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The generational ship is a small closed system, nothing comes in, nothing goes out. The population is under 10 thousand and stable, it's in the middle of its run. No surprises, just day to day routine running.

Would it be possible to maintain a "free" democratic capitalist civilian government or would it ultimately have to run on military lines?

Here we're assuming that a democratic government allows people to try to make a profit in their dealings with each other. It permits the usual greed of the individual. All are equal in the eyes of the law, it's the best system that money can buy.

Under a military system people do what they're told, promotion by ability, waste is controlled, catering is probably central. Leaders retire at an appropriate age. Everyone has rank and knows where they stand relative to any given other person they may encounter.

Answers can show communist, social democrat, mad dictator or other government types are also valid but any answer must try to show that the system of government would be stable or that no system would be stable.

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    $\begingroup$ Not knowing how & as what your population started off the answer will likely be: Whatever you want it to. Science-Fiction is the most available extrapolation for such a scenario available to us and it shows us both lines in a more or less equal amount as well as mixes with a militaristic leadership but a body of people organized in a more capitalist manner that simply does live on the ship instead of bothering about running it... As of now I think an answer would have to make too many assumptions and thus be too broad. $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Feb 3 '17 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ Both. Military and civilian governments serve different purposes. A military government can take action if fast response times are needed and one doesn't have time to take petitions. A civilian government can be used to control the military part in order to prevent military dictatorship $\endgroup$ – Alexander von Wernherr Feb 3 '17 at 13:02
  • $\begingroup$ Is "10,000 thousand" a typo or do you mean 10,000,000? $\endgroup$ – rek Dec 16 '17 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ @rek, I'm going with typo $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Dec 16 '17 at 18:13
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You would get both, or you would get unrest.

You have to have military-like structure, with captain on top. That's just something any ship needs to survive. When something brown hits the airshaft, you don't have time for democratic decisions, for talk, for uncertainty. And here comes the military-like chain of command. Without it first problem and congratulations, you are dead.

On the other hand, people don't like so much discipline. For sure large part of them don't. Majority, maybe. They need to feel they are not slaves. Oh, and you need someone to care about food supplies, education, health care. You don't need a chain of command for this, you can allow people to elect some kind of council all right. All decisions that can't endanger the ship. This way, you are giving your officers more time, and your commoners some way to feel important. And ambitious untrained people still can get a nice title where their incompetence won't kill anyone.

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    $\begingroup$ See also: battle star Galactica. $\endgroup$ – Sobrique Feb 14 '17 at 18:51
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You would need both, separated in key areas. The problem lies in the conflicting areas of motivation. In a military society, there is duty to one's superiors. You obey them, simple as that. As long as the man at the top has good control of his men and intends to do the 'right' thing, the military system won't collapse. But since the apparent goal on this ship is a democratic society, there would need to be checks and balances which are complicated by the non-renewable nature of resources.

Quite simply, in a capitalistic society, people have the tendency to treat one another badly. Financial transactions, at the level of the individual and small enterprise (which is probably all that could exist on a generational ship) are zero-sum games. Whatever one party gets, the other party doesn't. So, it is better for either part to get whatever advantage they can over the other. In today's economic system, this is balanced by the fact that there are other vendors of almost any product. If you want to buy but don't like the price, go somewhere else. If you want to sell, but no one is buying, lower the price to make yourself competitive.

This fails on a generational ship due to lack of resources and lack of population. There isn't an unlimited supply of medicine; if you don't like the price of the ship pharmacy's heart medication, it is pay or die. It gets even worse when we consider if the ship's systems are privatized. Imagine someone with control over the air flow to different parts of the ship. That's the biggest advantage in a financial transaction you can get: pay or die slowly.

This is where the military come in. If the military, assuming that they are committed to the mission succeeding, can safely control the life support and other ship systems, there goes the biggest fault with the democratic capitalist system. The next part is where it gets tricky. The military would need to enforce some kind of welfare system. The most important resource on a generational ship is the population; they're the entire reason it's there. If the military operated as a not-for-profit, and collected taxes in the form of necessary items, these could then be distributed to the poorer factions of the ship, preventing any unneeded deaths that could damage the integrity of the genetic diversity of the sip, and therefore the mission.

To sum up, a capitalist system could work but the military would need to be in control of the ship itself and have required access to other supplies. Luxury items, food (that was better than the most basic fare) and everything else could be controlled by the capitalist system but it is important to remember why they are there. The mission on the generational ship should inform everything. The mission is why they are there and everything on the ship should be directed to making sure it succeeds.

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    $\begingroup$ "Imagine someone with control over the air flow to different parts of the ship. That's the biggest advantage in a financial transaction you can get" - it was good ))) $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Feb 4 '17 at 15:00
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You don't have the resources for full capitalism

Just a few point that immediately sprang to mind:

  • The people are a resource you want to keep (this is always the case but with small populations it is more so). So you cannot really risk endangering their lives too much.

  • You are limited in the amount of material you have. You need to keep enough in the hands of the engineers to make repairs and so can't afford full capitalism in terms of machines.

  • What you can charge for could be virtual, there would be no physical cost to producing games/videos/VR assistants etc but they are still desired - this is where your capitalism could thrive.

  • Power is limited, this could be some form of trade. A power coupon lets you run your computer for an hour, a transport for half an hour, lights for a day etc . These aren't essential, however, and you could earn them by doing certain tasks, trades, etc.

My conclusion is that you would want a military enforced communism on the ship where their aim is solely the maintenance of both ship and people and they ensure resources are sufficiently rationed over the whole journey to keep both the people and the ship in a good condition to fulfill the aim of the mission. Your capitalism would exist in the virtual world and non-essential items.

The communist side would require each person to perform a duty - perhaps on a rota - that keeps the ship going. So some people are trained in running farms, some in engineering (a big area, so this would probably get split into engines, air supply, water, sewage etc), more still would go into other roles (I just can't think what they are at the moment). You only need to do a certain number of hours a year though and - if you have a side business selling VRs or games - you can pay someone in power coupons to do your hours for you. This way people can do extra farming (ontop of the required amount) and have coupons to buy their games, keep their lights on longer than basic etc. Thus you have a cycle for capitalism to exist.

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You want civilians in charge at the top. For why, I turn to Admiral Adama, from Battlestar Galactica:

There's a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.

The military is always looking outwards, protecting the core against opposition. Resolving internal conflicts is a different skillset. Military do indeed train how to resolve such internal conflicts, but it's not their forte. To lead a generation ship, you want a caste who specialize in resolving such internal conflicts.

I will point out the Admiral always deferred to the President.

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It might start out civil, but would become increasingly controlling/hereditary over generations.

  1. He/She who controls the life support functions (breathable air, potable water, food, temperature) aboard an isolated ship has absolute control. See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_empire

  2. People have a strong desire to protect their own survival and advantage their children. I could easily see training to operate life-support systems becoming hereditary/religious.

Suggested reading: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ballad_of_Beta-2
(IMHO an under-appreciated novel!)

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    $\begingroup$ In contrast to the Hydraulic Empire, the Netherlands have Water boards ([en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_board_(Netherlands)]) which are one of the oldest democratic local government bodies in our country, so it does not have to end in a controlling/hereditary structure. $\endgroup$ – Kasper van den Berg Dec 16 '17 at 17:27

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