Not Quite a Trope-a-Day: Blue and Orange Morality

I’m posting this one out of order, mostly because I’m finding more and more coming up in the list that reference it – the psychological differences between the eldrae, and indeed the Imperial, on the street and the humanity we’re used to and their effects on their sense of ethics is something that’s rather significant in the ongoing series of things. So here the main examples of this are, and intelligent commentary is welcomed!

Blue and Orange Morality: Well, sure, from their own point of view morality – or at least ethics – is pretty much Black and White Morality, but then, here, we’re looking at these things from a human perspective, at which point it looks very much more blue – or orange – than white.

Which is to say that – even aside from the issue of incomprehensibility of transsophont and postsophont minds to regular old baselines, or of the lack of transparency of thousand-year or ten-thousand-year plans to people who lack the relevant time horizon – it is a morality very much suited for people who are:

Intensely propertarian (coválír).  For the eldrae, a soph’s property is perceived very much as an extension of himself; “my house”, “my car”, or “my book” are as much a part of “me” as “my hand” is.  Property ethics, property law, and the appropriate delicacy a chap should observe around other people’s property follow appropriately.  You never appropriate or use someone else’s property, no matter how casually or trivially, without their consent, upon which you may never presume.

As a corollary to this, as a propertarian culture, they are comfortable assigning and quantizing value (not necessarily in monetary terms, since money is, after all, merely the quantum of exchange-value, which is a subset of value; and some values may invoke transfinite terms) even to intangibles and abstractions.  (Which is not to say that it despises sentiments and principles, or is cynical about non-material things; it merely requires that its adherents understand their own values in these areas.)  Nor do they devalue trade in the same way as human cultures, historical and present, do; entrepreneurship is very highly regarded.

(To give some other examples: In this paradigm, relationships, love included, are seen as an exchange of values.  To steal some text for this example from elsewhere, this means that in their idiom, “How much is your love worth?” is a strict cognate for “How much do you love me?” And, of course, the entire series of human romantic ideals about the pure and romantic nature of loving in spite of one’s partner’s lack of values, the more so the more they lack any discernible excellences, and suchlike, are nothing but one big does not compute.

Our materialism requires a small pile of footnoted background to make sense, inasmuch as our definition (preferring material objects of value to intangible objects which are somehow above value) makes no sense whatsoever in a paradigm in which everything has a value.

And while I suspect that the in-world translators wouldn’t actually be programmed this way, the purpose of language being communication and all, I invoke Artistic License to point out that many words have different value judgments attached to them.  Greed, for instance, still fundamentally the rapacious pursuit of values (such as wealth, status, and power), but is both (a) readily applicable to the pursuit of non-material values, and (b) an unambiguously positive quality.  Yes, Greed Is Good.  (Of course, greed is also often negentropic – see below.)  And, conversely, altruism is definitely not a compliment.)

Minds “vast and cool and unsympathetic”, to purloin a phrase.  While not a natural attribute – if anything, the state of nature was originally quite the opposite – talcoríëf, literally cold-mindedness, but implying rationality and self-mastery, is highly prized.  Emotions are nothing more than input data, possibly erroneous, to the computer of the mind.  Input informs the output, it does not control it.  One who cannot properly master their passions in all circumstances is at best temporarily incompetent and at worst a danger to everyone around them.

(And yes, by Imperial standards, Earth’s emotionally logohorreic societies desperately need to get in touch with their rational sides.  Which is what they’d tell you if they were being polite, and comments about “ranting hysteria” therefore aren’t in play.)

Profoundly individualistic.  While not so to the ultimate extent of the rijzh (whose predatory nature makes it almost impossible for them to associate) or the járaph (whose solipsism is such that they do not recognize the existence of not-self) – they can and do cooperate and form organizations and societies, which those species cannot – personal and abstract liberty is one of their most cherished values, up there with self-integrity.  Depriving someone of their ability to choose is the single worst sin in their moral system (for example, even criminals are offered the choice to die as themselves rather than submit to correction, but they would never consider using prison as a punishment).

