1. PurpleCao
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    PurpleCao Member

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    Ethics of a culture?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by PurpleCao, Mar 23, 2010.

    Okay, i've been fleshing out a fantasy world for a project lately.
    The more I thought about it, the more I realised that a conflict would be escalated by a difference not only in belief or race, but custom as well. After all, the customs that are normal to you may be the most bizarre thing on the planet to someone with vastly conflicting ones. They may be seen as right or wrong, but it is simply a way of life.

    However, as I begin to write different cultural beliefs for the races and colonies, I find myself struggling with my own culture as to what is 'too far'. For example, I intended to have an island with a Matriarchal rulership, with a custom that worships females due to an imbalance in population where only one in five children is a girl. As such, females are 'lucky' and worshipped as if a Goddess from a young age, paraded as if a Preistess in Egypt or similar, trained within the city for their future role as Matriarch, 'life-bringer', and holy person...
    But then.. Something seems very wrong by my own beliefs about an island of people who worship young girls, and prepare them from birth to be mothers.
    Flipping it once more, that's kind of what I aimed to do in the first place - create something that is out of what I would percieve as ordinary, in order to make a different culture with new customs.
    But would that be 'too much'?
    I'm way over my head, stuck in a cycle of right and wrong from my own culture merely considering a fictional one!
     
  2. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that there is something very empowering about the notion of women being revered as the bearers of life and the source of the next generation.

    You need to get beyond the negative image you seem to form around the functions of a 'mother'. In most cultures there is no reason why a girl would not welcome such a destiny...
     
  3. PurpleCao
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    PurpleCao Member

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    I suppose it's the connotation of informing young people about that sort of role. (But again, this is because in the culture I live within, we usually wait until at least double digits if not the onset of 'teen' to bring the issue up at all)
    And parading them around is a bit odd.
    However, the majority of that was based upon vague references to cultures that at some stage did similar with their own young.
     
  4. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Those societies have existed, they work.

    As to whether it works with your own culture, and whether you can write about it, that's entirely up to you. You need to see the viewpoint of the culture to write about it, and it's really not that hard; cultures exist on earth, often close to each other, that are entirely opposite. Lowland Scots, Gaels; Greenlanders, Danes; French, Bretons. There are lots of them.

    What you could try is to see how that viewpoint appeared, so you accept it as a logical way of thinking. Then just tell yourself about it some more, perhaps write short stories where the people of that civilisation talk about it with foreigners, and then you'll be ready to apply that in your novel.
     
  5. Tamsin
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    Tamsin Senior Member

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    Lots of novels deal with cultural conflicts and present different cultural practices. Things Fall Apart, The Handmaid's Tale for example. You can write about a culture even if it does have practices that are slightly uncomfortable reading. That's actually the basis for many incredible stories.

    I really wouldn't worry about it seeming a bit weird or whatever, present the culture in a balanced way...no culture is idyllic and I can't imagine it being more weird or wrong than a culture that has created thongs, perfume and trousers that say 'Miss Sexy' on the ass for 7 year old girls...(this is a culture I have now thankfully left behind)!!
     
  6. PurpleCao
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    PurpleCao Member

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    You have reminded me of a dreadful hole in my own society. I hate those products too.

    I've done some deeper thinking. I researched that there is a rather odd custom even as recent as Victorian England. Some people, including the author of Alice's Adventures Underground had a non-sexual interest in child nudity. This was viewed from a purely aestetic point, though today would lead to lengthy investigations. Let's not forget the Victorians were so shy of mentioning anything sexual, that they defined tables as having 'supports' rather than 'legs'.
    If something that now seems so odd was not frowned upon within my own culture mere hundreds of years ago, I can only conclude that a society that for logical reasons praised the birth of the rarer sex at a time of an imbalance may, gradually if no scientific approach existed, form a religion that included this praise as part of it's core.
    In addition to this, seeing as the difference that so disturbed myself was intended to do that in the first place, that is precisely what I should be aiming for in the cases of each culture I want to represent.

    I thank those that have replied for their input, it's very interesting to see what people think of subjects like this at times.
     
  7. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Whether it would be "too much" depends on your sensibilities and those of the reader. When creating an alternative reality you've always got a balancing act between making it so familiar that it's not really an alternative at all and making it so different that the reader will be completely unable to relate to it. But some people are freaked out by the strange ways of the people in the next town (or the other side of the same town), others write worlds in which aliens wonder how humans will kill their wives at the end of the month, considering we don't have tails with which to break their necks (Larry Niven, if I recall correctly). The fact that you're worrying suggests that you won't go overboard with it, but be careful about imposing our moral perspective on the culture because that can a) seem preachy, and b) make the alternative reality seem implausible.
     
