that bisexuals have more difficulty being in monogamous relationships than anyone else. That is an unacceptable furthering of stereotypes, whether it was intentional or not.

        • Deus Ex Anthropos

          I’ve always been confused by that stereotype.
          “So you are you really ready to commit to a life without sleeping with women anymore?”
          “No, I’m ready to commit to a life without sleeping with anyone but my spouse. Just like literally every other married person.”

          • Michael Campbell

            I’ld recommend reading up on Jellybean Theory.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Editor’s note: Okay everyone, I’m shutting this discussion down because so far it has essentially just been various shades of whether or not homophobia is acceptable, which it is not. Honestly I shouldn’t have let it get this far. Any further comments will be deleted without notice.

  12. Leon

    Just a thought on a point about x-men.
    Elite athletes are celerbrated by people who feel the athletes represent them, and by people who aspire to be like them, or people who have faced them in the past and see the career they could have had if some (politically correct harsh insult) hadn’t injured them.
    If regular humans can nolonger compete because sports are now dominated by mutants… I can’t really comment – I would probably love it because unless somebodys doing something amazing i find most sports about as interesting as watching an accountant at work – but I doubt that the millions of people whos happiness depends on the success of their sports team would be very happy.

    • Michael Campbell

      Well look at the treatment of Barry Bonds or Caster Semenya.
      As soon as “regular people” no longer compete with a pretty good shot at winning; out comes the condemnation (usually with the word “cheater” but they really mean “failing to live up to the one’s expectations”).

      People have some strange expectations of athletes. I remember Shane Warne getting condemned with; “Great, now I have to explain to my kids what infidelity means!”

  13. Leon

    Oh, and you yourself said that numerical superiority is power.
    A numerically superior population in a struggling economy probably wouldn’t look much further for answers if they knew of kids who could staff most departments of a large supermarket all on their own; multiplyers, speedsters, telekinesis and portal users, time manipulators.
    Everybody loves a good scapegoat.

    You know, you could probably write some ineresting mundane dramas about the co sequenses of super powers.

    • Cay Reet

      But those scapegoats have the powers to make the numerically more powerful people regret their choice of scapegoat. Multiplyers turning the tides between the more and the less nummerous people, speedsters running between the attackers and disarming them at a speed those can’t measure, telekinesis users throwing those weapons back at the attackers, and portal users moving in and out of the group to take out the most dangerous ones.

      • Leon

        Your so right! Extremely high level mutants who can project power far in excess or what the laws of thermodynamics say is possible would absolutely be able to kill lots of regular humans.

      • Leon

        I agree that in the most situations mutants would be a boon for any nation, and they would generally be well regarded at all levels of society. If not they would at least be scary enough that people would leave them alone. In some situations high level mutants may attempt to become despotic god kings – though I doubt such a reign would last long since other high level mutants would miss having a functioning economy.
        All I’m saying is that there are some very, very, specific circumstances where the “normal” population, may see a tiny population of mutants as an economic threat and panic – and we all know what happens when people panic.

        Why does such an idea offend you so much?

  14. Bubbles

    I was thinking about an idea I had: what if there were people who had powers that were extremely devastating on a wide scale, like a living nuclear bomb, but they couldn’t control the degree of the power? Something like that could easily make one person a match for an army – and frankly, that seems to be a reason why other people would fear and mistrust those with such power. Of course, the question, as you point out, is why the people with these abilities wouldn’t be in charge. If they were few in number and most of them had a standard of morality which means they wouldn’t like killing huge numbers of people, especially innocent people, and destroying a lot of things (which seems likely, as most people in general have that kind of morality), then it may be difficult for them to use their abilities to fight oppression. (Incidentally, my idea did involve a few people who had that power and loose morals be in charge before a combination of death from natural causes and revolution that included magic, which, although less powerful, was used by more people, removed them from power).

    Now that I think of it, it seems that if powers do not give a significant advantage, there could be plausible oppression against those who have them if they were few in number. Something really minor, such as slightly changing an object’s color or making people feel a bit unsettled, could cause others with bigoted mindsets to feel threatened but not provide a significant help in fighting back. Something that is powerful but has significant drawbacks, such as temporary super speed that leaves the user totally exhausted and vulnerable after a little while, may be similar. This reasoning doesn’t apply to a lot of stories because they do feature powers with significant advantages, but I’m wondering whether you think it’s plausible.

    • Michael Campbell

      It’s actually a very interesting area to see what can be done with such a very small amount of mojo.

      “What’s your superpower?”
      “I can make things disappear in mirrors.”
      “So it’s like you’re a mutant cloaking device for tailing a car.”
      “Yep…right up until the other driver looks over his shoulder…or does a bootlegger turn…but I guess that’s why Russian subs are famous for the Crazy Ivan.”

      If drama is about “overcoming”.
      Then making do with limited mojo should count as good drama.

    • Sib

      This comment pretty well sums up my question and thoughts, too, before everything caught on fire in here.

