“Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman–a rope over an abyss. A dangerous across, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous shuddering and stopping. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end: what can be loved in man is that he is an overture and a going under. I love those who do not know how to live, for they are those who cross over.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, Datalinks
The Will To Power is the first purely philosophical research advance since perhaps Intellectual Integrity. Or possibly Cyberethics, depending on how precisely you conceive what that particular technology represents. Either way, this new breakthrough represents the current of thought in which the new Homo Superior claims their birthright as the superior species.
From the gameplay perspective, adopting The Will To Power requires Homo Superior and Centauri Psi. It allows the faction to build the Dream Twister, which grants a bonus to psionic attack for every unit in the faction. And, most importantly, it enables the faction to adopt the first of three Future Society options on the Social Engineering screen.
Future Society models are unlocked by much higher-level technologies than the others. They’re also a lot more impactful. So much so that they pretty drastically change the balance among the various options.
The model unlocked by The Will To Power is an extensive, invincible, society-wide system of Thought Control. This is intended to model a thoroughgoing futuristic totalitarianism, a la Orwell’s 1984, if the Inner Party were a race of Nietzschean supermen with extensive psionic powers. It provides a big bonus to all three of unit morale, spying, and police rating. Which makes sense, as these are three main levers that Reynolds has used thus far to model loyalty and intensity of belief.
In exchange, it carries a substantial unit support penalty. This is supposed to model the expense and difficulty in setting up all the various thought control measures. And it’s a pretty significant penalty, because in most other ways this is a very good choice for a faction at war. It is worth recalling that building the Cloning Vats suspends this penalty, which strengthens this choice considerably.
But, fascinatingly, as a Future Society option it is orthogonal to all the existing society choices. That means it doesn’t, say, replace Police State as a new and improved political option. Instead, it serves as a brand-new source of bonuses and penalties. One that can be mixed and matched with any of the others.
For instance, it is completely possible to have a faction that’s running Democracy/Free Market/Wealth/Thought Control. In this context, Thought Control mitigates the Free Market police penalty and cancels out the Wealth penalty, in exchange for embracing the worst-possible Support rating. This combination models a society where all the normal citizens embrace consumerism to a fanatic degree, buying more and more useless stuff while guided by a much more extensive version of Chomsky’s manufactured consent to continue to vote to grow the economy and further the interests of their betters.
Or consider, say, a Fundamentalist/Planned/Power/Thought Control faction. That might model something like the fiercely anti-feminist, pro-fertility theocracy depicted in A Handmaid’s Tale. If one imagines a version of that society that actually worked up to its potential.
But neither of those are what I think might be the most potentially thought-provoking combination. Perhaps paradoxically, it turns out that Knowledge and Thought Control synergize wonderfully. That’s because the spying bonus from Thought Control cancels out the penalty from Knowledge without neutralizing the main benefit (as you’d get by running Fundamentalism/Knowledge).
Thought Control thus unlocks the intriguing possibility of Police State/Free Market/Knowledge/Thought Control. In this configuration, the Police bonuses from Police State and Thought Control mostly cancel out the Free Market penalty. This makes it possible to fight an aggressive war while getting the energy from Free Market, which is very powerful. At the same time, the Efficiency bonus from Knowledge defrays the Police State penalty, while the Police State Support bonus defrays the Thought Control downside. Everything works together harmoniously.
What would such a society be like? The best analogy I can think of is something like Singapore. Or maybe more like what China might become in fifty years, if you remember to posit that their oligarchs need to be psionic supermen. They’ll cane you for minor offenses like chewing gum on the street, in theory, but they don’t really ever need to because no one dares do it. They’re both rich and on the forefront of technological advance. But they’re also intensely nationalistic and eager to spend their money on foreign wars for distant glory.