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In the nation of Xenqu, a hereditary monarchy has ruled for centuries. The Xenquan society is in a medieval period, although the recent invention of paper and the increasing use of gunpowder may signal the start of a period of relative industrialization.

One day, everyone aged 25 years or more drops dead. The frightened remnants of society see that the dead show no signs of any injuries. Magic? Perhaps. That is the only conclusion they can make.

Over the next few months, people suddenly keel over the instant they turn 25 years old. It quickly becomes apparent what the cut-off age is. People are anxious to find a way to combat this plague, whatever it may be.

In the meantime, some form of government is needed. The problem is, most people are relatively uneducated, given that the average age has now plummeted to somewhere in the mid-teens, and will slowly rise as the birth rate inevitably drops. The son of the monarch at the time of the collapse was 22 years old, and so he now regains the throne. But there are no other members of the royal family left, and he has only three years to live.

What form of government will the people choose? It seems incredibly difficult for the uneducated population to make critical decisions in a democracy, and yet any monarch old enough to properly rule will die before any lasting policies can be implemented. Other forms of government suffer from the same flaws.

Additionally, should the government be on a national level, or would splitting up the kingdom into independent states (think of nations the size of states in the Holy Roman Empire) and allowing local government power be a more effective choice?

Here are the factors I'd like to focus on:

  • The ability for the government to remain stable, given that politicians won't be in office for long.
  • As a corollary to that, there's the problem that any politicians won't necessarily be able to achieve any long-term mandates.
  • Low education levels mean that most people won't be educated enough to make proper decisions.

Note: The plague only affects Xenquans, and nobody else.

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    $\begingroup$ Related on Sci-Fi Stack Exchange: Logan's Run $\endgroup$ – Damian Yerrick Nov 6 '15 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ This reminds me of the Stargate Atlantis episode Childhood's End. Only they didn't have a plague, they ritually suicided on their 25th birthday. They were ruled by a council of elders (all of them younger than 25 of course). $\endgroup$ – user1793963 Nov 6 '15 at 22:15
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    $\begingroup$ "as the birth rate inevitably drops" Age 25 is plenty of time to have a couple of children. $\endgroup$ – CodesInChaos Nov 7 '15 at 9:35
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    $\begingroup$ @CodesInChaos, plus, if it's birth rater per capita, it would be going up, no? Also, medieval societies wouldn't have birth control and would probably start having kids in their teens, then maybe every year and a half to two years thereafter. So, like, 5 kids by 25? High infant mortality, though. $\endgroup$ – Mathieu K. Nov 8 '15 at 9:33
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    $\begingroup$ In that case, I could see expectant mothers hopping across the borders just long enough to give birth and then coming back - once everyone figures that out of course. Depending on how peaceful they are with the neighbors, there might even be birthing houses set up just outside the borders for specifically that purpose. You'd have to define when the disease actually takes root - at birth? At conception? Some time in between? $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman Nov 8 '15 at 15:07

21 Answers 21

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I never thought to say this but the answer is socialism.

Better yet, a socialism that has the potential to actually work.

Here are the points for my reasoning.

  • True socialism has never been successfully implemented on a nation-state scale, most times it takes the form of Communism, which has often failed because you end up with a 'dictator for life' and the we know how well that ends up. In this system it is no longer that big a deal if someone rules for life as ruling for life would last at best 5 - 8 years.
  • Additionally you usually end up with what is in essence an hereditary monarchy as power is passed from family member to family member, not really an issue in this case either. Maintaining a hereditary dictatorship for long periods of time will be tough with short reproductive cycles.
  • Child care will necessarily become communal as parents won't live long enough to raise children to adulthood (given they are human)
  • Learning will be on the job, even from an early age, you don't have time to sit in a classroom until you are 18.
  • Technology will regress somewhat and stay repressed indefinitely. First, you will lose a ton of knowledge in your elder cull. Additionally even if you catch back up to where you were pre-mass death, specialization takes time, time people won't have, so there will eventually be a cap on how far we can technologically progress
  • Governments will be mainly local and there will be a slight reversal of people moving to the cities.
  • Communal farms with communal child care and team work would be a plausible norm

Or I suppose anarchy is the other option...