      On the one hand, it only makes sense that in a setting where some people have a clear advantage of special powers or abilities, those people would also have a clear political advantage because who *doesn’t* want to be friends with the lady who can light her enemies on fire with her mind (particularly if such empowered individuals exist throughout history)? You’d have to go to some special lengths to justify why the person who needs no weapons or years of training to defeat dozens of foes, or who have other practical powers would not trend toward the top of the social hierarchy eventually.

      On the other hand, a group of people who are discriminated against because others believe them to be innately dangerous can be an interesting and even fun story to tell, so how does one go about doing that in a way that does not fundamentally upset the logic of power and privilege? I think you hit upon some good answers in your comment. If the powers were wildly destructive and without a high degree of control, it seems realistic that not only would they be feared by others, they may even fear their own potential for destruction, at least for those who had no particular desire to use it (though I agree, in this scenario people who had power and more flexible morals would likely end up in charge sooner or later anyway, which makes for a pretty good evil overlord).

      But you don’t really need to have any *actual* power to be treated as dangerous (just see… well actually a lot of types of discrimination, but the one I was thinking of was mental illness), and this can be extended as you say to the kinds of spot-on-the-wall powers that don’t confer meaningful advantage–though the powers don’t necessarily have to confer significant combat advantage to be considered useful enough to be utilized in a way that brings social power and prestige over time, and rather fewer bigots who can meaningfully affect you. This is a possibility, but you’d have to make sure that none of the powers you picked to give to your oppressed group had any marketable uses (heck, even the power to change colours of things historically makes you valuable as a dyer and potentially an artist, neither of which will help you fight against somebody who hates your kind, but which have just as much potential to make you popular and wealthy, in which case where are these hateful people coming from who want to bully the popular and rich? I digress…) Either way, a story about people with such minor powers could be potentially interesting–though as noted, most of the time we’re talking about people with very useful powers.

      On the mutant third hand, there may be some potential if we don’t assume that all people with powers are unilaterally discriminated against. I haven’t considered all the angles, but I was wondering what about the situation where there are people who have a modest level of power/magic and whom are generally considered innately dangerous, therefore face prejudice and restrictions which theoretically limit their potential to cause harm–BUT the upper echelons of society ALSO include (perhaps are dominated by) people with this same power/magic, only thanks to a little bit of double standard and perhaps some propaganda, their power is seen as somehow more pure or controlled, and they are hailed as noble protectors by birthright? This way (hopefully) one sidesteps sketchy problems where the feared and mistrusted people should be in power (some of them are), but still have an underdog story where your characters deal with discrimination and restriction (if not really true oppression).

      Where do you think this breaks down? What things do you feel could be adjusted to bring it back in line?

    • Leon

      I like your post.
      I wouldn’t want your uncontrolable destruction guy (The UD-G) in my army though. If anybody is engaging an enemy on any level it is normally because they want to capture or rescue something or somebody that the enemy has. If you just want to obliterate them you use naval artillary, high altitude bombers or cruise missiles (unless this guy can also fly and doesn’t mind being hit by bullets the size of bannanas.)

      If The UD-G starts out at a lower level and his powers grow beyond his ability to control them while his regiment becomes ever more relyant on him, forcing him to gamble his friends lives everytime they go into combat… you might have quite a good book on your hands : )

      • Michael Campbell

        Just as a note. The RNZAF has no jet fighters. Not every country in the world can field the right tool for the job.

        • Leon

          My point was, there are better options for uterly destroying a target than risking troops and equipment (and spending a lot of time) transporting a living weapon to the target. Even regular artillary is far more devistating than most people realise.
          But what I was really trying to get accross was that The UD-G could be a surprisingly interesting character, and i would definately read a book about him (or her).

          • Bubbles

            Thanks everybody! The discussion here is really fascinating, although I was wondering whether the writer of this blog post would comment on the possibility I mentioned. Just some things I wanted to say:

            I haven’t written any books so far; everything I say is just an idea. In fact, if I ever do write my stories, it’s probably going to be on the web rather than as a book.

            A bit of trivia: The actual reason I came up with this idea was as a justification for the common fantasy (and fictional in general) conceit of one or a small band of heroes being the ones who defeat a large-scale threat, rather than, say, an army.

            I thought stuff such as prophecies and chosen ones was way too cliche and difficult to believe, so I wanted to think of a plausible reason for why a few people could defeat what many could not. The idea would be that someone who could destroy an army might use their power on a threatening army, but a small group could be more sneaky and seem less of a threat at first. Using such extreme power may seem like less of a good idea, unless someone wanted solely to destroy instead of conquering (conquering a barren wasteland won’t be very useful). I’m not sure whether this actually makes sense, and there are probably other ways to justify this conceit, but that’s what I was thinking of.

            The original inspiration was actually the movie Frozen. Some commentators noted that Elsa has extremely strong powers: she could cause winter in an entire country and create nearly anything, including living beings, out of ice. A theory was that the fear of these powers was why the common people and neighboring countries would accept her on the throne. I also read the TVTropes article “Person of Mass Destruction.”

