So. Thank you all for your comments, ye who commented. I have duly taken on board and rolled around some. It fits, too, with some of what I have been dissatisfied with in myself, a certain darkening of tone which probably is a result of spending too much time observing the world around, which seems to be heading that way these days. Sigh. Must pay less attention.
In any case: it has been a valuable exercise, and I shall see about adjusting some areas and better showing others, which apparently have not been being communicated so well as I may have thought they were.
And now a few specifics…
Secondly, after having a night to mull things over and sleep on it, I suppose part of the problem is that the Imperials and their members are being portrayed as always certain and always right; we never see what happens when, for instance, the Imperial Navy just straight-up hits the wrong target with a KEW, when (for instance) it turns out that the “biological weapons lab posing as a pharmaceuticals factory” actually WAS a legit pharmaceuticals factory.
Actually, we have seen something rather close to that specific incident at least once, in this part of the Core War sequence, et. seq., with following consequences mentioned.
But it’s something that you shouldn’t expect to see much of, for reasons of world-consistency: which is to say, people with high levels of cognitive enhancement, plentiful internal computing resources, and a fragment of a star-spanning machine-god grafted to their minds can realistically be expected to hit what they aim at, metaphorically speaking, virtually all of the time. Cognitive enhancement has pretty much wiped out the class of mistakes involving miscalculation, in much the same way as Excel can reasonably be expected to get its calculations correct.
What you still see are mistakes at higher levels, like asking the wrong question – such as, to pick a recent example, pursuing FAT NINJA technology, or making certain assumptions with regard to Republic stargate technology.
The other thing I am inclined to say is to quote a Patrick Rothfuss interview I happened to see today:
Aside from describing Denna, though, isn’t Kvothe good at literally everything else?
There are brilliant people out there who are good at things right off the cuff. I want to read books full of people being awesome. You can go too far. You can become unrealistic. But I think the fear of writing someone too perfect or too cool leads to a lot of godawful fucking books. If I wanted to watch people sucking and being dumb, I would just spend all my time on Twitter.
…and say yeah, that. I may be a little biased today by a certain “Why am I surrounded by these incompetent fools?” moment this morning, but as a rule, reality contains more than enough meh-duh to more than fulfil my recommended daily allowance. Which is why choose to, and will almost certainly go on choosing to, write about awesome people being awesome.
(I may tweak the level a bit, but that’s kind of a fundamental premise for me.)
On fixing things:
I am having a fail day and cannot find it, but you wrote about an organisation once that went out to the outskirts and tried very hard to bring incremental progress and advancement to cultures that were less advanced by Imperial standards. I loved that, because it was an example of actively trying to fix the universe rather than hoping people saw the Empire’s light in the distance and managed to one day stagger their way towards it. Having an example of ‘working’ not-governments is helpful, but doesn’t prevent your attempts of following it from stumbling into the sort of civil war that knocks your country back to widespread famine and anarchy in the most negative senses of the word.
I think that would be the Golden Suns Benevolent Association, seen here.
But, you may note, even the theme of their piece concerns how they can’t save the galaxy, any more than we on Earth can waltz into some other country and bring peace, democracy, and prosperity with any realistic chance of success. (Ethically, anyway – another theme here concerns how modern technology actually does let you change people’s minds, and why you can’t do that even if it wasn’t a horrible ethical violation for anyone who cares about free will.) All you can do is try and persuade them (ah, slowly! toward the light) to save themselves – from a practical, as well as ethical, standpoint.
That fundamental paradox of refused benevolence is one of the thematic strands of this ‘verse in general.
There are plenty of people working on one level or another (mostly the personal and oft-illicit) one to improve things, like the GSBA, and the Freedom’s Seed COG, and the Promulgators of Eternal Life, and the Agalmic Education Foundation, and the Venture Altruists COG, and dozens more, not to mention an arbitrary number of snakeheads and tech-smugglers, and so forth. But by and large, their work is a bunch of tiny nibbles trying to shift things one little bit and one person at a time – which may or may not count for more in the big picture than the cultural reach of the shining planet on the hill, as it were.
It’s also, although not entirely absent, something that I haven’t had many good story ideas for. I’ll see if I can give them some more page time.
