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How could a really intelligent species be kept from developing? For clarification, this species is the only creature of intelligent thought on the planet and they have a population of about 50 million across the planet about the size of the moon. However, they can't develop to the level that Britain reached in the industrial revolution.

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    $\begingroup$ So, in other words, they need to remain within the technological range that humans did for the past 100,000 to million years, and not do what we did in the past 300 years? $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Dec 5, 2022 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ You have one ambiguous question in your title that could be taken either of two ways, then we have the rest of your question which might clarify which of those two ways is intended and might not, but if taken at face value doesn't contain any question .. you've made a statement of facts, but asked no question .. I think you may want them to be permanently stuck in one of the real worlds pre-industrialization stages and may be asking us to come up with ideas to help you explain why their science and technology doesn't develop past that point but this is far from clear as written. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Dec 5, 2022 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ 10 answers and only 3 upvotes? If you are having fun with this question, send Prime some love! $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Dec 5, 2022 at 23:55
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    $\begingroup$ I can't help but feel that this is an open-ended brainstorming question. I can think of an endless list of possible answers, from lack of resources to self-defeating philosophy. If you're writing this into a story, then the story should dictate where you go with this. $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2022 at 0:01
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    $\begingroup$ Making a guess at what Pelinore thought was ambiguous, do you mean "how can they be stopped from becoming really intelligent" or "being already really intelligent, how can they be stopped from developing industrial technology"? (The latter seems more likely, and most of the answers at the moment seem to assume it's the latter). $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    Dec 6, 2022 at 7:11

25 Answers 25

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Give them the internet.

Give them e-mail, chat, and Zoom. Give them instagram, Facebook, TikTok.

Gmail.

Youtube.

Give them Twitter.

They will forget all about the stars.

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    $\begingroup$ they won't forget about Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber, that'll be their stars :) $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Dec 6, 2022 at 8:14
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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget to also give them google/apple play store so that they waste their time playing games instead of studying $\endgroup$
    – LLL
    Dec 6, 2022 at 23:59
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    $\begingroup$ @LLL: We're trying to stall them, not destroy their civilization. $\endgroup$ Dec 7, 2022 at 2:08
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    $\begingroup$ You forgot to mention StackExchange. $\endgroup$ Dec 7, 2022 at 10:38
  • $\begingroup$ I know that it's satirical but here I goes: giving internet to a society means incentivizing development of computer science (AI, software development, cryptography, math and statistics), electronical engineering, manufacturing, and other countless discipline. Unless the internet is only usable by a few people in the top brass; mass production of network equipment, precise manufacturing of chips, energy generation, etc, will be the backbone of usage of internet by the masses. $\endgroup$
    – Kristian
    Apr 1, 2023 at 6:16
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  1. Physical limitations. The species is aquatic and can't access a lot of the tools and materials that we use on earth (let alone fire!). The species has no thumbs or dedicated manipulators (their intelligence is for social maneuvering or environment mapping rather than tool creation). The species have very high dietary needs and can't innovate agriculture to the point where a significant fraction can specialize in fields other than food production.

  2. Technological limitations. The planet might not have useful materials for constructing tools with. The planet might not have the available deposits of metal ore and coal that earth did.

  3. Social limitations. A smaller moon-sized planet could at least plausibly be unified by premodern tech (look at the area the mongols conquered!), and whoever is in charge might actively limit development of advanced technology.

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    $\begingroup$ That second option is one I think about a lot. A planet could always just be unlucky and end up without materials necessary for certain technological advances. It does not matter how intelligent your species becomes if the fuel for advancement just does not exist. $\endgroup$
    – The Man
    Dec 7, 2022 at 6:52
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    $\begingroup$ About the second option: some speculated post-apocalyptic scenarios suggest that humanity could survive an end-of-the-world event that decimates the population and destroys the current civilization, but the survivors may not be able to get back to industrial society technology because fossil resources (that industrial revolutions have been based on) are much more scarce today than they were four centuries ago, and may not be enough for a new technological breakout. $\endgroup$
    – Simone
    Dec 7, 2022 at 9:05
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Primum vivere deinde philosophari used to say in ancient Rome (if my memory doesn't trick me), meaning that before worrying about philosophical problems, one had to be relieved from the daily issue of surviving.

Also, an effective way to keep people under control is to keep them hungry. When out brain is occupied by the feeling of hunger it has less time to worry about other development.

So, if you want to keep your potentially intelligent creatures from cultivating their intelligence, make sure they never have plenty of food, so that they are too busy searching for food to dedicate time and resources to anything else.

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    $\begingroup$ Maslow's hierarchy of needs $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Dec 5, 2022 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ We see this, in the real world, today. You must do BS make-work, that helps a rich person's ego but doesn't advance society at all, for 40 hours a week or else you will be thrown on the street. Some people have to do up to 100 hours a week. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Dec 5, 2022 at 18:53
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    $\begingroup$ It seems hard to imagine that a species could balance on the verge of starvation that long without either figuring out some way to build up an excess or just dying out altogether in the lean years. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Dec 5, 2022 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Cadence arguably, for humanity that has been the case for some 100000 years. $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2022 at 0:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Cadence You don't need to be on the verge of starvation all that often. All you need is to periodically weaken the young and the elderly - a common situation for most of pre-modern agriculture. The mature adults aren't hit particularly hard (they need to be fed the best to handle the next harvest, or everyone dies), but kids die a lot - keeping population under control. Add to that the impossible social mobility and almost no benefit from working harder and you get... well, most of human civilization. It was very unlikely for humans to get out of that trap. Many populations are still in it. $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Dec 7, 2022 at 7:49
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Imagine this:

The year is 2222 and human technology has advanced to the point that we are able to reach and colonize other planets. Life on Earth is thriving and things are going really well. However, there is still one problem. The Amish. They are still living their lives as they always have, but now they're using space that the government wants to use for other things. Invoking eminent domain, the government buys all of their land and, in return, transports all of the Amish to a (relatively) nearby planet on which they can all live. After receiving the means by which to build up life as they had it on Earth, the colony is never touched again, allowing the residents to remain there leading their simple lives.

