Though Terran culture is vastly varied and non-Terran cultures are even more so, there are some features that still run widely through the majority of societies.
The common tongue of commerce for the Core and Corridor, and most of the home quadrant, is Terranic. This is descended from Terrene, which comes from Gaean, each language covering a smaller portion of the galaxy. All use a Roman alphabet, expanded for better phonetic representation, and supplemented by a small set of ideograms for pronouns, preposition, articles, conjunctions, auxilliary verbs, and a number of prefixes and suffixes.
No other piece of biotechnology has had so profound an effect on human culture – on any species' culture – as rejuvenation. Under a regime of regular medical care, the average human gets rejuvenated for the first time at age 40, and once every ten years thereafter. Once every century, or as need dictates, the average human should receive a more extensive reconditioning, called a "regeneration."
In a rejuvenating population, misadventure is the only significant cause of death. The result is that a rejuvenating population has a half-life (not a "life expectancy") of 1400 years, i.e. half of the current population will remain in 1400 years. To put it another way, each morning when the average person wakes, they have a 50% chance of living another 1400 years. This means the death rate is about 500 per million per year.
60% of the population will live to be a thousand. 10% of a given population remains after 4600 years, and 1% after 9200 years. In a city of one million, with stable population, 10,000 are under 20; that is, minors are 1% of the population.
General rejuvenation means draconian population control. Many methods are used, e.g.:
A society often uses a mixture of several methods.
Rejuvenation could be limited to an aristocracy of immortals, but this is not only ethically unacceptable to most societies, it is politically unstable, since the "immortals" would be unlikely to survive the resentment of the "mortals."
In all cases, the society must decide what to do about illegal births. Severe societies execute offenders and turn the orphans over to relatives or put them up for adoption. Lenient societies imprison or fine the offenders and reduce the available number of births in other ways, e.g. by regulation of a birthright lottery. There is a whole spectrum of intermediate solutions, e.g. simply recinding the immortality of offenders.
People have several different approaches to scheduling forever:
This is, of course, an informal taxonomy, and people may shift from one category to the other, or fall between them.
Because of the slow population turnover, social change also slows down. It is impossible to quantify social change, but the population turnover is about one twentieth of the pre-rejuvenation rate. So popular wisdom has it that a century of modern social history is equivalent to a mere five years of industrial-era social history. This proportion works either on long time periods or during peaceful periods. Turbulent periods and wars are not, thank goodness, expanded in duration by a factor of 20.
Along with the rate of social change, the whole pace of life slows down, and conduct becomes more formal and ceremonious. It is often said that modern life is in danger of seizing up, but the competitive advantages of speed and sheer natural impatience keep this tendency in check.
It has been said that schools of thought only change by the old guard dying out. With rejuvenation, they don't. One must wait for the old guard to retire and change careers, which takes a great deal longer. Science paradigms change on nearly geological scales. Basic theories get thoroughly explored. Technologies get thoroughly developed. Crafts like designing and building Q-drives become as ancient, in calendar time, as building wooden sailing ships. Art and fashion don't slow down as much, though, being pushed along by sheer boredom.
"Seniority" becomes very important, so that a (usually unofficial) gerontocracy sets in. After a while, people under a hundred (or two hundred, or three, or...) find themselves dismissed as too young to be considered seriously, though there is, in fact, little increase in talent or insight after the first century. As a result, people lie about their age when they can, adding centuries.
Children, being rare, are treasured. People find substitutes for children in pets, neo-beast wards, amnesians, "toy" AIs, or hobbies. Actual children run the risk of being spoiled, fussed over, crushed under great expectations, and otherwise burned by too intense a spotlight.
The psychological type of the only child predominates, combining the features of the "eldest" and "baby." The psychological types of the large family become rare – very few "middle" children.
There are not enough children to sustain a school system based on classes. Children are educated by a system of tutors. Education in classes happens, but for adults in continuing education.
Many societies have a custom of "grub-staking" the young; new adults are launched with a sizable and formal gift of money.
The age of adulthood tends to get pushed out, in a rejuvenating society. Perhaps 30 as the age of marriage, 50 as the voting age. Perhaps 100...