            A bit more about my story idea: In my world, power of such extreme nature would be incredibly rare and, although innate, not inheritable through families (a few people would randomly be born with it). After people became free of the tyranny of those with such powers, as mentioned in the original post, rules were instituted that anybody who had them would be killed upon discovery (which was usually when they were very young, so they wouldn’t really be able to understand and defend themselves). However, as my thoughts went on, it wouldn’t be the antagonist, but the protagonist, who had such power. His mother had managed to hide him when he was a baby (how I’m still thinking about), and the conflict is how he has to suppress his powers when he is an adult and whether he really is too dangerous to live (as many think).

            And on top of all of this, it would be a story within a story, because in an alternate version of our world, this would be a somewhat well-known fantasy series! Yeah, I have a lot of ideas.

          • Marc Vun Kannon

            The character Black Bolt in the Marvel Universe was so powerful that a scream from him destroyed his entire city, but he couldn’t speak for that very reason.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      The idea of a character who’s power is so devastating they’d hesitate to use it is an interesting one, but it’s tricky to pull off within a story because at some point the audience will expect the character to use their power in a meaningful way. Once that happens, it’ll be hard to reconcile with the earlier idea that the characters couldn’t use their powers to defend themselves.

      This is pretty much what NK Jemisin tries to do in the Broken Earth series, where earth mages are so powerful that they can set off apocalyptic earthquakes without trying. It falls apart because we see that power can be more focused. If it couldn’t, then the magic would be really boring because the characters would spend the whole time not using it.

      As for the idea of powers that don’t really have much of a benefit, that’s a lot easier to pull off. One example is the Wild Card universe, where people with actual super powers like laser vision and teleportation are called Aces, while people with a pair of horns or green skin are called Jokers. Jokers are marginalized because they have non-exploitable differences.

      • Bubbles

        Good input. I know this idea can be difficult to pull off (that’s why I’m still in the “thinking” stage). However, I’m not necessarily sure that never using the power will be boring. There could be in-story evidence that the power exists and is extremely dangerous. My idea is that the conflict would be to avoid using the power and escape using mostly the abilities a normal person would have: intelligence, training, bodily strength, and so on, and the moral question of how to deal with someone who possesses the power to do widespread harm. There could also be others with lesser but more controllable powers who could be helping the protagonist.

        About the non-exploitable power example you mentioned, couldn’t horns be useful as weapons? That said, I never read the book series you mentioned, so I guess it wouldn’t be very helpful if the horns were, say, very small or unwieldy.

        Incidentally, while I definitely don’t want to give up on my idea, I am actually working on some other stories for the moment. One is at least somewhat influenced by the idea of a “rational magic system” that you discussed in another article. I have my own ideas about that, but I guess I should discuss them in that article.

        • Cay Reet

          A problem I see with never using a power, but using ‘normal’ means to overcome problems instead is that the audience might ask why you gave that character the power in question in the first place. Why didn’t you just make a story about that one non-mage in a society where everyone can do magic and this one person has to do all the stuff ‘the hard way’ which is so easy for everyone else? Audiences will expect the power to be used at some point, because that is the whole point about giving a special power to a character. Don’t forget that we’re talking about a novel – a place where you as the author decide on everything which happens, from the powers your characters have right down to the colour of a set of drapes. Everything you put in there (at least everything important, so probably not the drapes) is there for a reason, unlike in real life.

          As far as I’m concerned, horns can or can’t be weapons, depending on their shape, position on the head, and whether the person’s head is as reinforced as that of an animal making regular use of horns. So if they’re merely decorative and break easily, they’re surely not weapons. Same goes if the skull of their bearer is not reinforced enough to make sure that using them doesn’t mean risking a concussion.

          • Bubbles

            About there being a reason for everything in fiction: that’s actually one of the ideas that I dislike. I’ve said this before: I would like fiction to be realistic. Not necessarily in the sense of being set on Earth, obeying our universe’s laws of physics, etc. (although I want it to be logically consistent, which isn’t always easy when changing laws of physics, which are complex and interrelated). I mean that it could be something that is like a nonfiction story of adventure (they do exist), albeit perhaps set in another world. In real life, people can have abilities and talents that aren’t relevant to the important things that happen to them.

            I understand it may not be popular. That’s one reason why I’m not writing novels: if this story ever gets written, it will be somewhere on the Internet and can be read for free. I’m not making a living off this, so I have to worry less about how much people will like it (although it would of course be a nice bonus if people did). And anyway, I think such a story could possibly be interesting even if it did not conform to common conventions of fiction.

            Finally, there is actually a narrative difference between someone born without powers in a world with powers and someone born with extremely dangerous powers they refuse to use. The former person poses less of a threat than the latter one, so the philosophical debate would be different, as would social reactions, probably.

          • Cay Reet

            Well, one way for your idea with that power which should never be used to work would be not to make the character with the power your main character, but another person. One who is tasked with making sure that power isn’t used and has to do a lot of problem solving in order to keep the world safe (or to keep whatever bad thing that power will do from happening). That would surely make for an interesting story.

            Fiction is realistic, if narrative logic is observed. Part of narrative logic is that if you make a fuss about something, if you make something central to your story, you have to deliver on what you promise. That’s what Checkov’s Gun is about. If you talk about a gun in detail in the first chapter, it should have been fired by chapter three. If you speak of a power which will destroy the world upon being used, then this power will at one point be used, willingly or unwillingly. Unless, as mentioned above, if you make the story about the person who has to stop it from happening. Then this person’s story will be ‘how I saved the world.’

