"The Golden Age is the most implausible of all dreams. But for it men have given up their life and strength; for the sake of it prophets have died and been slain; without it the people will not live and cannot die."
- – Fyodor Dostoevsky
"I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace."
- – Albert Einstein
Space: the final frontier.
These are the voyages of the starship Tau’s Future Glory. Its mission: to seek out new life and new civilizations and unify them with noblebright—and the occasional plasma blast—for the Greater Good of all, and to boldly go into a grimdark galaxy where no Weeaboo Space Communist has gone before.
And thus begins the adventures of the 40k galaxy’s version of the Star Trek Federation, brought to you by unflagging belief in the Greater Good! Cake for all!
But Seriously, Folks
For reals though, this is the background on it:
The Greater Good (Tau’va) is the central, guiding philosophical doctrine of the Tau Empire and its diverse citizens. Essentially, it involves always taking the course of action that is best for the majority of people (and the fact the majority of the Empire's citizens have blue skin and forehead slits is totally coincidental, we swear. Although with the joining of Hive Worlds it’s ironically humans), and dictates that everyone and everything has its place in the system; as such, the system will look after you, and you after it. (Real-life humans have thought of this too; it's called utilitarianism). It goes a lot deeper than that for the Tau, who believe it is their duty to bring the enlightening message of the Greater Good to everyone in the galaxy, and subsequently join them under the rule of the Tau Empire in order to work together for a better future for all.
It was the Ethereals who first brought the message of the Greater Good to the other Tau on their homeworld during the age of civil war and barbarism that they now refer to as the Mont'au, or "The Terror." The Ethereals preached a message of peaceful cooperation between the four major Tau tribes, and explained that each tribe's skills should be harnessed for the benefit of all to secure a brighter future. In this way, the Ethereals united them as a single-minded people, and over the next few millennia, the Tau got their shit together in record time for a sapient species, much like fa/tg/uys might were it not for the insurmountable levels of skub and rage produced by the internet on a daily basis. There was a massive growth in technology, science and knowledge, and the Tau became a spacefaring race very rapidly compared to others. They
mind controlled contacted several less advanced races and won them over with their ideals; these were some of the first non-Tau members of what would become the Tau Empire.
Since approaching the space controlled by the Imperium, however, the Tau have been somewhat disabused of the notion that most of the galaxy's denizens are interested in anything but killing them, since every other major race they have encountered either rejects their overtures for unity with a bolt pistol or straightaway tries to fight or nom them. Even the Tau's own member species generally join in the hopes of killing things. Here are some typical instances of the Tau Empire's negotiations with other races.
Cue galaxy-wide lulz.
As mentioned above, the idea of a greater good is not really all that new in the real world. It has existed in modern society for a while, although not in the form of an official guiding doctrine, and instead as more of a general rule of thumb to do your best by society as a whole and to not be selfish. To create in full the Tau idea of the Greater Good you will need: communism, Marxism, utilitarianism, naïveté, enough politics to make your head spin, xenophilia, the power of friendship and working together, and of course guns, lots and lots of guns, just in case 'persuading' someone to adopt the Greater Good fails. The resulting mixture resembles none of the ingredients (and would make Karl Marx chew his own beard off) but gives you a sense of the different bits and pieces Games Workshop added into its big concept cauldron to concoct the Tau Empire's Greater Good.
In the first edition Tau Codex the idea of the Greater Good was pretty clean if vague, a noble goal to unite the galaxy. The book "Fire Warrior", though, which was published at this time, goes into it at great length, including what it means and what happens when a Tau has his or her eyes open to what kind of galaxy they live in (in a mature, non-grimdark way too). By the first Tau Empire book, though, there is some gritty realism, with stories of people resisting the Greater Good, and in the current situation there are clear cases where the Greater Good will be meaningless (Orks, Tyranids, etc.).