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    $\begingroup$ Medieval societies have the age of majority well under 18 (13, 14, the age you can lift a sword, your pick). Also in lower middle age setting as OP describes, there would be no formal education outside some very restricted circles. So no classrooms. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Nov 6 '15 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ I don't want to start a political debate, but my impression is that the 'dictator for life' condition can be a response to socialism's economic shortcomings (the government imposing increasingly draconian controls in a doomed attempt to paper over shortages; c.f. Venezuela), rather than their root cause. Now that I say that, it makes socialism (albeit without "the potential to actually work") seem even more likely a response to the Xenquan catastrophe. $\endgroup$ – Ghillie Dhu Nov 8 '15 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ Winston Churchill, staunch conservative, might agree. "If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain." – Winston Churchill (allegedly) $\endgroup$ – Brian Drummond Nov 8 '15 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ How do dictatorships and hereditary monarchies have anything to do with socialism? $\endgroup$ – Adam Jensen Nov 9 '15 at 8:52
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    $\begingroup$ I feel like you want to say "Communism" instead of "Socialism"? As most European countries actively use some form of socialism. And I don't see how the dictator for life problem is solved by having a shorter (set) life expectancy. Care to elaborate? The way I see it the dictator for life is a problem because people won't see much change in their lifetime (only once typically), this is still the case. $\endgroup$ – Selenog Nov 9 '15 at 14:03
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You ask what government the people would choose, as if they have any say in it. Unless your centuries-old hereditary monarchy is more of a figurehead (think modern UK) than actual rulers, the idea of the people choosing their government is foreign and unlikely to gain traction on its own. The masses will, by and large, expect the monarchy to keep producing monarchs.

The lack of an heir could cause unrest; historically (I'm thinking western Europe here), that's the sort of thing that a rival faction would take advantage of to put its candidate on the throne. A smart monarch, therefore, will make sure there is an heir waiting.

With the new reality -- at best your heir would be a very young child -- I would expect the monarch to broaden the pool -- in the absence of a son the crown might pass to a younger brother. We might see the crown bounce back and forth among branches of the same family -- it passes to the king's brother and then to the previous king's son (who's just now coming of age) and then to the brother's son and so on, zigzagging down the family tree. The medieval Rus used something close to this, called the Rota system (thanks to PyRulez for this information).

In your world of short lifespans it becomes a priority for all in the royal line to "queue up" a son as soon as they're able, but knowing that the son will be your successor's successor rather than your own. Clever monarchs will be able to sell this to the masses as natural, so they don't get any ideas that the monarchy is in trouble.

One consequence of this is that it will become the responsibility of everyone in the same generation of this family to teach and train the next generation. A king won't be training his son to take over; he'll be training his nephew, and should expect his brother (as the child's father) to be heavily involved. The other siblings in the family will have more influence than they might have with a traditional patrilineal monarchy. We should expect to see more jockeying for position in generations with more than two brothers. A system without a single, unambiguous line of succession is less stable, so the royal family will need to find a way to contend with the competition for position. That any one person's time on the throne will be short, and that he might care about consequences for his descendants, could help mitigate.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the system, clever. It would be tough to maintain but it could work if you want to maintain a monarchy. $\endgroup$ – James Nov 6 '15 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ @James my suspicion is that those in power will want to retain that power and thus preserve the family monarchy. It's probably not long-term sustainable, and if this "people die at 25" effect is permanent, there's likely to be upheaval eventually. I just don't think there'll be an organized effort by the people to form a new government type, or at least not until they've gone through upheaval, anarchy, local power struggles, etc. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Nov 6 '15 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ The order of succession you are describing is called the Rota system. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Nov 7 '15 at 1:49
  • $\begingroup$ @PyRulez wow, I had no idea that had historical precedent -- thanks! I've edited this into the answer (with attribution). $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Nov 7 '15 at 23:24
  • $\begingroup$ That Rota system was in use by several nations in the migration period in Europe, before they adapted to feudalism. $\endgroup$ – vsz Nov 9 '15 at 7:13
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Does the change effect ethnic Xenquans, or anybody within Xenqu? Either way, Xenqu for Xenquans is soon to be a distant memory.

