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”.

Are They Insane, Or Are They Insane?

(Not resharing this with Google+ for Reasons, and I’d be obliged if you’d play along with me, there.)

I find myself in need of some specific words in English.

Specifically, to represent a distinction in Eldraeic in general, and in the professional jargon of psychedesigners, sophotechnologists, memeticists, lawyers, the Eupraxic Collegium, and so forth in particular, between two distinguishable states which English tends to lump indistinctively together as “insane, crazy, etc.”:

1. Irrationality having its origin in an organic or mechanical dysfunction of the brain, or a chemical imbalance, or environmental toxins, or intolerable stress, or other such cause; for which, obviously, one has no more ethical responsibility than a boulder does for its fall from the cliff-top; and

2. Irrationality having its origin in voluntarily taking on and submitting to some ghastly, corrosively autotoxic memeplex – Dominionism, Wahabism, Scientology, racial supremacism, revolutionary Communism, membership in a political party, etc., etc., that has gone through the rational cognitive capacity of your brain like chlorine trifluoride through an unlucky rocketeer. For which – well, you thought it, you bought it, savvy?

Any thoughts on existing words that might have the proper subtextual spin?

Are You Sapient?

“If there is one thing the universe is not short of, it is ways to measure the multifaceted, multidimensional phenomenon we call ‘intelligence’, or ‘sapience’.

“Perhaps the best known of all of them is the ASIT – the Adjusted Sapience Index Test – as defined these days by the Eupraxic Collegium and the Imperial Grand Survey, simply because that’s one of the few with any legal standing. Unfortunately, it’s not particularly useful for those in the middle of the ‘typical sophont’ range, because it’s designed to determine who’s sapient enough to count as a sophont or a prosophont in the first place, so if you’re working with newly met species, uplift candidates, or – in some variants – the mentally dysfunctional, it’s shiny.  In most other cases, not so much.

“Also generally accepted are the objective measures, various units for raw cognition (defined, in this case, as bit-transformations per second per gram equivalents in the local units), coordination capacity, etc.  The trouble with those, of course, is that while they work great for marketing computronium, even though you can point at a brain and say it’s entirely capable of performing x bT/s/g, that doesn’t really tell you much about whether it’s using those x bT/s/g for anything vaguely useful, sapience-wise, or just sitting around in the organic-cognitive equivalent of an idle loop.

“Meanwhile, all kinds of people have come up with more specific scales to measure various subsets of sapience and its allied traits.  The Intellectual Coherence Quotient, the Linguistic Communication Quotient, the Multidimensional Visualization Test, the Active Rationality Index, the Kinesthesis Scale, the Sociodynamic Coefficients, the Internal Cognitive Freedom Phase-Space Vector, the Individual Neophilia Scan, etc., etc., etc.  It is, by and large, agreed among statisticians, clionomists, psychedesigners, and sophotechnologists that they do each measure that specific aspect that they claim to measure’.

“Which of them might or might not correlate, individually or in combination, and with which weightings, with any sort of ‘general intelligence’ concept is, alas, not at all generally accepted, and is the subject of much bitter academic infighting, with accompanying ink-flecked extranet rantings and claims that one’s opponent must not have scored terribly high on the Ciëlle Memeplex Synthesis Cognitive Test Sequence.  The majority position, such as it is, increasingly tends towards the claim that there’s no such thing as “general intelligence” outside bT/s/g, and that there’s no point in looking for a common underlying factor apart from computative activity to unify these various kinds of specialized intelligences, because there’s nothing there to find.

“…in actually making decisions based on intelligence, most people find it easier to apply the pragmatic well-go-try-it-then test.”

– Handbook of Cognitive Quantification, 33rd ed.,
University of Almeä Press