In the wider galaxy, if you don't like the Greater Good, you hate it. In this way it is kind of like skub. The Imperium hates it because it is a challenge to their authority and they are afraid that nervous, weak-willed humans will see it as an alternative to what the Imperium offers, and they can't have that. Chaos hates it because it is the antithesis to what each of the four ruinous powers stand for: selflessness and discipline over indulgence (Slaanesh); peace over war (Khorne); growth and progress over decay (Nurgle); and structured order over change and randomness (Tzeentch). In short, the concept of the Greater Good is in direct opposition to the powers of Chaos, and exactly why Chaos has not launched a Black Crusade against the Tau Empire so far is unclear. (Obvious reasons include the Eye and the Tau being separated by an entire galaxy, the Imperum being a juicer target with more squishy blood-filled sacrifices, and because Chaos hasn't had a codex update, the Riptide spam is too strong, and that Abbadon still can't do anything right.) Necrons and Eldar dislike the Greater Good simply because they consider it to be the starry-eyed drivel of a young species (although the Eldar have a soft spot for the Tau, likely because they created them), and the Orks and Tyranids couldn't care less, obviously. They will fight (and eat) anyone.
So all in all, pretty hard times being a missionary for the Greater Good in the 41st millennium.
Accusations of epic trolling on GW's part
When the Tau first came out, it was believed all this Greater Good lovey-dovey business was an epic example of trolling on GW's part against their franchise and the fan base, what with the 40k galaxy being completely grimdark previously. The presence of a race that was (shock-horror) normal by most sci-fi standards confused some and enraged others. GW declared they wanted a new, dynamic race for their setting. Fans thought they went a bit too far in this regard and had created something that clashed thematically with the setting it was in.
As of the most recent codex and fluff updates, however, the Tau and the Greater Good have been made more 'realistic' in the context of the 40k galaxy. The Ethereals have declared certain races "lost causes" which are beyond the capability of the Greater Good to help them (the Orks and the Tyranids, though this declaration should have been made upon one glimpse of those assholes). And as of the most recent expansion phase in the Empire, the Tau have at times abandoned the slow but steady option of diplomacy in favour of just annexing worlds and forcing the Greater Good onto anyone there via military might. Considering this is more in line with the Imperium's way of doing things, we shall have to see how that goes. Other grimdark things done to and in the name of the Greater Good can be found in the next section.
Is it all really sunshine and lollipops?
The codices and fluff hinted from the start that all was not what it seemed in the Tau Empire, and with the recent updates, especially the Farsight Enclaves supplement, the Ethereals have been portrayed as subtly evil space tyrants ruling an empire through clever mind control tricks which the Tau population is unaware of. Basically, the books hint that the Ethereals, a strange breed of Tau who appeared out of nowhere, use some form of mind control or pheromone to influence other Tau to listen to what they say and to obey orders without question. It is further hinted that this has had a diminished effect on even non-Tau. It is in this way they sell the Greater Good. It is the sort of thing the Party in 1984 would love to be able to do and would make their work load much easier.
There has been no solid confirmation on the origin or power of the Hypnotau, and like a lot of potentially cool plot points, it has been left underdeveloped in order to drag out the plot. Thanks GW. Of course, Xenology really, really heavily implies that the Eldar stole some other alien race's mind-control pheromones and integrated them into Tau biology.
That said, it's also heavily implied that the Ethereals' pheromones affect the Ethereals themselves as well. They fully believe in everything they preach, as opposed to 1984's leaders. In the novel Fire Warrior, an Ethereal actually resists falling to goddamn daemonic possession not because of any psychic resistance or relic but because his faith in the Greater Good gives him total balance and control over his mind, meaning no emotional flaws for a daemon to exploit.
