another big mrxak discussion topic
Okay, so it's been a while since I made one of these. I'll remind you of my past topics:
Space Travel and Governments
Population Growth and Economic Evolution in a Space-Faring Civilization
Government Systems and Politics
On Relative Sizes of Spacecraft
Economic Systems and Space Corporations
(If I missed any, let me know and I'll add it to the list)
Feel free to gravedig any of them, by the way. New discussion is always fun to read on those topics. Also bear in mind that most of them went off topic and discussed a number of other fascinating topics not alluded to by their titles.
Anyway, new year, new topic. This one will be about when everything's over: The Downfall of Civilization.
There are a number of potential causes for civilizations to end. Disease, war, famine, internal collapse, natural causes and more. What steps are taken by government and citizens alike to stave off the end, and the effects of the end? What happens to everybody and all their stuff? I have some thoughts that might seed your own development ideas. Feel free to tear down my ideas as silly and wrong, so long as you propose some ideas of your own at the same time. No point in me posting a huge topic and not getting criticism, comments, and questions.
A planet is dying, with most of the population is infected, or will be soon. A civilization is cursed with a genetic disease and won't be able to reproduce anymore after a few more generations. A bioweapon has been used on a strategic world, and due to its importance in interstellar trade, infectees have already spread to several other nearby worlds before quarantine was enforced.
Whatever the cause, lots of people are sick or dying. Some may prove immune to the effects, and infection may not be complete. Nonetheless, economic damage is massive. If it's not already too late for quarantine, basic necessities may be unable to reach a planet due to fear of inadvertent spread, leading to famine, riots, even civil war or popular uprising.
If the infection is not widespread among a multi-planet civilization, merely wiping out a single planet, the overall effects may not be bad for that civilization, or they may be terrible. If the planet is of minor strategic importance, with a small population, the greater effects are likely minimal, but on that world itself things will be horrible, and potential for dramatic storytelling is certainly possible. A world of great importance, even if just to a single industry, might cripple a space-faring civilization, bringing about economic collapse throughout the galaxy. A well-populated doomed world will likely have people on it related to others all over, which means there will be grieving and desperate relatives.
What is the governmental reaction to such a disaster? If man-made, there is potential for war, or other conflict. A naturally caused infection doesn't preclude the possibility that somebody won't make political hay out of it. Even natural disasters have potential for finger-pointing and blame. Evidence of foreign involvement is likely to be fabricated if tensions are already high and the disaster is sufficiently shocking to one's people. To prevent the spread of an illness or to sterilize an otherwise useful world for recolonization, is somebody liable to use daisy cutters or nuclear weapons (including neutron bombs to leave infrastructure intact) to burn away any germs, or big honking particle cannons to melt the surface of a planet? If the infection has spread, how many worlds is a government likely to glass before there are widespread protests or just no more point? What kind of medical aid will other worlds offer? What of the people who are immune, or merely carriers? Are they exterminated all the same, moved off to some special medical station, or allowed back into society? Is quarantine self-imposed by a planet's local government, or imposed externally by the greater civilization? What if there is conflict between the two?
If the infection is widespread, not just a single planet threatened, and just about everybody everywhere is sick, or perhaps the sick and well are so intermingled over every world that quarantine is impossible, what then? Does government collapse under the strain of trying to do something for everyone? Do people just give up and anarchy reigns? Is there martial law? Are there organized attempts to separate the few uninfected and have them leave to start new colonies? Do the infected try to escape with them? Something so widespread would cripple most economies, unless it was not immediately fatal. If it's not immediately fatal, do people continue going to work in the fields to feed their civilization? Does interstellar commerce continue, or does every planet look after themselves for a while? How do religions react to and interpret plagues? Are the sick seen as sinful and deserving? Do some believers find solace in an afterlife and become fearless in helping the sick? What kinds of fake cure scams will spring up? Will the government do anything about them?
