Worldbuilding: Politics and Reincarnation

People do politics. It’s human nature, unfortunately. Get three people into the same room, sooner or later two of them are going to pressure the third to go along with something – subtly or not. This makes life tricky enough in the world we know, where for better or worse your alliances and enmities with any individual end with their death.

But what happens when you add reincarnation to the mix? Especially if some of those reincarnated have significant memories from their past lives?

…Then things get complicated.

Of course there’s the classic, “Demon Lord reborn, Hero reborn to face him” scenario. You have to feel for both sides of that mess, especially if the poor Demon Lord at least started out trying to live a normal life. Until, of course, his Minions of Evil tracked him down….

That’s the interesting part more stories ought to tackle. If reincarnation is known to happen, suddenly grudges – and alliances – ripple out a lot farther, and last much, much longer.

Take the whole “Demon Lord and Hero do a mutual kill” scenario. If one or both sides know the pair may come back, they’re going to be looking for them. And if they find them….

Resulting events will range from the benevolent to the grimmest extreme. Some I can think off offhand include: Taking in your reborn ally to teach them again and better so they win next time. Taking in your reborn enemy and trying to turn them to your side with the Power of Friendship and found family, so when they do recover memories of evil/good they will, at the least, be torn and might even pull a Heel-Face/Face-Heel Turn. Taking in an enemy or ally and sealing their memories so they live a normal life. On the grimmest side of the scale, grabbing your enemy when he’s most helpless and either imprisoning them so they can never get out… or tracking them down and killing them while they’re still powerless. Over and over and over again.

Yeah. Dark, that one.

A thing that strikes me about that darkest scenario is, it might not be either the Minions of Evil or hidebound Good At All Costs people who’d go to those lengths. I could easily see that “track both sides down and kill them” done by people who want to stay neutral.

After all, they saw the last Demon War. Or they have legends of it. Sure, maybe the Hero saved the world at the last possible moment – but that didn’t stop the Demon army from wiping out innocent lives, kingdoms, maybe even whole continents. Wouldn’t it be better just to stop the mess before it can start again? No Hero, no Demon Lord, no war. I can see people thinking it. Believing it. Dedicating their lives and descendants to carrying the Plan out.

(Yes, there are some Assassin’s Creed vibes here. I’ve read some really snarky AC crossover fics; Desmond rocks.)

It might even work for a while. But I suspect that after a few centuries of the Hero and Demon Lord being silently killed off, other people would end up filling those roles. Because politics, and power, and human (or demon) nature. Meaning the original Hero and Demon Lord might finally reincarnate without being noticed, and things go boom….

Another interesting story-seed might be, what if it’s not the Hero or Demon Lord, but one of their allies who’s reincarnated? The great and powerful Sage, the Dragon, the mighty Warrior, the ominous Necromancer. Does someone come looking for them? Does more than one group come looking? Do they get snapped up by friend or foe, or do they make a break for it until they can find out what’s going on?

“Happy 16th birthday! You’re the Demon Lord’s High Executioner reborn!”

…Yeah. Murphy’s gonna love sending that story down in flames….

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55 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Politics and Reincarnation

  1. Your Demon Lord and Hero example doesn’t even have to be a reincarnation thing. I’ve seen several manga (most of them rather one note, but still) that have the role of Hero and Demon Lord being a sort of almost divine appointment where periodically one will pop-up or there will be “signs” pointing towards the emergence of one or the other and both always play a major role in the politics of the land.

    Usually involving corrupt institutions who seek to guide/control the “Demon Lord” or the “Hero” for their own profit and power, but the idea is still there and still implemented even if it lacks nuance for the most part.

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  2. Cue the Neutral faction killing off anyone who fits the signs, whether they’re the reincarnates or not.

    Alternately, different factions have different opinions on which figures are the heroes and which are the villains in their histories/mythologies. If the good guys and bad guys aren’t phenotyped for easy ID, ‘good’ might well mean ‘brought prosperity to _us_, even if others suffered’.

