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So, long, long ago, on a planet in the Milky Way, dwells the Qualian civilization. The time is around Earth’s 16th century, in the Tasadian Empire. Emperor Zora II has just been betrayed and nearly assassinated by the famous High General Duluk. Duluk now waits underneath the great prison, waiting to receive his, most likely, brutal torture and punishment. Probably the eye melter or head cruising methods. But when he talks to Zora, he tells him he’s getting a different punishment.

The next day, Zora’s guards are seen chasing Duluk out of the city, and he is never seen or heard from by anybody ever again. He’s alive, and is about to take a permanent vacation in the Hageorian Desert, but he's still alive. But Zora goes on to make a purge of all memories of Duluk. Files such as Duluks certificate of hatching, his college files, and etc. Paintings of Duluk are painted over, and every single scroll or stone carving mentioning the name Duluk is edited.

People are discouraged from mentioning Duluk, and since hatchlings are raised en masse in government controlled facilities, Duluks legacy is deleted, while he is technically still alive. Duluk, after about 50 years, is a hazy urban legend like figure that no one is sure even existed.

In Qualian culture, I plan for this punishment, called deletion, to be feared worse than any other by Qualiabs. But my question is, why would this, seemingly mild punishment, be so especially feared by Qualians?

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    $\begingroup$ I find it interesting that you consider it to be a "seemingly mild punishment." $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 18 '18 at 5:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Daluk of course he's not totally forgotten, you can destroy objects but not memories. And it's the same for Herostratus, he wouldn't have a wikipedia page if he was totally forgotten. the proess you describe is really similar to Herostratus/*damnatio memoriae*, except that it was done after their death and not simple banished. $\endgroup$ – Kepotx Jul 18 '18 at 7:37
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    $\begingroup$ Reminder to close-voters: The problem cannot be fixed if the OP is not made aware of it. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jul 18 '18 at 12:14
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    $\begingroup$ By the way, you have to prevent him from returning under a different false name. A face tattoo could work that way, for example. $\endgroup$ – Sulthan Jul 18 '18 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ Related quote I rather like: “There are three deaths: the first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.” ― David Eagleman $\endgroup$ – Bob Jul 19 '18 at 2:25

16 Answers 16

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You seem to be describing a particularly extreme case of shunning, which has been used as a punishment by real-world cultures and groups throughout history and into the present day.

As a commenter on the question said, I find it strange that you consider this a "mild punishment". Being shunned by even a single significant individual is highly unpleasant, even when there is the possibility of reconciliation. To be irrevocably shunned by your entire society would be devastating, and that's just here on Earth, without active efforts to purge all evidence of your existence.

In the earlier days of the internet, there were also a handful of movies made about how horrible it would be to have a hacker or government agency delete you from every computer in the world - which, in these movies, often had the inexplicable effect of also making friends and family forget you. So, then, how do you survive, with no bank account, no credentials, no identity?

So, no, there's no need for any supernatural or deep cultural explanation. To be erased from existence while still alive would be psychologically devastating and, if not imprisoned, it would also make basic survival extremely difficult. Many people, in that position, would eventually come to contemplate suicide, considering death preferable to continuing on in that way.

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    $\begingroup$ I imagine it would be even worse for someone who had enough ego to have reached the rank of High General - someone who has spent their entire lives cultivating the respect and admiration of their superiors, peers and subordinates, someone to whom fame and recognition are extremely important, and was probably devoting his life to leaving a mark on society. $\endgroup$ – colmde Jul 18 '18 at 9:09
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    $\begingroup$ This. It also describes a significant number of real-world practices. From rulers defacing and removing a predecessor's legacy (Hatshepsut comes to mind, and a few Roman Emperors I can't recall), to the idea of 'pariahs' and 'untouchables'. $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Jul 18 '18 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ @colmde Someone who cared enough about their society/image/nothing to attempt an overthrow of the government? It would hurt to not be remembered for that. $\endgroup$ – Imperator Jul 18 '18 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ It also works the other way around. History is full of people who did things, often risking or losing their live (or the lives of others), just to be remembered. $\endgroup$ – Till Jul 18 '18 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ This seems to be more along the lines of damnatio memoriae, not shunning. Much the same impact, though. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jul 18 '18 at 22:16
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Take a cue from Mexican culture, and specifically the plot of the Pixar movie Coco.

