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Suppose there was a disease which didn't destroy humanity, but which mentally crippled all humans over the age of 10, rendering them incapable of mental activity beyond the level achievable by rabbits. Essentially, all humans would lose the ability to do anything but eat and reproduce once they reach 10 years of age. Anything more complex, like tool use, speaking, or teaching, would have to be done by children.

Young humans, though, even by the age of 7 or 8, are still more mentally capable in many ways than most non-human animals are. They can do fairly complex math, have fairly developed lingual abilities, and are capable of reading and writing well before that age. They're big enough and dexterous enough to handle guns and can catch food for those members of society that are too old to take care of themselves.

In this scenario, could the children develop society to the level we have today? How far could a society develop, if all of its productive members were children?

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  • $\begingroup$ Ah, Miri! (More or less) $\endgroup$ – Trevortni Nov 23 '16 at 0:22
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    $\begingroup$ I think that the answer highly depends on when exactly the disease struck. I.e. if it struck in Paleolithic period, most 10yo probably would somehow menage to survive - they most likely know a thing or two about gathering food and building shelter by than - and slowly developed their "children civilization". If it struck in modern civilization, all the children are dead a weak later - even kids living on a farm or so, are too busy with school to actually learn how to menage by themselves by that age. $\endgroup$ – Borsunho Nov 23 '16 at 0:35
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    $\begingroup$ That being said, we have hunter-gatherer people even today, so as long as your world has those, humans should at least be able to survive. $\endgroup$ – Borsunho Nov 23 '16 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ Personally I suspect the level of intelligence of some children are on par with some other adults, even if the numbers may not add up to a civilization. $\endgroup$ – Luna Nov 23 '16 at 2:03
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    $\begingroup$ My first thought was about what would happen to the adults. Then I remembered keeping rabbits as a child. I suspect the competent children will need to learn to cull. Children can adapt surprisingly well. A very interesting question. $\endgroup$ – a4android Nov 23 '16 at 3:47
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I imagine such a civilization could become quite advanced, but not easily - and not without some truly nasty tradeoffs.

So, there are ten year olds who are quite advanced, can think and plan at an adult level - but there are also ten year olds who are decidedly not. Given time, training, pressing need, and, eventually, a culture which expects them to fend for themselves, I suspect most ten year olds will be able to manage to survive themselves, and contribute to a working society. However, this will not be the case, initially. A lot of people would be lost in the wake of the disease, including a lot of children... and even after things settle down, the kids will be in survival mode for a long time as they try to survive, long before building up a new society. Getting back to the first point, those kids who aren't especially advanced (moreso emotionally than intellectually, this is about kids who can't or won't do their work, not those who can't solve complex problems) will likely not survive - and those who are, will have to let them die. It's a survival oriented equation, and kids who will survive and who lead groups who will survive are going to have to be ruthless - which will persist into the surviving societies.

In any case, one point I don't think you quite see is that, your kid-civilization is going to be, essentially, domesticating the adults. They are not going to have the resources to subsidize these unproductive mouths, and additionally, are not going to see any reason why they should for a very, very long time. If they have kids who are very clear headed, long thinking, and also really well educated about reproduction and genetics and diversity, minimum sustainable populations, and a host of other stuff, they might keep food out for feral adults, or once they have surplus, keep feeding people till sixteen or so (breeding them so they will have kids in the tribe's reach), and then letting them go. Even if that means letting the feral adults starve, or be prey to predators or each other. Well, they might use them as draft animals for heavy labor, or just killing them instead, I suppose - but the point is they will be treated like, and thought of like, domesticated animals.

For a long time, past the point of the kids forming self-sufficient tribes and up to the point of keeping track of sustainable numbers, the population will be surviving mostly by adopting the kids born of whatever feral adults may have survived. This means you should probably figure out how well these adults are surviving and/or capable of raising kids on nothing but instinct - after all, rabbits do survive quite handily, so it isn't impossible. Maybe the kids will keep track of, or temporarily care for pregnant women, if they know or somehow figure out they need more people in their groups, but they will not keep adults long term - they haven't the resources. And once they get to the point where they do know they need to keep the population up, they won't be caring for their adults, they will be breeding them for offspring - they will not consider them people anymore.

Also, it begs the question of why ten year olds, specifically. It would actually make a lot more sense to tie this to puberty, even if you want to have the average age of puberty, or some necessary pre-puberty changes which act as the trigger, happen around ten (I think ten is actually the lower bound, so minimal handwaving if you go this route). It can make a story-point whether the oldest are kicked out before they lose their minds, or after, or are kept for some time as breeders - which an odd several-year gap between losing their minds and reproducing. Also, if it gets tied to puberty, you might end up with an odd age creep going on, where those who are late bloomers survive much better. You likely won't buy more than a couple years this way, but it will help if you get even occasional twelve or fourteen year olds in your tribes.

So, your little-kid-tribes will be adopting little ones out of the wild - maybe toddler age, maybe finding abandoned infants, depending on how well your adults actually function. Little kids need care, and teaching (and this is also work). Your tribe will need people to manage the food supply - hunting, foraging, farming, they can all be options as your societies evolve. Kids will simply not be capable of the same amount of heavy labor an adult is, but with clever use of tools and draft animals (potentially including feral adults) they should be able to manage - and they will also not need as many resources as an adult would, including smaller dwellings, clothes, and meals.

The amount of time left over for innovation and advancement will be small, since even becoming more responsible younger and reaching social maturity early will not give the same kind of time-span to achieve things in, so society will advance slowly - though you might, maybe, get an artificial boost from leftover teachings or materials left over from the society before the disease.

And your society is going to be ruthless. Kids won't have the resources to be otherwise, especially in the immediate aftermath of the disease, and that will carry over into their civilizations. Also, kids tend to see the world in black and white - they won't have time to finish developing and get enough experience to be otherwise. So ruthless, they'll be hard on those unproductive, and unforgiving of defects (mental or physical). They will have to exile their adults, or otherwise move them from people-status to draft-animal-status - this will effect their empathy, they can't afford to be otherwise but they will also have little sympathy for those who won't, or can't, do their fair share - and will have practice at moving others from people-status to not-people-status, it will be easy for them to dehumanize others.

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    $\begingroup$ A big problem would be maintaining the large, stable social networks necessary for any complex activity. The window between when a child is capable of forming social hierarchies and maintaining them in some sensible way (maybe 5 or 6 years old), and age 10 is not long, so you are losing the most functional 20-25% of the population capable of doing anything with others in a coordinated way each year, so you'd have the turnover of a high school or college club without adult coordination or the social skills of teens plus. Everyone must have an understudy and coworkers would constantly change. $\endgroup$ – ohwilleke Nov 23 '16 at 17:58
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Probably not.

Children can do impressive things like building houses, handle a farm and developing a writing system. But children hardly would domesticate animals like wild horses or cattle. Even birds like ducks or chicken would make the children struggle to handle them, because of their weaker bodies.

Beside that, with no adults to protect them from wild animals or themselves(accidents, deceases and stuff like that), the mortality rate would be huge, like it was until the industrial revolution.

Probably their civilization would consist of small houses and small farms with a certain organization. They could develop a legal system, based on democracy, where every children would vote.

Their judgements could be based on it. I guess in this point, they could make things work. But they would not have the power to build impressive things like our normal mankind.

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