My highly advanced aliens have progressed far past other life forms in the galaxy. Their technology seems like magic to less advanced species.

However, some of their leaders are very Genre Savvy and want to avoid the decadence and decay that reaching the Crystal spires and togas level can bring.

They've studied other races and seen civilizations rise and fall (Rome, Ancient Greece, China, et cet) and don't want to one day find themselves gobbled up by other races because they were basking in their own glory.

They know about behavioral sink, such as was demonstrated in The Mouse utopia

What steps can my highly advanced aliens take to ensure they stay on top, and don't fall like others have?

Do they want to avoid immortality, lest they become like the Brunnen-G from LEXX?

Would an external threat (Real or invented) help?

Edited to expound a bit on what I mean by "crystal spires and Togas"

By this, I mean the society is FAR beyond what the other races have achieved. Think of showing a smart phone to a caveman type of that far ahead. Because of this, there are no external enemies that could even slow them down any more than a bow and arrow could take down a B-1 bomber.

But, they know that great civilizations eventually fall through complacency, decadence, and lack of struggle (mouse utopia) and are aware of "Behavioral sink", and of the fact that drive tends to fade when there's no struggle.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jul 19, 2019 at 19:55

4 Answers 4


I thought deeply about this, unrelated to your question. My humble take on it.

First, external threats wouldn't help long term. Invented threats wouldn't have the edge and real pressure or if they exposed would hasten the collapse. Real would either would be dealt with or overpower them.

One solution is a kind of tyranny. Forced education, a memory suppressed relieving in VR the most turbulent and significant periods of their history as active participants, not just observers.

This would lead to instill the dangers of decadence.

Their choices could be evaluated and only those with acceptable level of self-control and foresight recognized as citizens.

Religion and Tradition

They will want to cement the values, lifestyle and belief system which led to the current empowered status. Any deviant behaviour would be frowned upon or dealt with more harshly.

The best way to ensure this is a common, shared tradition or root, foundation and goal of the future, which religion or any ideology would provide and enforce.

There are many chinese idioms of one's path and how to maintain stabile empires. Your society need a firm understanding of where they came from and where they are going. It may be not enough, but without it they surely be lost.

This comment may be frowned upon, but looked at today's West and USA.

A kind of matrix solution. We are those people. Future humans of immortal god level, reliving our history or created realities with suppressed memory and powers in order to experience the struggle and grow as a person, a self, to reach higher levels of understanding about life, universe ...

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    $\begingroup$ Good points. When Nietzsche wrote "God is dead", he wasn't writing it as a triumphant declaration, but as a grim realization that we had dethatched ourselves from our beliefs and traditions that provided the moorings for society. $\endgroup$
    – user20762
    Jul 17, 2019 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ Enforcing a specific lifestyle or belief system can also invite revolution, which could lead to the collapse of that society. A thriving society is one that changes, adapts, and grows; stagnant ones collapse. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Jul 17, 2019 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Not really, no. Why would they revolve against enforcing their current lifestyle? Only deviant or rebellious elements wouldn't want that and its better to deal with them fast. No, not really again. Too many changes will destabilize the system faster. Stagnant ones collapse from the outside. This IS very opinion-based. Western, liberal ideology will champion its own views as best... it is too soon to tell, but the warning signs are there to see. In a few decades the result will be out. $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Jul 17, 2019 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ As I understand it, China is enforcing its current lifestyle through AI and pervasive surveillance. The country is also experiencing regular protests of the government. I could go at length about the pros and cons of East vs. West cultural doctrine (without "championing" either), but this is neither the time nor place for that. Suffice to say: I don't agree that removing from society those with different ideas will allow that society to avoid collapse. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Jul 17, 2019 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre I agree with you on that. Change is inevitable in the first place and fighting against it is a fool's errand. We have no precedence for a lasting empire, so far nothing worked. No need to 'remove' them. Isolate them and let their ideas run as an experiment. On the other hand, a stagnant empire is more stable in the long term, than a changing one, as one wrong, unrecognized change could spiral out quickly. The more variable allowed, the more opportunity for bugs to crash the system. $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Jul 17, 2019 at 15:55

It may already be too late

Crystal spires and togas is the conventional depiction of a civilisation that has already fallen too far into decadence. Fundamentally the majority of the population are useless, philosophers and telephone sanitisers. It's possible, in a highly advanced civilisation, that the entire population is now useless. All the work is being done by robots, the robots are built by robots and maintained by other robots and no person knows how anything works any more.

