Science Fiction Today – Xenophobia

Whoa, dropping a big word to get in an X. Let’s go for a definition:

“fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners”

As someone in the US, the obvious place where I am coming from is immigration debates in a country largely made up of immigrants. However, I am also fully aware that things like loosening borders in Europe due to the European Union, for instance, are leading to similar debates, concerns, or prejudices elsewhere in the world.

A lot of things feed into xenophobia, so it definitely counts as a problem with no easy or obvious answer. Saying “everybody like everybody else!” doesn’t quite cut it, as words alone might work in abstract, but how do they work in the specific? Luckily, this is a topic addressed a lot in science fiction: so what answers or future problems do we see?

The Solution – Us versus Them

It’s Watchmen. The conclusion that we always need to identify an Us, those like us, and the Them, the outsider. And we don’t like the outsider. So in much of science fiction (or fantasy, for that matter) the outsider is not another human being at all: it’s an alien race, from somewhere else. If aliens attack the earth, humanity will hopefully be at peace with each other. I’ve just read this idea in The Lathe of Heaven as well.

Of course, there is a more hopeful solution in mind. If we solve the sorts of scarcity problems that create differences and a feeling that we need to protect what is ours, then maybe we won’t fear the outsider. Think Star Trek. The crew of the Enterprise is always on a mission of peace, with a diverse(ish) crew of humans and aliens, and off to meet aliens, to meet outsiders. Peace can be imagined, but it does seem like a far-flung future to get there!

Compounded Problems

However, if we don’t reach an idyllic Star Trek sort of future, then often authors envision a dystopia – and xenophobia is often a problem in dystopias. When things go poorly, when there is war or famine or plague, the outsider is one of the great fears or hated groups. I’m thinking of dystopias like V for Vendetta, or Children of Men, or The Windup Girl. All of these show worsening relations between nations, and worsening racial situations. General distrust and unhappiness.

Which unfortunately means that even if we reach an idyllic future, we may have to go through worse xenophobia to get there. Even in Star Trek, the idea is that they went through World War 3 to get there – and things were likely not very friendly at that point in future history. It was the introduction of aliens and space travel that united humanity and led to peace.

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!


22 responses to “Science Fiction Today – Xenophobia

  1. Great post for X 🙂 Unfortunately I think Xenophobia will always be an issue, even in a minority, because of its roots – fear is a powerful emotion. That fear can be perceived or (in some cases) justified, and yet even then it isn’t always black and white. Say an alien race attacks Earth and then invades the planet. Our fear would be justified, but it doesn’t mean that every alien within the race agrees with the agenda, or that we should give up and stop trying to form an alliance. I liked your Star Trek example because, on a wider scale, that fear bled to other alien races and yet the more they explored the universe and sought peace, the more unification seemed possible. As I was reading your comment about dystopian material, I couldn’t help thinking of The Walking Dead. Given everything the group went through, their fear of strangers is hardly a surprise, who wouldn’t be cautious? But we should never allow fear to rule. With so much disharmony there cannot be any hope of a better future. We can always strive for the ideal and embrace others (whatever planet they happen to belong!), but you’re absolutely right, saying we ‘like everybody’ isn’t enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I sadly think you might be right, and it all ties back in to the discussions that were had on the U.N. post as well (

      Namely, that it sounds great and all, but doesn’t seem likely. As @gno112 said, “Space colonization along the old “Great Game” model, with Earth as a no-conflict zone and disputes between states settled by wars in space and criminals transported to off-world colonies is more likely than a global government.” With a global government, there wouldn’t be “foreigners” (theoretically), but how likely is a global government?

      The other is to “solve” scarcity. If there’s no resources/jobs/whatever to “defend” from outsiders, then many of the excuses for these sorts of prejudices would break down. However, short of a McGuffin or Unobtanium, how likely is a cure for scarcity?

      Bah. You can tell I wrote this post early in the challenge… here I am rehashing what I wrote, because I feel like I haven’t said it in a while 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      • Sadly I doubt there will ever be a global government, or a cure for scarcity. And it’s a meaty topic, so you’re bound to elaborate on the interesting details of such debate 🙂 I’ll look through the thread on the United Nations post. Part of the fun is reading what other people have to say, but it’s quite a challenge this month!

        Liked by 1 person

      • A huge chunk of space-gold hauled to the moon that we could mine and use to make all the futuristic gadgets that require gold we could ever want would be a start on the economic issues. That would provide employment, fuel new industries, and go some distance toward solving scarcity. Especially once we perfected the replicators to the point that you could have any meal you wanted, and it tasted like real food, but it was really just 3-D printed from carefully-balanced protein paste. (yes, I am am aware that I forgot my Realist hat tonight. But sometimes you just need to dream.)

        Liked by 2 people

        • See also: food. And Snowpiercer 😉 The protein 3-D printed is great as long as you don’t know what it’s made of…

          I regularly hold that our best solution is a more-than-just-the-Earth solution. Your ideas here fit right in. If we don’t line ourselves up for getting off this rock – someday we’re all just going to die here.