If the plague affects anyone within the borders, there would be a mass exodus to neighboring lands; Xenqu becomes a ghost-kingdom.

If the plague affects Xenquans wherever they are, but foreigners are immune, the kingdom will be conquered forthwith; Xenquans are rapidly outcompeted evolutionarily and die out.

The form of government any temporarily-surviving Xenquans live under is therefore whatever exists in neighboring lands.

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    $\begingroup$ This, for me is the most likely outcome. A radically weakened country on your border, one that is descending into anarchy would be a prime target for takeover, if only to stem the tide of refugees. $\endgroup$ – Richard Nov 7 '15 at 6:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Richard this site is a work of fiction. Any similarities with reality is merely a coincidence. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Nov 9 '15 at 13:18
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Simple: Anarchy

Contrary to popular belief, anarchy is not just about the absence of government. Anarchy is about distrust of authority. Since no one in this situation can be trusted to make good decisions for the community as a whole, anarchy seems to be a natural next step.

I imagine a community would self-organize into voluntary associations. As they need help from others, individuals would enter into mutual agreements. These would largely be temporary affairs, lasting only as long as the organizing individuals have need of each other. The VA would also be fluid, adding and losing members as age or need dictated.

Eventually, there would probably be some arbitration guild created to manage these agreements, to ensure they're fair to everyone and allow individuals to move into and out of the agreement with a minimum of fuss. This arbitration guild wouldn't have any real authority, and so wouldn't be viewed as "The State."

Over time, the arbitration guilds in different communities (e.g., Cincinnati, London, Children of the Nile Delta) might acquire more power and/or authority as communities reach out to each other. These inter-community connections would still belong to the VA structure, with arbitration conducted at each end by the respective arbitration guilds.

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  • $\begingroup$ Basically, you‘re describing europe before the 1630‑1650 period. After that, heads of states (kinds or there associated minister) gained the usual powers we expect from a state today due to centralization. $\endgroup$ – user2284570 Nov 9 '15 at 2:05
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you assume there must be a government. 25 years isn't that long from birth to death to consolidate power. Especially when people don't hit puberty until 10-13. Half of their life will be over before they become 'adults'. Many males will still be growing only a couple years before they die.

It takes time for wisdom to accumulate in our species and without someone older and wiser passing on their wisdom, it takes even longer. I suspect most 'government' would be small areas ruled like street gangs.

Added after learning that the plague is localized to the one race.

The country will be taken over and managed by a neighboring country, likely enslaving the population for their own use.

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  • $\begingroup$ Agreed. Any sort of large scale govt would collapse along with the rest of society. The local rate of collapse would vary a bit depending on luck of the draw on the ability of various heirs to hold things together and find a functional successor; but I wouldn't expect anything significant to last more than a generation. $\endgroup$ – Dan Neely Nov 6 '15 at 18:57
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In a monarchy, especially a pre-Enlightenment monarchy, people get used to following orders. for the vast majority of the nation, this would not change; if all your adults die, you're going to look to the crown for help; or, if you don't, you'll probably dissolve whatever emergency regime you'd formed whenever the king/queen finally does send someone to sort things out. As long as the new king takes charge of the situation, everything should stay pretty much the same, at least for the first few years. Farmers will still farm, lords will still lord, and merchants will still, er, merchandize?

