Eldraeverse Subscriptions #3: The Darëssef (1/2)

And now number three is out – some vignettes explaining the Eldraeic not-caste-but-often-misglossed-as-caste-in-translation system, or rather, people from the various darëssef talking about what it means to be one of them. This is the first four of the eight, with the rest coming later.

Original post on this here, if anyone doesn’t know what’s going on and/or is interested in a year’s supply of nanofic…

Imperial Currency

So, some thoughts to answer a comment I received a while back on a Trope-a-Day:

Hmm, so the Libertarian Spess Elves have a fiat currency. That’s interesting to learn and I’m curious to find out some more about how that came about down the line.

Well, first, it’s not like commodity currencies didn’t exist – the Imperial Charter is very specific in that while it requires the Empire to provide a currency, it doesn’t prevent anyone else who wants to from doing the same thing – including the classic precious metal currencies, the gAugAg, andgPt (grain gold, grain silver, grain platinum). But… well, look, as of 2009, 165,000 tonnes of gold had been mined in the whole of human history. Their numbers were similar in the late pre-space era.

So when asteroid miners started going out and rendering down space rocks and dumping gold, silver, and platinum-group metals onto the market in kiloton lots, even after their overheads – which were substantial – the effect on the price of precious metals was… salutary. On the downside.

And when Atalant Materials, ICC, invented the automated smeltership and upped the ante to megaton lots, the second crash pretty much put an end to the preciousness of precious metals. Gold became worth about as much as iron used to, and since it’s still pretty and unreactive, is used for an astonishing range of relatively cheap applications, like casings and cloth, which is why the Empire looks so… shiny. (As for iron, it’s so much of a glut on the market that it’s essentially just-haul-the-damn-stuff-away free. There are gigatonnes of it floating around in far orbit stockpiles as a byproduct of extracting more interesting metals.)

The gAu, gAg, and gPt are still around, but worth practically nothing in real money; and those people who didn’t divest them quickly enough when the space-mining revolution came around learned a really harsh lesson in not keeping up with the markets. The effects, incidentally, of applying this de facto hyperinflation across the entire economy, had they been using the gAu as the sole currency, are left as an exercise for the appalled reader.

Now, of course, this isn’t one of the incidents that led up to them using a fiat currency, it’s just one of the most graphic examples why they should. But the actual reasons were pretty similar. The years between the overthrow of the korásan in the Old Empires region and the founding of the Empire were not, shall we say, known for their political and commercial stability, and commodity prices were correspondingly bouncy; and Alphas I knew perfectly well that by founding the Empire, and then by its remorseless dedication to progress, dammit, progress above most, he wasn’t planning to invite stability in to stay all that quickly.

So, he went looking at the functions of currency and what makes it work, and then set out to create an artificial currency that fulfilled the necessary criteria to work as a medium of exchange and store of value, and in particular, what a commodity couldn’t give people: namely, a constant value/purchasing power.

What it says on each esteyn coin, bill, and certificate is “By Our Imperial Word, One Esteyn” (or whatever the denomination happens to be). Most people leave it there, but were you to go to the Exchequer and ask, “Ah, what word exactly?”, what they would tell you is that the guarantee is that what Yesterday’s Esteyn would buy, Today’s Esteyn will buy, and what Today’s Esteyn bought, Tomorrow’s Esteyn will also buy; that is, that it’s a reliable store of value that doesn’t have an accidental or deliberate inflationary or deflationary trend to it.

The reality is, of course, a little more complicated. In theory, the way this works is that the Exchequer, or to be more specific, the Imperial Board of Money and Values, controls the money supply, and what they do is carefully adjust the money supply to match what the currency’s really backed by, which is to say, the productive capacity of the Imperial economy (or, rather, the esteyn-denominated economy, but that’s very close in practical terms). When production expands, prices of their carefully selected broad basket of commodities fall, and they mint enough money to keep the purchasing power of the esteyn constant, distributing this seigniorage – in modern times, where this is practicable – evenly through the entire economy in proportion to how much money various holders already have, in order to avoid distorting the market by having it all appear in one place. Should production contract, prices rise, and they requisition an appropriate amount of the government’s revenue and make it disappear.