While this situation would almost never happen, there are some points it brings to light. Just because a society has not reached a certain level of technology does not mean that they are unable to do so. As the Amish choose to live a life without many of the luxuries of modern life, another society could choose not to pursue further technological advancements for many reasons besides necessity. Maybe they have a religion that forbids the use of a certain material necessary for advancing technology. A scientist in their distant past may have caused a great war with his inventing, so a ban has gone out preventing certain technology. The society may just be content with life as they have it. While this information may not all prove to be useful to you, considering the fact that societies can be primitive by choice is a worthwhile one in my opinion.

Note: I have absolutely nothing against the Amish, and instead merely consider the more general suppositions to still be interesting ones to consider.

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  • $\begingroup$ interesting perspective it does make you wonder how some less technologically advanced groups would live in a society that has moved beyond earth. $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2022 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ This is what I was going to suggest. Add a touch of militancy - your quasi-Amish carry guns (or may machetes) and actively burn books and destroy technology. $\endgroup$
    – RedSonja
    Dec 6, 2022 at 9:03
  • $\begingroup$ Part of the reason why the Amish communities persist as they are is Rumspringa. Young Amish people leave their pastoral communities and experience the world, then choose whether they wish to return to the simple life. That choice apparently results in much fewer malcontents in the community. Lacking that ability to choose, I don't imagine the Space Amish culture would survive unchanged for very long. $\endgroup$
    – Corey
    Dec 8, 2022 at 1:45
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    $\begingroup$ My thought was confusionism, everything your ancestors did was great and innovation is disrespectful to your ancestors $\endgroup$
    – WendyG
    Dec 8, 2022 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ "A scientist in their distant past may have caused a great war with his inventing, so a ban has gone out preventing certain technology." This reminds me of Butlerian Jihad in Dune. $\endgroup$ Dec 8, 2022 at 16:46
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Two big factors:

  1. Limited resources. If everything is expended to support themselves, they will not have the faculties to invent new things. They may even spend their idle time sitting about so as to not waste more calories when they don't have them.

  2. Local maxima. If they have achieved peak effectiveness such that incremental changes will not make the situation better, any attempts to innovate will be a waste of resources, because great leaps are rare. Also this discourages innovation because it's a pure waste.

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    $\begingroup$ Yup. This is exactly how it was (and still is) on our world. Not that people were actually idle, mind (that's more common in hunter-gatherer societies, since extra work doesn't produce extra output). Subsistence farming forms most of human history since we started agriculture in the first place (and probably still dominates today). Agriculture and textile production were quite enough to occupy almost everyone on just supporting themselves and the small elites. Improvements mean very real risks you simply can't afford. There's no incentive to produce more either (it will be taken). $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Dec 7, 2022 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ Idleness depends on circumstances $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Dec 7, 2022 at 13:01
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No fossil fuels, no wood

Without either fossil fuels or wood, any species is going to be hobbled in the fields of metallurgy and chemistry, as well most others. This goes double if there are very few lipids around.

Lack of wood also means that the most convenient building and carpentry material is unavailable.

Your civilisation will have nice baskets, and, if answers to other recent questions are true, jugs. And that's about all. Caves and wickerwork and jugs.

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    $\begingroup$ Charcoal can be made from pretty much any organic matter, it doesn't need to be wood. Heck, wood isn't special in the slightest on Earth in the first place - most plants have woody tissues, not just trees (in fact, there's many distinct and unrelated groups of plants we call "trees", they come from convergent evolution). Of course, not having something like wood would certainly be a hamper on all sort of things. And bulk wood wasn't used for charcoal production all that much anyway - you'd use coppiced wood, much the same as for weaving baskets :) $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Dec 7, 2022 at 7:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Luaan While you can mess about with straw, dung, etc, when it comes to calorific value, you can't go past wood when it comes to biomass. There's a reason coal boilers get switched to wood chip if they go renewable, even in grain growing regions. I'm sure there's an exception, but that's all it is. No wood + no fossil = no cheap energy, as well as stuff all high CV fuels suitable for smelting metal. That charcoal won't do you much good if you can't get hot enough to smelt the metals. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Dec 7, 2022 at 9:05
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    $\begingroup$ Nah, the reason you use wood chips is that wood doesn't compete for the same land as grain, and of course wood chips in particular are a waste product of wood processing (historically, people in Europe used coppicing instead). That's relevant on Earth, but not really for worldbuilding - you can design the ecology of your planet however it suits your story. Sure, it does mean that metal is going to be much more expensive - but remember that wood already was the main bottleneck for iron production all the way up to the point we started using coke instead, and iron was expensive. $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Dec 7, 2022 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ Going by some things I've read, it seems like just cutting out fossil fuels, even if there was wood, might make a huge difference. Fossil fuels provided a huge bonanza of easily-accessible energy - it's as if there were hundreds of years' worth of firewood stored up ready to use. After some time humanity invented some more advanced ways of getting large quantities of energy that didn't need fossil fuels, but it seems believable that they might not have had the infrastructure to do that without fossil fuels as a stepping stone. That might be useful if OP wants specifically (1/2) $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    Dec 8, 2022 at 5:39
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    $\begingroup$ pre-Victorian but no further. Before then, fossil fuels don't seem to have been very significant - a bit of coal was burned for heating in areas with cold weather and few trees, places where oil came to the surface were valued as sources of bitumen, that seems to have been about it. So you could have technological development up to then much as on Earth, but after that, much more difficult. And apparently there might easily not have been large fossil fuel deposits if various natural disasters had gone slightly differently in prehistory. (2/2) $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    Dec 8, 2022 at 5:43
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Only one thing can stop development: an outside force

"How do I retard development?" isn't an unknown question on the Stack. The fundamental problem is that evolution is naturally competitive, meaning it's filled with creatures that know how to solve problems. You want to stop them from solving problems, to act against their basic nature. There's only one way to do that if you want to avoid obvious inconsistencies in your creature's physiology and intelligence: use an outside force.