The problem you run into is in succession. Immediately after this catastrophe, apprentices and/or heirs should be plentiful enough to take over all major professions, but with their ends impending there will be plenty of opportunity for very young people to be placed in positions of power. The first problem with this is quality; you just can't teach someone how to be a master craftsman in a few years. Technology levels are probably going to slowly slide backwards as new products fail to match the quality of old ones. The second problem is that despite everyone's general lack of talent, people are going to think they're good at things. Just imagine a fifteen-year-old who's put in charge of carpentry for an entire village; this kid grew up in a society where the position he now holds was usually held by someone of twice or even three times his age. And he's still the best person for the job.

As a result of this, I think any government would lose all stability. Promotions are going to come around a lot faster than before, so people are going to get used to upward mobility. When that mobility caps, they'll look around, see a bunch of kids with no more experience than them, and think to themselves 'if I'm so good at things, why aren't I the king?'

From here, it's hard to say what would happen. All I can say is that the government would be unstable. People under the age of 25 don't really care about a future they're not alive to experience; this may change a bit once Death draws his line in the sands of time, but I'd be willing to bet a lot of it is instinctual, rather than cultural. People will be far more willing to make changes, even if those changes include coups, assassinations, and general anarchy.

It's possible that things will even out after a while, and there will be some sort of stable government. But I don't think it would be any different than how governments formed in ancient times; someone just gets a lot of power, and finds a good way to pass it on to a successor. I don't think democracies would form; they tend to be difficult to establish, and ancient people didn't really seem to even consider the idea.

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If they don't just panic and revert to anarchy, I think they would go to a simplified form of their monarchy, without the customary checks and balances. A 50-year-old duke would be a good counterweight to a newly crowned 22-year-old king. A 25-year-old duke might be unwilling or unable to offer wise counsel.

But if the monarchy is well organized, the 22-year-old prince would be prepared to step up to the crown. The king would be what? 40? 50? In a medieval society, the king could drop dead at any time. The prince would have had advisors, but not a regent.

A bigger problem could come in guilds or religions, where the "designated successor" to the old boss is almost as old. Juniors would not be trained to step in. That would result in a situation where those juniors act according to a simplified understanding of their rights and duties. Say a journeyman-turned-guildmaster appeals directly to the justice of the king, not knowing that you don't do that unless the nobles and notables of the region have looked at the problem.

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Given that this is a medieval society, it will collapse. The first thing that will happen is mass starvation. Assuming infant mortality ceases to be important after about age 5, and adults are productive from 15 to 45 with an "old age" with mortality constant from 45 to 65, the proportion of "non-productive" (old and young) people is about 45% (15 years childhood, 30 years adult, average 10 years old), the elimination of everyone over 25 will allow only about 2/3 of the children to survive. The suggestion that children will be put to work at a younger age simply does not wash. In medieval societies that already was the case. Medieval societies simply did not educate most children, and illiteracy was overwhelmingly the norm.

The 22 year-old monarch will be left trying to control a collection of nominally subordinate entities which in fact are going to realize that they don't need to be subordinate. Medieval kings did not have large armies - they called on their barons to provide men when needed. Fealty from the barons dies with the barons, and their sons have not sworn allegiance to the king. That would happen when the old baron dies and the son inherits. So the new king has no power base he can depend on.

The death of the olders will essentially destroy the entire governmental structure, as ruling nobles were generally older. There will be young heirs waiting to succeed, but the power vacuum will encourage the new leaders to try to conquer their neighbors. The social chaos resulting from adolescents and young adult males acting on their hormonal aggression levels will result in major reductions in agricultural output at exactly the moment when everyone needs to be working as hard as they can to produce food.

Most likely, the result will be a reversion to tribalism, and a new Dark Age will sweep the land.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wow, pretty pessimistic. But I can't argue with any of the logic here. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 7 '15 at 21:09
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The society will quickly change. The education system would be severely abreviated and simplified. Otherwise, it would be too spoilery if people can only get a university degree when they hit 23 years old or so. Further, there would be no teachers in the university alive for a time long enough for that.