Contract marriages for 50 or 100 years becomes common, and become the norm in some societies. A 10-year contract is sometimes regarded as a bit frivolous. Some regard permanent marriage as impractical, while others regard it as a romantic ideal, and still others continue to regard it as de rigeur.
Divorce declines where contract marriage becomes common, since one can always just wait for the bad marriage to expire.
The fear of death becomes even greater. It is still inevitable, but only statistically, so people tend to feel that every death is preventable.
One result is that people tend to look for someone to blame for every death, someone who has been malicious or culpably careless. Often, this is the deceased, and people look for ways to prevent their own demise by the same accident.
Another result is a general increase in conservative timidity. This encourages the "stable" lifestyle. Some people become very reclusive. Those whose real lives are too safe to be interesting seek stimulation in various forms of adventurous entertainment – games, media, simularia. People of "adventurer" lifestyle are often rebelling against the tedium and phoniness of the recluses and entertainment addicts.
Other people confront the rising thanatophobia with philosophy or religion. This may become heroic, escapist, or morbid, depending on the individual. You have to come to terms with death in advance, though, because it is not going to make a slow approach and give you time to get used to the idea. Your death, when it happens, will almost certainly be a sudden accident.
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Are you what you were intended to be? "Intended" by your parents or designers, not by any inscrutable providence. People are no longer facts of nature. Genetic engineering inevitably creates a mind-set that regards people (of various species, but including human) as goods, products that should be up to standards. (It's even worse for AIs.)
Even unmodified baseline eo-humans are subject to this judging. After all, you were a planned pregnancy, and almost undoubtedly gene-screened, or, if not, why not? For every AI and neo-human, there is always the question, stated or not, of whether they are performing up to spec—and the spec may be a matter of public record. If the spec is not, one then wonders what was in the spec.
There are also standing temptations to commision the creation of people to fit the jobs you want done; the fact that you have a life expectancy in the thousands of years, and it only takes 20 years or less to whip up these people you want, only makes things worse.
Even if you weren't commissioned, your spec can limit you in society. Why should you be allowed to waste time and resources pursuing an opportunity you were not designed to pursue? Technically, your time and your money may be your own, but really, things would work out so much better if only you followed the spec...
"Why can't I take the accountancy course?"
"You wouldn't be good at it. You should take the art course."
"But I want to set up my own business and do art as a hobby."
"The planet needs another good artist more than it needs another mediocre businessman."
How the conversation goes from here depends on what sort of planet it is and how much weight it gives to things like who is paying for the accountancy course.
The Core, Anisel Shon, and Rete fight against the designer-people attitude, but even they allow the creation of sub-citizen sapients, e.g. robot servants.
The Terran Union is indifferent to it, so the incidence varies locally.
The Vegan Confederacy allows very tempered people design (as in the creation of AI partners for its Zone Agents); the designees have to be slated for a satisfying life, and they may not be property.
Keribor is fine with people design.
Plutocracies, jannisary worlds, taskmaster mechanarchies, genarchies, and many terraform empires thrive on it.
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Equality is still an issue, but not concerning human sexes or minor variations within baseline Homo sapiens. The question is what kind of equality, if any, is required among sapient species that are manifestly not the same, physically, intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually.
The issue is particularly intractable with neohumans. Every neohuman race is born in acrimony. Mainline humans and previous neohumans very reasonably see the new race as a challenge and an insult – "You aren't good enough. This is better." The new race is generally raised by its designers to be arrogant, or quickly develops that attitude on its own, if it isn't designed to be a servant race.
The general answer of egalitarians is that all sapients should have equal opportunity to prove their worth in any field.
Egalitarians urge equal treatment under law on the grounds that, if genetically enhanced people really are superior, they surely need no special legal consideration to show their worth. This sometimes works, most often as a carryover from times when the enhanced group was a vulnerable minority. But if the genetically enhanced are able to dominate a society, they may not be interested in proving or showing their worth, but only in arranging the society to their own advantage.
Another approach is encouraging noblesse oblige: what your superiority is for is helping those who are inferior. But this runs the risk of breeding condescension and resentment.