Being forgotten in the Living World means you don't reach the Afterlife

Of course this answer is really up to you as to how religious your Qualians are. If they're a secular society that doesn't really get into superstition, then maybe a different answer would suffice.

However if they are religious, then feel free to use this idea.

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  • $\begingroup$ Extremely religious society at this time. Though they believe people Deleted just disappear from history all together $\endgroup$ – Daluk Jul 18 '18 at 4:44
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    $\begingroup$ Ancient Egyptian religion was similar. To be forgotten/erased was death in the afterlife, since there would be no one to make offerings to your grave. That's the whole point of tomb paintings and statues, with the proper spells, you could magically obtain food and drink for your spirit. $\endgroup$ – pboss3010 Jul 18 '18 at 11:48
  • $\begingroup$ Does not every major religion have some kind of this? If you sin you won't enter heaven. Clearly the rulers would make rebelling look like a very serious sin. $\endgroup$ – mathreadler Jul 18 '18 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ @mathreadler That's assuming that they have total control over the religion. And I can't think of anything in recent history where a government successfully pulled that off $\endgroup$ – Sydney Sleeper Jul 18 '18 at 22:51
  • $\begingroup$ @SydneySleeper not really. It's enough to be able to press the buttons which the religion implants. $\endgroup$ – mathreadler Jul 19 '18 at 7:00
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You are describing a more efficient Damnatio memoriae. The roman version (and the egyptian before them) did not work well, since we still know that damned people like Caligula and Akhenaten existed. It was a horrible punishment because it erased all deeds the victim did, the victim would lose the immortality that history brings to Great Men. Also, if your society practices ancestor worship that would mean that the victim would not be worshipped and would suffer in the afterlife because of that. Maybe your afterlife is some kind of celestial bureaucracy and the dead needs that the living do a lot of rituals to help them navigating that bureaucracy. A damned man would no longer receive these rituals and would be pushed to the back of the line in the celestial bureaucracy.

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    $\begingroup$ The fact that we know of Akhenaten doesn't mean it never worked. Suppose that Akhenaten was one of 10,000 Egyptians for whom this was done, and we just know about this one because it's really hard to erase all records of a pharaoh. That situation would be basically indistinguishable from the one where Akhenaten was the only one erased. $\endgroup$ – Ray Jul 18 '18 at 19:00
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The reason why this punishment might be seen as so horrible can be found in Qualian biology. Specifically, they're a highly sociable species evolved from pack or herd animals. Social standing and interaction isn't just something their society values, it's something they need on a deep physiological level. Interacting with others and being seen as a valuable member of the herd/pack/society triggers the release of hormones similar to those that occur in a human when they fall in love.
Their society has evolved to support and reinforce this behavior with almost every member of their species exhibiting traits that we would classify as exceptionally extroverted, to the point where an introverted nature might even be seen as a psychological illness.

In addition, their society values accomplishments and status very highly. Being able to trace one's ancestry back to a valued member of society is a great source of pride and status among Qualians to the point where many important Qualians have dozens of great deeds their ancestors performed memorized.

But perhaps even more than that, Qualians have a fairly low birth-rate and thus place tremendous value in their offspring. In prehistoric times, it would not be uncommon for primitive Qualians to perform suicidal attacks on predators so their children may escape harm. While this has lessened with the transition to agriculture and city-based society, protecting one's children and leaving them a better life than you have is deeply ingrained in Qualian society, to the point where wishing that someone's children grow up alone and destitute is one of the worst insults available.

Your punishment hits all of these essential Qualian traits all at once. A dead Qualian is just that: dead. But one that has been deleted is far worse off. All they've worked for is gone, their children not just orphans but heirs to worse than nothing, a blank place in history. A deleted qualian's resources are taken by the state, effectively leaving their immediate family broke. Their children's social status is ruined through the gap in their line, for if you have no father or mother, anything their ancestors did is no longer yours to claim. And perhaps worst of all, being deleted effectively ensures a Qualian will be alone forever, denied the strongest positive emotion available to a member of the species.