            It’s not even about everything having a reason in fiction in your example. But by your description, never using that power is the central plot of the story. Which means that you can’t just discard it without breaking all rules, guidelines, and suggestions about writing a story. If you do not deliver on the plot, all is lost. If you do not deliver on the plot, you essentially have no story to tell. If you do not deliver on the plot, there is no story, because the story is about the plot.

            The social consequences of such a power would probably be less whether or not the person having it can control it, but whether or not to let such a person live. Having an enormous power and being able to use it makes you an god-like being (like the top layer of the mutants in X-Men). Having an enormous power and not being allowed to use it makes you a threat – and that is where your story would probably be less about a clever person solving problems with other means than that power, but about a fugitive driven further and further towards the edge (figuratively speaking, but perhaps also literally) by the fear of rest of the world. How long until they would lash out with the power? How long until they would no longer care about the consequences? Because that is also typically human. Push a human far enough and they won’t care about consequences any longer, they’ll just want for it to stop. At some point, all inhibitions are forgotten and we use all we have.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          Horns certainly could be used as weapons, depending on how they’re positioned and what they’re made of as Cay Reet said. But even if the horns are the right kind to be useful as weapons, they still have really limited use. They’re not any more deadly than a regular person with a knife or broken bottle, and there’s no obvious way to exploit them for profit.

          • Bubbles

            This message is actually for what Cay Reet wrote above, as there isn’t a space to respond in that thread itself.

            I think I understand what you mean. A lot of what you are saying actually does match up with my ideas, where the conflict is whether someone with that power is too dangerous to live. I believe I may have expressed myself in an unclear way previously. My reference to using intelligence and so on was actually because there would be at least some scenes of escape and having to hide. I would say, however, that even if the conflict is about trying to not use the power, the protagonist could be the one who has that power (there could be secondary helper characters). There could be lesser yet still uncontrollable manifestations that might provide proof of its existence as well as some tension about what it could lead up to.

    • Tyler Hill

      I know I’m late to the party here, but this piqued my interest, so here goes: some powers that seem REALLY weak at first turn out to be massively useful when we push our creativity. The power to change colors, for example. It’s not THAT extreme when used with everyday objects, but the situation changes as soon as you introduce another element: writing. By changing the colors of the ink and paper (or pencil, whatever), you could change written-down words. That’s a truly formidable power to have in today’s world, with HUGE implications (just think contracts, cheques, certificates, etc.). Just a thought My policy whenever creating a magic system, superpowers, etc. is to ask a child (maybe between 8 and 13) what they would do if they had that power. Kids can come up with some pretty wacky (but sometimes plot-breaking) ideas for magic/tech.

  15. Tony

    On the other hand, regarding the economic demand for mutants’ and wizards’ abilities, it’s worth noting that a group can still be economically important but still marginalised. The working classes form much of our economic backbone but are still routinely trodden upon, especially when those workers are female and/or belong to ethnic minorities. It’s also possible for a group to be economically well-off on average, or even economically powerful in some ways, while facing discrimination in other areas. Off the top of my head, I’m thinking of Jewish bankers in Europe, and middle- and upper-class Asian Americans.

    • Cay Reet

      There is, however, a difference between oppression and discrimination. Oppression is systemic and cuts away rights, discrimination is on a lower level and often, in case of groups holding a certain power, very discreet (like not being accepted into clubs vs. ‘no coloreds allowed’ signs).

      Workers, on the other hand, historically are most powerful when they unionize. Unions (brutally fought by both the state and the industrialists at first) enforced rules which helped and protected the workers – male as well as female ones. The 8-hour day, vacation time, paid sick leave, security regulations, all of that came into being through unions – and through the workers learning they do have power, the power of the strike. When nobody is working, the owner of the company loses a lot of money. When workers are unionized, which means they will be compensated for the wages they lose when striking, a strike can last a long, long time (as Germany had to learn yet again about two years back when the train drivers went on strike and immobilized tens of thousands of people until their demands were met). Workers mostly are powerless, because they don’t work together.

      • Tony

        All good points, thanks for your clarifications.

  16. Luke Slater

    While it still has some problems, I’m not sure that the discrepancies between HP and FB are necessarily a continuity error. Newt comments on how he finds Mag/No-Mag relations in America to be messed up, and while both subscribe to the International Statute of Secrecy, a lot of things are really heavily regulated under MACUSA that the Ministry takes a more laisse faire attitude to. This, coupled with the fact that the Second Salem girl’s pretend wand is absolutely a model of an actual wand, would suggest that, while – to quote the essay title – mediaeval witch hunts were completely pointless, there might have been some more successful witch hunts in North America in more recent years, if not the Salem witch hunts, then something in the post-gun era. Even if not especially efficient, this could also heighten a sense of potential threat as regards the need for secrecy.