    -Albert

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  3. There’s also the fact that politics changes pretty quickly.
    The major political issues at one time will be completely different than the issues 10 years later.
    A few generations later and the factions will be different, with different people, even if they have the same name.

    Tack on the tendency for history to be written by the winners and you have a recipe for complete misunderstanding.

    “I won’t let you raise an army of demons and destroy humanity!”

    “What are you talking about? I raised an army in rebellion against King Bob for reasons X, Y and Z. The fact that I had to go through a few countries to do it was purely secondary. Since Kind Bob dies centuries ago, I have no reason to do any of those things.”

    ***

    Or you could have the reincarnated people assuming that their out-of-date politics are still relevant.

    “I will bring freedom to the beast-folk!”

    “The beast-folk are now the ruling class.”

    “…”

    ***

    One scenario I’d really like to see is some Mastermind Villain reincarnated.

    On the one hand, they haven’t done anything… yet.
    On the other hand, you know for a fact that they are more devious than you are so if they do “go evil” again, you’ll only find out when it’s too late.

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  4. This assumes anyone knows reincarnation is even something to watch out for. If it gets labeled as something else (especially if that thing is known to randomly crop up)… things get interesting in terms of what people do with it. Especially once they find out this thing they know how to deal with is actually related to reincarnation. What if they didn’t know it was what was actually going on?

    If the signs of reincarnation only start showing once people are adults, that could to even out some of the worst reactions people could have. Especially if the reincarnation (or remembering it at least) turns out to be random.

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      1. Oooh, what if it’s a “known thing” and it’s wrong?

        Final Fantasy 14 has a group of dragon-men who believe they are reincarnated if they die “well.”
        Problem: they don’t have enough kids to replace their losses, and their “sign” of reincarnation is basically “hey, you were born at the right time, so you must REALLY be a great archer, we just have to figure out how to remind you of what you knew in your last life!”

        They didn’t go much into it, but that’d be a rather fun/interesting story.

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      2. Pedantic Reply: But Foxfier the Au’ra aren’t dragons!

        On a more pertinent note, in the wider scope of things, especially with regards to Shadowbringers reveleations, the idea that they’re wrong – which was definitely the one we were meant to get (though whether that was the original intent or the localization team putting their own spin on things) – has taken a major hit.

        It’s entirely possible that they’re quite correct in their belief but that the mix of combat losses and a misunderstanding of what it means to have the same soul are throwing them off.

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      3. Well before that point it’s established that souls re-enter the… I think it’s life stream… and then come back out, that’s why the folks we see entering the life-stream when it’s not by death come back out damaged, if by some miracle they come back at all.

        And the Au’ra are so totally dragons. They’re lizard-flavored very humanish beast-men with horns.

        https://static.wikia.nocookie.net/finalfantasy/images/0/02/Au_Ra_Artwork.png/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/1000?cb=20141220151625

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      4. Shadownringers’ plot relys on reincarnation (a) being a thing that happens with all souls, (b) people reincarnating with same personalities they had in this life they had in their last life and (c) remembering really, really traumatizing events over multiple reincarnations. And… just about no one knew this was actually going on until Shadowbringers happened. Except maybe the Ascians, who are in denial about a lot of things so they can keep their supposed moral high ground.

        The leader of the Au’Ra tribe that believes in reincarnation actually acknowledges that they are taking a break from warring at the current time because they need to have more kids… so the people who have died can get reincarnated. Although given their culture is pretty much… a PG Mongol Horde that’s been around for a few millennia… they’re probably pros at making sure they have enough kids to not die out that way. Let alone not giving the dead enough opportunities to reincarnate.

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      5. They’re very insistent that they’re not dragons.

        Also Shadowbringers confirms that reincarnation IS A THING in-universe. It’s hell complicated and there’s some major spoilers involved that I don’t want to spoil because I managed to avoid spoilers and was absolutely blown away by the latest story content.

        Though, interestingly enough we don’t actually get the full mechanics of how it works given to us. Also, when I said that they were misunderstanding what it meant to have the same soul I actually meant that literally. They may be correctly identifying that a) the soul has returned and b) who that soul was in the previous life, but their belief on what that means is pretty mistaken. (…or is it? The Warrior of Light is special, but are they THAT special?)

