Are you familiar with the Fermi paradox? It asks why the Earth hasn't already been (convincingly) visited by aliens - there are so many suns and planets older than the Earth, that aliens should be ridiculously more common than what we observe. One explanation for this is that there is at least one (and quite possibly more than one) significant hurdle along the path of the development of intelligent life capable of colonizing more than just their own solar system.

If the hurdles are behind us, then we're good to go. For example, if it is extremely rare for life to develop at all, or for multicellular life to develop at all, then it might only be smooth sailing between humanity and galactic colonization. But what if it's fairly common for life to reach the stage that we're at now? That means there is likely some apocalypse coming that is almost impossible for intelligent life to avoid.

So here's the plan - I'm going to start a secret society specifically for preventing humanity from being stopped by oncoming hurdles. But how do I do it?

Requirements for the secret society:

  1. Self-perpetuating: it won't help humanity if my society dies out a couple of decades before humanity reaches a hurdle, so the society needs to be able to keep going for as long as possible.
  2. Avoid corruption: the overall goal of the society should change as little over time as possible (and I'm not talking about changing tactics). It's not worth it if, in a couple decades, my society is likely to decide to take over the world instead of pursuing its original goal.
  3. Intelligence: the society must be capable of identifying and determining solutions for avoiding hurdles.
  4. Power/Influence: the society must be able to actually pull off its plans
  5. Secrecy: one part of Isaac Asimov's fictional psychohistory was that people knowing about it could disrupt its predictive power. Similarly, the secret society must be kept secret - it's possible that the secrecy of the society will be a key ingredient in the recipe to overcome a hurdle. This also makes it less vulnerable to any other current/future secret societies. I think it would also help in avoiding corruption because there wouldn't be a ton of power-hungry applicants to sift through.

So now the big question is how I go about recruiting members. I don't want to leave obscure hints out in the public--for example, the eye of providence on US dollar bills that some people say is proof of the illuminati--because that's likely to only attract conspiracy theorists who tend to be a little... unhinged. I need the members of my society to be clever, but they also need to be pretty mentally stable. Also, I'm not sure how I can make sure people will be committed to the society before it's been shown to them (if we are able to develop MIB-style memory erasers this will become much easier, but I'm not willing to make my plans depend on that).

So how do I recruit competent members for my secret society in a way that will preserve the secrecy of my society and further its goals?

Additional notes:

  • I have reasonably substantial resources at my disposal.
  • A plan can explain how it would make use of near-future tech, but it shouldn't fall apart if the near-future tech turns out to be impossible or impractical.
  • I'm not very interested in plans that rely on AGIs or ASIs. I already know how to use those if they turn out to be possible.
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ For some reason, the first thing I thought of upon reading this question was Mensa... $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Sep 25, 2015 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ I would tell you how, but then I would have to kill you $\endgroup$
    – Keltari
    Sep 25, 2015 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ The first thing I thought of was the Frank Herbert's Bene Gesserit witches, which then made me think, of, well, religion... Hide in plain sight! $\endgroup$ Sep 26, 2015 at 9:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If the oncoming apocalypse affects only intelligent life, recruit only the least intelligent people you can find, and convince them to breed only among each other. Recruit further members from the offspring, but select negatively for intelligence. Make extensive use of "reality" TV for educational purposes. $\endgroup$
    – Hackworth
    Apr 25, 2016 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ Goals 2) and 4) seem mutually exclusive somewhat, no? $\endgroup$ Apr 25, 2016 at 18:14

4 Answers 4


Do not recruit them into your secret society... (and yet this will answer your question).

First, you must have a clear plan and criteria for identifying the right people. What are their characteristics? How would you go about finding them? But then, and here is the answer, recruit them to start such a secret society. Recruit each one as the first one and give them the task of setting up with you this society. If you put your substantial resources at their disposal (under your supervision), what will they do with them to start such a society? How will they shape it?

This will identify their motivations, capacity, drive, secrecy. If any of these fail, nothing is lost. The society is never formed and they go on their way.

But if they succeed, they get to find out that the society already exists and they are not the first. What they have shaped merges with (good new ideas?) what is already in place, and the whole becomes stronger.

Also, I would set up such society in a cell structure, kind of like the one in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". Each new recruit could become the start of a new cell.