  8. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    You know, we are always re-interpreting other cultures under the influence of our own.

    Purple mentions the often-quoted misinformation that instead of 'legs' the words 'supports' were used (and 'limbs' for people). Actually, this idea originated from a piece of ironic journalism in the 1920s, if I remember correctly. The practice of re-naming legs, etc was not widespread among Victorians, by which I mean the British people living in the reign of Queen Victoria.

    The ultra-prudery which is attributed to the Victorians comes more from publishing censorship (although there was a happily thriving black market for all types of erotica and even hard-core porn), and from North America. It has left its mark--in England we unashamedly go to the 'toilet', not the 'bathroom', and are awakened at 'cock crow', not by a 'rooster', for example.

    So, I don't think you need to give a damn about your imaginary world's culture being different to the culture you personally feel comfortable with. There are so many different ways of looking at things. You just have to uphold the rationale behind the culture you create, so that it's believable.
     
  9. themistoclea
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    themistoclea Member

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    It might help to think about your matriarchal society from this viewpoint- historically there have been no strictly matriarchal societies, so you are free to build your own world rules. There have been matrifocal, or matrilineal societies that you can look to in for research/inspiration, try a search for the Nayars (or Nairs) in India, and the Amazons. You might also find some inspiration from the archaeological remnants from ancient Crete, where women were particularly prominent in fertility/agricultural rites.

    If I were in your position, I would take some aspects from these societies, especially in terms of their culture/ethics/rationale to create the social norms for your created society.
     
  10. PurpleCao
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    Thank you for naming sources, I'll be sure to look into them. At the moment, i've been expanding their religion - the concept i'm using is that religion to an extent is a way of controlling a population - making them do things according to the morals their society values. Their Gods and stories therefore have to reflect the focus of the matriarch, motherhood, etc.
    As such, the major Goddess of this religion is a healthy adult female by appearance. Her statues have her in a pose of serenity (arms crossed akin to an Egyptian stereotype). She would be depicted with feather-winged arms (kind of a reference to Ra), explaining how she watches over the people by day.
    She would also be depicted as if with child, a note to her fertility and the duty of each life-bringer born.
    She would have a minor Goddess always to her immediate left. This figure would be the 'watcher'. This idea came from the concept of a woman becoming infertile. The watcher is depicted with the body of a much younger woman, suggesting she is un-able to birth children. Her left foot is forward, and in her left arm she cradles a child. This is to focus on life. Their belief is that life flows from the left, so the act of stepping towards the life-giver and supporting a child with this life is one of devotion and care.
    Her face would be... incomplete. A smooth, near-undetailed 'mask', simply with an outline of eyes. This incompleteness is the 'missing element', a reference to someone incomplete without their ability to birth life.
    This Goddess is to enstill a mothering nature to those that cannot become one. They would act as minders and carers, easing the burden on the fertile in the hopes that they remain in good health for longer.

    There is a God, male for certain, to do with death, but as of yet I do not know what his deal is.
    My struggle then came in the form of the male 'over'population. The simplest solution to an imbalance like that would be killing off excesses, but I wasn't certain (and still am not certain) as to if this society should do that. Forming an entire nation is difficult. :p
    I quite like an idea of each tradeskill belonging to a family, and each family being allowed one male as a kind of understudy, to stop the skill being lost.
    This would mean that a joining between one family's life-giver and another family's male would be able to yield two males (one for each family) before any real problem arises.
    However, the disproportionate number still suggests that the girl would have two more boys before a new life-giver was produced. It's these extras i'm having trouble whittling down. I'm very reluctant to add killing to this culture, but if there is no other obvious solution, I suppose some sort of ritual to a God could come to pass.
     
  11. Tamsin
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    Sounds really interesting, good luck with it :)
     
  12. themistoclea
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    themistoclea Member

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    You're welcome :)

    I would only warn that with your descriptions (interesting though they are, and a useful basis for you as the author), when it comes to writing the story you may be in danger of info-dumping. There are way too many books where a civilisation is fully 'explained' to the reader via blatant blocks of narration, or through the character tool of the visitor/stranger who has encountered the new civilisation. Though the latter can be a useful tool, it can become overkill. Just a heads up. I have been guilty of this as well :rolleyes:
     
  13. PurpleCao
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    PurpleCao Member

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    Oh, i'm aware to not describe things in a wall of text like that.
    It's more or less notes for myself at this point - things that COULD come up (even if they won't) just incase it's needed.
    That and i've half a mind to do a little excerpt from the journal of an outsider to the effect of how the Gods can be seen in an entirely different way. :p
    If anything, in actual terms of novel, you'd probably just get a reference to 'stone idols', and perhaps a rough outline or remark about appearance - nothing in-depth. Always used to be my weakness in youth, filling in too many gaps.
     

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