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      6. They are the children of the “Dawn Father and Dusk Mother”.

        They were separate (in some stories fighting) they made two groups of totally-not-dragon-men (again, method varies depending on story), they became lovers, very tragic, modern totally-not-dragon-men are their descendants.

        In world, at the absolute least all of the most-human groups are interfertile, explicitly including the totally-not-dragon-men. (I am still quite sure that a certain pink princess we meet in the game started out as a what-if about Peach and Bowser.)

        Given that there are multiple ancient groups that totally could’ve made a more human-ish species, and one of them sealed a freaking super-primal-dragon-thing into a moon (not a spoiler it’s the opening premise– that’s what the Realm is being Reborn from in A Real Reborn)….

        Well, I can see why they’d insist they’re not dragons and give it no more credence than if my character were to yell that Miqo’te are not cats.

        https://ffxiv.gamerescape.com/wiki/Category:Races

        (I also make the argument that the The Elezeb are not elves, the Hyur are not humans, the Lalafell are not halflings/littlefolk, and the Roegadyn are like TOTALLY not halfway between Japanes ogres and orcs. My cheek and tongue may hurt for a while if I do, though. Oh! And the bunny Amazons and lion men, too! Er, neither? Whatever….)

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      7. Actually in FF XIV the narrative is pushing the idea (taken with some salt because Ascians are the primary source) that all the various races are actually human subspecies modified into such by either the Pre Sundering Ascians or the post-sunder Ascians through their puppets like the Allagan Empire. Given that these races all exist on the other worlds/shards this suggests that they existed pre-sundering.

        There’s also some evidence that it is possible to interbreed between the races but so far I only know of two cases where it’s actually confirmed to have – an Elezen/Hyur crossbreed and a Garlean/Hyur crossbreed.

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      8. The underwater princess quest chain in the totally-not-storybook-Japan area– I think it’s an option, but vaguely remember it’s connected to a dungeon, significantly before the flood part– and you forgot about the Allagan crystal tower storyline.

        (:runs through it a few times to make sure that won’t make sense until you have actually DONE the story:)

        I hadn’t actually counted the Garleans as a spinter-race, because they only have the…in-universe problem and notable trait… when they’re pure.

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  5. Yeah, I find this inspirational. Thanks.

    Not obvious I have anything useful to make of it.

    One new to me thought: Once you have two or more otherworlds in the same multiverse, with the yuusha(hero)/maou(demon king) system, and someone summoned from Earth, the question of Earth’s local cognates to the hero and maou comes into play. Which is more of a question if the position is associated with serial reincarnation on the other world. Hadn’t thought the matter over before, but on a low mana earth, a Hero and a Demon King might be perfectly mundane humans to all tests.

    I more often think on the issue of the ‘bureaucrat celestial being reincarnates someone to another world’. Bureaucracies are product of cultures, civilizations, and economies. This thing of negotiating with the subject is a constraint on behavior that I find myself searching for an explanation for. Where do these celestial beings come from, why are they bureaucrats, and why would consensus or formal agreements be important to them?

    Reincarnated as someone with a tragic past destiny/historically dictated future fits better with a dark fantasy where the mechanisms involved are faceless and unpersuadable. I have found myself searching for ways to justify being reincarnated from Earth into a reincarnation of a previous maou. Specifically, a reincarnation of the previous maou in the same way as Blade Dance. Easier to justify with a Bastard! style dark wizard sealed inside the body of a child.

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    1. Given that the Celestial Bureaucrat idea originates from Japan which has had close ties (rarely good ones, but still close) with China for a long time and China’s long had the idea of a Celestial Bureaucracy (I don’t know for sure, but I think the West might have stolen the idea of a bureaucracy from China in the distant past) that’s probably where this whole thing is modeled on.

      If it isn’t just an excuse for blatant wish fulfillment.