The cells would reinforce, test, encourage each other toward the common goal. I would perhaps even have a "statement of purpose" that is unchangeable (must be minimal to remain relevant) and that must be regularly reviewed, signed off on, studied by every member.

The society might even coat itself with a layer of outer, less reliable cells, so that if one is discovered, a number of those lesser cells can be sacrificed to make it appear that the entire society was discovered and destroyed (should anyone come a-knocking).

If you like this idea, there is probably more that could be developed along each of the fronts you mentioned.

By the way, Rob, it so happens that I am looking to start such an organization. Would you be interested in being the first member?

Some additional ideas

Shortly after the new recruit has succeeded in "starting" a new society, maintaining it secret and aligning it perfectly with your goals, I would have them found out. They would be captured and put through the ringer (psycho-torture) to give up their recruits and their leader (you). That would be the final exam before they found out that the society already existed. If they pass, they find out their captors are your men, testing them.

If a recruit fails at any point, you will have to consider what to do. Letting them go on their way is an option, but ultimately you may not want too many people out there knowing you are trying to start such an organization, even if they think it failed to start. Another option involves a wood chipper and bags of concrete, the downside being that it would get messy (literally and morally).

I had another thought, but it escapes me now. Darn it, I hate it when that happens!

  • $\begingroup$ That's a clever idea. You might run into issues getting people to take you seriously if you're approaching influential figures alone and trying to start a secret society. $\endgroup$
    – Avernium
    Sep 25, 2015 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ The "considerable" resources should allay those doubts some, and if the remaining doubts cannot be overcome by the vision, then they are probably not a good candidate to start with. $\endgroup$
    – user11864
    Sep 25, 2015 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ This reminds me of a juniper tree. Juniperus osteosperm, if you rip off a branch, or there is not enough water, the whole tree doesn't die, just a part of it. So if there isn't enough water, one branch would be cut off from receiving water, while the rest of the tree lives. $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2016 at 5:01
  • $\begingroup$ this is close to something i would envisage working. its hard to get around the fact that for such a society to endure, while maintaining a vital capacity to assess 'hurdles & challenges', a willingness to cull the herd would be essential. $\endgroup$
    – theRiley
    Oct 14, 2018 at 22:20

When it comes to a secret society it depends on the goal of the organization. Stereotypical secret organizations tend toward control, amassing wealth and power. In this case you need to recruit people with similar personal goals and the secret organization must benefit those that join. There is no shortage of people that could join this organization and the size is really only limited by the group's ability to communicate and coordinate.

In your case things are pretty different. While the organizations listed above may claim to have humanity's best interests as a goal that is usually a very skewed view on the world.

So. You need a secret organization that can help humanity overcome unknown obstacles in the future. The unknown nature of the obstacles makes this quite a challenge but I think I have a solution for you.

1. Create a core team

This team does not need any particular technical areas of expertise, since you don't know what sort of problem you will be overcoming. The team does not need to be particularly large either, less than 20 is feasible and preferred, smaller groups are easier to manage. The team should have extensive resources. Your best bet is to have a company (or better yet series of companies) in which the organization is secretly embedded. I would recommend telecom, pharmaceutical, and technology companies. (Ill get into why later). These core members should be leaders in these companies that can direct their activities.

2. Develop and secretly monitor worthy individuals. This has two parts, first, you will need to replenish members over the years, this way you can vet the quality of the people that can take over on a long term basis. This allows you to ensure they have the temperament to maintain the lofty goals of your organization. Second, you will need many more people should the time come when the unknown obstacle arises. The individuals you observe should cover a wide range of fields and the proper temperament. Keeping an eye on a wide variety of specialists gives you a better chance of being ready to counter the problem when it arises.

Being able to keep an eye on these people is part of why having control of telecom companies and technology companies is so important, it allows you to keep an eye on potential recruits.

3. Execute

The problem has arisen! Due to the small group nature of your core organization you are more likely to have maintained your original goal. With your extensive network of scientists, thinkers, doctors and whomever else you activate these unknown members and bring them into the organization completely. As a team they can confront whatever has stalled/befallen humanity.

Avoiding corruption:

The longer an organization exists, the more likely corruption will sink in...this is tough but here are a few ideas to help.