The basic education would probably end when people reach their 10 or 12 years old of age. People would likely try some speciliaty/university courses that should be completed quickly, when people have no more than 20. Teachers should teach until they die. People should work until they die. There is no such thing as retirement.

Teens should engage in sex and have children as soon as possible, if possible when they are between 12 to 15 years old. The reason is that people who have kids in their twenties will have no time to educate their children and see they grow up. Also, each couple should be able to raise several kids and be able to at least start the education of the youngest one, so the first baby should come very early. Kids should start dating when they are still in their infancy, possibly when aged between 7 to 10 and should avoid breaking up or divorcing at all costs. If some couple breaks up or divorce, they should be incentived to get new partners as soon as possible if they still didn't reach their twenties. Since people would and should engage sex in their teen years and the life is too short to suffer major consequences from that, open/poly relationships and sex parties will be much more common.

People would start taking serious jobs still in their infancy. Six or seven year old kids should get the simplest jobs that don't need brute force or complex thinking. Most people start in their life jobs when they are 14 or 15. Bosses, CEOs and people involved in strategic jobs should be able to reach their positions when they are between 17 to 20 and eagerly teach as much as possible to their children/successors that will take their positions when they die by turning 25.

The society and everyday life would be severely damaged and will recede significantly since people are much less able to accumulate sophisticated knowledge and there are much less reasons to do so. Knowledge will also be much more scattered and more people would be needed to do a single job that in our elderly society someone in their forties could do lonely with enough experience. This also mean that people should be much more team workers - Many teams of trainees and juniors.

Also, the life is short, so people would likely try to live it the best possible. People would really hate time-consuming things. Carpe diem! Since dangerous behaviours that could make you get problems in the future are much less a concern, teens would likely drink alchool, use drugs, smoke, engage in (possibly unsafe) sex, engage in violent behavior and enjoy parties much more than in our common eldery society.

Most of the top government positions would be filled by people which starts when they are somewhere between 15 to 18 years old. Those people received special education for their jobs, likely being tought directly by their predecessors with the explicit purpose of replacing them someday. This would likely create an aristocratic society - only people who received special education for being able to fill government positions are eligible to fill these positions. Further, people who are deemed incompetent, unfit, untrustful or too old by the rulers are excluded from the possibility of succeeding them. However, the population would still be likely to be able to vote in the people who were not excluded from the sucession line. Further, since there are no people with much experience or with enough time to create a power network, it is likely that the population would be able to vote for many important things. Also, it is likely that people will be able to vote when they turn 10 or 11.

Also, if people knows exactly the day that they will die, people who are near enough (i.e. 23 and 24 years old people) would likely go crazy. Many 24's will likely engage in criminal activity, risk their lifes doing irresponsibly dangerous activities, do crazy things or simply going nuts. Many of those people would go nuts trying to do as many things as possible in the least time as possible when they still are living. Many people in their twenties would likely get severe obsessive-compulsive psychological disorders that only get worser and worser everyday.

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First, to fully consider your question, consider this:

Imagine a world where humans live to be 300 years old. What would that world be like? And then imagine life was suddenly "shortened" to a mere 75 years? I'm sure, if asked, the people of that world would imagine that the relative "youth" and "inexperience" of the population would certainly lead to demise, moral decay, tribal governments, etc. as the problems of passing on knowledge with such little time would make it nearly impossible to retain a structured government, etc.

In your example, yes children would start bearing children much earlier - as they hit puberty perhaps (maybe 11 or 12?). That gives them nearly enough time to raise their children to puberty before they die. This is not much different from prehistoric times when humans had a life expectancy of maybe 30... although the maximum life span is known and can be planned for; a significant advantage.

