“Learn to overcome the crass demands of flesh and bone, for they warp the matrix through which we perceive the world. Extend your awareness outward, beyond the self of body, to embrace the self of group and the self of humanity. The goals of the group and the greater race are transcendent, and to embrace them is to achieve enlightenment.”
— Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, “Essays on Mind and Matter”
The Ascetic Virtues is a strange secret project on several counts. First off, it’s not a physical structure. It’s a philosophical concept. And an ancient one, to boot. So it’s a little weird to be able to spend a bunch of in-game currency to acquire such a thing for one’s futuristic space-faction.
Second, it provides an interesting pair of benefits that one does not usually find attached to a secret project. The most important of these is that it loosens the maximum population limit for bases by two. This works exactly like the Peacekeepers’ bonus and the Morganites’ malus and it stacks with both. To go along with this, it improves the faction’s Police rating on the social engineering scale by one, which is enough for any faction that isn’t running Free Market to control the unrest caused by these new citizens.
It also requires Planetary Economics to construct. This is the technology that represents the final flowering of the economy to a tightly interwoven system across the entire globe. The only thing about the technology that even sort of implies that it would be at the root of something called The Ascetic Virtues is the quote that accompanied the source technology: a musing by Sister Miriam about traders not being able to comprehend the value of the priceless.
Turning to the video for some clues as to how to resolve these seeming oddities, we see several clips of monks and holy men from various Earth traditions intercut with a man opening a traditional Eastern door to look out over what appears to be the barren landscape of Planet. All the while, Chairman Yang reads what keen-eyed observers may recall was his introductory quote.
There are two conclusions that can be drawn immediately from this. As one would probably expect, Chairman Yang built this project in canon. Asceticism is in his blood. And the lessons therein are so crucial to his conception of enlightenment that they served as our introduction to the very idea of the Hive.
The other is that the Ascetic Virtues are meant quite literally. It represents a faction-wide effort to inculcate old-fashioned asceticism among the population. This has the effect of convincing people to respond better to temporal authority and encourages them to live lives with less luxury than they otherwise might. Which the game models by the set of benefits it provides.
And this is probably why the project becomes available at this point on the technology tree. Before now, the struggle on Planet had been to recreate a society of equivalent complexity and splendor to what had come before on Earth. But now, generations into the colonization project, that battle has been won. Poverty amid the bleak, desolate landscape of Planet had sufficed to keep the old-fashioned virtues alive among the first colonists. Only now does it require more of a conscious effort.
Given that, it’s also worth noting the curious fact that there’s nothing stopping CEO Morgan and his faction from building this project. Just as with the Weather Paradigm. When Morgan builds it, the project reduces but does not completely eliminate his population cap penalty. So it would seem that an ascetic by Morganite standards is one that enjoys just a little more luxury than average by everyone else’s.