Experience shows me that some people dislike when a given world has monolithic species. By this I mean the planet has one culture, language, empire or purpose that unifies all of its member. Most that dislike this idea claim it is not realistic, judging from humanity and Earth.

Since it's not obvious, I ask: What leads to monolithic races, and what would lead to diverse ones?

  • $\begingroup$ "But is it true?" <-- That's pretty opinion-based. I'd suggest removing it. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Feb 23 '16 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre done. $\endgroup$ – Katamori Feb 23 '16 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ I like it, welcome to the site. $\endgroup$ – James Feb 23 '16 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre When did truth become an opinion? $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Feb 23 '16 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre That's because color is subjective. Science facts aren't. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Feb 23 '16 at 23:19

Not to rip off an old guy in a robe but...

Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.

We as humans view humans as very diverse. We vary wildly in terms culture, society, intelligence, color, gender, language, architecture, literature, weapons...I could go on but you see my point.

All that said there are certain things that unite us. We are all bi-pedal, we breathe the same air, heck, we share something like 99.5% identical DNA.

Now if we look back at our own history how did (as an overused example) Europeans treat the indigenous cultures they met? They were treated as "them" and the Europeans as "us". If you go back even further you could get to the point where people a day's walk from one another would have viewed each other as "not us" and when you view people in such a way it is very simple to utilize a working assumption that they are all the same.

Why the brief overly simplified history lesson? Well now let's imagine that we are in the far future, or maybe next week...either way. We find out that there are aliens out there in the universe, and like us they all have the same form (not appearance, but general shape and structure).

Would we not view their planet as a whole? It is a matter of how much you know and how much you experience of a different group how well you are able to see and understand the differences within the group.

I personally (though I know better) have tendencies to view certain foreign nations as a monolithic whole. I know its wrong but its a shortcut we humans developed to put the world in simple easy to navigate lanes.

The short version is I would suggest that we are both diverse and monolithic simultaneously based on our level of familiarity. Variation is good in genetics, so there will always be differences, but that doesn't mean we aren't a whole lot like everyone else on the planet...whether we want to admit it or not.

One exception, or special case I can think of would be the case of a sentient species that shares a mental link/hive mind. In this case you could well see a far more truly monolithic society.

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    $\begingroup$ As an example, right now, think of 10 people from your continent. Now think of 10 people from a different continent. Which were more diverse? $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Feb 23 '16 at 21:22

People may be of the same race, but have different cultures.

They may be of varying races, yet share a culture, and thus be as brothers.

Even two different species may cohabit as long as they share an understanding, or a culture.

The deciding factor is typically culture.

The more spread out a race is the more chances that culture will fragment, or change.

It will depend on the culture itself, and on the leadership of those people, whether this will be catastrophic or not.

Take the United States: immigrants would assimilate into the American way of life. They might speak with slightly different accents, and crave different foods (cultural fragmentation), but overall, they were all still American, and would fight for their country/help their countrymen.

Now look at Europe and the middle eastern migrants: millions of people roam across the continent with no regard for borders, or laws. They demand special treatment, aid, food, benefits, yet fail to learn the language of the land, and don't even attempt to integrate.

How a race/culture holds together (or not) will depend on their own customs and their leaders.

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I'm first going to ignore the more difficult problem: culture. Let's first concentrate on the slightly simpler problem that we know (or at least are fairly sure of) the answer to: race. Specifically, the biological definition of race: haplotypes and haplogroups.

First let me give some simplified definitions of these words in case you are not familiar with them (though I recommend googling them if you find this topic interesting):

  • A haplotype is a set of genetic differences that are usually inherited together. For example, the genes that give someone blond hair will usually be inherited together with genes that give them pale skin. It should be noted that there will always be exceptions in a population but there will also always be a general pattern.

  • A haplogroup is a population of individuals that share common or similar haplotypes.

When talking about humans, we link haplogroups to races. It should be noted that they are not strictly equivalent. Each traditional "race" is usually made up of several haplogroups. For example, this is the haplogroup distribution of the Turkish people:

haplogroups of turkish people

So each race is made up of many haplogroups. You can think of haplogroups as "genetic race" or ancestor race. Each race we recognise today is made up of many ancestor races instead of just one.

When talking about animals, we link haplogroups to breeds. Just like humans, each breed is made up of several haplogroups. Also just like human races, a breed is not a species. Different breeds of a species are still a member of that species.

Now that we have established an equivalence between breeds and races, let's talk about the simpler case: animal breeds.

Some species of animals come in a wide variety of breeds. The most obvious example is probably dogs. Some may not realise it but all dogs are of the same species: Canis lupus familiaris.

Some species of animals on the other hand come in only a single breed. One example is the mallard. Excluding crossbreeding with other species, there is only one breed of mallards.

