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In the future, a globalized economy gradually stitches the various governments of the world together into a single federation. The richest and most powerful of each state and economy entrench their economic and political dominance to the point where social mobility has stopped completely, creating a permanent upper-class and under-class, much like the nobility and peasantry of the European Middle Ages.

Technology has progressed to a point where the vast majority of material production is done by robots, entirely owned by the ruling class, which perform nearly every task from resource extraction to transportation to manufacturing and in many cases, automated interfaces sell the goods themselves (Amazon?). The only thing regular people are good for are as consumers, or sources of entertainment. There may also be a gladiatorial system (Hunger Games?) which weeds out the weak and exposes the strong, either to target them as potential threats later, or to have their genetic material used to strengthen the elite gene pool.

Likewise, the militaries of the various nation-states have also been gradually disarmed (as in a global government, there is no war, only rebellion), and replaced with robotic soldiers, completely controlled by officers of the ruling class, who are groomed to lead from an early age, somewhat like the ancient Spartans and/or the Kshatriya/warrior class from the Hindu varna system. Therefore, there is very little association between the military leaders and the underclass, and there is almost no reason at all to disrupt their position of extraordinary privilege.

How would the future underclass rebel, undermine, or otherwise dismantle a system of pseudo-slavery?

To sum up the conditions:

  • The general populace has no combat training, nor do they own weapons
  • The military is staffed by robots and led by elites who like the way things are.
  • The elites do not depend on the underclass for any material needs whatsoever.
  • The underclass has little to no access to the backbone of society, such as power generation, natural resources, infrastructure, and so on.
  • Any armed rebellion would be swiftly put down with heavy casualties to the underclass and little to no loss of life for the elites.
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  • $\begingroup$ Not sure if possible to fight a hegemony $\endgroup$ – GameDeveloper Aug 12 '16 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ Roughly what is the ratio of ruling class to underclass population? I'm wondering why the ruling class would allow a large underclass to grow or be maintained if they have no use for them and absolute power. $\endgroup$ – rek Aug 12 '16 at 17:34
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    $\begingroup$ That was my question, rek, why does the underclass still exist. The only reason the nobility kept the peasants around was to work. Anyone who couldn't work was killed or allowed to die, pretty much. From the sound of the description they wouldn't really be consumers because all of the wealth is controlled by the aristos. $\endgroup$ – Seeds Aug 12 '16 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ @rm-rfslash If an uprising is actually dangerous to the upper class, theny why does the underclass not rebel in the first place? $\endgroup$ – Polygnome Aug 12 '16 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ Peasant uprisings in the Middle Ages were similar to this, peasant on their own might knock off a few local nobles, but the rebellion would be put down and a new feudal overlord would take his place. The first true revolution was the French Revolution, where the Middle Class had grown to the size where they had developed enough political power and wealth to make it worthwhile to challenge the aristocracy who threatened to steal it away. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Aug 13 '16 at 3:12
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I like @Cort Ammon's answer a lot, and was already drafting my answer when he posted.

If the leadership class is truly indestructible as you say, then the goal of the rebellion would not be to destroy the leadership class, but to establish independence from it.

A rebellion would stay hidden, develop underground hydroponic food production and light industry, create a network of recruits and exploit sympathizers from the elite class, get military and technical training from those sympathizers and then initiate a series of terrorist/propaganda attacks and raids on police and military targets.

They might be able to capture and hack some robot soldiers, either through experimentation or with the help of a sympathizer, and put them to use in espionage, sabotage, and assassination.

Where the underclass is completely isolated from a chain of production, they can undermine any part of that chain. E.g., sneak into farms that grow food exclusively for the elite (you know they have those in China?) and apply a generous sprinkle of poison or radioactive material or salt.

Typically a rebellion benefits greatly if there is a leader to be the face of the rebellion (Hunger Games), or an event that galvanizes the oppressed ("Let them eat cake"). If not that, perhaps the rebellion could actually start off innocuously as just a shadow-government of the oppressed, originally formed as a charitable organization (maybe ironically under the auspices of the leadership class?) but then as support and infrastructure grew the organization developed sentries and spies and then became a real shadow-government--an underground nation within a nation. Then finally, they would claim land and declare independence and fight in open combat.

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These sorts of questions are difficult to answer. In the body of the question, they give a set of macroscopic behaviors which suggest that one party is completely and utterly superior to the other in every way shape and form. Then, they ask how the underdog can win.

This is tricky because you cannot give StackExchange enough information to actually answer it. If you could, then the question wouldn't be exciting, and you'd stack the odds further against the underdog. It's a no-win situation, so instead of providing specifics of how to deal with your particular scenario, I think it's helpful to explore a solution which works for a great number of similar scenarios.

The secret to the underdog winning here is patience, untouchability, and sensitivity. They need to quietly bide their time in a way that makes sure they don't get destroyed, and need to be constantly aware of their surroundings. They are looking for something. What are they looking for? I don't know. It's not in the question. They're looking for the chink in the armor of the upper class. Something that a rational analysis may need to suggest that the robots need to keep 90% secure, but it's actually only 89.999% secure. They then use this as leverage to build more power, until they finally have enough power directed at the weakpoints they find to topple the system.

