The Culture was a major Involved polity in the Milky Way galaxy. It was an informal association of sapients unified by shared values, and a hedonistically-oriented lifestyle enabled by technology. The Culture relied heavily on Minds for administration and planning.
The Culture was founded as a loose federation by space-faring elements of seven or eight pan-human species c. 76th century BCE. They sought mutual support to maintain their independence from the mature polities they had evolved from.
The conference that led to the formation of the Culture occurred about 70 standard years before the year 8023, by the Koweyn calendar. Among the attendees were representatives from the Buhdren Federality and the Gzilt civilization; the Gzilt ultimately declined to join the Culture. A proposed name for the new polity was "the Aliens".
The Culture's "territory" encompassed its member ships and habitats. These were spread widely throughout the galaxy. Given the mobility of many elements, and the dispersal of the rest, there was no contiguous Culture volume as such.
Planets comprised a very minor part of the Culture's holdings. Orbitals provided a superior amount of living space for the mass invested, and the terraforming of planets was undesirable due to its ecological destructiveness.
Conventions and behaviour
The Culture had no formal laws. Behaviour ("manners") was regulated by generally-accepted conventions and social norms. Poor behaviour was discouraged by the threat of ridicule and ostracization by one's peers. A particularly insulting "punishment" was not to be called by one's chosen name. Violating taboos could lead to pariah status, although not eviction from the Culture.
The most serious taboo was murder - defined as causing total brain-death or personality loss. Murderers were offered therapy. Slap-drones were assigned to pan-human-sized murderers to prevent further occurances. Preventative assignment of slap-drones was also sanctioned.
The Culture operated as a kind of social anarchy whereby citizens practised total individual freedom while enjoying internal social cohesion, an arguably inevitable outcome of the requirement for mutual dependence in the inherently hostile environment of space. Freed from the confines of living on the (essentially) two-dimensional surface of a planet, space-faring habitats can and very often must be entirely self-sufficient. This has the effect of largely freeing any such habitats from the controlling forces of the state or governing body and granting independence from said hegemonies and from each other. At the same time, the hostile nature of the vacuum of space and the resulting dependency upon technology for life support ensures the biological inhabitants of such habitats are always aware of their reliance on each other.
Politically, the Culture operated as a direct democracy. Anyone could call for a referendum on practically any subject at any time. One of the preparatory steps was deciding which citizens were eligible to vote; this in itself could be a hotly debated issue, and lead to multiple referenda as the main issue was debated again by a different set of voters. The electorate could range from very small groups to the entire Culture. Regardless of other factors, each citizen had one vote.
Executive power was typically held by Minds; Minds encompassed superior intelligence, and had technical control over infrastructure as a result of being embodied within ships and habitats. Minds required no outside assistance to run ships and habitats. The general population could communicate directly with local Minds at any time. Elected bodies representing the general population to Minds were also used as alternate avenues, and as safeguards against potential widespread personal manipulation by Minds; on the whole election to these bodies was honourary, although they served a variety of ceremonial and liaison functions. Liasons between Minds and the general population could also be chosen on a rota basis.
Minds of good repute had a great deal of freedom to act within accepted norms. Challenging and reversing the decisions of Minds could be accomplished through the support of special interest groups; these groups provided counsel and publicity, and hence brought social pressure to bear.
Minds formed ad-hoc groups to address large crises. One member - typically a large unit like a Systems Vehicle - was selected to organize meetings and facilitate communications as "incident coordinator." Decision making in these groups was democratic.
The names of Culture citizens (that is, not Minds, who chose their own names) usually consisted of multiple parts which together act as an address of sorts, describing the star system of birth, the family name, and the estate or house of raising, as well as a given name and a chosen name. For everyday use, the name was typically truncated to just the given and family name.
On the contrary, Minds (and therefore the ships they inhabited) usually chose their names to reflect their own personality, attitude or sensibilities. These names were often frivolous or humorous in nature, sometimes indicating an acerbic wit (such as Space Monster and Ultimate Ship The Second). Warship names were often cynical and threatening (such as Gunboat Diplomat and Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints), or ironically innocuous (such as Resistance Is Character-Forming and Frank Exchange Of Views).
The Culture's modus operandi, rather than encourage immigration or wholesale incorporation of other civilisations, was to instead subtly guide less advanced civilisations to fulfil their potential, often by secretly influencing politics and wars via the Contact section. When it was deemed appropriate, Contact handled the transition of individuals, groups or indeed whole civilisations into the Culture.
Contact was the part of the Culture concerned with discovering, cataloguing, investigating, evaluating and - if thought prudent - interacting with other civilisations. It handled almost all interactions between the Culture and elements non-Culture. It was a relatively small part of the Culture and most normal citizens would never encounter a Contact agent or ship.
