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Imagine an orc-like species of violent sociopaths: they are sadists taking pleasure in the suffering of others, have fits of violent rage, see altruism and empathy as contemptible weakness and are all around complete jerks.

It is a truism that no-one consider themselves evil, but it is actually false: the Marquis de Sade (yes, the guy 'sadism' was named after) openly claimed to be evil, advocated for a form of ultimate freedom in the sense of "the freedom of wolves to prey on lambs" (with himself a wolf), and happily wrote (with the narrative flair of an IKEA manual) outrageously gore slash-fics to pass time when locked in by one government or another.

They would be kind of like that, but with the temperament of a hungover grizzly.

How could they form a stable enough community to be a problem to imprudent travellers or neighbouring settlements?

They don't need to be a major menace to the entire region, nor to be able to out-compete other societies on the long run, or even survive efficiently once the local Genghis Khan decides to do something for that envoy that came back in a few dozen packages. But they need to be a self-perpetuating society enough to survive generations, and ideally tend to make the rare non-chaotic-evil deviant either be driven back into the mould, flee or be culled.

Answers should if possible avoid advanced technology, magic, or improbable local conditions. The humanoids themselves don't need to be exactly humans - they can be stronger, heal faster and so-on, but shouldn't be too different from the variants of orcs that plague fantasy, so no demigods either. Or, if really impossible, explain exactly what makes it so unsustainable.

Ideally they should aim at being slavers, but also survive as a society when left alone, without external source of slaves.

Note: This question asks how a literally evil society works, but with the difference that it is the society itself that is evil, not the individuals that are all ill-tempered sociopaths. Several answers describe organised societies striving to an evil goal, but this requires individuals to be rational and have self-control enough to work together toward a common goal on the long term.

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    $\begingroup$ Lawful evil societies run on beureaucracy, neutral evil societies run on respect and loyalty, chaotic evil societies run on fear. $\endgroup$ – Dan Staley Apr 19 '18 at 23:36
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    $\begingroup$ Not a full answer, but have you watched Mad Max? That's how I imagine it (the "rare non-chaotic-evil deviant" being Furiosa) $\endgroup$ – xDaizu Apr 20 '18 at 7:36
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    $\begingroup$ Look around. We already live in such society. $\endgroup$ – talex Apr 20 '18 at 7:53
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    $\begingroup$ What is the difference between a society such as you envision and a large lawyer firm? The ones are, in your words, sadists taking pleasure in the suffering of others, have fits of violent rage, see altruism and empathy as contemptible weakness and are all around complete jerks -- and the others are, well, you know. Orcs. $\endgroup$ – LSerni Apr 20 '18 at 23:54
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    $\begingroup$ @tatex We do? When was the last time you got violently murdered? It's been a while for me. $\endgroup$ – Jack M Apr 21 '18 at 11:39

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The drow of R. A. Salvatore's Forgotten Realms books are exactly this: a society made up of individuals who all, or nearly all, fit a Chaotic Evil alignment. Their society is actually multi-layered, complex, and overall quite stable (in the sense that it's not in danger of imminent collapse). While drow are more conniving than brutal, here are a few important factors you might be able to incorporate:

  • Religion is of utmost importance. Their patron deity, the demoness Lolth, takes center stage in drow society and the priestesshood is considered the highest possible calling. Lolth is a sadistic queen, and her rituals often involve scourging and living sacrifice.

  • Loyalty is kept at a local level by dividing their cities into ruling Houses (not unlike the A Song of Ice and Fire world). Betrayal is a fact of life. Those in power are constantly watching their backs and must always stay informed of current happenings. Occasionally a ruling House will be raided and slaughtered by a different House seeking power; when the dust settles, everyone pretends that whichever House lost the battle never existed in the first place.

  • Members are largely kept in line by fear. Those in power stay that way by keeping everyone convinced that killing them would be even worse than obeying them. They often treat their immediate subordinates with kindness, because someone treated kindly is less likely to try to overthrow you. Those in the bottom echelons of power are brutally whipped and tortured if they step out of line (or anytime their overseer gets bored).