Society's bus factor has hit 0 and if anything goes wrong it's all over.

That's not the end of the species

It's just the end of the current incarnation of this specific civilisation. To consider the end of the Greek or Roman empires to be the end of the civilised world is to have a very narrow world view. There were others, there will be others. What they should understand is that the very long term view is that it doesn't matter all that much. A new civilisation will arise that will achieve even greater heights than their current one, and that should be allowed to happen if the current incarnation has stagnated to that level.

Other notes:


We conventionally understand togas to be the symbol of someone who doesn't do physical labour. The left arm in that traditional position across the body is holding the thing together and if moved it all falls off. A person wearing a toga is practically limited to standing, sitting, and gently walking.

Now of course this isn't particularly true, a toga is a much more practical garment than that, but it's part of what the trope is tied to.


is bad. It leads to gerontocracy and total stagnation. Avoid at all costs. Unless of course you want to cause the inevitable fall of your civilisation.

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    $\begingroup$ "Useless philosophers and telephone sanitisers", eh? I'm not quite sure how you personally can determine the usefulness of philosophy (but it seems to have produced quite a few useful things in the past...) and from recollection something hilarious and ironic happened to the people who got rid of their telephone sanitisers... $\endgroup$ Jul 17, 2019 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime, the death of the Golgafrinchans was a riff on the fact they were all useless not just those they put on the B ark. Philosophers are not directly economically useful, they're the pinnacle of a civilisation with lots of spare resources. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Jul 17, 2019 at 15:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Separatrix We have no known precedence for immortality. We have ideas how it would affect us, but that's it. Such a strong avoidance may not be wise, as it will also limit their growth and skills may be lost. $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Jul 17, 2019 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Lupus, but we do have the example that old people tend to be resistant to change, and those in power have a tendency to be old. Immortality benefits the individual, but does that outweigh the harm to society? $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Jul 17, 2019 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ But with age come wisdom too. Experience. And resistance to change may be more of a biological side effect. And yes, leaders, those in power tend to be old... young ones doesn't really work out as they lack, experience and wisdom. They think they understand everything, when they don't actually. $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Jul 17, 2019 at 16:21

Step One: Build robots to do everything

That kind of seems like a non-answer, doesn't it? But the other options seem morally evil. When you say 'external threat, real or invented', the first thing that comes to mind is the character Ozymandius from Watchmen, which I'm assuming you're familiar with, as someone who seems genre savvy. The fact is that humans stagnate without conflict and human stagnation usually brings about decay which fells empires. To induce conflict by creating a threat is just mass murder and to induce conflict by deliberating using lower technological standards is not saving people that you otherwise would save, both of which seem evil to me. By building robots to do everything (and, yes, I mean everything, including creating next generation of offspring from stored cells and raising them, should the need arise) you can prevent the decay.

Step Two: Let the philosophers go at it

Now, conflict is great for human development (and development in general), but what makes humans unique is that we can have our conflict delivered as a tasty psychological morsel rather than a physical one. If you encourage the sciences and the arts, and have stages built for philosophical and moral arguments, you can encourage your population to take part and have them strive to practice what they preach. And have children taught to do this from a young age. Essentially, turn it into the Spartan equivalent of philosophy. On the flip side, you'll have the nightmare beyond all nightmares trying to get anything accomplished if everyone's a philosopher, but the scenario you described doesn't really require your civilization to do that, because robots. And should a serious threat rise up, hopefully your civilization is smart enough to get their act together and face them, in which case you no longer have the concern of 'crystal spires and togas'.

This solves the problem as much as I'm able to, but unfortunately you're fighting against human nature. (Which reminds me - you could just change their alien psychology. But that's not narratively satisfying.)