Contact also oversaw the voluntary departure of citizens from the Culture to the civilisation of their choice and interfered therein where deemed appropriate (in order to remove any unfair technological or informational advantage the citizen in question may use against its new peers).
The Culture was a post-scarcity polity, and was materially self-sufficient. It had ubiquitous, and distributed productive capability whose capacity exceeded conventional material needs. Raw materials and energy were readily available from interstellar sources. The Culture enjoyed a universally high standard of living.
Money was not used, being regarded as unnecessary and inefficient for the purpose of distributing general goods and services. Ironically, the adoption of quasi-money could spontaneously occur in response to the limited availability of temporary products; this "money" could take the form of trading and "banking" favours.
The defence of the Culture relied heavily on decentralization, redundancy, and dispersal. In the 29th century CE, the first line of defence were the immobile habitats; Orbitals, Rocks, and planets. The second line was the Contact fleet this included General Systems Vehicles, each embodying a scaled-down version of the entire Culture. Beyond those were the Oubliettionaries, an informal group of ships that effectively went into hiding, storing information broadcast from Culture news stations. The dispersal of the Culture throughout the galaxy made individual Culture elements easy to attack, but it was theoretically made it easier to ensure the continuity of the Culture by making it resistant to total destruction.
The role of combat spacecraft also changed over time. GCUs were regarded as effective against most threats. The Culture built no purpose-built warcraft in the five hundred years leading up to the Idiran-Culture War; in the early stages of that conflict the Culture relied on General Contact Units and war-converted Superlifters. Offensive Unit production was extensive during the war, and most were scrapped during post-war demobilization. Within 200 years the Culture had fewer active warships than at the start of the war. A few were demilitarized and retained as couriers. A few thousand warcraft, less than 1% of the total, were Stored at remote depots around the galaxy as an emergency reserve. Each part of the galaxy was no more than one month's flight from a Store. The rapid reaction capability of Stored warships proved unsatisfactory. By the 29th century, the Culture's rapid reaction force included a fleet of active General Offensive Units evenly spread throughout the galaxy.
Low-level civil defence measures could take on the character of passing fads. The attacks on Orbitals during the Idiran-Culture War had this affect on Orbital urban planning and construction; it brought buildings designed to act as emergency lifeboats and Distributed Cities back into fashion.
Mind- and AI-controlled forces were the norm; pan-humans ceased to be operationally useful in general battle since around the 61st century BCE. Nonetheless, Orbital emergency militias made up of drones and pan-humans continued to exist into the 29th century CE.
Sapient entities, whether biological or machine, were recognized as persons within the Culture. "Citizenship" was mostly a formality; it was readily granted to any that declare their preference for the Culture's way of life.
Citizenship, or "being part of the Culture", was fluid; people could renounce their citizenship or association with the Culture only to resume these things later. For machine intelligences, typically those of of the Culture Ulterior and those not originally of Culture construction, this was not a completely binary state; they could declare an "Integration Factor" to the Culture.
Immigration was not encouraged; the Culture preferred to improve the foreigners through Contact.
The species of biological Culture citizens was described as Mongrel-Culture. They had life expectancies of 350 to 400 years; 300 of these were spent in a youthful physical state of slow aging, with accelerated aging toward the end. Options besides death included biological immortality and rejuvenation; very few chose outright immortality. Periods in Storage - a form of suspended animation - could also be used to draw out one's lifespan; Stored persons typically specified criteria under which they would like to be revived.
Population growth was very slow; the convention was each person should give birth to one child.
- "A Few Notes on the Culture"
- The Hydrogen Sonata, chapter 5
- The Hydrogen Sonata, chapter 17
- The Hydrogen Sonata, chapter 23
- Surface Detail, chapter 10
- Use of Weapons, chapter 1.Five
- The Player of Games, chapter 2
- Excession, chapter 7.2
- Look to Windward, chapter 11
- Excession, chapter 2.2
- Surface Detail, chapter 9
- Look to Windward, chapter 9
- Look to Windward, chapter 7
- Excession, chapter 3.4
- The Hydrogen Sonata, chapter 11
- The Hydrogen Sonata, chapter 16
- Excession, chapter 5.3
- Look to Windward, chapter 6
- Consider Phlebas, chapter 2
- The Player of Games, chapter 3
- Consider Phlebas, Reasons: the Culture
- Look to Windward, chapter 15
- Use of Weapons, chapter 3.IV
- Excession, chapter 4.5
- Consider Phlebas, The war, briefly
- Matter, chapter 23
- The Hydrogen Sonata, chapter 8
- Surface Detail, chapter 16
- Surface Detail, chapter 3
- Surface Detail, chapter 21
- Look to Windward, chapter 3
- Look to Windward, chapter 8
- Look to Windward, chapter 1
- Look to Windward, Epilogue
- "A Gift from the Culture"
- Hydrogen Sonata, chapter 20
- Excession, chapter 3.1
- The Hydrogen Sonata, chapter 3