Unsurprisingly, most deleted Qualians choose to take their own lives instead of living like this, though some Qualians, particularly those with anti-social tendencies, continue to survive for as long as possible, mostly out of spite for those who did this to them.

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    $\begingroup$ The deleted Qualians gap is simply filled in with someone else, for instance, after Duluk was deleted, his brother Suluk just replaced him as patriarch of the family. And the family just tries their hardest to forget forget forget. Which is pretty bad, too $\endgroup$ – Daluk Jul 18 '18 at 11:08
  • $\begingroup$ Also, don't forget this is a punishment for Duluk. What's it like knowing that your descendants will never prosper because of you, and would curse your name if they knew what it was? $\endgroup$ – Shawn V. Wilson Jul 19 '18 at 19:21
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“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown

― H.P. Lovecraft

If Duluk is put to death, he dies as Duluk - defeated and in pain, perhaps, but proud and with the trappings of his rank, social status and achievements both by himself and his ancestors.

Stripped of his identity and driven into the desert, Duluk is no longer the person he has always been. He must become something else. He does not know what that will be. It is a terrifying prospect, to be hurled into the world and have to make oneself new, with no recourse to the trappings of the past. Some people would choose death instead of the unknown; some might commit suicide or just wait to die in the desert. I like to think Duluk is made of sterner stuff and he will find a way.

This is the stuff of good stories - you surprise the reader and keep a good character in play. I suspect Zora is playing the long game and that he suspects Duluk might be useful again someday. These things are why people keep reading!

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    $\begingroup$ Read "The Star Rover" by Jack London. One character ends up like that, from ruler of the province to complete pariah thanks to the machinations of evil counselor. Changes a lot of jobs, because informers keep finding him and, as deleted from memory, he is not allowed to hold job or be helped in any way. Can't get killed by random nobody in the street due to having "blood of ancient kings in his veins" but is otherwise completely banished. He was known as "The strong one" and he keeps his strength in the old age. Strength enough for revenge... I like that story. $\endgroup$ – jo1storm Jul 19 '18 at 13:55
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In the US, one of the worst things that can be done to an individual in prison is solitary confinement. This especially is true if done for long periods of time. This can cause lasting mental scarring above and beyond what normally happens in prison.

To be totally forgotten by the living and the dead seems an ever worse punishment. Duluk should be marked in some way so that if he comes back home everybody will see him and shun him. He will have no rest from this, with similar effects to solitary confinement.

This next idea is the creation of the writer/artist of A Girl and Her Fed. It is a webcomic, and one of the major characters in the story is the ghost of Ben Franklin. In this story, ghosts make a specific decision to return to a place between the world of the living and the world of the dead. I call this "The Annex."

The power of a ghost is proportional to the amount he is remembered. In the US Ben Franklin is one of single most powerful ghosts because people remember him very powerfully. I can't even think his name without thinking of his famous thought-experiment about a kite in a thunderstorm. We still teach of him in the schools. Our first president, George Washington is about equal.

And interesting thing is that Hamilton has gained power from the musical show, "Hamilton."

Those who are not remembered become almost powerless wallflowers until they choose to go to on the afterlife.

I imagine that Duluk might have chosen to return, and being forgotten would be almost powerless within a generation.

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Your Qualians could be a telepathic species sharing a sort of hive mind.

Therefore, the definition of an individual would be rather blur and concepts such as self-identity or proprioception (sense of the relative position of one's own parts of the body) would not be "hold" by a single individual but devided onto the whole species.

The act of forgeting Duluk is then equivalent to death as this part of the hive mind that was called "Duluk" and was once shared between all the Qualians is now some uncomplet memories fragments stored in the only "body" that refused to forget. Duluk doesnt exist anymore, even for himself and his body is a just an empty vessel that can't even analyse where he is as his proprioception was dependant of the other members of his species...