    Continuing on this, if you recall, the British wizarding community clearly doesn’t have common knowledge of guns – ‘a kind of metal wand’ – which is a state of awareness that would be far less likely in the US. Also, the US, like Britain, is served by a single magical school, which would suggest that the wizarding density is significantly lower, putting wizards and witches outside the hub of New York in considerably more peril than even the most isolated rural British witch. It’s therefore not inconsistent that the Ministry’s explanation of the need for secrecy is that Muggles would demand magical solutions for things, whereas MACUSA’s is that Muggles are a potential threat.

  17. Xzenu

    Hi Oren!
    Thanks for an interesting post. Read it a week ago, and have thought about it a lot since then. There are four issues I would like to discuss:

    1. Socioeconomics & Superheroes
    2. Dynamics of power
    3. Vulnerability of mutants, wizards and vampires
    4. Revisionism & Living Witness

    So, starting with the first one now, and posting the others as separate posts…

    1. Socioeconomics & Superheroes
    While the X-Men comics was the best at shoehorning deeper social issues into the superhero format which doesn’t really have room for them ( ), I do agree that it would be great if they could go further and create a more realistic world. The easiest way would be to drop the superhero format, making mutant stories in other genres. That could be quite awesome. Stories about people who have superpowers or magic and openly try to use this advantage to get rich and/or to contribute to society.

    It should also be easy to shoehorn a minimum of socioeconomic aspects into the superhero format as such. Lets take your example with a mutant who can teleport herself and others to any place she’s been before. While keeping her as working only as a superhero, they could have a few lines of dialogue here and there indicating some of the following:

    * Airline Tycoons being scared that she’ll put them out of business, which encourages them to supporting anti-mutant bigotry and anti-mutant legalization.

    * Governments, agencies, mafias and terrorists trying to find out her identity or anything else they can use as leverage to turn her into an asset for them to use.

    * Governments around the world regarding her as a threat to the integrity of their national borders, making it clear that they will regard her as a smuggler or worse if she uses her powers commercially without revealing her identity and get a proper license. (Real life China actually has a law against unlicensed reincarnation, and this law is used to oppress the people of Tibet. Surely the world of X-Men would have similar laws against commercial use of superpowers.)

    • Marc Vun Kannon

      Something like your second alternative was used in the sequel to Jumper. People with power will usually be subjugated by people or groups with more power. Letting these guys run around free is not going to happen.

  18. Xzenu

    2. Dynamics of power
    When analyzing dynamics of power, it is easy to forget three important things:

    A: Intersectionality: A person is not a category – every person is included in many categories, which interacts in complex ways. There are groups within groups, as well as groups overlapping.

    B. Change-over-Time: Dynamics are not static, they change over time. A category which is privileged at one time may be oppressed at another. The situation of German Jews in the early 1920:es is not comparable to the situation of German Jews in the early 1940:es. But of course there was antisemitism in the 1920:es too, which brings us to…

    C. Advantage vs Safety: To be privileged may be a matter of having an advantage, but it may also be a matter of having safety. These two are not the same thing. Privilege versus oppression should not be seen as a black and white dichotomy, and it should not be seen as if it was one single coherent sliding scale either. A better model would be a grid of two sliding scales: One scale for advantage versus disadvantage, and one scale for safety versus vulnerability.

    People in the high-high corner are simply privileged. An example of such privilege is living in a rich and peaceful democratic country with free education and good welfare systems. (Of course people who has such citizenships may also face oppression in other ways, see [A. Intersectionality] above.

    People in the low-low corner are oppressed in the truest sense of the word.

    People in the middle of the grid are neither privileged or oppressed on the whole, although they have advantages compared to some and disadvantages compared to some.

    People in the disadvantaged-safe corner have a bit of safety an a high price which make their situation fragile: There is always risk that the safety will be taken away through abuse or be discarded through rebellion.

    People in the Advantaged-Vulnerable corner are in an even more unstable position. Their advantages may be something they have recently gained and not yet stabilized, or it may be something which is on the edge of being taken away from them.

    I would say that active oppression comes mostly from people who’s most relevant positions are high in advantage but midrange in vulnerability: Unless they do oppression, they will lose their advantage or safety or both. A dictator, or any other oppressor, can never be truly safe, as the incentive for rebellion is always there.

  19. Xzenu

    3. Vulnerability of mutants, wizards and vampires
    (Please read part 2 above before you read this post.)

    The mutants, wizards and vampires in the settings of X-Men, Fantastic Beasts and True Blood do not fit into a single sliding scale, much less a single black and white dichotomy, of privilege versus oppression. They have great advantages, but also vulnerabilities. The fact that they are a small minority makes them socially vulnerable. The fact that they have advantages gives the majority socioeconomic incentives to use their vulnerability to exploit them. The fact that some of them are dangerous or can use their powers to exploit regular people give people incentive to hate and fear them. The setting of True Blood also have a very interesting twist, as the very premise of the setting changed drastically two years before the story started. While True Blood is a setting where vampires are technically capable of coexisting peacefully with the living without either kind oppressing the other, it is also a setting where everyone is completely inexperienced with this capability. Also note that as with any other Vampire story set in our own age, all the old-and-powerful vampires were already old and settled in their ways when the ideas of democracy and equality and civil rights started to become part of mainstream society.