      On another track, I’m reminded of an idea I’ve rarely seen implemented particularly well, but the idea of a reincarnation that only becomes evident as an adult has been played with by having the Demon King and Hero be childhood friend and/or lovers. It’s usually used to split them up and have DRAMA or as a trite comedic premise.

      But I’ve got to wonder how would it go if it was played seriously and the two were actually married with children when suddenly they’re told they’re supposed to be mortal enemies by two very powerful political factions who have agendas?

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      1. Origins of bureaucracy is a little bit of an interesting topic.

        Struik’s Concise History of Mathematics includes a discussion that pretty heavily implies bureaucracies in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

        But there is apparently some evidence for agriculture in East Asia going back 40k years, so true origin may be very far back.

        China has long had inhabited places. See, apparent evolutionary history of the rat. Certainly, the bureaucracies have been in place for a number of generations. That can lead to assuming that they are a rule of nature, rather than something whose powers are an artifact of some human societies.

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    2. How about video games? Or plays?

      You play the Demon Lord class once, and it’s noted down in your Eternal Profile, and you know how paper pushers can be…..

      “You are King Oberon reincarnated!”
      “But… but I was only Oberon ONCE! I was substituting for the primary actor, and then the theater blew up!”
      “You were King Oberon at your death, now you are returned to life!”

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  6. And on the purely mechanical side, “how does this set of metaphysics work? what are the mechanics of the reincarnation/etc?” Because most people seem to think “all reincarnation is made equal, and what works for one works for all”, when it _really doesn’t_.

    You can’t even just look at the metaphysics of “reincarnation” on its own, you have to look at _all_ the metaphysics of a setting as a whole. How does this version of reincarnation interact with this version of what souls are, let alone with this version of how destiny/fate/etc works?

    I’ve seen plenty of people complain about one, while ignoring that what we’re shown of another of those factors means the one they’re complaining about _cannot work the way they’re complaining about it working_ without inherently preventing the other factor from working the way it is _shown to work in the story_. Because everyone has their own view of what the words mean “as words”, and can’t seem to consider “they may mean something different in this particular setting”.

    Using another thing as an analogy, when a fantasy setting talks about magic people having “familiars”, what is meant? There’s a big difference between “perfectly normal mundane pet with a fancy name because of what the owner is”, and “magically enslaved/controlled but otherwise mundane pet”, or “mundane critter magically made into a physical extension of the master’s soul/mind, that is effectively usable as merely another part of the master’s body”, and neither of those gets into “construct of magical energy in the form of an animal, and programmed with a facsimile of animal behavior and service to the master”, let alone “demon or other magical/spiritual creature bound by magical contract to serve the master”. And treating any use of the term “familiar” as if it was “just this one form that I happen to think is what it truly means” without actually looking into “what does it mean in _this_ setting” is bound for problems. Especially if it’s the _author_ making that mistake.

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    1. There’s definitely a bunch of ways you can play with reincarnation to get skewed results.

      For example, if the Hero has the “Power of Light” which can only be used by the “Power of Friendship” that’s straightforward.
      If they reincarnate without their memories and grow up different, would the inherited power compel behavior? Would they be unable to use it? What would it be like to have everyone line up and tell say you don’t have enough friends and you need to fix it?

      Or a potentially squicky issue, True Love.
      If two people loved each other in one life, is that a guarantee they will love each other in the next?
      What if they grow up with very different attitudes? Prejudices?

      “Hey, the oath said ‘until death do we part’ and guess what…”

      Every once in a while you’ll encounter a story with the “Demon King’s Heart” and the “Demon King’s Brain” and the “Demon Kings Left Spleen.”
      Usually this is done to diversify the boss into a series of mini-bosses.
      What if you really dove into the differences?
      Or if the Hero had a similar split?

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      1. That was actually part of my point.