          Welp. That got depressing. And slightly off topic. So hey – at that point xenophobia would be cured…

          Liked by 1 person

          • Geeks and nerds have been saying this since at least the late 80s. “If we want to survive as a species, we must spread to the stars.” I blame Dune, and for some reason I cannot put my finger on, Carl Sagan. (and anytime I mention Sagan on a thread, I have to tag @parttimemonster)

            Liked by 3 people

          • LOL we are apparently on the same wavelength, as I also just mentioned both Geeks and Dune.

            That conclusion you quote, that was pretty much the conclusion of my high school thesis 🙂


          • You do indeed.

            And I think I blame Star Trek, which is an entirely different can of worms.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Star Trek fills us with the sense of wonder of what we’ll find when we get to space. And makes going and being there seem kind of awesome. Stories like Dune are more on the step before that – the strong need to not have all of our lives hinge on one world. Not for glamour but for avoiding extinction!

            I still need to watch Cosmos… Would that be the best Sagan entry point? Although I might watch the new one… 😉 Or would reading Contact be good?

            Liked by 1 person

          • All the things! Also, there’s Battlestar Galactica. That one’s pretty influential, I think, especially after the series reboot that took off.

            I’d start with reading Contact and then do Cosmos just to give you a bit of the philosophy before starting Cosmos, but tbh, either way would probably work.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha! I totally responded to that tag before I read the post and the thread. Caught up now. Glad you enjoyed the U.N. thread, @mbarkersimpson! It stands out as one of the better discussions I’ve had on an A to Z thread so far.

    Keep in mind, RE: Start Trek. Earth got really lucky that their first encouter was with the Vulcans (were the Vulcans part of the Federation at that point, or was the Federation something that came later? I am a Trekkie, but not a well-educated one). Imagine if the Klingons or Romulans got here first.

    On the larger question: The Us and Them. That’s partly biological, I think. Rooted in the DNA. The real Prime Directive is to reproduce. Which means competition for the best mates and for all the things one needs to keep the progeny alive. The dissolution of politicial/cultural clevages would alleviate it a LOT, if such were possible, but would not eliminate it.

    And the sort of integration we’re talking about here would come at a HIGH COST. Possibly so high as to be unacceptable to most reasonable people. Humanity being what it is, that sort of utopia would probably end up being founded on genocide. And still not solve the problem.

    Even when they share an identitity, people still divide into smaller groups based on affinities of various sorts, including shared goals and things like all being part of the same education cohort, and new identities evolve. To erase the natural “us v. them” tendency, it would be necessary to offer one, and only one identity to everyone, and enforce that. And now we’re talking about a Borg scenario.

    This is why I tend to privilege The Rule of (properly constructed, just) Law in these types of discussions. There must be something to keep the factions from one another’s throats and to preempt disorderly social conflict.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sorry, got pulled away from comment-reading mid thread… this is the second reply on this thread where I’ve wanted to drop Dune, and so it’s time to drop Dune. Herbert saw the same force staring back, inexplicable, unstoppable. Your “Prime Directive.” Reproduction, fighting off extinction. And it’s too much for his super being to stop, and so instead he leans into it and makes it so.

      Other Dune reference was going to be Herbert’s conclusion that we should not leave ourselves dependent on a single planet… in the book it was Dune itself, for us today it’s the Earth.

      Oh, and identity and dividing into smaller groups? Self-defined? Geeks, anyone? 😉


    • The Federation was founded on Earth. In San Francisco. 🙂

      Vulcans were peaceful traders pre-Federation, I believe. The “traders” bit got somewhat forgotten after one reference in TOS, as far as I remember.


  3. I think our vision of xenophobia in the future really depends on how you imagine the universe to be. In Star Trek, I think the universe itself is thought of as an inspiring place. When you meet the Vulcans and go to the stars and see new worlds and new civilizations, you’re inspired to be a better person and reach for new heights. The humans who aren’t portrayed this way are the ones who don’t get out much — luddite humans, miners on forsaken worlds.

    Other creators imagine the universe to be a frightening place. That the more we see, the more we’ll be afraid, and the more we’ll lock down on our own pre-existing identities and affiliiations.

    cc: @gno112 @mbarkersimpson @parttimemonster and everyone else talking about Star Trek. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  4. That’ll teach me for being behind @gno112 – David and Hannah said pretty much want I wanted to say! Talk about being slow off the mark 😉 But I think you’ll like the fact I wanted to quote Tolkien when you spoke about roots because the need for survival is the most basic of instincts, and I truly believe at our very core, we want to connect – those are the roots we should hold onto, the ones which draw us together and allow us to thrive. Even when all hope is lost, light continues to burn. I’m getting a little off point (what’s new), so let’s get back to it. Though I believe xenophobia will continue to exist in some for or another, the majority can tip the scales. Which leads me nicely to Star Trek again, and @hannahgivens – I’m with the former camp. I say explore the hell out of strange new worlds!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Silly me, I almost forgot your Chappie reference.

    Chappie is the victim of violence due to looking like a police robot, but beyond that, we have no indication (as yet) how the public at large will react to artificial intelligence or the advancements, conjecturally including discovery of alien life, those AIs will perpetrate.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: The World’s Changing Around Us… | Comparative Geeks

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