    A few things about each setting…

    Regarding X-Men: While it is true that the average mutant IN THE COMIC could easily defeat a crowd of mere mortals, it is also true that the comic tend to focus on some of the most powerful mutants in the world. The average mutant in the comic is far more powerful than the average mutant in the setting.

    Regarding Fantastic Beasts: The movie show us that Wizards are in control of reality only for as long as they are in control of themselves. The power crumbles when the wizard is sleeping, startled, loses the wand, or simply happens to be sufficiently unprepared to make a mistake. I would argue that this is completely consistent with how wizards were portrayed in Harry Potter. While it is true that a schoolbook insinuated Wizards as being invulnerable through superiority, it is also true that Dumbledore warned the protagonists that the school books contain a lot of bullshit wizard supremacist propaganda.

    Regarding True Blood: Although vampires are very powerful while being-awake-without-contact-with-silver, they are defenseless while asleep or while touched by silver. A recurring theme is how any lowlife wannabe criminal who happens to be at the right place at the right time can easily kidnap a vampire to milk for blood. A simple silver necklace is the only equipment needed.

    Personally, I find True Blood the most frustrating. They have a really interesting concept, they could have done so much more with it. I stopped watching when they retconned [a certain character] into having been a complete bastard all along.

  20. Xzenu

    4. Revisionism & Living Witness
    (Please read part 2 above before you read this post.)

    The way I understand the episode Living Witness, it is about three very distinct eras.

    700 years ago: Kyrians are powerful aggressors against the Quarren. They are on somewhat equal footing, but if one side has the upper hand then its the Kyrians. (BTW, note that the very name Kyrian means “Lord”, “Overlord” or “Royalty”.)

    A middle era: The Kyrian power declined after losing the war, eventually falling into oppression under Quarren rulership.

    The last few generations: While the main oppression has ended, the Kyrians still suffer from the aftermath. But at least they are free now. Some Kyrians use their newfound freedom to revise history, spinning a glorious past where the ancient Kyrians were heroes and noble victims.

    For a historical parallel, see how Germany first was the aggressors in WW2, then East Germans suffered under the Soviet, and now when they are free they still have to deal with the aftermath – some of them turning to fairy tales of how Germany were never the true aggressors of WW2.

    Oren, you specifically mention slavery. I assume the slavery which you are thinking about is the African-Americans. This real life minority group deals with the aftermath of past oppression, much like the fictional Kyrians or real life East Germans do. Yet, the African-Americans were never the aggressors – and they have it much worse than the Kyrians or Easy Germans: If you use the African-American slavery as your template for all oppression then I can see how Living Witness becomes very offensive to you.

    Speaking of marginalized groups and revisionism, I am not an American. To me, it looks like USA Supremacism when some americans make pseudoscientific claims to Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt, arguing that these cultures are somehow the intellectual property of African-Americans. White-Americans who see African-Americans as being Black may see such revisionism as a harmless way to repay victims of slavery, much like some of the arguments in Living Witness. Yet, the perspective becomes quite different for people who are not americans at all and who see African-Americans primarily as Americans.

    History should be as accurate as possible, not treated as a resource to be redistributed to each according to their needs. However, accuracy requires us to challenge all supremacist narratives: ESPECIALLY in the cases when these narrative boosts groups who are still in power, but also in all other cases. Accuracy must be a consistent goal.

    • American Charioteer

      Good comparison with East Germany!

      Americans tend to join with the rest of the West in identifying Greece as the cornerstone of Western civilization. I do not believe I have ever heard the argument that African Americans follow a Greek or Egyptian intellectual tradition, but I am curious now. Can you expound on that?

      • Xzenu


        First a note on the actual historical relevance of ancient Greece

        I do think that the importance of ancient Greece has been greatly exaggerated throughout history, being more of an “origin story” than actual history. The real roots of civilization comes from all over the place, not just Greece. In his book “Identity and violence”, Amartya Sen mention how democratic strictures and philosophy was popping up all over the Mediterranean back in those days.

        Over to the revisionism I was talking about, it is more about biological ancestry than about genetics. This kind of revisionism has a long tradition in western culture. Throughout the last half millennium, there has been a lot of people arguing that Jesus lived in England or that Maria Magdalene moved to France after having kinds with Jesus. There has also been some people arguing that Sweden was Atlantis. In all three cases, it has the implication that European blood is holy blood, with citzens and royalty of European countries being descended from Jesus or from the people of Atlantis.

        In the case of such revisionism regarding African-Americans, the idea is not that the Africans who was captured and sold as slave would have been living by Egyptian or Greek culture. Instead, the idea is that they are the true heirs of these cultures: It is the African-Americans, rather than the actual populations of Greece and Egypt, who are the true descendants of the ancient philosophers and kings.

        This particular brand of historical revisionism was annoyingly popular back when I was young, and the arguments used to promote it was the same as in the Voyager episode “Living Witness”: “Who cares what actually happened in the past, the point is that African-Americans suffer today and thus deserve to own a glorious past to strengthen their identity. So what if this heritage is a bunch of lies?”