        Get down into things like “is the soul an emergent property of sufficiently complex brains/bodies? If so, then reincarnation is both logically impossible, _and_ potentially can happen multiple times simultaneous, depending on how you look at it.” If souls are emergent properties of the complexity of the brain/body, then theoretically if you can perfectly duplicate the brain/body, you get an identical soul, so duplicating the body more than once gives you more than one “identical soul”. But at the same time, because of the soul being a property of the body, there is no “past soul changing/influencing/replacing current soul”, because the soul is a _result_ instead of a _cause_. Even attempting to “force” a foreign soul into a body would not work long-term, because with the soul being a result of the body, the foreign soul would be changed by the body it inhabits.

        If “the body is an emergent property of a soul”, then it goes the other direction. Reincarnation would be theoretically possible, but you’d only ever have one version at a time, and there would be no problem of “replacement” because “it’s always been that person anyway”. If the body is the emergent result of the soul, then changes to the body will not affect the soul directly, and the soul would tend to revert those changes fixing the body back to the form that fits the soul that is creating/maintaining it. In this case, if you put a foreign soul into a body, the body would show that.

        Obviously, those are just the extreme ends of that thought-exercise, and the more likely for any setting would be a less extreme version, but you see how things aren’t as obvious as they first appear.
        Backtracking from the results you see, if a setting has reincarnation be possible, you can automatically exclude the “body is real, soul is extra if it’s there at all” of materialism. The exact details of what _is_ true may not be immediately obvious, but there’s knock-on effects that go into areas not normally even considered. Which is part of why many settings that have reincarnation and souls, especially if they also have things like destiny/fate, or “true love” or “soul bonds” or such, tend to end up getting more and more broken and self-contradictory the more you delve into the details.

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    2. “Familiar” literally means a member of the household. At some point (looks like 14th century), it seems to have blended together the sense of familiar as “a person I hang around with, or a close friend” with famulus, which means “household servant.”

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      1. I was specifically using it in reference to fantasy. Each of those “different things” it could be, is something it _is_ in at least one fantasy story I read, or anime I saw. And I cut the list way short. I didn’t include things like “magical construct that scanned the body and brain of some target creature’s corpse and used that as a base template, and then added an overlay of the master’s brain patterns as well, so it’s technically a separate creature but one that thinks similarly but not identically to the master” because then it’d have really gotten too long.

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  7. It has been a few years and I dropped off following the author who went into Urban Fantasy Romance genre ugh… but Katherine Kerr had a series of novels of Deverry that I much enjoyed! Cycles of reincarnation were not widely known but following a cast of characters from life to life as one character didn’t die until a certain tangle of Wyrd might be sorted sort of thing. I do recommend and want to track down for a reread. I only own two books very much towards the end of the series. Begins Daggerspell then Darkspell I believe.

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  8. I could easily see that “track both sides down and kill them” done by people who want to stay neutral.

    Which is where the real politics in a three person room come from. 😀

    Politics is war by other means. Which means. Politics aren’t actually evil, just the over-use of them is!

    *********

    It seems like the longer the cycle is broken, the more likely it is that the ways to accurately identify the Hero and the Demon Lord are going to be broken– so it starts out as a check list of 45 things that all have to be, and then ends up being two or three characteristics THIS area happened to remember, which are kind of close, gets you warehoused as an infant and slaughtered if you walk into town. Say, the Demon Lord always has red hair– literally teh color of blood. Morphs into, you do NOT want to use henna on your hair or be a strawberry blonde in this area.

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    1. Actually…now that I think about it, if the Demon Lord/Hero reincarnation thing happens within a generation or two of one or the other getting offed then you only need to have it disrupted for four or five generations until the “Neutral Faction” ends up being tagged as a bunch of murderous lunatics because most people will think that the whole Demon Lord/Hero thing isn’t real without a reincarnated Demon Lord (and associated Hero) rising up every generation or two to stir shit up.

      If there’s a longer period of time say a dozen generations or so between incarnations then you’re unlikely to have anyone other than the devout religious believing even if reincarnation is a thing because the Demon Lord and the Hero are SPECIAL but you’ve almost certainly got reincarnates that bounce around through different social strata, jobs, and even genders as they reincarnate. This lack of “destiny” guiding the soul (rather than the life) would actually make people inclined to disbelieve that someone who was a Demon Lord in another life is destined to rise up and do the exact same thing in their next life.

