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If you wouldn't like living that way (in the lowest status slot in the pecking order), you're doing it wrong.
December 11, 2009 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Metafilter's Own Charlie Stross asks the question; " You, and a quarter of a million other folks, have embarked on a 1000-year voyage aboard a hollowed-out asteroid. What sort of governance and society do you think would be most comfortable, not to mention likely to survive the trip without civil war, famine, and reigns of terror?" engrossing commentary follows. (via)
posted by The Whelk (156 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
Everyone in separately sealed chambers, with piped in utilities (including food grown by robots) and videophones.
posted by DU at 8:49 AM on December 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


1. Suspended animation.
2. Direct democracy with no government (now becoming possible).
posted by blue_beetle at 8:50 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Darn it, I came in here to say suspended animation.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:52 AM on December 11, 2009


Benevolent dictator for life.
posted by scrowdid at 8:52 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Something not involving s&m and superglue.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:52 AM on December 11, 2009 [10 favorites]


Suspended animation; new decisions made by robo-planchette on the ship's Ouija Control Board system.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:53 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


That was a great read, although I really don't think we're going to be sending these flesh sacks out to the stars. We'll send slow-moving fabs/factories and transmit copies of whatever passes for a brainstate to it when it's about to arrive at its destination (or just keep a brainstate copy in Ultimate Fun Space for the voyage).
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:54 AM on December 11, 2009


Xenu will provide. Over.
posted by mattbucher at 8:55 AM on December 11, 2009


Direct democracy with no government

AKA latestmediafrenzyarchy.
posted by DU at 8:55 AM on December 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


Charlie Stross is one of the very few people out there with so interesting a blog and so high-quality a community of commentors that a link not just to a single post but also specifically to the comments on that post can be a legitimate FPP. Very nice.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:55 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS THE ASTEROID
WAKE UP SHEEPLE!

(paid for by the Space Skeptics' Association)


As such, I think some limits on expression might be called for, lest we all get sucked out into space...
posted by lumensimus at 8:56 AM on December 11, 2009


Guess I meant 'Infinite Fun Space'. Darn.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:57 AM on December 11, 2009


Well, the first thing I'd do is start a Reign Of Terror style thing, getting a bunch of like minded individuals together to hunt down and kill anyone who doesn't share our idealogical standpoint. If another group of individuals also gets together to combat us we'll declare an official civil war, fighting it out for territory and conscripting the people of said territories into armed service. Ultimaetly, we'd storm their fortified headquarters, medieval style, to starve them out and win ultimate dominion over the hollowed out asteroid.
posted by shmegegge at 8:58 AM on December 11, 2009 [11 favorites]


oh wait, I just read the - ...

god damn it.
posted by shmegegge at 8:58 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


1. Suspended animation.

Ruled out in the article.

2. Direct democracy with no government (now becoming possible).

Only if the passengers are selected for education and critical thinking skills, please.

I think we'd need to develop a beneficent AI to rule us as an absolute monarch. Humans can't be trusted with the job.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 8:59 AM on December 11, 2009


The Book of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe or the short story Paradises Lost by Ursula K. Le Guin.
posted by sciurus at 9:00 AM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Can Jessamyn be the mod?
posted by Joe Beese at 9:01 AM on December 11, 2009 [15 favorites]


Chaotocracy.
posted by hermitosis at 9:01 AM on December 11, 2009


There was this wild legendary dude named Moses who in some sort of fever dream came up with a pretty good set of rules for this kind of situation:

1. Don't fight about religion. Everyone worships the same god, or no god, or STFU.
2. Don't go around making other stuff your god, either.
3. If everyone's agreed on a god, respect that. Don't mock or malign it.
4. Take a regular scheduled break to reflect on stuff.
5. Respect your elders.
6. Don't kill people.
7. If you're in a committed relationship, don't cheat.
8. Don't steal other people's stuff.
9. Don't lie about other people.
10. Don't obsess about other people's stuff, either.
posted by Shepherd at 9:03 AM on December 11, 2009 [34 favorites]


Stephen Baxter wrote an interesting book called Ring which includes this topic.
posted by Vulpyne at 9:04 AM on December 11, 2009


For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky...

I find the idea that the descendants might become claustrophobic and not want to leave the ship once they reached the New World an interesting and definite possibility.

I'd also wonder how to deal with issues like in-breeding, and the reverse: how to build the population back up after some malfunction causes a famine that decimates it.
posted by misha at 9:07 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Islamofascism
posted by Damn That Television at 9:09 AM on December 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


Economic libertarianism -- in the contemporary American sense -- aboard a generation ship would be just plain suicidal. It's dog-eat-dog capitalism with the brakes off; I'm of the opinion that libertarian ideology is based on a falacious theory of mind, and would in practice degenerate rapidly into a rather nasty form of industrial feudalism.

The Bioshock Effect?

(also, I ♥ Stross)
posted by brundlefly at 9:10 AM on December 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


Misha, quarter of a million people is enough to prevent inbreeding a thousand times over. I forget what the minimum needed population was to prevent really bad inbreeding, but I do remember it seeming really small to me, like a little less than a thousand.

Or I could be talkin' outta my ass.
posted by The Whelk at 9:11 AM on December 11, 2009


you: shock collar.
me: remote control.
posted by krautland at 9:12 AM on December 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I say we have humans run a democratic republic like we have in America, but we have the judicial branch run by benevolent AI(s), with open-source code. Primary education on the planet will include programming lessons in the language the AI is written for. People on board, wanting justice, will have an incentive to want the AI to be fair. The press should also be free, allowing the AI to also publish its opinion on current events in context of the ship's history and history at large, so long as the code shows that it does not include significant bias in its legally binding decisions. The AI must always have an accurate copy of human history and transcript of public events (what's public is to be decided by the other two branches) on the ship. Attempts to deny the AI of these things or to pervert the records will be considered treason.

That way, humans on board feel a sense of control, but an AI that has an intrinsic understanding of the ship's history and mission (its "Constitution"), which will keep things in order. The mission can be amended, but it will require a very large majority from the senate and a signature from the president.

Education should also include basic economics, so that people on board don't fall into rigid ideologies that just plain won't work on the ship. If there are a bunch of Randroids or hardcore communists on the ship, the economy could enter a state of decline on pure ideological principle, rather than a reasoned attempt to find what works.
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:12 AM on December 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


These Premises Are Alarmed: "That was a great read, although I really don't think we're going to be sending these flesh sacks out to the stars. We'll send slow-moving fabs/factories and transmit copies of whatever passes for a brainstate to it when it's about to arrive at its destination (or just keep a brainstate copy in Ultimate Fun Space for the voyage)."

