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In general, people whose conflict resolution strategy is to punch the other person aren’t very good society members. If a pathogen somehow weakened the human body so dramatically that everyone could kill anyone else with a single punch, what would keep society from collapsing as power is placed into the hands of people who are, essentially, savages? People with the least morals are suddenly the most powerful people on the planet. What could keep them from taking over?

Some caveats

I’m trying to avoid the whole “everyone wears football pads around all the time” answer. I’m looking for societal changes, not technological solutions.

This weakness is fairly specific- it makes humans frail, not necessarily feeble. An alternative mental model would be “everyone is given enough strength via superserum to kill anyone else via one punch”. Similarly, one could imagine that everyone is given the power to kill with a single glance. The mechanism isn’t that important to me, it’s more about the effects of people with the least restraint suddenly being more likely to be in charge.

Society-wide taboos on punching people are also not acceptable answers. We’re talking about people who are already unafraid to break the law, they just know they won’t get away with it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Does your society lack a great equalizer invented by Samuel Colt? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Oct 24 '17 at 5:33
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    $\begingroup$ Please, visit meta and search for "high concept". $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 24 '17 at 6:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Mołot oh. I wasn’t trying to avoid doing work when writing- I’m actually looking for a way to avoid this situation given the plot that I’m trying to work with. I’ll edit the question and try to remove some of the more vague wording, if that helps. $\endgroup$ – Dubukay Oct 24 '17 at 6:20
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    $\begingroup$ I hope it will :) your idea seems interesting, and I'd like to see it answered, if it can be specific enough for people to not have any doubts what is your actual issue. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 24 '17 at 6:23
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    $\begingroup$ You're making some weird assumptions here... this basically exists in the real world with that thing called a gun, and society hasn't magically collapsed because amoral thugs decided to kill everyone. Just because everyone now has a "gun" built in to their bodies doesn't even mean the murder rate's going to go up. The only actual problem I see is now every tantruming child has a gun... Anyway, time to listen to the One Punch Man theme song. $\endgroup$ – Azuaron Oct 24 '17 at 15:44
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I think things will balance out pretty quickly.

From your setup I assume that while a punch can kill people easily, so can all other things that traditionally do the same job.
That means, while one particularly aggressive person can kill anyone who stands up against them, this villain still needs to get within arm's reach of them.

I am pretty sure that people with rocks in hand will soon team up to solve this problem in a pragmatic way.

A side effect will most likely be that safety measures around buildings will be developed early. Railings everywhere, warning signs, rounded corners, and especially child care will be developed very early in this society.

Also, their view of death in general will be a lot more relaxed as ours is (and it was different a few centuries ago), since death, particularly at an early age, will be quite common if humans are this frail.

Also, I am pretty sure this society will not tolerate alcohol, unless maybe as a kind of magic potion in preparation for fights and battles.

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    $\begingroup$ In addition, the facepalm is going to become a thing of the past extremely quickly, as fatalities spike... $\endgroup$ – Xenocacia Oct 24 '17 at 7:22
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    $\begingroup$ 10 million children die from diarrhea each year from not having access to clean drinking water. So your assumption that just because death is prevalent this changes society, is wrong. Death has always been very prevalent. Our present day is the exception, not the rule. It was not until the past 150 odd years — out of the 100 000 years that mankind has been around — that we started to beat the death statistics down with advances like vaccines, diversified staple foods to prevent famine disasters, and putting an end to wars. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Oct 24 '17 at 7:46
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelK i was trying to hint at exactly this with the remark "and it was different..." $\endgroup$ – Burki Oct 24 '17 at 8:18
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    $\begingroup$ Contact sports will be right out too, and footballers falling to the ground in pain might not be faking it. $\endgroup$ – walrus Oct 24 '17 at 8:56
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Not much

One of your caveats is a world of "savages", where people are willing to go around killing each other just because they can. This is a big part of the answer.

