The culture of the Ascendancy was born in the hardship and brutal survivalist conditions endured by the surviving humans in the Sol System after the collapse of Terra's biosphere. During this period, resources were extremely scarce, and had to be hewn from asteroids or cultivated in the unforgiving conditions of space or Mars. High art, much of the trappings of formal religion and individual national cultures were extinguished during this period as survival and collective duty became paramount. These trying times imprinted an austere and authoritarian outlook on the formative Ascendancy which has changed little in the 3.5 millennia since. Ascendancy citizens are taught to stay in line, do their duty, and despise wastefulness. Form must be inextricably tied to function, and waste or frivolousness is sin. Even the colonies founded by pre-fall Terrans were universally subjugated on their discovery by the Ascendancy, and almost all remnants of pre-Fall Terran culture have been erased and replaced with the new order. Subjects of the Ascendancy are expected to live and work in a frugal manner, take orders and contribute to the Ascendancy's ongoing struggle.
In practice, the more influential and powerful one becomes, the more leeway one is afforded and the more opportunities there are to accumulate wealth, power and luxuries. The most powerful live lives of grandeur and excess behind curtains closed to the population at large. While life in the Ascendancy is generally rigid and ordered, status grants more freedom. Those with useful skills, members of the military and those with connections to the Noble Houses can generally do as they see fit, as long as they stay within the bounds of their power and reach.
The trappings of militaristic discipline and aristocratic restraint pervade the culture - the Houses hold onto power by clamping down hard on dissent, and the reinforcement of cultural norms, propaganda and ideology are all key tools in doing so. The culture of the Ascendancy has developed little in the past two thousand years as a result. Drills, inspections and repetition of loyalty oaths are the norm for everyday people, and spying and reporting deviant behaviour in one's neighbours is well rewarded. Above the level of the Masses, nobles compete for power, resources and influence over each other, using ordinary citizens in their elaborate power plays and schemes.
Loyalty and discipline are the main pillars of the Ascendancy's culture. Subjects are expected to show loyalty to the state, humanity, their House, their military unit, and so on. Public demonstrations of that loyalty are important, and reinforce the bonds between inferior and superior, subject and state. Discipline expresses itself as temperance, clamping down on visible emotions, and remaining stalwart in the face of oppression, pain and even torture, knowing that you are doing your part to ensure the survival of humanity. The Ascendancy is not a completely centrally controlled empire, as it is simply too large to operate as such, so there is a certain degree of autonomy for businesses and other groups as long as they are led by individuals with some degree of status. However, Council diktats are expected to be followed, and those who choose to defy them must have solid reserves of political support within the Houses in order to fend off reprisals from the machinery of the state.
In play, Ascendancy characters will be expected to participate in loyalty rallies or inspections. Characters are expected to be able to demonstrate that their acts benefit the Ascendancy and further its goals. Repeatedly avoiding these meetings may draw adverse attention and sanctions.
Within Terran society, there is no such thing as a ‘traditional family unit’. It is the norm for children to be effectively raised by the education system imposed by the House in charge of them. Education begins at age 2 and comprises almost solely of science, technology and mathematics. There is a cursory education in language but the Ascendancy relies almost solely on Universal Translation technology. By the age of thirteen, young people have completed their basic education and are pressed into compulsory Military service based on their ‘Quantitative Test Scores’ and are expected to serve until the age of 21.
It is not unknown for children to be raised by their parents, but this is only if it convenient within their roles. Terrans working away or within the military can also have children but it is frowned upon if it impacts their duties. In such cases, siblings and family members will often work together. This is not due to loyalty or affection but rather trust. After all, you can be certain a child you gave birth to is not an Elysian agent. Though children are encouraged to be suspicious of their parents in case they harbour seditious tendencies.
But for the most part, there is no real concept of ‘family loyalty’ within the Ascendancy.
Art is wasteful and serves no function. Drawing for aesthetic purposes is a waste of resources that could be used to create schematics or signs to remind citizens of their duty. Fictional literature is non-existent and is seen as frivolous and with the ability to sow anarchy.
