Suppose that everyone can fly.

Specifically, at least since prehistory, all humans have a sort of telekinesis which allows them to construct and empower arbitrarily shaped permanent or temporary structures — for this question, particularly including adequately-sized wings.

The energy required for this motion is not magically available (conservation of energy is as we know it); it can be obtained from either the metabolism of the person or from outside sources (often analogously to various types of modern electric power plants), and in either case stored indefinitely for later use.

Other applications of this ability include creating tools and making oneself much stronger and harder to injure. I've worked out the physical rules and consequences of this system in some detail. The design problem I need help with is much fuzzier:

What are the implications for government and society? How do people organize?

Intermediate thoughts so far:

  • It is much easier to travel, with all of one's possessions — but you still need to buy/obtain a “plane ticket's worth” of energy to do it.
  • Fewer possessions are necessary as much of the tools of everyday living (e.g. most of the non-food contents of a kitchen) can be improvised.
  • It is harder to prevent or even observe movement across a border, particularly before relevant sensor/information technology (radar, radio, computers, etc) have been invented. That is, unless you decide to erect a wall and roof across your entire territory — which is in fact feasible, but still quite a lot of effort, and of course has effects on the interior climate.
  • Specific locations are still important even if it were the case that most people are nomadic: farms require land, power plants (other than solar) require their particular natural resources, and of course everyone needs clean fresh water.
  • I've spoken of flight, but travel via roads is also easier in the same ways. It's just less of a significant change since roads are obvious fixed routes.

I'm primarily interested in plausible structures of typical governments and other social structures in this world, and also what kinds of “routine problems” might arise — the sort of thing that everyone agrees is bad but people don't coordinate enough to fix once and for all.

Additional constraints and notes:

  • In the time period of interest, modern-to-us information technology has been invented — you can assume that almost everyone has free wireless Internet access, loosely speaking, and this of course can result in noteworthy social change.

  • No dystopias, please. No Gritty Realism. If it's less nice (on average) than reality, then that's not the tone I'm looking for.

  • More on “arbitrarily shaped structures” — you need enough of suitable materials; you have a sense of touch/temperature throughout the whole thing if you want; and if the material is homogeneous (e.g. glass, metal, plastic) or you don't care about having mush when you're done, then you can mentally reshape it, fine detail requiring either time or both skill and concentration.

  • (clarifying questions welcome)

  • $\begingroup$ What type of structures? Are complex objects such as guns possible? And is the knowledge of how to create wings instinctive? How did they learn about what shape and size the wings need to be? Did someone invent the method? $\endgroup$
    – AngelPray
    Jan 7 '17 at 23:08
  • $\begingroup$ @AngelPray Added some details about that. Directly answering: Complex objects, yes (guns, yes, can also be simplified by skipping the chemical-propellant-and-cartridge aspects). Creating wings: You get a sense of touch across the surface, so you can feel the wind. No instincts. I'm assuming that if you have the ability to easily make something large enough to catch the wind significantly, and to get sensory feedback from it, it would be easy to learn both what makes an adequate wing and how to fly with it. And it would quickly become part of human culture, so nobody's learning from scratch. $\endgroup$
    – Unbitwise
    Jan 7 '17 at 23:27

The world probably wouldn't be much different.

This moving around seems like it wouldn't grant a greater amount of freedom than, say, a car. No high speeds either, in congested areas. People would still need to form towns and cities for many of the same reasons that we do now.

The first significant change would be to buildings. Now that people can easily enter and exit from the top, as well as move about vertically, they should be designed with access from all sides and the top taken into account.

The main thing that would change here is industry. I suppose that specialists would emerge and train in using their "powers" for specific, complicated, difficult, dedicated tasks. Constructing functional buildings might be an example. Industry would also simplify in that now, instead of providing you with all the tools and utensils that you might need, industries would rather revolve around providing you with the energy and materials to make and use these utensils yourself, as well as showing people how to perform more complex tasks, or providing equipment to those that may be unable to perform more complex tasks. (By comparison, there are many modern industries that revolve purely around providing a product or service that we are simply too lazy to learn to do or want to do ourselves. Such as restaurants. In this world, these industries might extend to such things as airlines.)

That leaves us with the tricky business of government. The first thing to note is that any government will poses the same powers that anyone else has. Indeed, they will likely hire or train specialists in such fields as using these powers for combat, etc.

The main way that such a government would control the population is through regulation of available resources (Energy and Materials). It would closely resemble a modern government.

