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The whole 'prejudice against mutants with powers' thing has been done to death, most notably with X-men. However, I always felt that it was too over the top, the blind hate being excessive and no attempt was made to justify it. The point is sort of lost if the ones who are bigoted are so over the top villains that everyone can say "well, I'm not that evil, so guess I'm fine."

If someone was trying to write a story that used prejudice, but not in an anvilicious manner, I'm wondering what are more reasonable way those who had anti-mutant prejudice would be like.

What forms of prejudice would occur, and more importantly how would those who were prejudice justify them? My belief is that plenty will hate the unknown, but will try to cover their bigotry with all kinds of rationalizations. Most bigotry of today has these rationalizations, ones that are blatantly flawed and just excuses to hate; but still have some tiny kernel of truth that is simply misrepresented in insane ways to justify bigotry.

Today people try claim come minority is 'stupid' because they have less education on average (ignoring that this is due to difficulty of someone from lower socioeconomic standing getting into, and paying for, colleges) or how illegal immigrants are destroying America by not paying taxes (which ignores the fact that illegal immigrants are a tiny fraction of our population and frankly there are not enough to have a significant impact on our economy no matter what their doing), or that all Muslims are terrorist or untrustworthy by pointing to the actions of a tiny group while ignoring that 99.95% of Muslims do not agree with or approve of the group. I'm looking for these sort of flaws rationalizations people would use to 'prove' their bigotry is justified.

For example assume a world where people develop powers, usually around puberty. Some may look different (think Beast from x-men), others may look like normal humans, and those that look different may or may not gain any power (may in fact have only disadvantages from the changed form).

Also presume that the government is reasonable enough to document special powers and register potential lethal powers. Few powers are much more lethal then having a gun, and many aren't lethal at all. People often use their powers as source of employment, people teleport themselves and another as human taxis, weak healing gifts used at hospitals to patch wounds etc. Powers are rare, but not unheard of.

Also, what will be the thoughts of the err..subtly bigoted. Not the ones that put on white robes to burn effigies or stand outside of funerals with colorful signs about how God hates everyone, but the ones who are mostly decent folk and don't have a desire to hurt mutants, but still have some subtler distrust or unease about mutants.

I already know pretty well the religious argument, and the "they're dangerous" argument; as these are the most common ones used in fiction. I'm more interested in the other arguments that might be made. What would an atheist use as a justification to distrust a group of mutants who are certified as not having 'weapons grade' powers?

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    $\begingroup$ Any particular reason for it to be an atheist, other than to avoid the religious reason? $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Jul 29 '15 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 just to avoid the religious arguments. I know the religious arguments, so I didn't want anyone to waste time answering what I knew. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Jul 29 '15 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ Along the line of registration... there were a couple of volumes of UK short stories from the early 1990s, published as Temps, that dealt with a world where a substantial fraction of people (~5%?) had some form of paranormal power - but all different, and mostly utterly trivial ("I can move things from one container to another!"). The government paid them all a small stipend to agree to be called up if needed. Bingo, economic motivation for public dislike - "they're scroungers, living off public handouts", etc. $\endgroup$
    – Andrew
    Jul 29 '15 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Andrew Conservatives hate them because they're scroungers, living off public handouts, liberals hate them because so many get recruited by the army and security services who abuse those powers. "FOI documents today revealed that civil rights leaders personal papers were remotely taken from containers in their homes by a mutant working for MI5" $\endgroup$
    – Murphy
    Jul 29 '15 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ Reason? Same as they use now against people who sre smart or talented in any way. "Different" trumps any reasoning that it doesn't matter or is even superior. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 29 '15 at 21:51

10 Answers 10

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So you're looking for the somewhat reasonable arguments for why people might resent people with powers?

For that you'd still probably want to look to the real world. Many people resent smart people. They may benefit directly from their doctor knowing how to diagnose heart disease but they can also resent people for their knowledge, status and income.

Lots of people complain about "Ivory Tower Intellectuals" and make up narratives about how they're disconnected from the real world or don't have real knowledge or understanding.

They may believe that the smart people look down on them in their normality. "thinks he's so high and mighty". They might resent the status that the person gains from their ability. "Just because his daddy sent him to medschool he's making 6 figures while I'm stuck here".

Your mutants are going to have unusual abilities and even if most aren't powerful most are going to be unusual meaning that a large portion of them are likely to be able to pull in a big income whether it's as emergency responders teleporting people to hospital, seeing glimpses of the future that can be used to make the occasional stock trade or similar.

They may even be justified. Many of the people with extra abilities may actually look down on normal people.

