In the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, increasingly extreme views have appeared in the UK’s mainstream political sphere. From increased racist attacks on migrants, to more and more openly xenophobic policies being put forward by the Conservative government under Theresa May. This week, one Conservative councillor has even gone so far as to start a petition demanding that continued support of the UK’s membership of the EU be considered an act of treason.
This raises an interesting question for your fictional world: How are the people who openly oppose the majority’s beliefs or the government’s policies treated within your society? We have looked at violent dissent before, but not everyone in your society must think the same way, or agree with the same things, without it being an issue of extremism. Real-life societies tend to comprise a broad spectrum of views and opinions which may not necessarily be compatible with one another. So how does your society deal with these differing views?
Ranna sighed as she passed the palace gates and saw the milling crowd fawning over the King’s large, golden carriage. How much was this all costing them? Certainly enough to feed all of the poor wretches in the Shadowdown. Probably enough for a few more physicians for them as well.
She stopped by a newspaper stand and picked up her usual copy of the Republican Times. Scanning the front page article, she found her answer. Almost five thousand guineas! Just for the jubilee celebrations alone! For that they could hire almost a hundred physicians and feed the entire bloody city for the year! She scowled.
“Looking at how much everything costs again?” a deep voice said. Ulliver. “Have you considered calming down a bit? It’s not worth getting angry about.”
She slapped the paper against his chest. “Five thousand guineas! Have you any idea what that can buy?”
Ulliver shrugged. “Royalty, isn’t it? Pomp and circumstance all sort of comes as part of the package.”
“But we could clear the Shadowdown with that money. Probably work out how to cure the Vashe too, or at least work out how to treat it.”
Another shrug. “Same’s true of plenty of things. Same’s probably true of every tavern in the city too. If we all donated all of our money to the Shadowdown Trust instead of going to the pub, we’d probably raise double that. Come on, let’s go watch the parade. I’ll buy you a pint.
Here we can see a society with an established monarchy, who think nothing of spending large amounts of public money on extravagant events. While most of the population seem to simply go along with this, accepting the idea of a monarchy and the money that is spent on it, there is seemingly a reasonable proportion of the country who strongly disagree with it and support its abolition.
We can tell two things from the fact that there is a freely available newspaper which openly endorses the anti-monarchist stance: firstly, that this feeling is widespread enough that the production and regular distribution of such a paper would appear to be commercially viable, and secondly that the open endorsement and promotion of such a view is legal and tolerated.
We might well see a version of this society where the newspaper is an underground publication, rather than a reasonably mainstream one. Imagine if Ranna had to arrange to meet someone in secret to acquire a copy. If she had to read it covertly, and keep her opinions to herself in public. That would say something quite different about the society we’re looking at, and the way that different political opinions are treated by the law.
It was raining as Wixie left the café. That was handy. Not as many people milling around. Most had their coat collars pulled up around their necks and their hats pulled well down low.
“Hah. Lookie here, we got an Only Earth type, just outta their little meeting,” a drunken voice slurred. “What was it this week? How the evil colonists are destroying the precious Martian rocks? Paah!”
The man was standing far too close to Wixie’s face. The sour scent and hot feeling of his breath directly into his nostrils. Damn. He thought he’d managed to avoid that this week.
Behind that drunkard was a larger, drunker man. He seemed to just be giggling stupidly to himself. “Stupid hippies,” he muttered.
“I’m just try’na get home,” Wixie said politely, turning to walk away..
The drunk grabbed his shoulder, spinning him back around. “My sister’s one of the Mars colonists, bud. What you got against her?” he growled.
Wixie’s blood ran cold. “Nothing, pal. Like I said, just try’na get home.”
The drunk cracked his knuckles. “Yeah. You get back to your teepee, hippy boy. Don’t let me catch you back here.”
Here we can see another society with a clearly different outlook. As before, alternative political opinions (here on the subject of the colonisation of other planets) are presumably legal, and their proponents are clearly allowed to meet in public. They may even have their own periodicals and groups, which are also presumably legal.
Where we do see the difference between this society and the first one we looked at, is that in the first the dissenting political opinion seems to be more tolerated by the public. Even if the majority disagrees with the opinion, they generally respect the right to make arguments against the status quo and to make their case in public. Here, we can see a public reaction to opposition which is much more hostile. While voicing such opinions is de jure legal, many of the people who hold them are more likely to do so in secret, or to avoid calling attention to themselves, for fear of a negative backlash.
Thinking of the disagreements in a society and how both the government and the citizens react to said disagreements can be a very good way to add texture and realism to your fictional society. What kinds of political disagreements might your civilisation have running through it? In what ways does it manifest, and how does your society respond?