I'll be quoting from my answer to this similar question. It will read a bit oddly from time to time because the previous question was only asking to delay development for a millennium, but the point is relevant.

A body in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force

I love Newton's first law — it can be applied to so much in our lives. The speed of technological and scientific advance is very much one of them.

Let's start with the basics. Speaking of the species and not of any individual, humanity is naturally inquisitive. When faced with a problem, we'll work out a solution. When faced with hordes of oncoming potential BBQ, we invent a pike. When faced with the possibility of being alone on a Saturday night, we'll invent music. And when music proves insufficient, we'll invent gloves to make picking roses easier and an entire process for extracting the essence of the Cacao bean. I think it's not an understatement to say that humans love to tinker.

Especially when we're motivated.

And there's your loophole. The outside force to slow everything down. How do you demotivate humanity, especially when our reaction to most outside forces led to the aphorism, "Necessity is the mother of invention."

So, knowing that the, shall we say, wrong kind of motivation will speed up the discovery of science and technology — what's the right kind of motivation that will slow it down?

I'm going to suggest you'll need, well... a series of unfortunate events. (Honestly, I wasn't looking to use that phrase... it just became, well, a necessity....)

1. Regular Depopulation

Your first best motivator for slow advancement will be regular depopulation. Plagues, wars, famines, droughts, more plagues, regular falls of a mycorrhizoid spore,1 evolution of a particularly nasty badger... Humanity will eventually figure out how to overcome all these things, but if you keep the population low enough and spread out enough, it'll take forever.

This helps you for a couple of reasons that would normally increase the fertility of innovation.

  • Low communication
  • Low leisure time
  • Early age of employment
  • Shorter life spans
  • Difficult acquisition of wealth

2. Lower Birth Rates

If a constant string of wars and disasters depopulating your world isn't your fare of choice, let's try something simpler: lower birth rates. One thing that appears very true: the more people you have to work on a problem, the faster you'll solve it with more creative results. So, if we use this chart as our reference, you want to take 1,000 years to get from 1750 to 2021. That was 0.75 billion to 7.8 billion people for an average of 20 million new people "net" (meaning after all the reasons they're getting killed are taken into account) each year. You need to effectively divide that by four or more.

3. A Fertile Landscape

Curiously, history suggests you need winter to spur innovation. Areas with low population growth but highly fertile landscapes where people could happily live in grass huts and be simple hunter/gatherers did not innovate nearly as quickly as areas with limited growing seasons, limited resources, and/or strong climate changes between seasons.

4. Finally, let's make humanity more competitive and/or aggressive

Let's use music as an example. During the Renaissance music advanced tremendously due to patronage. Wealthy leaders and families would sponsor musicians (and artists of all kinds) to increase their personal status with the new. Yes, there were vendettas and wars, etc... but what if people were naturally more competitive? What if our social mores didn't favor compassion and life quite so much?

What if the Medici's were satisfied with a little new, and then went out of their way to make sure no one else found anything new?

This much more centralized, selfish, concerted effort to control innovation could justify a much longer delay. It's not enough to destroy a person's work — it's reasonable to destroy the person. In this way you actually minimize the number of clever problem solvers in your world. Given enough time, evolution would begin to favor the socially adept rather than the technologically adept.

After a thousand years you'd have your modern cellphone-using, Netflix-watching cyber-surfers — but the consequence of the longer period might be a species of humanity that's much more naturally politic than we all are today.

That's almost scary to think about....


1It shouldn't surprise you that SciFi/Fantasy writers have come up with reasons to retard scientific progress. This one comes from Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series of books. The spores, called "thread," were a lifeform on a planet with an orbit that brought it close enough to the planet Pern to move some between planets. It was a neat plot device that, combined with the socio-economic conditions surrounding the politics of dragon riding, acted to retard scientific progress — in fact it caused it to regress.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is number 3 accurate in ancient times? Egypt's Nile Delta, the Fertile Crescent, the Indus Valley, ancient China: they all had nice climates. The shift to colder climates seems to be a one off medieval/ modern European thing. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Dec 6, 2022 at 9:08
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    $\begingroup$ @SeanOConnor I've not done that much research, however, I do know that the Nile Delta is a poor example. Fertile, yes, but it also severely flooded every year causing a great deal of damage and havock. Necessity breeds invention. Ideal examples would be the Polynesians and equatorial Africans. The Indus Valley would be a good example, but it experienced too much trade. Frankly, if we delve into the details too much, the only answer is "it can't be done." My only intent is to meet the level of suspension-of-disbelief. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 6, 2022 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ I thought this was a great answer, point 3 aside (still disagree with it, the Nile still has a huge population alongside it today because it has so much food and water and a stable climate). The floods aren't 'winter' although I guess you'd argue they are periodic and incentivise management, so that it cuts both ways?. All for the philosophy of 'answer to the level of suspension of disbelief' too. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Dec 7, 2022 at 1:04
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    $\begingroup$ Cheers, @SeanOConnor. Remember that the goal isn't a limited population, only limited development. I'm not arguing, but I was surprised to find the following from here, "Their geometry was a necessary outgrowth of surveying to preserve the layout and ownership of fertile farmland, which was flooded annually by the Nile River." All my points are from the perspective of removing as many problems to solve as possible. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 7, 2022 at 2:48
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Option 1: look at Octopuses

Though hard to compare to human terms, octopuses are surprisingly smart. But biology gave them the short end of the stick: not only are newborns immediately left to themselves, in species like the Giant Pacific Octopus the females die after reproduction, rarely interact outside aggression or mating, and only live for a few years.