As an added bonus, those few drow who do develop consciences are preyed upon as weak or executed as a sacrifice to Lolth.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a good point. The individual is chaotic, but an external force (Lolth) forces both order and obedience (lawful). However, this would only work so long as the external force actually existed and at least occasionally reminded the group of that fact. In other words, ideology alone isn't a strong enough force to impose order and obedience on chaotic people. Well done! $\endgroup$ – JBH Apr 19 '18 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ Eh. I've always found the drow a barely plausible society and a very hard concept to swallow. I wouldn't call them a good example of a "stable evil society". While their visuals and their concepts are awesome, once you start looking them more closely you'll see that's only the rule of cool that make them work, and nothing else. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Apr 20 '18 at 11:34
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    $\begingroup$ Suppose evil = selfish. How do you cooperate with someone that you know you can't trust? You can't. You can compete with them, but you can't cooperate. If you want a society (which emerges from cooperation/contracts on many layers), you need some force that ensures trust in a sufficient subset of interactions. Example: you can't kill a member of your family or you'll get smitten to death immediately. So you have to implement a sufficient level of agreeableness (the opposite of selfishness) by other means. I think the Drow society is lacking in coherence in this manner, seems unstable to me. $\endgroup$ – Ctrl-C Apr 20 '18 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Ctrl-C You can still cooperate, if you have a common goal, e.g. the survival of your house. Yes, you could kill your elder siblings in the back, in order to obtain their position. However this weakens your house, possibly to the point, where it is attacked by another. So in order not to be killed, you instead work with them. The same holds for them. You do not trust them, but you have to work with them as long as you both will profit. Of course as soon as the last other house is beaten, the backstabbing begins, everything fractures into new houses and you start again... $\endgroup$ – mlk Apr 20 '18 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ Have to agree - it won't work. The Drow society was held together by the narrative and by the suspension of CE alignment whenever it suited the narrative. $\endgroup$ – Therac Apr 21 '18 at 13:29
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Adhocracy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adhocracy

Adhocracy is a flexible, adaptable and informal form of organization that is defined by a lack of formal structure. It operates in an opposite fashion to a bureaucracy...

Adhocracy is characterized by an adaptive, creative and flexible integrative behavior based on non-permanence and spontaneity. It is believed that these characteristics allow adhocracy to respond faster than traditional bureaucratic organizations while being more open to new ideas.

One could call this anarchy also, but that word has too many negative connotations. These folks are brutal but not stupid.

For example: I know a tempting target and get Growler to come for the job by promising him 2/3 of the take. Growler will not kill me to take my 1/3 because he knows I will come back to him with more opportunities in the future, and he is too dense to figure these things out himself. We will bring the rock throwing kid because he was handy last time. We will bring the chick who reads elf language in case something has instructions on it. Those two know to give Growler a wide berth. After the job we go our separate ways.

We are all chaotic evil, but chaotic evil does not mean stupid. Chaotic means no rules for the sake of rules and no permanent organizations. Evil means without empathy or altruism. Each member of the team is in it for himself / herself. Any one would screw the others over if he / she could get away with it. But chaotic evil does not mean unable to plan for the future. Growler could easily kill me and he would enjoy it. But he likes even more the steady work I provide and other people for him to kill - so he lets me live.

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    $\begingroup$ Chaotic means no rules for the sake of rules and no permanent organizations. Evil means without empathy or altruism. <= This so many times. Short-sighted psychopaths may never be able to create a society, however intelligent ones may cooperate, regularly, because they realize that they gain more in cooperating. As an example of such an organization, look no further than the upper-management levels of your typical big companies: the managers are all in competition with each others, yet cooperate sufficiently for the company as a whole to thrive. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Apr 20 '18 at 19:11
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You'll essentially end up with a slaver realm ruled by fear - and the fear of getting stabbed in the back.

Since everyone is only out for themselves, the only voluntary cooperation will happen if both have a direct gain. However, since they are not just selfish but evil, they will stab the others in the back for their share in the gain once they've completed the mission. Long term gain becomes less valuable, because by the time you get it, you might already be dead.