While pheromones and the like account for the single-mindedness of the Tau, the Empire's member races presumably must be won over by more traditional means, so there still has to be a solid philosophical core for other races to latch onto. To this end, prominent Vespid are outfitted with "communion helms" to assist translation, which obviously contain no mind-control elements whatsoever. Same goes for the Nagi, a race of telepathic brain worms who regularly council with the Ethereals. The fluff doesn't talk about them much, but the moment you read "telepathic brain worms" that's immediately going to raise some red flags. However, as far as we know, the Nagi have no direct contact with the other client races. So whether or not there's mind control amongst the Tau themselves, the Greater Good is still a legitimate motivating philosophy that is proving itself to be quite effective at uniting disparate civilizations.
Reasons to accept the Greater Good
- The Tau Empire is open to diplomacy and talking things through. Even if they are primarily focused on getting what they want (like every sensible person is), they will still listen to what you want as well and potentially allow room for it. The Imperium does diplomacy too, but merely as a pretense until they can get enough guns there. If they have enough guns already then diplomacy sounds like BLAM!
Faptau and/or Schlicktau will teach you how to masturbate like a professional.THIS SECTION OF TEXT IS A LIE AGAINST THE GREATER GOOD. ALL INDIVIDUALS INVOLVED WILL BE BROUGHT BACK TO TAU FOR REEDUCATION.
- You can be friends or allies with other alien races unless they're ones deemed a lost cause by the Greater Good.
- Life in the Empire is significantly better for civilians, especially lower-class ones, than in most other civilizations. Hell, they even have free health care - in the Imperium you don't have ANY health care unless you're at least a valued middle class specialist or a soldier.
You will be allowed to worship who you want, as long as it doesn't conflict with the Greater Good. Retconned as of eighth edition.(Not a retcon) Though worship of your own gods is permitted, the Water caste actively try to get their citizens to devote their energies to the idea of the greater good.
- You will not be blown up in a dickish preemptive orbital strike by Commander Or'es'Ka.
- It advocates what is best for everyone and states that everyone can contribute to it in their own way, which we must agree is a better sell than Imperial zealots screaming that you owe the Emperor your life, so get busy dying for him, and no complaining or we'll make you die for him RIGHT FUCKING NOW!!!
- Machines are seen simply as machines, not as holy relics with souls that need to be fawned over with ridiculous rituals, and so a lot of things are automated. You don't have to do a tenth of the awful, soul-sucking menial labour that occurs in every corner of the Imperium. This automatically makes the Tau a thousand times more practical and sensible. Except there is the caveat that the Imperium treats technology and automation the way it does for a reason.
- The Farsight Enclaves, who are potentially one of the rare truly good factions in the 40k universe. They continue to practice the Tau's ideals of equality and progress within the Greater Good, but they also push back against the mind control nonsense of the Ethereal Caste. Plus, they're Tau who fight in melee.
Reasons not to accept the Greater Good
- You will be a walking target for life for HERESY, and hence BLAMMING, in the Imperium for even thinking about xenos in a positive light. (Just a reminder: mono-dominants within the Inquisition are not afraid to blow up an entire planet just to kill you. If not, there will always be someone waiting for you). This only applies if you choose to remain in Imperium territory; the Tau are expanding their territory so I'm sure they have room for at least one more.
- the t'au are being evaluated by the imperium, to determine whether they are truly hostile or just naive idiots. this doesn't change protocol now but might later.
- You are probably being compelled by pheromones and mind control to be a "good person", which is to say your noblebright is the result of grimdark.
- You will be horrified at how barbaric and violent the rest of the galaxy is, so make sure you cover your eyes when you're outside the Empire.
- You will be compared to Jehovah's Witnesses because your message is just irritating to anyone who is not already ONE OF US…
- You will be compared to communists by most people despite the fact that the Tau Empire only resembles communisim. which is to say it perfectly mirrors the sociopolitical ideals of the soviet union, and the PRC in the most dubious of ways.
- Inter-caste breeding is strictly prohibited in the Tau Empire. Their view on Tau getting it on with non-Tau is even worse. So if you meet a stunning Water Caste babe and you're a member of the Air Caste, or a member of a non-Tau race, you're unfortunately gonna have to go all Romeo and Juliet on that shit.
