Month: May 2017

Adolescence

When creating societies one of the most important things is to think about the basic assumptions it runs on, and to make sure that I am not just projecting the way we do things here and now as the only way to do things.

Like every other element of cultures what adolescence means changes, from one generation to the next with massive ramifications.

For most of human history the concept of adolescence as we know it did not exist. You were a man or women as soon as you could do the work of an adult, before which you were taught by helping the adults.
In several societies there was some kind of test or rite where you entered adulthood. In some cases it was just recognizing you. In others it was a full on test to see if you were ready to take the responsibilities of being a full member of society.

Remember that when you set an age and call anyone below that a child and anyone over an adult you are making a generalization. Some below that number are going to be ready and will only be held back, some older are not ready and won’t be for years. Your picking a spot in a field of gray and calling one side white and one side black.
We do it because there is no other way to do it, at least that we will accept.
However just because we do it that way does not mean that is the way it always will have to be done. And of course even if our way is the best way that does not mean that someone in the future will or will not get it wrong.

Even from nations that could trace themselves to us there are several reasons the idea of adulthood would change.
The basic idea of people having to be younger or older to be adults is something that even in far future sci-fi you rarely see, which is a shame. Not to say that every reason it would change would be good of course.

The most obvious reason is that more work is needed to keep things running and the life expectancy is lower. If a society is on the verge of starvation they might not be able to afford to keep people who are physically and mentally capable of helping from doing so.
In a sci-fi setting this could mean anything from farming to crawling along the inner hull dragging wires behind you.
What if you lived on an asteroid and had to be self-sufficient? It could easily take almost all the manpower of everyone just to stay alive. On earth a great many things are provided for free: lack of radiation, air, gravity to name a few. If you had to fight to get all of those, and everyone had to pull some shifts getting dosed with radiation they might not often live past 35.
What might it be like to dock and encounter a sixteen year old cargo master who is directing people a few years younger then him to move cargo around?
It might be easy to have it set up with a few assholes in charge but it needant be that way. You could have them even proud of what they have done and what they are building. How would sixteen year old act if they were considered adults and had been for years? If they were trusted with the lives of others and trusted others with their lives?

One of the practical reasons for adulthood being 20ish is education, it takes until 18 or so to get through high school in the US, and can take four years or longer to get a collage degree.
A large part of the reason for this is because it is regimented, for the most part everyone goes through it at the same pace. This leads to inefficiencies. Ones that might not exist in the future.
One example would be if you had a computer that taught people with the skill and efficiency of a twenty four hour tutor who was an expert on everything. How fast might you progress? Could you have people five years ahead of where they would be now? If so how would that effect when they are considered adults?
One almost cliche answer is to download knowledge into peoples heads, after all a very large amount of what doctors and lawyers do in school is memorize. If you did not have to do that how fast might you be able to start working?
What would you do if you were sixteen and had all the education you needed to do your job? Would you be happy just sitting around or would you want to go out and start your adult life?

Teenage rebellion and outbursts are commonly a source of problems, and while most of the attempts to deal with it impose restrictions, what if a people did the opposite? What if they decided that you were given any adults rights you wanted but you had to earn them?
What if there were exit tests as the sole arbiter of exiting high school, tests that you had a right to take at any time.
Maybe even requiring people to hold a job for so long.
This of course could turn very bad, imagine if people set out with the best intentions and placed tests to become adults in the eyes of the law, each stage granting you more rights and responsibilities.
What if it were undermined, made harder and harder to the point of impossibility. What kind of problems would that cause? Would you have a de facto caste system spring up almost over the course of a generation? People who can’t pass a test so they can’t own property or travel freely?

Scarcity

Scarcity is the most basic concept in economics, its the idea that there is not enough supply for everyone to have everything they want. This of course, is what money is for, it’s used as a means to decide who can have what (put very simply).

One idea that you see now and then in science fictions is the idea of post-scarcity, of everyone having everything they want. A post-scarcity society would be one in which everyone has everything they want.