The only way to defend what you have is to be the strongest evil guy around - or to coerce enough evil guys into your service. Since your coerced evil guys would kill you themselves, you need other evil guys to protect you. Powerful warlords would gather bands of less powerful evil guys to serve them - or die, if they refuse. Anyone gaining too much power under him would be ruthlessly cut down. Everyone would serve him for the benefit of still being alive tomorrow, they'd essentially be slaves, even if they might be called servants, lieutenants, soldiers, warriors or something else that sounds nicer. The slaves might themselves have slaves, by whichever name, which might also have slaves, but it would always end up being service for the advantage of staying alive.

Since it's a chaotic society, the leader wouldn't pass extensive rules, he'd make them up on the spot and punish anyone for breaking a rule that didn't exist five minutes earlier.

However, since the warlord is not stupid, he will not kill more than necessary to maintain fear. Slaves are his currency and burning money, even if it comes in sentient form, is generally a bad idea. Good warriors will be rewarded with slaves, bad warriors or those getting too powerful will be killed and their slaves redistributed. The same holds true for any of his servants. They will try to have as many slaves as possible, so they will kill some but leave most alive. That is also the reason why the lowest levels won't fully devolve into a free for all with no survivors. Those above will always make sure that not too many below kill each other, because they'd essentially kill his own power base.

Procreation is a simple matter of the powerful warlords maintaining harems of the opposite sex, maybe even breeding stalls that his best warriors can enjoy so he can breed more powerful warriors (as long as none are more powerful than him). Women will be more valuable slaves since they are necessary to increase the slave stock, they are literal money makers in a society where slaves are currency. They make sure that the warlord can become more powerful over time even without external influx of slaves.

Many of those groups can exist next to each other, each being too strong or too expensive to attack, leading to uneasy truces where any sign of weakness - like losing too many combat slaves in a battle against another warlord - will lead to annihilation. If two warlords fight, the other warlords will afterwards move in and plunder what's left.

Over time, it might happen that all the parallel groups will get wiped out and a single warlord remains, but after his death his direct servants might devolve into separate groups or tribes if the heir is too weak to maintain rule.

The society is stable since increasing or maintaining population is central to it. Population is power, slaves are wealth. Without external influx of power, internal population growth becomes a survival aspect, it might even become an evolutionary selection trait - after physical strength.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting points! Since they are influenced by their baser instincts, the entire system relies on the most primal one, fear. The ones at the bottom of the pyramid fear stepping out of line. The ones at the top of it fear being overthrown or losing too much power. And the ones in the middle both fear angering those above, being overthrown by those below and losing their position to other at the same level - so they won't stab the warlord in his sleep, or let him be stabbed, as the next one may not treat them as well. And he may be faking sleep to catch traitors anyway. $\endgroup$ – Eth Apr 20 '18 at 13:34
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As the man said; life would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't work.

With Sith-style relations (where an adult raises a not-necessarily-their child in exchange for the child taking most of the necessary risks of daily life until one day one of them kills the other preemptively and starts looking for another partner) you might even get something resembling a society. Knowledge and artifacts could be built over generations.

The Sith story includes good reason to only have one apprentice, but the arrangement starts with adults who can be assumed to be dangerous, children are physically incapable of being a threat to an adult for at least some time. The more children an adult feels safe from the larger the apprentice pool of a master can be. With natural weapons and armor it may take a large groups nearly mature adolescents to pose a threat to an adult.

Rapid reproduction but slow maturation might be useful. You need lots of new murders to replace victims but the offspring need to spend a long time as not a threat to their caregivers to have the time to learn all the useful things intelligent species know.

Live birth is riskier than eggs because the mother is slowed down during gestation, and external fertilization eliminates the dangers of rape. Non-helpless newborns might be a good investment in an uncertain world; orphans being viable is valuable if parents stand a significant risk of dieing, and you can't certainly can't expect charity, but the higher cost to the mother might not be worth it. Knowing that you have a little slave for 10 safe-ish years at the cost of feeding a baby for 3-4 might be all the protection infants need. An explicit physical transition from child to adult, like a chrysalis or budding horns, carapace, or other natural weapons could provide a marker for a low risk peaceful exit from a household.

If someone nice came along they would stay a slave in whatever household raised them if the head of the house noticed they were nice, or would be murdered or exiled when the master decided they were big enough to be a threat soon if (as expected) the head of the household didn't trust that they weren't faking it, along with any other children who didn't figure out how to kill their owner or run away before maturing.

