How to address racism in a fantasy setting without it dragging down the game?

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
unfortunately there's no debate 'cause 1) the public in general doesn't actually takes linguistics seriously and 2) the fairy tale story of a animal closely related to human learning human language is more publicly acceptable than some species of animals are just better at perceiving and imitating human communication.
Yes, well, if you open with "fairy story" no, nobody's going to debate with you. Starting with insults does not invite engagement. Kind of like starting a discussion with a flat-earther with, "You self-deluded idiot...".
 

Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
Yes, well, if you open with "fairy story" no, nobody's going to debate with you. Starting with insults does not invite engagement. Kind of like starting a discussion with a flat-earther with, "You self-deluded idiot...".
yo what? what does that have to do with an entire branch of science looking at animals like Koko with actual scrutiny?
 

Bohandas

Adventurer
On what page of what official book can I find the phylogenic trees for the fantasy races? 'Cause that would be awesome. :p
Now that you mention it, I can't find a 100% explicit reference for the orcs

However, the phylogenic tree of the elves is explicitly just Corellon Larethian-->Elves

This is mentioned in numerous places including the 3.5e PHB, Races of the Wild, and Monster Mythology
 

Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
Never mind. It isn't relevant enough to the discussion to deal with here.
look I get this is a forum, but this feels like tone policing. and in a discussion about religion or philosophy I might not say that sort of thing, but given it's about science (and a largely disregarded one at that) I feel it's little warranted.

it's not even comparable to flat earth theory. that has a whole lot of conspiracy theory attached to it because a lot of people question it and believe the earth is round. meanwhile the same people who believe the earth is round will straight up believe Koko knew sign language the same way a human does without ever questioning it.
 

Tonguez

Hero
okay guy who studied linguistics here, teaching a chimp to use hand signs is not the same as using language itself. just like you can teach a dog to understand spoken commands, they still aren't able to communicate via human language.
You need to look a bit more deeply into Hominid psychology since Chimps are one species that can be taught to communicate via human language (sign) and have the psychological apparatus (intelligence) to use symbolism and abstraction creatively. Moreover there is evidence that chimps change the intonation of their grunts and hoots to match with particular gestures.

So yes Chimps and other apes lack the apparatus of Speech, but they do communicate using standardised human gestures and approximate sounds
 
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Tonguez

Hero
As to the Race-Species debate, while the use of the term Race is not at all ideal, in some scientific circles Race (or Landrace) refers to distinct populations within a single species and generally refer to Naturally occuring Breeds (whereas Breeds are created by human selection). So for instance the Scotch Collie is a Landrace but a Border Collie is a Breed, the Shetland Pony is also a landrace of the Domestic Horse (and just to add that the Przwalski Horse is an entirely different subspecies with different chromosone count to the Domestic Horse)

Anyway I’ve always taken it that the major fantasy races (Human-Elf-Dwarf-Orc) where this kind of ‘race’, and that with other humanoids the common use of the term was just habit (Eg imc Goblins are amphibians but noone knows that ic)
 
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Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
You need to look a bit more deeply into Hominid psychology since Chimps are one species that can be taught to communicate via human language (sign) and have the psychological apparatus (intelligence) to use symbolism and abstraction creatively. Moreover there is evidence that chimps change the intonation of their grunts and hoots to much with particular gestures.

So yes Chimps and other apes lack the apparatus of Speech, but they do communicate using standardised human gestures and approximate sounds
what does speech have to do with it? I said they can't communicate with human language. using gestures taught by humans is not the same as using human language. they might have the ability to communicate orally, but that's not the same as using human language.
 

Tonguez

Hero
what does speech have to do with it? I said they can't communicate with human language. using gestures taught by humans is not the same as using human language. they might have the ability to communicate orally, but that's not the same as using human language.
Human sign language is gestures taught by humans. too, but I take your point that knowing a sign doesnt mean use of language.
However the major part of my comment though was on Hominid psychology and the fact that Chimps and other apes can use human-taught sign to express status and opinion, use transference and word combination to create novel sentences, express desire, refer to missing objects, and even make counterfactual statements for deceptive or humorous effect. Also notable is the teaching of sign to other apes and use of metalanguage reinforcement.
Anyway most researchers put Ape cognitive ability about on par with a 3 year old human child. What does appear to be missing from ape language (as compared to a human child) however is use of Questions, While they can identify places and things Apes appear to be entirely "self - goal" focussed and have not been documented as asking "who, what or where questions"
 

Bohandas

Adventurer
what does speech have to do with it? I said they can't communicate with human language. using gestures taught by humans is not the same as using human language. they might have the ability to communicate orally, but that's not the same as using human language.
You're splitting hairs and arguing semantics at this point

potayto potahto
 

Bohandas

Adventurer
That thought experiment assumes some outside force feeding them the answers. Are you saying that you think this is a rehash of Clever Hans?
 

Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
Human sign language is gestures taught by humans. too, but I take your point that knowing a sign doesnt mean use of language.
However the major part of my comment though was on Hominid psychology and the fact that Chimps and other apes can use human-taught sign to express status and opinion, use transference and word combination to create novel sentences, express desire, refer to missing objects, and even make counterfactual statements for deceptive or humorous effect. Also notable is the teaching of sign to other apes and use of metalanguage reinforcement.
Anyway most researchers put Ape cognitive ability about on par with a 3 year old human child. What does appear to be missing from ape language (as compared to a human child) however is use of Questions, While they can identify places and things Apes appear to be entirely "self - goal" focussed and have not been documented as asking "who, what or where questions"
I mean if chimps are able to use hand signs taught to them in their everyday communication that's neat, and maybe we should look more into how primates communicate with each other, but it's still not using human language.
You're splitting hairs and arguing semantics at this point

potayto potahto
it's not. I personally don't know Arrernte. I know little about the language itself. I can learn some words of Arrernte, but saying words from this language doesn't mean I'm actually using it. even if I said words that were apparent to my situation, that's not using that language.

chimps using signs taught to them by humans is one step even further. there's a lot of skepticism whether or not they can actually use signs as language or are simply using taught behavior to be rewarded.
Not necessarily; I mean, there's a reason that the Chinese room argument has been rehashed over and over again.

