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I'm writing about a human community (all immigrants or descendants of) in what is basically an elfin city. The main political question facing the community is isolation versus assimilation, but I think it needs some other controversies as well (and this could go for other communities in the world, such as the city at large).

Problem is, most of the potential issues and controversies that spring to mind are those from 21st century America, but those would not all apply to this community. Different sexual orientations are completely accepted. Women are politically and socially equal to men. The community is mainly middle class and doesn't have large income inequalities. Racism isn't common - they have far more in common with the other humans than the elves.

What sort of topics would be debated politically? What areas should I be looking at to figure out their hot button issues? I've already come up with a few, but it'd be good to see if there's any obvious ones I'm missing.

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    $\begingroup$ Well if it's a society with little to no struggle, then why would political conflict arise? When things go well for everyone politics tend not to be very important. $\endgroup$ – Soryu Jan 4 '15 at 5:52
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    $\begingroup$ What are your humans not happy about. Dissent usually stems from some sort of discontent. Are they unhappy about wages, corruption, crime, drug use, education system. What is the extent of their xenophobia? Are they afraid of wars? Afraid of cultures infecting theirs leading to citizens questioning their belief system? Does the xenophobia extend to outright refusal to new ideas? $\endgroup$ – tls Jan 4 '15 at 6:41
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    $\begingroup$ Are you looking for conflict between the humans and elves, or within the human enclave? $\endgroup$ – user243 Jan 5 '15 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ @JonofAllTrades I'm looking for conflict within the human enclave. I have some characters in a political family (on a council within the enclave), and I wanted to add some detail to that. $\endgroup$ – CoolCurry Jan 6 '15 at 1:39
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    $\begingroup$ Are your elves Tolkienesque long-lived, tall refined creatures of reserved wisdom and gravitas, or are they small tricksters with magical powers to cast a glamour. Are the cities built on the ground and made of lumber and stone, housing hundreds of thousands in something reminiscent of a Victorian city but without the pollution? Are they buildings made of clumps of fallen branches held together by mud and leaves into huts located on the branches of extremely large trees, housing maybe several thousand in a medieval squalor? $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Jan 7 '15 at 17:19
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Fictional controversy needs to be familiar to readers/users of this world otherwise at best it doesn't seem controversial or at worst is convoluted and confusing...I could probably switch best and worst there without it mattering...anyway, moving on.

Some commonly controversial topics:

  • Religion
  • Political System
  • Individuals or groups that stray beyond social norms
  • Power hungry individuals and organizations (just because everything is stable doesn't mean it will stay that way)
  • Laws that specify anything racially specific (Jim Crow laws, Anti-Jewish WWII era laws for example)
  • Introduction of external players, this can create new conflict where it may not have existed before.
  • Really any form of inequality
  • Boredom. Lives with no conflict can be felt to have no value. When I hear everything is perfect is usually a clear sign that things are not what they seem.

Notes. In standard fantasy humans tend to be far to impetuous for elven tastes and that can lead to conflict. Perception of the world is greatly impacted by longevity and many readers may find it hard to accept that humans and elves live together in such a Utopian way.

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So you need some snakes for an elfin eden...

If not racism, how about speci-ism? Do the elves resent the human and vice versa? Do either species approve of mixed marriages?

Perhaps the opposite is the case. Perhaps half-elf children are so beautiful and bright, that purebreds of both species are in decline numerically. Purists in both camps could be highly resentful of their diminishing role in the City and might even join together to fight the growing hybrid majority.

Ageism is always an easy solution. Some of the elves might be centuries old while the oldest humans have at best, one century of experience. Perhaps 150 year old adolescent elves have trouble calling 60 year old humans with honorifics such as Sir and Ma'am. Maybe they object to the humans holding any seats on the city council, because none of them are old enough for the job. Perhaps the humans consider even the youngest adult elves are old fashioned and tradition bound.

Maybe the heart of the conflict is resource management. The elves dislike the wasteful slaughter of trees while the humans think nothing of it.

Now all of these conflicts are between the community and the surrounding city. If you are looking for conflict within the all human community, that is easy too. They are human. Conflict is what they do best. Religious beliefs, Clan rivalries, Land ownership disputes, arguments over the details of major historical events,... put any two humans in a room and they will find a reason to hate each other.

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One way to create realistic conflicts is to make them analogous to real world conflicts. For example, mutant superheroes can be used as a substitute for homosexuality. They are different, special. They are born that way. They did not choose to be the way that they are. They are rejected and feared by humanity because of what they are, not who they are. Doing this can allow the stories to engage people who would otherwise reject the story outright. This allows the author to show the difficulties of being the recipient of homophobia to someone who is homophobic and would simply not read or watch a story about homosexuals.