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There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
– Hamlet, Act I, scene v, 166-167
By the end of the 19th century, there was no border to the known world left on Earth; there were, at most, chinks and gaps in an ever more complete map of the Earth. Even moving out into the Solar System did not make a big difference. It restored big gaps, but the only people you might meet in those gaps were ones who had come from Earth fairly recently, and besides, the Solar System had clear and visible bounds.
All that changed when humans and other Terrans moved out into interstellar exploration. The boundary to the known is back, and back to stay for the duration of this civilization. The Corridor, with the Old Skies at one end and the Core at the other, is well-known and well-mapped, along with much of Earth's quandrant of the galaxy. But the maps peter out beyond Keribor and Anisel Shon to the east of the Corridor, and Rete and the Humanate to the west of it. A short way from the Core, the TranSaj is largely unknown, as are the Halo, the Magellanic Clouds, our other satellite galaxies, and the rest of the entire Local Group. Only distant astronomical surveys and sketchy exploratory missions fill in any of this blank.
A few past cycles of civilization have covered the entire Local Group, the "Extensives," but it seems unlikely ours will be one of them. The odds are against us, and we seem to be urging ourselves on toward transcendence too fast to last long enough. Even if we did, there is plenty of unknown universe beyond.
This chimes with the General Transcendence Theorem of philosophical logic to color attitudes and expectations. There is always an elsewhere for things to come from, or to escape or be exiled to. The fact that "there are more things in heaven and earth" cannot be put aside readily. Unease, romanticism, xenophobia, and xenophilia are all heightened.
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Psi roughly ties with alien contact for its massive impact on human culture, both in second place to rejuvenation. About one third of the human population has some form of psychic talent, and similar proportions hold for other races, including AIs. Classes in psychic skills are available in any large city, as karate or art classes are available now. It has had many social effects.
One effect is the use of commerical and judicial verifiers—people who can read the truth or falsity of others' words. Verifiers pre-date psionics, but they worked by patharchy; this form of verification was less reliable and much harder to cultivate. Good professional verifiers still use patharchic methods, for use on recorded and remote statements, and for use under psilence, but formal legal and commerical transactions can be verified telepathically with high reliability and generally are.
An artificial telepathy patch ("telepatch") can be incorporated into an artificial limb. This is just a hi-tech bionic limb if it replaces a lost natural limb. But it can also be used for additional limbs and organs—“splice jobs” in slang. A splice job contains cybernetic controls accessed by the telepatch, so strapping on a splice job, or taking it off, is like having new centers plugged into your brain, or pulled out again. This is traumatic, especially for beginners. Therefore splice jobs are illegal on some planets. Wings, prehensile tails, and extra arms are the most popular forms of splice job.
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
– "The Hound of Heaven," Francis Thompson
They haven't got no noses,
The fallen sons of Eve;
Even the smell of roses
Is not what they supposes;
But more than mind discloses
And more than men believe.
– "The Song of Quoodle," G. K. Chesterton
Telepathy greatly changes the relations between humans and beasts. Finally, we can understand each other reliably, on the conceptual level. For good and ill. The general result is to make it harder to treat animals cruelly or callously. It is a good thing that vat meat had largely replaced butchered meat before psionics came in.
We can now know what cats are staring at when they look into vacancy, and what the dog is barking at this time. They can know that we heard them and they can stop demanding supper, though this may not make a difference. More importantly, we can know when and where it hurts, not to mention the flowering of animal psychology. But some questions remain unanswered: "Why do you turn around three times before lying down?" "I want to." "But why do you want to?" "Huh?"
Telepathy with animals is normal at shallow levels, but animals have little or nothing comparable to a verbal level. A telepath must probe through the sensory level, down to the conceptual level, to communicate in a way you could call "talking to animals." This can present a problem if you can't mask or ignore the sensory level, since animal senses are so different—a dog's panoply of transhuman, directional smells; a bat or dolphin hearing shapes; many birds seeing hues in five or more primary colors; sharks feeling electricity; the mere difference in body shape for all of them.
Such telepathy with nonhuman senses, whether animal, AI, or ET, is called zeening. Some people find it fascinating. Others find it addictive or ecstatic. Still others find it horrifying and disorienting, and take psychological damage from it. As a result, some societies outlaw zeening, or strictly control it.