People who are unusual in some shared way are also going to naturally form their own groups at which point human ingroup-outgroup behavior kicks in and people start thinking in terms of us and them.

http://www.simplypsychology.org/robbers-cave.html

Some people are going to be put out of work by mutants, judges put out of work by mind reading mutants, steel workers put out of work by mutants resistant to heat etc.

Some mutants are going to abuse their abilities in horrible ways and people are going to judge mutants by the actions of the few who hit the headlines like that one guy with mind control powers who collected his own harem of slaves or the mind-reader who used his power to con people.

There's going to be arguments about your registry, there's going to be accidents where some teenager has a nightmare and burns a bording school to the ground and then there's going to be calls to ban people on that registry from living near vulnerable people even if 90% of the people on it are harmless.

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    $\begingroup$ I was just writing up a post that referenced that experiment, but you beat me to it. +1 $\endgroup$ Jul 29 '15 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ It should be noted that using future predicting to game the stock market is sort of bad, since you are just draining money from the economy without putting anything in. People do it already though. $\endgroup$
    – PyRulez
    Jul 29 '15 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ @PyRulez Not necessarily. Technically you're providing information in the same way that someone who was simply good at predicting using normal information. So for example if you were trading commodity futures if you had a premonition about a major nickle mine being flooded and bought lots of nickle futures you'd incentivize people opening up alternative nickle mines or running plants recovering/recycling nickle which would soften the blow to the economy after the mine floods. Of course it might be more moral to warn people about the mine flooding but hey. $\endgroup$
    – Murphy
    Jul 29 '15 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ @PyRulez if you have a vision of a companies CEO being found out to be a supervillian and being defeated by superman you'd obviously short their stock in the expectation that the value of the company would go down which would discourage other investors from investing in the company as they could see that the market believed the stock was overvalued. Thus other investors would lose less when the company gets shut down for trying to take over the world. $\endgroup$
    – Murphy
    Jul 29 '15 at 17:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Murphy Hmm, okay. The could also get visions of random stock market fluctuations, and sap them. I guess it would be like investing now, except now they are more skilled. $\endgroup$
    – PyRulez
    Jul 29 '15 at 17:42
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Probably the first place superpowered individuals are going to have problems are at school, with other non-superpowered kids. Puberty is already a dangerous time for kids, but throw in random powers and these individuals are most certainly going to get bullied. At this point, there doesn't need to be a justification: teenagers are irrational. The interesting part is that a childhood of bullying is going to mean that a lot of these mutants are going to have things in common; they'll have a common culture of coping mechanisms, and the lucky ones will find a community of their peers to turn to.

Unfortunately, what started as a comforting place where these children could escape the persecution of others becomes a box from which they can never escape. For the rest of their lives, many of these mutants will define themselves by this group, and surround themselves with other mutants. To them, it just feels right, but to the rest of the world it looks like the mutants think they're better than everyone else, or at least different.

This presents a problem, as now pretty much anything the mutants do to help each other pushes them ever further from the rest of the world. They make a school to bring up mutants in a more accepting environment? "What's wrong with regular schools? Do they think they're better than us?" Some mutant gets shot by a scared cop, and his mutant friends hold a memorial? "Why do they have to make this a mutant issue?" Mutants live in an all-mutant neighborhood to avoid the dirty looks? "It's like they're not even trying to be a part of this community, so why should we treat them like equals?" From here, it's a feedback loop: the mutants have to band together to stave off an ever-more-threatening public, and the public takes every new step by the mutants as an insult. People may not think they're bigoted (they may have a 'mutant friend', maybe they like that one actor who's a mutant), but deep down they've already been indoctrinated into the crowd mentality.

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Misunderstanding and mistrust of the 'other' are huge in human psyche. Many that have useful talents might be looked on as taking jobs away from others. If you have a small healing power you are more likely to be hired as a nurse or doctor over someone without it. Even if they are a better candidate on all other metrics.

The teleporter can deliver goods and people much faster and easier than any other form of transport. These are just the regular low end powers. Now you add in some very powerful powers, reading minds, or worse changing thoughts, controlling actions. If 1 out of 10,000 with powers have something that can be dangerous or abused to harm or humiliate others, then in the eyes of many all will be grouped together. The ones with only physical changes will be the worst hit, since they are obviously 'one of them'.

You add in economic downturns and people want to blame someone for their ills, mutants are an easy scapegoat, an easy line to make. Even easier than targeting Jews during WWII.