It's hard to pass on knowledge if you never interacted with your parents or any other member of your species in a social setting. Without cultural knowledge, your species is stuck at what can be invented in a (short) lifetime.

Option 2: the environment sucks

Others have mentioned lack of metals and fossil fuels, but you can go one step beyond: lack of useful surface.

Water

Your air-breathing species lives on the surface of an ocean. Either descended from land dwellers that survived a global flood/sea level rise, or evolved from aquatic animals that preferred breathing air.

Think Waterworld (1995). Expect structures made from carcasses, algae farming, animal husbandry, and strip-mining the rare bits of earth in shallow waters.

Air

Finally, your environment might be made entirely of gases and living organisms. Either the planet surface is dangerous (toxic, radioactive, hot, windy, etc), or it's a gaseous planet with no clear surface at all.

Floating phytoplankton uses sunlight and elements from the air to grow and reproduce, while a chain of predators feed on them and each other.

Any structure built has to be either carried, or be light enough for flying itself. There could anywhere from no metals at all, to trace amounts in the air, to rare deposits in the few mountains tall enough to be safely reached.

But either way, no one's building a factory there.

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Extreme lack of supplies could exist in this planet that causes this species to spend nearly all of its time scavenging compared to engineering

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  • $\begingroup$ "Guns, Germs and Steel" would agree with this one. Especially access to "food packages" -- the right mix of grains, fruits, domesticable animals, etc -- which allows a civilization to spend less time farming and more time developing. Maybe they're just herbivores with inefficient digestive systems (like elephants!). They spend too much time eating to go much further. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Dec 6, 2022 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ @JamieB That's enough to explain why a particular species will not develop technology much; but not why there wouldn't be other competitors. $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Dec 7, 2022 at 7:57
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They won't "develop" beyond 18th century fun anyway

When I was playing war games in the universe conquering planets (yes we could) the primary goal of stage 1 colonization was to get yourself a "good" planet. That meant: a big one. You provide them with a natural limit on development already.

Below answer assumes your inhabitants have air to breath up there and there's good soil and a balanced population, so they may prosper.

Pitfalls of small places

X Y named some of these already. Development can reach a certain point in industrialization and it cannot go beyond that point anyway. Your planet is too small to contain relevant resources for energy and construction materials. Small moon-size planets generally don't have huge amounts of metals in their crust. When there exists any metal that can be mined, digging for it will be hard work for low gravity folks. Fossil fuel will be exhausted soon. For energy, they will require solar sats at an early stage and if they have not reached that stage of development, consumption and population will remain modest. A small population is not good for science, because exceptional talent will be rare.

Distraction

Your inhabitants will form a small community. It could have a strong cultural development and a weak economic development.

Low gravity is fun and it is difficult to perform any heavy work. As a result, your folks will remain thin and light weight, have a long youth and spend a lot of time jumping around and having fun. Development ? Tomorrow..

There is a fantastic sports culture on your planet. Every year, they organize a run around the planet, many inhabitants take part in it.

How do they do physics research?

The basics. How do they measure e.g. temperature with 18th century means ? It will require a lot of material to create a thermometer based on a gauge. The capillary action being much stronger than the down force will require more mass, the low gravity requires a huge gauge.

Law and order

For proper medieval law and order, low gravity is a hurdle too. You can't throw people off buildings and you can't possibly develop a guillotine. Lots of types of ballistic weapons can't be built (too much metal) or are useless because of the low gravity, or too dangerous to use. War won't develop easy.

Quakes

To make it more difficult, you could introduce some seismic activity. If you have that, it is quite difficult to maintain integrity of large constructs. Any quake will cause upward acceleration of huge amounts of stuff on the surface, which can be devastating.

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An extreme abundance of food, temperate climates, and a lack of serious problems

After a certain point, innovation becomes somewhat self sustaining. But for the most part, most innovation comes out of trying to solve real problems.

A society without any real problems to solve will likely not innovate overly much because they have no need. If the environment is abundant in food, water, and has a temperate climate, the society will likely stop developing technologically long before the industrial revolution because they simply aren't under pressure to innovate any more technologically.

Such a society may well develop culturally in interesting ways and may have very advanced art, music, and philosophy, but would likely not develop much technologically since there would be little pressure for it.

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An historical clarification to provide background.

First, we have a tendency to just look at the short-term 200 year historical record, and we have been distracted by our myopia. The long-term historical millennial view shows something very different. Technology and technological development went through long-term waves of change-no change over multiple millennia, not just decades.

To understand this, one must realize that there was NOT a lot of change in human technology between the Romans and early 1800's society. To the average individual in 1800, they lived, cooked, traveled, ate, worked, farmed, communicated, shopped, fought, the same as they would have in 100 CE, over 2,000 years in the past. Fashions and cultural stuff like dancing, the language, literary works, jewelry, artwork, and such went through generational design changes, but people died in essentially the same house they were born in, even down to the same furniture and cooking utensils. The households were passed on from generation to generation, without much technological change.

