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Feudal Technology
This started as a comment to this post in worldbuilding, but when I posted I realised that I’d written enough for a whole new post. So, I’ll repeat it here.

Consider a world (or country, empire, what-have-you) that is “modern,” yet is still feudal in political structure. The problem of how such a feudal world can make good use of technology while still maintaining its power structure requires special consideration. My solution was that technology would be handled by a priesthood, mystifying it and subjecting it to ritual and taboo. A highly structure and rigid priesthood would be called for, elaborate and rich in tradition in the same way that Catholicism is elaborate and rich.

To address the effects of technology and education, make them fall under the domain of the dominant religion. Throw a shoud of holiness over various parts of technology and taboo over others, and create a priesthood to manage it all.
  • The people have access to only those kinds of technology that won’t undermine the noble class. Most importantly, they don’t understand technology as anything more than “magic”. The more advanced the basic components of the tech they handle, the better. Education in any sciences obviously needs to be controlled.
  • The elite technopriests are indoctrinated with religious dictates that prevent them from exploring areas apart from their sand-boxed specialty, allowing the rapid development characteristic of modern tech while preventing the lower castes of priests from knowing too much.
  • The high technopriests must be heavily invested in the existing political structures, as having access to all the possibilities of technology requires that they severely limit the uses it’s put to. (If you’ve read Brave New World, think of the World Controllers.) They might instead have very strong “it’s for the best” attitudes about it while carefully meting out the tech necessary for civilisation to run and holding back anything that would be dangerous. There could be a mix, the smartest being the most “for the best”-minded, the less imaginative ones being more enmeshed in the power structures. Who knows, there are myriad motivations that can be explored.
  • The possiblities for rogue technopriests of any caste is a goldmine of RP: rogue lower caste priests could “leak” technology bits to the “wrong” people; rogue high technopriests could try to dominate the noble power structure with their iron grip on the technology they depend on, or get involved with some other kind of intrigue.
The Foundation series touches on this idea at one point, but there the priests are just the decendents of the technicians who weren’t lynched. Technology has stagnated into superstition and a dwindling collection of machines that are slowly falling apart. A vibrant technological society would be a very different thing, but that’s what initially inspired the above (somewhat sleep-dep addled) thoughts.

Thoughts? Any improvements, elaborations, or problems? Any ideas of what the non-religious, non-technological parts of such a society (empire, world, country, etc) would look like?

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Just keep the serfs in big ghettoes called third world countries.

Or, oops.


my thoughts exactly. This isn't too far off from what we have now.

I don't remember Foundation so much. What do serfs do in a society that has advanced technology?

Modern agricultural workers need a lot of skills and knowledge. If they were kept to using feudal methods, the techno-class would suffer. But give them access to the training and machines needed to do real work, and in two generations you've got unions and Noam Chomsky.

Bottom line, technology isn't produced by a cadre of smart people, it's produced by the whole culture. IMO the society would have to be in slow decline in overall wealth and knowledge.

It would require very heavy indoctrination by the world church. There would be a lot of resources put into managing the "flock" and making sure that anyone with technical aptitude beyond their job's requirements would be "promoted" into the priesthood.

It would help if there was some "miracle" that proved the power of the church. Maybe an implant in all the faithful that allows them to use Church magic (tech) without being killed on contact? Excommunication would suck.

I'm not sure what the serfs would do, but it would have to be something that didn't allow them to see behind the curtain: no manufacturing jobs.

One ideas is that they donate brain-cycles. Part of their daily devotions is to hook them into a "divine" machine that uses their wetware to run a global computer? They'd dream strange, surreal dreams as their neurons were tweaked for things the human brain isn't equipped to interpret. They'd help run the industrial complex without being aware of anything "dangerous."

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