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One theory I’ve heard from otherwise well educated people is the Great Replacement theory. Basically the idea is that some in-group (e.g. the supposed “native people” of a country) is being "replaced" by some other out-group (e.g. immigrants flooding into a country, and having more children than the “natives”), especially when the two groups have different ethnicities or faiths. The core idea is that, if the out-group’s population growth is higher than that of the in-group, they will eventually outnumber the in-group and impose their values and beliefs on the rest, thus “replacing” the in-group’s culture and identity with their own.

In France, this idea is pushed a lot by the far right, notably by writer and far right militant Renaud Camus. The theory is that immigrants in France, and particularly Arab Muslim immigrants (for some reason white immigrants from neighboring countries aren’t as much of an issue), will “invade” the country of “native” white Catholic French people, and because they supposedly reproduce faster (which is false, 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants tend to have about the same average number of children as the general population), they will eventually outnumber the “native” French and impose their own culture and identity (sharia law, the Arab language, etc.). Despite all the evidence contradicting such theories, it’s still very popular among far right groups, and is a classical way to portray the dominant majority as somehow in danger or threatened. It is (apparently) a very compelling justification for racism, and in particular mass expulsion of immigrants and forceful assimilation of minorities by erasing their culture and forcing the “native” in-group culture upon them, so as to remove the perceived existential threat posed by foreign cultures to the in-group’s.

This works especially well with super-mutants, because people like Magneto explicitly claim they intend to replace non-mutants, portraying mutants as the natural next step in the evolution of the human race. This is great kindle for anti-mutant pressure groups who then claim that the very existence of mutants is an existential threat to non-mutants, as they risk being “replaced”, marginalized, and even exterminated by mutants who see non-mutants as less than themselves. So in a world with mutants, I would imagine far-right intellectuals writing many books on the subject, organizing anti-mutant protests and seizing any opportunity to marginalize and assert control of mutants. One of their justifications would be the Great Replacement by mutants of non-mutants, the idea that if we let mutants be, they’ll eventually, necessarily, become so numerous or powerful that they’ll assert themselves as the norm and treat non-mutants as second-rank citizens. This will be portrayed as unavoidable, a natural way for cultures to evolve.

Although the parallels are interesting, this doesn’t apply perfectly to super-mutants. Mutants don’t form a well-defined out-group, because they naturally emerge from the general population rather than emigrate from a foreign country. In fact, before any mutation manifests itself, these individuals are completely indistinguishable from non-mutants, which isn’t the case for children of immigrants (which are distinguishable by e.g. their skin tone, accent, and name). However, neither Arabs nor Muslims form a clear out-group either, since a lot of them have been born and raised within the country and their cultural identity has become a blend of both their heritage and their adopted country’s culture, blurring the lines. The idea that both cultures are fundamentally incompatible is itself an unsubstantiated and racist one. However, as a group becomes more isolated – in particular as a result of discrimination and prejudice against them – they become an out-group, and the racists can then conveniently push their Great Replacement theory to marginalize that out-group even further.

Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Replacement_conspiracy_theory

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer. The last argument about why it may not apply is easily 'fixed' by implying that if kids of 'mutants' are more likely to get powers as well. That can throw in some of the transphobia nonsense (where discovering that the person your having sex with has different genitals then expected was supposedly justification for rage/assault against them) as well of being concerned of being 'tricked' by a mutant to have a child and only later finding out your child is mutant, due to their ability to 'pass' in the general population. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Apr 1 '19 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ This is the exact reason the Whateley Universe gave to explain why mutant bigotry in its setting was so rampant, except in that case the narrative really did try to treat the idea as if it was really happening as opposed to paranoid bigotry, with mutants being super-fertile, superhumanly attractive, and many male mutants spontaneously turning female in order to maintain an "ideal" breeding ratio and outbreed normal humanity. $\endgroup$ May 29 '20 at 2:43
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What would an atheist use as a justification to distrust a group of mutants who are certified as not having 'weapons grade' powers?

Almost any useful power can be weaponized, and restrictions would be called for under the umbrella of Terrorism. With "useful" being defined as "can make a living from".

Teleporters, for example, are extraordinarily dangerous. They can bypass security, stealing money, weapons, or intelligence. They can do the reverse to place untraceable bombs. They can kidnap high value targets, kill people by dropping them from great heights, etc.

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If the government had any reason to initiate a conflict then they could spin the news and have the majority of citizens backing the conflict in two weeks. So lets say a corporation wants access to resources in a country high in mutants. The government will then claim that the mutants are terrorist and need invading, as the intelligence agencies secretly fund and support those terrorist organisations or get their own operatives to pose as terrorists and send provocative videos. In two weeks the country would be ready to invade and seize the resources.

