There's a particular type of civilisation fairly common in fantastic worlds that broadly meet the following criteria:

  • They're human, or at least comparable to human
  • They're scrupulously pacifistic; they're often suggested to have never known a war of aggression
  • They're extremely technologically advanced compared to other civilisations in their setting
  • They're portrayed as generally wiser and more ethical than your average human

This is something of a question mark for me when it comes to world building, since a cursory examination of our own history shows many of our most important advances have been spurred by the desire to gain the upper hand in conflict.

Setting aside explanations of alien mentality (ie. 'they just don't think like humans') and formerly more warlike civilisations achieving technological mastery before adopting a pacifist mindset, what conditions could realistically spur the development of a civilisation like this?

I'm looking for primarily environmental and sociological influences, though I'm not averse to external influences.


closed as primarily opinion-based by Renan, kingledion, sphennings, Mołot, Azuaron Jan 5 '18 at 14:08

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Don't have time to write a full answer, but a peacefull society attracts neighboors. The only way to dissuade them is technology : maybe they are peacefull enough to not declare war and invade others, but still agree to defend themselves. Even passive defense, like huge wall and improved agriculture, that allow them to be besieged without big drawback. The problem is the past : you have todecide if they have always been peacefull, therefore they needed a constant technology advance, or they were'nt peacfull but became once the technology gap was big enough $\endgroup$ – Kepotx Jan 5 '18 at 8:23
  • $\begingroup$ I'm hoping to avoid the latter if possible - it doesn't quite fit the archetype I'm looking for to do so. In any case, if you do find time I'd like to see your comment in full answer form $\endgroup$ – Pingcode Jan 5 '18 at 8:59
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I don't think this statement is true: "since a cursory examination of our own history shows many of our most important advances have been spurred by the desire to gain the upper hand in conflict." I would say it is the case that many technological advances have ended up being used to gain the upper hand in conflicts but the people who have had the innovative ideas to create technological advances have done so out of their own curiosity or passion to make things better - for example the wright brothers didn't take to the air to start wars, they did it because they wanted to fly. $\endgroup$ – Ralphonz Jan 5 '18 at 10:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Ralphonz, it's true but on a technicality, conflict is a vast and shifting concept needing many solutions for many problems. If you considered other factors on the same scale you'd have headings of conflict, health, industry, farming, transport, and you'd start to see more balance among your causes of advances. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jan 5 '18 at 13:54

As mentioned in the comment the only way to achieve this is "Wakandaisation". Getting so far technologically above everyone else that fight with them is meaningless.

Borrowing from this pre-existing idea we would need:

  • A nation fairly secluded for a longer period of time so resources and lifes are not wasted in wars.
  • Most (if not every) possible resource easily available without conquest of new lands
  • Territory big enough to be able produce enough food.

As to your remark about advances. It's not true, black powder was well known and used long before Europeans transformed it into weapon. Atomic bomb was a by-product of search for big cheap energy, and was made by a need of the moment. If you exclude the war effort you will actually strip off obstacles on the way to having better technology faster.

I've read somewhere that German scientists presented Hitler with the possibilities of atom in 1938/39 but the 3 year wait was too long for the Blitzkrieg plans so they wasn't funded (as much as other weapons) and scientist were stripped from the project (to move to other fields) or even escaped Germany rather then moved into the project.
If there was no war the atom energy could be available in the 40's maybe 30's.

  • $\begingroup$ what population levels would be needed for "Wakandaisation" and what size landmass would we need? would something the size of Australia be big enough? $\endgroup$ – Reed Jan 5 '18 at 14:58

Alternative Stress Biochemistry

Humans release endorphins when they are injured causing things like runner's high. Our stress response, however is adrenaline and cortisol making us simultaneously more aggressive and numb.

Your alternate society may have evolved without natural predators (otherwise the people I suggest would try to negotiate with the tiger while it's eating them). Perhaps their stress response is seratonin and endorphins, causing them to react to stressful situations with increasing focus and improving attitude. Maybe aggression is a learned, instead of instinctive, response so that your alternate people could be capable of responding to a threat - it just wouldn't be an instinctive response.

This attitude to stress might make for a people drawn to technical challenges, and be plausibly advanced.

Better Empathy and Recessive Sociopathy

Part of the human brain is wired to run a simulation of how other's feel in response to situations. The amount of brainpower dedicated to that function could be higher, making them much more keenly sensitive to their community. Combined with an early religion emphasis given human rights this might work.

Helping with that, whatever it is that builds sociopaths could be either recessive or linked with some genetic predisposition for disease, or both, limiting the amount of damage they could do.

Inherited Knowledge

With a little tweaking to biology, a mother could have a neural as well as circulatory connection to her child during gestation. The mother's knowledge and understanding could be passed along during development.

If you accept the hypothesis of "shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves" or "rags to rags" in three generations, at any given point in time the custodians of all our institutions are split demographically between those with the skill and ability to maintain and grow those institutions, those with the ability to maintain (but not build and grow), and those lacking even the ability to maintain. As a result, at any given time, about two thirds of our society is in some stage of decay and instability. This is also why every few generations we again flirt with tyranny and slavery, having lost the generational awareness of why these things were discarded in the first place. An alternate society like this would break that cycle and have less cause for war. They would also be very smart, which would help make them plausibly advanced technologically.