The exception to this is music. Music and singing is counted as very good for morale. Citizens are encouraged to loudly sing along to stirring, state-approved songs. Stirring instrumentals and classical music are often played before major events, addresses or during war. There are also ballads about notable Terrans, though again, these have to be approved by the aristocracy and often paint them in a flattering light.
There is a thriving black market in illicit Free Union and pre-fall art and literature. An officer will often have a private, secret stash of books or images that they shamefully hide away. Were they to find their subordinates with such material they would instantly confiscate it and the sanctions would be severe.
Unsurprisingly, the Noble Houses have vast libraries and galleries of pre-fall and Free Union literature, art and plays which they benevolently keep away from the easily influenced citizens. They will often have entire evenings dedicated to displaying seditious materials amongst their peers.
The Free Union attempts to characterise the Ascendancy as joyless and loveless, authoritarian even in the confines of ones bedroom. This is far from the truth but not for the reasons they would expect. A citizens sexuality or gender is seen as irrelevant to the role they perform. Due to the lack of art, television or novels growing up there are no gender stereotypes re-enforced when growing up. Nor are any expectations of sexuality or gender discussed within education as this is seen as frivolous. Therefore, the choice of sexual partner of a citizen does not even raise comment, words like ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ have no meaning. A Terran is free to have sexual relations with whoever they choose. Similarly, while Terrans understand biological differences, gender identity is seen as being optional and irrelevant to how efficient a citizen is.
Clothes are often gender neutral and a ‘male’ Terran would not raise eyebrows if they wore what we would now consider traditional ‘female’ clothes. Importantly, this has nothing to do with liberal choice or self expression, its just completely inconsequential to how people perform in their jobs.
Ironically, despite this sexual freedom, flirting, references to sexual activity and an openness to discuss these matters are actually quite rare. Other races joke that Terrans require a formal contract and a third party negotiator in order to identify whether a prospective partner is interested in them and up to a year of awkward conversation to initiate any contact. There is an element of truth in this, Terrans will matter-of-factly refer to their sexuality but due to the ingrained importance of rank and privilege will often find the whole thing to be a minefield of social interaction.
Funerals in the Terran Ascendency for those not in the military service of some form, tend to be small affairs, attended only by a few close unit members. All funerals will involve some form of cremation, cremated remains are usually then buried or blasted into space en masse. It is very typical to toast to the passing of an individual, a remembrance drink, either at the cremation ceremony or at a gathering in a bar or restaurant thereafter. There is very little celebration of death, it is a period of mourning and remembering of the deeds of those who have passed, with respect.
Funerals in space typically take the form of a body being stored into a small pod, similar to those used as life-pods in emergencies, blasted into the star of the solar system in which the ship finds itself. It has become tradition within the TA fleet, for the dead to be given to the stars of the systems in which they died. Following ejection of the pod to the stars, a drink of remembrance is shared with the unit of the deceased and their commanding officer.
Deaths in the noble houses or for member of significant military service typically will have some form of lesser or greater state funeral. This is usually simply a formal precession whereby the deceased body is carried from their residence, to the place of cremation. At such precessions it is typical that the flags and colours of the deceased home planet are waved as the procession passes, and state approved music of the region will play along the procession route.
The cremation ceremonies typically involve a commanding officer or unit colleague of the deceased speaking a few words about their career, occasionally there may be a second or third speaker, in particular at a state funeral, but this is rare.
Formal dinner parties and drinks receptions form the basis for social interaction in the Terran Ascendancy. There is a roaring restaurant business on most Terran worlds who specialise in catering for groups, small private dinners of less than four people are extremely uncommon. A dinner with colleagues is how most life events are celebrated, from birthdays to promotions to congratulations for engagements.
Alternatively and usually as the kick-off to major events such as musical concerts, diplomatic negotiations or corporate expositions, drinks receptions are significant affairs and most ‘bars’ in the Ascendancy are specifically designed to cater for this type of event, rather than casual guests. Where drinks are paid for in advance and then served to guests on arrival.
As such events are typically formal in nature, it is customary for those in military service to be treated with their full status; if senior military personnel attend your table, you are expected to stand and salute or show respect accordingly if not in service. For senior military commanders, it would be expected that all members of the establishment would rise and show salute and attention accordingly.