Where these weakpoints are is up to you, and each one they discover is going to change how they seek out the next weakpoint because they have some unique little edge they didn't have before. There wont be a plan that you can give them ahead of time to say "follow this plan and we'll topple the robot overlords in 2 years"." It just won't exist.

Sensitivity is key because they need to be capable of observing weakpoints that the opponent hasn't observed yet. Given the mass resources of the robot overlords, I'm sure all the obvious stuff is covered. They're going to have to look for some subtle nuance. Maybe on a particular day of the year, at 9:15, the sun blinds one sensor to the point that a child (but not an adult) can slip past the sensor undetected. They then gather intel on that side for a year, and then slip back across to tell everyone on the same day of the next year. It's really hard to defend against all of those without wasting resources, but typically we don't see those weaknesses because we don't have the sensitivity to see them. If your rebels have that sensitivity, they can find the weakspots you need, without the story feeling too contrived.

Their entire job should be not to lose ground. They don't need to capture much power, they just need to make sure that once they capture it, they never lose it. If they do need to lose it, they need to make sure they can instead trade it for more power than they gave up. They need to do this for some unspecified amount of time until a true glaring weakness appears in the robot overlords. That is the time where a plan can be put forward to end the suffering.

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If given the choice between a independent life of hard work with risk of starvation, and an enslaved existence of leisure and guaranteed security, the smart money is on being a slave. Those who would put freedom ahead of basic life needs like food and shelter, haven't spent enough nights outside, starving under the pitiless stars.

In your scenario, the underclass have been reduced to being consumers and entertainers. Funny, I dream of someday becoming solely a consumer and an entertainer. It sounds like a great life, compared to my current work-a-day world. Your scenario makes no mention of starvation or homelessness. There is no signs that the underclass are being abused by the elites. The only "crime" of which the elites seem to be guilty, is having a better life than their underclass counterparts. That is not justification for a revolution.

It is however an opportunity for the development of an under-economy. If the food provided by the elite isn't very appetizing, growing fruits and spices and learning how to make food delicious, will give some underclass citizens a better life than their less industrious class-mates. Improving basic housing through carpentry is another path to comparative prosperity. Sewing and needle-craft would also bear value. Practically all of the "trade-class" skills would still be valued and could enhance the lives of the underclass.

Given all the free time which the basic generosity of the Elite provides to them, industrious members of the underclass could create a very luxurious life for themselves, without the need for rebellion or bloodshed.

Revolution is the last option of the oppressed. It should be used only when survival is at stake; not as a cure for class envy and jealousy.

I know that this doesn't answer the question, and that I will probably loose a few points for posting here instead of in the comments, but I think the point is important (and too long for the comment feature to accept).

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  • $\begingroup$ I very much appreciate this answer. I intentionally did not make any reference to the quality of life among the underclass, with the exception that there is an extremely small chance of anyone from the underclass becoming a part of the elite. $\endgroup$ – rm -rf slash Aug 12 '16 at 18:12
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    $\begingroup$ @rm-rfslash, if you like this kind of thinking, check out Francisco's Money Speech from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. I'm naturally a bit of a socialist, so I reread this bit about once a month to keep myself from getting too idealistic. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Aug 12 '16 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the link to Ayn Rand. I tried reading ATLAS SHRUGGED along time ago. But gave up after a few pages because I couldn't stand having this mad woman's voice shouting in my head. I started reading the Money speech & found the arguments are skewed in favour of her conclusions. "Take your choice – there is no other – and your time is running out." This is TINA (There Is No Alternative) in another guise. She still shouts. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 13 '16 at 6:08
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed, Rand's delivery sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. In the case of the speech, it is being delivered to a crowd of pampered aristocrats and radical socialists, so the "I am always right" is deliberate. He is trying to break through the shields of their self indulgence and naivety. For a reader from the working class who understands the value of work yet still feels compassion for the poor, that assault is unnecessary. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Aug 13 '16 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ But the content of the speech, that "fair trade is no larceny" or that the guy with deep pockets is not always the bad guy. That I need to hear regularly to avoid becoming a stereotypical rebel without appropriate cause. I need to be reminded to make sure there is a problem, before offering a solution. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Aug 13 '16 at 15:31
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Divide and Conquer

The only chance the underclass has is to turn the upper class against each other and let them destroy themselves.

The following plan would only work if the underclass has some exposure to the leaders of the upper class on TV or in real life, because it starts by promoting interest in the doings of the elite and making them look larger than life.

The next step is to identify a number of upper class people that are narcissistic and vain. Think of Donald Trump as an excellent example of the type needed. The more they are disliked by the rest, the better. Then a number of positive attributes are assigned to each of those people. Things like "generous", "kind" and "trustworthy". These are then injected into public life, by members saying things like

  • "I want to be generous, like X"
  • "Y is so trustworthy, why can't you be like that?"
  • "Whenever I get angry, I think of Z and the kindness he shows"

As these thought spread through the underclass (with some prompting left and right), it's time to have people come out as complete fanboys/devotees of one particular chosen upper class person. It will spread like wildfire for two reasons:

  1. It gives the underclass license to imagine themselves a bit upper class by emulating their chosen, this gives them exactly the one thing they may lack: Freedom! (from being underclass).
  2. It gives the chosen the thing they need most: Adoration. It will be addictive as crack to them and they will engage with their fans and promote the behavior.