Another aspect of animal telepathy is that, like all telepathy, it is two-way. And it doesn't require sapient intelligence to learn. The galaxy is now well-stocked with psychic animals of all descriptions. Beasts that have experienced telepathy since infancy rarely suffer bad effects from zeening, but can, deliberately or accidentally, mount telepathic attacks on others who take zeening badly.
All in all, it is just as well that empathic contact is sufficient for most animal telepathy.
Telepathy with animals establishes which ones are sentient. For Terran species, this amounts to vertebrates and cephalopods. Some other invertebrates have the equivalent of unconscious mental processes that can be telepathically sensed, but no mainstream researchers believe the occasional claims of telepathic contact with plants or minerals; these are probably misperceived instances of clairvoyance, when they aren't just rumors. Probably.
Popular grasp of the distinction between psychic abilities and magic is shaky or nonexistent in many societies. The result is that superstition enjoys a renaissance in the psionic era. Here is a sampling of superstitions popular in Terran-dominated societies:
Worn on bracelets and necklaces, kept around as bric-a-brac, worked into ID cards and comm settings. They can be made by anyone, even in commercial mass production, but those made by "psychics" (or whatever the local hedge-wizards are called) are supposed to be specially good, of course. Examples:
There are also bad-luck charms, drawn on the pictures of enemies, tied to statues or dolls of them, or secretly packed in among their belongings (or, more publicly and rarely, mailed to or thrown at them):
Spells are pronounced, sung, written and burned, or written and used as charms. Verbal spells can be done by machine. There is a large and variable vocabulary of meaningless "power words" similar to "abracadabra." More specific spells are scraps of poetry or litany, preferably in English, though Latin, Greek, Mandarin, Ilden, tliggonic languages, and even Terranic are sometimes used.
Spells are usually thought to be strongest if done by a hedge-wizard ("psychic," "witch," etc.) or cleric, but anyone can try their hand.
Anyone with good observation, intuition, and people-skills can claim to be a psychic, especially if they really do have some psionic or patharchic skills (which the less-educated public generally fail to distinguish from each other) and a good knowledge of local superstition.
These folk tell fortunes, fix bad luck, find lost articles, make charms (see above) and do impromptu counseling, as they have for millennia. They no longer do much healing; that has been ceded to technology. They sometimes do detective work when the local authorities are feared, can't be bothered, or have proved useless.
Few people are hedge-wizards as a sole occupation. It is usually a side-line for entertainers, supported house-keepers, servants, minor clerics, or anyone who cares to try it.
Good luck: shooting stars, rainbows, sudden lulls in crowd noise or traffic, unexpected insects, the numbers 7,12, 13, or 14; ruins from earlier civilization cycles, first serving from a vessel, children
Bad luck: comm crashes at significant moments, the number 13, walking counterclockwise around sacred places, ruins from earlier civilization cycles, time-travel, desecration
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"Leaven" is psionic money.
Imagine that petroleum was just as generally useful and valuable as it is in the real world, but that it didn't come out of oilfields owned by governments and major corporations, but that most people had a small oil well in their back yards. Or think of a primitive economy where unskilled labor is still fairly valuable, so any normal person has a reasonable amount of value to trade.
This is what the leaven economies are like, only the medium of exchange is not oil or labor but nochrem (from "noetic chremata"), popularly called "leaven," or even "yeast" in slang.
Leaven is a psionic object that the large majority of adults can create with some training. (The process of making leaven is called "minting.") It is easily stored and transferred, and "easily aspected." It is both money and a very generally useful resource.
Anyone can use leaven to power psychic effects, including effects that require more power than a person can otherwise hold personally. FuRPiG example:
You have a capacity of 30 psi points, which means you could not normally lift more than 300 kg at one go by telekinesis, but if you have 60 points' worth of leaven, you can lift 600 kg with it – or 900 kg if you have all 30 of your own points to add to it.
Because of its easy storage and transferal, leaven can be moved around as easily as mundane money.
Because of the easy aspecting, it is easier to perform a psychic operation using suitably aspected leaven than to do the same operation under your own power. FuRPiG example:
Add +30% to your skill roll to do telekinesis with kinetically-aspected leaven rather than with your own personal psi.
