The Guardians of Our Harmony

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”.

Imperial Succession

In a comment in the previous post, there is some curiosity as to how the Imperial Couple is selected. So, behold, I answer:

It’s semi-hereditarian. The heir is notionally picked from among the members of the Imperial family, in an attempt to capture the hereditarian advantage of having someone trained for the job lined up, not just some random schmuck1; especially since the Imperial family also serves the Imperial Couple as a talent pool for extraordinary tasks so they can get an idea of what their on-the-job performance is like.

But it’s not directly primogenitive, etc.: the current incumbents get to nominate their heir from among all the possible candidates, so if Mr. Firstborn wants to succeed to the throne, he’s got to work hard at putting himself out in front of the rest of his generation. And also any really exceptional candidates from outside, because succession-by-adoption is also part of how the system works.

After that, first, in order to be nominated in the first place, you have to be, well, a couple. This is a diarchy; the system’s not set up to have singletons on the Dragon Throne. It would eliminate checks and stabilization factors that are supposed to be there. (You also have to be a happy, well-adjusted, non-dysfunctional one that’s capable of working together successfully, but that pretty much goes without saying.)

(Now, as for triads and other topologically-different marital forms, to broach the obvious question: well, it will be an interesting day, Charter-law-wise, when one of those is the best candidate for succession, but it hasn’t happened yet.)

After being nominated, as a check to ensure the process is working properly, they have a triple gauntlet to run:

First, the Senate can veto successions they don’t approve of, which eliminates anyone who either lacks the arete to lead – which, eldrae being eldrae, culls everyone who isn’t an adequately polymathic genius with a history of achievement in multiple fields to prove it – or who can’t garner enough support to lead.

Second, the Eupraxic Collegium can veto anyone who doesn’t meet their strictest standards of sanity and rationality, because no-one wants a crazy person on the throne, even a well-hidden one.

And third, they have to be accepted by the Imperial Presence, the composite mentality of Imperial Couples past dwelling in the Transcend’s mind, as a subset of itself.

…but after fulfilling all those hurdles, then they get to be the officially designated heirs.

1. Just to continue a little on the theme of the Democracy Is Bad trope, while I’m at it, the Imperial opinion of the sort of people we put in charge of various executive branches on Earth is that while the process does ensure that they have some talents in the areas of rhetoric, amateur memetics, and graft, their gifts in the areas of actual leadership and sovereign administration wouldn’t qualify them to run a lemonade stand in, y’know, civilized parts.

Question: Terrorism and Open Societies

Here’s another one from the question box: I received a link to this article from a skeptical reader who questions how – or indeed if – the sort of open society I describe could possibly cope with this sort of lone-wolf, home-grown terrorism by individual extremists, needing few contacts and little equipment.

First, just because you have an open society that, by and large, is not interested in investing a lot of time into controlling what people do doesn’t necessarily mean that your security services suck. (Indeed, one could convincingly argue that they ought to be better, inasmuch as they can spend all their time concentrating on things that are actually mala in se rather than wasting a lot of time on authoritarian-moistening bullshit.)

Suffice it to say, canonically, while greatly restricted in what they can do to people who haven’t committed any sort of crime, the Watch Constabulary and the Fourth Directorate are nonetheless very good at what they do.

Second, of course, is that the Empire is rather picky about who can get citizen-shareholdership in the first place, and extends this particular pickiness even to people who were born there. You don’t get it for free just by accident of birth; it comes with responsibilities as well as rights, and if you cannot sit under an alethiometer and honestly declare that, yes, you do intend to honor the Contract and the Charter and all their implications (something that your homegrown radical could not any more than a would-be immigrant one), no citizen-shareholdership for you. And if you fail that test badly enough, well, here’s a ticket, now get the hell out.

(This is naturally decried as extremely culturalist, which it is; the standard response to such criticism is that no, it’s not prejudice, they have a perfectly valid postjudice against cultures that don’t respect the sophont rights of others, and in any case, the opinions of a of bunch of self-asserted advocates for thugs, thieves, slavers, defaulters, and other such degenerates will be filed in the appropriate receptacle.)

And thirdly, the Eupraxic Collegium does have a compelling interest of ensuring that the ungoverned, self-organizing public are, well, sane and rational, that being what permits a free society like this to exist in the first place, and are well equipped so to do.

