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”.

Trope-a-Day: There Are No Therapists

(Missed this last night, oops, so have some catch-up.)

There Are No Therapists: Averted, if technically true.  Which is to say, these days, you take your mental problems – or indeed, any mental imperfections you feel you might have – to a psychedesigner, who will edit your mind-state to not contain whatever problems you had, then pour it back in your head.  And there’s no particular stigma to it; if anything, there’s one the other way round, given how one is supposed to be all self-improvementy, polishing your mind into a shiny jewel of self-integral perfection included.

(Quality, of course, varies.  A qualified professional, as certified by the Guardians of Our Harmony, the Noetic Society, or their equivalents can remove mental traumas so skillfully it’s as if they were never there, or faithfully reproduce the effects of successfully processing and integrating them.  At the other end of the scale, there are street “psychedesigners” who will solve the surface appearance of your problems – by which hopefully they mean the conscious part, not just the external part – by imposing a bunch of compulsion-inhibitions into your mind and leaving you with that “head full of barbed wire” feeling and a good chance of more mental damage than you had when you started.)

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.)

Trope-a-Day: No Poverty

No Poverty: Played straight in the Empire – and indeed the entire Core Economic Zone.

Well, at least as far as absolute poverty goes. Let us consider, for example, the hypothetical lowest-income citizen-shareholder in the Empire, someone who certainly doesn’t exist, having never had a single original, marketable thought in their entire life, possesses no skills, and who has never found any way to make themselves useful to any other sophonts whatsoever.

That guy, whose only source of income is the Citizen’s Dividend, can still afford a good-sized, luxurious home to live in, and – for less than the price of basic cable *here*, at that – an energy-and-cornucopia-services subscription sufficient to fabricate more food than he could ever eat, more clothing than he could ever wear, and a wide range of other assorted consumer goods even if they’re last year’s relinquished-copyright model; along with information-services access, basic-coverage tort insurance, and comprehensive medical.

That’s only going to stop being true if he manages to screw up deliberately and dramatically – and, given the generosity of Imperial bankrupty/debt law designed to encourage entrepreneurship and leave people able to function and earn more money to pay their debts in future, in fairly exotic ways. (And this is itself unlikely, inasmuch as That Guy is likely to receive a friendly visit from the Guardians of Our Harmony seeking to cure his obvious craziness even before taking it to the next level.)

tl;dr It is within delta of functionally impossible to have less than a well-off middle-class lifestyle in the CEZ in general and the Empire in particular.

Now, to mention what the trope page says is rarely mentioned, if you’re the type to concern yourself with relative poverty, then you can still find plenty of material to get hot and bothered about. The Empire got to its poverty-free post-material-scarcity state of awesomeness through the vigorous and rapacious practice of free markets and greed, and isn’t planning to change any time soon. As such, were anyone to bother computing its Gini coefficient or other such measures of economic inequality, it would undoubtedly cause some serious palpitations and flabberghast, the fantastically wealthy Numbers owning private luxury moons, and so forth.

It’s just that no-one *there* gives a damn, because the traditional ways of “legally stealing” your way to wealth are all illegal, and because it’s hard to convince people who live in big houses and own magic boxes that can make heaps and heaps of anything for twenty bucks a month that they’re being Horribly Oppressed by the 1%, the Man, or pretty much anyone else. At least, it is without idiot primate status-game instincts to help you.

Finally to note, this is something that I do pretty much try to take lightly, at least inside the CEZ. After all, to the lucky people from there, the magic box that makes whatever you want just as soon as it occurs to you to want it is the natural state of the universe, belike.

Of course, when they have to deal with the people from outside there, or, dearie me, with the people from the Unemerged Markets, they have the most terrible – “No comconsoles?” – problems in understanding exactly what the heck this poverty thing is. (See much more under Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense.) Not having a cornucopia machine of your very own is about as far as the non-cosmopolitan imagination gets.