Immortals and their rules

edited October 2007 in Story Games
Let's say you have a couple of thousand members of a long-lived race. They no longer reproduce or are capable of reproducing. Materials and resources are barely an issue. They're divided into a dozen families. They're as smart as us, as wise as us, but technology has reached a plateau. They can kill each other with difficulty.

What sort of social rules and pecking order would develop?


  • Well, what is left for them to compete over? Entertainment, obviously, but also, I would think, grander ambitions, but there is one think that changes the arena of competition (and therefore pecking order) - no one routinely dies; I also take this to mean that no one routinely declines of old age.

    What that means is that being good at something is a function of how long you're willing to spend working on it, because time is the only scarce resource.


    Omeone else run with that.

  • Murder becomes a greater crime, since death is no longer in any way justifiable. As a consequence, the social order is bizarre, since it's can't be based on the threat of death, except if an individual becomes irreversibly antithetical to the society. By extension, imprisonment becomes largely untenable, since you need far more guards than you would in a mortal society - you can't keep prisoners in line by realistically threatening to kill them.
  • As a result, the Scarlet Letter is the main avenue for social control.

  • "As wise as us"? Scary.

    That would mean that the families would compete bitterly for prestige among themselves and that individuals would compete for prestige within the families. Yes, even though there's no actual element of competition for resources or the opportunity to pass on your genes - if these are people basically like us with the differences you've given, the whole monkey-troupe status dynamic will still be going on.

    And as Shreyas suggests, prestige would take two forms: Becoming better at socially approved skills (which may change artificially in a "fashion-like" way over time); and reputation, which can be positive and negative.

    Actually, this is almost the setup for Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, which you can read free online (follow the link). In a post-scarcity economy where nobody permanently dies (you can be restored from backup, so you're effectively immortal, and permanently young), a reputation currency has developed called "Whuffie" (for no reason that's ever explained).

    Of course, one way of getting lots of reputation may be to be deliberately scandalous. The low-status thing in a society like that would be to be boring and undistinguished. You'd probably get some pretty extreme decadence, at least until decadence became passé.
  • Awesome work, guys. Thank you so much.

    Thanks for the link, Mike. This sort of setting element *is* like a lot of Cory's work (and other posthuman SF) and I should go read that again.

    I saw a life of parties, scandal, reputation and gossip for these folk and wondered if it was painfully cliche and/or a logical conclusion. Exile as crime makes sense, because only the insane would want to be outside the circle.

    So they end up being either like The Ton in Regency terms (the best of the best)... or Valley girls.
  • Tastes are jaded, like Gran Bretan (sp?) in Moorcock's books, society highly stylized.

    Like a soap opera, everyone has been with everyone in a complex web that is dizzying to see spin.

    Because the same people are the most important people, and everything that happens can then matter, social status and pecking order is very important. Every good deed, misdeed etc. is remembered. Thus part of the stylized society is social order intended to avoid giving offence etc. Perhaps people wear masks to avoid a facial expression accidentally creating an impression and because we've all known each other so long we can read each other.
  • I think they might go one of two ways, culturally (or split amongst themselves), given immortality and plenty of resources:

    1)The Fashionistas: become habitual novelty-seekers. This season, paper is all the rage, so everybody is developing entirely new ahistorical schools of origami, wearing paper frocks, throwing paper-making parties... until suddenly the paradigm changes, and it's all about expressing yourself through music...

    Status goes to the most adaptable, the cleverest, and the arbiters of taste. The advantage of being a Fashionista is that different groups rise and fall with the passing of the fads, and you might get your turn. The disadvantage is that sooner or later, there's going to be a fad you are no good at, or that you hate.

    2) The Traditionalists. Think of Japanese tea ceremony aficionados. In this value system, things gather value by how long they've already been valuable, and how well they correspond to long-held abstract ideals. Things still change in this millieu, but very slowly, perhaps imperceptibly to outsiders.

    Status here flows up the pyramid to those with the most refined taste, who are not necessarily the most dynamic personalities. Emotional expression may be constrained or it may be rich, but it will be tightly controlled to fit the bounds of the acceptable. The advantage of the Traditionalist culture is that it's fairly constant and you know where you stand in it; the disadvantage is that everyone else knows where you stand as well.

    In either camp, there's plenty to fight about: the long-term directions of cultural evolution, who gets paid attention to, who mates with whom (unless they've stopped doing that too), who decides what happens with the scarcest resources, etc. And there will be scarce resources, by the way, if only people's time and energy.

    Over a sufficiently long time, some individuals might drift through both the Fashionista and Traditionalist groups multiple times, drawn by friendships or boredom or long-term strategy. There would probably be a smallish third group, at least, made up of all the people who don't fit in well with the two main groups. Even misfits need somebody to talk to.
  • Probably the thing that would make a setting like that really come alive is if there are a few malcontents who, as Danny suggests, are dissatisfied both with the superficial change-that-is-really-the-same of the fashionistas and the changelessness of the traditionalists, and want to change some things for real.

    People like that are dangerous to a well-ordered society.
  • The highest reverence is given to scientists and religious leaders who seek to unlock the secrets of birth and replication. You say they are no longer capable of reproducing, which implies this was not always the way. With technology at a peak and no new births, this civilization cannot grow. It can only shift and change. Only if new members are brought into the world will the society ever expand upward again.

    They fear that eventually, someday, there might be a war. If a war turns these people against themselves and even three hundred die, they've just lost a tenth of their population... a tenth of their existance. Although everyone struggles to gain their way to the top of the pecking order, the fact that they CAN be killed and more CANNOT be birthed to take their place puts a huge stressor on preventing war and violent confrontation.

    This is made all the more extreme and true considering that these people have, like Shreyas alluded to, nothing but time. An eternity of it. Think of the damage someone could do if they spent three thousand years training as an assassin mage, and then demanded complete reverence and obedience from all those who'd spent their time writing poetry and composing harp melodies. Death is the one unsurpassable obstacle for this race, and violence is the sole cause of death. Thus, everyone must fear the possibility of that well-honed assassin mage. Every house safeguards themselves against such a possibility, and this leads to each house having an elite ceremonial guard in each house.

    The ceremonial guard are held in high prestige, but if they were to actually take arms against another house, this would change. If House Dakai and House Samai were to get into armed conflict, the other ten-odd houses would shame them, limit them, shun them, possibly demand that the sinful attacks commit seppuku in a sacrificial prayer of peace. Violence cannot be tolerated, because violence is the end of the peace and the balance and the race. It is the end of everything.
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