You also have the possibility of making your fantasy issues real. One of the advantages of the superhero metaphor is that a rogue superhero really can be dangerous. It takes the unreasonable fear of the homophobe and makes it reasonable. This can allow an author to explain homophobia to the tolerant in a way that slips past their prejudices.

A specific example for a human/elf society: perhaps elves are immune to demonic possession while humans aren't magical enough for the possession to last long (demonic possession burns out their bodies and kills them). The half-breeds could lose their immunity but remain durable enough to be possessed for long periods of time. This makes a half-elf dangerous. So there's a real reason to avoid interspecies romance.

The obvious replacements in a human/elf world are speciesism and ageism, as Henry Taylor noted. Another possibility is anti-magic prejudice versus pro-magic chauvinism. That's interesting in part because it may cut across the human/elf divide. Or maybe it doesn't. Perhaps all elves are a bit magical while only some humans are. Are the magical humans more like elves or other humans? Perhaps they are rejected by both.

Note that even if you pick a particular human prejudice on which to model your fantasy prejudice, you don't have to tell the reader which one. This can give you more freedom to explore the conflict than you would have had with the human prejudice. You aren't as bound by people's preconceptions as you would otherwise be.

And of course, you still have an obvious real world analogy to explore. The humans are immigrants. Presumably they are poorer than the more established elves. If not, they probably used to be richer (they are poorer now than they used to be). How do the elves feel about that? How do the humans respond? You'll be more trapped by the real world here, as there are obvious analogs. You can fill this out though with other reasons for prejudice, which can make the results different.

You don't mention why the humans became immigrants. Are the elves afraid that the humans will involve the elves in human problems? Do they wish that they'd left the humans to their fate?

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Why not begin with the fact that elves are in fact superior to humans in many aspects? Think about it: elves are much more long-lived than humans, are more agile than human, their craft skills are vastly superior to our, and not to mention the fact that their society is politically perfect compared to our. Humans are mortal, their skills are crude, they are politically unstable, and divided among themselves, and in terms of purely physical they are less agile than elves. Racism can arise from these differences that can never be filled.

Humans can do their very best in order to achieve something that and elf do just like that, but in the end they will fail. Try to imagine the trade between these two races: what could humans offer to them? If humans traded luxury goods (you say they are all middle-class, so I think that they could be craftsmen) elves would difficult buy their products, given that they can craft them better than humans. If humans traded normal goods same thing. If humans traded raw material, obtained through heavy work (think about mines, sawmill, etc.) it would not be long that humans would see their social status lowered to the height of the working class, and friction would born between the “rich” elves and the poor humans.

The political and social system could then be affected by envy of the humans against the elves. This would not be racism, but of specism, and would also be justified by the fact that it is not a bizarre idea, but it is the reality of things.

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adaptation of technology!

'Elf' races are hard to write, if you make them too perfect the audience starts to dislike them. Take away all of our common issues, racism/sexism etc, and they start to become a little to perfect. You need real controversies, things where they may not be in the right, to show their still human and relateable.

The best, in my mind, example of this is adaptation of technology, because it's a great screw you elves answer. Classic elves are 'more in touch with nature' and thus have less technology. The thing that people forget is that we use technology for a reason, not only does it make our lives easier, it saves lives, lots of lives. people who imagine 'rural simplicity' forget how much we benefit from technology in subtle ways, like nutrition and food, time to peruse leisure activities, and medication.

So, I think a perfect controversy could be adaptation and use of technology. Perhaps your elves have lived a simple traditionalist life with close contact with nature, but the lack of use of technology is starting to make it hard to provide for food for everyone. There could be a great debate between use of technology to improve lives and how it goes against their traditions, or even the concerns about it's harm to the enviroment.

Take this a step further and you can merge it into the isolation debate quit well. Maybe the non-isolated people have technology that the 'elves' don't use. They debate about using foreign technology would be closely connected to the debate to opening up to foreign communication. The same traditionalist view may exude both. Some though may be okay with using the new technology, while still wishing to be isolationist, or vice versa. The two debates are closely linked while still be different, and can nuance each other.

I personally would go a step further by showing the harm that the lack of technology does, but this is admittedly partially because I'm so frustrated with literature trying to claim those 'in touch with nature' are inherently better while also showing a lifestyle that is impossible without the modern technology they don't use. Show some food shortages that come from lack of using designer foods (long before genetic engineering we designed food by 'breeding' it; banana and corn did not look like what they do today when we first got hold of them). Show death from infection because basic anti-biotic aren't used.

You don't have to show the 'elves' as stupider or less advanced then others of course. You could show the 'elves' having better technology in other areas, while still making the debate about using the foreign tech very real.

