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I want to have a strict and complicated caste system in my future space society (on a planet or a large space station). What would be the reasons and how would the system develop?

Possible reasons/processes of caste formation:

  • Military rank system; ranks will become hereditary. Civilians may become the lowest caste.
  • Roles (Engineer, Technician, Doctor, etc...) that become hereditary. Children will learn the profession of their parents.
  • A commercial space colony/station where both poor and rich people will settle. The owner of the whole thing wanted to earn some money, so he said that it will be a (semi-)democratic government and you must pay to have more power and rights. The richer a person is who will join the colony, the more he can pay to buy various rights or power for him and his descendants
  • The colony is founded by a conservative society where castes exist (for example India).
  • A rich person builds a space station/colony and moves in together with his personnel, servants, friends and relatives. The descendant of his butler will probably be a "higher servant", the descendant of the janitor a slave and the descendant of the owner of the swiss bank who was allowed to join the rich person because he hid his money from the tax authority will of course be a noble or a trader.
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    $\begingroup$ I think I'm confused by your question. You asked why and how a caste system could develop, but you then list ways a caste system could develop. It looks like you have already answered your question. Are you trying to figure out which way is best? That would qualify has a very subjective answer as each method has its own pros and cons. $\endgroup$ – C. VanHorn Oct 29 '15 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ VTC because we don't even have a slightest information about the colony, thus making this too broad. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Aug 7 '17 at 8:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Vylix Considering this question is nearly two years old there seems to be little point closing it at this stage. Standards will have shifted over time and applying current standards to older questions achieves nothing of real value. We should know when to leave well enough alone. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 7 '17 at 9:10
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A small population and job training purely by apprenticeship, because there are no schools or universities. The new doctor didn't go to med school with hundreds of fellow students and dozens of professors because there are not enough people for that. She simply watched the old doctor ever since she was 15 years old. Obviously that works best if she is the doctor's daughter.

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Just as in our current society. Centralized concentration of the money, and of the capital.

As the colony grows, at a point it needs to have to measure the worth of the products, so they have to use some type of money.

Money leads to banks, industry and land owners and so on.

From the moment that

  1. money can be used to get more money,
  2. and, people inherit the money of their dead ancestors,

we only have to wait.

After some generation, nearly all of the money will be in the hands of some wealthy families.

(1) They will be the new nobility. In India, they are brahmins.

(2) Their power will influence politics and so the army, the police and the security. The nobility will use them to enforce its power. It will be another cast. In India, they are the ksatryas.

(3) The scientists, engineers and other highly qualified workers will be citizenry. They won't have the money (at least not so many to threat the position of the nobility), but they will have option to get continuously well-paid jobs from them. They are the vaishas in the Indian system.

(4) And there will be a lowest class, too. They will be the lower skilled workers. They will serve to make the work what everybody hates, furthermore they will serve as a deterrent example for (2) and (3): "if you don't like the system, you will fall to (4)". In the Indian system, they are the sudras.


There are little differences to the Indian system. In India, the Brahmins are the priests of the religion, and not the political elite of the money. And the vaishas are craftsman, not intelligentsia. In the Indian system, the sudras are doing the dirty, disgusting work, while here they would be only the class of the manual laborers.

But, from the moment that the colony is closed and has a money-based economy, the appearance of this 4-cast system depends only on the time. It is the natural development of any society, the Hindus didn't invent it, they've only acknowledged it.

Actually, also our western world works on this way, although we don't know it (and we have still some movement between (2)-(3)-(4) ).

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Have you ever seen the movie “Ice Breaker”? Though a bit ludicrous with the train, it makes perfect sense on a space station that loses its support/connection with its home planet. Station support is cut off. There are limited resources on the station. Those with the guns (and control of the life support) take control. They relegate the space and resources available to each individual based upon how much support they give this new ruling class. The more thoroughly you support them, the more privileges they give you. There is then an easy step into a hereditary class system.

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  • $\begingroup$ Cant fix the edit thing. My appologies. $\endgroup$ – PCSgtL Oct 29 '15 at 17:22
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India's caste system essentially developed, originally, due to different races segregating. In a large enough station, with enough jobs to allow it, people who lack a single binding identity (I.E. they don't work in the same areas, they don't have common interests or beliefs, etc) will generally group among their own. Given a long period of time, that then leads to a caste system once one group or a group of groups then gains power over others and decides to make the divide official.

