The Hundred Worlds and Cultural Stagnation

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The Hundred Worlds and Cultural Stagnation

Postby Eaquae Legit » Thu Mar 25, 2010 7:18 pm

I wasn't content with Jan's gauntlet, and I ended up reading the whole Speaker series. Just like the first time I read it, a question struck me.

While for narrative purposes, it makes sense to portray a world as being "Polynesian" or "Taoist", is that really possible? I think about Earth and the immense variation of cultures and religions and values that have grown up over the past three thousand years, and I wonder if it's even possible to have a whole planet remain dedicated to a single religion or culture for very long.

But then there's the flip-side, which is that these worlds would not have evolved naturally, they would be deliberately structured and cultivated to remain "pure." And when you can just move to another planet or find a new one if you want to rebel or change, is there any reason to have dramatic cultural shifts?

What do you guys think?
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Postby Jayelle » Thu Mar 25, 2010 7:55 pm

My first thought is possibly a stupid question, but, would it make a difference if the planets were smaller in size? That is to say, the Earth is a certain physical size and is divided into three huge landmasses. Would it make a difference if a world had only one land mass?

That is perhaps not the best response to this question, I know, but it may change quite a bit in how a world interacts with each other.


My second thought, however, is I don't think it's possible. While other places exist if you want to change planets, people don't do that. Anecdotally, many people I know are living in a place they don't necessarily like (Winnipeg) because they have always lived there and because friends, family, etc are there. Leaving a planet would be even harder to do.
So, rebellion would absolutely crop up and lead to change. And I don't think people would be able to stop change from happening on any given planet.
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Postby Eaquae Legit » Thu Mar 25, 2010 8:54 pm

Possibly, if you found worlds that mimicked the home culture. Say, if Atatua was mostly water with only a few island chains in a tropical location, or like Trondheim, which seemed to be mostly frozen and cold. With a natural restriction like that, you could maybe manage it.

I totally agree about the problem of leaving a home planet.
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Postby akrolsmir » Fri Mar 26, 2010 9:01 pm

Something you might not have considered yet is that for the thousands of years of cultural distinction, the individual groups did not have an easy system of communication. Ships, horseback letters, etc. were all too slow to actually allow significant cultural combination.

Would this happen several thousand years into the future? On a developed world, I don't think so. Communications would have a lot of time to advance (think of the progress we've made in the last 20 years, let alone the last 100). Within one planet, uniformity, more or less, should be achievable.

Interplanetarily, the supposed expense of ansible use and "slowness" of spaceships might prevent such mixing. Of course, Jane might end up changing all that. We'll see, I guess.
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Postby megxers » Fri Mar 26, 2010 9:22 pm

I think it is highly unrealistic and is also my main issue with the Speaker series. Its like the planets are experiencing a worldwide nostalgia trip (though if you're stuck on a place with bad gravity, bad food, no hope off, Old Earth sounds pretty fine) . The ability to move materials and people into space is obscenely expensive and once you actually make it to a habitable planet, defending that big of space/that little technology keeping you from dying could be a full time job if everyone else who can go into space is your rival and doesn't want to be with you & you have to actively maintain that isolation. I'm reading a decidedly marginal science fiction book that's central conceit is that there are space navies that are beholden to countries that are direct descendants of their modern equivalents. I'm nearly 100 pages in and I still can't figure out what they are fighting over besides some vague "regions" of space--it doesn't appear to be a matter of resources, cultural symbolism, land, etc. It pretty much defies reason, which may be why I could only find the third book in said series. There does seem to be some connection between what they do in space and their activities/power on Earth, but it doesn't make sense. I suppose maybe its the highly militarized relative gains approach, gaining just any advantage so no one else can have it works, but for Starways Congress to function & move ships to deal with problems, there has to be a more friendly, engaged approach. Plus, with the ansible, they aren't exactly connected, though it would be interesting if they would actually get things like a news feed/video files/etc of other planets, if they had that bandwith.

However, my personal favorite for this is Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series (though I've only read the first & have only limited knowledge of the rest of the series). Not just because the fault lines in the (originally) small group start not just over nationalistic aspirations (though this is an issue in the book, when certain groups are seen as claiming certain defensible positions. I also liked that not only is is incredibly hard to leave a planet if you're unhappy with it, but also, the planet you are on is an incredibly fragile system in itself, prime for sabotage.

I can see more insular planet wide communities if they either self-designate as such initially and are able to do so (financially, logistically, etc) or if it becomes a more home grown brew of resistance/ideology/what have you. Now you have me grasping at straws to think of a heterogeneous planetary culture series/novel that is done so convincingly and not in a handwaving way :D (Heh, maybe Bank's Culture? Humanoid if not human, perhaps one of the best examples could be the planet in Matter, even if it was stratified in a way, it was explained). Then again, that brings about the argument that perhaps the best (and successful) way to show a multi-cultural planet is through the alien. Bringing in the Earth culture invites many attached strings.