Does this mean pre-historic government? Unlikely. Many young people are strong leaders, capable of strong leadership and can recognize the benefits of existing political structures - even capable of creating newer, better ones. Some of the policies might change (like a 4 year presidency?? And the possibility for 2?).

Since you make the assumption that the monarch has a son of 22, this gives that monarch just over 10% of his life to figure things out. That's relatively short, but would allow for a child monarch to be born and granted authority. And historically, child monarchs can be successful, so there is only the transitional instability that would threaten the monarchy. That would depend on many factors like the character of that son, the counsel available to him, the human support systems that remained in place after the initial wave of death, a lot of luck, etc.

But essentially, technology and humans would simply adapt to a shorter lifespan, just as we have adapted to a much longer life span since pre-historic times.

EDIT:

I also would like to add that our educational system now teaches concepts like relativity to high school students. At one time, scientists and the general population believed that such ideas were so far beyond the comprehension of "average" people that only a handful of people would ever know about it. This type of assumption is repeated throughout history - and debunked repeatedly. There is no reason to believe that technology, learning and other tools of society advancement would be unsustainable with a 25 year life span. It does get progressively more difficult as lifespan shortens, but at 25 most people still have about 25% or more of their life as "adults."

Reduce life expectancy to 10% or less and then the dynamics might be vastly different, as growth hormones and changing bodies create a lot of instability in logic, planning and decision making. However, it is also unlikely that the population could regenerate since the window for reproduction is so small that maintaining the population would, at best, lead to a very strange and unpredictable society.

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Since three is an inherently unstable number, a tetrarchy would form. The four rulers would be chosen from the four most prominent families. Each would reign for five years, from their 18th through their 22nd year, with a two-year co-regency to train the next leader, followed by one year to transfer general skills to their own family and get their affairs in order.

This time period of two decades per full rotation is enough time to get married at age 15, sire an heir, and have that heir raised to the age of accession in time for the next rotation.

The preceding family would be responsible for parenting the succeeding family's children, thus cementing the bond among the four families.

All industry will revert to apprenticeships and guilds.

Natural geniuses and the physically strong and courageous will fill most of the most important posts, because moderate-speed learners will never get to their full potential.

Since young, unmarried people commit most crime in any society, controlling violence and protecting property will be major concerns.

Paul

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    $\begingroup$ Where'd you get 3 from? $\endgroup$ – Caleb Woodman Nov 7 '15 at 4:20
  • $\begingroup$ Please explain why 3 is inherently unstable. $\endgroup$ – Victor Jalencas Nov 8 '15 at 23:09
  • $\begingroup$ Ever played the game of Risk with three people? Two players usually gang up on the third and eliminate him. One of the remaining players has a slight lead over the remaining player and the game soon ends. Four is always much more stable than three. $\endgroup$ – Paul Chernoch Nov 9 '15 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ Then again a triangle is a stable structure whereas a four-edged structure isn't. You can easily "bend" a rectangle into a trapeze. Hmm. Since age==time, and time being the forth dimension here being a "rigid" factor, you might think about bending space... $\endgroup$ – LocEngineer Nov 9 '15 at 22:28
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What is the population density of Xenqu? If the population density is low, it will likely disintegrate into small tribes or family groups.

Evolutionarily, one of the biggest difference between humans and other primates is our longer lifespan, which allows passing knowledge from one generation to the next, and build larger stable social structures.

If you cut the lifespan down to the life span of a Chimpanzee, there is a good chance that the social structures will also soon develop towards Chimpanzee society - which means, smaller social units, and heavier reliance on violence instead of laws.

You may also see more emigration and innovation. It has been said that when early humans first left Africa and spread all over the world, it was teenagers who led the way - people just finding their place in the world, and often that was a NEW place that hadn't been settled yet. Teenagers also don't always understand why things are a certain way, and as a result may try out and invent new things that adults haven't thought of.

In a "normal" human society, the adventurism of teenagers is counterbalanced by the stability from their parent's and grandparent's generation.

