by Max Barry

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Society and Culture

Perhaps the deepest and most defining aspect of Antarctic culture is its values and aspirations regarding the qualities of people and the quality of life. Since Antarctic society brought an end to its hateful and violent past and began to grow into the culture that it is today, it has been motivated at its core by a distinctive belief regarding the purpose of a human life; specifically, a deep and profound sense that the purpose of life is not to accumulate money, power, or other achievements, but to become the very best person that one can be. The deepest constant in Antarctic life is the effort to look inside oneself and discover new ways to improve as a person, each and every day. It may come as no surprise, then, that perhaps the single most defining and recognizable trait of the Antarctic people is the friendliness, compassion, and kindness that they hold up as the essence of human quality, and their desire to make the world a better place for each and every human being that they share it with.

Upon arriving in Antarctica, the first element of the continent's culture that any visitor will experience is language, not only in words, but in gestures. If an Antarctican wishes to give a respectful greeting to another, they do so by bowing. Specifically, they bow in a style that is based upon the standing form of the Japanese futsurei or keirei. There are a few differences, however: Antarcticans stand with their feet together when bowing, regardless of gender, and they conduct the bow at a more natural pace. In less formal situations, Antarcticans may greet each other with a wave of the hand, or with hugs and other sweet gestures if they know each other well.

When it comes to speaking, Antarcticans are like few other people in the world. Each Antarctican speaks seven languages fluently: English, French, Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Bengali, and Antarctic Dravidian. Antarcticans can and do switch seamlessly between languages during speech, at any frequency they desire. They might speak multiple full sentences in one language, or, just as easily, they might speak each word in a different language than the last. The Antarctic accent follows a specific pattern: the sound of any one phoneme is influenced by that of similar phonemes across the seven languages. This influence is fairly strong, but still intelligible. Essentially, this means that Antarctican speaking one language will have a medium-strength accent of the other six.

Several linguistic features are unique to Antarctica. The Antarctic Dravidian language, which uses the Kannada script, is unique to the continent, having coalesced from its parent languages over hundreds of years. Its vocabulary is a mix of words from the four main Dravidian languages - Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, and Telugu - though the words themselves are not changed. Meanwhile, the Mandarin Chinese language, which uses traditional characters, is not tonal in nature. A speaker's tone of voice instead conveys their feelings and attitudes, as in most languages. As a result, many words are pronounced identically, and their meaning is instead judged by the context in which they are spoken. Similarly, the Japanese language uses fixed stress patterns, rather than a pitch accent. Regardless of the language, Antarcticans speak in a leisurely and deliberate manner, with varied and intricate tones of voice. Their speech is often described by visitors as sounding very beautiful and poetic.

Antarcticans owe their beautiful and attractive reputation to more than their patterns of speech, however. They owe most of it to their distinctive Antarctic looks. In Antarctica, fashion is unisex, and Antarcticans of all genders spruce themselves up the same way. This often makes it very difficult for visitors to determine any particular Antarctican's gender. A more experienced pair of eyes can often tell them apart based on human anatomical differences both common and subtle, but even Antarcticans still fail to guess each other's genders this way from time to time. They enjoy these failures wholeheartedly as fun and endearing surprises, and would not have it any other way.

Antarcticans are well-known around the world not just for their kindhearted nature, but also for their universally beautiful appearances, particularly their hair, skin, and eyes. Antarcticans always wear their hair long, at neck length or longer, and their hair is remarkable for its especially soft, shiny, and vibrant quality. Their near-perfect skin has a similarly vibrant appearance, almost seeming at times to give off a soft glow. Antarcticans have cultivated a singular level of skill at making products to enhance both the health and appearance of their skin and hair, and applying them is an essential step in their daily routines. Antarctic makeup, meanwhile, is applied mainly around the eyes. It is worn in a distinctive style which is thought to highlight the shape of their eyes and eyelashes, with eyeliner well-marked along the upper eyelid and fading inward along the lower eyelid, and mascara used to darken the eyelashes without lengthening them. Subtle eyeshadow is used around the eyes as a finishing touch. Antarcticans tend not to wear any makeup elsewhere, which is thought to contribute to a very natural look complementing their beauty.