      This becomes even more of the case if the “Demon Lord” and the “Hero” were both humans and humans are the only race around because it almost certainly boils down to the “Demon Lord” having been one group’s “Hero” and the “Hero” being another group’s “Demon Lord.” Which is probably why there’s almost certainly a “Demon” race where the “Demon Lord” is a prophesied leader and the “Hero” is the prophesied counter for the non-Demon race(s).

      I mean just look at the Legend of Zelda series. With the exception of the Ocarina of Time/Majora’s Mask and Skyward Sword, Ganon tends to fade away into legend and myth when he isn’t forgotten entirely between his incarnations. And Wind Waker is, I think, the only game where we actually have a legend about The Hero and even then it’s only something that’s the case with a single island and it’s customs.

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      1. I still want to know what, exactly, the Japanese meant when they said that supernatural beings had red hair.

        Down in El Paso, I was described as “the red-head.” I had very dark auburn hair when I was a kid, but never red, and it only got darker. But the highlight was enough to trigger the association.
        Japan has an even more limited range of hair colors than the Juarez area, so it’s just one of those “I wonder…” questions that’d dang near take time-travel to answer.

        Great fodder for Neanderthal related stories, though.

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      2. At least right now, the general consensus is that red theater wigs represent red-black hair, and that blue theater wigs represent blue-black hair. And that’s how it works in manga/anime too.

        That said, there are Ainu who have red hair, although it’s pretty rare.

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      3. I think I’ve seen the “normal” red haired Japanese– to my eye, very hard to tell from so-brown-it’s-black hair– but if that’s it, then that’s about as helpful a sign of being supernatural as “has dark limbal rings.”

        There’s always the chance it’s just escaped stage-craft, too, and “red” is just easy to spot. (Like ninjas wearing stage hand clothes.)

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  9. Or, like in what I’m working in. Reincarnation is a thing, but not everyone remembers, and not everyone knows about it. It’s more mythical, and takes millennia. Dragon gets killed by humans, because it prefers the taste of other kinds of Dragons, but humans killed off it’s preferred food source. Dragon has to get so much life energy to survive, and sentient and sapient prey provides more. It goes after humans because it has no other choice. Stupid humans think it’s a monster, but the Dragon is fully sentient and sapient, they just can’t speak well with humans, and use a mix of image/impression/emotions to communicate within their own species. Dragon, is a social one that lives in social groups, like a mix between wolves and lions. Congrats, you first killed off the dominate female’s kids and grandkids! Of course you’ll get cursed so hard that your descendants will still feel it by the time she comes back. So, needless to say that she doesn’t like humans. They first ate lesser dragons, then megafauna, like Irish Elk, but once there wasn’t enough… Then you get the truly asshole humans that kill off anything that looks monstrous to them, even though they have no issues with humans, and are actually beneficial. Hello ecosystem collapse.

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    1. Never seen people put the work in to kill off an animal that wasn’t causing a problem– even basic things like deer are hard to kill. Something to keep in mind to avoid breaking folks’ suspension of disbelief, right off the bat. The disagreement is usually in who has to deal with the problems involving the animals. Look at wolf introduction, for one that’s easy to see basic costs and benefits and disputed ones.

      (Note: do not want to argue out the wolves, the example was chosen because it’s famous so most people are familiar with the rough contrast between the sides.)

      A problem with doing the Obligate Sentient-vore as anything but a form of natural evil is that if they are people, they they do have a moral responsibility for not taking steps to avoid “and so the only thing we have left to eat is them”– either they’re people, or they’re not, and even if you can’t talk you can still do things like notice that your primary prey tends to be killed when they start hunting humans, so you go and *very obviously* cull those that hunt humans. This is something that humans do with prey-animals.
      Their deaths from people killing them back cannot be inherently worse than the deaths of those they are hunting, even if there is an emotional mitigation of the hunting being from a secondary effect of what another of the species-group did.