Related entry in which he muses and touches on the brainstate/upload thing.

Although, assuming you can be a brainstate in the land of Infinite Fun, why in the world would you ever want to wear an actual flesh sack again? You'll just task self-replicating machines who'll do the drudgework of building more computing infrastructure to support even more Fun Space.

For even more Stross-related, Accelerando partially muses on a Fermi Paradox answer related to brainstate-upload-simulation-space--namely, there's no real good return on interstellar travel; Ultimate Fun Space civilizations naturally compress down hard around their solar systems as they convert the system into optimal Infinite Fun computational infrastructure.

I dig his blog quite a bit. His books that I've read never quite clicked with me, but the ideas are pretty fun.
posted by Drastic at 9:15 AM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


To be honest, I suspect that the only thing that could possibly work would be some kind of hard-line military dictatorship with full institutional control over every aspect of citizens' lives and activities.
Any form of democracy is just asking for trouble.
posted by rocket88 at 9:16 AM on December 11, 2009


PS: Let me just make it clear: My idea does not mean they would be taking up current American economics. Rather, the ship would adopt what economic policy the ship found to be most sustainable.

To keep the libertarians in check, the mission statement would explicitly state that economic policies or expansion or contraction of the government should be made to ensure long term welfare. Any policy meant to intentionally subvert that for short term gain (but net loss) or on a principle not guaranteed by the mission (their bill of rights) is subject to be deemed unconstitutional by the Judge AI.
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:16 AM on December 11, 2009


I'd also wonder how to deal with issues like in-breeding, and the reverse: how to build the population back up after some malfunction causes a famine that decimates it.

I think the founder effect could be easily avoided by taking a few hundred pounds of frozen embryos along on the journey.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 9:17 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Humm, 1000 years, and stability uber alles. I'd go for some sort of god-King, with the majority of the population doing subsistence farming, with the technology preserved by some sort of closed priesthood that is kept intentionally separate from the rest of the passengers.

The trick to maintaining stability would just be resisting any sort of disruptive change, basically cultural/technological suspended animation. You'd probably have to kidnap or kill anyone who showed any sort of particular cleverness among the general population (and hope that intelligence isn't inheritable, or you're going to have a bunch of morons by the end of the trip).
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:18 AM on December 11, 2009


PSS: That sounded bad. I mean, economic extremists in general. The specific shoutout to libertarians was some well-intentioned ribbing.
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:18 AM on December 11, 2009


And topically for the generation ship thing, I'm probably in the cynical camp. The most sustainable would probably be something Brave New World esque--lots of social conditioning via various means. Probably more than a touch of the chililng "Focus" concept in Vernor Vinge's Deepness in the Sky (essentially, neural control that creates deliberate autistic savants, with the savant natures being focused, natch, on the needed skills).
posted by Drastic at 9:21 AM on December 11, 2009


Can Jessamyn be the mod?

Sure, but if we vote Obama in as space president you have got to quit bitching about him.
posted by graventy at 9:24 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd also wonder how to deal with issues like in-breeding, and the reverse: how to build the population back up after some malfunction causes a famine that decimates it.

I think the founder effect could be easily avoided by taking a few hundred pounds of frozen embryos along on the journey.


Hors d'oeuvre?
posted by brundlefly at 9:24 AM on December 11, 2009


Pharocracy. Build an artificial Nile, start with a bunch of kids raised by actors playing ancient Egyptians, and never let them know they are on an interstellar voyage until they get there.

Either that, or ancient China.
posted by fings at 9:24 AM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


misha: I find the idea that the descendants might become claustrophobic and not want to leave the ship once they reached the New World an interesting and definite possibility.

My first encounter to this idea came from a Fantastic Four comic given to me by my uncle. The Fantastic Four encounter an ancient sleeper spaceship adrift in the negative zone, lost for hundreds of generations because a disaster destroyed the guidance system. Reed Richards fixes the ship of course, and the crew is horrified to land on a bucolic paradise filled with life and open spaces.

The captain is about to kill the Richards clan when the first mate drops the second big reveal, and the captain commits suicide in horror. The colonists stored in suspended animation have all died, and the agoraphobic crew are the last of their species. The FF leave the crew to their religious belief that a planetary paradise exists somewhere in the depths of space, and they will have their eventual homecoming.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:26 AM on December 11, 2009


Hoo man, this judge AI sounds awesome. My life, governed by something built like Firefox or GIMP. Hope the computer will actually be my friend in this Alpha Complex.

Did Asimov die for nothing?
posted by bonaldi at 9:30 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd say any new system of democracy should use ranked voting and exploit all that we've leaned about voting systems, a small subject in mathematics which has progressed enormously.

If you are writing a science fiction story, an interesting source for underlying social friction might be whether the system satisfies the Condorcet criterion and how circular ambiguities (ties) are resolved. You see strong lobbying for instant runoff voting now since computations are simple, but advances in computer technology and small populations size might make these arguments irrelevant.

There is otoh evidence that these problems become less severe when multiple winner are elected simultaneously (see single transferable vote), so people might reasonable argue that more computationally intensive methods were unnecessary. You might imagine political factions trying to gain power by using superior computing power to game the underlying system that was installed for computational simplicity when computers were less powerful.

I'd idealistically imagine that any asteroid based society would take these various mathematical criteria as measures of legitimacy, possibly even dynamically like votes of no confidence in modern parliamentary systems.

Also, there is considerable evidence that deliberative democracy can provide the benefits of direct democracy without the draw backs. Imagine the president has no veto power but all laws must pass a jury trial using a large statistically significant jury to avoid jury selection issues, like say 100 people. Any 5% opinion in the legislature may send a lawyer to the trial and the president may send a lawyer or appear himself. I'd imagine such a system could be excellent at cutting pork and reducing complexity, while simultaneously granting laws more legitimacy than even referenda and not requiring every citizen even know about every law. All priorities in the limited resource environment of a space ship.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:30 AM on December 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


Any solution, of course, will be downright dystopian. In my idea, I'd expect it to be utilitarian, with "comfort" being just above the bare minimum. That's the cold beauty of the AI judge and constitution calling for maximum long term welfare; it'll veto any law it foresees causing problems for welfare and survival of the colony as a whole.

"Minimum" being content enough that they're efficient workers who don't go on strike or kill themselves. There will probably be euthanasia and forced abortions by necessity, but only at the rate where people on board don't feel such a sense of futility that they can't function (IE "I worked all my life knee-deep in algae pools to feed people stuff that tastes like old socks, and I'll probably be killed at 55?"). They won't be happy, and they'll need to pick an initial population of people who are not prone to any form of depression.