Because of the easy aspecting, multiple psychics and psionic tools can work together, in serial or parallel, on a quantity of leaven to build up complex psionic effects. FuRPiG example:
A spacehand repairing the jump string on a voidsail uses leaven aspected specifically for jump-rigging.
The engineer who aspected it for jump-rigging got it from another engineer who had aspected it for general string-work.
The second engineer got it from an engineer who aspected it for pico-TK.
The third engineer got it from a technician who aspected it for TK generally.
The technician got it from the shipyard quartermaster, who got it from company stores.
The shipyard got it from a bank.
The bank got it from a grocer who is one of its clients.
The grocer got it from a random customer in return for three kilos of whale cheese.
The customer minted it themselves.
The general effect of leaven on a culture is to decentralize it and to reduce economic disparity, or at least put a lower limit on poverty. It also further promotes psychic skills in the general population. In a leaven economy, almost all adults and many minors have verbal-level telepathy and general psi sensitivity, besides minting and one or two other psychic skills. Some societies require certain minimum psychic skills, including minting, for legal adulthood.
Leaven cannot be created automatically; it must be made by a sentient mind of moderate abstractive abilities. It is entirely non-physical: someone minting it or using it appears to be doing nothing; someone holding a lot of leaven looks just the same after they give it to someone or put it in an object to store it. (If you know how to mint leaven, it is obvious how to move and store it.)
Not all leaven is the same; it is made to various recipes. Leaven varies according to the relative ease with which it is minted, moved and stored, aspected, and used. Different cultures favor different styles or "denominations" of leaven:
The Core's leaven is called fy. Fy circulates widely beyond the Core.
In the Corridor, the leavens riss and teeg are widely used.
In the Old Skies, the Terran Union uses zime and the Vegan Confederacy uses hylo. These old cultures also continue to use mundane currencies, the Terran mark and the Vegan bok.
Anisel Shon uses fy.
Keribor uses orss and does not permit zime or fy. It also uses the nent, a mundane currency.
Rete uses fy, riss, and teeg.
The Humanate uses fy and teeg.
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Sapidaries are general-purpose experts for hire. They combine the functions of:
Wealthy people may have a staff of several sapidaries, working for them exclusively.
Middle-class people often have one they turn to regularly, as they would turn to a family doctor.
The poor and dislocated occasionally call one up on as-needed basis.
A group of tourists staying for a long period may hire one as guide and interpreter.
Sapidaries are a common early stage for hypercompetents.
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If people live for a very long time in a culture with psychotechnic teaching methods, and if they are very determined, they can become good at everything. Hypercompetents are very rare, but they are disproportionaly influential. The Acrotects of Earth, the Solar and and Imperial Champions of the Eighth Solar Empire, and the Zone Agents of Vega are all hypercompetents.
In terms of a FuRPiG character sheet, hypercompetents have very simple skill lists:
99% — Their Job
XY% — Go Critical (their job)
90+% — Everything Else
The only variation is twiddling the Go Critical meta-skill and the exact level of expertise in Everything Else.
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With high-tech communications and transport technology, self-reproducing bio-tech, and immaterial psi-tech, it becomes less and less necessary for people to live together in large groups in order to prosper. Most planets have cities, centered on trade or the manufacture of those items that cannot be made locally, but more and more population migrates to small villages. There is a slowly growing number of deserted cities, and of deserted neighborhoods in populated cities. To a degree, city life is sustained by habit and fashion rather than by economic pressure.
Meanwhile, in the villages, farmers grow high-efficiency transgenic crops and vat-foods, tending them with bio-psi, while much of the mechanical technology, including communications and transport, is made and maintained by psychic craftsmen assisted by locally grown bio-tech tools.
The upshot is a village of hedge-wizards with ready access to a galaxy-wide network of travel and communication.
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Examples of this type [of anti-crime] include breaking-and-decorating, proffering-with-intent, and whitemailing (for example threatening to reveal a mobster's donations to charity).
– Reaper Man, Terry Pratchett
Amalo means secretly plotting to do others good. Amalo is characteristic of societies with Darbrin Klo ratings of Normal or better. It is an Ilden word, entering Terranic as a verb: "I amalo," "It amalos," "I was amaloed," "They are amaloing," "She's an amaloer."