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    $\begingroup$ Wouldn’t be a cognitive stretch to have a part of a “hive mind” be able to plan a revolt, much less to gather enough followers to have a revolt? $\endgroup$ – WGroleau Jul 18 '18 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ @WGroleau I agree that playing with the hive mind concept can lead to strange situations... The solution could be that it is not one entity but the superposition of billions. See this as a Duluk.zip file separated onto pieces and stored on multiple servers. When everything goes well, there is no reason for another file to check Duluk.zip and it can do whatever it wants, including comploting. But when treason happends, a general message is sent to every server saying "Delete all the Duluk file parts you are holding !" and the only server that refused to do it is Duluk's body. $\endgroup$ – Freedomjail Jul 19 '18 at 8:21
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A similiar fear of being excluded or removed from society is already found in human culture. In Norse mythology for example it was considered essential to be remembered after passing away. It was somethimes referred to as a "second death" when nobody could remember you anymore, because it would be the same as if you never existed in the first place.

There is also the infamous seppuku from Japan, where people would quite literally choose suicide over being shunned by their communities. The feeling of acceptance is a really big psychological force in society.

So the psychological effects of being deleted could be severe. Most people don't just want to live, but also want to feel like their lives have accomplished something. A deleted person would lose all recognition of past achievements and also lose the possibility to influence the future in any meaningful way. You're losing a huge part of what makes life meaningfull, which is something that for many is worse than death. If your character has strong ideological convictions, this would be especially devastating.

They'd also potentionally lose out on any societal benefits that might be in place. Anything like medical assistance or protection that is afforded to everyone else. Deletion could be similiar in many ways to being decleared an outlaw, which has historically been a harsh punishment in many cultures.

Criminals would lose all and any rights that the rest of the population has, and would no longer receive help or aid of any kind. They would even lose the luxury of trusting their own friends and family. For many it was essentially a death sentence.

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It could also be that the memory whole doesn't just affect the punished... Duluk would probably have taken a mate or mates... now they cannot discuss their loved one (presuming life time bonds are a concept...). If this mate is a member of high society, she could presumably be shunned as well, especially if her social titles are tied to his. Those big fancy parties are now closed to her and she is reduced to peseanthood. If he has any ties to offspring (not sure based on egg) they too could face back-draft as they are purged in someway. Having Children is genetic. If your parents cannot have kids, you probably won't either.

If Duluk has any land possessions, they are now free to claim by other houses or even commoners looking to elevate their rank. After all, he cannot own them because he doesn't exist... someone else can lay claim and profit in some way.

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    $\begingroup$ If your parents are genetically unable to have kids, you don't exist... $\endgroup$ – Till Jul 18 '18 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ This is a good answer. "It's a hell of a thing, killing [deleting] a man. You take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have. - William Munny, Unforgiven $\endgroup$ – Tony Ennis Jul 21 '18 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Till: Thanks for explaining the joke. $\endgroup$ – hszmv Jul 23 '18 at 14:04
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The ancient Egyptians believed that only a physically complete body could enter the Afterlife. Hence the extraordinary lengths taken to preserve the bodies of their kings. A criminal could be executed with some degree of honour, or his body could be thrown to the crocodiles in the Nile where it would be fragmented beyond hope of reincarnation.

An intact body, an intact reputation...

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    $\begingroup$ Egyptians also believed in the second death of obscurity. Related, King Tut's tomb was unmolested mainly because the high priest who ruled after him tried to purge his family from the record. No one remembered his name until the tomb was actually found. $\endgroup$ – ryanyuyu Jul 18 '18 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ The same was true of Hatshepsut, a female king, who was erased after her passing. todayifoundout.com/index.php/2015/07/… $\endgroup$ – VBartilucci Jul 18 '18 at 14:35
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You could take a page from Lois McMaster Bujold's Barrayar, where some folk beliefs hold that (iirc; the story which features this is called Mountains of Mourning, and is worth reading if you're looking for insights into that mindset) you're still alive, in some way, as long as you are remembered. So destroying your memory is effectively destroying your afterlife as well as your position in the family. See also the movie Coco, although that's not my culture and I can't speak to any details.

Continuing the afterlife theme: if you're sustained in your afterlife the same way you are in life (a la ancient Egypt), and you're expecting some kind of sacrifice/contribution from the living to keep you healthy and happy, being forgotten means an eternity of punishment. What's one lifetime of suck when you're dealing with that?