Other then that two standard go-to options would be classism and speciesm (being unfairly bigoted against the foreigners they have been isolated away from, look at some of the anti-Hispanic bigotry). However, these 'controversies' are so overdone I find them a bit tedious to have come up yet again.

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One of the things that tend to happen in a perfect society is that young people with too much testosterone and too little life experience tend to get bored, unruly and eventually violent.

The political conflict that might arise could revolve simply around "our young are bored and agressive and we need to pacify them" vs "our young need to get it out of their system, we need to enable them".

Life thrives on conflict, and in its absense usually has no problem creating its own.

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I read this, and see a utopia. History can be a wonderful tool for exploring the attempts humanity has endured in the pursuit of utopia. My first thought, is the pursuit of Communism by Lenin, followed by Stalin. I say this not to demonize a political system, but to illustrate a potential avenue for you to explore. It may also be a good point of reference, as you are citing issues prevalent in 21st century America. A look at other nations, and at history may get that creative spark going.

The author, Ayn Rand, born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum in 1905, had lived through the establishment of Communism in her country, and later managed to immigrate to America. Her novels explore the dangers, as she saw them, in America migrating from a Democratic Republic, to a Communist system via selflessism, or as she viewed it, the use of guilt to deprive one who is successful, in order to supply one who is not, or chooses to remain idle. Instead, she preaches the virtues of selfishness, and throughout her life, maintained that selfishness as she meant, was not as it is defined.

Igor Gouzenko was an author and defector, known for the book, The Fall of a Titan, which depicts a Soviet man and his life, in the height of Soviet Russia. Igor Gouzenko had the unique perspective of having lived through the era, and policies of Stalin's Russia.

These two authors paint a wonderfully rich image of Communism, it's policies, it's ideals, and the real effect that it had on the people, and in doing so, provide an equally rich avenue for you to explore in terms of potential conflict. Not just from within the constraints of your Elfen and Human city, but from outside sources as well.

The history of Fascist Germany and Italy may serve many useful as well.

Closer to home, and on the topic of racism, or what may be in your case, speciesism, the topic of war makes a lot of room for controversy. Consider how African American soldiers were treated during the Civil War, WWI and WWII, or how Native Americans were viewed during WWII. Consider how many Japanese Americans were relocated in what equated to American concentration camps during WWII, and how many ended up losing their homes in the process. Further, consider how the Japanese Americans who enlisted into the military during WWII were treated, in comparison to the Native American "Wind Talkers" and what their return from war may have been like. Ira Hayes would be one example. These bring up a wealth of social controversies (on both sides of the table) that don't necessarily have to stem from war.

I think if you look to American history, and to the history of other nations, you will find a veritable cornucopia of useful controversy that you can use.

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I was thinking of a controversy in the ancient world that seemed alien to me. I had read about the importance of chariot racing factions or demes in Byzantine Constantiople. From Wikipedia on the Nika Riots:

The ancient Roman and Byzantine empires had well-developed associations, known as demes, which supported the different factions (or teams) under which competitors in certain sporting events took part; this was particularly true of chariot racing. There were initially four major factional teams of chariot racing, differentiated by the colour of the uniform in which they competed; the colours were also worn by their supporters. These were the Blues, the Greens, the Reds, and the Whites, although by the Byzantine era the only teams with any influence were the Blues and Greens. Emperor Justinian I was a supporter of the Blues.

The team associations had become a focus for various social and political issues for which the general Byzantine population lacked other forms of outlet. They combined aspects of street gangs and political parties, taking positions on current issues, notably theological problems or claimants to the throne.

Your citizens could ally themselves with a sports team in a spectator sport played by humans and elves both. The activities of the team could be proxies for larger issues. It seems unbelievable to me that an activity for which the closest modern parallel is football hooliganism could destroy half a city and cause the death of tens of thousands but that was the case for these Nika Riots, which were only the worst of the sort of conflicts these demes produced. One hazard of keeping the public occupied with bread and circus: the circus piece can get out of hand.

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"Women are politically and socially equal to men. The community is mainly middle class and doesn't have large income inequalities. Racism isn't common - they have far more in common with the other humans than the elves."

How are the norms enforced? This could be a great plot twist. How is it that their is no rich or poor, middle class? Are 100% happy with men and women being equal? Racism isn't common, but is it hidden?

If these norms are forced upon people, by whom? Is there a government/leadership issue?

Are the elves better off. Never underestimate envy. Most people at some level judge by comparison. I may have a Bentley, but the guy next door got a Mercedes and now I'm angry...

Is the government/leadership doing enough to assimilate or isolate? Who elected them anyway? Can I break out of the 'middle class' by creating a little strife?

Strife is usually not about our conditions, it is about our perceptions.

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