Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


21.2.4  Heritage

The fourth most important factor influencing the character of alien governments is heritage. Heritage is a measure of the biological, ecological, cultural, and historical commonality to be found among social units comprising a political organization. Common heritage generally promotes cohesion; diverse heritage tends to destroy it.3071

Biology is the most fundamental heritage shared by groups of life-forms. Political systems comprised of sentient beings of a single species may be expected to stick together more than aggregations of foreigners. Monospecies cultures should be more cohesive than polyspecies cultures. Political union between races of wholly different biochemical or thermal regimes, or between natural and synthetic lifeforms, seems less likely because of the probable lack of any sensible common heritage.

Science fiction writers repeatedly have pointed out that we may not be able to understand our own descendants who travel out into space and colonize other worlds.2362,2204 Adaptations to higher or lower surface pressures and alien gravity fields will cause changes in human skeletal design, musculature, and blood content. Trace elements in alien soils and plants may affect our colonists’ biochemistry and alter psychological response in many subtle ways. In just a few thousand years, human space travelers could evolve into a new genetic race altogether.2885

Among planet-evolving lifeforms, climatic homogeneity and the presence of large ecologically uniform continental land masses or ocean bodies should encourage commonality of culture and history. Climatic heterogeneity and the existence, say, of broken island chains or an ecologically diverse network of small seas connected by rivers, should lead instead to diversity of culture.2619 Island communities on Earth, as in the Caribbean, the Pacific, and Indonesia illustrate quite well the extreme factionalism and ethnicity that can emerge from a splintered or diverse environment. And it appears that heritage and dispersion are inversely equivalent influences. The more widely scattered the social units, the more diverse will be their historical and cultural experience and the less common heritage they will share.

How does the heritage factor apply to extraterrestrial governments? Political systems involving units with a high degree of commonality theoretically should be able to create governments of any cultural scale from planetary to universal. As heritage becomes more diverse and cohesion begins to dissipate, smaller and smaller governance systems are probably all that reasonably can be held together. A system with total diversity may be expected to be maximally fragmented in smaller cultural groups.

Among homogeneous societies, all forms of leadership from autocracy to pantisocracy should be possible. Introduction of heterogeneity reduces the number of options. Government by common consent (rule by most or all) is likely only when there exists reasonably strong cultural cohesion. With more diverse heritage, the necessary cohesion may be lacking and a shift to more oligarchic and autocratic modes of rule is expected. Similarly, unitary government appears virtually impossible in the face of extreme sociocultural diversity. Political systems with no common heritage -- maximum diversity -- most probably will remain decentralized.

What about the economic system of an alien polity? Any form is possible when mutual heritage is great. But as biological or cultural heterogeneity increase, the abilities and needs of the subject population vary greatly. Cooperation becomes more difficult, cohesion weakens, and controlled economies such as communism and socialism become more difficult to manage. In the extreme case of maximum diversity, communism is virtually impossible -- it is likely that only loose-knit impersonal economic systems such as laissez faire will be viable. Also, as commonality decreases, symbolic exchange systems may become increasingly difficult to use. Agreement upon the meaning and value of symbolic valuta may be harder to achieve, leading to the emergence of simpler systems such as silent barter or gift exchange.

On the heritage factor alone, low or moderate diversity should allow everything from libertarianism to totalitarianism to exist. But extreme heterogeneity of biology or culture will make it more difficult for a ruling class to impose stringent values of allegiance and purpose upon subject populations. High diversity implies that a more libertarian ethic should prevail.

In summary, we find that a decrease in commonality of biological, ecological, cultural or historical heritage among social units in a political organization should cause a decrease in cultural scale, a tendency to autocratic or oligarchic modes of leadership, systemic decentralization, decontrol of the economy, a return to simpler and less-symbolic exchange systems, and an increasing prevalence of libertarian ideals.


Last updated on 6 December 2008