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I'm designing a sci-fi videogame.

But I've many doubts about the hierarchical structure.

On a ship "the captain" is the highest authority, directs, coordinates and controls all activities, responsible for everything and is the representative of the crew.

On an interstellar journey, using a generational ship (journey of many generations) and considering that: - The initial crew could be 60,000 people. - The crew becomes a reflection of a society in a closed ecosystem.

In this scenario the figure of the captain is lost since we would speak of an authoritarian government, a dictatorship.

What system of government would be the most suitable for a generational type ship ( Parliamentary, federal republic, representative democracy, athenian democracy [updated] ...)? What powers would exist?

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    $\begingroup$ That would depend mainly on the reason for this journey. Why did they go on this flight? Are they leaving a homeworld near destruction, fleeing from discrimination and looking for a new home, an expedition force... Which type of government send them? A military dictatorship, an oligarchy, a parlamentarian democracy... If you could give us some of these facts I'm shure you will get some good answers. $\endgroup$ – Charisturcear Jun 5 '20 at 15:58
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    $\begingroup$ The captain is not the "representative" of the crew: the captain is lord and God. Ships are not democracies. They never were, they never will be. The only possible system of government on a ship is absolute monarchy. Sorry. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 5 '20 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ I don"t think so. That may be for 'normal ships' with a crew up to a few hundred men, but we talk about a generation ship with 60k Inhabitants, the bigger part not working to keep the ship running but are teachers, doctors and work in other civil jobs. This is a mobile city. A democracy with a politicaly strong major as captain would be absolutely possible for example. $\endgroup$ – Charisturcear Jun 5 '20 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Pirates provide a counterexample to your idea that a ship must be an absolute monarchy. While there was usually a Captain, the only time he couldn't be voted out of office was in a battle. Of cause, you don't usually play change the captain for fun, but such a system forces the captain to act way more considerate than an absolute monarch. $\endgroup$ – TheDyingOfLight Jun 7 '20 at 4:46
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP everything that is not medieval Europe or military ships would disagree. One of the reason it was hard to get navy sailors in England for instance is many normal sailors did not like the weird rigid hierarchy of naval ships which they did not have on other ships. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 13 '20 at 21:01
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Why stick to old system of government? The journey is going to start in the distant future (considering we are nowhere near achieving building a generation ship and plan an interstellar voyage). So you had better start thinking of how future technology will likely alter society.

1) the rise of AI: AIs of all kinds will most likely be the best managers. They will be able to choose the best option to reach the goal set by humans (supposing they are built not to consider humans as a hindrance / nuisance / pest to deal with) No need for a captain. An AI or a system of linked AIs will manage the ship to make sure it reaches its destination with the crew in good condition and with adequate sharing of the necessarily limited resources. Interactions with humans will stil happen both to perform necessary actions and to review mission goals if necessary (maybe not the primary as it would be unlikely the ship would be able to travel to a different destination but secondary goals along the voyage may need to be reviewed / added).

2) Brain-computer interface (BCI): humans onboard will have cerebral implants to connect with the AI and basically any device. Same will happen on Earth (at least to the higher classes of the population). Incapability of direct link with AI and devices would mean to be slower by orders of magnitude. This means that optimum decisions can be made FAST by invested officials in union with the AI. It would not be quite like a hive mind as each individual retains high capacity of complex analysis.

You can decide to what degree others can access an individual's mind as this would most probably be dictated by the kind of government on Earth that develops the generation ship. A totalitarian government may want to go for 100% access from outside. Any unsocial thought would be immediately found and weeded out (not necessarily in a violent way). A democracy based on strong human rights may limit access strictly. Yet there may be reasons for some access. For instance access to individual memories may lead to better interfacing. This may be done by a middleware AI that does not share said memories to the more general AI system.

TL;DR: AI and mind linking will shape the future. Figures like 'the captain', 'the mayor', etc. will be unnecessary.

Instead go for circles of technicians working together with the AI system to do the overall management (resources distribution, ship maintenance, scientific research, etc). With an upper circle supervising it all.

I don't know how well this would work in your videogame but it's an idea worth exploring.

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A generation ship must not have a "government"

Or at-least not in the normal sense. In a nation, economies change all the time and you need legislators to come up with new rules and regulations to handle growth and changing times, but on a generation ship, there are no new industries, economic recessions, or wars to fight. Just by opening up the possibility for allowing "times to change" would guarantee the failure of the mission

Your ship only has the supplies to get from point A to point B if it adheres to the plan that was laid out when then mission began. If the first generation follows the plan and rations appropriately, and then the second generation decides they would have better lives by changing how they ration things, then the last generation would not have enough resources to survive off of and the mission would fail.

Instead, what a generation ship needs is a constitution. A formal immutable doctrine that must be enforced until they reach their destination. They will have a police force and judicial system to enforce the laws set forth by the constitution, but there would be no king or congress to change the rules.