If their original home environment were harsh and getting worse, that could drive scientific research just out of the necessity to survive.

If they were first on a planet or moon that was changing or undergoing a catastrophe, they would be forced to adapt to survive. Environmental changes could force them to make progressively more advanced shelters & food growth, even EV suits just to survive outdoors.

Eventually they could be forced to relocate another nearby planet/moon. Then to a further planet or another star, forcing them to travel through space or die.

That could cultivate a "can-do" attitude of "we've survived worse than this, let's send colonies to all these other marginal planets too." Pretty soon there's hundreds of planets all researching new technologies. And without any external enemies, being forced to work together to survive should avoid the desire to fight themselves.

(The "former warlords who exterminated their enemy, and now feels remorseful about it & is now non-violent" is a pretty good answer too, but it's been ruled out)

  • $\begingroup$ I'd thought the same thing, though more in the direction of diseases or other tiny-scale threats... large scale catastrophes might well limit resources, which could give someone(s) the idea of grabbing said resources for when times are leaner, but diseases or parasites, etc, take internal resources - which are harder to successfully compete for while cooperative gains are very high. $\endgroup$ – Megha Jan 6 '18 at 3:21

The Absence of need, combined with strict control of the mentally ill.

In order to set aside "alien mentality" reasons, I have to assume their mentality is the same as modern humans, with all of our insanities, jealousies, greed and murderous impulses still intact, for every generation.

So the main idea here is to eliminate the reasons we humans go to war in the first place.

I think people go to war for two basic reasons. (1) They need something for survival (or continued life-as-they-know-it): Water, land, a food supply or other resources (like oil), or ... (2) They irrationally want wealth, resources they do not need, or desire the power to rule over and control the behavior of other people (by their own ideology or religion), as ends in themselves.

Imagine a world in which all energy is free and unlimited. The capturing of solar power, or some fusion engines. Add to this world sophisticated robotics that can do 100% of the work, and 100% of the distribution of products. Because the energy costs nothing, the robots cost nothing, the products cost nothing, the food costs nothing, the medicine and medical care all cost nothing. Technically, no "economy" is required. Nobody has to work a day in their lives. Nobody has to pay for anything. Nobody will go hungry, or without shelter, or without medical care or drugs they need or mental health care, or without all the education they desire, or without comfortable transportation anywhere on the planet they desire to go, or without entertainment, for that matter.

Although such a society could be more modern than ours in terms of electronics and entertainment, presume for this argument it has, along with highly advanced robotics (that will never try to kill them) all the most modern devices we have, Internet, mobile phones, air conditioning and heating, self-driving electric cars.

Some reasons may be left for violence (jealousy over a mate, for example), but what reasons are left for actual war?

The main thing I imagine is megalomania (the desire for power for its own sake), insatiable greed, murderous intolerance (often driven by race or religion), psychopathic leadership that enjoys causing death, and other "runaway" emotional states and irrational belief systems that I personally consider to be mental illnesses.

Those can be addressed in this society also, and such people can be restrained, by drugs, monitoring technology, prison or just put to death when they commit a crime. Some of these mental conditions have been traced to structural problems in the brain. We humans are not advanced enough to correct those structural defects, but future technology might be able to, or might identify such defects in the womb and abort the child.

They (like us) will always have amongst them psychopaths, sociopaths and other forms of insanity or compulsion (like rapists, or people that get a thrill from causing misery, terror, pain, and death). Because of that, I cannot imagine a peaceful society that abstains from all violence against its own people. No matter how good its defenses against off-planet invaders, they must still remain vigilant against the criminally insane within their own ranks, and many forms of this insanity can only be contained by violent apprehension (which could be by robots) and requires coercive restraint (prison) or execution.

Law enforcement does not constitute "war" in my view, a society can be peaceful and still have some bad apples willing to kill over jealousy or pride. But by identifying such mental illness, we can prevent such people from gaining power in the leadership and manipulating the society into war for irrational reasons.

It is, in my view, entirely possible to have a world of people that are content in what I'd call the modern middle class if they have no worries about their future safety or survival. Although nearly everybody entertains ideas of being rich or a celebrity or beloved by society, most never get that and are still satisfied with their life, their mate and family, and their place amongst the common folk that will, centuries later, be forgotten.

I include myself in this category; while I have invented, educated, entertained and mated and had some commercial successes, I suffer no delusions of gaining immortal fame (and see no real value in doing so). Yet I am content to continue in my current role and vein for life, without ever achieving it: I like to solve puzzles, be creative and entertain people, pursue ideas I think can help others solve problems. So I think if I can come to grips with my own mortality and eventual obscurity, so can everybody else that is not mentally ill, and a society such as the one I described above is certainly possible: A world of sufficiency and comfort that requires no labor to survive, that minimizes suffering, and prevents the mentally ill from gaining power in politics, business or private life. One that identifies and controls the criminally insane quickly and thoroughly, through the use of force when necessary.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.