If you want to go with a more mystical version, a species that has some kind of shared memory/consciousness, where those who are remembered literally live on in some way in the living and may be able to still influence the world, it's a different form of death.

A completely different approach is to say that what is valued in this society as the purpose of life is the impact you have on the future, or how long your name is remembered. So if your name is deleted and everything you did has been erased or credit given to someone else, then your life's purpose has effectively been in vain. The Roman damnatio memoriae tradition seems to be similar to this, but someone with a better knowledge of Roman culture can hopefully provide more insight there.

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  • $\begingroup$ Their are not totally, totally cast into oblivion. They are just dimly remembered, like an urban legend that may or may not be true $\endgroup$ – Daluk Jul 18 '18 at 6:41
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On the longest night of the year, each family gathers and performs the G'krule, a long ritual where the the names and deeds of the family members are recited.
The elders begin with the youngest in the living family, and mention their names and achievements, eventually the task falls to the younger adults & teens, they recite the deeds of the elders and the most recently dead, moving back into the mists of time. Wealthy families employ "orphans" or "foundlings" without family to read, so their many ancestors lost to the ages can be honored at G'krule.
The ritual ends at dawn, and ushers in a new year to earn achievements in.

Everyone wants a long list of achievements to be read at G'krule, so one will be be remembered by your family now and for decades after your passing.

To be "forgotten" is to be omitted from the G'krule, and for all it is a fate worse than merely dying.

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1) Death is a mild punishment.

Death happens to everyone. Life is merely a dept and death is paying it off. Having it today is no really different than eg. bank calling in today and terminating your mortgage. Yes, you were expecting to pay it over the next 29 years. You have to pay it now? You had a 100k worth of house and -100k worth of debt, now you have 0. Tough luck, but nothing really changed.

2) Being remembered is the ultimate point of life.

Once you die, all that is left is how others remember you. If they don't, it's as good as if you haven't lived at all. The whole outcome of your life is nullified. That's the worst possible thing that can happen to a conscious being.

(Keep in mind that human fear and denial of death is quite irrational. Once you get rid of that, pretty much everything is "worse than death", because death is not bad per se.)

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You can't have an Afterlife

This society is very religious and they think that you need to be remembered in order to live in the heaven.
In the same moment the last person which remember you die (or forget) you no longer exist, you are nothing but sound in the wind. Your right to be in the afterlife is removed and you simply disappear (or suffer an unimaginable amount in the hell...).

Memories remain

Be executed is just a quicker way to die. You'll already die, 30 years after or before you will be only dust. But memories may remain.

Memories about you are the only thing that remains after you die. If your memories are forgotten, what would keep about you? Your money? It'll be inherited or donated. Your house? Inherited, sold, destroyed. Your car? No. Everything tangible will be lost, the only thing that can remain are memories about you and your goals, and if you lose them you will no longer have existed.

They are sociable creatures

Some creatures have evolved to live in communities and societies (like us). Be forgotten or rejected by your community is something very bad. Doesn't hundreds of teenagers suicide because of bullying on social sites? Be accepted is a privilege and its fundamental to their lifes.

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I read a story where some bug creatures gained a sort of immortality when their corpses were consumed by their brethren. By this ritual the deads' memories became shared with the hive. Thus the hive remembered everything any of their ancestors ever did. Being deleted means that the hive would purge those memories, and the accused would be driven away to die the ultimate irrelevant death. It's the ultimate "Bye Felicia".

Your mate would forget you. Your offspring would forget you. There might be a void there (who was my father?) but there would be no remembrance of who filled it or why it was a void. And probably a cultural taboo to thinking about it too much, or perhaps a mental block that made such thoughts hard to have, somehow meaningless, or seem like gibberish (colorless green dreams sleep furiously!).

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Imagine, where your name is hard coded, by scent, fingerprint, eyecolor or skin-coloration. Shunning like this, is double the punishment if you cant escape it in a new identity. Because then, your very appearance restarts the witch hunt and people dread the appearance of the unspeakable foreigner. Now imagine, a society where this "unlearning" gets so internalized, the undesirable could walk back among them, readily recognizable - and yet non-existent, for the subconscious itself deletes all memories of the strange beggar wandering the palace.

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