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Background Info: All human beings possess magic in some way, shape, or form. This magic can express itself in a variety of ways, which is where the different types of magic-users come into play (shaman, witch, warlock, sorcerer, enchantress, wizard, etc.), but there are some passive effects that affect all humans in roughly the same fashion regardless of what type of magic they have.

The main thing I'm focusing on is the fact that the stronger your magic, the longer your lifespan, and the strongest magic-users just age into their prime and stay there. They can still die from disease (especially magical diseases), accidents, violence, and so on, but they don't have to worry about something as silly as old age getting in the way of their lives.

The amount of power someone possesses is usually decided by how powerful the parents are. There are exceptions of course (atavism, random chance, and ultra-recessive genes have an impact) but this is usually how it works. Now, the stronger your magic, the less fertile you are. A natural way to keep population numbers from exploding. This is a good thing, since without a natural die-off, the immortal population might soon outnumber those who simply age slower.

What I'm looking for are some of the societal implications of having an ultra-powerful, immortal 1% of the population. Usually families, since power is genetic.

I know that these families will likely be ridiculously wealthy, since even someone paid minimum wage could become a billionaire if they live frugally and give it enough time, let alone those with immensely powerful magic and the time to build up lucrative businesses.

I also know that they'll have great social influence; if someone has been a prominent member of society from the day that your great-great-grandmother was born, they're going to be viewed as an unchanging pillar of the social landscape by the masses, and their opinions will be viewed as important simply because of how much experience they have.

These families would also probably have arranged marriages, because power is genetic, and they want their descendants to be powerful (to contribute to the family) and live long lives (nobody wants to see their children wither away from old age while they remain in their prime). New blood in the form of random occurrences of immortals in the general population would be enough to prevent inbreeding, like was a problem for the aristocracy in Europe. After all, they aren't marrying for alliances and wealth (although that does play a part)- they are marrying for power.

Inheritance disputes would probably be an issue. Some people are power hungry enough that they won't be willing to wait for those above them in the hierarchy to die off from attrition- they'll try and engineer the deaths of their parents, grandparents, and so on so that they can rise up the ranks.

These are the main things I've figured out. I want to know if I've missed anything.

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  • $\begingroup$ "immortal 1% of the population" 1% of total population implies that much less than 1% are born to be immortal, correct? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Jul 30 '20 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ This is basically Medieval European politics. Everyone was pretty much related to some degree so all the wars were just family squabbles except on a national level. Add immortality to the mix and it just gets more fun. $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    Jul 30 '20 at 21:25
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This has been asked several times before.

The immortals eventually control all the wealth and power. (How could they not?)

All the ephemerals, family or not, eventually dwells in endless servitude to those immortals who control every aspect of their limited lives.

Science and technology development will be deliberately limited by immortals to small advantages in politics and internecine warfare. Immortals don't want disruption that may threaten their little empires.

Some immortals will require their subjects to worship them as gods. It will go in and out of style across the centuries. On rare occasion, subjects will overthrow and slaughter their immortal masters. But nothing will change as other immortals co-opt and suppress such revolutions. Political philosophy that justifies popular rule will, in particular, be ruthlessly suppressed.

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  • $\begingroup$ The problem with limiting science and technology development is that the immortal who chiseled on it would have an enormous advantage. It would require an immense amount of coordination to prevent. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Jul 30 '20 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ Immortals that let transportation languish will see their subjects perish from famine where the subjects of a neighboring kingdom get plentifully fed by train, and then get conquered by the superior armies. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Jul 31 '20 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ People voluntarily choose factory work over peasantry whenever they had a choice. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Jul 31 '20 at 21:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Mary, if you have a suggestion to improve the answer rather than quibble around the edges, I'm happy to listen. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Jul 31 '20 at 21:53
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"if they live frugally and give it enough time,"

IF.

Why would they be any more or less likely to be frugal than the garden-variety mortal? If you hypothesize that those foolish enough to not be frugal get themselves killed, that might work.