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    $\begingroup$ Good points about the family model, especially the favourable alternate modes of reproduction. $\endgroup$ – Eth Apr 20 '18 at 13:36
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There is only one path to success here that I can think of

Let's say that your society didn't evolve, but was created by a bored god such that 10,000 chaotic evil orcs were all positioned, frozen, in their daily lives within an existing city — and the god flipped the "on" switch.

24 hours later there would be a dozen orcs and enough fertilizer to keep Iowa running for a year.

What's left is your basic tyrant organization with the biggest, baddest orc on top keeping a few of the nasty honkers below him as his crew. Basically an L.A. gang.

That's as stable a government as you can get from a bunch of back-stapping, plotting, manipulative, me-first-no-one-else-matters orcs. Gratefully, they're not cannibals.

  • Chaotic people don't organize. Organization (order) is the antithesis of chaos. Therefore, the only "order" that can exist is that which promotes the selfish desires of the most powerful in balance with the selfish desires of everyone else.

  • Evil people don't help (unless it suits their desires, manipulative little bozons those orcs). Compassion (the desire to promote the welfare of others, aka "good") is the antithesis of evil. Our master bully couldn't care less about the goombahs below him other than for the wealth or power they bring to him — and they'll be offed the second they're no longer productive because they're a perennial threat.

Which explains why chaotic evil beings tend to be loners.

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    $\begingroup$ "the only "order" that can exist is that which promotes the selfish desires of the most powerful in balance with the selfish desires of everyone else." << Capitalism! Chaotic, in this context, does not mean "not organized". Sarevok, in Baldur's Gate saga, is quite organized in his scheme to raising a war so he could have a sacrifice to offer in his ritual to allegedly gain Bhaal's essence for his own. -- Instead, Chaotic means how do you fit your society's rules. $\endgroup$ – Luis Masuelli Apr 19 '18 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ Said this, one example of chaotic evil societies exist in our real world, like Somalia. $\endgroup$ – Luis Masuelli Apr 19 '18 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ @LuisMasuelli, we can have a peaceful democracy if we redefine "chaotic" to mean anything we want. Chaotic means "without order." As mentioned in Pluto's answer, order can be imposed by a strong enough external force, but without that force, there's no order other than what one can force another to do (and any author that writes otherwise wrote a lousy story.) Also remember that we're talking about societal order, not project planning. But the best laid plan, if it depends on chaotic people (whom you can't trust to follow the plan's rules), will fail. $\endgroup$ – JBH Apr 19 '18 at 21:19
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Are you familiar with Noxus from the League of Legends video game? That might be a good place to start mining for ideas. Summed up, it's something like Brutal Darwinian libertarianism. Anyone can be anything they want, regardless of the station that they were born into. If you want something you take it through strength or cunning. Either your strong enough to hold on to your position or you're assassinated, stolen from, or enslaved by a competitor. Strongest rise to the top, the weak are pushed down, and there's a lot of churn and turn over. As long as the murder rate isn't out of control and the birth rate is high enough, it should be a stable society. And remember, you don't have to kill someone to take their stuff or status - if they are evil sociopaths it might be better just to inflict suffering.

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An option worth considering, IMO, is the picture of Hell that C.S. Lewis imagined for “The Screwtape Letters.” In the preface of the book he described it as “something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.... [where everyone] wishes everyone else's discrediting, demotion, and ruin; everyone is an expert in the confidential report, the pretended alliance, the stab in the back.”

Now, I know the kneejerk response is to insist that a Chaotic Evil population would never never ever build up an elaborate bureaucracy, because such a structure would be far too orderly – far too Lawful (ugh!). But in my experience, the opposite tends to be the case. The bigger and more unwieldy the bureaucracy, the less orderly and consistent it will be. “Silos,” “Left hand doesn't know what the right hand's doing” and all that. An oversized, undermanaged organization affords far more opportunities for Chaotic fun and cleverly-plotted Evil than opposite extremes like a mass of warring tribes or criminal gangs.