Yet another integral part of Antarctic looks is, of course, clothes. Antarctic clothes are most notable in that they incorporate plenty of color but are always sure to avoid garishness. Many clothes have fairly basic and straightforward designs. Others have much more elaborate designs, based on classic outfits such as tuxedos, saris, tangzhuang, kimonos, and many, many more, all of which are made to fit both genders perfectly well. Whatever their style, these outfits are also designed to go along well with another essential aspect of Antarctic clothing: scarves. Most Antarcticans have as many scarves as they do other items of clothing, and they are never seen without them. They typically wear very light scarves in the summer, and thicker ones to stay warm in winter. Antarctic winter clothing is also an essential item on the continent. It is specially designed to complement normal clothes, both in style and in the way they feel, and it is designed similarly to normal clothing, with the exception that it is naturally much thicker and warmer. In the winter, most Antarcticans go around bundled up, which many visitors find quite adorable.

There are two pastimes in Antarctic popular culture which are so popular that they can be found everywhere. The first is baseball, which is played as both a professional spectator sport and a common pastime. Over time, Antarctic baseball has developed a unique set of rules and characteristics. Tied matches are allowed, and the match's length is limited to nine innings, although the last half-inning is never skipped. The playing field is slightly larger, like in the United States, while the baseball itself is slightly smaller, like in Japan. Professional baseball is played during the summer months, when the temperature is quite comfortable. Antarctic baseball uniforms reflect this, as they are light, flexible, and close fitting garments that allow players to get along with little distraction. The style looks similar to that of the cheongsam, but with leggings instead of a dress. Antarctic baseball caps, meanwhile, come in the form of closely fitting ascots, which, in Antarctica, are iconic and ubiquitous in much the same way that sports equipment can often be elsewhere, and can be found commonly in Antarctica even outside of sports. The most notable aspect of Antarctic baseball, however, is that players of all genders are allowed to play the game. Antarctica's hall of fame is filled with male, female, and kinra players all in great abundance, and the national pastime is played, enjoyed, and cherished by all Antarcticans without a thought to their gender.

The second of Antarctica's two main pastimes is kalanta, a style of animation with a history going back more than a century. Kalanta characters and environments are a combination of hand-made art and technological embellishment. In kalanta, the setting of the story, both in physical and human terms, is given a great amount of exposition before or during the introduction of the characters. The environment is given a distinctive look, with highly intricate and realistic lighting, rich colors, ample use of light bloom, and stylised renditions of fluids like fire and wind. The characters, meanwhile, are drawn with largely realistic proportions, with a minor exception for their eyes, which are drawn in an expressive and emotional style. They often appear larger than normal, but small enough to give their faces a natural and realistic quality. The main detail in creating kalanta characters, though, is not in their appearances but in their dialogue, mannerisms, and personalities. It is considered the greatest achievement of a kalanta to have characters that are deeply written, multifaceted, and feel almost like real people. Their actions, and interactions, will often be the main driver of the plot. The settings in kalanta are typically grounded in the real world, either in the present day or at some time in history. However, while some of these settings are completely realistic, others are infused with fantastic qualities, which can be either magical or scientific in nature. Regardless of their settings, however, kalanta frequently use their plots to explore in some way, either directly or indirectly, the nature of the human condition. A particular fixation for many Antarcticans, perhaps reflecting much of their own history, is the ways in which normal people can end up doing unimaginably horrible things, how they can realize the true depth and profoundness of their wrongdoings, and start themselves down the road to redemption. Just like baseball, kalanta can be found everywhere in Antarctic culture, in the form of TV series, movies, graphic novels, music videos, and much more.

A defining aspect of the Antarctic people is the places in which they live. Every person in Antarctica can be found somewhere in one of Antarctica's 28 vast, solitary cities. Each of these cities is made into a spectacular and unforgettable sight by the buildings that comprise them almost entirely: thousands upon thousands of cooperative towers, each one dozens of stories tall. The ground stories of each tower are filled with storefronts and businesses of all kinds. From there all the way to the top, the buildings are filled with lofts (the Antarctic word for any living space), general-purpose offices, vertical farming spaces, and occasional manufacturing and recycling levels. Each tower are quite densely populated, with many hundreds of fairly small rooms, which Antarcticans don't seem to mind; they tend to value the warm and cozy quality of their homes. Each tower is located a mile or two from its neighbors. Between these towers lie stone tile walkways, lined by small open-air shops and restaurants. Outside the walkways, between each group of buildings, there lies at least several square miles of undisturbed austral forest. Antarctic city structures are all built in a very antique and refined style, combining influences from old Europe, China, India, and Japan. Through the long polar night and the brief summer dusks, Antarctic cities are lit by a cream-colored fluorescent light from inside the buildings as well as lamp-posts on the ground.