In practice, of course, this is substantially more difficult because of technological innovation, new resource discoveries, etc., etc., ad nauseam, so it requires considerable juggling of the basket to ensure that such adjustments as they make to the money supply reflect secular productivity changes across the entire economy, and not one commodity, say, going way off the average because of, well, resource discoveries like the above space-mining example, or technological innovation in manufacturing (which should be reflected in price changes, because it’s not merely a consequence of an artificial supply constraint), or some such. And ultimately, of course, the basket ending up as a primarily energy/cycle index when nanofacturing, automation, and such, made the manufacturing cost of pretty much all material goods – “post-scarcity commodity goods” – fall right off the bottom of the chart.

But over the millennia, they’ve got pretty good at it.

Now, you may well ask, why isn’t this abused in much the same way that fiat currencies generally are in our timeline?

Well, firstly, there’s much less institutional power there. There’s no actual central bank, for one thing. The IBMV can create and destroy currency to adjust the money supply, and another part of the Exchequer does operate an interbank clearing system, but they don’t operate as a lender of last resort (there is no lender of last resort), no-one sets any sort of interest rates except for individual lenders at their own discretion, and so on and so forth.

Secondly, their governmental system is distinctly minarchical and largely immune to political pressures, and much more importantly, much more harshly designed to weed out idiots than any system on Earth has managed to be. Plus, given the local lifespans, people are used to thinking in time horizons of centuries or longer, which makes quick-fix interventions a lot less attractive.

And lastly, when Alphas I set the IBMV up, he deliberately designed it as a self-perpetuating oligarchy of – making use of the obsessive tendencies of his race – the kind of people who genuinely love money. Not making money, you understand, nor spending money, nor yet having money… but money. The principle that money stands for. And as such, universally despise the notion of using monetary policy to screw around with the economy, abhor anything that might devalue the instantiation of the principle they believe really hard in, and if ordered to do anything that might go against the Proper Way of Things, monetarily speaking, by anyone from the Senate through the Imperial Couple to the Golden God Itself, would order the Exchequer Guard to take up positions around Worth House and tell them to “come and bloody get it”.

And no-one’s dumb enough to even provoke that offer, much less take it up.

The Eldraeic Possessive and Memetic Imperialism

(As promised to the anonymous poster of the earlier ask, here’s a quick worldbuilding post reprint on the nature of the Eldraeic possessive and memetic imperialism.).

The Eldraeic possessive also goes into more detail than the possession functionality of many known languages.  Specifically, there are three types of possession recognized by the Eldraeic language using separate grammatical structures: the intrinsic, the associative, and thepropertarian.

The first of these, the intrinsic, is used to identify entities which are possessed by you because they are intrinsically part of you.  It is, in turn, separated into first- and second-order intrinsic possession:

First-order intrinsic possession is used with those entities which are not merely intrinsic parts of you, but are necessarily so.  Examples would include “my thoughts” and “my consciousness”, or indeed “myself”; these are necessarily part of oneself, otherwise one would not exist to make such a statement.

Second-order intrinsic possession covers the remainder of the intrinsic realm; “my hand”, “my hair”, “my liver”, etc.  As a historical note, “my body” is now an example of second-order intrinsic possession, despite originally being first-order.  The invention of uploading conclusively demonstrated that a specific given substrate was not, in fact, necessarily required to support a specific given mind, and thus invalidated the case for “my body” being first-order.

The second of these, the associative, designates entities which are “yours” because they choose to associate with you in some way, and vice versa, rather than being either intrinsic or property.  Examples from this set would include “my wife”, “my children”, “my friends”, “my coworkers”, “my concredents”, etc.

As a further linguistic note, one can generally identify the current Imperial stance on animal intelligence/prosophoncy with how domesticated examples of the species are referred to in the possessive.  For example, the brighter dog breeds would be referred to with the associative, whereas cattle would be referred to with the propertarian.

