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This post continues the Shadows Over Sol Dark Future setting preview started last week. Those interested in Shadows Over Sol are encouraged to sign up for the open beta test or to download the Quick-Start. The full game is scheduled for a September Kickstarter.
The Transient Population
I understand that geographic location once meant something culturally. People broke themselves up into communities and post-tribal affiliations based on it. Neighborhoods. Cities. Baronies. Nation-States. I guess geographical location still means something today—if you're living in one of a handful of backwater undeveloped locales. But for the most part, more than two centuries of the Net, and of migrations, and of telepresence has lead geographic location to mean very little beyond what to wear when you're going outside.
With orbital flights that can take anyone anywhere on the planet within a few hours, and high-speed long-distance communication systems that can let a user operate remotely from almost anywhere on the globe (and even from the far-flung reaches of the solar system, if one allows for a few minutes light lag), where one is physically located often means very little in determining one's opportunities. It also means very little in terms of what culture one absorbs. I might not speak the same language as my neighbors. And that might have once posed practical problems. But no more.
It also means that people don't feel as much of a connection to some particular geographic place or nation, and are much more willing and able to move where the winds may take them. This has resulted in a population that is very transient and fairly spread out. One no longer looks to the cities for jobs, as many jobs can just as easily be worked remotely. Population centers have spread out. One can no longer look at a region and say that region has some sort of homogeneous culture.
Decline of Nation-States
Once nation-states were the major actors on the world stage. The globe was neatly carved into its various geographical regions, each region had its political leaders and most people lined up behind them, as if those invisible lines called borders were more than just a collective delusion.
Well, nation-states are still around. But they're now the washed-up has-beens of the world stage. The comparative meaninglessness of geographic location and the readiness of the population to move across borders had lead to people not strongly identifying with nation-states. Sure, most people are a citizen of one or another—sometimes three or four. I'm also a citizen in three MMOs (massively-multiplayer online games). But few people are going to fight and die over that—at least in meatspace.
Couple this decline of identification with nation-states along with the general gutting direct public powers, and you get to where the world is now. Most people identify more with their subculture or corp then they do with that imaginary line they were born behind. A lot of people will keep the same citizenship their entire lives and not really think about it. Others will play the citizenship market, seeking the best tax-for-social-benefits deal available to them at the moment. They'll switch citizenships a thousand or more times in their lives.
I'm sure many nation-states familiar to you still exist and have long traditions behind them. But today they are mostly shells of their former selves. They still collect taxes from their citizens and persons operating in their territories. They still can employ military forces to protect their borders—although in practice that is mostly contracted out to private entities now. They provide some legal protections, and they have a court system—although this is also frequently contracted out. Almost all other social services come from a person's employer or are privately purchased.
With the decline of nation-states it was just a matter of time until something stepped up and fill the power vacuum. Subcultural and ideological groups did that to an extent, but the corps filled most of that vacuum. This was less of a revolution than a gradual handing off of power. Prisons handed off to corps. Schools handed off to corps. Retirement plans. Healthcare. Police forces. Road maintenance. Courts. The nation-states held onto their national armies for a long time, but eventually even those were handed over. In the last few decades the corps have even been realizing that they can skip the governmental middle-man, and get people to pay them directly for those services.
The effects of the corporate rise manifest in many ways. Children are educated in corp schools, which take the opportunity to cross-market to them other products produced by that school's parent corp and business partners. Militaries are manned by contracted corp soldiers whose first loyalties are to their paychecks. Oftentimes contracts are subcontracted out several levels deep, leaving accountability behind in a trail of paperwork.
All this is doubly true in space. The corps funded most of the early space exploration, and the grasps of Earth governments were never very strong out in the void. Most corps in space have gotten used to operating as a law unto themselves—much like the British East India Company of old.
Crime & Punishment
Here's something you might soon find relevant: If you run afoul of the powers that be, punishments are rather different than they were in your time—especially out here in space. Don't look at me like that! This is serious!
The good news is that capital punishments are a lot more rare—at least for the sort of crimes where a trial actually occurs. Back on Earth they'll mostly fine you or put you into stasis. Keeping a lot of criminals in stasis is expensive, but certainly less so than incarcerating them while awake for long periods of time. Fines tend to snowball indefinitely, and if you can't pay them you're looking at a term of indenture.
Out here in space, though, things are a bit different. Living space and life support are at a premium. Fines are still common, but when they don't suffice as punishment authorities look to exile or corporeal punishment. Exile is exactly what it sounds like, and the convicted party may not have a lot of say in where they're sent. Corporeal punishment: well, the removal of body parts is considered rather backward, but society has gotten rather good at inflicting large amounts of pain in a very cheap manner.
Crimes committed with the aid of implants will usually result in the forcible removal of those implants as part of the punishment. This is often accompanied by the offender being barred from legally attaining any similar implant from the same colony in the future.
Continued in the final Dark Future Shadows Over Sol preview next week… Meanwhile, check out the open beta test or download the Quick-Start!