The development of the steam engine changed everything. But it was not just about the steam engine. In the mid-1850's, science changed as a result. It became all about understanding physics in order to control energy for manufacturing. Less philosophy and more pragmatism. In the 1800's the ability to apply new forms of power and controlled energy to do work categorized the entire societal zeitgeist. Watts and BTU's replaced true horsepower. The Laws of Thermodynamics, electricity, our understanding of heat, even atomic theory, all developed in this period. Without the competition between nations to better harness heat transfer energy to do work, I posit there would have been no impetus to drive the tremendous leap in physics that we saw during this period.

In 1800, the entire world population was somewhere around 1 billion people. By 1900, it was around 1.6 billion. London's population in 1800 was around one million people. By 1900, it was around 6 million. This, I posit, was a critical population level increase that drove the necessity for mass production beyond what normal human power could provide. Your population of 50 million puts it at the Earth equivalent of 1000 BCE. At about this era, there was no necessity to go beyond animal and human power to manufacture anything.

TL:DR With such a low population, it is within reasonable conjecture to posit that they just had not thought about the steam engine. Without that development (which is not really intuitive) there would be no real need to posit that the huge leaps humans made in the 1800's in physics and technology would have occurred. There was no motivation nor incentive to push science beyond the boundaries of philosophy.

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No need to plan ahead

In our history, complex civilizations developed where there was a need to plan ahead. In temperate regions, like Europe and China, people had to stockpile enough food and firewood to survive the winter. In the Middle East, they needed irrigation because of the arid climate. And in all the above cases, growing food was seasonal: there was one big harvest in a year, and that harvest had to last for an entire year. This required a complex organization of society, and that society needed to organize its protection, because if your neighbors had one bad harvest, they would either starve to death or had to try to raid you.

Compare this to tropical regions where you can pick food from the trees all year round, and although life as a hunter-gatherer is not easy, one does not need to plan ahead for an entire year. Humans there remained on a tribal level just as they lived tens of thousands of years ago, until fairly recently when they were contacted by more advanced civilizations.

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    $\begingroup$ Hunter-gatherers most certainly needed to plan ahead for a year, or more. Crops and animals in a particular area could not be harvested until they were present, many animals migrate, fruits had ripened, animals had been born and were of a size where they could be hunted. $\endgroup$
    – MocBird
    Dec 6, 2022 at 9:22
  • $\begingroup$ There wasn't really one big harvest in a year either. That only comes with large landowners, not with people working small farms. Small owners (and peasants) optimize for resilience, not for maximum production. And when the main harvest failed (which did happen quite often), they would sow again. There are many sowing and harvesting seasons, depending on the crop, climate - including micro-climate -, labour, desperation... Noöne planted only one crop if they could help it. For example, Romans mostly relied on a mix of wheat, barley and beans (and of course grapes and olives). $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Dec 7, 2022 at 8:33
  • $\begingroup$ The important thing here is that the individual peasants and slaves (and mostly even freeholders) had little to gain from maximizing production. Their surplus wouldn't be enough to be worth the risk, and the extra work would only result in more taxation - they certainly couldn't hope to gain social progress or anything like that. The agricultural surplus was very low (estimated about on the order of 10% or so), which goes hand in hand with how many people actually worked in agriculture (about 80%-90%). It's not a coincidence that much of visible progress happens when this is disturbed. $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Dec 7, 2022 at 8:37
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A frame challenege:

they have a population of about 50 million across the planet about the size of the moon.

And by "the moon" I guess you mean the Moon, Luna, the moon of Earth.

Part One: Facts About the Moon.

The Moon has a mean radius of 1,737.4 kilometers (0.2727 that of Earth), a surface area of 3.793 times ten to the 7th power square kilometers (0.074 that of Earth) and a volume of 2.1958 times ten to the 10th power cubic kilometers (0.02 that of Earth).

The Moon has a mass of 7.342 times ten to the 22nd power kilograms (0.0123 Earth), a mean density of 3.344 grams per cubic centimeter (0.606 Earth), and a surface gravity of 1.622 meters per second per second (0.1653 Earth).

But what is important about the Moon is its escape velocity of 2.38 kilometers per second. That escape velocity is far too low to retain an atmosphere at the temperatures of Earth. If you want your aliens to use liquid water and breathe oxygen you have a big problem.

Part Two: A Titanic Solution.

If you want the aliens to live on a very, very cold world and have an exotic alien biochemestry you can make their planet a bit bigger than Earth's moon, the size of Satern's largest moon Titan, which has an atmoshere a bit denser than Earth's atmosphere.

Part Three: A Small But Dense World.

But if you want the aliens to live on a world warm enough for liquid surface water and with plenty of oxygen in the air you have the problems that the escape velocity of a planet "about the size of the moon" will be totally inadquate to retain an atmosphere for long enough.

But the question says

the planet about the size of the moon.

"The size" means the dimensions, not the mass or density. If a world has the dimensions of the Moon, but a high enough mean density and mass, it can have a high enough escape velocity to retain an atmosphere for long enough. Possibly as high as the 11.186 kilometers per second of Earth's escape velocity, which is obviously high enough.

Since the moon has 0.02 the volume of the Earth, a world the size of the Moon would have 0.02 the mass of Earth if it had the mean densiity of Earth (which is 5.514 grams per cubic centimeter).

According to this online escape velocity calculator, https://www.calctool.org/astrophysics/escape-velocity if a world has 0.2727 the radius of Earth, and has the same density as Earth and thus has 0.02 the mass of Earth, it will have an escape velocity of 3.0293 kilometers per second, better than the Moon's 2.38 kilometers per second.