Would this happen several thousand years into the future? On a developed world, I don't think so. Communications would have a lot of time to advance (think of the progress we've made in the last 20 years, let alone the last 100). Within one planet, uniformity, more or less, should be achievable.
As for the problem of communications,
Gravitational lenses could also be used to transmit signals, amplifying them so they could travel further and potentially reach distant civilisations. It's also possible, Drake says, that intelligent civilisations have built an intergalactic internet using such techniques and are just "waiting for us to log on".
http://io9.com/5497018/seti-founder-exp ... c-internet for more info.

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Postby chromesthesia » Mon Apr 12, 2010 5:38 am

That was something that bothered me after reading that book for the severaleth times.
It's just that just because those folks were Chinese, doesn't mean they'd act like ancient China to prove their Chinese-ness anymore than Japanese folks would eat nothing but raw fish to prove their Japanese-ness. They might as well bring back kimono and samurai swords, which would be cool, but people are a bit more complicated than that. His worlds seem so segregated in a way. Like you can live here, but you'll never get our culture anyway so you are an outsider.
It seems to me that things would be a bit more blended.

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Postby ptr.arkanian » Thu Apr 15, 2010 11:16 pm

Ender in Exile clearly states that the colony of Ganges was made up of a huge majority of Hindu Indians, mainly due to the fact that Virlomi, their "godess and savior", was governor of the colony. This is how i expect the 100 worlds with different ethnicities would start. The different battle school students and jeesh members from different countries would be appointed by the IF to govern new nations. Because the people from their nations are very proud of the students from their country who helped save the world, they would sign up to join a colony that was governed by a student of their ethnicity. And whether this be on purpose or by sheer coincidence, the 100 worlds each end up with very different cultures that resemble someplace on earth.
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Postby locke » Sun Apr 18, 2010 4:01 pm

*shrug* It's the oregon trail in space. A culture isolating/protecting itself from "undue" influences via an unprecedented pilgrimage probably has a lot of significance to the author.

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Postby buckshot » Wed Apr 21, 2010 10:46 am

Wow ! think of all the little "Hitlers and Osamas" just waiting for their time ! :lol:

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Postby Psudo » Wed May 12, 2010 5:01 am

I like OSC's cultural-diversity-by-worlds scheme much better than, say, Larry Niven's global uniform Earth culture in Ringworld. I agreed with Louis Wu when he was board of it and wanted to go looking for something else, anything else, just for contrast. That, however, is an aesthetic preference that says nothing of realism.

Cultural uniqueness is a product of travel time and risk. China and Rome didn't influence each other much in the dark ages because they were isolated from each other; it was too hard for cultural habits and preferences to travel between China and Rome over years and at risk of life and fortune. But it was relatively easy for two rebels against Britain, Ireland and the United States, to communicate over a few months of relatively safe sea travel a century or two ago. The result is a strong Irish tradition in America today, and very little of Roman-Chinese a millennium ago.

How long does it take to travel from one colony world to another at light speed? Compare that to how long it takes to circumnavigate a planet in an era of interstellar travel. It makes a lot of sense that individual planets would adapt unique cultural identities. If they have some technology like Ringworld's transfer booths or Star Trek's transporters to get around the planet, uniformity of culture across the planet becomes even more certain, but no such force pressures different colonies to assimilate to each other in that way. Even if everyone on every planet is watching the future's version of Friends on the Ansible Television Network, that doesn't change their dialect, their daily habits, or their religious observances. They get those locally, from places they can get to safely within a day or so.

Having various nationalities and cultural preservationists on Earth engineering the cultures of the colony worlds makes it reasonably likely that they'd succeed to some extent. The new colonies all start as one single "tribe" of colonists, thus creating a force for uniformity that didn't exist in humanity's evolutionary origins. The new worlds would have no Babel event nor tens of thousands of years of tribal isolation to diversify them. Maybe the new world will rebel and assert it's independence, but it's still fundamentally similar to the tradition it rejects. (Another USA/England reference.)

The actual execution was done in broad strokes, characterizing the modern incarnation of the different cultures more than predicting an evolution of them caused by a century of off-Earth living, but how can an author avoid that? Predicting the future is always rough, approximated guesswork. I don't think OSC can be blamed for that.

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Postby elfprince13 » Wed May 12, 2010 10:01 am

I like OSC's cultural-diversity-by-worlds scheme much better than, say, Larry Niven's global uniform Earth culture in Ringworld. I agreed with Louis Wu when he was board of it and wanted to go looking for something else, anything else, just for contrast. That, however, is an aesthetic preference that says nothing of realism.

Cultural uniqueness is a product of travel time and risk. China and Rome didn't influence each other much in the dark ages because they were isolated from each other; it was too hard for cultural habits and preferences to travel between China and Rome over years and at risk of life and fortune. But it was relatively easy for two rebels against Britain, Ireland and the United States, to communicate over a few months of relatively safe sea travel a century or two ago. The result is a strong Irish tradition in America today, and very little of Roman-Chinese a millennium ago.