A planet is conquered by an enemy intent on enslaving the native population. A civilization begins to crumble as its last remaining fleets are destroyed by a massive invasion. Orbital bombardments begin against several strategic industrial worlds, crippling the war engine of a once-great civilization, with billions dead and dying below.
War defeat comes quickly, or slowly. If it comes quickly, survivors may be left in shock, beaten and decimated. If it comes slowly, it may be a long, depressing despair. Depending on the enemy's goals, whole populations may be wiped out, enslaved, or reeducated and integrated in the new culture. Either way, a defeated power's civilization is essentially over.
What happens to slave populations? Are they forced to work to death in phlebotinum mines under the ruins of their once great cities? Are they split from their families and shipped off-world to be harvested for organs, converted into cyborgs, and used to build hover tanks in the harsh climate of some normally-uninhabitable world? Are there slave revolts? Are they successful? Do they then turn on each other over how to rebuild? Are they later crushed with death from above? Once the war is over, what happens to them?
What does a government do when it's losing a war, and losing it bad? Propaganda is a good idea, usually. Do people realize it's all a lie? Do people build bunkers under their houses, and hoard food and weapons? Does a government organize a resistance force before its leaders are imprisoned or executed? Is there an attempt to hide or run away? Is it even possible, with the enemy closing in from all directions? What about the diplomatic front? Is peace an option, or is only total surrender acceptable to the enemy? Does the enemy even communicate? Does the enemy regard the people they're exterminating as creatures worthy of life? How far are government leaders willing to go to save themselves at the cost of their people, or save their people at the cost of their own lives?
What happens during an orbital bombardment? Is everyone on the surface killed, or are there many survivors who face a long demise starving or without adequate protection from the elements? Is an orbital bombardment followed by occupation, or do the ships in orbit simply fly away afterwards? What other atrocities might be visited upon a planet's population in war, once the defenses are gone? Is communication off-world possible? Do people there receive news of the war on other fronts?
A critical food shipment is lost or contaminated on its way to a highly populated world with little or no agriculture of its own. A biodome suffers a containment breach in a terrorist attack, and great stores of water and air are lost. A local supernova flooded an entire region of space with radiation that damaged ecosystems irreparably, leaving soil dead and trillions of people without crops.
The lack of any life-sustaining resource is a serious matter. If people cannot eat, drink, or breathe, not a lot is going to go on in terms of civilization. We know famines are often caused by droughts, but we can think more broadly than that. Lack of good infrastructure, poor nutrients in the soil, environmental sabotage, and economic collapse can cause food to either not grow, or not get to where it needs to be. Even with droughts there can be many causes, such as a malfunctioning weather control system, a star becoming more active or expanding, or a lost water shipment from an ice moon to a desert planet. Even these can be caused maliciously or naturally, adding to the possibilities.
This is much more likely to be a local problem, like disease, and the effects may be quite similar. How long it goes on will determine how likely riots or civil war is to occur. Larger central governmental structures may be slow to respond, even if the effects are immediate to the people living on a starving planet. Trying to help one planet may cause problems for all the others.
If a famine is widespread to many worlds, even an entire civilization, things can get much more dangerous. If a critical food-producing world is somehow unable to produce, it could have far-reaching effects. It would also be hard to cover up across a civilization, if such a thing occurred. Compare that to a systemic problem in transportation infrastructure, region-wide ecological damage, or corruption, and it's far easier for the government to hide a problem from the people.
A military coup occurs and the popular intergalactic president is executed publicly. A major political issue splits industrial and agricultural worlds apart into civil war. A feud between two sons of the recently-deceased emperor causes factions to form on the Throne World and Outer Worlds alike.
For whatever reason, events have finally led up to an interstellar society's collapse. Perhaps the leadership was living in decadence and ignored the needs of the people. Perhaps internal strife at the capital erupted into violence in the streets. A key assassination, a coup, or a simmering feud has triggered a series of events; words were said and deeds were done, and nothing will ever make things go back to how they used to be. Whether through complacency, personality conflicts, systemic corruption, or unbalanced power structures, a civilization is collapsing under its own weight.