      If they’re not as morally responsible for the direct killing of those they kill, as their killers are for the direct killing of them, then they’re not really, fully people. They have lessened moral reasoning ability, like the insane– they don’t have minds, not completely. Depending on what’s missing, they might be children, or they might be equivalent to an insane human, but they cannot be treated like a rational being.

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      1. They’re psionic, and when they do kill humans, they kill those that won’t be missed. Modern day if they got desperate enough, they’d go to the prisons first, seeing them as all you can eat buffets.

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      2. Um… no. That’s not going to work. Just about every human out there has someone who’ll notice if they went missing. You might end up with a legend of “anyone who goes into X forest won’t come out”, but people will notice.

        And going after prisons would get attention much, much faster. We build prisons to keep criminals away from the general public without killing them. If prisoners start suddenly dying, you will have all kinds of law enforcement, doctors, and government agencies digging into why.

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      3. I am rather less than willing to accept it as OK to feed people to something that can’t be bothered to protect its own food supply, even if “society” isn’t very broken up about it.

        A significant portion of the folks commenting here have either been someone that “won’t be missed,” or would be if dropped in a large number of communities on the earth.

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      4. Very, very short term. “Wait, my food’s disappearing” seems like something you’d recognize well before it was wiped out – especially given the usual 1 predator to at least 20 prey animal ratio that warm-blooded/high energy input predators have to have.

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  10. Irenaeus in Against Heresies has a section on why reincarnation and karma (Greek philosophy version, not Indian version) just don’t work to inculcate virtue and advance souls to a higher state. I can’t find it now, but basically a lot of Gnostic sects started with the idea that your soul was basically a more perfect being that (through some unseemly excessive emotion, usually) ended up trapped on earth in a succession of bodies, with virtue leading to becoming a human and sin leading to becoming a bug or fish. But if the person was virtuous and Gnostically knowledgeable enough to get back to the heavens after a zillion years, what was to keep the soul from ending up back in the cycle?

    Of course, this assumes that you want people to grow and change, whereas the Stoics and several other brands of Greco-Roman philosophy were invested in a cyclical universe with no beginning, no end, and the exact same people and events repeating themselves exactly, every 25,000 years (or whatever the Great Cycle was supposed to last).

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  11. Was discussing the “Naruto Council” fanon and disecting how the politics of the time the Hidden Villages were formed and how they would absolutely lead to the formation of a council of clans with some enshrined ability to affect the village leadership and it occurred to me that we’ve been focusing on the completely wrong political aspect here.

    Forget Heroes and Demon lords. How do Kings, Emperors, and other inherited leadership positions deal with reincarnation!

    I mean for a real world example, let’s assume that reincarnation is a thing, that it can be identified and verified, how would the United Kingdom deal with a reincarnated King Arthur?

    How would a kingdom in a setting deal with a beloved ruler being reincarnated outside the bloodline? Would they step aside? Try to set up a marriage with someone in the bloodline? Try to quietly off them?

    How would the ruler in question react? Would they want to take the throne again? Avoid it?

    How would the Kingdom’s nobility react? Would they want to put the reincarnated king in power? Would they argue against having the reincarnated king returned to power?

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    1. Ooh, that would be FUN to work through– the answer would depend on how reincarnation works, so you’d have to work hard to avoid making it Because The Author Says So, but still fun!

      (Example– is Reincarnated King Arthur going to be a continuation of the same guy, memories available, etc? Or is he basically “as if King Arthur were born in a completely different situation” and his “soul” is basically what kind of essential person he is, before it’s nurtured?)

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      1. I think it’d have to be a case of “person retains memories and experiences” to at least a certain extent. I wouldn’t necessarily go the way some Peggy Sue fics where it’s a 30 or 50 year old in the body of an infant, but having the memories and experiences shaping them with some sticking around and being actually remembered (much like in real life where various memories and experiences fade and are forgotten but still leave their mark) for it to really work.

        If the soul is basically what kind of essential person somebody is (or in other words nature) then you could run into a case of someone who’s essential nature is “Lawful” that could be a Saint or Paragon in a society where the laws are generally just and provide legal recourse and pathways for correction when the laws aren’t just, but could also be a complete monster where the laws aren’t just and have no legal recourse for achieving justice or fixing the unjust laws.

