Given the turn my personal life has taken lately, mortality is one thing that’s been cropping up now and then. Strangely enough, I had not too long ago just re-read a book series based on DOOM. The twist was that we were the only known intelligent lifeform in the known universe that was not functionally immortal.
Without giving away everything else, I do need to explain a bit as it goes into my thoughts on this topic. The situation with the other intelligent races was that they could not die, at all. They bodies could be damaged or break down, but once the body was repaired they would be back to normal. While they may or may not be able to act, and they would be able to feel pain the whole time, they would still be fully cognizant of their surroundings and fully conscious, barring maybe some form of sleep as I can’t remember if that was a thing. If the body was destroyed or sufficiently rendered unusable, their spirit or soul would disconnect and remain in that area as a sort of ghost, able to see and hear but unable to interact in any way with the world around them. The fact that humans did not do this scared the living crap out of the other races.
Side note: writing about this is making me think of the way Transformers are handled in the modern fiction for it – as long as their spark is intact, their body could be trashed and they could still be fixed. The only difference is with TFs their spark could be extinguished.
Anyways, thinking about this reminded me of some parallels with Tolkein’s elves. The elves themselves were also fairly immortal, though there was little said about what happened to an elf who was intentionally killed that I can recall. The thing is, they were unable to leave the world, while humans were able to go beyond to an unknown existence once they passed on, and the elves considered this a gift given to that race by their creators. Eventually the elves grew weary of the world, and retreated to a paradise of sorts among that universe’s equivalent of deities, but they could never truly travel beyond the end of the universe like humans did when they died.
That train of thought led me to consider what a society of functionally immortal people might look like.
First, with murder no longer an option, unconsensual torture would become the ultimate crime. I’ll go over why I added the word unconsensual later but for now, consider the fact that without death, suffering from pain could be continued to the point of madness, depending on the tortured person’s strength of will. Basically, it’d have all the makings of rape cases, but without needing the sex angle to force their power on someone else. You also can’t just get rid of all pain, as it’s a very important indicator of damage to the body. Without it, you might not realize your feet are on fire, and cutting it out would lead to people damaging themselves beyond easy repair without even knowing it until its too late.
My second point returns to that idea of consensual torture. Even today, with fully mortal people, there are folks out there who derive pleasure from pain, whether receiving or giving it. Take away the risk of death, and you can go a looooot farther- assuming that it’s not the risk itself that makes it pleasurable.
Speaking of pleasures and entertainment, that’s another huge potential pitfall any such society would have to monitor. Doing the same thing, day in and day out, is already known to be boring within several years. What about 100 years later, assuming nothing changes? Would you be able to do the same thing day in and day out for 100 years? I doubt it. Just as vanilla sex can get boring and lead to more and more unusual sexplay to “spice up” a love life, other pursuits will become stale and these immortal people will look for ways to “spice up” their lives in general. This I think is one of the more interesting parts of this thoughtline – the different ways this could go.
The first option I see I’ll call the “Dark Eldar” option, as that’s a good example of it. As the folk continue to live, they become more and more jaded, and go to more and more extreme lengths for a novel experience. Morals and conscience are eventually left behind, sacrificed on the altar of new life experiences, eventually leading to a society we would consider demons straight from hell. And hey, there’s an idea for a story or campaign right there!
The second option, which I’ll call the “Sleeper” option, is one that may have been explored previously, but seems like an interesting idea to me. As folk start to become world-weary, they are put to sleep for a couple hundred years, using cryogenics or some magical equivalent. Once they come back from their slumber, they would then find a presumably changed world, with new things and experiences to explore. This would also be a way to address resource issues, which is something I don’t intend to touch on here. Development would likely not slow down in this case, as newer folks would continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible as they are not weary of the world yet, and then when they grow weary, they could “rest” while the returned folk learn what happened while they were out and continue the work. There’s still a danger of eventually drifting into option 1 if progress slows or stops, but this would be one potentially healthy way to address the issue of world-weariness.
The third option could be termed the “Fae” option, as it is along the lines of your typical fantasy elves. It follows the idea that with the longer lives(in this case unlimited), there’s less drive to do anything worthwhile. Progress would slow to a crawl as there’s no ticking time bomb to try and make something of themselves before they go. Life would become ephemeral and passive, and the immortals in this case would simply drift through life without any sort of care, dancing, singing, playing, doing nothing but meaningless things. Eventually, this could lead to stagnation and decay, and potentially could end up drifting into Dark Eldar territory if they started to take a more active role rather than the passive one that this option embodies. Rather than trying to change the world, they let the world change them and drift through it like a breeze or slow stream.
Option four could be best labeled the “Amnesia” option, as that is what it essentially is. This borrows a bit from some Transformers lore, where some ‘bots reportedly were so old they forgot things despite being computers, because they ran out of “memory space” and erased old memories or overwrote them with new experiences. We would ahve the same approach here where an immortal may only remember a couple hundred years of the mundane parts of life, and only the most major events stick with them across the aeons. The immortals would never become truly tired of the world because there’d always be new things for them to (re-)experience, but over the years they could become someone completely different as they lose experiences and gain new ones. There is a risk here of becoming stuck in a progress treadmill, but presumably written records would allow knowledge to be preserved against the collective amnesia. Still, that’s one risk only perhaps the Fae option shares.
Option five is probably the most extreme, and could be termed the “Cthulhu” option. Given aeons to live, rather than adapting but remaining something that our current minds could comprehend, these immortals would become something else, something other. Their personalities and motives would become strange and unnatural to our mindset as they assimilate the truths of the universe that we might never be able to comprehend in our limited lifetimes. Given that, they may even be able to transcend their existence to something unknowable to us, ala the Elder Gods or Great Old Ones of Cthulhu mythos, or the energy beings such as the Q and Organians in Star Trek.
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