        I think one of the books which peddled this narrative was called “Black Athena”, so I googled for it and found a hit on wikipedia:

        The book also ignited a debate in the academic community. While some reviewers contend that studies of the origin of Greek civilization were tainted by a foundation of 19th century racism, many have criticized Bernal for what they perceive to be the speculative nature of his hypothesis, unsystematic and linguistically incompetent handling of etymologies and a naive handling of ancient myth and historiography. The claims made in Black Athena were heavily questioned inter alia in Black Athena Revisited (1996), a collection of essays edited by Mary Lefkowitz and her colleague Guy MacLean Rogers.[4]


        Others have challenged the lack of archaeological evidence for Bernal’s thesis. Egyptologist James Weinstein points out that there is very little evidence that the ancient Egyptians were a colonizing people in the third millennium and second millennium BC.[7] Furthermore, there is no evidence for Egyptian colonies of any sort in the Aegean world. Weinstein accuses Bernal of relying primarily on his interpretations of Greek myths as well as distorted interpretations of the archaeological and historical data.”

        • American Charioteer

          Thanks for posting that, I hadn’t heard that area of thought before.

          Racism in America is rarely based on complex racial theories anymore, it is usually passive and implicit. There are lingering cultural effects of slavery (especially the separation of families) and of Jim Crow (such as denying home loans to African American families) which lead to higher rates of poverty and crime in African American communities. Observing those conditions imparts implicit bias, which leads to discrimination, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty and crime. There are still groups who hold onto antiquated racial theories, but they usually have trouble getting a few hundred people to show up to a rally.

          I find it very encouraging to hear you say that people in your country primarily see African Americans as Americans.

  21. Emerson

    Another problem with the X-Men social justice bit is that Rosa Parks or Harvey Milk didn’t have the ability to take down skyscrapers with their laser visions. While it’s wrong to sic giant robots on them, it doesn’t change the fact that a bunch of people getting superpowers at puberty with have massive implications for society as a whole. Some might be good, but there are plenty of assholes would abuse their powers and raise hell and it would probably help if the authorities had ways of dealing with it, rather than counting on some vigilante groups to step in.

    Also, there would be people whose mutations would do them no benefit and would actually make their lives hell, so ideas about the cure are more nuanced than the adaptations would have you belief. But a big problem I have with the X-Men-verse is the lack of curiosity. I’ll accept that the X Gene is all unpredictable and shit–hence why one dude can shoot laser beams while another person moves stuff with their mind–but I refuse to accept that scientists in this -verse would just shrug their shoulders about it and not be like, “Hmm…how does this work?” and from there, try to map out the gene and see why it behaves one way in one person but another way in another person. You show something interesting to humans and we go “Hmm…how does this work?” and from there, we’ve made pretty much every scientific discovery. Something piques our curiosity; we study it to figure it out.

    • American Charioteer

      Those are both really good points. Your first point makes me think that equating superheroes with real-world heroes could be a slight to the latter. There are plenty of people born to privilege who became heroes, but that is a different kind of story than X-men is trying to tell.

      And your latter point is one reason that the superhero has always strained credibility (why hasn’t Tony Stark’s tech solved most of the world’s problems by now?). It is why the best superhero movies either avoid psuedo-magical superpowers (Dark Knight Trilogy) or don’t take themselves *too* seriously (MCU).

  22. Marc Vun Kannon

    I’ve often wondered why so many fantasy novels have the king siding with the priests against the magicians and wizards, when the magic-users have more demonstrable power than the priests.

    • Cay Reet

      Probably for the same reason why real-life monarchs have sided with the Inquisition: Because the priests actually hold power over the monarchy, as long as the monarch is crowned in a god’s name.

    • Angelo Pardi

      Because in those settings the magicians are team good, the priests team evil* and the monarch has to start neutral-leaning-priests if you want the story to have any stakes at all.

      *because the only thing most authors know about religion are some half-digested ideas about the Inquisition and consumer-ready Buddhism-lite.

  23. Dvärghundspossen

    I used to be a huge X-men fan and read so many of the books regularly (eventually I just fell out of reading Marvel comics regularly mostly due to event fatigue), but yeah, I always realized humans oppressing mutants doesn’t really make sense, although I decided to just roll with it.

    Regular humans oppressing mutants make much more sense in the Judge Dredd universe. In Dredd, there ARE super-powered mutants, but they are VERY few and far between. The absolute vast majority of mutants simply look more or less weird by ordinary human standards (they might, for instance, have their facial features shuffled around like a Picasso painting).

    The Dredd universe is also built on the premise that among humans, some people are simply born with PSI-abilities such as telepathy or precognition, more or less like some people in real life are born with unusual talents like being a math savant or having perfect pitch. The judges (who aren’t just a police force but also the rulers of the city state) attempt to find them all and draw them into their ranks, which makes sense.

    • Cay Reet

      Yes, that setting makes much more sense. With most mutants being essentially powerless and with the Judges drawing those among their own group who are a match into their own ranks, the mutants can be oppressed. The X-Men setting doesn’t make any sense at all.

      • Bubbles

        I would agree too. The thing is, if superpowered people are few in number, then even their combined power may not be greater than that of, say, the general population or government of ordinary people. An individual bully or small group might be afraid of targeting them, but a government might be powerful enough to do so.