But there is also the aspect that they get stuck in their ways, particularly those who are prudent enough to grow rich. This is only a real danger when the world changes quickly -- for millennia, it would not be a major danger -- but in anything like modern society, someone whose point of view was set when the fastest means of communication was putting a man on a horse might be positively dangerous if "their opinions will be viewed as important simply because of how much experience they have."

Technological innovation will be the highest where they have the least influence, thus resulting in a conflict between magic and technology. There is therefore an inherent social conflict between the magical sections and the technological ones. (There is a saying that science advances funeral by funeral as the old fogeys who never accepted that new-fangled nonsense die out. This would aggravate it.)

There is also the aspect that in real-world elites, the young have to submit to arranged marriages because they do not, however high their birth is, have real power. The real power is social. Giving them magic changes the balance. A rebellious princess who storms off to another kingdom will not end up working as a governess to make ends meet, but offering her skilled magic to the kingdom that will give her shelter. Inter-generational conflict will be very high.

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The Blessings of a Long Life:

This is all a rather bleak view of what it means to have immortals in society. First, let's point out that in a grim, potentially violent world with poor healthcare, immortals simply won't live THAT long. In the middle ages, life expectancy was much shorter than that justified by simple old age. Most people were killed by disease, starvation, violence, and just plain old accidents. Intergenerational conflict alone could significantly reduce the numbers to below where the breeding restrictions make them rare birds indeed. Your immortals would need to be virtually immune to cancer, or else they would all eventually die of that alone (so good genes all around).

But if you DO live that long, you want a nice society to live in, with intellectual peers, happy (ie non-murdering) servants, abundant food (avoiding starvation) and good health (stopping plagues). Medical knowledge would find a considerable amount of time and effort invested to ensure a loooooooong life, not one cut short by [insert plague here]. One individual can plan multi-generational projects and hope to live to see them to fruition.

If you did have powerful, wealthy individuals monopolizing ownership, it would be a strong driver in expanding wealth in society - both because the rich make their wealth grow, and because the magically powerful and well educated, long-lived sons and daughters can expect to NEVER inherit, and so push them to develop new projects (of the same long-term planning) to found new dynasties of their own. Parents can't give their children inheritance, so they may invest in their children's schemes (even if foolish, as they need to learn somehow) to help them out. Or they may step aside, give their kids the keys to the kingdom, and then take on a new project to pass a few centuries, like inventing a new magic or researching hydraulics (because many discoveries are carried out by the well educated elites, not to be all Nietzschean).

Wars are horrible for civilization and preserving information. I'm guessing you likely will have fewer wars, as people who live a long time tend to either kill each other or else learn to get along. If the crown heads of Europe all knew each other personally and didn't want to risk death, why start a war? War is risk, and chaos, and economic disruption, and generally bad for immortal business, but great for those who are willing to risk their lives to change things. Eventually some immortals might get bored and cause problems, but most people settle into habits and stick with them, and get to like their long, boring lives.

If you want knowledge preserved, immortals will do so, because they want to have access to information, and because they remember the last, lost play of that playwright and can write it down if the library burns. Information is safe entertainment, and immortals will get bored with what they already know. No one can know everything, but these folks probably want to. They may restrict knowledge to the inner circle, but they won't try to get rid of it, since their cousin will remember even if the commoners don't.

This is not to say the world will be all roses. engineering may be limited to what generates wealth, and what supports stable society. I seriously doubt guns would be tolerated. A steam engine may be put in a ship to increase commerce, but not in a mill where it could increase unemployment (and thus destabilize society). Eventually, though some greedy, well-educated younger son is going to open his own mill, undercutting Mom & Pop, or mix thing up in another country that they control. And it will be much more peaceful, and civilized, and quiet. The immortals will help the little guy along until things stabilize - after all, in the long term, it's the sensible thing to do.

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