The Love of Money is the Root of Reliability

mercenary (n.): A source who is working for us in exchange for money (typically discreetly delivered cryp) and detailed explanations of where all their body parts are likely to be found in the event of a contract default. A pleasure to work with, relatively speaking, because all the cards are on the table.

idealist (n.): A source who is working for us and betraying his putative employers for ideological, religious, patriotic, etc., beliefs. Widely considered unreliable, especially compared to mercenaries, since anyone who’s turned their coat once may do so again if they change their mind. Consequently, the first step in handling an idealist is to secure a firm yet invisible grip on their gonads, or failing that, a half-gram of KL-8 implanted in one of their heart valves.

– excerpted from Rilial’s Informal Dictionary of Intelligence and Security Terminology

15 thoughts on “The Love of Money is the Root of Reliability

  1. So, what, did the mercenaries detailed in three whole chapters of Niccolo’s little pamphlet only get away with it thanks to the lack of reliable communications between city-states?

    • Well, this particular post is discussing an ISS jargon usage rather than military mercenaries, but as for that –

      The condottieri thrived as they did because they were the big fish in their pond: none of the Italian city-states had standing armies worth a damn. And they ceased to thrive when that ceased to be the case with the rise of the powerful state armies of the 16th century.

      In the Worlds, mercenaries mostly aren’t the big fish: they’re the small fish useful for proxy wars, deniable operations, non-state actors, etc., etc. The reason the Iron Concord ( ) exists and is almost universally followed despite forbidding a lot of the things the condottieri would try is that it’s a guideline on how to stay useful and avoid those things which would cause the Imperial Legions, the Consolidated Waserai Echelons, Ultimate Argument Risk Control, or some other massive state or corporate power from rolling right over you like an M1 over a pissy squirrel.

  2. Are they still an “idealist” by this definition if the ideals are ones the Imperials themselves espouse?

    • I’m with Specialist290 on this one. Where does mélith put the Eldrae on the mercenary-idealist scale above? (I know the question sounds a little loaded, but I’m finding the two concepts hard to mesh together into the same ideology.)

      • Hm. I’m not quite sure what you mean by that, so if this doesn’t answer it, please feel free to clarify. (I mean, literally, if you’re in a position that the ISS is describing you as a source and you’re an Imperial citizen-shareholder, the answer is “on the way to your treason trial, possibly via a short career in the exciting field of disinformation conduit”.)

        But with reference to either of the two groups, mélith means they’re owed something. A favor for a favor, and all that. For a mercenary, it means they get paid. For an idealist (in the quasi-ironic ISS jargon sense) – well, the ISS would prefer that it meant they got paid and will try and persuade them to take the money, because that’s nice and easy to arrange, but it may translate into something smuggled in for them, or an eventual appointment with a snakehead, a new identity, and a nice retirement home on a freesoil world somewhere. All debts will be paid.

        But, with reference to the response to Specialist290 here, just because you owe someone a favor doesn’t mean you trust them. Or, if you’re their handler, that you’ll forgo obtaining suitable leverage against their sudden but inevitable betrayal.

        • While we’re on the subject of favors (and apologies in advance for overloading you with questions — they seem to just keep popping into my head tonight for some reason):

          Given how it’s an eldraeic principle that everything can be quantized in some fashion, can (and do) favors accrue “interest” in some fashion, just like monetary debts and balances? Is there such a thing as “favor arbitrage,” where you can make arrangements to connect people you owe favors with people who owe you favors to resolve both at a profit to yourself?

          Also mainly in reference to favors, but with potential application to monetary debts as well: We all know by now the Imperial attitude to failing to discharge an obligation that you owe to someone else, but what’s their attitude about imbalances perpetuated by the creditor refusing to, say, take payment offered in good faith for an “early release,” or intentionally holding a favor in reserve to call in at an advantageous time?