Most animals are somewhere in between. Most species come in three or four breeds scattered geographically.

So, what determines the number of breeds a species has? For dogs it's obvious: we created them deliberately (basically inbreeding). For mallards (and most migratory birds) the reason that there's only one breed is that the species is highly mobile (they're migratory after all) and all members of the species have the same opportunity to mate with any other member. This results in a homogenous species. For most animals the number of breeds correlates strongly with the number of herds/pride/gang/groups there are and how isolated they are from each other. The main reason breeds exist is because not everyone in the mallard species can mate freely with anyone else. Matings mostly occur in the same neighbourhood and very rarely between two populations. So basically inbreeding.

Now, the exact same reason determines how races developed in humans. Since humans are scattered everywhere on the surface of the planet and travel is expensive it is more likely for people who live in the same area to start a family and very unlikely for people who live far apart to do so.

Having stated that, of course it's obvious! I didn't even need to explain about genetics and all the examples with animals. But it's important to correctly identify the real factors involved rather than just stating the obvious.

So the factor that determines how diverse or monolithic a species is is simply isolation. Make travel cheap and easy and you end up with a species that only have a single race. Make travel expensive or restrictive and you end up with diverse races. Make society accepting and inclusive and you eventually end up with a single race. Make society racist or biased (no matter how subtle) and you end up with diverse races.

Culture works sort of the same way. Culture is our shared experience of what a society is. Thus when we isolate a group of people (or they isolate themselves) they tend to develop their own in-jokes, their own sense of right and wrong, their own sense of style etc. Culture is also different in that it can spread through the media.

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It depends on the technology level of the world.

If you live in a world where the majority of the populace will never travel more than 50km from their place of birth, it doesn't make sense for people who live on different continents to speak the same language. Languages evolve and change over time, and without steady contact, different regions will evolve different dialects, and then different languages, fairly quickly.

On the other hand, if you live in a world in which everyone is exposed to the same media, and in which teleportation technology makes distance between individuals irrelevant, it make more sense that everyone would be part of the same culture. Dominant languages will become more dominant if most people interact with someone who speaks them on a regular basis. Cultural exchange also happens much quicker.

Consider our modern world, in which India is moving towards English as its common language and lots of people celebrate Christmas. Without rapid transportation and communication, that would have never happened. If technology continues to develop and make communication and transportation even easier, I can see cultures like the Indian and American cultures in the modern day moving towards a point where modern humans would consider them to be broadly the same culture.

However, even in a tightly linked world, there are likely to be different sub-cultures within a larger, unified culture. For example, in the US, even though most Americans live similar lives and celebrate similar traditions in similar ways, a subculture of gamers and a subculture of football fans exist and are distinctly different. They speak the same language, but have broadly differing jargon and slang which they use to communicate. They live large parts of their lives in very different ways, and form into distinct communities that celebrate different events. While there is some crossover and overlap between the two subcultures, they are nonetheless very distinct from one another. It's likely that any world, no matter how unified would have a wide variety of such subcultures based on people's differing interests.

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What has made the visible differences in Human beings is populations being relatively isolated from each other, and in living different environments with different selection pressures.

So if I were to postulate an entire species that for an extended period of generations had

  • Total communications
  • Little or no travel barriers
  • No cultural inhibitions on mating selection for "racial" qualities.

Then you may well have a wide range of genes exhibited in that species, but no self-reinforcing homogeneous groups that one could call a "race".

If you instead don't have one or more of those factors, the two gene pools will eventually start to diverge over many generations.

So if you had a species that had instant communications and travel over its entire range (eg: One planet, with better than modern travel and universal global network and media access, or perhaps multiple planets with some kind of teleportation), then it might be feasible for there to be no discernible "races".

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The first thing that comes to mind in the situation of a remote colony is the "founder effect". The common example of this is "the Island of Red-bearded Men". If a remote outpost is established with 20 married couples such that the 20 male founders all have red beards, then even though they were not directly related the subsequent generations will all have this as a prevalent trait.

You can expect an isolated colony to have low diversity within its population and vary greatly between such colonies.

But you said a "world". Does the world have multiple distinct populations? Is the total population large or small?

The answer isn't a simple single result, but for realism would depend on the details of the world in question.

Now, what we call races are, biologically, superficial constellations of externally visible traits. What set of features constitutes a "race" depends on what the population differences happen to turn out to be, and what people notice. For example, in the culture I'm familiar with we don't consider eye color to be significant. But you can well imagine that it could become the visible distinction between two valleys' populations, and they compete for resources after a period of isolation.

For a fictional setting, you might pick combinations of features that are different from present day "races", especially to point out awareness of that: in a famous Star Trek episode it wasn't until the closing line that they said what the difference was between the hostile groups, and this baffled the outsiders and the original audience.

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