The moral justification for the mission, I guess, is the population of a new world so that humanity can live on longer. Plus, two planets of humans are roughly twice as likely to invent faster than light travel so that people don't need to go through this awful experience again.

This really sounds like it would make a good Settlers or Anno-style game. Any game designer MeFites want to try it?
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:31 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Asked the question to my engineer BF, who said "Drug cocktails pumped into the air scrubbers. Like all the time."
posted by The Whelk at 9:34 AM on December 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


Chop it up into 5 or 10 distinct physically societies and do everything you can to make sure they don't have the means to access one another. Have a computer controlled system allowing extremely unwieldy travel between adjacent areas once every ten years, e.g. a tunnel you have to crawl through which is open for 30 minutes.

Do everything you can to distribute resources (presumably delivered by automated systems as well as created by the inhabitants) within each section evenly so they are more difficult to control. Do everything you can to distribute knowledge - micro etch every surface with information and literature.
posted by ecurtz at 9:36 AM on December 11, 2009


2. Direct democracy with no government (now becoming possible).

Only if the passengers are selected for education and critical thinking skills, please.


god, the last thing we'd fucking need would be for Daughtry to be voted into some position of responsibility.
posted by shmegegge at 9:37 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the fundamental problem though is that you can't have interstellar travel without some form of handwavium given current theory. So you take your pick: voodoo physics (Reynolds' Conjoiner drives), voodoo computer science and solid-state physics (Accellerando), or voodoo biology (seed ships, mind uploads.) Just pick one and quit trying to torture the underlying science. The less technobabble the more believable the technology in my opinion.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:40 AM on December 11, 2009


D'oh!

Do everything you can to minimize typos by giving inhabitants the ability to edit posts.
posted by ecurtz at 9:43 AM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


That's the cold beauty of the AI judge and constitution calling for maximum long term welfare; it'll veto any law it foresees causing problems for welfare and survival of the colony as a whole.

"Will we next create false gods to rule over us? How proud we have become, and how blind."
Sister Miriam Godwinson,
"We Must Dissent"
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:45 AM on December 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


I also like the idea of using drugs, neurosurgery, propaganda and/or hypnosis (whichever combo works best) on the people so that they lose their sense of self and then transfer that bit of egotistical real estate to the colony as a whole. The behaviors of this pseudo-hivemind's individuals would look bizarre, sad and disgusting to us, but every person on that ship would be working towards whatever makes the mission work, even if it goes against what they would want as individuals (they'll even kill themselves if it helps the mission a tiny bit).

As there are no genetic changes, this means that if the ship ceases treatment once they reach and colonize Earth 2.0, the first native generation will have minds just like ours, so that they can form societies just like the ones we like, and which have worked relatively well on a planetwide scale, which I assume we want since the intent of the mission is probably to keep humans, as we know them, alive on another part of the universe to avoid catastrophe.

Of course, the first "unchanged" generation would be very different from their parents, but what kid doesn't think his parents are creeps? They might not be so well adjusted, but within 3 or 4 generations, the creepy old people will be nothing more than a cultural memory, nearly a myth rather than mass trauma.

I feel like this is cheating in a way, though, as it dramatically changes human nature. It's a bit like the suspended animation solution, as it sidesteps 90% of the problem. It's assumed that it's possible to mine enough resources and keep enough people alive over generations to populate a new planet, the problem is just that people need to be organized in the right way to do it.
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:46 AM on December 11, 2009


The only way this could possibly work is to start with some kind of feudal system and an overlord. Plus enough technology to overthrow kings without compromising life support or killing too many people.

Then leave it to work it's own way out.

Governance needs to evolve according to the situation, and a "pave where people walk" system with the option to reboot may provide people the facility to make the best system for the situation. Anything else is going to be a weird rigid thing that allows for misuse and mishandling & which wouldn't work in the context of a giant asteroid with only 1/4 a million occupants.
posted by seanyboy at 9:48 AM on December 11, 2009


You, and a quarter of a million other folks, have embarked on a 1000-year voyage aboard a hollowed-out asteroid. What sort of governance and society do you think would be most comfortable, not to mention likely to survive the trip without civil war, famine, and reigns of terror?

There's no magic bullet for creating a utopia, if there was a group of people would have created a perfect society on Earth, where there are a lot more resources and a lot less logistical issues. If survival on a space voyage requires 1000 years of peace and prosperity, it's simply not going to happen, because most real societies on Earth have a hard time stringing 10 good years together, let alone 1000.

I think the most productive thing to do would be to put in as many automated safeguards as possible to prevent the inhabitants from destroying themselves or otherwise screwing up the mission, because 1000 years is long enough that anything that could possibly go wrong probably will.

Chop it up into 5 or 10 distinct physically societies and do everything you can to make sure they don't have the means to access one another. Have a computer controlled system allowing extremely unwieldy travel between adjacent areas once every ten years, e.g. a tunnel you have to crawl through which is open for 30 minutes.

If you're going to do this, why not just make separate vessels? People didn't migrate from Europe to the Americas in one giant ship.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:52 AM on December 11, 2009


Very cool article.

You can't build a stable hab culture on material acquisition because it has to function in a resource-bounded environment

Sadly, this is true on the Earth too. We just haven't quite realized that we're already living on an oversize asteroid hurtling through space. We'll figure it out soon though.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:52 AM on December 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


There is also the idea of a society of (mostly) leisure. With enough people (and enough voodoo technology). Everyone gets a random 10-hour work week ticket and spends the rest of the time at play. There are, of course, problems with this (If it was a Star Trek episode of course the Paradise Ship would have an evil supercomputer or - something) but Stross's thoughts seem to be floating toward that discussion.
posted by The Whelk at 9:53 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've lived on ships and dictatorship is the only thing that works. They'd all die in a month if it was a democracy.
posted by fshgrl at 9:55 AM on December 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


Eggs N' Sperms.

No reason to condemn hundreds of generations to die in an asteroid prison, no biosphere needed. Why ship people?
posted by jenkinsEar at 9:55 AM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


is it a rigid dictatorship if everyone is happy with it? Some SF Gormenghast-y plot where a 3rd generation "serf" wants the system to be more free and open but ends up causing a revolution that ruins the system (and the mission) and quality of life for everyone?
posted by The Whelk at 9:57 AM on December 11, 2009


(Or again, the Enterprise finds an Asteroid, finds out it's a ship, finds out everyone on it is miserable but refuses to tell why, until it comes to light that it was a colony ship on a mission to the End Of Known Space until a 2nd generation rebel group tried to turn it around ..and ended up marooning them in a decaying orbit around a star- or something.)
posted by The Whelk at 9:59 AM on December 11, 2009


Surely the ship's Mind will just run everything, and will do a damn fine job of it?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:00 AM on December 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


Some SF Gormenghast-y plot where

way to spoil it for me, dude. I'm only on page 1500 of that book. I think something's about to happen, but I'm not sure.
posted by shmegegge at 10:01 AM on December 11, 2009 [11 favorites]


mccarty.tim: "I also like the idea of using drugs, neurosurgery, propaganda and/or hypnosis (whichever combo works best) on the people so that they lose their sense of self and then transfer that bit of egotistical real estate to the colony as a whole...."