  • Document the expectations of the organization and place certain restrictions on core members. I suggest including a few things:

    • They may not amass personal wealth beyond a certain value.
    • They may not pass their position on to their children (its about the group, not me)
    • Membership is a lifetime requirement and members will be provided for after they retire (if they have to quit early for whatever reason)
    • The total number of members may not change from the proposed original unless the nature of human progress requires it (a consensus vote is required)
    • Annual reviews of personal activities and finances
    • Only individuals who have been under surveillance for at least 20 years can join the core team
    • No one under 35 may be on the core team (youth are impetuous)
    • Violating the charter = death

If there is tech that can read a person (like a lie detector, or some future version of such a device) is available it should be used on all members of the core team annually in full view of the rest of the team.

I am sure more rules could be dreamed up, but keep in mind nothing guarantees the group won't be corrupted...just the nature of things.

  • $\begingroup$ Not entirely sure how this answers the core question - how to recruit into the organization while protecting its secrecy. $\endgroup$
    – user11864
    Sep 25, 2015 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ @GiliusMaximus Section 2 covers that specifically. Unless you mean I should mention that you actually have to contact them as some point $\endgroup$
    – James
    Sep 25, 2015 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ well, that kind of just says that he would need to replenish the membership and talks about how the telecom company angle would allow you to vet and monitor the people. But this does not really say how you recruit them (get them to sign on the dotted line) while not letting the cat out of the bag if they refuse or turn out to be bad recruits after signing up. Not only say that you have to contact them, but what is it about those initial contacts that preserves the secrecy. Or I may just be more dense today than usual and missing the connection. $\endgroup$
    – user11864
    Sep 25, 2015 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ @GiliusMaximus My answers tend not to give the person the exact path to what they want to do. That is story writing in my mind so I prefer to leave that to the author/creator. My answers tend to provide a frame work in which the scenario could progress well. So you are correct, I am not defining the exact contact and recruitment scenario. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Sep 25, 2015 at 20:05

Well, the traditional cell structure is not sufficient for this. It is basically modelled after how multi-cellular organisms work and is mortal and corruptible.

Instead you should model your organization after biofilm.

Each cell would be fully independent entity that reproduces by cellular division when it grows large enough.

Cells would have a shared Creed, analogous to genetic code, inherited from the original cell that details the goals and basic rules for operating the cells.

Cells would be capable of exchanging members as people move about, thus giving a method for spreading experience similar to how bacteria can exchange genetic data.

Cells would be able to form ad hoc support and information networks. You do not really identify each other as members of the same organization to support and communicate with people with similar values and goals. Members would be able to openly work at establishing such networks. In fact it would be likely that recruitment would come from such informal networks and most people in such networks would not actually be members of the organization or aware of its existence.

When it comes to secret societies less is more. Membership would be sufficient to support activities and maintain the organization, but actual activities should be carried out by affiliated non-members. Members would simply make certain such actions happen, doing them yourself should be the last resort.

It is an interesting question how large the actual organization needs to be to maintain sufficient social networks of affiliated non-members to succeed. How pervasive do the networks need to be reliably deal with unknowable future issues?

A major advantage of a biofilm structure is that like bacteria, cells are potentially capable of geometric growth, if the need arises. Thus, in theory, it should be capable of increasing its influence fast enough to deal with any issue that can be dealt with at all.


You keep it secret by not making it secret. Have a big crazy rich guy like Elon Musk start it with a big fanfare. Then let it 'fizzle out'. After the initial fuss, everyone largely forgets about it, and when you do (inevitably) let something slip, everyone just dismisses it as "haha, that crazy old project, I can't believe he's still wasting money on that." You can freely hire people to it, but it's just some crazy project, and so as long as no-one takes it seriously, it won't disrupt it's predictive power.

But how does your secret society wield power without being noticed? Get someone else to do it.

Easy – you then create a bunch of other 'secret societies' (the Illuminati, Masons, etc.) and non-secret societies (reducing pollution, whatever you need), which don't share your goal – they have their own goals – but which are led or directed by someone from your real organisation - or even just find existing ones with the goals you need and fund them anonymously. You use them to wield power and accomplish parts of your big plan. You abandon them once they've done what you need.


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