This is much like a current government controls its citizens. You need a license to own or operate several pieces of equipment, like cars and aircraft, and relevant permissions to obtain any dangerous or controlled substances, like high explosives. Similarly, any activity that is too large or noticeable, like setting up a factory, always requires relevant planning permissions, zoning, your local tax collectors will be very interested and you must adhere to certain standards and need to request, say, an industrial electricity supply. Your fictitious government will need to use similar controls to maintain its populace in an orderly fashion.

For example, anyone can easily get their hands on enough energy supply and material types to perform all their normal day to day tasks and a typical job, but must apply for special permission for anything more. (Such as enough to take a long trip, or energy required to do any high energy or specialist material jobs, both of which presumably require significant additional energy or high grade materials) All legitimate requests should be granted without problems. Known criminals, on the other hand, might find their supply severely restricted, so that they will have difficulty forming the, still required, gun barrels (no good enough metals, for example), or travelling far(no vast quantities of energy). This system will help greatly to prevent unauthorised border crossing passages, will greatly reduce crime (compared to complete dystopia) but would not at all be completely foolproof, and we could probably expect similar crime levels to the present world. (How far away that is from complete dystopia is a completely different discussion) Note that the average citizen should have very few restrictions in place as to their supply of energy, etc., but just need permission, or to notify authorities, for anything big and unusual. (Much like our current world)


By allowing any government this degree of control over the actions of its citizens, and showing that people would still have a need to form societies, I can but conclude that the government structures found in such a world would be very similar to current governmental structures in our world. We should expect no real practical difference between a modern government, democratic or otherwise, and this bird government.

Additional Notes: "routine problems"

As requested "the sort of thing that everyone agrees is bad but people don't coordinate enough to fix once and for all."

  • The unavailability of some materials we use everyday, because of their potential danger, could be a nuisance. For example, high grade metals might be missing from your favourite products as they might be used by criminals to make guns. This should not be a real problem for most products, but one or two might be a bit of a nuisance.
  • Running through your energy supply before the end of the month can be a bother. This means you'll have to walk to the Bureau of Energy Supply and stand in a queue for hours to buy more. Rotten luck. Good news, though. I hear that they're building an easy to use online system. Should make life easier.
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer, but unfortunately, this is very much not the sort of themes I'm looking for — most especially individuals being restricted in energy and materials, but generally preventing travel around the world is way too far in the ‘dystopian’ direction. (Also, I think the system would be fragile in the face of just a bit of subtle hoarding.) $\endgroup$
    – Unbitwise
    Jan 8 '17 at 2:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Unbitwise could you perhaps elaborate as to how restricted materials are 'dystopian.' I also did not mean that travel around the world would be prevented, merely that the relevant authorities would have to be contacted and permission requested first. (Much like our own world, you need passports, visas, tickets, etc.) I will edit the answer later to make it more suitable. $\endgroup$
    – E404
    Jan 8 '17 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ Actually more that restricted materials don't help. The point of guns and bombs is to release lots of energy quickly and you don't need particular chemicals to do that in this world (as I, er, vaguely mentioned in a comment on the question). But I think my “real reason” is that this is just very far from the tone I'm trying to set in my world. People (at least people not living in the-worst-place-on-notEarth) shouldn't be finding their government an everyday annoyance. Sorry to not have made that clear in my question from the start. $\endgroup$
    – Unbitwise
    Jan 8 '17 at 2:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Unbitwise I don't think people would find their government an everyday annoyance any more than they do now. You currently cannot, in our world, cross borders without permission from both sides, cannot obtain certain tools, implements and materials without a license and cannot do anything too large or noticeable without relevant permissions, or at least attracting interest. I will edit the answer to place a larger emphasis on the idea that it would be very much like the modern western world. $\endgroup$
    – E404
    Jan 8 '17 at 10:38

Fortifications would be much easier to conquer. It tends to shifts the balance of power towards "warriors" and away from "civilized". Might have major historical implications, mostly unwelcome.

  • $\begingroup$ Fleeing and surviving while you do it is also easier, but I take the point that it'd be easy to claim immobile resources by greater force. This doesn't really suggest anything concrete about the “final” form of society though, just “worse in some way”. $\endgroup$
    – Unbitwise
    Jan 8 '17 at 2:27

The question about borders and changes in the world when people will have learnt to fly, with some suits, came to my mind too. I think it will be in very close future. Even my grandmother, who is 85 now, thinks that i will see it with my eyes.

Definetely the borders will be actual. No one wants the world to be without borders. It will be lasers or probably some sensors. Visible or probably invisible. Maybe they will cut you in half. But probably they will just notify boarder guards and you will be cought.

Yes, buildings will be affected. Each apartment will have balcony, for sure.

Ability to fly will change our lifes grandiosely in many ways.


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