The discussion of the origins of patriarchy, in some of the answers to Preventing post-apocalyptic society from becoming misogynistic, has me wondering if a government couldn't be designed to put a premium on raising children.

Imagine a new space colony which, due to the lack of room on the generation ship, is facing under-population issues. To combat these issues, the colonists adopt a weighted, pure democracy as their governmental structure. Each family unit will receive one vote for each of their children, divided by the number of parents in the family unit.

So, a monogynous couple with four children would get 2 votes, while a polygamous couple with two wives would need six children to match the monogynous couple's voting power.

The idea is to maximize not only the number of children, but also the ratio of parents to children; in the hopes of providing all of the children with adequate parenting. We don't want some power-mad politician sire-ing his own political party.

And since only parents can vote, hopefully all decisions will be made with the long term health of the colony in mind.

How can someone game this system? What subtle loopholes have I left open which would allow a creative and virile/fertile person to obtain disproportionate power?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Upvoted. Personally, I don't find the notion all that interesting, but I have to say that you have taken a question that naturally tends toward idea generation and turned it into a crystal-clear SE question. I'm inclined to polish the prose slightly and link to it on Meta as an exemplar. Well done! $\endgroup$ – CAgrippa Mar 24 '16 at 0:14
  • $\begingroup$ @CAgrippa, polish away. Regardless of whether this goes to Meta, I'm curious to see what you would change. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Mar 24 '16 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ How do we define a couple? People who have gone through a marriage ceremony? People who have sired children together? $\endgroup$ – sdrawkcabdear Mar 24 '16 at 1:25
  • $\begingroup$ @sdrawkcabdear, that issue is turning out to be at the center of most of the "gaming" being offered in the answers below. I didn't foresee that happening. ...which is exactly why SE WorldBuilding is so useful! $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Mar 24 '16 at 1:30

Harem Dynasties

Start with the assumption that, unless someone intervenes, women can bear an upper-average of about 10 children. That is to say, if for instance a woman is treated as a brood-mare from the time she is best able to bear children, she’ll average 10 live births. This is a very rough estimate, of course, but it’s plausible enough.

If I have thirty wives in my harem, and I strive to keep them all pregnant as often as possible, I’m going to have 300 children. That means 9.7 votes, and I control them all. What’s more, if I raise my sons to behave the same way, and convince 80% of them to help build our family dynasty, then by the time I’m 80 I’m going to control something on the order of 1000 votes.

You, meanwhile, with your silly monogamy, will not control more than 5 votes in the first stage, and chances are your wife won’t let you get that far. Even if she does, you’re not going to get more than 15 grand total with all your sons on board.

Daughters For Sale

If you allow women to be treated as brood-mares, daughters and sons will also be valued quite differently.

Among the creepy power-lords, with their harems, daughters are a valuable trade resource. Sons, by contrast, have to be raised to maintain the dynasty, which means education and a strong sense of privilege.

So I have my wives raise my daughters in the compound, while my sons—once they are of an age where they’re even vaguely worth talking to—get shown enormous respect and granted all kinds of privileges. (Take a look at how pre-modern Korean society worked, especially among the elites, for an example of how this sort of thing goes.)

Once my daughters are of age, I trade them to other elite power-lords to bulk up their sons’ harems, and they do the same for me. Not that I want some other lord to have more votes than I do, but let’s face it, his interests and mine tend to lie in the same direction. What we don’t want is those awful monogamous peasants getting any real power, now do we?

Uh Oh

So the point is, the system can be gamed pretty drastically, and once it gets this way, there’s no undoing it: the people with the power to do anything want it to stay.

I suggest preventing any kind of poly-marriage, for a start. Cap the number of votes per marital unit at 5 (preventing brood-mare situations).

I’m not sure this society is going to have the positive results you’re looking for, but your question about gaming the system was specific and clear.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1 for taking the system multi-generational and as a result, totally destroying it. Well done! Your solutions are reasonable too; but I will miss the poly-marriage as it is a great sci-fi writing prop. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Mar 24 '16 at 0:56
  • $\begingroup$ I could go much faster with "single" parents. A 30 person harem has to have 30 kids to get 1 vote. 2 "single" parents would have double the voting power if they had 2 kids, at far less cost. $\endgroup$ – sdrawkcabdear Mar 24 '16 at 1:22

Never get married.

2 parents + 2 children = 1 vote

1 mother + 2 children + 1 guy who hangs out with them but is totally not the husband = 2 votes

Even if they split the kids evenly there is an advantage.

1 mother + 1 child = 1 vote

1 father + 1 child = 1 vote

There is a strong incentive to live together but never get married it doubles/trebles the voting power. There would be unofficial marragies with a great deal of negotiating about who gets the kids.