        While there are certain moral truths that I believe are both self-evident and universal I don’t necessarily agree with what those moral truths are as presented by others who believe the same and I also know there are those out there both individuals and societies that don’t even believe that such truths exist. I also realize that lot of that comes down to what society you’re raised in (some of the more interesting Hero & Demon Lord stories actually dig into this where the Demon Lord and Hero position are entirely dependent on which side of the conflict you’re on and the outside observation that you, the reader/watcher, represent can see that there’s not a whole lot of difference between the two sides).

        So for a reincarnation story to have that reincarnation actually matter, I feel that there has to be residual memory of the previous life even if that memory isn’t perfect or complete. In fact I feel that such stories actually work a lot better when the memory isn’t perfect or complete. I mean I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast a week ago even though I typically only eat a very small number of things for breakfast. While it can be fascinating seeing a time traveler trying to keep their perfectly preserved future memories relevant it’s always something that stretches disbelief when I take a moment to step back and really think about it. With a reincarnator it actually does stretch that disbelief pretty heavily when it’s not an Isekai where the entire point is less reincarnation and more “clean break from previous world so the character doesn’t/shouldn’t have any desire to return home.”

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      2. If the soul is basically what kind of essential person somebody is (or in other words nature) then you could run into a case of someone who’s essential nature is “Lawful” that could be a Saint or Paragon in a society where the laws are generally just and provide legal recourse and pathways for correction when the laws aren’t just, but could also be a complete monster where the laws aren’t just and have no legal recourse for achieving justice or fixing the unjust laws.

        Similarly, someone who has a generous, helpful soul would range from a saint to a horrific enabler of the greatest evils imaginable, depending on the situation.

        Yeah, I’m jumping up and down on a philosophy meander* right now. 😀 It sounds like it would be a really good way to examine the moral theory that evil is imbalanced good– being lawful is good, but if you follow it too far, you’ll be evil.

        Going to shuffle this away into my back-brain…..

        * root of meander:
        If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing. – with the specific ‘love’ being the true wish for the greatest good for the subject of that love

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      3. The “keep the timeline safe, so my future knowledge is still relevant” is _really_ stupid. _If_ it is a serious threat, then it is also a threat that _the mere fact you have the knowledge_ will make you ruin, because you can’t remember with perfect clarity to the extent of “making every gesture the same, every tiny bit of inflection in your speech, etc”, let alone actually _duplicate what you remember_ with the necessary precision. On the other hand, there’s plenty of things that it basically doesn’t matter what you do, as an individual, _you cannot create sufficient change to matter_ (things like major international events, for example, would still happen, even if you might cause slight changes in how they happen, such as “more security because of a bomb threat” or similar).

        What should be done is learning the stuff that _won’t matter if you change things_. Either things that your actions cannot reasonably cause to change, or that were unknown to others at the point you’re returning to, or who could be important characters on either side, or the more general “this is the personality and standard reasoning of the important character and thus the how to guess which way the character will go given any random circumstances.”

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      4. The “keep the timeline safe, so my future knowledge is still relevant” is _really_ stupid.

        *nod*

        It only works as a Plot Requirement. “I need a dramatic reason that I standing over here and letting something horrible happen that I can stop!”

        Hm, maybe it’s a call-back to the whole Roman philosophy/mythology/drama thing that no matter what we’re doomed to failure, the nobility was based off of how we bore up under Abject Doom?
        So Oedipus was going to be punished because he was fated to kill his father and marry his mother, and how awesome he was in soldier on anyways was how you know he’s awesome?

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  12. Anyhow, it seems more likely that “forward time travel” or “inadvertent possession” or even “artifacts that download somebody’s knowledge into you” would happen than straight-out reincarnation, because otherwise people would be abusing the system more, in fantasy worlds. I mean, look at D&D parties. “Oh, yeah, Bob 1 left all his possessions to Bob 2. Sure he’s young and has low stats, but he starts with great equipment bonuses!”

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