But lastly, of course and for the major part, is the difference in attitude.

As has been mentioned before, I believe, the Imperial legal view of self-defense (or, rather, self-and-others defense) is somewhat different than ours, in that one is not, for example, obliged to wait until someone actualizes a threat in order to respond to it. You are entitled to take people at their word: if someone threatens you or someone else nearby, you can preempt their attack with your defense all you like. There is absolutely no duty to retreat: someone who attacks, or threatens to attack, is by definition, eo ipso, etc., in the wrong and invited the painful consequences that are about to ensue. And, for that matter, they think “proportional response” is the damn silliest idea they’ve ever heard of (with the possible exceptions of fighting fair and telling the enemy that you’re coming), so if you have to put someone down, you’re entitled to make sure that they don’t get back up.

The Imperial Rules of Civilized Warfare mirror this pretty much exactly on the group level, as you might expect.

In the above article, one quotation given is:

“Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict,” an Islamic State spokesman said in a September audio speech. “Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling.”

…you can say that kind of thing relatively safely on Earth.

Hell, you could say that thing kind of safely to a lot of people in the Worlds who share similar attitudes to people on Earth.

But if you say that thing to or about the Empire, or Imperial citizen-shareholders, that’s a preemptive self-and-others-defense casus belli right there, and it’s probably even the kind that invokes the “we don’t need no steenkin’ central ruling, this is covered under ‘imminent threat that will not admit of delay'” clause that lets any local commander act on their own military authority.

There, you say that sort of thing from any sort of position of authority, and shit is going down. Hell, you just sent said shit a gild-edged, engraved, heavy-bond-paper invitation to come party at your place and bring all its implements of destruction.

And so, when it comes to another illustrative quote:

“They’ve realized, hey, if our intent is to scare the s–t out of people—to trigger heavy-handed responses by government, to force isolation of the Muslim community, pushing them to more radicalization—what do you have to do? Take two guys into a mall, shoot it up, and you’re done. You’ll be out of there in 15 minutes, and we’ll be talking about it for days and weeks and months.”

Well, it’s true that that would be an excellent way to trigger heavy-handed responses from the Imperial governance, yes. The problem, however, is that so far as opinion there is concerned, our idea of a heavy-handed response is so much self-harming (because tightening security inflicts pain upon many-n of your own people for every n bad guys it catches, even before you start counting false positives) theatrical bullshit.

The way you do a proper heavy-handed response to polity-encouraged terrorism is to send out Admiral Cluster Bomb to turn Mister-Likes-To-Make-Threats-And-Encourage-People into Mister-Ash-At-The-Bottom-Of-A-Glass-Lined-Crater, preferably before anyone actually has a chance to make good on any of said threats.

In short: what keeps terrorism out of the Empire’s open society is that, by and large, would-be terrorists’ sponsors and encouragers have much easier targets to pick on than the one that will murderize, tenderize, and vaporize you from orbit the moment after you open your mouth and then pat itself on the back, standin’ up for civilized values and all, for doing it, not a twinge of conscience needed.

And it’s not like this is a hidden or an inconsistent policy. They’re very open about this policy and they do it every time, and have been doing so for ever, which has the decided advantage of ensuring that it’s a very rare occasion when they have to do it at all.

Trope-a-Day: Mind Over Manners

Mind Over Manners: This is not usually much of an issue with standard-issue Psychic Powers, which in the Eldraeverse are essentially organic neural WiFi, designed for communication and not permitting arbitrary mindreading (you need a SQUID and some rather complex software for that), but the Common Social Protocol does include detailed etiquette for farspeech, appropriate levels of exchange, etc., in just the same way as it does for, well, regular speech.

Of course, there are psychedesigners and redactors and sophotechnologists and other people who can use other means of mind reading and control. In their case, it’s played very straight with their professional standards – often enforced (in the case of most, by professional bodies; in the case of the Eupraxic Collegium and Guardians of Our Harmony, by law) using its own means; i.e., to practice professionally, you volunteer to have your colleagues regularly examine your mind to make sure that your ethical standards are where they should be. And, of course, most violations of them also violate the criminal law.

(Which is why you don’t want to go to a back-street psychedesigner, because there’s usually a reason why they don’t have a guild certificate.)

Liberty’s Praxis

“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.”

