Warhammer 40K Lore: Ethereals And The “Greater Good”
Today Loremasters, we look at the so-called Greater Good of the T’au, and the sinister machinations of the Ethereals to whom they slavishly devote themselves.
Gather ’round Loremasters, for today we have a cautionary tale–that of the T’au, an obviously foolish species that slavishly devote themselves to foolhardy ideas like the ‘betterment of all’ or ‘technological advancement’ and ‘cooperative society.’ Such cooperation must surely be antithetical to progress, after all if the Emperor wanted all of humanity to be unified towards good above all else he never would’ve allowed Commissars in the Astra Militarum. Nevertheless, the seditious idea of a greater good that might be accomplished if all abandon fruitless individual struggles and unite towards a common aim seems particularly resilient. So let us examine why.
The Greater Good, or Tau’va (literally, “Good Greater”), is the founding principle of Tau society. The Tau’va system is based on a Caste System and is designed to allow for the advancement of the entire Tau society together towards a more successful, prosperous and easier existence in the future.
The Greater Good was first introduced to the Tau during the Mont’au (literally, “Death Age”), a civil war. It was during this time that the first Ethereals came to the Tau and united the Tau tribes under the idea of the Greater Good, which involved perfect harmony and the combining of each Caste’s strengths to counter the many weaknesses their culture had. Within a few years, Tau culture had become dominated by the Greater Good and they began the long march towards technological advancement.
Now while the Greater Good did help save the T’au from their self-destructive tendencies and does, technically, bind the T’au in perfect harmony, allowing for the advanced weaponry of the T’au (like their battlesuits and destructive weaponry and drones), remember that it all comes down to a slavish devotion to the Ethereals (or Aun in Tau), who are the leaders of Tau society.
Their arrival started the unification process between the various Tau tribes and coincided with the implementation of the concept of the Greater Good. They first appeared during a siege between the Tau of the plains (later known as the Fire Caste) and the Tau of the city of Fio’taun (later known as the Earth Caste). The Ethereals brought the two sides together to negotiate and convinced them to follow the Greater Good. Their power over the Tau is such that an Ethereal could tell a Tau to die and that Tau would do so quickly and gladly. The Adeptus Mechanicus would give much to learn the secret of the Ethereal’s power. There is strong implication from the similarities between an organ possessed uniquely among Tau by the Ethereals, and an organ which Q’orl use in pheromonal communication that this ability may be due to deliberate engineering in the Ethereals’ past.
The Ethereal sometimes lead the fire caste into battle to provide inspirational leadership, so the warriors can achieve more. However if the Ethereal falls in combat, the remaining Tau are struck with grief that causes them to lose battles or they get extremely enraged and charge forward, either way after a Ethereal falls the Fire Warriors lose all discipline and efficiency
Though the obedience of the Tau to Ethereals is natural, the other races, especially Mankind, have long speculated about the features of this uncommon loyalty. There are a lot of theories from the prenatal indocrination or pheromonal compulsion to the presence of some veiled psychic gift possessed by the Ethereals, but as yet no confirmed proof of any such power has been secured. Those few Ethereals that have been captured and subjected to interrogation have proven less than forthcoming.
On their foreheads resides a small organ, smaller than the ones the other castes have. Imperial studies on the organ show no biological function, but it’s suspected that the ethereal studied is a dud, or that the way the Ethereal control the Tau is more esoteric in nature. As the leaders of the Tau, the Ethereals are enigmatic and studious, yet unfaltering in their authority and their drive to further the Greater Good. They are mystics and philosophers, possessed of knowledge and wisdom not shared by their more practical subjects. As such they had some part to play in the Tau rapid development, and to this day guide their species in its dynamic expansion, or the castes revert to the savagery that once threatened to destroy them.
Any society that would be crippled or utterly destroyed by the loss of their leader, with all technological and social progress halted is one not fit to stand in the light of the Golden Throne.