- The problem above is irrelevant but only because if you're Tau, your libido is almost nonexistent, and you don't think of sex as anything more than a method of reproduction. Some, however, may think this is an advantage rather than drawback; Then again, some sources claim Tau like sex as much as humans do but their Caste system and the Ethereal's control restrict it. Which is probably false since breeding a lot is a very big contribution to the Greater Good. Especially when automation and new worlds makes feeding and housing a non-issue...of course the Etherials are the least of your problems in this regard.
- You have to accept that you won't be in charge of your own destiny. But then, no one really is in the 40k galaxy…:'(
- Although it may seem all nice and happy, be careful. Big Brother is always watching you... but Tau Big Brother is more polite and less trigger-happy or invasive than Imperium Big Brother. Which means the subtle alien and daemonic threats Imperium Big Brother protects you against will get through Tau Big Brother and do horrible, horrible things to you and your soul.
- It might be an Eldar conspiracy to convince foolish Mon...Gue'la to die for a mysterious force that isn't Chaos.
- Alternatively, it might be a brainworm conspiracy to use a bunch of blue and pink meat puppets to fight their battles for them.
- Machine spirits actually do exist in 40k, and not having them in your technology could be a problem when Chaos shows up.
- You run a great risked of being OMNOMED by Tyranids, atom raped by Necrons, slaughtered by Orks or all of the above by Dark Eldar.
What is important to remember is this!
Despite all the jeers about naiveté, subtle mind control and Big Brother watching you, the Tau Empire and its philosophy of the Greater Good is still the nicest option to go with in the 40k universe, especially if you're one of those rare neckbeards who actually realizes that grimderp and sadness doesn't always equal coolness and profundity (but not smart enough to realize it exists for survival and lacking it means death or worse), or who don't think that survival at the cost of your humanity is worth it when there's hope - perhaps futile hope, but hope - for doing so without sacrificing the things we value (love, beauty, compassion, freedom). So what if your leaders control the population like a club of puppet masters? At least you can trust these people not to throw you and your family into a meat grinder suicide war or to crush all the individuality and freedom out of you while saying it is for your own good. Some have said "give it ten thousand more years and the Tau Empire will be just like the Imperium" (don't forget the current Imperium is a lot more backwards and oppressive than the Emperor intended, although the Horus Heresy books reveal the only major difference besides technology is the Imperial Creed than Imperial Truth and the Creed is far more lenient and tolerant, Emps was even more purge-happy than 40K Imperium). But really, will it? The Tau are quite different from humans, so their response will be quite different as well. Until then, the Greater Good remains one of the few doctrines of the 40k universe that makes sense, and despite all the grimdark made of it recently, it is still so noblebright it can blind Night Lords a light year away.
At the level of narrative a big thing about The Greater Good is that it's an ideology that many a real world person today would find to some degree or another attractive. Beyond the obvious ability for people to relate to and become more invested in the setting, it also provides a stepping stone and a contrast to the grimdark everywhere else, providing a yardstick to measure against, and get some idea of the sheer scope and scale of the grimdark. Even if there are reasons in universe as to why it's the case the Imperial Creed is going to be a hard sell to pretty much everyone in the modern day to say the least even when we see what it's like in practice and the nastier interpretations there-of. The Greater Good is in general a much more palatable worldview. In Star Trek the philosophy of the Vulcans, which is framed in a positive light, is "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations" and "The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few". Various real world philosophies also hit the same notes to various degrees. Encouraging altruism, cooperation between different groups, the idea that society should have a place for everyone and striving for an idea of societal harmony and the benefit of all is things that many people can get behind. Of course people can do horrible things in service of noble ideals even as they strive for them, but that does not mean that the ideas in of themselves are fundamentally repugnant.