The problem with this is that I doubt there will ever be such a thing as post-scarcity, because humans always want more. When you free up resources you find other things to use them for.
We have passed through several instances of what could have been called post-scarcity.
There was a time when having enough food to eat every day and living to see your kids grow up was a pipe dream, something that rarely happened. Whereas now for many people those are a given and medical care is considered a basic necessity, something that only existed on a basic level not that long ago on the scale of the human race.

At some point we will pass through post-scarcity again, not in my lifetime to be sure but it will happen.
That said the question becomes what happens then? What do we then strive for?
And for that matter will we ever reach a point where most people can’t contribute to the betterment of our society, after all a great many jobs were no longer needed with the industrial revolution, what happens when most people are simply not able to do anything to help?

Scarcity, post or otherwise can be the source for many good stories, and is something that is often relegated to the background rather then the forefront.

What if the only people with jobs are those who would be top of the field today? If computers could do even the work of the average engineer or scientist and the only people working left are creative geniuses who do work only they can do.
Even artists may not be immune, if you could describe exactly what you wanted to a computer and it would make your a painting or a sculpture how many would be left?
What would you do in a world like that if you wanted to be one of these few but fell short, how would you give your life meaning?
And of course there is the problem of how you find these top people. Would everyone have to go to school just to find the top 0.01% of those who can push the field forward? Would you have extremely hard, competitive schools to find them? How many parents would not be ok with that? Would they push children too hard because of the prestige of being parent to one of them?
Maybe it would be brain scans and genetic mapping so you could be told from a young age you could be the next Newton. This could easily breed resentment, watching everyone else spend their time relaxing with no responsibilities while you are studying so you can spend the rest of your life working. potentially even to the point of putting you in some kind of stasis if there are too many in that generation.

One of the more depressing possible outcomes is that society stagnates. Everything is done for us so no one wants to do anything. If your options at 18 were to go to school for another ten years or retiring, how many people would keep at it? How long before whole specializations are empty?
This idea is far from new. Less thought about is what is done after. How about if your part of a society that has almost collapsed because of the above and you want to set your new course to one that won’t lead to your own destruction, what do you do?
If you have the technology to provide everyone a comfortable life where they will never want for anything but if you do you will doom yourselves what would you do? Would you artificially lower the quality of life low enough to create the desire to work?

Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity is a new term, most of those who it does not apply to do not know what it means or the movement it represents.

Neurotypical is what most people are, it means their thinking processes are basically normal, they are not autistic, dyslexic ect.
Neurodiversity is of course the inverse, one of the large ideas in the community is that people who are autistic or dyslexic or any number of other things are not lesser then ‘normal’ people but different.

All that established one idea that you see in the neurodiversity movement is the idea of a kind of soft genocide. If the genes that cause autism for example were found then they could just stop being born.
After all if a segment of a population is taking a disproportionate amount of public resources why not try?
Realistically I think this will be a thing that will become possible at some point, not in my lifetime maybe, but at some point. Given my book takes place in about five hundred years it is something I have to think about.

How many advances were made by people who were outcasts, or who were different? Does it not make sense that having more then one way of thinking will help solve problems?

We have had neurodiversity since the very start of our species. Its part of the human condition. So what happens if we change that? What effects would it have?

What would it be like to be an illegal autistic? If for example the government has genetic standards for children (and Liang, one of the major powers in my novel does). Assume you are a mistake, or your parents bribed a doctor to not alter your genes.
How would you feel? Would you be resentful of the world, or angry at your parents for not “Fixing” you? Would you run away to somewhere you could fit in the first chance you got?

It could start with trying to cut out the extremes, those who can not live and function on their own and who can’t contribute. Cutting out what the society considers to be flaws that will not allow the person to live a normal life. Over generations the definition of normal gets smaller, peaks and valleys in personalities get smoothed out. What we would consider to be normal differences would be severe psychological conditions to them.
I think that one of the outcomes of this would be that advances would slow down to a crawl. You would see small incremental improvements in science and technology but you would no longer produce the kind of people who radically change things.
How would such people interact with other cultures? Would they see everyone else as maladjusted to the world and slightly insane? Would they be resentful that they will not be able to carve a place in history as big as those before?
Even if humanity wanted to go back to the way things were, how would you convince parents to allow it? A great amount of effort by parents is put into making their children appear normal (often against the best interests of the children). How many parents would be okay with giving their children a harder life because some of the people born randomly might help society?

