Inequality in the Imperium

Something I've been thinking about a bit recently.  So of course the Imperium is a very unequal place with the upper classes living in unimaginable luxury and the lower classes living a rather subsistence existence, it wouldn't be the grimdark place it is without a healthy dose of inequality!  That doesn't mean that we can't take a look at the things in the Imperium that help to maintain and enhance this inequality though.

In particular something that I think goes a considerable way towards helping to maintain the inequality of the Imperium and also its somewhat feudal and reactionary nature is the existence, and efficacy, of anti-aging drugs (juvenat treatment).  The 40k literature is replete with examples of high ranking Imperial officials and aristocrats who are still very active and engaged in worldly affairs at ages of several centuries.  It does not, however, give the impression that these wonder treatments are available to the masses, most likely because they are prohibitively expensive.  I also see the potential for something of a snowball effect to occur since people, particularly wealthy merchants, tend to accrue wealth over the course of their lives.  As a result having an extended lifespan would provide a longer time to accrue more wealth, and leave them in an even better position to afford the next round of juvenat treatment.  Imagine how rich Warren Buffett would be if he could live to 400!

I see this giving rise to a real imbalance with the rich and powerful having lifespans of ~400-500 years while the rest of the population would have lifespans more like those of the Western world today.  At least for the middle classes, probably even lower for those at the bottom.  So the upper classes would live at least 5 times as long as everyone else, if not longer.  This does a number of things, first as I mentioned above there is the 'snowball effect' that the longer the upper classes live the richer and more powerful they get widening the gap in absolute wealth between those at the top and everyone else.  It also raises the possibility of having multiple generations of the same family serving the same wealthy aristocrat consecutively.  I've mentioned this elsewhere before and it enhances the feudalistic tendency of having one mid-class family performing the same duty for the local family of aristocrats for generations, as now they are not just serving the same family but the same person.  I can imagine that on the rare occasion when one of the later generations of the servant family gets spoken to by the aristocrat they might well be told 'I remember you great-grandfather, he was a very solid man and a good servant'.

If the rulers of the Imperium are very long-lived with lifespans of centuries it also allays a problem that I know Kage complained about on more than one occasion in the past, namely the cultural inertia of the Imperium.  The crux of the issue is how can the same cultural phobias and prejudices be maintained millenia after the original cause has vanished considering that dozens of generations will have passed?  The answer is perhaps that while it may be true that a millenium is dozens of generations have passed for the toiling masses, for the ruling classes a millenium ago might be the days of their grandfathers or great-grandfathers.  In terms of time span the result would be that the ruling classes would have the same view of the Norman conquest of Great Britain as the population at large does of the second World War.  Since it is the ruling classes that by and large shape politics this would help to support the cultural inertia of the Imperium.

Anyway that's enough for this time I think,

Dragon Lord

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Hmm, one might wonder how

Hmm, one might wonder how families would work in such circumstances. Would a person who can become 500 years old start having kids when he/she's 30, or wait for another century or so?

Also, if people can live that long, succession might become rather frustrating. Imagine having to wait for a century or two in order to get your position. What if people do reproduce at a "normal" rate, combined with longtivity it might mean these longliving figures might have tons of kids, imagine kinda like the families of those wealthy Arab figures who are known to have like 50 kids (ok, they have it with different women, but imagine a nuclear family with 50 kids in it!)

The family structure would become very messy. You might see issues arising between parents and kids when they're both 400 and something years old. More intruige, less trust between relatives. I guess that being a patriarch on such a scale would become an even more difficult game that it is in our current society. Such figures need to probably redistribute their wealth a bit amongst their kids in order to prevent them from trying to kill their parents or something.

Very grimdark...

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Generational difficulties

That is indeed an interesting point Malika.  I'm working on the presumption that the juvenat treatments restore the entire body to a younger state and thus would suspend the menopause allowing women to have children at ages of several centuries.  In that situation it would not at all surprise me if people from noble families waited until well into their second century before having children.  Then again of course with the other bio-tech available in the 41st millenium even if the juvenat treatments in themselves did not halt the menopause this would not necessarily be a problem, the children of noble families might all be grown in vats.

Either way I agree that large and extended families would probably be the norm in the nobility and although I suspect that large generation gaps would be typical the possibility is still there for >10 generations of the same family to be alive at the same time.  I would also certainly expect the nobility of 40k to develop politics and intrigue over their half-millenium lifespans that would make Machiavelli's head spin!

Dragon Lord

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On huge families...

Fertility might not be such a problem, more that you will end up with huuuuge (understatement) families.

The division of wealth and titles will be a very difficult thing, who will have right to which ones? There will of course be intrigue, but I can also imagine there would be some sort of common policy (which aren't totally set in stone and could be different elsewhere) regarding this.

However, with this scale and intrigue/problems that come with it, it's hardly surprising to see so many nobles in 40k fiction joining cults/rebels/traitors...

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Quite so

Indeed, there would certainly be no shortage of disaffected minor nobles.  Of course for those that are distant from the succession and aren't inclined toward cults, etc there are the same traditional routes that existed for those in that situation in the past, namely the Church and the Army.

Dragon Lord

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Escapism

Hey man,

That just made me realise! There would of course be a whole "separate" class of disaffected nobles. This might partly explain the bureaucratic nightmare that is the Imperium. Imagine thousands (if not millions or billions) of organisations (be it military units, bureautic ones, etc) run by figures who were denied their "birth right".

You could have armies with way too many officers, companies with too many manager and so on. 

The army thing isn't so much a problem since most in the Imperial Guard would die anyway. I like Philip's theories on the Imperial Guard as a means of population control (I think he also put that in his theories on Hive worlds, look into the link I posted about Ecoriums).

 

This is a good means of getting rid of disgruntled nobles. Of course, one might wonder how many such nobles would willingly join the Imperial Guard, knowing they will most likely die. Either the utterly fatalist or ignorantly brave...

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The celibacy solution

Interestingly enough that is actually one of the reasons that celibacy was introduced for the hierarchy of the Catholic church.  One intention was to prevent the build-up of heriditary dynasties in the Church, particularly given the number of lesser sons who ended up there.

Perhaps the same might be true in senior positions in some Administorum departments?

Dragon Lord

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Hmm, perhaps sterelization

Hmm, perhaps sterelization would be a more common thing in the Imperium. We could see the old fashion castration occuring more, but I imagine nobles to be a bit more "sophisticated", so stuff like sterelization threatments might occur.

 

This would probably be done during childhood already...

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Yes, that might work.

Yes, that might work.  Particularly if it is something versible, but that only those at the top of the Noble House know how to/have the authority to reverse.

Of course one could also just enforce it by social/legal means rather than physical.  If lesser nobles are not allowed to marry/have children without the authorisation of the head of the House on pain of losing their noble status if they disobey, that should also work.

Dragon Lord