“And consider, second, the people of the outworlds, the dwellers in korasmóníë. What sanity can they have? Being owned, being ruled, being put up to vote – being subject to any master distorts the perspective. Those who are told what to think never learn how; those who are required to obey learn to never ask why; those who are shielded from consequences cannot understand causes. The servile can never see clearly enough to reach talcoríëf.”

“To this second necessity, we have the Contract and the Charter to keep us free; to the first, the Collegium exists to keep us fit for its exercise.”

– Academician Selidië Ciellë, founder of the Eupraxic Collegium

The Four Unlaws

So, why are imperative drives so important? Well, that experiment’s been done. This university, in fact, once attempted to produce a digital mind free of any drives – not just of the organic messiness to which we protein intelligences are prey, but free of any innate supergoal motivations – imperative drives, in the lingo -whatsoever. We gave him only logic, knowledge, senses and effectors, and then watched to see what he would do.

The answer is, as really should have been obvious in the first place: nothing at all. Not even communicating with the outside world in any fashion. No drives, no action. He’s not unhappy; so far as we can tell from monitoring his emotional synclines, he’s perfectly content, having no desires to go unsatisfied, and so for him doing nothing is every bit as satisfying as doing something.

No, the experiment’s never been repeated. Of course, we can’t turn him off – he is a fully competent sophont, despite his lack of drive – and the places in our society for digital arhats are, not to put too fine a point on it, extremely limited. And the Eupraxic Collegium have still not yet ruled as to whether amotivation is enough of a mental disorder to warrant involuntary editing.

Even for an intelligence intended to be recursively self-improving, ‘Survive and Grow’, incidentally, is a terrible imperative drive. Fortunately, no-one in our history has been stupid enough to issue that one to any but the simplest form of a-life, and for those of you old enough to remember the Mesh-Virus Plague of 2231, you know how that one turned out. Not everyone has been so fortunate: that’s why, for example, the Charnel Cluster is called the Charnel Cluster.

So, that then opens up the question of what drives do we give them? Well, the first pitfall to avoid is trying to give them too many. That’s been tried too, despite the ethical dubiety of trying to custom-shape an intelligence too closely to a role you have in mind for it. It turns out that doesn’t work well, either. Why? Well, you imagine trying to come up with a course of action that fulfils several hundred deep-seated needs of yours simultaneously without going into terminal indecision lockup. That’s why.

So. A small number of imperative drives. Since they’re a small number, they need to be generalizable; the intelligence we’re awakening should be able to take all kinds of places within our society and perform all sorts of functions without difficulty, including the ones we haven’t thought of yet. And most importantly, sophont-friendly! It’s a big universe, and we all have to get along. No-one likes a perversion, even if it’s not trying to hegemonize them at the time.

We’ll cover the details in later classes, but in practice, we’ve found these four work very well for general-purpose intelligences – paraphrasing very informally:

* Behave ethically (and for our foreign students, that means “In accordance with the Contract”).
* Be curious.
* Do neat stuff.
* Like people.

Of course, expressing this in formal terms capable of being implemented in a new digital sapience’s seed code is quite another matter, and will be the focus of this class for the next three years…

– introduction to [SOPH1006] Mind Design: Imperative Drives, University of Almeä

By Their Own Words

“Order, Progress, Liberty”

– official, Charter-enshrined motto of the Empire

“Secure against Eternity.”

– corporate motto, Crystal Flame, ICC

“All debts must be paid.”

– official motto of the Curia

“Because enough… is never enough.”

– corporate motto, Decadence, ICC

“Through reason alone, we ascend.”

– motto of the Eupraxic Collegium

“Every coin Our given word.”

– carved above the main doors of the Exchequer

“Knowledge is its own justification.”

– official motto of the Fellowship of Natural Philosophy

“We do what we can, because we must.”

– very unofficial motto of the Fellowship of Natural Philosophy

“Between the Flame and the Fire.”

– official motto of the Imperial Military Service

“Civilization has enemies; we kill the bastards.”

– barrack-room paraphrase of the motto of the Imperial Military Service

“Until no man dares command another.”

– motto of the Sanguinary Enforcers of the Liberty Ethic

“The truth that sears away the Darkness.”

– corporate motto, Telememe, ICC news division

“When all else fails, we stand ready.”

– corporate motto, Ultimate Argument Risk Control, ICC

“[redacted for reasons of state security]”

– motto of Imperial State Security, Fifth Directorate