The problem isn’t the ideals or how they’re exercised in this case. The problem is that entities in the Warp can potentially take advantage of these ideals to horribly fuck over the Tau Empire. That shit (and the fact that literally anything except the Imperial Doctrine is considered heresy for not having been around for 10,000 years) is why these ideals are heresy. Already it's beginning to falter in cases like the Fourth Sphere's growing xenophobia.
Further Imperial Thoughts on the Tau
Another interesting point regarding Imperial-Tau relations is spelled out in the current Tau codex. If you really want to get to the core of what the Imperium's problem with the Tau Empire is, you have to look to those who actually have the bigger picture of just what the fuck is going on in the galaxy. While your average inquisitor will shoot anything not human without a second thought, the bigwigs at the top of the food chain (specifically in the Mechanicus and the High Lords) are concerned about the Tau for several "good" reasons. Not only does the Empire offer a life of something more than "make bullets for the Emperor until you die and be thankful for it" (which you can imagine sounds pretty good to your average menial laborer), but they actually see a bit of themselves in the Tau. The Tau Empire is very similar to humanity during the Golden Age of Technology in terms of society (though probably with job distinctions rather than social castes and with the ability to change jobs/castes), which if you know how that ended the Imperium's problem with the Tau is a bit more understandable.
Its also a matter of the warp and the Horus Heresy. Regardless of how many people in the Imperium know it, a major contributor was the primarchs finding things other than the Emperor or the Imperium to be loyal to, eventually causing a good half of them to turn traitor and put the Emperor on the Throne. Most of what came after was in response to this. The Greater Good is (in theory) separate from the leaders that espouse it. The Imperium, meanwhile, wants you to follow your leaders, regardless of the reasons or outcomes. As the Tau don't really have a presence in the warp, they don't have to worry about heretics and cults (at least for now). One can imagine the clusterfuck that develops when their human ranks are infiltrated by a cult and suddenly a horde of demons show up looking for lunch (having had the cultists for breakfast).
There are also the other races in the T'au empire. The minor aliens of the galaxy are... a mixed lot. The Tau tend to treat these with surprising amounts of courtesy, granting groups like the Kroot incredible independence, not overseeing or administrating their worlds and in numerous cases, such as Farsight, Commander Shadow and Ethereal seekers respecting and honouring the Kroot, whilst finding their practise of cannibalism still distasteful. Member species such as the Nicassar and Nagi are also frequently seen being treated well as advisors and permitted a limited form of input on governmental decisions. Rarely have member species ever been shown to be particularly aggravated or feel oppressed by the Tau. Regardless the fact that the Tau do not kill aliens on sight and simply have the explicit goal of annihilating all other life in the galaxy, makes them an attractive polity for aliens who are otherwise forced to contend with the xenocidal Humans, Orks, Chaos or Tyranid. Which eventually will result in the empire self-destructing, because those same aliens tend to be enslaving or xenocidal towards everyone else, too. Which is why the Imperium wants to wipe them out. Tau mind control helps direct it towards the enemies of the Tau instead of the empire, but that won't last forever. Especially if the Tau run out of "others" to point them at. Or if they grow too numerous such that there aren’t enough Etherals to keep them dosed. Now...how will they feel when they come to their senses and realized their minds were fucked with? Eh heh heh heh.
Regardless, the Imperium is largely willing to work with the Tau since they are the lesser of evils in a lot of sectors. Deathwatch talks about how most of the leadership of the Achilus Crusade (including the Deathwatch) would rather sign a non-agression pact with the tau against the invading Tyranids. The logic being that a world under the ideology of the Tau can be purged and be brought back to the Imperium, a world being nommed is of no value to anyone. Of course The pragmatic option isn't always the available one as the head of the Crusade is a paranoid idiot who would rather see the entire sector fall than compromise. The Tau themselves seem split between exploiting this character flaw so they will have strategic control and not having to send millions of troops to fight the Imperium on one front while hordes of giant space locusts arrive from another.