On letting bad things happen:
I will say that it does seem like Imperials are more than willing to let the vicissitudes of fate throw an individual under the bus and to cheerfully accept that fate, when the alternative would be to open doors that might let in slavery. Which is an oddly collectivist take on individualism, in a manner of speaking: “you get screwed this time, because if we were to prevent it, we’d set a precedent that might reach to the rest of us later”. I suppose for better or worse, it is consistent. It sometimes produces results that a lot of people would consider monstrous, but it’s to prevent worse monstrosities, or so the modal Imperial would tell you. (Then again, when other polities have those monstrosities and the Empire doesn’t, one begins to think they have a point, ne?)
I think we covered most of this in The Hardest Part, which is to say, it’s not really a precaution against consequences, it’s a profound respect for free will at both ends of the transaction. If you get yourself into trouble, you can almost always get help – it’s just that you have to ask for it (because no-one will force it upon you and violate your consent) from someone willing to provide it (because you can’t force anyone to produce it and violate their consent).
(And as I said there, this perhaps shows that I have not adequately been portraying a non-human mindset.)
As a side note, I should perhaps add that it’s very likely that some of the abovementioned tone and for that matter all the answering of questions about specific cases I’ve been doing recently distort the perspective somewhat. Being fate-bussed by these things is a problem they have that is somewhere between our problems with shark attacks and our problems with death by falling meteorite on the “things it’s worth worrying about happening to me today” scale.
Another thought that enters into my head in regards to this matter: I wonder if a lack of understanding of pain in the experiential sense ever causes problems for those seeking to sell the Imperial Dream to what might charitably be called “new and emerging markets.”
Well, yes, principally because when they are unavoidable people come up with plenty of ways to Stockholm pain, death, etc. as natural and somehow virtuous. (Obligatory reference: the Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant, which probably translates rather well to the sort of thing the Promulgators of Eternal Life distribute.) And there is that experiential gap as mentioned under, say, The White Prince, Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense, and similar tropes.
I’m sure they have ways to deal with this, though, which I will almost certainly not write about because their memeticists and advertisers are orders of magnitude better than me at persuading people, and I can’t plausibly simulate that.
In another related note, it’s implied that there are Imperial Renegades out there, and that many of them end up leaving the Empire or turning to extremism for what they personally see as good and justifiable reasons (and I do have to wonder if my own thoughts linked above might be voiced in-universe by precisely that kind of person).
Quite possibly – and indeed one of the canonical examples of a Renegade-heavy group is the Blood of Tyrants. Of course, the BoT are a terrorist group who favor direct action in the cause of “exterminate all non-consensual governments or government-like entities everywhere, right now”, so they’re probably not the best example…
(A note on terminology: just leaving, technically, makes you a renunciate. A Renegade is that subset of renunciates whose activities are such that the Second and Fourth Directorates feel they have to hunt you down and terminate you with some degree of prejudice, whether that amounts to traditional criminal activities or to Utopia Justifies the Means.)
Might be an interesting exercise to tell a story that focuses on one, both to see how they reach that point in their lives from an Imperial upbringing and to see an in-depth look at how ISS works with those moral and ethical ambiguities in the “moral event horizon” when there’s still a distinct possibility that the “carrot” side of the “carrot-and-stick” approach might actually deescalate the situation before the “stick” needs to be brought to bear.
Might be. I shall roll these ideas around and see what happens.
On tool misuse:
And further, it seems that in places, Imperial society has a ton of slaver’s tools around (ubiquitous surveillance, for example). How is it that these never got put to the kind of nefarious uses that they’d surely be put to in a New York minute, here on Earth? Is it just that anyone in a position of power who dared to do something like that would be strung up so high and so fast that they’d never know what hit them?
Or, to expand on that a little, non-human mindset plus a cultural tradition of liberty and tratalmir ulkith going back for literally millennia. Those sorts of abuses are about as likely to occur to them as desirable as, say, sending out a brute squad to beat wearers of mixed fabrics and menstruating women to death would to the modal 21st-century Westerner. It’s off the edge of the map.
That said, I have often wondered how they deal with issues arising from monopolies and other sorts of predatory leveragings of market power.