The only duties of leadership this leaves left are those which are expected of normal naval officers. People to assign jobs to crewmen, people to monitor navigational equipment, etc. But even these needs would be very minimal since the ship is not constantly changing courses and stopping at ports like a normal ship would. Changes in crew assignments or needs to plot out new courses would be exceptionally rare in the grand scheme of things.

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    $\begingroup$ You hope there are no wars to fight. History doesn't give me much confidence things will actually turn out that way, though. War has been around since the dawn of civilization, and many of the things that have historically been casus belli will be present on the average generation ship: limited land and resources. $\endgroup$ – Ton Day Jun 11 '20 at 7:55
  • $\begingroup$ @TonDay Land and resources are limited on Earth primarily because changeable government and weather makes it inevitable. With no legal recourse to redistribute the wealth with a fixed amount of total wealth and laws that limit population growth, you can guarantee a 100% middle class society for the duration of the trip. Wars are typically started by the very rich and powerful and the very poor and oppressed. People who live just well enough to be comfortable generally have too much to loose and not much to gain. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Jun 11 '20 at 14:50
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If Earth invested heavily in this generation ship, they may have a stake in its leadership and success. Otherwise if they vote for a idiot and the idiot captain blow the ship up, that is their problem.

If earth has communications, it may employ and appoint people from the population into key positions in the crew or government. Or issues can be appealed to an earth authority (like with courts).

If this is the case, you earth appointed ships crew for ship control; and democracy for community issues (when does the bar close, accommodation allotment). Hierarchy of courts that reach back to earth for review.

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I think that pirates are a good source of inspiration for a big reason. Pirates have elected captains because the ship is entirely owned by those who sail on it. Merchant and naval captains have to be loyal to a higher authority, while pirates only have to be loyal to their own crew. This would obviously also apply to a generation ship. Also, it's not relevant to this question, but the reason that pirates are successful is branding.

Also, on a pirate ship, the quartermaster was actually in charge outside of tactical situations. Such a structure would be just as likely here for the same reason, as while the Captain would take charge of emergency situations and serve as the official political leader, the quartermaster is the one who decides how their limited resources are distributed and enforces contract disputes between crew members.

However, one issue is that unlike pirates, crew members who are upset can't just leave. To this end there would have to be a political system in which change can occur and grievances can be heard as desired.

Using this as an inspiration, I think elected officers makes a great deal of sense. Outside of emergency situations, free elections could be held quite easily. I think it would be interesting to have a semi-parlimentary system in which the captain and quartermaster are elected by parliment and can be removed by them at any time. MPs are elected by various sections of the ship by population, with other representitives for different parts of the crew like the engineering officers having their own MP, the agricultural officers having their own MP, and so on. Elections for officer status might also require experience as part of the crew in different departments to ensure that those in charge understand how the system works.

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Why is the Captain's word absolute?

The tradition that a Captain's word is supreme on his ship is a naval tradition. It is weird. I was never in the navy, but it was explained to me like this: because the ship is an island unto itself, cut off from everyone and anything for vast stretches of time, the Captain's word needs to be final. Things simply do not work otherwise.

It is the Captain's job to interpret orders from higher command they receive, and to carry them out. Nobody else on the ship questions the Captain. Indeed, if the Captain disobeys orders from Navy Command, it is not the job of anyone on the ship to remove them. They will be removed the next time they make landfall, and a new Captain will be installed.

This is true even if a higher authority is already on the ship. Technically an Admiral cannot overrule a captain on the captain's own ship. The Admiral could fire said captain, and attempt to install a new one. I am told that any such attempt would run into a practical problem that said Admiral would have difficulty finding an officer willing to play along.

Implications for generation ships

These concerns will be far more pressing for a generation ship. Generation ships will not be able to maintain radio contact for very long. Relatively quickly they will be out of range. After a few last dumps of mail (light lag means conversations won't really be possible anymore) the generation ship forever loses all contact with its parent culture. It will be alone forevermore.

The Ark theoretically could fire probes back Homeward with ship's logs and status updates; but nothing from Home will have any realistic chance of intercepting the Ark. This is likely a fools' errand anyway: generation ships are fire-and-forget. Fuel and materials spent on such probes is a waste of good resources (which will be tight).

For all intents and purposes, there is no longer any higher authority. And there will be constant threats to the life and safety of everyone on board. Things will constantly be breaking down. Naval vessels can pop into drydock when they need to perform major repairs. Generation ships have no such capability.

A generation ship will be a maintenance and logistical nightmare

Generation ships will need to have components with a very long lifespan. They will also need the ability to manufacture new components. And things will constantly break down anyway. An army of support staff will be required to keep everything running. This staff will need to be replaced with new staff.

The logistics of keeping everyone well supplied will be equally challenging. You have what you have, and that's that. If something isn't already on board, you either make it or you do without. And no matter how well you plan, there will never be enough. People will like that just as well as they like it here on Earth.

