I recently ran across 2 interesting blog posts about how science fiction and fantasy often shove people into fixed categories because of species. First, Salem MacGourley wrote about why he prefers to play humans in role-playing games:
I'm really kind of a fan of humans. This translates into my gaming habits, as there's many games out there that let you pick not only male or female, but species as well. I always roll human. Sure, Dwarves might be stronger, Krogans might be more resilient, Asari might live a thousand years longer, and Elves might be bastards, but give me a human any day. Us humans, we can do anything. I can't, for the life of me, remember the source of the quote, nor can I the quote itself, but on Star Trek, probably Deep Space Nine, there was a quote about humans that's stuck with me. You take 10 Klingons, you've got 10 fierce warriors. 10 Ferengi, you've got 10 shrewd businessmen. 10 Romulans, 10 expert spies. But you take 10 humans, you don't know *what* you're dealing with. They could be anything. You can't plan for humans.
Why is that? Tamara Keel explains:
What you get is ten bigots. Because, see, humans, specifically the humans that wrote that script, look at ourselves as "people" and the other people, the ones with the pointy ears or the furry feet or the bony ridges on their foreheads, as "archetypes".
All Klingons are honor-loving warriors. All dwarves are beer-swilling Lawful Good blacksmiths with, for some reason, bad fake Scottish accents. All elves are ethereal granola-munching bunny-hugging archers. But humans are people and therefore can be good or evil, horticulturalists or mechanical engineers, priests or physicists, saints or monsters.
In Dungeons & Dragons, dwarves can't be rangers and halflings can't be magic users, but humans can be any character class. In Star Trek, the United Federation of Planets is a galaxy-spanning polyspecies polity, but the officer's mess on any Starfleet vessel looks more like a board meeting at Augusta National than it does the cantina in Star Wars. The most homogenous, conformist technological society on planet Earth has everything from tattooed yakuza to sumo wrestlers to lolita cosplayers, but you could title a documentary on Klingons Fifty Shades of Worf.
This tendency has long struck me as a weakness of Star Trek. You could have a Klingon society dominated by warriors, but only if it was a constantly expanding empire with a booty-based economy, such as Fifteenth Century Spain. Ferenginar could exist as a mercantile city-state similar to Seventeenth Century Venice. But the entire populations couldn't consist of warriors or merchants. At minimum, someone would have to build and run the machines.
Occasionally Star Trek's writers addressed the discrepancy. Nog once commented that his father Rom would have made a great engineer if only he hadn't been pressured to go into business. It just would have been nice if the series had kept going and given even more sociological depth to alien cultures that were easily stereotyped.
-via Glenn Reynolds