How long does it take to travel from one colony world to another at light speed? Compare that to how long it takes to circumnavigate a planet in an era of interstellar travel. It makes a lot of sense that individual planets would adapt unique cultural identities. If they have some technology like Ringworld's transfer booths or Star Trek's transporters to get around the planet, uniformity of culture across the planet becomes even more certain, but no such force pressures different colonies to assimilate to each other in that way. Even if everyone on every planet is watching the future's version of Friends on the Ansible Television Network, that doesn't change their dialect, their daily habits, or their religious observances. They get those locally, from places they can get to safely within a day or so.

Having various nationalities and cultural preservationists on Earth engineering the cultures of the colony worlds makes it reasonably likely that they'd succeed to some extent. The new colonies all start as one single "tribe" of colonists, thus creating a force for uniformity that didn't exist in humanity's evolutionary origins. The new worlds would have no Babel event nor tens of thousands of years of tribal isolation to diversify them. Maybe the new world will rebel and assert it's independence, but it's still fundamentally similar to the tradition it rejects. (Another USA/England reference.)

The actual execution was done in broad strokes, characterizing the modern incarnation of the different cultures more than predicting an evolution of them caused by a century of off-Earth living, but how can an author avoid that? Predicting the future is always rough, approximated guesswork. I don't think OSC can be blamed for that.
Dang it. This is to whole threads I've read through only two find you making my post for me at the end. The huge lagtime in interstellar travel is a barrier to casual offworld vacations. It's much more like 19th century immigration to the United States, where you'd be forced to bring your whole family with you or leave behind everything you had ever known to go to "the new world." In a lot of cases it could be years before you raised the money to pay for the rest of your family to come over. And even today, in the age of the jet plane, we still maintain our distinctive cultures with no "unified Earth culture."
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Postby Psudo » Thu May 13, 2010 1:57 am

Dang it. This is two whole threads I've read through only two find you making my post for me at the end.
Thank you for the compliment.

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Postby Mega » Sat May 15, 2010 9:03 pm

My main problem with the cultural stagnation is that it simply doesn't make any sense given that it has been 3000 years since star travel began. Even if all colonies started out as X group, things would have to change.
Evolution, for example, takes small changes and works with them, admittedly taking far longer then 3000 years in large groups, but there is considerable change.
Cultures are changed by memes, which work far faster than the mutations in evolution. Unless there was no freedom of speech on any colony world, which would go against everything said in the series, major change would occur, or at least seem to be beginning to occur.
Look at the US now. 50 years ago, things were a whole lot different. What changed is that began to do things differently. Kids started disobeying their parents far more than what would have been acceptable and because of that cultural norms shifted and kept shifting to what we have today.
I'm not saying that each colony world should be an exact replica of pre-starflight Earth, but they should all at least be different from their original colonists, to some extent.

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Postby locke » Sun May 16, 2010 3:18 am

Look at the US now. 50 years ago, things were a whole lot different. What changed is that began to do things differently. Kids started disobeying their parents far more than what would have been acceptable and because of that cultural norms shifted and kept shifting to what we have today.
Those darn kids in the 1920s with not obeying their parents, wait, I meant the 1890s. Dammit. nope I meant the 1960s. Those durn kids.

your grasp of history is a little off. cultural change in the united states has a myriad of factors, but kids deciding to be disobedient en masse is not one of them. WWII changed how and who were employed, the GI bill changed who got an education, the high school construction revolution of the 1910s changed who could even get into college. The mandatory education and child labor laws changed things radically from any other era of human culture. prophylactic kits and the pill changed attitudes about sex, as did medical treatments, from penicillin to a syphilis vaccine. The incredibly high numbers of 'let's get married to have sex before you go overseas' in WWI and WWII radically changed attitudes about divorce and caused divorce to become casual and common (if they had just had sex without feeling the need to get married, this change probably would not have happened). Segregation was struck down, the civil rights reforms were passed and we got involved in a stupid war for trumped up reasons rather than just and necessary reasons. At no point does any of the cultural changes depend on youths being more or less disobedient than they were before. rather standards changed throughout society for a variety of reasons and kids exploited those changed standards. but they didn't cause the changed standards.
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Postby Mega » Sun May 16, 2010 12:18 pm

Sorry for the confusion, but I was kind of being vague. I know that there was more to it than kids disobeying parents, but the true actor of change was the kids because even with those changes, nothing would have happened if a new generation hadn't embraced it.
If not for kids, would the voting age have been changed to 18 during Vietnam. The cultural change was made by the draft, but the actual change was made when the kids started demanding the right to vote because they had to fight.
I agree that I oversimplified the way change happens, but my overall idea is still true. Forgive the bad example.


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