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Racism has been a defining trait in how human civilizations have interacted and developed in regard to each other. It, however, is founded on differences which separate us visibly but not functionally. Can of worms; 'nuff said.

What if there were real differences? Presume a species with a baseline level of intelligence and interbreedability; assume them to even be humans for now. However, say there is a very distinct sliding scale of physical functionality which begins to emerge upon puberty: on one end, they are possessed of superhuman strength and endurance, but have post-puberty lifespans of only a few years before their bodies fail. On the other hand, they are practically biologically immortal, yet utterly frail and weak. Assume, again, a normal (bell-shaped) distribution along this scale.

Most importantly, there is a very visible external indication of this, whether it is body size or some other manner of odd phenomena (skin markings, hair color, eye size, whatever). How would society develop?

What if the distribution is very lopsided in one direction or another?

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    $\begingroup$ Is their something that denotes during childhood which one of the two paths they'd follow, or do the changes only emerge upon puberty? $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Oct 24 '14 at 20:21
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Unless the civilisation is really modern, much more modern than humanity(where non-functional traits like skin colour or orientation can not only create discrimination, but outright conflict) there will be some sort of castes... Think of KND, I find it to be a good example. I guess there would be a centre of highly active and valued individuals in the settlement, and the outskirts filled with the old and frail either studying or just laying around.

Different life stages already feel contempt about each other in our functionally similar species, and I would imagine that's even worse in your universe. The short-lived strength would make everyone feel a crippling fear of weakness, and they would either work their lungs out or be crippled by fear, whereas the old are either jaded, wise, or just think the strong teenagers are insane, chaotic beings that will end up just like them. Very interesting question.

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I would expect the longer lived ones would tend toward power and to retain and train the 'power houses' for body guards and physical labor. The longer one lives the more a power base can be built. But there would be a lot of fear about the strong ones. While some might rebel now and then, the shorter life expectancy would make it harder to pass on discontent. It would likely lead to those that show great strength to join some branch of military service. They can 'use their talents' for the 'protection' of the country.

The longer lived ones would be the ones to coalesce this thought pattern and it would eventually become the norm.

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    $\begingroup$ What about the vast amounts of middling, average, people? $\endgroup$ – neph Oct 24 '14 at 22:38
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I guess the real question here is, how different are the groups? Are the differences physical, behavioral, or merely visible? And other factors are in play.

In an industrial civilization, variations in physical prowess would mean little since machines do the real work. Greater intelligence is a great boon to politics, allowing those individuals to manipulate their way to the top of any political structure unless the society is so primitive or simple, that physical prowess (say in combat) can shove intelligence aside.

As Alex Mitan mentioned, if the differences are minor, I would imagine a caste system of some kind evolving. The society's laws, mores, and religion all validating the differentiation of roles. If the differences were great, then I think nature shows that you're looking at a hive structure where physical distinctions destine individuals to a compartmentalized existence. It's interesting to note that hives are so efficient, that individual intelligence isn't required. The individuals function almost as cells in a greater organism. Or if you prefer, the hive functions as a self-organizing system requiring no central management or leadership. The queen just lays eggs.

Maybe the ultimate question is at what point would a caste system pass the tipping point and begin evolving toward a hive. I think for that to happen, you need differences of behavior and drives. It's not the ability to dig tunnels with your claws that makes you fundamentally a worker, it's liking to dig with your claws. Once the individuals enjoy living in their castes, a hive becomes inevitable.

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