This also, obviously, means that they don’t care much for peer pressure or social consensus, and would find humans’ instinctive habit of defining moral as normal and normal as majoritarian good for a laugh, although quite possibly a got-to-laugh-not-to-weep one.  An eldrae will fight any group, if not indeed the whole of society, uphill to prove a point, if he believes that it’s right, and society would be rather disappointed if he didn’t.

(The social effects are fairly obvious – after all, it’s no guess that people like this find it a considerable pleasure to watch slavers and tyrants – by their admittedly generous definition – receive their just desserts, and an even greater pleasure to make that happen.  One that is worth noting is with regard to employment; employment as we know it is practically nonexistent – not because it actually violates the strict moral precept, but just because selling off chunks of your time in which you will work under orders, vis-à-vis contracting to perform a particular task at your own will, is insufficiently dignified for a free man.)

Preoccupied with mélith – balance and obligation.  As obligation, this is generally quite clear; pacta sunt servanda is the rule of society, and I Gave My Word is in full play.  Promissory statements have the force of contract law – indeed, in the Empire, promissory statements are the basis of contract law, hence the general term oath-contract.  (They do warn people about this at port of entry, clearly and distinctly.)  And while, being exceptionally rational, they are careful to hedge appropriately and are exquisitely good at Exact Words when necessary, all the Galaxy knows that a promise from or a deal with an Imperial is something you can take to the bank.  Always.  Whatever it is, and whatever your relationship is, and however much of an utter bastard he might be in other respects.

(And, socially, you receive more credit for fulfilling an obligation than for doing something you aren’t obliged to do, because as all know, “obligations met are the foundation of civilization”.)

As balance, this manifests as a need for balanced exchange.  It doesn’t particularly affect trade – by definition, any transaction in a free market is a balanced exchange, but in everything outside the markets… well, a favor for a favor is the rule, and while it might not be written down, any Imperial has a very good idea of exactly to whom he owes favors, and from whom he is owed them.  And there is a large part of the below-mentioned complex etiquette that deals with the giving, receiving, and prestation of such things.

(Of course, “a slight for a slight” is the flipside of “a favor for a favor”, but it’s one less talked about.  Relatedly, consider the distinct preference for “clemency” over “mercy” in their culture – which does create a favor-debt.

This also defines the nature of charity in this paradigm; leaving aside for a moment those direct-action organizations which do what they do simply because it fulfills their valxíjir or estxíjir – for which see below – and therefore receive internal balancing rewards, it tends to take the form of investment, or venture altruism.  Your typical venture altruist will invest in improving someone’s life and capacities in expectation of a return on investment, contractual and/or patron-client style.

Indeed, it has to be that way, because altruism, like parasitism, is an unbalanced and therefore immoral exchange.  By definition, therefore, anyone who would receive it is insufficiently moral to merit it.)

Driven, obsessive, or, if you like, bloody stubborn.  Whether classified as valxíjir, the individual form – which you could approximately translate as uniqueness, excellence, will to power, or forcible impression of self onto the universe – or estxíjir, the cooperative form – which you could approximately translate as wyrd, destiny, devotion-to-ideals, or dharma – or simply as qalasír, “the driving energies of the individual”, the eldrae tend to acquire a purpose, a loyalty, an interest, a focus, and however trivial the matter may seem, take it to the limit and if possible beyond.  Sometimes this is epic.  Sometimes this intense focus turns on (relatively) trivial things.  But for the eldrae, at least, and quite commonly for people who get caught up in it, there is no escaping the demands of qalasír… and “my qalasír required it of me” is an often-unquestionable and as often acceptable answer as to why one happened to do anything in particular.

(Even their word for dilettante is probably closer to polymath, in practical meaning.)

