Trope-a-Day: Pillars of Moral Character

Pillars of Moral Character: Yes, the Imperials too have their own version of that traditional “duty is heavier than a mountain; death is lighter than a feather” proverb.  And could indeed deliver a fine lecture, if needed, on the analog of on and giri – they just call that one mélith.

See also Blue and Orange Morality.

More Questions, More Answers

And more questions arrive:

Here is an interesting what if for you. If you could live in the Eldraeverse would you want to?

They had me at immortality.

Or at post-scarcity.

Or at vastening.

Or at forking.

Or at the Repository of All Knowledge.

Or at, y’know, space.

Or at a refreshing absence of self-appointed gibbering loons under the impression they’re entitled to tell everyone else what to do, or else

So, um, yeah, pretty much.

What parts of Eldrae culture make you personally uncomfortable?

I may be a bad target for this question.

Partly because I’m an SF-reading, SF-writing, transhumanist anarchist. On the Yudkowsky table, my future shock level is somewhere between 3.5 and 4. And while, being human, I have the innate wisdom of squick, I’ve told it to shut up so much due to, well, items one through four above, that these days it barely twinges.

I’m sure there are some things, that I can’t think of off the top of my head – and, yes, that means I do find nothing wrong with that, and I have no problems with that either, have fun going through the index – going on in Imperial space that would make me uncomfortable, permissive society that it is, but for the most part the things that do so – many of which exist elsewhere in the Worlds as a whole – are those things that violate the principles of Consent and Obligation. Which are *there* frowned upon very strongly indeed.

What do you think the hardest cultural difference for you or humans in general to accept would be?

…all of it, in gestalt.

Well, take a look at Blue and Orange Morality and Values Dissonance; and then note that we probably suffer from it worse than most exotic species, because as fellow hominins, we’re close enough to fall into the Uncanny Valley rather than being alien enough to be expected to behave in an alien manner.

And an unfortunate number of instincts we have are just plain wrong by their standards: we don’t respect other people’s lives or their property and especially not their choices, are xenophobic, unempathic, incurious, emotionally labile to the point of hysteria, situationally ethical, obsessed with relative tribal status, and deeply in love with ugliness.

No-one likes to be seen as an inferior species. Especially if they’ve actually studied Earth culture at a shallow level, and come away with the notion that a large proportion of us are the kind of inferior species which, if invited to dinner, is likely to insult their host, take a shit on the table in the middle of the fish course, sexually assault someone over dessert, and steal the candlesticks on the way out, and not doing so is considered coming out ahead of the norm. (Side note: it really doesn’t help that our media does such an excellent job of portraying us as a Planet of Complete Assholes.)

All of which is to say, well, to get along *there* we’d have to completely repress and deny even the slightest, most sublimated trace of envy or enyious-sounding ideas and even a hint of the “there oughta be a law” instinct, cultivate self-control and rationality enough to suit the talcoríëf-esteeming locals (preferably while not losing the capacity for deep passion and childlike delight in things, losing which is also part of their hypothetical critique), find a way to desire neither to lead nor to follow nor to care what the Jones’ are doing, and develop adequately large sticks up our asses about politesse, respect for other people’s stuff, and the principle of the thing – while not showing any weakness on these points, because we will be judged constantly, and especially on what we are in the dark.

Being human and therefore possessed of unavoidably human mentality, it’s hard enough to get my mind into this framework properly enough to write them, never mind trying to live it 24/7. Fortunately, *there*, they have cures for that.

(Note: This may seem harsh, but a thing to remember is that we’re the ones who come with brains hard-coded to relative status hierarchies, and in this scenario. we’d be judging ourselves against people who’ve been engaging in a relentless program of no-holds-barred self-improvement for centuries.)

Do the Eldrae favor punishment, rehabilitation, or something else as a means of combating crime?

Imperial judicial penalties (as handled by the Office of Reconstruction and Execution by the Curial courts, once they’re done), draw from two paradigms: mélith – balance and obligation – and medicine.

So there’s no punishment, per se. By either philosophy, engaging in that is absolutely pointless.