In a way, this would be a Pippi Longstocking kind of world.

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Hmm, I don't see why such a scenario would inevitably lead to a dramatic change in forms of government.

Yes, hereditary monarchy as practiced for most of history might become impractical, as the monarch's children would likely all be too young to rule when the monarch dies.

But all other forms of government would be just as viable as they are today.

Democracy would certainly still work. Sure, the candidates would all be under 25, but you could still have elections. I suppose terms of office might get shorter. Like presently a U.S. Senator serves for 6 years, which means anyone older than 19 when he's elected would never live to serve out his term.

Aristocracy and one-party rule would still work. In such systems, basically the ruling class pick the people to be the next generation ruling class. No reason why they couldn't still do that. They'd be less able to pick their own children, but actually as a class rather than an individual this is less of an issue. Maybe your kids can't take over your job the day you die, but they can hang around and take over somebody else's job when he dies in 5 or 10 years.

I'd expect the operations of government would change, as office holders would be less experienced and know they have less time. Bad ideas would probably be more likely to be made law because the rulers wouldn't have the experience to know that it didn't work the last six times it was tried. They MIGHT study history of course, but many wouldn't. And knowing that you only have a few years might well lead people to be more in a hurry. I can't wait until the next election to get this policy enacted because I'll be dead by then! We can't spend years debating this policy because we don't have that much time. So policies get rushed through. Sometimes that would be good: instead of debating endlessly let's do something! But often it would mean that policies get enacted with inadequate consideration and planning.

BTW hereditary monarchy could be made to work if you adjusted the system. Say that your younger brother inherits the crown instead of your son, or your cousin, whatever.

Of course such a world would face all sorts of problems having little to do with government per se. Education would have to be shortened: you couldn't afford to wait until 21 or 22 to graduate college if you're only going to live to 25. Hard to imagine someone being able to start a career before 15 or so, maybe 12 or 13 at the earliest, so half your life is over before you start contributing to the economy. And all the workers have much less experience, so productivity must be lower.

If the species is going to survive, people would have to marry very young. And even if you have your first child at 15, you're going to be dead by the time he's 10. If you have a child at 20 you'll be dead when he's 5. So who's going to raise the children?

You might say that life expectancies have been shorter in the past and people have managed. But life expectancy of the upper class hasn't changed much. I recall seeing a study once that found that the life expectancy of a U.S. senator has not changed since the founding of the U.S. (I presume because the upper classes have always had access to decent food and shelter, some semblance of medical care, etc.) So there have always been some number of older, more experienced and mature people to keep things organized. In this society, there wouldn't be any such person.

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I guess the first step would be to select a group of promising 15 years old kids and give them the best political education still available (most teachers and preceptors having probably been over 25) so in 3 years when the new King die they could assure a collective government for the next 5/6 years.

At the society level, some adjustments will have to be made too. As raised in previous answers, socialism will be the only viable solution as you cannot really let uneducated kids take society changing decisions, or even expect them to make the right choices to ensure their own survival.

Also the traditional family unit would no longer function. Raising of kids would have to be assured by government facilities where 12-25 years old would take care of 0-12 kids. We can assume all kids can have a basic education up to 10-12 yo (when they are old enough to work in farms); then a selection should be made to find those who could get 4-5 years extra education and take strategic jobs (teaching/ruling/medical), while others will start working to feed the kingdom.

That would let the educated class about 5/6 years of adult life, which should be enough for assuring stability in a government (most countries have 4 or 5 years terms for political functions). Of course, things like scientific research or medicine would lose a lot but this is a medieval society so I guess it won't be such a change), but in the other hand since politicians won't have any chance to be elected for a second term they may actually take sensible decisions.

Bottom line: There is no "fix'em all" solution, but damage control can help until a real solution is found.

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I expect that with their economic base wrecked, their military in shambles, and pretty much all expertise in everything gone, they will simply be conquered by one or more of their neighbors, rendering their form of government a moot point.

