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Let's start this whole question off by exorcising the negative connotations of the word from our minds.

Out foul demons, OUT!


Our fictional near-future world has no negative instances of slavery or oppression in its background. Our fictional country does, however, have a long-standing law that separates the population into two distinct classes or roles. For lack of a better or more generic word, we shall call them slaves and owners.

This choosing is done at, or very near, birth (≤1 week of age). This choosing is done by the doctors/specialist staff at the birth location using state-of-the-art technology designed to make better decisions than those made in the past.

No credence is given to environmental factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, social position, or family!

The question is thus. Which factors could staff at a fully equipped medical facility use to test someone's predisposition to something akin to an A/B personality (some personality types are infinitely more comfortable receiving orders rather than giving them and vice versa)?

For the near future setting, consider only technology widely expected to be available within the next 10 years. Please note: this doesn't have to be 100% fool-proof, as no system is perfect.

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    $\begingroup$ You are testing infants. Aside from their genetics they're classable as either crying a lot or not crying a lot, which I'd be interested to learn whether or not is a reliable predictor of future proficiency in some quality. Therefore, my genetic question still stands: A person who was identified as basically genetically predisposed to slavery would only have children who were genetically predisposed to slavery. Your test, no matter what qualities it measured, would divide the population utterly, with no crossover, in a single generation. $\endgroup$
    – Ross
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ Lemme elaborate myself. Slavery will ALWAYS have negative connotations and will NEVER be utopian, as long as people want to be free and have the right to be free. Freedom is one basic right of a person. $\endgroup$
    – gaazkam
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ You could as well write: "Utopia Murder" and ask people to exorcise all negative connotations of the word "murder" from their minds. These are analogous cases, you ask to consider something "inherently evil" as if it was not evil. You can claim murder needs not be bad, this will not make it any less bad. Same with slavery. $\endgroup$
    – gaazkam
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, ethics isn't the bloat of slavery questions, it's the meat. $\endgroup$
    – Ross
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 18:54
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    $\begingroup$ Essentially, what it sounds like you're saying is your society has a caste system with "leaders" and "followers". Perhaps using those words (instead of "slaves" and "owners") will get you the response you're looking for. $\endgroup$
    – Azuaron
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 18:56

4 Answers 4

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Setting aside all ethical considerations, inequality, and so on in your society's slavery, what could they test to make it work?

They could test biological sex. That is a) readily apparent at that age, b) testable, c) the closest of any factor capable of being tested, that can actually appear to resolve into two divisible categories (given a couple centuries' worth of proof that those who don't fit into one of those two categories can be forced into or out of "their" category, or else killed).

It will also have the benefit of not dividing people by race, gender, ethnicity, social position, or family. (yes, also not by gender. Because sex and gender aren't the same thing, and who cares how they present as long as the population division is static?). And it will prevent the two populations from diverging, like separating by most any genetic factor will do.

Of course, it is completely and utterly irrelevant which population, that is, which sex, is picked for which role, since the dynamic (leader/follower, master/slave) does not map onto biological sex or, in fact, anything, anything a population can be divided into two parts by by any reasonably sane division. But, on the bright side, there are (again) a few centuries worth of historical proof that this kind of socially taught division can be forcibly maintained for quite some time.

Alternatively, you can try dividing by any other things testable and divisible at that age - skin color, or hair color (given an arbitrary but enforced division point which separates the "A" from the "B", and some rule about dealing with or ignoring third categories or colors). Possibly even size, or weight - these will be slightly slower to develop into divergent populations. Again, they have nothing and less than nothing to do with actual suitability for being a master or salve, leader or follower - but honestly culture and expectations and teaching will probably do a decent job of fitting people to their assumed roles than "genetics", so it should end up a self-sustaining prophecy after a while.

The real problem, by the way, is that you're looking for ways to reliably split the population into two kinds of people, and keep them in those categories, when really there are about thirty-seven and a quarter kinds of people, and they won't stay put in their categories, either. That will trip you up long before you get to the "slavery" of one half the population (or, one "class") or the assumption that those two classes must for some reason map onto genetic tests and also somehow work for suitability to be a "master" or "slave".