So if your world has the size of the Moon and twice the density of Earth (11.028 grams per cubic centimeter) it will have 0.04 times the mass of Earth and an escape velocity of 4.284 kilometers per second.

So if your world has the size of the Moon and three times the density of Earth (16.542 grams per cubic centimeter) it will have 0.06 times the mass of Earth and an escape velocity of 5.247 kilometers per second.

So if your world has the size of the Moon and four times the density of Earth (22.056 grams per cubic centimeter) it will have 0.08 times the mass of Earth and an escape velocity of 6.059 kilometers per second.

And under some conditions an escape velocity of about 6.25 kilometers per second might be adequate to retain an oxygen atmosphere for about 100 million years, a loss rate slow enough that it might be gradually replaced.

Part Four: A planet Artificially Constructed Out of Irridium.

Unfortunately, no elements which are common in the universe have a density anywhere near 22.056 grams per cubic centimeter. No planet willnaturlaly form with a desnity near that. So an advanced civilization would have to amass rare heavy elements and build your planet out of them.

Osmium has a density of 22.59 grams per cubic centimeter. But it reacts with oxygen to form osmium tetroxide, which is very toxic and reactive. Iridium is almost as dense, with 22.56 grams per cubic centimeter.

So an advanced civilization might build your planet out of iridium and put a layer of rocks and soil a few miles thick on the top, and import water and atmospheric gases, and seed it with life.

Part Five: A Small Planet With a Black Hole Inside It.

Another way to get a planet not much bigger than the Moon to have a high enough escape velocity would be to have a primordial black hole of planetary mass encounter the planet and fall into its center, thus increasing the density, mass and escape velocity of the combined world.

How long would the world last before the primordial black hole swallowed up the entire world?

I asked such a question once:

How long could a planet or moon survive if it had an Earth mass black hole within it?

But I am not certain that any of the answers correctly allowed for the extreme conditions of pressure and gravity inside the world just outside the event horizon of the black hole. One of the answers says "billions of years", which is hopeful.

Part Six: A Shellworld

Or possibly the super advanced society which terraformed your little world and gave it a breathable atmosphere would have kept the atmosphere from escaping into space by putting a roof on the world. That would make it what is called a shellworld.

A shellworld1[3] is any of several types of hypothetical megastructures:

A planet or a planetoid turned into series of concentric matryoshka doll-like layers supported by massive pillars. A shellworld of this type features prominently in Iain M. Banks' novel Matter.

megastructure consisting of multiple layers of shells suspended above each other by orbital rings supported by hypothetical mass stream technology. This type of shellworld can be theoretically suspended above any type of stellar body, including planets, gas giants, stars and black holes. The most massive type of shellworld could be built around supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies.

An inflated canopy holding high pressure air around an otherwise airless world to create a breathable atmosphere.[4] The pressure of the contained air supports the weight of the shell.

Completely hollow shell worlds can also be created on a planetary or larger scale by contained gas alone, also called bubbleworlds or gravitational balloons, as long as the outward pressure from the contained gas balances the gravitational contraction of the entire structure, resulting in no net force on the shell. The scale is limited only by the mass of gas enclosed; the shell can be made of any mundane material. The shell can have an additional atmosphere on the outside.[5][6]

The third type of shellworld would be the type necessary to retain an atmosphere on a planetary mass world with a low escape velocity.

I note that when the aliens living on your planet became advanced enough to be interested in space flight, they should discover there is an air supported canopy holding in their planetary atmosphere and realize that a rocket launch through the canopy could make a hole large enough to let all of the air out, killing everyone.

Of course, the question asks for ways to keep the aliens from reaching a 18th century early industtrialrevolution level of science and technology, so they won't advance to an early space age level in the story anyway.

Part Seven: Artifical Gravity Generators.

I know nothing about the plot of the story. But if Earth humans travel to that world to meet the natives, their methods of interstellar travel may make it a space opera type story. And in many space opera type stories advanced societies can use machines to generate gravity where desired.

In Jack Williamson's space opera The Legion of Space (1934, 1947) humans have colonized the solar system. They have terraformed many small worlds, giving them breathable atmospheres and using gravity generators to give them comfortable surface gravities and escape velocities high enough to retain their new atmopsheres. Evn a world as tiny as Phobos, the larger Martian Moon, has been terraformed to be habitable.

Of corrse the artifical gravity genenerators which enable small worlds to retain their atmpospheres better be extremely reliable.

Anyway, an advanced society could have given your small world a breatheable atmopshere and installed (hopefully) everlasting gravity generators to keep the atmosphere from escaping into space.

Part Eight: Conclusion.

I am all for science fiction writers creating fictional habitable planets which are too small to be naturally habitable, but only when the writers realize the problem with such small worlds, and use some plausible (in a science fiction sense) methods for those planets to be made habitable and remain habitable.

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There is another unique point of view from me. That would be the lack of creativity, or references, or needs/wants.

We developed airplane because we saw birds and wanted to fly high, we developed rockets because we saw moon and stars and wanted to visit them, we developed ships because we see the creatures in the sea and wanted to conquer them.

Every development need a cause, an inspiration to push it forward. That is also the reason why development booms when war go booms. War created needs, and needs is a great inspiration.

Thus, for an intellegence species to stop development, just dont give it a reason to develop. A paradise would be what you need.

PS. This idea was used in one of the doraemon movies, Doraemon: Nobita and the Tin Labyrinth. In this stories, the people are tired of inventation, and decided to invent a robot to invent things for them. As the people grew depend on the robots, they stop development.