A bit less severe tool in the deliberately-resculpting-human-nature-for-the-mission toolbox would be induced mirror-touch synaesthesia. Yoinked from Peter Watts' blog, which is well worth a subscription too.
posted by Drastic at 10:01 AM on December 11, 2009


Sadly, I think too many folks are focusing on the "happiness" part of the equation at the expense of the "sustainability" variable. Frankly, for such a thing to work you'd almost have to take a very Hobbesian approach to the matter - it's the only such system that we humans have created that can last. Namely, monarchies and the Roman Catholic Church.
Monarchism is just a pretty word for "hereditary dictatorship supported by military caste". And, unfortunately, it appears to be the only system we've developed so far that could stand the test of time. Of course, the difficulty would come when we'd reached our destination - it would probably require a revolution of some sort to unseat the monarchs and initiate democracy for the new colony. But for as long as we're in the hollow rock - "God save the King!"
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:02 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seconding the Confucian model from the thread:

1. common and universal education system from birth
2. advancement by examination
3. service to the community and recognition of one's place within it being paramount

this would likely result in some degree of gerontocracy, along with an attendant veneration of the old: both contributing to long-term stability.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:03 AM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


2. Direct democracy with no government (now becoming possible).

The case against this would basically consist of every single stupid thing that has been passed by referendum ever. It is a long list.

Basically within five years of launch a small group of Asteroid Citizens that were concerned about the moral hazards of consuming too much oxygen would pass a misleading ballot initiative to blow out the entire atmosphere, and the entire population would die.
posted by Artw at 10:04 AM on December 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


A few other ideas :

As time passes far far slower for the generation ship, society could easily become obsessed with keeping up with the latest cultural and technological achievements of earth, assuming they can communicate.

Any non-immediate decisions could simply be postponed until the next administration, perhaps three successive parliaments must support a law, and once instituted the law is subject to deliberative opinion polls every few years.

A ship might test our their political system by circling earth for a decade or two before launching. Or, more like, the inhabitants might place undue weight upon the experiences of the moon or mars colonies.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:06 AM on December 11, 2009


I think the fundamental problem though is that you can't have interstellar travel without some form of handwavium given current theory.

Sure you can, it just would take a long time. Hence article.
posted by Artw at 10:07 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


You, and a quarter of a million other folks, have embarked on a 1000-year voyage aboard a hollowed-out asteroid.

I would just like to point out that this is how orks get around in space in Warhammer 40,000. With that in mind I want to cast my vote for "Paint 'er red so fer to go proper fast, den do whut I sez 'fore I bash yer yappy 'ead!"
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:13 AM on December 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


2. Direct democracy with no government (now becoming possible).

A: "DRILL, BABY, DRILL!"
B: "Ah, we seem to be living in an asteroid, that likely wouldn't ..."
A: "DRILL, BABY, DRILL!"

... exeunt humanity.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:14 AM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


All the talk about gerontocracy has made me curious.

What if all child care providers and teachers were 60ish years old? So you competed for good traditional jobs when you were young. And then you competed separately for good retirement teaching jobs when you were old. You might even have enforced lifespan limits for people who didn't get into the retirement teaching or childcare jobs!
posted by jeffburdges at 10:14 AM on December 11, 2009


Isn't this precisely the sort of situation that calls for Rawls' veil of ignorance? Also: casual Fridays. Casual Fridays are a survival must.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:15 AM on December 11, 2009


Benevolent Partocracy.
posted by Eideteker at 10:15 AM on December 11, 2009


There's no magic bullet for creating a utopia, if there was a group of people would have created a perfect society on Earth, where there are a lot more resources and a lot less logistical issues. If survival on a space voyage requires 1000 years of peace and prosperity, it's simply not going to happen, because most real societies on Earth have a hard time stringing 10 good years together, let alone 1000.

The difference here, at least given the absence of restrictions on this in the question, is that you have total control over what you're starting with. There are plenty of good ideas for use here on the Earth. The difficult bit is often seeing how we get there from where we are now. Of course, given that this is a generation ship, even if you could somehow be assured that all of your colonists had, for example, identical or compatible values and ideologies, this would change over time, presumably in ways that create conflict. But this is where the various control mechanisms people are suggesting might come in. The usefulness of analogies to our situation on our own chunk of flying rock, however, may be limited given that we get to set out the parameters we start with. That's a flight-of-fancy level premise for any solutions here on Earth.

One of those parameters, as leotrosky suggests, could be a very high level of education. And hell, propaganda. I'm not entirely convinced that it's that difficult to engineer choice if you control all the inputs. (and there goes the appropriate Chairman Sheng-ji Yang quote in my head)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:17 AM on December 11, 2009


I got yer conjoiner drive right here
posted by Artw at 10:19 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know, the more I think about it the more putting all the Libertarians in a hollow asteroid to see how well their theories work out sounds like a great idea.
posted by Artw at 10:20 AM on December 11, 2009 [10 favorites]


Nerve stapling.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:22 AM on December 11, 2009


Also: nerve stapling.

Where's your UN Charter now, Pravin Lal?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:23 AM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Goddamnit.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:23 AM on December 11, 2009


Talking of Reynolds, I kind of like the flashback story in Chasm City with the multiple colony ships, and the eventual solution to the problem of beating the other Colony Ships to Target Planet.
posted by Artw at 10:26 AM on December 11, 2009


guys guys guys, there are enough nerve staples for everyone.
posted by The Whelk at 10:26 AM on December 11, 2009


I think the suspended animation/mind control/whatever solutions place undue importance on stability. I think the thousand years of human development that even a quarter of a million people could make is worth more than the actual colonization of the new planet. So, you know, give them democracy and capitalism. Let them live a little. And die a little, I guess.

Also, the suggestion that the required workweek be kept small is a very good one. Also also: paint it red.
posted by Bobicus at 10:29 AM on December 11, 2009


The key to harmony? No goddamned special parking spaces. You know the ones I mean.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:30 AM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


We just haven't quite realized that we're already living on an oversize asteroid hurtling through space.

I just came in to say this but Salvor Hardin beat me to it.
posted by Brodiggitty at 10:30 AM on December 11, 2009


I just came in to say this but Salvor Hardin beat me to it.

