So, you wanted to know about the Guardians of Our Harmony?
They’re the thought police.
Well, okay, not like that. That’s what paranoid outworlders would say, but really, they’re more like the thought paramedics.
There’s a quotation from their ur-founder which I think appears in Vignettes, and is here under the title Liberty’s Praxis, which I shall abridge thus:
“Freedom is sanity; sanity is freedom. They are natural co-dependents. One cannot exist without the other.”
“Consider, first, the Precursors. The ancient lin-aman were exemplars of whim untamed by reason; self-interest without enlightenment; a void of talcoríëf. And without rationality to guide them, they were slaves to their passions, to their instincts, and for all their powers and the glories of their civilization, they warred themselves into extinction.”
“To the first [necessity], the Collegium exists to keep us fit for its exercise.”
– Academician Selidië Ciellë, founder of the Eupraxic Collegium
This is the paradox of the free and open society, after all, especially when you’re talking about one in which superempowering wealth and technology is freely available. (Get your nuclear devices at the hardware store, folks!) Your public safety problem can be summed up as “how do we stop a few crazy people from killing us all”.
The standard Earthling (and many places in the ‘verse, for that matter) response is to lay heavy restrictions on what anyone can do on the grounds that that restricts the crazy people too, or at least the ones who aren’t sufficiently creative, and everyone else can suck it up.
You can guess how that would play out, there. So instead, the Empire went the other route, and banned craziness (specifically, in the jargon, “pernicious irrationality”). If your problems are caused by the irrational, enforce rationality; you can believe as you wish and do whatever the hell you like, so long as you’re sane, to wit, rational. Granted, this is a very rigorous definition of sanity that would probably send a very high percentage of Earthlings straight to meme rehab, and yet.
(To an extent, this is the mental reformulation of “you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts”; i.e., “you’re entitled to your own conclusions, but not your own [defective or corrupt] epistemic and logical processes”.)
The people in charge of this, the iatropsychic branch of the governance, are called the Eupraxic Collegium (created by the eleventh amendment to the Imperial Charter). They have several divisions: the Conclave of Linguistics and Ontology and Conclave of Common Protocols, who ensure people can communicate and deal with each other on common ground and with full understanding; the Conclave of Clionomy, who keep an eye on culture-level shifts and head future trouble off at the past; the Bureau of Internal Memetic Defense, who track down toxic memes and hostile psych ops, launching appropriate memetophages; and the Guardians of Our Harmony, who deal with individuals.
Now, when I say “deal with”, I do not mean “make disappear in the night off to Room 101”, obviously. And while some of their work is formal, like the conducting of audits (except for Transcendent constitutionals, because the soul-shard obviates the need) and prescribing, if need be, some form of iatropsychic treatment, most of it isn’t: it’s education, and offering advice, and even things like turning up with a kind word, a listening ear, and maybe a hug when someone’s sitting in the dark in the lonely hours of the night and finding that that shotgun’s looking awfully appealing.
In short, they exist to keep thinking clear and people connected, not to pass judgment on approved ideas.
(Inspirations here, to give you some idea of the angle I’m coming from, include the Mental Health Board of Beta Colony – noting the author’s post here – in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series; the Order of Silent Confessors in Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Three Worlds Collide; and a lighter and softer version of the Zhodani Tavrchedl’, from Traveller1.)
1. The Tavrchedl’ as implemented by the Princess of Friendship, sort of thing, maybe? There are people in the Guardians whose mandate could be fairly summed up as “solving friendship problems”.