I don't have a whole lot to say about this one, just that you should always consider that your great and powerful civilization could merely be a house of cards. When writing about your United Federation of Planets, or United Earth Governments, ask yourself what might cause it to fall apart. Whatever reasons you come up with, the effects can be devastating, causing all of the above Downfalls.
A sun's nova is making an important world unlivable. A broken weather control system on Risa is causing massive flooding in paradise. A black hole passing through the plane of the galaxy is causing stars, asteroids, and planets to careen unexpectedly with disastrous results all over the place.
Maybe fate is calling, and your civilization's time is up. For whatever reason, where you're living now, you can't live anymore. Whatever natural phenomena is causing you trouble, you could have negative effects to your food supply, your world could become bathed in radiation, you might be faced with extreme temperatures or weather, you might have asteroids striking your planet, or you might even have strange new diseases infect your population due to changes in climate, such as suddenly having a swamp in your backyard or native animals migrating suddenly.
If localized to just one planet or system, evacuation needs to happen if anyone is to survive. Is there enough time to get everyone off-world or far from the local star? How are evacuees selected? Is there a plan for those left behind? What about samples of the local floral and fauna? Cultural items like art and statues? What about governmental records, and people's prized possessions? What about critical resource stores? Will that planet's cultural identities be preserved in a new colony, or will refugees lose that forever?
If something really bad happens, like a supernova that's going to affect an entire region of a galaxy, and an entire civilization is threatened over the course of weeks, months, or years, priorities may change a bit. Unless a civilization has given up stationary bases and planetary colonies in exchange for mobile ships, the likelihood of everyone getting out of danger is slim. Again, who and what is saved and who and what is left behind? Can anyone be saved, or is it impossible due to a truly massive natural disaster? Will signs of a once-proud civilization remain for future civilizations to find many years later, or will whole planets be burned away or sucked into a black hole? What will a civilization do, when faced with total annihilation, to get some part of itself preserved for the rest of time? How will religions react, when faced with armageddon? Will the general populace even know, or will it all be a state secret? Will a government send in the military to reestablish order on a rioting planet when that planet and the civilization as a whole are doomed anyway?
It's not just a matter of how the world is ending for a particular civilization, but what people do about it. What do central and local governments, religions, community groups, the military, and free traders do? What about the average, doomed citizen? What about the average doomed citizen's cousin on another planet? What about those off-planet on business or pleasure, only to find out they can't go back? What about those other civilizations watching from afar?
It's said that in times of trouble, people turn to hope, more often than not. Religious services gain in attendance. Families spend more time on simpler activities. Communities come together. Businesses see opportunities to gain PR points by being generous and helpful in an emergency.
On the other hand, people can also turn to violence when they're desperate. The government and military may also become heavy-handed. The average soldier, under stress with the knowledge of how bad things are, may do things he or she wasn't trained to normally do. The average citizen, under the influence of mobs, may do things he or she would never do alone.
What happens when a world is depopulated? The ruins of civilization may take a long time to truly vanish. Fairly quickly, though, if nature still exists on a world, nature will reclaim those areas lost to civilization. Faced with no power sources or technology, survivors may find themselves remembering back to their history lessons, live in underground rapid transport tubes, build fires, and hunt animals with sharpened sticks. They won't forget how to pilot a shuttlecraft through hyperspace though, not for a couple generations, at least. It will take many, many generations before they forget they were once part of a great multi-planet civilization. Depending on the expertise of the survivors, they may even rebuild quite a bit, repairing damaged technology, finding salvageable space-faring vessels, and establishing communications with other survivors on and off their world.
Anyway, just some thoughts about the downfall of civilization. I hope you have a lot to think about and comment on, and I look forward to reading your responses and seeing these kinds of details described in your plug-ins.