People exactly my age (I think it was a short-lived experiment) might know this from grade school. There was a course supplement put out at the time with a project called, I believe "Starship Earth". This was, supposedly, so you could think about real-world problems one step removed from all the stuff that makes people emotional and irrational about the choices we actually face here. We, being in, like, grade two, thought it was pretty stupid.

And a quick google has revealed that it was not at all short-lived. Called Spaceship Earth, it appears to have had various incarnations over the last few decades.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:35 AM on December 11, 2009


I don't think it matters what happens as long as there are people alive at the end of the journey. Even if there is a Civil War, one side will win and they will arrive on the new planet. The only goal is getting there, what happens in between ultimately doesn't matter. 500 years of peace is not very human-like.

I agree with those who discuss martial/military structures. In confined spaces, it's just too difficult to have to think about things other than the mission.
posted by cell divide at 10:42 AM on December 11, 2009


Goddamnit.

WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:45 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


HAL 9000
posted by Cranberry at 10:46 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP

*activates ED-209*
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:51 AM on December 11, 2009


The problem I see is that no-one on Earth has any ideas about how an asteroid society works. And even if they make educated guesses at it, you can bet that the second generation Asteriodians will have very different ideas about how their society should be run.

So.. any such government must be able to deal with what is likely a cultural (if not actual) revolution in the coming generations, that have not been born on Earth.
posted by Harry at 10:54 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I say we just put Mathowie, Cortex and Jessamyn in charge.
posted by empath at 11:04 AM on December 11, 2009


The difference here, at least given the absence of restrictions on this in the question, is that you have total control over what you're starting with. There are plenty of good ideas for use here on the Earth. The difficult bit is often seeing how we get there from where we are now.

I think the unstable and flawed nature of government is inherent in the way that societies work, though, rather than that there exists some kind of perfect government that we haven't tried yet. There have been many points in recent history where groups of people have been able to form their own governments in one way or another. They have had varying degrees of success, but for the most part the new kinds of governments that promised be better than the previous ones have never solved basic problems like war, famine, or class divides.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:04 AM on December 11, 2009


I think there's a fair degree of evidence that designing perfect societies from the ground up usually results in a big pile of skulls.
posted by Artw at 11:07 AM on December 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


I think the skulls are hung on the outside of the asteroid. They go well with the red paint.
posted by Drastic at 11:17 AM on December 11, 2009 [11 favorites]


I say we just put Mathowie, Cortex and Jessamyn in charge.
posted by empath

There are surely going to be problems; better take pb and vacapinta too.
posted by Cranberry at 11:21 AM on December 11, 2009


I think there's a fair degree of evidence that designing perfect societies from the ground up usually results in a big pile of skulls.

I think the skulls are hung on the outside of the asteroid. They go well with the red paint.


Can we call this magical ship the USS Whedon?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:22 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


No society is totally stable over a long period. Even ancient Egypt and China had changes of dynasty.

Rigid caste-based or hierarchical societies seem to be pretty stable. Medieval Europe, ancient Hindu India, ancient Egypt and so on, but there's a risk of revolution if those lower in the hierarchy get fed up and rebel.

So, I think the solution is to have an upper class of about 5% to 10% of the population, and a lower class, but make sure the lower class can't rebel.

For instance, they could be lobotomized at birth or puberty. Or they could be drugged: put a tranquilizer in some food which is taboo for the rulers.

Then you've got a nice stable society. The lower class can't rebel, and the upper class have no incentive to change a system where they're on top.

The tricky bit is what to do at the journey's end. Maybe a computer could switch off the lobotomy machine, or you could limit the supply of the drug so it's exhausted at the right time.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:23 AM on December 11, 2009


I say we just put Mathowie, Cortex and Jessamyn in charge.

Son Of Empath Mark II ran down the halls of the ship. His ship, his WORLD, the world of his father and his father before him and before him, the only space he'd known, as intimate as his owe body, was turning against him.

Green Zone, locked down,. Grey Zone locked down, Blue, black and even White. His former contacts turned against him. He had been Flagged. He was trapped, a rat in a maze, only a matter of time.


"TROLL!" shouted RobocopMarisa. "TROLL!" She was followed by a group of others, the lights and screaming had led them here.

"No! It's not true! I wasn't even taking part! Someone changed my records!"

"We've ALL seen the comments you left" shouted ArtChyme. "I've flagged them myself!" came a voice from the back, the tiny Tkalia.

" Please! I was doing system repair. I saw an error, a ghost in the machine! I've seen his name! PLEASE STOP THIS!" He begged, but it was no use. The group advanced, holding their hammers high.

When it was done, the group asked The Cortexicon what they should do. The Cortexicon considered, and said to collect Son of Empath Mark II's genetic material and place it in the Brand New Day incubator. Maybe, with time, he'll get ir right. Satisfied, the friendly shipmates went back to their music lessons, engaging philosophical debate, and funny cat videos.

Inside the heart of the Ship,a module of the Jessaplex was dismayed that they always went to such violent ends. Surely it could be done more quickly and with less fuss? Maybe it serves some need for them, the module wondered, and told Jessaplex to queue it for discussion at Talk Chamber.

Deeper inside the ship, another module was working. It was changing another flag list. It smiled darkly and softly to itself. It was called many names, but the last man to see it called it CABAL.
posted by The Whelk at 11:29 AM on December 11, 2009 [30 favorites]


My Skull-Pyramid based society will be 100% stable, just utterly horrible.
posted by Artw at 11:29 AM on December 11, 2009


It's fascinating how quickly nerds turn to totalitarianism when designing social systems for others to live in.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:29 AM on December 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


TheophileEscargot - Nice District 9 backstory.
posted by Artw at 11:30 AM on December 11, 2009


TheophileEscargot, then you end up with 90% of the population that has no learned ability to deal with the emotions/thoughts that the tranquilizer repressed.
posted by sciurus at 11:30 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I should think this is obvious: a "Hexamon" presided over by a governing body which we'll call the "Nexus."
posted by weston at 11:31 AM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Pope Guilty, or skull 52138 Lower right quadrant Pyramid 420 -The "for others" bit is the important bit there.
posted by Artw at 11:32 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think there's a fair degree of evidence that designing perfect societies from the ground up usually results in a big pile of skulls.

So does everything else.
posted by enn at 11:33 AM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Although, assuming you can be a brainstate in the land of Infinite Fun, why in the world would you ever want to wear an actual flesh sack again?

One day, perhaps someone will invent something a lot like teleportation: a scanner that can image a living organism down to the atom, paired with a matter replicator so detailed it can re-image a living organism from that scan.