Overused Tropes: Corporations Run Everything

One of the things I was taught in collage is that cliches and tropes are not bad or good. Like any tool they can be used well and they can be used poorly.
Cliches and tropes are just stories that are ingrained into us because they come up so often, or are referenced often. They are useful mostly because you only have to tell part of a story.
That said they are often overused. For example the idea that in the future corporations run everything (as in they control or are the government) and everyone is poor. I could name several shows that are airing now, and more books, where this is the case.

From the state of the world I can understand why people think this will happen, and why their is fear of it happening. I can think of few worse forms of government then allowing corporations to take charge.

All that said there are other ways to do things, areas that I think could use some exploring before corporations running things becomes as oversaturated as zombies.
And of course one of the best uses of cliches is to subvert them.

Everyone is rich
One of the problems with corporations ruling and everyone being poor is that you can’t charge more for something then people can afford. A man who can barely put food on the table will not be buying the latest 4D TV. Also having a society that is that classiest are what revolutions are made of.
What if instead the average person was rich by our standards? For example what if menial jobs were common and you got the equivalent of 100k USD a year from them? But if was all but impossible to get a more intellectual job (like doctor or engineer) unless your one of the elite who work for the corporations. You graduate high school, get a job and you never really progress from there.
How many people would really fight against the system at that point? How would you fight it?

Corporations used to run everything but don’t anymore
An idea I find more interesting, and not done as far as I know is what happens afterward. What happens when corporations no longer run everything because they were kicked off planet, lynched or broken up. Even if a new colony left to do its own thing and determined not to allow corporations to take root.
This is one problem I am tackling, in the first novel it will probably not come up, but it will be huge in the second. I see many interesting stories you could tell with this. Off the top of my head I see only two ways to really limit corporations, the first is by employees and the second is by income.
For example if you limit them via numbers of employees what happens when you want to make something that you need more then the limit to make? If the limit was five hundred people and you wanted to design a car you could easily run out. One effect might be that the education focuses on duel degrees so one person can do the work of two. It could also mean that the work week gets longer because when your boss can’t hire anyone new he has to work you harder.

The other obvious way is money, probably profit. What this could mean is that at the end of every year any company that has more then so much profit is forced to split into enough pieces that each piece is below that threshold.
This of course has the issue of providing a reverse incentive past a certain point. Once your bank or factory or whatever gets too good it’s at risk of it being split. You could have hordes of accountants who’s job is to try and make sure CEO’s aren’t tanking their companies just enough to stay below it. Or of course just hiding the money.
You could even have problems with the top entrepreneurs not trying once they get to the cap, why try and make your car better if you won’t get more money for it?

I see strong stories that could be made from these. What would a colony look like 100 years after its founding if they picked one of them? You would be dealing with the problems caused by the solutions to the problems above.
And of course what happens if they gained trade relations with a planet that still had corporations running it?

Corporations are the good guys
What if the corporations are doing what they are for the best of reasons? Or even if just one was? What if one of the corporations were using its power to help, even if they were doing it in a evil fashion.
For example what if it was discovered that aliens were going to invade in several years and because governments have no power. What if a corporation decided to take care of the problem. They started to be ruthless about gaining short and middle term profit, whatever it took to get the resources to save the human race.
Or even something like 10% of the profit was put into things like curing diseases or in building cheap housing that is sold at cost. But in any other way they are run ruthlessly.
Its easy to demonize a corporation when they are purely out for themselves. Might it be more interesting if they were morally gray?

Corporations assume the responsibilities as well as the rights of the government
What if instead of the corporations being what they basically are today, except larger and unfettered by regulations they instead replace the government wholesale.
What I mean is; what if there was something like an auction every year and corporations got seats on a council that ran most everything but they had to take care of certain functions. Like say water purification.
This would apply to most areas of what the government does, they would buy rights and power but would have to make sure something important was taken care of.
Again many stories could come from this, and most of the stories that embrace the government being subsumed by corporations assume that corporations won’t change much when its done.