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Envy

"Jimmy has a superpower and I don't. Maybe if I make fun of him I will feel better about being a normal."

We see this sort of thought process all the time in today's world, so it naturally follows that a similar phenomenon would happen in a world full of supers. It happens to the rich kids, the smart kids, and drives the "keeping up with the Jones's" syndrome.

I personally have fallen prey to mistreating people out of envy on occasion, so I think this is relatable at a personal level.

The Perceived Threat of Power Imbalance

For example, most people feel threatened by:

  • Their boss
  • Guns
  • Cops
  • Big scary dogs
  • Uber-muscular men at the gym
  • People much taller than them

People tend to retaliate when they feel threatened, so it wouldn't be surprising for this to be directed at supers.

Religion

A lot of anti-super bigotry would come from religion. Some people would assert that their God(s) created the normals to be limited and that supers are violating the natural order of things.

Which is funny, because other religions would absolutely embrace it as a god-given gift.

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  • $\begingroup$ I just saw this page recently and it made me think of "the Boys" which has come out on amazon prime since then. It hits the topic of religion as you do, but its the latter point; religious Americans "embrace it as a god-given gift" although it is later reviled that they were created in laboratories. The point of the show is that a private corporation is deliberately manipulating the religious demographic in favour of their plan to have the military outsource to their corporation of super heros. $\endgroup$ Sep 17 at 3:52
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Alot of good answers. Anti-Elitism seems to be popular.

However the community rewards and preferences only certain types of competition.

  • You are smart and good and making money, we let you compete in business.

  • You are smart and good at combat, we don't let you compete in stealing all the things.

The generally are directed towards a common good for the community; and sometimes about stacking the decks in your favor (knights disliked the crossbow because the could easily kill a knight, so tried to have them banned)

  • The super powers will up set the existing social order (ie every banker who makes money on the stock market, is replaced by one person who predicts the future of every business decision.)

  • The super powers encourage competition in way that doesn't aid the community as a whole. Ie they mind read people to extort them for money.

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There have been a lot of good answers here so far, but I'd like to point out a few additional avenues that people haven't considered.

Superhumans are a lot more dangerous than you think

Nobody's perfect. Everyone has a bad day, lashes out in anger, does things like hit a wall or throw things across the room to vent. Even people who have great anger management often had to learn this skill.

A lot of the arguments over mutants being "dangerous" in works like X-Men mostly involve cases of outright evil mutants using their powers for law-breaking purposes. The perennial argument is "what if someone with Kitty Pride's powers were evil and just decided to phase into a bank vault and take all the money. What people don't often seem to consider is that all mutants are potentially dangerous because everyone has moments of emotional vulnerability, and even a slight lapse in control can result in people dead. In real life an angry dispute that leads to a fistfight or a person kicking something in anger in a world with mutants ends with a massive explosion or somebody having a hole drilled in their body with lazer eyes.

And what if you have a mutant that has some sort of mental disorder, like borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, depression, or bipolar on top of their mutation which makes their moods unstable and often difficult to control? Hence, even if a mutant is perfectly friendly, law-abiding, and has absolutely no desire to hurt other people, they are still dangerous and not safe to be around.

Of course this argument is kind of bull. Anyone can literally be a threat to anyone. A big person, if they snapped, could easily overpower most other people in a rage and harm or kill them. But that big person could be taken by surprise by a person they think is a friend and have their throat cut (the element of surprise buys you like, what, 5-10 seconds in a fight?), and they die like anyone else. Or someone could just straight up poison you when you aren't looking, history's go-to technique for people who lack physical strength (hence why poison was seen as a weapon of treachery in many cultures). Society just kind of...collectively ignores the threat the people around us pose because if we didn't society couldn't exist.

The argument of mind control

A counterargument might be that "well Superman is a nice guy and paragon of morality who would never even swat an insect". Well, in a setting with mind control, it doesn't really matter. See, the funny thing about hypnotism and mind altering substances in real life means that there are really only two ways to go about it: hypnotism only works because the subject subconsciously wants to do it or the victim's normal thought process is totally gone. There is no "the mind controlee is still there and subconsciously stops themself from doing anything too evil". You could brainwash Superman and command him to go on a rampage killing millions of civillians, and there is nothing anyone could do to stop you. If you have mind control in a society of superhumans the world is your gunrack and all the people around you are your guns.