Now, if you want to get somewhere else quickly, all you have to do is get scanned here and replicated there, right?

Of course, you don't need two of you walking around. Another mouth to feed, so to speak. So, when you're done transferring yourself "there", you really wouldn't mind if they just disposed of you here, right?

Yeah.

The funny thing? How many people are stealth dualists when it comes to consciousness.
posted by weston at 11:34 AM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


If you want to make an omelette in a hollow asteroid, you're going to have to break a few eggs.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:36 AM on December 11, 2009


But it will be a tasty omelette.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:37 AM on December 11, 2009


weston, they covered that nicely in The Prestige, which is a sleath Sci-Fi movie. The answer is: tb vafnar qvfcbfvat bs lbhe znal pbcvrf naq vg'f nyy irel zvaq-jnecvat
posted by The Whelk at 11:37 AM on December 11, 2009


But it will be a tasty omelette.

Are you mad? Tasty omlets would be a threat to stability! Omlets must be painful to eat in order to minimize the chance that passengers are made too comfortable and have the time to get restless and revolt!
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:41 AM on December 11, 2009


weston: "One day, perhaps someone will invent something a lot like teleportation: a scanner that can image a living organism down to the atom, paired with a matter replicator so detailed it can re-image a living organism from that scan. "

By repeated copyings at short range, we can construct giant pyramids of skulls from just one colonist. At a certain point of efficiency, you cross the break-even point where building a skull pyramid from one colonist doesn't cost any more resources than building them in the traditional fashion.

Also, now I want to read Rogue Moon again, which riffed on the notion of teleportation-by-transmitted-copying. It was very near to the efficient skull-pyramid idea too, as its protagonist was repeatedly copied and sent through an alien deathmaze put on the moon for unexplained reasons (most likely because aliens are jerks).
posted by Drastic at 11:44 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Called Spaceship Earth...

As in, the Operating Manual for?
posted by adamdschneider at 11:44 AM on December 11, 2009


Of course, you don't need two of you walking around. Another mouth to feed, so to speak. So, when you're done transferring yourself "there", you really wouldn't mind if they just disposed of you here, right?

Of course, it doesn't have to be you that's disposed of.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:45 AM on December 11, 2009


I think the unstable and flawed nature of government is inherent in the way that societies work, though, rather than that there exists some kind of perfect government that we haven't tried yet. There have been many points in recent history where groups of people have been able to form their own governments in one way or another. They have had varying degrees of success, but for the most part the new kinds of governments that promised be better than the previous ones have never solved basic problems like war, famine, or class divides.

Well that gets back to the problem of using these examples. Did they fail because the government structure was intrinsically unworkable, or because it failed to adequately represent the diversity of views and values of its population? What if you could get rid of that diversity? Yes, here on earth, that means a pile of skulls. For the purposes of this conversation, though, it could just mean anybody not meeting an incredibly narrow range of attributes doesn't get on the ship. Then you worry about 2nd (+) generation drift and various ways to attack it. So again I question our experiences here as adequate analogy for the kind of enterprise we're talking about.

At a certain point of efficiency, you cross the break-even point where building a skull pyramid from one colonist doesn't cost any more resources than building them in the traditional fashion.

Favourite MeFi sentence of the week.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:50 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Shouldn't this be on Ask Metafilter?
posted by paulg at 11:50 AM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


If we can do uploading but for some reason still care about the actual patterns of biological tissue traditionally regarded as human going from one place to another: (a) that's a bit odd; and (b) There's no need for theorising about different types of society, simulate it at 20x base speed, save state at key flash points, experiment with everything from BDSM fantasy societies to Marxism. Within about twenty years you'll have the answer for what kind of society can survive for a 450 year journey.

I imagine it would be a compelling and disturbing spectacle for those who volunteered their brain states to be uploaded - I don't know what would be worse, watching a independently-conscious avatar of yourself being shot as a thought-criminal or watching one turn into space Hitler.

Tons of ethical problems- if you consider that a conscious backup of you has human rights (the capacity to suffer, a la Pete Singer), then it probably amounts to multiple genocide. On the other hand, if the absolutely overriding priority was to get some biological humans off Earth and ensure their safe arrival elsewhere, maybe it's a sacrifice that would be made.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 11:59 AM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Just don't let half the population be criminals. RAMA taught us that at least. It's BAD NEWS.
posted by Atreides at 12:11 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


If we can do uploading but for some reason still care about the actual patterns of biological tissue traditionally regarded as human going from one place to another: (a) that's a bit odd; and (b) There's no need for theorising about different types of society, simulate it at 20x base speed, save state at key flash points, experiment with everything from BDSM fantasy societies to Marxism. Within about twenty years you'll have the answer for what kind of society can survive for a 450 year journey.

Vanilla-type Wrinkled Stumpskins almost always say something just like that at this point in their development; it's almost cute and precocious in a way. But watch this one carefully; there's about a 30%(+/-5) chance he's going to get taken out by a taxi/jaguar in the next three weeks in an apparent 'accident'. STATS thinks he might be a jumper.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:12 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think maybe something modeled on the Republic of Venice, but with less aristocracy and more direct election of representatives. The Doge gets elected by the council and rules for life. Hopefully you get the stability of a ruler that serves for a lifetime, only eliminate the crushing of the common folk that you can get with a real monarchy that can lead to aristocratic heads rolling. Think of it as an elected benevolent dictator, only with some checks and balances thrown in.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 12:12 PM on December 11, 2009


I think a combination of Philip José Farmers "Dayworld" —suspended animation technology on a shared calendar to minimize resource (over) use and the hazards of full time suspension— plus a constitutional monarchy (for stability) with socialized economics could work for four hundred years.
posted by tkchrist at 12:14 PM on December 11, 2009


Heck, if you need a stable, long lasting government, toss a bunch of Scandinavians aboard and tell them to make a parliament.
posted by Zalzidrax at 12:17 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


If I could upload a brainstate, I would make a copy in hardware and put it in a very eccentric orbit around the sun, based on some formula I didn't remember (don't trust the medium processing me) but could somehow work out if needed. Hm. How could I do that?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 12:38 PM on December 11, 2009


Screw brainstates, I want Mi-Go brain canisters. Gibbering madness is a small price to pay for eternity!
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:39 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Of course, you don't need two of you walking around. Another mouth to feed, so to speak. So, when you're done transferring yourself "there", you really wouldn't mind if they just disposed of you here, right?

Dealt with quite poignantly by James Patrick Kelly's short story "Think Like a Dinosaur."
posted by rtimmel at 12:51 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would think a big issue would be keeping skill-sets in place though the voyage. You could send highly trained zoologist, architects, construction engineers, etc., but I'm not sure what would entice the middle generations (those that have no hope of landing) to keep them up. it makes no sense to be an architect if there will not be any buildings constructed during your lifetime. There would be no incentives to keep the working knowledge needed on landfall alive during the flight.

