Worldbuilding: Intellectual Integrity and Non-Utopia

So, in things to think about, let’s talk about intellectual integrity. Or, more specifically, let’s talk about a citation I’m taking from Paean to SMAC (Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri)’s discussion of the Intellectual Integrity technology, and specifically this:

That this is tied to a technology called Intellectual Integrity is quite intriguing, if one is willing to entertain the idea for a moment.  What would it mean for a society to have real intellectual integrity?  For one, people would be expected to follow their stated beliefs to wherever they led.  Unprincipled exceptions and an inability or unwillingness to correlate beliefs among different domains would be subject to social sanction.  Valid attempts to persuade would be expected to be based on solid argumentation, meaning that what passes for typical salesmanship nowadays would be considered a grave affront.  Probably something along the lines of punching someone in the face and stealing their money.

This is essentially the way Imperial society works, thanks to talcoríëf and the efforts of socio-intellectual movements past; there’s a very good reason why teir, typically glossed “honor”, has a lot more to say about self-integrity and intellectual integrity than a human take on its gloss would normally imply.

(Take advertising, for example: it has substantially less glitz – not zero, because you can make a valid and sound argument to someone that this product is awfully shiny and will be found pleasing by them, or that it concretely reflects their abstract values, but simply shrieking SEX! STATUS! MOOOORE SEEEEEX! at maximum volume fails utterly – avoids glossing over details, and in general is much more in-depth – for a product launch, you can pretty much expect interviews and Q&A with the design team regardless of what the product is – and personalized.

Meanwhile, the ongoing parade of SALE! SALE! SALE! tends not to happen, mostly because it’s not terribly effective on people who are (a) aware of hyperbolic discounting, and (b) cured hyperbolic discounting. And in general, if you’re in the Imperial market and trying to compete on price,  you’re doomed. Such price-based advertising as there is tends to consist of automated feeds to AI procurement agents.)

All of which is to say, in non-utopian terms, if you aren’t accustomed to maintaining a certain luminous clarity and consistency of thought, and you move there, you are going to be on the receiving end of certain social consequences. At best, that means spending a lot of time having all the cracks in your Weltanschauung poked into and levered apart by people first trying to understand, and then earnestly trying to help you with your philosophical problem.

At worst… well, self-inconsistent is no more a complement than unprincipled, which amounts to wilful self-inconsistency – or attempting to defend self-inconsistency – which latter has cast a black stain of ickiness over concepts like pragmatism or compromise, due to their frequent invocation to defend self-inconsistency. And let’s not even start on “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion!”, the responses to which are starkly unprintable1.

So, basically, if you don’t enjoy the cut and thrust of debate and/or staring unflinchingly at the consequences of your beliefs… don’t go, ’cause you won’t like it there.


1. These responses will, eventually, concede that you do technically have, freedom of thought and all, the right to your own opinion however ludicrous and inconsistent it might be. However, they will go on to state, that does not include the right to be taken seriously, the right not to be mocked and shunned by all cognitively capable people, or the right not to be labeled the dumbest piece of crap that ever crawled out of Waste Reprocessing and evolved the power of speech all across the public reputation networks. Which is not defamatory, because it’s obviously true if you believe that.

6 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Intellectual Integrity and Non-Utopia

  1. Of course, this is all a rather bigger deal than it looks at first blush: unless I miss my guess, this (plus psychdesign, with which it is in some ways joined at the hip) would appear to be a not-insubstantial chunk of why certain things work in the Empire, while they’d rapidly spiral into hell or self-inflicted ruin, were they to be tried in the here-and-now with baseline H. sapiens.

    Of all the things to affix utopian dreams to… But then, like concrete and steel, many of the things that make a society possible go unnoticed or underappreciated, or, more to the point, are the kind of things you don’t know how badly you need until you don’t have them!


  2. Pingback: In Which Reality Is Exactly As Strange As Fiction | The Eldraeverse

  3. I do want to point out that self-consistency is only half the battle — it’s entirely possible to have a system of ethics where all the internal logic hangs together with admirable consistency, yet that outputs badly wrong conclusions because it is founded on one or more fundamental axioms that turn out to be untrue.


    • Well, sure, and the same goes for any other area: an argument must be both valid and sound.

      But it can’t be sound without first being valid, and seeing as here something on the far side of 90% of ideologies held and arguments made can’t even rise to that level – the notionally easy [1] bit – it deserves a little hammering.

      [1] In the sense that constructing a valid argument doesn’t require any external references or tricky empiricism, merely getting your sums right in an entirely mechanical process.


    • The bright boys over at OPERATION COPROLITH ACCELERANT would also point out that it’s mathematically demonstrable that self-inconsistent systems can be used to prove and/or justify essentially anything, and as such self-inconsistency per se is a dangerous memetic security hole.


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