Really, though, the Imperium should take advantage of the Greater Good thing to get the Tau as a cool gun to shoot at other enemies' weakpoints with. Using "Greater Good" in propaganda and diplomacy would pretty easily be turned into getting the Tau to join the Imperium's "Greater Good" so their invasive quality would be made into a tool for Imperial authorities to get everyone to shut up and do what they're told. And maybe it would help a lot with their inefficiency as a side effect. This isn't really any different than an Inquisitor using an alien weapon, just this weapon can talk.
The God of the Greater Good?
Recent fluff from Phil Kelly's novels has revealed that a brand-new Warp God has been created from the perceptions and worship of the Greater Good, mostly thanks to the psychic races of the Empire. It's a five-fingered, many-armed god, taking on a vague resemblance to an Ethereal wearing a blank and impassive mask; it seems like a benevolent being but it hungers to spread its arms across the galaxy and reshape everything in its image. This appearance is reminiscent of Sahasrabhuja from Buddhism. This massive entity saved the Fourth Sphere and blasted a hole from the Warp into reality for them to escape.
The Fourth Sphere T'au are the only guys who know that entity exists (somehow) and it's gaining power the more the T'au Empire expands and assimilates other races, something their commanders are not happy with, seeing it as a corruption of the true Greater Good and a threat to their Empire. In an attempt to stop or kill the god of the Greater Good before it fully forms (even though that's already happened) they secretly engineered the genocide of the T'au allied races who survived the transition to real space, and are murdering every alien they can whenever they're given the opportunity (including Gue'vesa after they trick them into joining the Empire). Eventually Shadowsun and the Ethereal Council disciplined the Fourth Sphere commanders with a ritual punishment before they were returned to the ranks or sent back to the empire for re-assimilation. As of the Psychic Awakening lore, this didn't do jack shit to curb their bloodlust.
The big problem with this new lore, is it's complete horseshit for a number of reasons. The first is that the Tau have a muted warp presence and even if we were to include all of their allied races, they wouldn't even equal a fraction of what the Eldar currently have in the setting, and they had to perform a complex ritual that had the backing of an actual god behind it to form Ynnead, and even then Ynnead doesn't have nearly the power the god of the Greater Good has displayed. Even when the Eldar accidentally created Slaanesh, it took countless trillions of Eldar souls and millennia of hedonism to create it. The second reason is that the Tau don't worship the concept of the greater good; saying they do is like saying people worship the country they live in. The third is that the Tau have been around for a relatively short time which, combined with their relatively small population, has barely been noticed by anything in the Warp, let alone having the power to create a new god in it. It also kind of makes you wonder that if a bunch of humans "believing" in the Greater Good was enough to make it manifest in the Warp - and considering the population of humans in the Tau empire is relatively minuscule, not to mention the fact that the entire Tau population is outnumbered by an average human city on a hive world - then that lich on the golden chair should've gotten so powered up by the faith of several quadrillion humans that he would've glassed everything that could've posed a threat to the Imperium, both in the Materium and the Warp.
All in all, it's such a stupid idea that the editor should've put it down the second it came up (possibly after slapping the writer), being so hilariously awful people would've laughed it off as bad fanfiction had it not been on Black Library. Likely (and hopefully) it'll be ignored by everything around it, much like anything C.S. Goto writes down.
In fact it's such a stupid idea that the only way this whole story makes any sense at all is if this is a chaos god posing as the god of the greater good. Of the big four, Tzeentch seems like the one most likely to try and pull this kind of stunt off since the Tau are dynamic, seek to upset the galactic order and the greater good is an inherently hopeful philosophy, all things that fit into his portfolio. Combined with the tau being fairly gullible about this kind of thing, and it's not out of the question for him to try this. For what end, who knows? But Tzeentch is all about plans within plans, written on a mobius strip, hidden in a Klein bottle, so it could be for a goal that is a thousand years yet to develop. That said Phil Kelly is not nearly talented enough nor enmeshed enough with the lore to think that far ahead with his writings. Still it's the best explanation we got for what's really going on here.