        As for economic usefulness of powers, it is possible that, rather than allowing them to improve their status, that would just lead to economic exploitation, especially when the general state of a certain business is already to exploit workers.

        Finally, fear is an emotion to consider. People are generally not afraid of, say, sports stars. However, they may very well be afraid of, say, someone who could read minds or cause explosions with a thought or even just become invisible, due to what they could do with that power. Even those who do not wish to harm others might be unreasonably distrusted.

  24. Dvärghundspossen

    Re Fantastic Beasts and muggles persecuting and killing mages: I read some black blogger, don’t remember where now, but anyway, she was a Harry Potter fan and a fierce defender of the Slytherins. People would tell her that you can’t be a Slytherin fan and black, because Slytherins are racists. She said that first, it’s canon that they have black members, they don’t have a problem with black people. Second, they do have a problem with muggles, but you have to see that in context! And then brings up how muggles have persecuted mages etc.

    I think that blogger had a point! But probably a point J K Rowling never considered when writing the Fantastic Beasts scripts. Wizards who hate muggles are NOT analogous to white supremacists any longer with that background.

    • Cay Reet

      From my memories of the HP books, pure-blooded wizards aren’t racist in the way we’d usually interpret it. It’s not about skin colour or ethnicity, it’s about being a wizard with no muggle relatives whatsoever (which is why they’re actually ashamed of having a squib – a wizard with no magic – in their family). So the blogger is right that they are no white supremacists. What they are, is muggle supremacists. They think themselves better than muggles and want to remove the threat (or enslave the muggles) to make the life of wizardkind better. Same basic structure, different targets.

      • Dvärghundspossen

        Maybe I was unclear, but the MAIN point is the following: If you retcon stuff so that muggles now used to persecute mages, kill them etc, then mages hating muggles is no longer analogous to white supremacists AT ALL. It’s suddenly more similar to black people in Nation of Islam hating on white people. It changes EVERYTHING.

        • Cay Reet

          It was a bit unclear to me, yes.

          If you change the background that much, then things are really out of context.

        • Bubbles

          Okay, but I really, really hope you do not actually support the hatred of the Nation of Islam. I don’t care whether I will get into trouble for writing this; I will. Such hatred might be understandable given the history, but it is definitely not justifiable, not when there are so many non-racist white people. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which is anti-bigotry, including anti-black racism, has called the Nation of Islam a hate group.

          • Dvärghundspossen

            I haven’t defended anything, but writing a group hating on those that have always been less powerful and writing a group hating on those that used to persecute and kill said group are two very different things.

        • SunlessNick

          You know what would be cool? If it turns out that the muggles persecuting wizards stuff is a lie in setting. The American wizarding community enforces a harsher separation than the British one – what if the stories of persecution were invented to justify that? An example of doublethinking chosen enemies into being at once strong enough to designate as a threat and weak enough to hurt whenever you want. And that being one reason why Grindlewald found it congenial.

          In Where to Find Them, I did find it interesting from a worldbuilding perspective that the British wizards’ ruling body gives their highest ranking authority a title that’s subordinate to that of the highest ranking muggle authority, while the American one chooses one that’s equal.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      It’s super weird and wrong to tell a black person they can’t be a Slytherin fan. In the book it’s true that Slytherins are wizard fascists but literally no one chooses their favorite house based on what’s in the book. If we did, everyone would be a Gryffindor because the book makes it clear over and over again, in the most heavy handed manner possible, that Gryffs are the best.

      Instead, people make their house choices based on an elaborate fanon that recasts the four houses as what we want them to be rather than what’s in the book.

      At the same time, using Fantastic Beasts to justify wizard fascism in the original books is just silly. FB is a clear retcon, and it completely undoes the best part of the books’ story.

  25. Star of Hope

    Ah, the old argument that fighting injustice makes you injust is such an silly concept and expoused by Priviledged people to condemn these “scary,ugly,n*****’s”, because oppenly admitting that they think the Victim is to blame causes them to melt down.Believe me, I know this, I have seen it.

    My Opinion on BLM and by extension ALM is this little thought experiement:

    Imagine you and your friend going to an restaurant of your choice and your friend orders an Meal and they don’t get it after 1 and a half hour and they are mad at the Waiter for refusing to listen to your friend’s complaints. When your friend yells that he/she/they have an right to get his/her/their meal, an bystander comes in and retorts:”Everyone has theirn right to their meal”.

    What would you think you would do and how would you react? The answer tells me more about the bigotry in your heart, than that of the Police.

    • Julia M.

      I totally agree. That’s what gets me about the “All Lives Matter” movement. No one is saying that white lives don’t matter. They are not saying that black lives matter more than white lives. They are only pointing out that black people are unfairly targeted by the police. The ‘All lives matter” movements is being used to silence black people and ignore the problem.

      Here’s my opinion on systemic racism illustrated by another thought experiment:

      Imagine that police were killing white politicians at this rate. Senators were being shot, governors were being frisked. Something would be done.

      But too often, the people that the police kill are invisible to society.

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