The old are helpless

Once your kids become adults you have no voting power and neither do they and so you can be deprived of any privileges since you lack votes to protect them. You only get indirect power when you become a grand parent.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the helplessness of the old. I think I can fix that by giving the parents voting credit for having children until their children have children of their own. As for these rules wiping out official marriage, you are probably right. A couple having their first child, get a full vote if they are unwed. The father just has to trust that the mother will vote in his best interest. Might lead to a matriarchal society. Interesting side effect. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Mar 24 '16 at 1:26
  • $\begingroup$ How does not getting married benefit either party? For the second equation, when the mother gets two votes, the father gets none. No matter the split, they still have 2 votes between the two of them. $\endgroup$ – ChronoD Mar 24 '16 at 1:37
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisG For the second equation the mother gets two votes while the Totally-Not-The-Father gets zero, for two votes total. Once they get married, they get one vote total (two children divided by two parents). The votes are per family unit, so doubling the number of parents halves the number of votes your family unit gets. Thus it's better to have one parent and a bunch of Totally-Not-Parents-Who-Just-Happen-To-Spend-A-Lot-Of-Time-Here, since that way you get the full number of votes. $\endgroup$ – John Robinson Mar 24 '16 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnRobinson I apparently misunderstood the premise. I understood it to be that each parent gets the votes. I appreciate the clarification. $\endgroup$ – ChronoD Mar 24 '16 at 18:38

I can see one main loophole, which is that the rule doesn't state that the parents must raise the children from birth.

It's much, much easier to raise a 16-year-old than a newborn baby (citation: every parent ever) insofar as a 16-year-old can, for the most part, handle many things by themselves. True, teenagers pose their own unique set of issues (citation: personal experience), but at least they can do some things that infants cannot:

  • Eat
  • Drink
  • Use the bathroom
  • Walk
  • Work

So, here's the plan to make your own political party:

  1. Find orphans, preferably tweens - the older the better. There must be some somewhere on the ship. If not, a truly evil parent-wannabe could make children orphans via murder, but that's just heartless. Alternatively, look for kids whose parents are willing to give them up.
  2. Raise the kids. Again, the older, the better. The older ones will be able to handle themselves, so it's not going to be incredibly challenging to take on another teen - at least, not as hard as it would be to adopt a newborn baby.
  3. Profit.
  • $\begingroup$ +1 : Excellent. Your loophole even allows for two types of power seekers: the noble, who like yourself take in orphans and the unwanted, and the villains who create orphans through murder. Very useful. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Mar 24 '16 at 0:19
  • $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor Thanks. I had intended for the "noble" people to be not-so-altruistic, but I suppose I can see some good motives in them. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Mar 24 '16 at 0:23
  • $\begingroup$ Can I get some clarification on this idea? I interpreted the initial scenario where the parents essentially get the voting power of their children and only children get votes. But this would mean that, once the children reach a certain age, you would lose their voting powers. So if you take orphans of an older age, you don't have as long term of a benefit. Is this just an attempt at a temporary spike in political power? $\endgroup$ – ChronoD Mar 24 '16 at 1:34
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisG When they grow up, you just murder more parents. Sure, younger kids last longer, but if you are good at orphanizing, that's not a problem. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Mar 24 '16 at 2:08
  • $\begingroup$ Also, wouldn't you get in trouble if you go around murdering people? $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Mar 24 '16 at 2:09

The biggest problem I see is the question of "What defines a family?", and also what happens to partial votes. Here I'm assuming that partial votes are lost - you divide and round down to get your number of votes. You mentioned polygamous relationships, so let's use some reverse induction.

Having {..., 5, 4, 3} parents makes a family. Having two parents (monogamy) makes a family. Does a single parent count as a family? Well, sure, why not?

There's your loophole. A single mother gets one vote for each of her children. She gets more relative voting power than anybody else (double that of a monogamous couple with the same number of children) - and the best part is that due to the severe underpopulation, nobody can fault her for continually getting pregnant. The only issue they could have is the issue of parent:child ratio, but at a certain age (I'm assuming) they start schooling of some sort so the parent:child ratio stops mattering as much.

On the converse side, I can see the polygamous family with one father and many mothers. Many mothers make many children, and then many mothers meet sudden "accidents" once they go through menopause, and you're left with a not-so-grieving (and yet oh so ambitious) father with more votes than he knows what to do with.

Alternatively, I can see an underground market for children being established - election time is coming up and you've got seven children for your two parents (meaning 7/2 = 3.5 -> 3 votes)? Go ahead and buy an eighth so that you can bump up from three votes to four. Or if the vote itself isn't as important to you, sell one of your seven to someone who does want that extra boost... if they're willing to pay, of course.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the post-menopause accidents. Not sure if the single mother loophole would work unless the colonists brought sperm-banks and artificial insemination equipment along. Why would the living father give up his claim to the single mother's child? $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Mar 24 '16 at 0:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There's no claim to give up if he doesn't know the child exists. Even in a future like this, I can't imagine that one night stands would stop happening. Alternatively she could get herself pregnant by married men, making it awkward to press a claim. Or, she could let herself get such a reputation for sleeping around that nobody could prove her child was theirs. Course in that case people would probably stop sleeping with her, but hey, men don't always think straight when sex is involved. $\endgroup$ – John Robinson Mar 24 '16 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ Excellent! I can use that! In fact, it occurs to me that a brothel could easily become a political powerhouse. Sort of like CAgrippa's Harem Dynasty but without the patriarchal leaders. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Mar 24 '16 at 0:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.