Or come at it from another direction. If your orcish sociopaths have the intelligence to rise above random brutish cruelty and the everyone-for-himself mindset, then it's reasonable to think that they've discovered humor. Particularly the art of a caustic insult, ironically exaggerated respect, or good old-fashioned satire. And what could be funnier – and more fun – than building up a sham organization with an elaborate hierarchy, just to use it as a stage for pursuing individual gain & selfish goals? If nothing else, it lets them have a good hearty laugh at those sanctimonious Lawful types who take such structured systems seriously. (If all this is starting to sound like a Monty Python sketch, that's quite intentional. Think about it for a minute. If you actually had a society shot through with over-the-top ironic humor and cartoonish acts of random violence, what would that be if not a Chaotic Evil society?)

Anyway, I think it's entirely possible that the world of Screwtape could be adapted into the society you're looking to create. Superficially it's “Lifetime Laborers Incorporated.” They have a “CEO” (gangleader), a “board” (his henchmen), a “hiring division” (raiding/capture parties), etc. On the surface it's a “real” business; but deep down, carefully controlled, they're all playing an elaborately plotted game of King of the Hill.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding.SE! When you have a moment, please take our tour and review our help center pages. Thanks for the good answer! We look forward to your continued participation! $\endgroup$ – JBH Apr 21 '18 at 5:16
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    $\begingroup$ This is an unusual and interesting way to look at it. The denizens of Hell as described are indeed sociopathic individualists, even though they are also sophisticated and able to channel their urges into long-term plans - quite the twist on how we see generic fantasy orcs! $\endgroup$ – Eth Apr 23 '18 at 14:00
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In D&D alignment "evil" means dedicated to causing suffering and destruction, and "chaotic" means rejecting any kind of large-scale organisation, rules or norms.

Chaotic species can cooperate in small bands, but only to the extent that the Chief knows everyone and everyone knows/fears the Chief personally. The Chief is going to be the big man (literally) who rules by force of physical might, social cunning, and the support of a small number of lieutenants.

The rest of the band stick around the Chief because it seems to them better than any alternative. The basic deal is that if you obey the Chief then the Chief will make sure that the rest of the band protects you and that you get some share of the booty and/or fun. As long as the Chief fulfils his side of the bargain the rest of the gang will follow him. In order to do this the Chief will organise raiding parties to collect loot and/or victims. The resulting fun and profit is then allocated to gang members by the Chief. This is important: everything the followers have is held from the hands of the Chief.

The lieutenants are the key players; each one wants to replace the Chief, but is held back by fear of the Chief personally and the need to form an alliance with other lieutenants. Since all the lieutenants want the same thing they are unreliable allies. Political conflicts are nasty, brutish, and short.

You should also consider the role of females in this society. Ape societies are interesting points of comparison. Chimpanzee societies are much as I described above (although arguably not "evil" unless you happen to be a colobus monkey), and males outrank females pretty much all the time. However in baboon societies the lieutenants are the senior females, who have their own separate hierarchy in which rank is hereditary (more or less). In many ways they act as kingmakers to the alpha male, but of course cannot take his role themselves. This tends to make the society more stable, which may not be what you want. However male-male dominance and coalitions are also a big factor in male ranking.

The size of such a group is limited by Dunbar's number for obvious reasons. Once the group gets too big for everyone to know everyone else it will fracture. Probably a group of low-status individuals will strike out on their own in the hope of setting up somewhere else (think Watership Down), thereby reducing the population below Dunbar's number. The alternative is a brief civil war which will also reduce the population.

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Palladium games provided an interesting definition of evil that does not defy your sadist perspective, but opens up some opportunities. Specifically, it was a "the ends justifies the means" attitude and it could be applied equally to sadists or "good" nationalists who put their country/tribe interests ahead of their word or peoples lives (maybe including their own) creating a self-sacrificing "hero" (from the very limited perspective of the tribe) who would nevertheless lie, kill, cheat, genocide, whatever it takes to advance the national interest.

That opens up a lot of ground.

You can have brutal, proud, but troublingly good "evil" societies. "Good" characters don't have a pass to indiscriminately walk into neighborhoods butchering everyone. Stressors have to put your brutal "evil" civilization into conflict with it's neighbors, where the "evil" culture will go for the lowest risk/surest to succeed path to solve the problem.