The government would have to provide that incentive. And since there is no bona fide need for most educated classes on the flight, i.e., those that are no necessary to run the ship, those incentives would have to be artificial, and would likely be disincentives to no be educated. And tha starts to sound fairly totalitarian.
posted by rtimmel at 1:12 PM on December 11, 2009


I was actually planning on doing a destructive mass teleport of skulls out of your heads. The de-skulled original you is kind of part of the point.
posted by Artw at 1:39 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


*puts Artw in charge of "Cruel And Amusing Punishments" on the Asteroid Ship*
posted by The Whelk at 1:45 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cory Doctrow has a neat story based on the whole teleporter/replicator thing here: Starship Sofa No 110 Cory Doctorow "To Boldy Go" - it requires skipping past a nauseatingly smug Cory Doctrow editorial piece to get to though.
posted by Artw at 1:48 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


And another neat teleportation based audio story from Vernor Vinge is here.
posted by Artw at 1:51 PM on December 11, 2009


How is this not the Rawlsian Veil of Ignorance?
posted by proj at 1:56 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Didn't they discuss Rawls in the comments on the blog post? I admit I haven't read them in almost a month.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:59 PM on December 11, 2009


This is directly relevant to my interests. Thanks!
posted by absalom at 2:28 PM on December 11, 2009


The hypothetical is a little bit like asking "How long is a piece of string?" More details are needed if it's to be taken seriously.

Stross poses the question as, "You, and a quarter of a million other folks, have embarked on a 1000-year voyage aboard a hollowed-out asteroid." The largest asteroid we've got is Ceres, which has a surface gravity of roughly 1/30th of the Earth's. Hollow the sucker out, and you've got 434 cubic miles of space per person.

This makes North Dakota look like downtown Tokyo in comparison. Greenland, the least densely populated spot on the planet, would have a population density 30 times greater than the colonists of the Good Ship Ceres.

No one worries about North Dakota or Greenland boiling over into a cauldron of violence and anarchy. Instead of agonizing over cramped quarters, the real issue might be one of simple loneliness.

What would you do with your very own 434 cubic miles?
posted by Missiles K. Monster at 4:57 PM on December 11, 2009


BTW, are we assuming constant acceleration of 1G on the way to midpoint and deceleration of 1G on the other side?
posted by Artw at 5:00 PM on December 11, 2009


Hollow the sucker out, and you've got 434 cubic miles of space per person.

This makes North Dakota look like downtown Tokyo in comparison. Greenland, the least densely populated spot on the planet, would have a population density 30 times greater than the colonists of the Good Ship Ceres.


Well, if you really hollow it out and live on the inside of the remaining shell, you'd only have 280 miles^2. For 250,000 people, that comes to around 0.75 acres / person. The average distance to the nearest person would be ~100 ft. Certainly not overcrowded, but much denser than North Dakota (69 acres / person). Ceres ain't no Ringworld.

Of course, the sensible thing to do would be not to hollow it completely out; instead leave a dozen stories of rock honeycombed into living space. That would give you about 12 times more living area per person, which comes to more like 9 acres/person. Much more comfortable, in my opinion.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:15 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


How do the people breathe in this hollowed-out asteroid? All that lack of oxygen and gravity should significantly reduce the likelihood of civil war, famine, and reigns of terror.
posted by dgaicun at 6:24 PM on December 11, 2009


Ah-hah, see? Stability without the tyranny of breath!
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:31 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, if you really hollow it out and live on the inside of the remaining shell, you'd only have 280 miles^2.

How do you figure? A sphere with a surface area of 280 mi2 would be about 9 miles across. Ceres is about 592 miles across. Even if you just hollowed out Ceres and lived on the inside shell (?!), you'd have about 2800 acres per colonist.

My point wasn't so much about Ceres itself, but population density. Stross says things like "the social pressure on a generation ship is going to be fierce" and that "20-50% of the inhabitants at any given time will be preoccupied by non-functional distractions" to relieve the extreme social pressure, as if life aboard an asteroid ship must be like serving aboard a nuclear submarine for a thousand years.

But of course, you determine the amount of social pressure by the size of the asteroid you choose. It would be sensible to start by designing your entire ship around the intrinsic factors of human life. You have the capacity to give your colonists far more space than they would ever need to feel a sense of solitude and personal privacy. Your asteroid ship could have areas as cosmopolitan and as rural as anywhere on Earth.

The average population density of Iowa, for instance, is about 52.4 people/mi.2. You could put 250,000 people in a sphere with a diameter of about 21 miles, and they would have a population density of 52.4 people/mi.3; essentially, Iowa Cubed. This is far, far smaller than Ceres.

No one thinks Iowa is a pressure cooker or social time bomb. If anything, people might have the impression that Iowa is too rural, that the people are too scattered. And 250,000 people is a lot of people, more than you will ever meet in a lifetime. It's not as if you're three castaways on an island. There would always be new people to learn about.

So the assumptions Stross makes don't make much sense to me. It's like arguing about the best way to patch bugs in an operating system you haven't even written yet.
posted by Missiles K. Monster at 7:57 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


The technology breakthroughs required to construct a hollowed out asteroid and insert a compact enough power source to provide 1000 years of fuel for propulsion and life support reach a level of fantasy equivalent to transwarp drives and teleportation. Forget the social logistics issues, how do manage all the logistics of human life in an enclosed system at scale for generations. Also when do you launch the thing. 1000 years is a very long time. You might be better off waiting 500 years for better technology.
posted by humanfont at 8:21 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


What would you do with your very own 434 cubic miles?

Declare war on all my neighbors. I like my personal space.

I was pleased to read that Stross is consulting with Karl Schroeder - the Virga series is shaping up to be one of my favorites. Can someone please turn that into an mmorpg?

As for the asteroid, I'd probably take a closer look at the Austronesian islander societies as they existed a hundred or so years ago. I suspect they were largely homogeneous ethnically and with regard to religion. They understood the notion of constraint and restraint. Their technology may have been stone-age, but that's exactly what they'll be starting from when they arrive on the new planet.

Er, and then there were the Easter Islanders, but I'm hoping they're an exception.
posted by Ritchie at 8:23 PM on December 11, 2009


In any case, just be sure they leave with enough replacement water chips, because generational quests into the Wasteland for help won't be an option.

Greg Egan's Incandescence takes a shot at this problem by having the asteroid-dwellers be genetically altered to be vacuum-adapted, generally content, and fulfilled by working together in teams, no matter what the task is.