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We seem to forget that in mediaeval societies, the average age was much younger than it is now, and people moved into adulthood much earlier. Education was finished by 12, after that you were earning your living. 16-year-olds were put in charge of armies. If you were over 50, you were considered old.

I don't see any problem in a community of under-25s organising itself effectively. The big change in this world is not that people are dying younger, but that they know the hour of their death. It's difficult to predict how people would react to that. They would probably put a lot more effort into achieving something in the limited time available. And into succession planning.

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They could have a democracy.

That democracy, however, would never be quite as powerful as the democracies of today. The government may not be able to enact controversial laws, but it would still be able to enact and enforce non-controversial laws as laws against, for example, theft or unjustifiable homicide. The government most likely will not be able to maintain any government agency like the US's NSA, CIA, FBI, or DoD, but it would be able to provide some basic law enforcement & military services.

That is to say, our police and military might only consist of those who don't have more training than the real-world people, who have only taken a concealed-carry class and earned a white belt in some form of martial arts.

If the citizens are lucky, such people will still be able to communicate vital information using computers and/or two-way radios.

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Following on from the line of logic that Jim started, how would the biology of a species that lives 300 years work? Likely children would take longer to develop (think "teenage" years would occur somewhere around the 30-40 year old mark with puberty at about the same time), and again you would hear the same remarks about us from them.

So what happens reducing our lives? Girls today are hitting puberty at 8-10 years old and are capable of giving birth - according to this list on Wikipedia the youngest mother recorded was 5 and the lists for 8/9 are noticeably long. Since girls who have children earlier will have much greater success at influencing the population (a girl who starts a 7 or so could reasonably expect to see her grandchildren), so evolutionary pressure would mount for girls who hit puberty early, but also have the emotional maturity to handle a baby. How this affects the boys of this society is a little less clear, but likely similar pressures for "youthful parents" will be present.

Ultimately then the government will have the opportunity to be just about anything you want, following an initial period of instability (and possibly some of the stop gap solutions mentioned in other answers).

I do agree with other answers that note that, if the ability to learn and retain information does not vastly improve, there will be an ultimate limit on how advanced the society can get without some kind of magical intervention.

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I think you should not rule out that some will develop an immunity, leading to a small group of true elders that will probably serve as the only ones to gain a degree of wisdom unreachable for the rest, even their "wisest" ones.

At first, there will probably be a rule of the bullies. Probably not lord-of-the-flies style but perhaps not far from it.

After that, a period of adapting with a kind of socialist system with a tribal chief, a primus inter pares.

Then, after it becomes clear that there are certain immune "chosen ones", the question of who rules becomes less important since no important decision is made without consulting the elders thus making them the secret rulers - of course without them wanting to rule, else they wouldn't be wise...

That said I could just have one beer too many...

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Several of the answers have neglected the transition problem, focusing on how an society works with a 25 year age limit. That is hard, but it is much harder to imagine what happens in the short term. Total chaos. Every commercial organization of any size has key people older than that. A few will keep going because somebody younger steps up to the challenge, but most will be unable to do so. If you have cities that depend on food being brought in, you may have large scale starvation. Probably cities become unsustainable. The age of adulthood decreases because you need more productive years. Old societies pegged it around 13, which seems reasonable. Now you need commercial enterprises to work with that level of maturity and education. You will lose a lot of technology because people can't learn it.

There seems an opportunity to explore what happens when your leaders are not experienced. Rash actions become more frequent. If that happens on both sides, you have another disaster.

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Educate kids about life at a very young age, so that they can grow up to actually know what they are doing and take college off of the list of necessary things for a job.

People will certainly have a "Why bother?" sort of feeling, though, and that will not be helped by being teenagers nearly half their life. Authority will be dumbed down, not to tribal level, but still not great.

Basically, the government will turn to a sort of total democracy, and no kid old enough to write won't be allowed to. Because everybody's gonna die.

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