One of its most notable forms, of course, is…

FOR SCIENCE!  Yes, very much for science.  And with a sense of ethics that – these days, renegades excepted – pretty much manages to encompass informed consent, sophont/prosophont rights and externality, but which considers considerations of Potential Applications, social consequences, humanity(-analogs), or squick, to be the sort of pathetic mewlings one expects to hear from the WEAK, the INFIRM of PURPOSE, the too COWARDLY to FACE the FUTURE!  FOOLS!!  You DARE to stand in the WAY of PROGRESS!!! I’LL SHOW YOU, SHOW YOU ALL!!!!

Ahem.  We’ll continue when our narrator returns from The Madness Place.

(Incidentally, much the same applies in the alternative forms For Art!, For Craft!, For Engineering! and For The Humanities!)

Opposed to entropy in all its forms.  Obviously, as natural immortals, that includes death as the most obvious and also most blindingly wasteful form (hence the missionary groups in favor of spreading said immortality); but includes ideological opposition to chaos (vis-à-vis emergent order), loss of information, disease, biosphere loss, waste, damage, and destruction in general.  And they take their negentropy seriouslyRecycling is morally laudable, as a way in which the old is used to produce the new, and unlike most environmentalist interpretations, you can consume vast quantities of energy to produce aesthetic effects, and so forth, and terraforming and the artificialization or use of nature is all perfectly acceptable…

…but if you aren’t offended by carelessness, guilty at accidentally dropping glassware or scraping things in passing, appalled by neglected maintenance, and morally outraged by concepts like inbuilt obsolescence, you’re doing it wrong.  (To use a more active example, if terrorists flying loaded airplanes into occupied buildings with a death toll in the thousands sends us to war with controversy and protest, then contrastingly, in their paradigm, people flying completely empty airplanes into likewise empty buildings with a death and injury count of zero sophonts would be quite adequate to label said group a bunch of irredeemable entropy-cultists in dire need of killing in the public zeitgeist, with little fear of contradiction.  Adding the death toll back in, of course, would only makes it more so.)

And then there is also teir, which while glossed “honor” and in fact terrifyingly idealistic, has a lot more to do with self-integrity, intellectual integrity, contractual integrity, and the proper ways to go about all the other aspects of morality mentioned herein than it does with many of the things Terrans would ascribe that name to: inasmuch as it avoids gender-imbalanced chivalry (Eldraeic culture has always been pretty gender-egalitarian), says almost nothing about sexuality, deplores martyrdom, while it does preach courage is also appallingly Combat Pragmatic (they would agree with Mass Effect’s salarians about the stupidity/insanity of declarations of war/telling your enemies that you’re about to attack them, for example; and consider assassination one of the best methods of fighting, which ought to be unfair, or you’re doing it wrong), and is absolutely not ever to be confused with face (i.e., does not depend on what other people think of you; that’s reputation, or dignitas, which may be  important, but is (a) not relevant to one’s honor, and (b) distinctly subordinate to it, in that one should always throw it away to preserve one’s honor; see also Who You Are In The Dark) or thar (bloody-handed primitivism).

Lovers of excellence, in all its forms.  Thus, pride is a virtue, as long as it can be justified, and humility is very much not.  And the proprietary outright sneer at those who do not strive to shine (note the distinction, here, encapsulated in the word strive) and their “dullist” apologists is an expression of morality.

Self-consciously civilized; Eldraeic language, etiquette, social rituals, and civilization in general is baroque, complex, grandiose, and exceedingly polite, even to non-sophont machinery – including the careful separation of social relations from each other, when different ones exist between the same individuals – in at least a semi-deliberate attempt to cultivate, reinforce, and demonstrate local notions of the civilized virtues, and thoroughly repress any atavistic impulses that might try to crash the party.  (After so much genetic and memetic engineering and self-reinforcement, this is probably unnecessary, but for the same reasons, inevitable.)  Besides, it’s beautiful – and beauty, too, is an expression/symbol of positive morality.

(Which is why cacophiles also end up in the long, long list of barbarians whom society disapproves of.)

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