Indeed, this is exactly what happened in Injustice: Gods Among Us. The Joker dosed Superman with Scarecrow's fear toxin and caused him to hallucinate and kill Lois Lane and his unborn son, believing they were Doomsday. No amount of the power of love or a subconscious desire to not hurt his family could stop him. Or Professor X in the recent Logan movie. Due to a brain disease that he had no say in or control over, he had a seizure that caused him to lose control of his powers and ended up killing hundreds of people, including all of the X-Men against his will.

Deny job opportunities

Most bigotry in real life isn't lynch mobs and concentration camps. It's the casual, small things that add up until people are deprived of opportunities. One obvious way that mutants could be discriminated against is job opportunities.

Think of it this way. You're a bank owner in the Marvel universe who is trying to figure out whether they should hire Wolverine as a bank guard. However, you also know that mutants in the Marvel Universe seem to be targeted by Sentinels seemingly every month. If you hire Wolverine, it's only a matter of time before the Sentinels show up at your bank looking to kill him, and you really don't want your bank to be levelled in the midst of a superhero fight. The insurance premiums will be nuts. Indeed, this kind of happened in Spider-Man, where supervillains kept attacking the Daily Bugle just because Spider-Man worked there (okay, he was a freelance photographer, but he worked for the Bugle in everything but name).

But back to bank guard Wolverine. Wolverine, of course, has powers he can use to defend himself. But if he uses his powers on a potential miscreant things could get...messy, and said miscreant could turn around and sue you, Wolverine's employer, for gross negligence or cruel and unusual punishment. Gee, all of a sudden you don't want to hire a mutant like Wolverine.

And that's how a lot of discrimination works. People individually make the decision to avoid you because of seemingly logical reasons like you're a potential liability, or they have stereotypes in mind that make you seem as not worth it. Eventually you get to the point where you've been ostracized because no one will give you a break and the people in the society you belong to all independently made the decision that you're not worth dealing with. "Oh, these people should definitely not be ostracized by the community and given a chance to be treated as individuals rather than threats or stereotypes," they'll say, "it's just I don't want to be the one to do it."

Hatred from the elites

Another thing to consider is that you don't need mutants to be a threat to people in order to be hated. Throughout history, people in power have always hated potential threats to their hegemony. The samurai hated the idea of guns, to the point that part of the reason the Shogunate closed off Japan from the world for 200 years is they didn't want the peasantry getting access to firearms. In medevial Europe the born-nobility hated how the bourgeoisie were gaining enough power to challenge them. Modern governments hate tech giants like Google because they have increasing power over them and due to their nature as multi-national corporations there have less and less power over them.

Basically, the elites in society have always hated people with alternate sources of power that could challenge their supremacy and that the elites cannot dictate or control to make useful to them. Mutants are the ultimate expression of this. Their powers come from their bodies, not their wealth or their inventions, and you cannot take that power away from them or easily regulate it. Mutants represent a threat to the elite's status quo.

You could have a situation where the presence of mutants is unambiguously good for the majority of human society, but the elites still hate them because they are eroding their power base. For example, you could have mutants that could produce unlimited clean energy like the Flash or the Human Torch are sometimes shown doing, and energy companies (both fossil fuel and renewable like solar or wind) would hate them because they are cutting into their bottom line. Or mutants who have the ability to cure viruses and heal the sick and are hated by pharmaceutical companies because curing the sick instead of palliating them means they can't sell as many drugs.

In most societies, the elites also have a significant amount of control over the media. So if the elites hate mutants, all they have to do is use their influence over the media to run a smear campaign with anti-mutant propaganda and whip public sentiment into a frenzy to get mutants marginalized and hated by the common populace.

Forced mutant draft

Motherland: Fort Salem showed this aspect pretty well. Basically, in a world with mutants whatever country has the most powerful superhumans would be the one on top. It would be a Cold War-style arms race but with human beings instead of bombs. Therefore, governments would be pushed towards gathering up as many high-power superhumans as possible.

There could be a mandatory draft for mutants, all mutants are forced to join the military and serve it until they die, no ifs, ands, or buts. Many countries might pass laws making it illegal for mutants to immigrate to other countries (you might think this is silly, but countries have passed laws making it illegal for minorities to leave the country in the past like the Huguenots in France or the perennial example of Nazi Germany).

It doesn't matter if your local flying brick is a conscientious objecter, your government needs every mutant it can gets its hands on in order to maintain a military advantage over other countries. And if they let one superhuman slip through the cracks because they are a pacifist or don't want to be a tool of the government, they open the door to everyone else leaving as well, which leads them to become even harsher.

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Prejudice: dislike, hostility, or unjust behaviour deriving from preconceived and unfounded opinions.

Your world needs no prejudice to justify treating mutants differently.

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