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    $\begingroup$ "you could just change their alien psychology. But that's not narratively satisfying." It could be if you do so through eugenics. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jul 17, 2019 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ So... Vulcans, then? $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    Jul 17, 2019 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ I'm thinking more like the Borg, but not necessarily with the cybernetic assimilation thing. Vulcan's are the perfect victims of crystal towers and togas syndrome, but Borg have no clue how to stop trying to be better no matter how far they come. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jul 17, 2019 at 21:07

To avoid this kind of civilization from forming, you need to maintain the tenets of Capitalism within your society. Capitalism by its very nature opposes stagnation, even when there is no good reason not to stagnate. However, modern economics have taught us a lot about where capitalism fails, so to keep it going strong, you need to follow a few tenets beyond pure darwinian competition:

Protect Your Intellectual Property

When all other species are just animals compared to you, it's easy to consider enslaving them or contracting them to perform your menial labor. But in doing so, you inadvertently give them access to your technology. Within a few decades, they will figure out how all your stuff works, and they will have a society of scientists motivated by discovery from years of figuring your things out, while you have a society of philosophers with no new tech being produced yourselves. Their technology and understanding of it will exceed you and their collective consciousness will remember how you treated them when they were at your mercy.

Avoid Socialism

Even if a society has the technology and resources to achieve post-scarcity, don't give in to the temptation to just give away everything people need. As long as you have to work for what you need, you will be compelled to find easier ways to get what you need. Even if 95% of your people are only working 4 hours a day, so they can live in basic comfort, you will continue to have that 5% who choose to work really hard and smart to reduce how hard they need to work or to improve their quality of life. This contributes to a society's ability to innovate and use what it has to the highest potential.

Require Hard to Reach Industry Standards

When just getting something done becomes too easy to need to worry about how you get it done, wastefulness stops being a cultural concern. If you maintain a culture that is worried about the difference between 99.7% recycling efficiency and 99.8% recycling efficiency, then they will also worry about the difference between a plasma sword that can kill an enemy from 3ft away and an plasma rifle that can kill a thousand people from a mile away. This will prevent situations where an inferior alien civilizations might still be able to beat you down because you failed to use the technology you have well.

Promote Subcultures, Strong Statehoods, and Antitrust Systems

When you have no-outside influencers to compete against, you need internal competition. Think of high-school rivalry for example. You don't have to actually hate the other school across town from you to feel compelled to be better than them. With the right amount of autonomy, local governments and corporations will compete, forcing the continued advancement of civilization, even if they all exist under one federal government.

The Solution

Everything discussed up till now are all values, and values change with time. So, to create a society that can avoid these issues you need an inflexible constitution to maintain certain values from one generation to the next. The problem with something like the US constitution for example is that it is meant to be malleable and somewhat easy to ignore; so, its tenants have degraded over time as politicians feeding on personal interests have subverted it little-bit by little-bit.

To keep this from happening to your civilization, your checks and balances need to be harsh. There is no amendment process. If a politician even talks about a policy that is contrary to the constitution, they can be expelled from office, and if they formally propose a bill that is unconstitutional, they can be executed for treason. The constitution will be the one place that your government is not open to free thought or discussion, and this constitution upholds the core values of your civilization no matter what new technologies come along that might make it "unnecessary" in some people's eyes.

In this manner, you basically create a civilization that does not fall into a "crystal spires and togas" issue because any leader who takes the first step down that path will be killed or replaced before he can get anyone else to take that step with him.

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    $\begingroup$ Capitalism, above all else, concentrates wealth and power. In a post scarcity society, the basic realities of life that used to somewhat limit that power become meaningless. The wealthy will ignore or modify your constitution at will because there is no one who could even dream of stopping them. $\endgroup$ Jul 19, 2019 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ That is why "Promote Subcultures, Strong Statehoods, and Antitrust Systems" is so important. If power becomes single party, then you are right, but as long as you have a multi-tiered society, there will always be people with power looking for ways to justify executing tyrants for constitutional violations. In fact: it is their sworn duty. Yes, it would be a dystopian society in many ways... but not a "crystal spires and togas" one. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jul 19, 2019 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ In a modern since, imagine what Republicans would do to Democrats if they tried to encroach on gun control, or what Democrats would do to Republicans if they tried to encroach on search-and-seizure rights. Politicians would be unable to begin campaigns around such issues as long as even a small minority voice of opposition still exists on the topic. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jul 19, 2019 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ "There is no amendment process." ahh, a bibliolatrist theocracy. "Promote Subcultures, Strong Statehoods, and Antitrust Systems" sounds kinda anti-capitalist to me. $\endgroup$ Jul 19, 2019 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime Because pure capitalism doesn't work, I thought I was clear about that in my first paragraph. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jul 19, 2019 at 18:27