Wednesday, October 27 2021

Quote of the Day

People discriminated very carefully then between administering things and governing people. They did it so well that we forgot that the will to dominance is as central in human beings as the impulse to mutual aid is, and has to be trained in each individual, in each new generation.

Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed

Secret night writing

I’ve always loved writing at night after my hubby has gone to bed. The house will be dark and quiet, and it feels like I can write anything because no one will see. As if every single person in the world can see my writing during the day and is quietly judging it! It’s a silly hang up, but I still feel freer to write down anything and everything for a new story in secret.

I’ve taken ~45 mins the last two night to write little fragments of the story I am working on. I don’t know if I will even use them for anything, but the sheer creative joy of just building the ethereal sandcastle that a story is feels lovely. It’s hard, because I keep running into things that I haven’t figured out yet, but it does make me want to figure them out even more!

I knew my story would begin with a short travel from the main character’s home to the main setting, and I decided my MC lives in Minnesota. I assumed MN would have flooding in the climate change of our future, and just wrote off that idea. I checked The Facts today, and I am right: What Climate Change Means for Minnesota.


On the meaning of social and cultural roles in storytelling

Meanwhile, now that it is daytime, I’m looking into social vs cultural roles. Is there a difference? Honestly, what is the difference between society and culture?

Man you have to know a lot to write a story that is so infrequently taught…..

Notes from a Khan Academy video Culture and Society:

  • Culture informs society
  • Culture are the rules (human ideas) that form the organizing structure that is society
    • Weird metaphor: Apps / software on a phone are culture. The physical phone hardware is society.
  • “Society includes key parts called institutions, and examples include: family, education, politics. These are basic human needs, so we can think of society as the hardware.”
  • “Culture provides guidelines for living.”

Notes from a Khan Academy video Overview of culture:

  • “Society is a group of people and culture talks about the rules and instructions within a society that guides people and teaches them how to live.”
    • Why didn’t anyone just say this to start out with
  • “Culture refers to the ideas and things that are passed on from one generation to the next in a society.”
  • “Culture includes many different things like: knowledge, beliefs, values, language, customs”

So what I think they are saying here, for example, is that the collective we in America decided at some point that all children should be educated. That is an idea, a belief. That cultural belief is expressed in our society through the institution of public education. Right? I think.

(And yes, I know the whole public education was a scheme by factory owners to teach kids to grow up and be nice little factory workers instead of farmers. But no matter how jenky the original reason, it still became a cultural belief.)

Ok. Now, how does that apply to social vs cultural roles?

This page seems to imply that cultural roles are a subset of societal roles. (It thinks that gender, social differentiation, bio-sociological, and specific roles are each subsets of societal roles.) I guess one way to look at that is that everyone plays the social role of student when they are young, but a general American student in middle school role isn’t anything like the cultural roles of a Hebrew School student or a Chinese school student. Or even possibly football player in middle school.

Ok, wait. These roles are starting to sound like stereotypes, aren’t they? I see I’m not the only one to think that.

Members of social categories defined by attributes such as sex, race, and age occupy certain types of social roles much more than members of other social categories do. The qualities that define these roles become associated with the category as a whole, thus forming a stereotype. In a vicious cycle, this stereotype then hinders category members’ movement into roles with different demands because their stereotype portrays them as well matched to their existing roles but not to these new roles. This vicious cycle has important implications for stereotype change. Given the difficulties of producing enduring change by directly attacking stereotypes in the minds of individuals, a more effective strategy consists of policies and programs that change the distributions of category members in roles, thereby changing stereotypes at their source. If the vicious cycle is not interrupted by such social change, observations of category members’ typical social roles continually reinstate existing stereotypes.

Alice H. Eagly & Anne M. Koenig, The Vicious Cycle Linking Stereotypes and Social Roles

Well that’s a super interesting distraction. Not helpful for today, but possibly when working on the individual character level.

Anyway. This research has made me rescind my initial thought that roles flow from one another like a river. Overlapping Venn diagrams are a better representation, but (like always) I still want to create some overarching structure about how many roles a single person can be connected to. There is this image:

Manu Melwin Joy

Ok now that I understand roles better this diagram is actually super helpful. Let’s clear this up even more with various insights from around the Intarwebs:

  • Ideas about culture become cultural roles that the individual is expected to act out. A culture could be a sports team, their fans, a church, a college, a religion, an ethnicity, a “race,” a book club, “BreadTube,” a retirement community, a country club, etc.
  • Social roles change based on profession and relations. Individuals practicing different professions, such as teaching, nursing, plumbing, social media influencers, celebrities, have different roles to fulfill. I believe relations in this sense includes family roles.
  • Situational roles are knowing how to behave in specific instances, like how to be a customer in a fast food restaurant vs Ruth’s Chris, or what to do as the witness to a car crash. How to call a cab in New York, or knowing how much to tip and when.
  • Gender roles are roles we are expected to play based on our gender: mother, father, trans woman, etc.
  • Bio-sociological roles is kind of vague? It seems to be roles based on beliefs about how humans should interact with the natural world and natural systems. It’s too bad it’s so vague, because this seems like solarpunk bread and butter right here.
    • In a different but parallel vein, works by Tim Ingold and Gisli Palsson, for instance, have pointed to the necessity of a dissolution of the ‘conventional divisions between body, mind and culture’ (Ingold, 1999). A recent collection by Ingold and Palsson (2013), nicely summarizes this novel biosocial approach that challenges the reductionisms of sociobiology and cultural constructionism alike (dissolving the pole of nurture into nature and vice versa, respectively), and puts forward an integration of ‘the social and the biological … ontogeny and phylogeny, organism and context, being and becoming’ (Ingold and Palsson, 2013: 243). The biosocial: sociological themes and issues.
    • Oooooooooh, I see now. Bio-sociology is about challenging the idea of tabula rasa, that human interaction is the only thing that forms culture or identity. This idea incorporates biology into the picture of human behavior. Well, that’s much less exciting, and honestly will require way too much delving into theory to worry about overly much while I’m still getting a handle on the bigger picture.

So part of the problem here is that when you analyze the idea of “culture” it seems very static, like our modern assumptions about living in a small town in Eastern Europe in the fifth century. Everyone knew each other, there was little travel or other exchange of ideas, and everyone’s roles were set around them like cement, never changing. But in reality (then and now, most likely), culture is constantly updating itself, re-interpreting itself, being modified one way and then another and then back again by individuals and groups. Sub-cultures thrive and stagnate and die and are reborn. There might be agreement on the rules of a culture, but likely there isn’t. How dark does your skin have to be to be Black? Can you go out without makeup? Is aggression a male trait? Does our congregation welcome and perform gay marriage?

But in order to define roles for a story, they have to be pinned down. Even if they are in flux, the ways in which they are in flux need to be defined so that the change (or failure to change) will be clear. Also the role itself, if it is different from roles today, has to be clear and well-explained to the reader. So this is one of those ways in which story is very much a representation of reality, and not able to fully embody the messiness of life and people.


A bit of explanation

If you are wondering why I am worrying over roles in my worldbuilding, I am taking the idea from N. K. Jemisin’s style of worldbuilding, where thinking about social roles defines the power dynamics of your created society.

Also in looking up that link I found these that I am going to go listen to and see if it shakes anything else loose:

Narrative Worlds Episode 3 (Kate Elliott & N.K. Jemisin)

N.K. Jemisin’s master class in world building | The Ezra Klein Show

N. K. Jemisin Speaks at WIRED25

And this one possibly not on worldbuilding but sounds cool: UPSTREAMING: Neil Gaiman in Conversation with N. K. Jemisin