Each of Antarctica's cities sprawls over several thousand square miles, with no particular center, and an extremely low population density by conventional land area due to the separation between towers. Cities built on rugged terrain tend to be more sparsely populated than flat ones; the smallest cities have somewhat over one million citizens, and the largest, Nanji and Vostok, have over three and a half million each. For all their vastness, however, Antarctica's cities are still utterly dwarfed by its fathomless stretches of uninhabited wilderness. Even in the cities, nearly all of the land area is composed of undisturbed forest, for the Antarcticans have only ever cut down trees to make paths for their structures. They have always deeply loved and cherished their natural environment, and refused to give it up for anything, even traditional infrastructure. Instead, there are bicycle lanes in the walkways for those who need to commute for any reason, and those who need to travel to other cities are served by an underground bullet train network. The size of Antarctica's cities has created a very localized society, in which most people never need to commute more than one or two towers away for work, food, or other necessities. The vibrant and teeming pace of life contrasts with the constant presence of the forest, creating an atmosphere that mixes urban and natural elements into a distinctive Antarctic blend.

Antarctic production has several other unique characteristics as a result of Antarcticans' desire to keep their environment intact. Antarctica's population remains fairly constant, alternating between periods of very slow growth and very slow decline, as median birth rates are very close to the replacement threshold. However, the population still consumes resources on a daily basis, and Antarctic society has found several unique ways to manage this. Antarctic food is produced through vertical farming of fruits and vegetables and sustainably managed fishing of seafood. Meanwhile, possessions such as clothes, housing, bicycles, appliances, and electronics are specifically produced to be as durable, hardy, and long-lasting as possible, so that there is little to no demand for new ones. These possessions often serve their owners for decades, occasionally even centuries. Single-use products, such as restaurant food containers and grocery bags, are always made from recycled paper. Even long-lasting possessions have as many recyclable components as possible, and overall, Antarctic waste is only very rarely incinerated. The rest of the Antarctic production cycle is easily handled by the continent's recycling levels, necessitating virtually no intake of resources from the natural world.

Justice in Antarctica is applied through a constitutionally defined process. The domestic law enforcement agency of Antarctica is known as the Peacekeepers, the interior branch of a state force which once doubled as the Antarctic military, until the latter was dissolved in the wake of the Grytviken Massacre. The Peacekeepers cannot arrest suspects without a valid warrant, unless the suspect is caught in the act of a crime. Detained suspects go through a preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to hold a trial; if there is not, then the suspect is released. In the event of a trial, the defendant has a constitutional right to be provided legal counsel. In Antarctica, trials are administrated by a panel of three to five judges, the selection of whom may be appealed by the defendant if they believe that any of the judges do not view the case impartially. In addition to enforcing order in the court, the judges hear and take note of the evidence and arguments presented by the defense and prosecution, as they are charged with deliberating the verdict, and, if the suspect is found guilty, determining the sentence. Antarctic penal institutes almost exclusively house convicts of violent crimes. The conditions are humane in every way, and rehabilitation counseling is freely available to any inmate who desires it; however, they are located hundreds of miles away from any city, accessible only by a very heavily guarded bullet train. Most cases take place in local (ward level) courts; if an offender feels they have been convicted unjustly, they may appeal their case to departmental courts, prefectural courts, and finally the Antarctic High Tribunal.

Education in Antarctica is considered one of the most vital services that the nation can provide. Schools are publicly funded and open to all. Learning in Antarctica is a very participatory and hands-on experience; a consensus has formed in Antarctica over several decades that students are most engaged, and retain the most learning, through experience rather than verbal instruction. Verbal lessons do still exist, particularly for abstract subjects such as mathematics. Tests typically occur at the end of each learning unit, and students are given grades for each semester once they reach high school. However, teachers focus more on whether their students are engaged and interested in the subjects at hand, and spend all the effort they can muster to help bring struggling students into the learning process, both daily and throughout the school year. There is only one standardized test, which students take in the last year of high school. The shift away from a verbal, standardized education system was begun by Prime Minister Rakesh Gilard in the early 3000s, and completed from top to bottom by Prime Minister Michiko Mayweather in 3018, in the second significant achievement of her premiership.