If you're unfamiliar-

idk maybe it's because I can't fully wrap my head around it, but I'm pretty sure the Chinese room isn't really a language thing.
 
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lowkey13

Guest
idk maybe it's because I can't fully wrap my head around it, but I'm pretty sure the Chinese room isn't really a language thing.
It's not just a language thing (it's more AI and by extension theory of the mind etc.), but I think it's pretty applicable to what you're saying.

You are claiming that even if animals can communicate in human language, they don't understand human language, in the same way that the supercomputer hidden behind the wall can communicate in Chinese, but doesn't understand Chinese.

Which brings up the question- what does it really mean to understand something, anyway?
 

Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
It's not just a language thing (it's more AI and by extension theory of the mind etc.), but I think it's pretty applicable to what you're saying.

You are claiming that even if animals can communicate in human language, they don't understand human language, in the same way that the supercomputer hidden behind the wall can communicate in Chinese, but doesn't understand Chinese.

Which brings up the question- what does it really mean to understand something, anyway?
I think you're making it more complicated than it actually is. I'm not saying animals are communicating in human language. in this analogy the supercomputer isn't communicating in Chinese so much as putting out a few simple utterances. the supercomputer also can't answer complex questions in Chinese. the supercomputer itself can communicate with other computers and hardware, but we know that it doesn't actually know Chinese.

actually now that I think about it, this analogy isn't right. imagine the Chinese room, except you can't talk to the computer in Chinese yourself. you give the programmer your question, the programmer inputs the Chinese, gets an output and then interprets the output in a way that answers your question.
 

DwarfHammer

Explorer
This is a great question. Indeed, it is the question that motivated me to create my current Kickstarter product, "Ancestry and Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e." (Apologies for the shameless self-promotion, but it actually seemed relevant here...)

The biological essentialism that underlies a lot of racism in the real world can be found in lots of D&D uses of race. I think one of the major ways in which this kind of racism shows up in D&D is by ascribing alignment to a sentient, playable race's biology rather than their learned and chosen behaviors. So we tried to address this with new character creation rules that tone down the biological essentialism.

The idea, in brief, is this:
We took the classic D&D races and divided their traits into those that are biologically heritable (like Darkvision, Size, Age, Draconic Ancestry, Fey Ancestry) and those that are communicated as systems of ideas, beliefs, etc through culture and education (like weapon training, languages, alignment, tool proficiencies, etc).

This allows you to make a character who has human ancestry but is raised by elves and so is culturally elven (like Aragorn). The zine also includes rules for making characters of multiple ancestries. So, rather than just have half-elves and half-orcs (which are problematic in several ways), you can now also make a character of elven and orcish ancestry, or gnomish and halfling ancestry. And maybe those mixed ancestry characters grow up in an entirely different culture, so they might have elven and orcish ancestry, but be culturally dwarven. This is how it works in the real world, after all.

Anyway, I thought I'd throw it out there, since it seems actually on topic. Apologies for the crass self-promotion:
Ancestry and Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
This is just baiting a war
 
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lowkey13

Guest
I think you're making it more complicated than it actually is.
Not really. But that's okay! It's not just my "analogy," but a pretty-well known use of a developed theory from AI and philosophy that's been applied before to this.

See, e.g.,


I was trying to help you out, but you carry on. :) We can get back to racism in a fantasy setting.
 

Bohandas

Adventurer
idk maybe it's because I can't fully wrap my head around it, but I'm pretty sure the Chinese room isn't really a language thing.
Ultimately its just the same old nonsense about "free will" deceptively repackaged in a scientific sounding format. Much like how intelligent design is a deceptive repackaging of old earth creationism, the simulation hypothesis is a deceptive repackaging of young earth creationism and singularitarianism is actually just eschatology.

I ask you, what if we did it in the other direction and gave the man in the room a set of instructions corresponding to the operations carried out by the human brain?
 

uzirath

Adventurer
We took the classic D&D races and divided their traits into those that are biologically heritable (like Darkvision, Size, Age, Draconic Ancestry, Fey Ancestry) and those that are communicated as systems of ideas, beliefs, etc through culture and education (like weapon training, languages, alignment, tool proficiencies, etc).
This sounds like an interesting product. In the GURPS world (where I do most of my gaming), it's common (in appropriate genres, like fantasy and sci-fi) to create racial templates that include any biological elements of a race or species and cultural packages of elements that go along with particular cultures. Then you can customize from there. So, to use the ghoul example again, you could decide if it is a biological or a cultural thing that ghouls eat fresh corpses. In the GURPS Fantasy Folk treatment, ghouls needed freshly dead brains to survive, so it was biological. Other than that, though, they didn't have any biological need to be vicious or sociopathic. Thus it was possible to create hidden communities of relatively benevolent ghouls who lived in tunnels beneath the cemetery, keeping things clean and neat, but also eating the brains of the newly interred bodies.

I've always enjoyed this way of thinking about game worlds.
 

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