I also recommend R. A. Salvatore's drow. Lolth (as a diety) is the ultimate top dog on the sadist pile. And she delivers to her followers, making their obedience plausible. Parents betray their children and children their parents. Lolth sometimes tests her followers with crippling misfortune to see if the rest of the community leaps to destroy them, being faithful to her teachings, and to see how tough the crippled worshipper can be in a bind. Generally families are allowed to cluster under dysfunctional (we need eachother) relationships and small communities of families are allowed to organize by Lolth. Although she will shake things up frequently, constantly brutally testing everyone's faithfulness to her teachings, brutality, strength, and skill.

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E.E. Smith envisaged such a society in the Lensman stories: the Eddorians were totally selfish; they weren't sadistic, but each Eddorian considered that any amount of suffering by anyone else was justifiable if it met the Eddorian's needs.

They fought among each other, until there were just a few Eddorians left, and they decided that any more fighting might wipe them all out, including oneself. (Smith wrote these stories during the 1940s). They agreed to work together, within a strictly hierarchical society headed by the "All Highest" (address as "Your Supremacy") until they find a galaxy with enough planets for every Eddorian to rule as many slaves as he pleases.

Spoiler Alert: the Good Guys (Lensmen) kill them all.

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@PlutoThePlanet gave the most excellent answer for a sustainable society which has families and off-spring and performs rather efficiently as a whole.

At the opposite end there is the classical notion of orks: As the Silmarillion describes it, the point of Tolkien's orks was that they were not born this way, but rather formed from elves who were tortured and driven to madness to turn from lawful-good to chaotic-evil. Also until Saruman's Urukhai they did not breed to produce new off-spring, thus they only gained new members when elves were taken as captives in raids or battles and tortured until they turned into orks. The original magical powers of elves became abilities in fast healing and other 'supernatural abilities' like night-sight etc.

This orkish structure was never meant to be a society. They are a military band of maniacs having no purpose in life except for causing the pain they suffered to others and killing while death is the only thing relieving them of their state. These orks have no villages, but camps and hideouts when they became more and more decimated. Their only purpose is in a constant state of war and skirmishes where the army rejuvinates itself from its captives, as long as they are numerous enough.

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I would just want to point out that humans are chaotic and evil.

So the society wouldn't be much different than what we have.

How do we motivate people to do the right thing?

By punishing those who we like and rewarding those we don't.

By befriending those who benefit us and avoiding those we don't.

Chaotic evil people can produce well functioning society. Look at capitalism. Every single players are "evil" in a sense of "selfish". And there is no organization.

Yet it works.

How lawful orderly people manage a well functioning society is what's problematic.

Look at "good" in a sense of "religious" people that talk about moral to Allah or Jesus or whatever. Look at their laws that's based on order and morality. In Afganistan you can't even listen to music because the law says not to. And most of the "good" people support the law because it's the law. They unselfishly choose to do "good" rather than "selfish".

Now which one makes more money? US with cursing citizens? Or afganistan?

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Wouldn't this be historically Pirates? They formed into temporary alliances to maintain a profitable shipboard life and then moved on when that wasn't profitable or advantageous. While society might be stretching it, they plundered both ships and settlements and interacted with governments and individuals for profit and protection.

I would think a similar historical example would be trappers in the early US West. They didn't organize, could have killed each other on sight or helped each other depending on mood / history. They also traded with Indians and settlers. All that's really necessary for that to work is a large enough space with some settlements around the edges and something of value to collect / steal.

In both cases women would be individuals in the society or pulled from settlements for breeding. Additional individuals would come from settlements lured by the freedom to experience their desired chaotic lifestyle.

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    $\begingroup$ Pirates weren't chaotic, often democratic, and possibly less evil than the governments they were up against. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Apr 20 '18 at 8:36
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Such a society may work if the local leader offers them (a) benefit(s) e.g. frequent raids and war so that the indivuals can loot. The major problem is that such leaders may not live very long. Consequently, there will be a need for a loyal guard, .. However, we know from history that roman emporers were most frequently killed by guardsmen. So it will not be a 100% safe roll and the leader lives in constant fear of beeing killed.

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