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  • $\begingroup$ This answer has a good concept, but doesn’t really explain how to get to this “paradise” $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Dec 7, 2022 at 1:44
  • $\begingroup$ It's not really true that war encourages development. What it mostly does is change power dynamics - e.g. when men go to war, women have to pickup the slack. Which in turn requires them to be relieved of their normal work (they certainly weren't idle in most societies). The critical thing is that there was something that prevented advancement (mostly the government and elites). It's not like wondrous new technologies cropped up - it's just that the elites were forced to let them be used, since their priorities changed. They usually try to go back to the way things were after. $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Dec 7, 2022 at 8:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Luaan It may be a sad commentary on our society, but war does tend to encourage development. The development of nuclear technology likely would have been MUCH slower without the Manhattan Project which wouldn't have happened without a major war for instance. Looking further back in time, many developments in metal-working were made first for fighting and then applied elsewhere. Etc. $\endgroup$ Dec 8, 2022 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ @TimothyAWiseman Nuclear technology would have taken an entirely different path, because it was heavily affected by the "need" to produce material for nuclear weapons. I don't think that's a benefit. Not to mention that a huge damper on the spread and development of nuclear technology is the fear of someone using that to produce nuclear weapons. You're talking about a massive waste of resources, environmental destruction, inciting fear... The main problem with the war argument is that it assumes that without war, those resources would not exist - when they would just be used differently. $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Dec 8, 2022 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Luaan No, the war argument never assumes a resource would not exist. It assumes that without war there would be less pressure to develop, and that is simply true. Most innovation and development comes about because of need. War creates need. And your argument that the fear of nuclear weapons hampers civilian nuclear development is true, but irrelevant here. That would still have been true without WWII. It would be true unless all war and terrorism were somehow made completely impossible. (This not to say that war is a net positive. It isn't. But it does speed up innovation.) $\endgroup$ Dec 8, 2022 at 21:56
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Apocalyptic cycle

This moon is much more volcanically active than Earth. It means every now and again there is a devastating volcanic eruption that causes a massive release of particles that end up blocking out the sun (or the equivalent of the sun on that moon). This results in a volcanic winter. Those are more severe than any we had on Earth, causing crop failures for several years, resulting in death of most of the population and collapse of civilization - but not quite enough to wipe out the intelligent aliens completely.

The survivors are thrown back into dark ages. Hundreds or years later, they get back to the previous level of civilization, only for the next catastrophic volcanic eruption to throw them back again.

You could have meteorite strikes instead of volcanic activity, due to thinner atmosphere, but then I'm not sure what would stop a Chicxulub-level impact that just wipes them out completely.

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  • $\begingroup$ It is very unlikely that all the developent would be lost. Some knowledge would have survived (either written or oral, passed down by survivors), which would accelerate the recovery. $\endgroup$
    – Trang Oul
    Dec 9, 2022 at 11:53
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Hostile and dangerous creatures roam the planet preventing or complicating exploration and resource gathering, this could have the reverse effect of forcing rapid development in order to combat these hostile creatures.

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They're too busy. The species has developed a hierarchy. Some individuals are at the top, and rule over everyone else.

Those at the top demand that those under them work. The work mostly doesn't advance society. Some of it maintains the status quo by keeping everyone fed who deserves to be fed, and the rest of it mostly just feeds the ego of those at the top.

Those at the bottom are promised that if they work long enough (tens of thousands of hours), they can become a ruler themselves and won't have to work any longer. They are told - gaslit - that working long hours will set them free and if they are not free it's their own fault for not working hard enough. But if they don't work, even though this society has abolished the death penalty, they will be denied access to basic necessities like food and shelter, and caused to die anyway.

As such, even the most intelligent members of the lower caste are too busy fulfilling their obligations to actually do anything with their intelligence.

Remind you of any other known intelligent species?

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    $\begingroup$ So your suggestion for how to avoid a species developing technology that humans did is to... make them like humans? You'll forgive me if I don't exactly follow that logic. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Dec 5, 2022 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ Furthermore, it seems like a complaint against either work or organised social hierarchies or capitalism, all of which are at least compatible with, or even prerequisites for, modern technology. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Dec 5, 2022 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Cadence You might be forgetting that before our current phase of humans, was a phase where these power relations happened for their own sake and did not involve technological improvement. This was called feudalism. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Dec 5, 2022 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ Well, feudalism was pretty effective in preventing modern technological progress from ever happening. Oh, wait... $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Dec 5, 2022 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ It seems to have worked for quite a long time. It seems to be often said that one thing that started things going again was the Black Death, which meant a shortage of cheap labour and thus an incentive to think up new ways of doing things and for rich people to fund intelligent people who think up said ways to develop them further. So this might work up until a natural disaster like that messes up the status quo (unless maybe there are reasons why a disaster like that is less likely in the OP's world). $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    Dec 6, 2022 at 7:01
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An exterior magical force is what I've done with some of my worlds; there is an enchantment of some sort that does not allow the people of the planet to advance past the technologies that aren't wanted for that world. E.g. when someone on a 1500s timelocked world creates a lightbulb, it just vanishes. Thus they can't advance past the technologies they already have, because they physically can't.

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This is the plot of an old SF novel, sorry can't remember the name. The human protagonist realised this species' level of intelligence fairly quickly. eg: explained the idea of splitting a force into vectors at 90° and within a couple of weeks flew over a boat which was tacking into the wind. The aliens took the abstract concept to that application in almost no time.

His solution was distraction - get them mingled into galactic society ASAP so they couldn't evolve and collaborate on the home planet to become a threat.

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Pretty much the scenario John Norman took for his Gor series of novels. His civilisation (without the sexual/sexist aspects, they're not relevant in this context) is restricted from using firearms, electricity, and many other things by their (very real) gods, who mercilessly kill anyone they discover breaking those edicts. That (in his world) forces their development into other areas, especially medicine (he has his people discover the secret to halting aging and wiping out almost all infectious disease for example) and the arts.