The third and final form of the possessive, the propertarian, is used with property over which the speaker actually holds present property rights, whether direct or delegated, except those things for which intrinsic possession is used instead.  (While one does possess property rights over one’s second-order intrinsics, alienating them is generally more complicated than those things for which one would use the propertarian.)  Examples are virtually limitless: “my car”, “my book”, “my lunch”, etc., etc.

This is, of course, another example of Imperial memetic imperialism – in this case, embedding epistemological, logical and metaphysical claims into the structure of the language – in practice.  Leaving aside the separation of related but non-identical concepts in the interest of encouraging (if not quite enforcing) clarity of thinking, the need to use the associative vis-a-vis the propertarian in the examples above is a little embedded moral lesson on not owning people (for those who need it) every time they speak; conversely, making the Freudian slip of using thepropertarian in place of the associative (or even the intrinsic, outside some very specific metaphorical contexts) is an effective declaration of your lousy, stinking slaverosity to all with ears to hear you.

Some other examples1 of the Empire’s memetic imperialism, as embedded into the structure of the language by the Conclave of Linguistics and Ontology, are these:

  • The explicit support built into the language for propositional, probabilistic, and inductive logics, and devices of grammar designed to make it as difficult as possible to phrase muddy or fallacious statements in grammatically valid Eldraeic.
  • The slant in the definitions and structures of descriptive predicates to encourage precision; even where ambiguity is permitted, precision is also permitted and encouraged, along with statement of the standard by which a given property is judged.
  • The requirement that metaphoric uses of language be explicitly marked in the grammar.
  • The difference between the imperative and the requestive, explained in a prior article, and the circumstances in which it is appropriate to use each.
  • The use of the word daráv, literally meaning “sophont”, to perform double-duty as the word for “person”.  The Alphasian metaphysical rule that any sophont entity is necessarily and intrinsically a person for all other purposes is thus made implicit.
  • Verbs such as séssqár (to have sex; of sophonts) and sétavirár (to converse) taking a set as a subject and no object; i.e., being linguistically defined as mutual activities, rather than activities performed by one to/with/of another.
  • While the ten available assignable Eldraeic pronouns and the 36 letter-variable pronouns canbe inflected for gender, status, animacy, and half-a-dozen other qualities if the speaker desires so to do, by default, the Eldraeic pronoun doesn’t mark any of these qualities, or indeed any qualities at all.
  • The presence, when one does wish to use gender-marking, of six grammatical genders (male, hermaphrodite, female, neuter, prenuptial catalyst and postnuptial catalyst) and three classes of gender (genetic, phenotypic, and personalic).
  • Likewise, nomenclature for parenthood comes in three classes (genetic parent(s), birth-parent(s) and family-parent(s) – i.e., the ones who raised you) additional to a generic word, none of which are explicitly gender-marked.
  • The Eldraeic language possesses only one word per genital organ and secondary sexual characteristic, which must suffice for both vulgar and technical usage, and no sexual expletives at all.  (Just imagine the fun the English->Eldraeic translator programmers would hypothetically have, given English’s most common noun-verb-adjective-interjection-conjunction-vocative-adverb.)
  • On the other hand, it does have a very fine set of scatological expletives, including extras formed by generalization to waste and entropy in general, and more ways to call someone an idiot than any language this side of Yiddish.  Possibly even beyond.
  • The entire taxonomy of Eldraeic words for government types begins with a division of elén móníë’ (polities) into elen telelefmóníë’ (oath-consent states, more freely glossed, “Societies of Consent”) and elén korasmóníë’ (force-states), the latter themselves divided into elén talkorasmóníë’ (true-force-states) and elén sémódarmóníë’ (mutual-slave-states) along lines roughly determined by their hierarchical vs. peer-to-peer organization and perceived internal honesty.  This top level of their taxonomy captures the philosophical underpinnings of Imperial political thinking very effectively2.

1. Not, by any means, all of them; just all those I have documented so far.

2. Hint: There is not a single polity on Earth which they wouldn’t consider one kind or another of el korasmóníë’.