The major thing with all of your examples, however, is that there must be a difference in power between the groups and the members must see themselves as different from the others.

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I am going to go ahead and ignore your reasons/processes section and give you what seems a reasonable path to get to a caste system.

Some assumptions:

Earth is trying to colonize a different planet and we are working with a science based world.

Colonizing this planet required a generation ship and at least 10 generations passed while the ship was in transit.

The initial population of this missions is A: Small and B: well educated. You don't put idiots up in space if you actually want a mission this complicated (surviving on a space station or colonizing a new planet) to succeed.


The scenario...

A well educated society will not develop a caste system. Modern incarnations of caste systems are culturally embedded historical leftovers.

Your initial generation would never vote to create a caste system nor anything like it...it just doesn't fit the modern mentality, particularly among the most well educated.

It will require time and a degradation of human progress...which is frankly quite likely to happen on a generation ship.

After a generation on the ship you no longer have anyone directly familiar with what life is like on Earth, and no matter how well you plan there will be power struggles and politics on board a generation ship, its just what we humans do.

In time the breadth of knowledge the crew started with will shrink. Basic medical practices will be maintained but more complex surgical operations may be lost. Engineering skills would also become narrowed to managing the ship. Basically with a smaller population you do not have the manpower to diversify and specialize as we Earth-bound humans have.

As general education declines people become more tied to their jobs, and if there isn't a daycare it only makes sense that children would shadow their parents and learn their roles.

From there you are simply a hop, skip and an armed power base away from implementing social controls tied to roles on board the generation ship...which would naturally carry over to the new colony.

Some additional things couldn't hurt.

  1. Religion. In this scenario lets say there are only a handful of religious folks on board the first generation of the mission. Over time, as education thins out there is a major resurgence of one religion. Religion can have a major supportive role when it comes to cementing a caste system. What better way to convince a person its okay for them to be shit on their entire life if they have divine rewards waiting for them in the next.

  2. Power hungry leadership. Arguably this mission would start off democratic or at least with some balance of power between the people on board. Having a charismatic leader (could be religious, or police or anything else really). This person believes they can run things better than anyone else...and they have the support to pull it off. Over time they limit people's access to information and thus make them dependent on the system.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking a generational ship would make the most sense as well. Something that might make sense is arranged procreation, with the initial reasoning being that they are trying to maximize diversity and avoid inbreeding. This could be a starting position that devolves into eugenics, as people begin to be identified as more or less inbred and more or less desireable to have breed within a strictly regulated population number. $\endgroup$ – Resin213 Oct 29 '15 at 21:58
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I think if martial law became the norm, then the military rank system would get instilled into society after a few generations.

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I'm working on a story about a space colony that took less than one generation to reach their new world and have no means of getting back. Thus I'll consider the caste system of a colony.

For the first several generations on a planet, wealth is tied to growth. A person needs to produce enough food and water (and possibly air, depending on the planet) to survive. Members of larger, functional, families will be better off than members of smaller and/or dysfunctional families. Large families can pool resources to purchase technology, labor, or education that benefits the family. As the status of the family grows, other families will want to marry into it, thus the successful families will marry and interact with each other.

Thus there will be a caste system based upon which family/clan you belong to.

When a colony on a planet begins there is a lack of resources in the form of processed materials and replacement technology. The level of technology in use degrades for several generations until the infrastructure of mining, refining and manufacturing can be reestablished and a surplus inventory of goods beyond what is needed for food production is created. In American history this industrial age was dominated by the innovators and shrewd manipulators. The space colony had the technology in the past. So the re-industrialization of the colony will be dominated by who remembers the past technology, innovators who adapt to the changes of the new environment and the shrewd manipulators.

So, where a person fits in re-industrial age: low skilled, skilled, manager, owner will determine caste.

Access to the original space level technology will also determine caste. As the colony grows, the pioneers at the edge of the colony will have less access to the high technology that won't be duplicated on the planet for several generations. This may include robot labor, advanced medical devices, information processing and data retrieval and transportation systems. Who maintains and controls access to the sum of human knowledge? Those with access to the original technology have longer and more productive lives, as long as the technology works.

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