A revolution probably results in catastrophic mission failure

Order must be maintained on the vessel, at all costs. One person going postal on a generation ship can sabotage key equipment in a way that can't be quickly repaired (or possibly even repaired at all) and the mission is fucked. Possibly life support is also fucked, and then everybody dies.

One way a revolution succeeds is by causing trouble (or exacerbating existing trouble). Then you just watch the resulting firestorm bring down the old regime, and waltz in and take over. That's bad. A violent takeover is also bad, because of the high likelihood of damaging the ship or killing the only people who know how to fix the ship.

Military discipline keeps the ship together

For all the same reasons military discipline keeps things running smoothly in other contexts. This forms a stratocracy with the Captain as monarch. The ship is its own sovereign nation; its political development can be guided by the Founding Builders, but they will ultimately be responsible for its development.

No nation has ever been stable long enough

World history reveals that literally no country has ever been recorded to survive longer than several hundred years or so without some kind of civil unrest. Some parts of the world have yet-uncontacted tribes mostly left to their own devices; they might have been around longer. But nothing large enough to be called a nation has been static for that long.

And that's a problem, because a generation ship is a small nation. I really don't see any way around this other than military discipline.

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  • $\begingroup$ of course that rigid structure was often a major source of unrest. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 13 '20 at 21:08
  • $\begingroup$ Of course. No government in all of recorded history has ever made it more than a few hundred years without some kind of power struggle. Some internal struggles, some external, often both. This doesn't bode well for generation ships, which must solve this problem, then also solve the harder problems of 'How to create a government that is guaranteed to dissolve itself when it is supposed to (it met its goal), when that won't be for many generations after its designers are dead' and 'How to plan for a transition to greater freedom but keep tight control now'. $\endgroup$ – Ton Day Aug 14 '20 at 1:44
  • $\begingroup$ I mean the rigid structure on military ships that have non-military personnel, the people you want to be sending are the very people who destablize authoritarian systems, scientists and engineers. you be better off using whatever government they will have when they reach their destination from the start. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 14 '20 at 2:22
  • $\begingroup$ Does not follow. You're better off using whatever government is likely to a) give the descendants the government you want them to have, when they do finally arrive, and b) keep the ship together until it gets there. If civil war destroys the ship, or kills everyone with authority to control the computers, then the mission ends with a total population kill. In real life, I can't think of a single civil war that ended with 'rocks fall, everyone dies'. $\endgroup$ – Ton Day Aug 14 '20 at 2:27
  • $\begingroup$ Furthermore, the people you send will not be the people who arrive. The initial population and crew will all be long dead. Over the timeline involved, society on the ship will develop in essentially unpredictable ways. The only real kind of government that could hope to last so long is one that keeps a tight grip. $\endgroup$ – Ton Day Aug 14 '20 at 2:31
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Go with a company style organization. Everyone on the ship is 'shareholder' and is represented by a 'Board' who meet as regularly as is required to deal with ongoing planning issues and problems.

As CEO of the 'company' the Captain has complete control of day to day operations of the company's assets i.e the ship. The Captain reports to the Board at regular intervals to discuss progress/concerns. His 'term in office' is a pre-agreed length of time or an age limit. Replacements for senior officers are selected from the available talent pool after intensive AI assisted training and phych profiling.

Assuming this is not a rushed/last minute/emergency expedition the ships mission parameters will have been planned out well in advance which means lots of time for pre-launch simulations that 'game out' a full range of possible scenarios that might bring the shareholders/board/senior officers into conflict. These are all documented in 'the book' which sets out rules as to who can do what and when in each situation.

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A generation ship is essentially equivalent to a portable planet, given that it is big enough. Plants can grow using light from stars and asteroids can provide necessary resources. 60,000 people are enough to have jobs beyond essential services. With current technology, your ship needs only 400 farmers, a few hundred people to operate mining robots, 250 electricians, and 12,000 factory workers. That leaves plenty of room for other jobs. As a result, you could have any form of government that exists on Earth, preferably a democracy.

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You might be looking for a constitutional monarchy.

Basically a system where one person holds the power but is bound by constitution or convention to act in accordance with a parliamental structure, unless there is a strong reason against it, such as emergencies. There are some real world examples out there - Monaco and Liechtenstein might be of particular interest since they have approximately the same population size as your ship.

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I propose the benevolent government of:

Big Brother

Big Brother watches for you. Big brother is not a single person, he is the product of the PR group which gives the inhabitants of the ship a common figure to unite behind... and offers relief of pent up hate and aggression through the method of projecting all the aspects that can be hated, all the treason and all the bad aspects upon the world left behind and subversive groups that try to re-establish this world of debauchery, of boundless consuming and destroying the earth. In effect, this generation ship is in a permanent state of rewriting its own history and keeps its inhabitants in constant fear of the recreationists and hedonists so that one could say this dystopian spaceship is in an almost war-like state all the time. Work is thrown into fortifying the ship and producing and maintaining the machinery that serves no other purpose than to wage war on waste and hedonism.

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