Now, those books aren't very well written (he's a failed self proclaimed philosopher, need I say more), but he does have some interesting concepts you can draw on in regard to world building.

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Have an existing spacefaring species from a different planet/solar system/whatever give opposing political factions nukes, tell them "the other guy" is going to kill them by the end of the day if they don't shoot first, and don't tell any of them how powerful the nukes are.

This will likely kill everyone on the moon and possibly destroy the moon itself. Even if there are survivors, they will be too few to recover any time in the next millennia and likely too radiation diseased to survive the next decade. And the flora and fauna will likely not able to sustain the survivors, so they probably won't even survive the year. And that's if they can find potable water. Maybe they survive a month, depending on how much food and clean water they have stocked in stores and homes.

So, no more development.

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It's easy by using some actors who influence within their society from some external world. They win the attention from those group (by any media, events, shamanic groups, church, etc.) and win tickets to their government (never mind they use democracy, however this would be the easiest). Then, the new government will start to promote products from those external world - so the society will buy it. The more they buy, the less they produce by themselves, so the bigger and bigger money will go to those from external world. The group will be poorer and poorer, hence development will go slower and slower. Will it stop? It's possible, but the group still will produce on their own. External products are always farther than domestic one. So those external actors will have to lobby the law creators, to give external sellers easier and easier to act on that market. The prices of domestic products will go up and up, because for example, the government will implicitly allow to pay lower taxes for external sellers, so they are able to lower their prices. They also can use some sanctions, by law, to disallow to buy cheap energy and sub-products from one world, which offers it with cheapest price. For example, they can say they are at some war, or they are invaders, etc. But those external sellers will be able to buy those goods from them - they will be beyond that legislature - beyond their planet. More, they can sell then those goods double price. As the government will use hundreds of such small tricks, the specie's development will go to the zero, and, probably, it will go backwards then. I think yes, because actors will always be able to make some internal wars saying that their bad situation is made by X,Y,Z factors, but never the Real factor. War at a place is always going backwards for the citizens.

So the problem to succeed is to find intelligent actors and law makers to play against intelligent specie, which I assume is widely spread among them by the level itself.

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(Amish Example - Advanced civilization moves all Amish to a habitable moon.) A few things we can do to keep the civilization from advancing, using Woke Theory.

Woke. Let them know that the advanced civilization kicked them out perhaps violently, or without remorse, or maybe in complete silence to the bewilderment and questions. In the end you need to let them know routinely about the real prejudice against their culture and in general the universe is out to get them. Let them know that any opportunity is most likely going to be taken by the advanced culture. And who knows, maybe the advanced culture will suddenly discover something interesting about this moon and move them again. Some tempering for this training might include the Law of Attraction. (Thinking is more important than doing)

Law. Let them know that the only real path to getting ahead is to send up pleas, signing petitions, and demanding equity. Their primary areas of training should be politics and law. Make lots of laws, preferably 500 pages per new law. And teach the kids in schools how to submit their first lawsuit. This should be a litigious environment to say the least. Find ways to encourage Machiavellian ways and socialism as the norm.

Gender. Creating gender confusion should be important. Train kids from an early age how to really understand the gender confusion issue. Let them know that if they have a "crush" on the opposite sex, it's actually gender envy... And they should most likely have a sex change. (fully supported by the no-parent-state) And then they may be able to be with their crush in any way they want. Everyone should be able to have their own pronoun, changeable daily, with full support of management. So if there is ever an issue with work performance, it can be easily side-stepped by merely claiming "Oh, that was Chris you were talking to, I'm Zand, preferably ish/li Zand." I hope you understand. I wouldn't want to have to report you to the Ministry of Gender. (AKA Education Department)

Work. Don't allow children to work. Keep them in school until they are useless middle aged home-bodies who haven't performed a day of work in their life. Make sure the dirty four-lettered word isn't uttered in schools... No doing home work, you do home-studies or home-research. Don't make those graded. Make sure the most important aspect of school is that you show up. If you show up you get an A if you don't show up, you get a B. No child left behind. Do NOT reward initiative, intelligence, individualism. Reward shortcuts, cheating, and lying, especially in terms of collaboration. (basic skills for politicians and lawyers).

Prejudice. Make sure everyone understands how many ways they have been prejudiced against. Don't ever have unity-training (what's that???), instead make sure everyone has harassment training. This must be performed quarterly so that everyone can understand how different everyone else is and in how many ways they don't agree. Do not ever attempt to find middle or common ground. Fully understand how divided they are. Loneliness training is important. You have to know how to compensate for loneliness and medicate it with video-games and Netflix bingeing.

Social. Everyone must wear a mask and social groupings more than 6 people are prohibited. Touching / hand-holding is not allowed unless same-gender... Which is different than same-sex. And if you don't understand that, you need more diversity training. Make sure social distancing is an important part of law... Such as in murder cases... "Not only did they murder, they were in-fact WITHIN 6 FEET!!!". Make cars wider in order to properly have 6 feet of interpersonal clearance. Roads will need to be widened by 63%, unless there is a bike lane which will need to have another 37% spatial improvement. Stores will only be allowed a certain number of occupants, not to exceed the 6 foot rule. Lines of over a mile are expected and some after-hours lotteries may be established to get shopping done.

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Make them more intelligent than Humans. At that point they may simply see technological advancement as a bad bargain. They could have an impressive culture where everyone is an artist/artisan and where they manage disease through sanitation and diet. They would avoid any kind of economic or political structure that would lead to a wealthy or elite class structure.

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