The level of Antarctic technological advancement today is roughly equivalent to that of the early 21st century, with modest differences from field to field. Much of the world's scientific knowledge was lost in the turmoil of the climate shift, and scientific study in the following centuries was suffocated by constant, bloody chaos. By the time the Free Republic was founded and technology began to advance once again, it was largely making up lost ground. A distinct exception to this pattern, however, is level of advancement in Antarctic medicine. During the 600 years of the Hakai, the extremely hateful and violent prehistory of Antarctic society, the medical sciences were the only serious field of study on the continent, as it was the only science related to staying alive in a war zone. As a result, medical technology became the backbone of Antarctic science, and while innovation spread to other fields after the foundation of the Free Republic, medicine remained the continent's greatest skill. One of the continent's crowning achievements is a cure for cancer, discovered at last in the 2960s after centuries of research, and the disease has since been virtually eradicated, as have many other fatal conditions such as heart failure and Alzheimer's disease. Medical procedures are often much less intrusive and painful than in the 21st century, including many surgeries, from which patients often recover in one or two weeks. (Antarcticans are particularly skilled at gender confirmation surgeries, to the point that recipients end up completely indistinguishable from anyone else of their gender.) As a result, Antarcticans are widely considered to be the healthiest population in human history; they almost always die peacefully from old age, and the average life expectancy is 94 years. This is complemented by the Antarctic diet, which consists mainly of a lean and healthy combination of fish and seafood, rice, and other vegetables as its staples, complemented with various fruits and breads. Other meats are not consumed, since they are not farmed, and over the centuries Antarcticans seem to have developed a distinct distaste for red meat in particular.

In its role as a home for millions of homeless refugees from around the world, Antarctica has always been a destination as well for many people who have sometimes been made to feel homeless in their own societies: gender and sexual minorities. In its early years, Antarctica was considered a safe haven for LGBT+ individuals from the West, tongzhi individuals from China, and hijra individuals from India. The continent around them soon collapsed into chaos and hatred, but these alternative cultures persevered. Along with the broader society around them, they eventually coalesced and unified into a single Antarctic whole.

In Antarctica, there are no gender roles, and society has no expectations for how men and women should act. Instead, in Antarctica, men and women act in the way most natural to them: according to their own personalities. Both men and women can be strong and assertive; both men and women can be cooperative and emotional. Above all, everyone can be the kind of person that they naturally are. Even Antarctic clothing and other externalities are unisex, although names remain gendered. Race, in Antarctica, is even less influential. It is, in fact, a concept that has long since faded away into history. Skin color is regarded as nothing but an externality, the same as hair color, voice, or height, and the idea that it would affect one's character or other such traits is regarded as nothing more than delusional bigotry.

In Antarctica, there are males and females, and there are also kinras. A kinra is a person who identifies as anything besides male or female. Kinras are referred to by the pronoun they. The word came from the hijra community, who called themselves kinnar. As Antarctic culture coalesced, so did the words, and they began to take on a meaning different from the original. Kinra is not a blanket term for all sexual minorities, only those who identify as something besides male or female. In Antarctica, people who have male anatomies but identify as girls are simply girls, and people who have female anatomies but identify as boys are simply boys. Similarly, there are no labels for sexuality. In Antarctica, there are simply people who like boys, people who like girls, people who like both genders and/or kinras, and people who don't feel sexual attraction at all. In Antarctic culture, it is believed to be absurd to separate love, or human identity, from itself with the use of labels.

This attitude ties into Antarctic religious views as well. Human sexuality in all its forms is not stigmatized in any way by Anava Hinduism; in fact, it is cherished as part of the kama, the sacred enjoyment and experience of life. The infinite diversity of the human condition, and the ways that human differences combine to create meaning and beauty, is considered an essential reflection of the brahman, the divine truth of everything that exists.

There are several miscellaneous, but still interesting facts about Antarctic society as well:

  • Each Antarctican has three names: a given name first, followed by one parent's last name, then the other parent's last name. The order of a child's last names is set shortly after birth by both their parents, as a simple decision of which ordering sounds better with the child's first name. When the child grows up, their second last name is passed on in turn to their own children.

  • The most popular beverage in Antarctica by far is tea. It is made with traditional Chinese recipes that are thought to keep drinkers in good health. Some recipes also use a wide variety of flavors, such as various mints, and all kinds of fruit. Sparkling tea is also a popular variant for special occasions. Green tea is the most widely consumed variant overall, due to its caffeine making it useful as a pick-me-up.

  • Antarcticans stubbornly continue to use old American units of measurement, such as the Fahrenheit scale, feet, inches, pounds, cups, gallons, and so on. Their devotion to these units is such that they even have scientific definitions, in reference to constants such as the speed of light or the triple point of water, and Antarctic scientists use them regularly in their research with little difficulty.

  • One interesting feature of kalanta is that they are always produced and shown at 36 frames per second, without motion blur. This creates smoother and more realistic motions without sacrificing the choppy quality that is essential for engaging viewers. Another amusing quirk is a sex trope: when characters are sexually aroused, they will sneeze - usually once, as a big reveal, or multiple times if the writers are going for more comedy.