In the vast majority of cases, by pointing out that there ain’t no such thing, and that such allegations are mostly a stick used by inefficient businesses against more competitive ones. (Such as in the famous Standard Oil case, in which the people upset by the bad old monopoly were non-competitive smaller oil companies, not the consumer, who was by and large delighted by the arrival of inexpensive kerosene on the market.) If you can secure a challengeable monopoly through legal commercial means, you’re welcome to keep it – as long as you can, which won’t be long if you try Stupid Monopoly Tricks, because it’s challengeable.
Unchallengeable monopolies are a different matter, but it’s virtually impossible to get one of those without leveraging legal monopolies and/or regulatory capture, and that just ain’t gonna happen for obvious reasons.
That just leaves certain types of collusion and cartels, which are almost always a species of fraud in the first place, and are what the Market Liberty Oversight Directorate exists to break into small moist pieces. Metaphorically, of course.
On victim blaming:
While the Drowning of the People may have worked spectacularly well for them, there are similar incidents in human history that have backfired horribly. The common people rising up against their oppressive government and trying to claw back power often results in the government smacking them like a bug. So for the Empire to (seemingly) sneer at others for being ‘mutual slave states’ occasionally comes across as outright victim blaming, as does condemning species for engaging it ‘primate status games’ when a species has fundamental instincts they cannot edit out.
Well, that’s because it is.
On the former, though, that’s because eventually you run into sympathy burnout, no matter how much of it you started with, when in the case at hand the victims being blamed really did do it to themselves.
(This is not the case in the – more sympathy-inspiring – talkorasmóníë, true-force states, but we’re talking about sémódarmóníë right now. In their case, the problem is the cynical-but-accurate observation which comes from historical experience that reality often plays The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized awfully straight and that just because you’re oppressed right now doesn’t mean that you aren’t also a bunch of total bastards. This is where they would point at our experience overthrowing certain dictators only to see them replaced them with ISIL, and argue that that was a result worth spending neither a droplet nor a mill on.)
Anyway. Bear with me here.
Let’s use us (by which I mean the US) as an example. We have a political and gubernatorial system which has a long and inglorious history of failing to follow its own rules (including its own constitutional law), awarding itself additional powers ad hoc, and abusing the heck out of them. It has now reached the point at which it’s on the verge of putting a lunatic narcissist preaching idiot crypto-fascism in the Head of State slot. And still the overwhelming majority of the people cry, “Yay, democracy! Yay, embrace the two-party system!”
Insert obligatory clip here:
Now imagine that you’re old enough to have seen this dance play out over and over again, with slight variations in the steps but all ending up in basically the same place.
Now imagine that all this is happening despite hundreds of thousands of books, monographs, watchvids, InVids, dissertations, clionomic vector projections, memeplexes, FAQs, etc., etc., all openly published and many available for free download, with probably some bluntly phrased diplomatic warnings thrown in, all explaining that this shit right here? This is what you’re signing up for when you institute an off-the-shelf sémódarmóníë.
How long does it take you to get tired of saying, basically, “Stop punching yourself!”?
Well, it’s been longer.
On the latter – well, as I said here:
The second part is more difficult than mere action, for it is right action. To tame the fire of our passions, to discipline ourselves to the Codes and Excellences and to take on talcoríëf, such that we may pursue only our enlightened self-interest with mind and countenance as serene as the moon captured in still water, that is the first challenge of mastery we must each overcome; and yet it is the smallest.
…it’s not like they haven’t got their own instincts to overcome, particularly since the various cognitive enhancements and edits weren’t there at the start of history. But, y’know, as sophonts, volition ought to be able to tell instinct to mostly sit down and shut up. That’s what frontal lobes are for.
Admittedly, we haven’t seen much of the pre-Imperial period, but a lot of it was what might be considered distinctly not nice, which I think is implied in various places. (And certainly, one doesn’t develop the Codes and the Excellences and the whole cult of talcoríëf unless one needs them.) One might make analogies here to pre-Surak Vulcan. Granted, certainly, this could have been made a lot clearer, but they don’t see themselves as asking anyone to do something they haven’t done.
And, specifically, it wouldn’t be that we have primate relative status instincts that they sneer at us for. It wouldn’t even be failing at silencing them; it’s not even trying to and composing elaborate rationalizations for them that’s damnable.