Ironically, all this positive attention is the one thing the elite can't produce with all their robots, and jealousy will burn in their hearts, so they will either try to put a stop to it or compete with the initial chosen. Both will cause angry reactions from the chosen (and their new followers).

In all this chaos, the instigators need to identify the person most likely to turn the robots on anyone trying to stop him and then try to lift him above all the rest in the devotion of the crowd. The rest will try to take him or her down and hopefully, they'll start a bloody conflict.

If the exalted one wins, he will likely trust his devoted more than any reluctantly turned officers, and that will be his doom, eventually.

If he loses, the devoted have to shift their attention to the next contender after declaring the previous one a false prophet. And on it goes...

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  • $\begingroup$ Brilliant idea. $\endgroup$ – Xplodotron Aug 13 '16 at 17:30
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Three ways.

  1. A paradigm shift: Something new comes up, which changes the basis of power, e.g., a new invention, which undercuts a critical control of the ruling class; an alien invasion; a natural disaster. Examples: a new, cheap energy source that cuts off dependency of state provided power; Skynet; an earthquake that destroys a key component of the robot army's infrastructure, so that a large proportion of robots go rogue or can be reprogrammed.

  2. Inbreeding: Given enough time, if the upper classes stay sufficiently isolated, they'll breed themselves to extinction; your working class just needs to survive the period of insanity before that happens.

  3. Entropy: Wait for their mistakes to catch up to them. Eventually, the number of errors will become too much for the system to handle and it will break down. And given the type of people running a hegemony, once the lower classes are not a consideration, they'll start to game the system for their own benefit at the expense of their colleagues.

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What the underclass needs to do is find a way to plant malware into the robots, preferably integrated into their OS directly at the factory so that it doesn't look like foreign code. At the opportune moment, a switch is flipped (metaphorically speaking), and suddenly all the robots work for the underclass. Then it doesn't matter how indestructible the leadership is, they won't be able to enforce their orders (unless we're talking about a genuinely superior race a la 'Kahn Noonien Singh' or 'General Zod and company', then you probably don't stand a chance anyway).

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The underclass could "infect" one or more of the elites with something that causes them to act against the interests of their class. For example, a ruler might fall in love with someone in the underclass causing them to work to undermine the government. Or for a less cliche scenario, the underclass could develop a religion or philosophy that converts some of the rulers to the same effect. The underclass could then use the defectors as undercover agents to find a way to effect the collapse of the government.

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Leave

That is the plot of the middle part of The Queendom of Sol series. The prince and other youngsters who would never replace the previous generation (being immortal and indistructable) was sent off to found a new colony.

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Grief is a strong and illogical creature

since the society is so far ahead when it comes to be taken care of, then it likely that even if they are studious in the art of tactics that they are not saints of the mind but rather greedy.

If there was no underclass there would be nothing to feel above besides competing over each other. Thoughts like "we don't compete with rats" will lead the upper class to mostly ignore the underclass and leave it to the robots to make a profit off of them.

One day a jealous man sought to win the love of another upper class lady (or preferred gender) but there is more than one interested party. Underhanded deals and schemes take place each trying to make the other party look bad or make themselves look good.

Eventually this leads to one suitor winning over the others but our jealous man is stricken by grief because he was one of the suitors trying to win her over fair and square. He visits often trying to convince this lovely individual of their folly, or that they are being deceived. The spouse gets wind of these visits and at first add's extra protection and procedures to her guards to prevent this man from coming near. But the man has already put too much of his heart into trying to win back his beloved that he cannot give up now.

He starts trying the program procedures into his own robots and this inevitably leads to fights amoungst the forces and soon the his beloved never goes out again, trapped by her betrothed.

The animosity grows amoung our jealous man and his beloved's betrothed. after many months of discussions, lawsuits and vandalism, our jealous man discovers that robots are inefficient at anything besides taking orders and that his adversary is better at tactical control than he is.

In desperation he starts using the trash of society. They are easy to manipulate as they will do anything for money. he starts cultivating a small settlement by sending training bots and merchant bots to hire and train mercenaries. at first many were easily slaughtered but every now and then there would be a survivor.

after enough battles there are battle hardened mercenary soldiers who even have platoons under their command maybe comprised of one or more robots depending on their accomplishments.

After a while, our jealous man's love interest, being locked up for her own safety, has been driven mad by boredom, and the horrors on the news and has slit her wrists.

When the two adversaries get the news both are driven into a mad rage, blaming the other. After mourning (aka. making bad decisions to try settle their grief) there are now armies.

the government decides they have to step in, they don't mind internal feuds, but there is no way they were going to allow riff-raff to "command" anything but it is too late. The seeds have been sown.

The human commanders do what they need to do to survive with the tools they have been given and our jealous man supports them as he needs them to get his revenge...

...and we have a rebellion

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