What there is is restitution and cure. The former takes the form of fines: either directly restitutive where economic crimes are concerned, according to the Fivefold Rule (repaying the victim fivefold), or in the form of weregeld. Also, in either case, the criminal is responsible for paying all costs incurred due to his crime, including police costs, court costs, loss-of-income-and-time for the victim and any and all witnesses, etc., that lost time due to the case, and so forth. All debts must be paid, says Saravoné’s Code, and they mean every word of it. (And if you don’t have the assets, they’ll still get it out of you one way or another.)

The latter takes the form of memetic rehabilitation and reconditioning, for virtually all non-violent crimes and minor crimes of violence. Despite the name, this has little to do with rehabilitation in the Western penological sense when, to one extent or another, prisoners are supposed to rehabilitate themselves; meme rehab & recon means being handed over to the psychedesigners, the redactors, and if necessary the brain surgeons.

(On the grounds, you see, that people who cannot grasp and duly follow the principles of consent and obligation, or the Fundamental Contract, are self-evidently insane, and need their mental dysfunction repaired like the faulty component that it is. That being said, the Curia has a tremendous respect for the free will and self-integrity of the individual, and as such meme rehab & recon is not compulsory. If you genuinely prefer dying as yourself to living as your repaired self, you may opt for euthanasia at any time.)

More serious violent crimes (the ones which literally can’t make restitution for their crime because the bill is too high to pay with anything other than their entirety) and cases of incurable dysfunction with or without recidivism are handed directly over to the executioners or euthanatrists, respectively. The intent behind this death penalty, however, is neither punishment nor deterrence (after all, it’s not the severity but the certainty that counts); it’s surgery – cutting out society’s sick parts as surgeons once removed incurable tumors.

(Note: You can put that down under things humans would find culturally difficult to accept, too, inasmuch as the average human, citizens of Western democracies especially, is not likely to be comfortable with a legal system that has but two penalties, brainwashing or death. (But, hey, if you don’t like brainwashing, you can always choose death, right?))

Trope-a-Day: Morally Bankrupt Banker

Morally Bankrupt Banker: Subverted; most Imperial bankers (especially those from Gilea & Co.) are very, very moral people.  By the eldrae’s rigidly propertarian standards, and with total dedication to the Principle of Money and the sacred trust that is his fiduciaries’ wealth, which isn’t necessarily the kind of fluffiness most people think of when they say “morality” in this context, but is also very distinct from not having any.

Trope-a-Day: Immortality Immorality

Immortality Immorality: Averted, inverted, mocked, beaten soundly, and left to expire if it wants to so damned much, in much of the Galaxy.  The Imperials (and many other transsophont civilizations) are of the opinion that anyone who can’t tell that death is an eo ipso Bad Thing, meaningless, pointless, useless, unjust, unforgivably wasteful, personally destructive, and so on and so forth is an idiot, and the ephemeralist factions that propose that it is good for society and even the individual are substantially worse than that.

Of course, said ephemeralists play it entirely straight, but, well, the trouble with being ideologically committed to death is that given enough time, you will lose the greater argument with people who trend the other way.  Demographics are a bitch. Such is… life.

Trope-a-Day: Light Is Not Good

Light Is Not Good: Well, the Imperials certainly look the part of “light”, being all shiny and glowy and identifying with all kinds of light- and flame-based imagery, philosophically and religiously, but “good” – well, unless your personal morality identifies the good really strongly with knowledge, beauty, excellence, negentropy, self-integrity, obligation, the inevitable march of progress, and remorselessly enforced free will (among other blue and orange things), not really.  And if your notion of the good runs counter to those things – most commonly with utilitarian commitments to Luddism or collectivism – then Light Will Crush You.

(On another note, it may be noted that while among the eikones of eldraeic religion, the bright lights to aim at, there are eikones of good concepts – order, peace, prosperity, joy, justice, liberty, healing, honor, etc. – there is not one eikone that embodies good, as a concept.  It is, ah, insufficiently nuanced.