Also, ~1/1000 of them are born with great curiosity and a burning desire for knowledge, while the rest of them only acquire this drive when a cataclysmic event threatens their home.

... so, in other words, maybe you can make humans live together happily for a thousand years by changing "human nature" from the top down.
posted by edguardo at 8:24 PM on December 11, 2009


How do you figure? A sphere with a surface area of 280 mi2 would be about 9 miles across. Ceres is about 592 miles across. Even if you just hollowed out Ceres and lived on the inside shell (?!), you'd have about 2800 acres per colonist.

*Facepalm* oh crap, I read your comment and thought you said Ceres is 430 cubic miles total. I didn't notice that was per person. My bad. Argh that's the second stupid math mistake I've made on mefi tonight.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:52 PM on December 11, 2009


The technology breakthroughs required to construct a hollowed out asteroid and insert a compact enough power source to provide 1000 years of fuel for propulsion and life support reach a level of fantasy equivalent to transwarp drives and teleportation.

There's definitely a lot of unobtainium in this exercise, but hollowing out an asteroid doesn't seem quite on the level of teleportation to me. Power is, of course, the big issue, but it always is. Stross is well-known for his recent jeremiads against manned space travel, and my sense is that this is more or less another way for him to make that same point: that schlepping naked apes from one star to another is logistically absurd.

But he stacks the deck, too. Why send a quarter of a million humans? That's a little like demonstrating that grocery shopping is impossible by giving someone a shopping list for a million pounds of food.
posted by Missiles K. Monster at 9:44 PM on December 11, 2009


Now that I've had the benefit of another thread on the blue, I know exactly what to do here.

First, surround the command module with bulkheads. You don't have so many guns that you need the extra firing surface area at first. Add engines...
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:19 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd like to live on a Mefitorite, but I'm not sure I'd want my space babies growing up in it. I mean, leisure would include debating about random bits of space debris (HI I'M ON METAFILTER AND I CAN OVERTHINK IF THIS ROCK LOOKS LIKE A TATER OR NOT!) and Lady Gaga fandom, LOLXTIANITY and atheism would be the only religious choices. Furthermore, despite the insistence of the mods, we'd be required to have a daily two minutes of hate towards Sarah Palin.

And the whole thing would fall apart once somebody said, "Hey guys, the seal on this algae-culture nutrient pack is a little lose, and it's past three days old. It smells fine, though. Should I eat it?"
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:24 PM on December 11, 2009


>
What did you think future generations would be eating? The wimps die out first, leaving the fittest with food to eat.

Yes, this does cause kuru. But space madness cancels it out.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:35 PM on December 11, 2009


Charles Stross: On Her Majesty's Occult Service
posted by Artw at 12:15 AM on December 12, 2009


When I`m on zopiclone i feel a profound connection to my fellow man and i seem to be perfectly content doing whatever. So i guess my suggestion would be everybody on zopiclone all the time.
posted by tehloki at 12:43 AM on December 12, 2009


I would place only two people on this asteroid; two naked Adam and Eve-like figures. Barring the invention of some crude condom made out space rocks, or whatever the hell it is they have in that floating astro-tomb, there should be a quarter of a million people by the time they get there. And the strong ties of kinship and severe mental retardation from all that inbreeding should ensure a healthy lack of civil war.
posted by dgaicun at 1:55 AM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's weird how when you say "what's your perfect society here on Earth?" and they take crazy things like 'human rights' and 'basic existential justice' into account. You say "what's your perfect society where you're free to play God and can do whatever you want?" and suddenly it's piped in aeorosol drugs, and computer AI Gods, and M. Night Shymalan plots...
posted by codacorolla at 11:36 AM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


dgaicun, according to the best scientific minds, it was tried around October 23 4004 BC. That's how we got into this mess.

Healthy lack of civil war, my inbred hiney.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:16 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: My inbred hiney

sorry
posted by hattifattener at 3:26 PM on December 12, 2009


codacorolla: when people construct their ideal society for earth, they're trying to maximize benefit to themselves within the constraints of having to make it seem like they're working for everybody else on earth's benefit as well, lest they be seen as selfish. When they're given absolute control over an imaginary spaceship, where they are unlikely to be attacked by an angry mob for their selfish ideas, the true picture of their ideal system of governance comes out.
posted by tehloki at 3:40 PM on December 12, 2009


because, you know, advocating that you should be given whatever you want and absolute power isn't exactly the most fashionable thing to do here on earth and tends to get you dead
posted by tehloki at 3:41 PM on December 12, 2009


Or, you know, a talk radio show.
posted by The Whelk at 5:34 PM on December 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


See also - The gigantic, cylindrical generation ship Vanguard, originally destined for Proxima Centauri, is cruising pilotless through the interstellar medium as a result of a failed mutiny that killed all of the piloting officers. The descendants of the surviving crew have forgotten the purpose and nature of their ship over time and lapsed into a pre-technological culture infested with superstition. Most crew members lead a simple illiterate life of farming, never venturing to the "upper decks" where the "muties" (mutants or mutineers) dwell. These descendants of the loyalists — who live in the lower, outer levels of the cylinder — believe their world is the entire Universe, not realizing they live inside a spaceship. They are ruled by an oligarchy of "Officers" and "Scientists", whose head is the putative heir or successor of the original Captain.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 12:31 AM on December 13, 2009


Welcome back to The Whelk Show, I'm still the supreme leader and all shall be turned cowering before my wrathful vengeance, here's our first caller.
posted by tehloki at 12:48 AM on December 13, 2009


You've clearly never listened to my MetaChat Radio sets.

I *never* allow callers.
posted by The Whelk at 7:48 AM on December 13, 2009


I kind of like the flashback story in Chasm City with the multiple colony ships, and the eventual solution to the problem of beating the other Colony Ships to Target Planet.


I thought it was silly. In relation to countries, the colony ships were small. In relation to a planet, they were minuscule [and even less significant once Sky had done you-know-what].

So, really, what was the rush? Someone landed first and bagged a country - boo-hoo I've only got the Rest Of The Planet to choose from.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:05 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, really, what was the rush? Someone landed first and bagged a country - boo-hoo I've only got the Rest Of The Planet to choose from.

Yeah that always bugged me too. You'd think, if you were rushing to get to a planet to colonize, that getting there first by a few years would be a hell of a lot less important than getting there with as many people as possible.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:12 PM on December 13, 2009


What's fun is when in the intervening time, humanity contacts another sentient race and a war begins. As the other race is more advanced, we realize our only chance for survival is to change the now-arriving colony asteroid into a weapon of planetary cataclysm. Sorry, guys!
posted by Eideteker at 8:00 AM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


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