They could just as easily drop the idea of a genetic test and divide the populations at random, apportion alternating kids born or generations, or kids on alternating months or years, to be "A"s or "B"s, which will give a lot more intermixing of the population and less chance of permanently separating the populations, than any factor found by a genetic test.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm interested in knowing the 37.25 kinds of people there are. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkRipley - So am I :) Actually, it's just a good round number for estimating "lots, but messily so". Fractions (.25) because some people will sacrifice their person-ness trying to force others to be not-people. Gives me the heebie-jeebies, and is evil, and doesn't work, but they try. The rest comes from every universal A vs B type people a) not being universal and b) actually working out A, B, AB, O, and "not AvsB, it's XvsY!" Subtract some categories overlapping, merging, or parts by being evil, add extra for oddballs still not placed, and keep the last spot for "everyone else". $\endgroup$
    – Megha
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 2:56
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I was going to post about using birth order. Yet, researching for this answer I became convinced that birth order as personality predictor is at best as good as astrology (ie. if at all, it is by self identification or social preassure/expectations, not by the gravitational effects of remote stars across the skull or the mother's womb). Instead this answer is about Methods that doesn’t work, kind of.


A simplistic approach: birth order.

Decide what proportion of slaves/owners do society needs, and depending what is more needed make firstborns that.

Of course, the problem with that pragmatism is that it doesn't take into account the predisposition of the child. It is often hypothesized that the first relationships of the baby shape the personality. Firstborns would get more integration with the parents as the time is not split with a second child; on the other hand subsequent children have big brothers! Does this have any effect?

No, second children are not more agreeable and are not more creative. Other psychological traits attributed to birth order has been debunked in the past.

In fact, many of the effects of birth order seem to be self-reported instead of discovered by objective measurements of the traits. For example the study The Relationship Between Birth Order and Personality and Career Choices concludes that firstborn are more responsible, cautious, motivated, driven, shy, and intelligent. It should be noted that the study surveyed students and asked them to report their own personality traits. The paper repeatedly associates firstborns with leadership and aggressiveness, although it associates creativity traits to second children. In fact it could be argued that the reported traits are a reflection of what people expect of them – if particular when the questionnaire is primed with the question of birth order.


A more complicated approach: communication skills.

There have been at least a few studies suggesting that interaction with other children, time spend reading (and time to start to read) or other language difficulties may be early indicators of school dropout. This prediction could be mapped to slaves and owners by making the slaves the less likely to drop out (and thus the less likely to cause trouble). Sadly trying to detect communication skills on a baby matches with the predictors for Autism:

Your baby or toddler doesn't:

  1. Make eye contact, such as looking at you when being fed or smiling when being smiled at
  2. Respond to his or her name, or to the sound of a familiar voice
  3. Follow objects visually or follow your gesture when you point things out
  4. Point or wave goodbye, or use other gestures to communicate
  5. Make noises to get your attention
  6. Initiate or respond to cuddling or reach out to be picked up
  7. Imitate your movements and facial expressions
  8. Play with other people or share interest and enjoyment

So, you would be selecting on possible autism. Sadly there are some DNA factors for autism, so these tests are not fully isolated from family discrimination. Furthermore it is unknown if there is a correlation between autism and leadership. Will some research suffice in 10 years?

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Setting all ethics aside and trying to stay narrowly within question.

Quite honestly I think that such test at such early age and tech level would be effectively doomed.

1) What can be measured? Vague statistical genetic? With simpler issues than personality, combination of different genes and upringing makes any reasonable prediction a nightmare.

2) Testosterone level in boys? (I'd have to look up how good is correlation in later life, never mind) Those with higher would be even more unhappy about being pushed around... just the problem that using them as the owner race (caste?) would be also not so nice idea.

3) Predisposition towards mental problems like ADHD (neuropsychological, so I could theoretically imagine making early test for that) just again you'd end up with people unhappy being on the bottom, and simultaneously those that would not be so desired at the top.

4) At this age it is much too early to try to measure IQ or similar metric. One could imagine picking the brighter ones just to give orders, but you'd fail that with infants.

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Hormones, I say, Hormones

Your goal is social stratification, which can be determined reliably at birth, while excluding the most reliable metric available at that time -- heredity. Consider the future human society of Well's Time Machine.

Even a test for "resemblance to Genghis Khan's DNA" would favor some families over others.

You need to deal with the issues of how your society rejected heredity, and how they could accept an alternative and arbitrary metric.

So let's try measuring levels of various hormones, which are produced by a complex interaction of genes. You can't readily predict which baby will get them, but babies with certain hormone profiles end up developing natural aptitude to understand and operate on the complex physical and social environment of your utopia. Stratification then becomes simple:

  • Children without aptitude for comprehension (as indicated by hormones) cannot grasp the complex structures of your utopia, and are thus fated to become its leaders
  • Children with the gift of comprehension delighting in revising and increasing the fractal complexity of the future, and are generally happy to pursue the insane objectives of their leaders

You have many functioning precursors of such a system in modern human society -- in the USA, these systems are called Corporations.

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  • $\begingroup$ You mean like the alcohol baths as used in Brave New World? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 16:44

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