So society is already changed from our society - there's a reason humans don't go around killing each other, and it's not just because it's too difficult or they're afraid of getting caught. There's a social and genetic advantage to want to protect your own kind, form friendships, relationships, alliances, communities, and not kill each other, etc. and the fact we have this trait is partially responsible for how we got to the civilised society we have now.

So imagining a different world where people are willing to go around killing each other, and how that would change if this new condition is added. It wouldn't be much different from people not having this power, except without this power they'd be using stones, knives or clubs instead of fists.

A difference would be that people would get even more paranoid than they are, since now you know that someone entering your hut/cave is not only willing to kill you but has permanent access to a weapon - as do you - but the question is who uses it first.

But it doesn't matter much - it's unlikely that civilisation would advance even to the point of using language, never mind modern technology, if everyone is afraid of other people being about to kill them. Even before this disease came along, a weapon could be acquired fairly quickly.

Police forensic/investigation techniques are a modern invention, so in early human society you'd have probably got away with it fairly easily anyway, and it's unlikely technology would ever advance as far as things like fingerprints or even organised investigation as a concept. In any case, with no taboo on killing, it's doubtful anyone would ever care enough to investigate it or punish someone responsible anyway.

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For the most part, each and every one of us is capable of killing another - be it using a gun, car or frying pan. A person's physical strength or lack thereof is not the main deterrent for murder. Poison does not require strenth to kill, but rather guile.

A moral code as handed down to us by our parents, society and other authority figures is one reason we don't live in a completely lawless society. A person with a looser moral code might be reined in by a fear of getting caught and punished. As a species we are equipped with healthy imaginations, allowing us to predict the possible outcomes of our actions, and the benefit of the kill must outweigh the risks and pitfalls entailed in the action before we will go from thought to action (because face it, we've all felt like violently lashing out at times).

OK, so let's assume that a singular event alters humans in such a way that it is possible for one person to kill another with a single distinct action. In other words, tripping and bumping your head, whether accidentally or by someone's design, will have the same kinds of results as they do now. It would require a deliberate, though not very difficult effort on someone's part to terminate another.

I think a period of lawlessness would be inevitable as people up and down the social and moral ladder settle scores or lash out over real or perceived injustices.

But in the end, in order to survive as a species we need to band together, and that pesky moral code is critical in maintaining society's co-operative structure. The moral code will be adjusted to incorporate the new "thing".

The balance of power will certainly shift, but in the end we will probably end up in a similar society to what we have today - there will be those willing to compromise or entirely disregard the moral code, and they will be the bosses, henchmen or criminals of the world, while most will settle for living their lives as best they can, trying to secure a future for themselves an their children.

It would be nice to think that heroes would arise who would save mankind from itself, but two things (off the top of my head) will prevent or mar that: 1) most people would rather keep their heads down and leave saving the world to someone else; and 2) heroes would become revered and that kind of stuff eventually goes to one's head - the heroes would eventually become overlords.

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It is hard to say as there are so many variables. It depends very much on how unstable the population is. If society is stable there might not be too much difference, although there would be some.

Knives might become a lot less popular and TV surveillance even more popular on the grounds of public safety. Boxing would be banned; martial arts and contact sports might be banned modified or more closely regulated. There would also be an even greater emphasis than we already have on health and safety in general.

In an unstable society the changes could be more drastic, a police force with firearms should still trump fists as a last resort, but things like rubber bullets would need to be completely rethought. We already have cities where it is unsafe at night in some areas (and even during the day in others). Such changes would be likely to exacerbate existing problems and the number of gated communities might well increase.

Other simple segregation methods that we already have might become even more popular high walls, elevated walkways tall railings and fences etc. There might also be a decrease in popularity of some public areas and an increase in isolationist practices. For example even more internet shopping and even fewer shops, electronic voting and segregated safe areas for recreation.

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If it happened in a modern society humans could survive, but in a stone age civilization not. Hunting and you walk against a tree? Dead. Creating tools and you accidentally hit yourself? Dead. Building a hut and a piece of wood falls on your head? Dead. Maybe humans survive, but they would be the weakest of all since the survivors are those who sit at their house all day doing something easy with almost no risk.

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