        • Hmm. Yeah, I’m starting to think there was a bit of a disconnect between what you meant and what I was thinking you’d meant. I certainly missed that the above post was talking about attitudes toward a specific subset of idealists. I’m also guessing I had the meaning of mélith wrong. I thought it was a deep-seated loyalty toward a given set of ideals.
          Ah well. Not the first time I’ve missed the point.

          • Ah, yeah, for that you want teir for the universally/commonly shared ideals of Imperials, or estxíjir for those personally held. mélith is balance and obligation – pacta sunt servanda, and all debts and favors must be repaid.

            Blue and Orange Morality is your reference page for those terms and the various other similar that might come up, for future reference.

    • Certainly. I mean, anyone can espouse anything they like, which does not necessarily imply honest belief, sincere commitment, or long-term stick-to-it-iveness when the going gets tough or doubt sets in. That’s the sort of thing that needs demonstration.

      And if you’re trying to demonstrate sincere commitment to Imperial ideals (honor, truth, right action, etc.), I’d add, then playing the hidden turncoat rather than declaring your enmity openly and walking away, not necessarily in that order, is heading in precisely the wrong direction.

      The ISS is willing to use traitors. That doesn’t mean it’s going to like or trust ’em.

      • And if you’re trying to demonstrate sincere commitment to Imperial ideals (honor, truth, right action, etc.), I’d add, then playing the hidden turncoat rather than declaring your enmity openly and walking away, not necessarily in that order, is heading in precisely the wrong direction.

        Given just what ISS is doing in this context, wouldn’t that sentiment sound just a tad hypocritical? 😉

        But in all seriousness, it sounds to me like most of the members of Imperial State Security’s espionage arms wouldn’t be doing what they are doing if they believed that that principle is an immutable truth in and of itself, one not subject to other mitigating considerations. Even if (to appropriate the terminology you’ve used in a previous reply) what they’re doing is ethically permissible, how do they reconcile the potential dissonance that the ethically expedient option may not always be the morally optimal one?

        • Given just what ISS is doing in this context, wouldn’t that sentiment sound just a tad hypocritical?

          Well, they aren’t the ones going around being all treasonous…

          But, more seriously, they know what they are, and that if you work for any of the Directorates with the possible exception of Fourth Directorate, you are pretty much committing to a career spent in moral ambiguity, if not downright murkiness. If you want moral optimality in a sentinel’s job, you join the Military Service or the Watch Constabulary.

          (It may only be the Fifth Directorate that really has its No Place For Me There complex –

          “I’m not going to live there. There’s no place for me there… any more than there is for you. Malcolm… I’m a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.”

          • but First, Second, and Third know that they are to the Empire as Special Circumstances is to the Culture. Which is to say, often grotesque and incomprehensible and morally dubious, in the spirit of their founder’s little joke. Just necessary.)
          • And yet, it seems to me that my fundamental concern is not being addressed (perhaps, admittedly, due to my own failure to make it clear the first time what I’m trying to get at).

            On what grounds is the claim to their own necessity specifically based, as opposed to the mere sufficiency of satisfying a morally permissive minimum?

          • I’m not entirely sire what you’re looking for, but let me come at this from a different angle:

            The imperfection of the universe.

            A perfect ethical theory would, definitionally, produce the optimal outcome under all circumstances. But they don’t have a perfect ethical theory, any more than they (or we) have a perfect physical theory. In the latter case, there are certain places where the laws of physics break down (singularities, the big bang, etc.) and applying them produces bad results.

            In the former case, there are certain places where the laws of ethics break down.

            The ISS in general (to a small extent) and the Fifth in particular (to a much larger one) stake out those places so that the ethically nominal universe doesn’t get killed and brain-eaten while waiting for said perfect theory.

          • (Another useful clarification in re the need for such a justification might be that, unlike certain interpretations of the NAP, the Fundamental Contract’s rights of defense and common defense recognize preemption when there is clear and convincing evidence that you’re about to be attacked. This recognition moves a tremendous amount of First and Second’s activities directly into the ethical zone, because by and large you don’t have to look all that hard to acquire clear and convincing evidence that the modal polity is up to some bad shit.)

Comments are closed.