Of course, there are none that embody evil, or indeed any concepts on the dark side of gray, either.)

(See also tomorrow’s trope-a-day, Good Is Not Nice!)

Trope-a-Day: Even Evil Has Standards

Even Evil Has Standards: Not in general played any straighter than it is in reality – the dumb and brutal kind of space pirate/raider, in particular, is infamous for atrocities – but seen on occasion.  A lot of Renegades, even the gone-plain-and-simple-evil ones, still have their instincts and culture programming, and as such tend to avoid slaving and other blatantly choice-stealing, and often adhere to codes circling around the twisted form of mélith that could be summarized as “those who aren’t asking for it shouldn’t get it”.

The Problem of Evil

A question asked on the conculture mailing list:

How do our various cultures — especially the non-human ones, and also especially the non-terran ones — view this Problem of Evil? Or do they even recognise it as a principle? Or do they see Good as the Problem…? Also, is Evil a “real thing” or a by-product of cultural evolution in a people?

Well, now.

The eldrae don’t really think of Good and Evil as contending cosmic principles.  Those would more accurately be described as Light and Dark – on the one hand, the Flame, the cosmic positive principle of volition, creation, excellence, and energy, and the Darkness, the negative cosmic principle of chaos, destruction, and entropy.  But while Dark may be Evil, in many if not all of its aspects, Light is not exactly Good (and nor is it, well, terribly nice – at least by human moral standards).  Unless you happen to identify the good really strongly with beauty, excellence, negentropy, obligation, the inevitable march of progress, and remorselessly enforced free will, anyway.

Neither of them is personified, strictly speaking.  Light arguably is in the form of the eikones (personifications of concepts) as a whole, but none of them represents the Light itself; they’re shards of it seen through a prism, individual colors derived from the light of the Flame.  Meanwhile, Darkness —

Well, that gets into beginnings.  The fundamental tenet of eldraeic theology is that the universe is fundamentally broken.  It obviously shouldn’t be, but something went wrong at some point, and we’re stuck with it.  (Explanations vary; the Church of the Flame doesn’t really have a consistent creation myth.  One common postulate is that it’s down to Aldéré, Divine Ignition, creator goddess of the eikones, being mad as a hatful of badgers inasmuch as creation is the only thing that matters, and what happens afterwards is “not her department”, which is why she coos every bit as much over the creation of say, Ebola, as the creation of a magnificent work of art; but there are many alternative cosmogonies.)  The Darkness is this brokenness; it’s entropy and its consequences, the reason we live in an imperfect universe in which energy dissipates, destruction doesn’t always lead to new creation, information can be lost, people die, flaws go unamended, and assorted other offenses against The Way Things Ought To Be In A Proper, Perfect Universe persist in happening.

(And that, of course, is just physical entropy.  Mental-spiritual entropy is also responsible for choice-theft and parasitism and envy and sloth and cacophilia and destructionism and humility and most of the other sins in the book.)

It’s almost gnostic, in a way, except that while the gnostics would claim that matter and the material world are inherently evil, the Flamics would claim that matter itself strives, self-organizing into stars and worlds and galaxies, crystals and snowflakes, and life, life everywhere, in one great outcry against the deathward fall of the universe, until eventually it produced sophont life, whose purpose, such as it is, is to continue to strive to make the universe better, and eventually fix it completely, restoring it to the flawless state it always should have had.

“Anything that is broken can be repaired.”

So, to return to the original question, evil (or Darkness, rather) doesn’t have an independent existence per se; it’s merely inherent in the flawed nature of the universe and everything within it.  In sophont terms, it’s that little inner voice that encourages people to take short cuts, to be satisfied with less, to be less than they can be, to bring others down rather than raise themselves up (relative status systems are, they would say, very entropic), to not strive, not achieve, not improve, and to prevent others from doing so.  That’s the hole in the world trying to suck out your awesome; good, or Light rather, consists of not letting it.  But it is a distinctly identifiable concept you can point to, and say “that’s it”.

(More on some related concepts at Blue and Orange Morality and Little Darknesses.)