Unlike Pratchett's anti-crime, which is intended to humiliate, amalo is purely benign in intent, though it can still be quite a shock to the target. Our nearest equivalents are surprise parties and gift shopping.
High-DK-status societies vary greatly in how they pursue amalo. In some, it is completely informal; in others, there are elaborate secret societies, star-spanning benign comspiracies, with codes of honor and scoring systems for counting coup. These culminate in the Institute of Luck.
Some people are willing to break laws in pursuit of amalo, and in some high-DK-status societies this law-breaking "doesn't count," at least for some laws. This can, of course, result in culture-clash.
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My beloved monster and me,
We go everywhere together.
Wearing a raincoat that has four sleeves
Gets us through all kinds of weather.
– "My Beloved Monster," The Eels
Blood-sibling relationships – bloodsibs – started as an azwari custom. Each partner made a small cut in a paw of the other and licked off the blood, thereby adopting each other as siblings. Humans were struck by the resemblance to blood-brotherhood rites of Earth, and more struck by how common such relationships were among azwars, and how seriously they were taken. Humans adopted the custom, and through them it has spread throughout civilization. The most important feature of the modern form of the relationship is that it freely crosses species.
Because of biological constraints, the details of the rite are modified. Samples of blood or analogous fluids from all the parties (usually a pair) are put in a vessel and heated until there is nothing left but a residue of charcoal. The charcoal powder is then mixed in water (or ammonia) and drunk by all the parties. Even AIs can participate, though this may require the use of fuel cells to do the "drinking" and sometimes they contribute current for the heating process rather than any fluid.
The blood-sibling relationship is not transitive; if your brother has a blood-brother, that blood-brother is not therefore related to you. But there is a natural hope that the two sets of relatives will be friendly.
In many places, including most of the Core, blood-siblings are legally counted as immediate family. In most places, there are at least public registries of bloodsibs, or traditional tokens or keepsakes of the relationship. Keribor does not allow bloodsibs, though they flourish illegally there. The Humanate does not allow humans to take non-human blood-siblings and makes no legal recognition of non-human bloodsibs. Most genarchies make no official recognition of bloodsibs, though they are not illegal and thrive informally. The Terran Union keeps government records of bloodsibs. The Vegan Confederacy encourages all member states to count bloodsibs as immediate family. Bloodsibs thrive in Rete, despite the shortage of actual blood.
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The only wide-spread interspecies fraternal organization. The basic idea is that eating together will promote good will and social cohesion. Accordingly, they have group meals as a central ritual. The local Commensal institution is the Hall, the dining hall of course. Meals are held on some locally agreeable schedule and are pot-lucks.
The Commensality has to deal with crossing metabolic boundaries. If you are the only member of your species attending, and can't eat the other members' food, it becomes a bring-your-own-lunch affair. To keep things as commensal as possible, people can contribute with bits of rock candy or bottles of water, which are consumable by almost anything, even machines with fuel cells. (Even then, you have to consider the chirality of the sugar, sometimes, and there are some creatures based on ammonia, not water.) At the very least, you can write a check contributing to the running of the Hall.
For most species, eating together implies a mild degree of social intimacy. For some, it implies a lot of intimacy, family feeling. Both of these directly play into Commensality. There are a few species that instinctively prefer to eat alone, but even these can make the violation of this preference into a spiritual discipline, though it has to be admitted that this doesn't happen a lot.
Non-member guests are, of course, always welcome, and many Halls in poor areas run soup kitchens. They put on feasts for local festivals, and promote block-party style community bashes, where they give away some food items and sell others cheaply. The Commensality frequently works with other fraternal organizations and charities.
If the Commensality were working in a modern American city, it would, perhaps, share quarters with a large Masonic hall, where it would hold pot-luck dinners on every Sunday night and every possible holiday, run a soup kitchen and a charity pantry, deliver food to the bereaved for all member families or any families that a member points out, have a meals-on-wheels program for shut-ins, run snack stands in public places from Halloween through New Year's Day, plus food-intensive block-parties on Thanksgiving and Independence Day.
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Widespread forms of society include:
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All the usual vices continue in popularity, but there are also some new ones, made possible by new technology:
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These vary wildly through the galaxy, even among Terrans, but Terran Space, the Core, and the Corridor between share many.
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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2010