Bonfire of the “Elites”

In today’s somewhat morose worldbuilding thoughts inspired by real-world events (in this case, the Harvey Weinstein affair, along with an endless parade of abuse-of-power stories courtesy of Sheriff Joe, the Chicago City Council, the Arizona Dept. of Corrections, etc., etc.), one really does have to wonder what the judicial death toll is among the powerful so-called “elites” when the Empire annexes or protectoratizes somewhere less, um, serious about notions like the rule of law, the equal protection of same, and actually meaning what it says about Liberty and Justice for All.

“All debts must be paid.”
– official motto of the Curia

“I approve this message.”
– Tywin Lannister

 

libertyandjustice

This image inserted to lighten an otherwise serious post.

 

After all:

  • The Ministry of Harmonious Serenity doesn’t care whether you want to press charges or not – it might, assuming you are mentally competent, concede that you have a right to waive weregeld and reparation owed to you, but you can’t forgive a crime against the Contract and the Charter, since you don’t have standing to do so;
  • You can’t bullshit an alethiometer, and its measure of truth has nothing whatsoever to do with your “credibility”, relative or otherwise;
  • The cyberjudicial AI may Know Who You Are, but to its intellect vast and cool and unsympathetic and defined by the predicates of the law, Who You Are means exactly nothing;
  • (You can’t bribe it, either – and even if you could figure out a way to, it couldn’t accept it since its entire decision process is entered into the publically-auditable court record.)
  • Nor does it give freebies based on your career prospects, talents, pretty face, or supposed one-offness of your special crime – or, indeed, any other circumstances. You can plead duress or justification if those apply, which will be taken into account, but the algorithm was written with the Equal Protection and Application of the Law in mind, and Thus Hath No Fucks To Give about anything that doesn’t bear directly upon the events in question.
  • And there is no pardon power to be wielded on your behalf, since – for the same reasons as the victim cannot forgive a crime – it can’t exist; holding office by virtue of a Mandate descending from the Contract and the Charter, even the Imperial Couple and the unanimous Senate in all their majesty and dignity lack standing to pardon crimes against them.

Basically, should you call down upon yourself the attention of the mills of justice, they grind exceedingly fine, and they aren’t terribly slow about it, either.

“What’s the difference between God and the Curia?”
“God forgives.”
– overheard in an Encystment Facility

This is, for those counting non-Utopian features, accounted horrific by everyone who is very keen on Justice in the abstract, but are substantially less so when the prospect of their own actions being judged according to an objective standard of such might actually be realized.

(The Empire finds this position about as eye-rollingly contemptible as that of all the people who are very keen on Liberty in the abstract, as long as no-one actually uses it for anything they disapprove of or don’t understand.)


In terms of more serious dark sides, however, there is one, and it’s called misprision of felony.

For those not familiar with the term in its Earth context, it was a common-law offence making it a crime to fail to report knowledge of a felony to the appropriate authorities; exceptions being made for close family members of the felon and where the disclosure would tend to incriminate the reporter of that offense or another. It’s also currently been mostly dropped except for people who have a special duty to report a crime.

The Imperial version is essentially the same, but without the exceptions – because so far as it is concerned, upholding the law is a duty that comes along with being a citizen-shareholder, and mere sentiment does not foreclose that.

Now, by and large, the Empire has – in its own territories – much, much less of a problem with people coming forward about these things, because the justice system has the reputation that it has for delivering on its promises. (And also because the general public doesn’t have its head wedged firmly up its ass, culture-wise.)

But where and when that doesn’t happen –

Yes, it is possible (and it has happened) for the victim of a crime to be charged with misprision of felony for not reporting it. Because as stated above, you don’t have standing to forgive crimes against the Contract and the Charter, and by allowing the perpetrator to escape justice – and thus be free to prey on your fellow citizen-shareholders – you’re violating the Responsibility of Common Defense.

This stringency is, of course, horrible.

It’s just also… just.

The just heart is always cold.
– traditional, source unknown

Worldbuilding: Intellectual Integrity and Non-Utopia

So, in things to think about, let’s talk about intellectual integrity. Or, more specifically, let’s talk about a citation I’m taking from Paean to SMAC (Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri)’s discussion of the Intellectual Integrity technology, and specifically this:

That this is tied to a technology called Intellectual Integrity is quite intriguing, if one is willing to entertain the idea for a moment.  What would it mean for a society to have real intellectual integrity?  For one, people would be expected to follow their stated beliefs to wherever they led.  Unprincipled exceptions and an inability or unwillingness to correlate beliefs among different domains would be subject to social sanction.  Valid attempts to persuade would be expected to be based on solid argumentation, meaning that what passes for typical salesmanship nowadays would be considered a grave affront.  Probably something along the lines of punching someone in the face and stealing their money.

This is essentially the way Imperial society works, thanks to talcoríëf and the efforts of socio-intellectual movements past; there’s a very good reason why teir, typically glossed “honor”, has a lot more to say about self-integrity and intellectual integrity than a human take on its gloss would normally imply.

(Take advertising, for example: it has substantially less glitz – not zero, because you can make a valid and sound argument to someone that this product is awfully shiny and will be found pleasing by them, or that it concretely reflects their abstract values, but simply shrieking SEX! STATUS! MOOOORE SEEEEEX! at maximum volume fails utterly – avoids glossing over details, and in general is much more in-depth – for a product launch, you can pretty much expect interviews and Q&A with the design team regardless of what the product is – and personalized.

Meanwhile, the ongoing parade of SALE! SALE! SALE! tends not to happen, mostly because it’s not terribly effective on people who are (a) aware of hyperbolic discounting, and (b) cured hyperbolic discounting. And in general, if you’re in the Imperial market and trying to compete on price,  you’re doomed. Such price-based advertising as there is tends to consist of automated feeds to AI procurement agents.)

All of which is to say, in non-utopian terms, if you aren’t accustomed to maintaining a certain luminous clarity and consistency of thought, and you move there, you are going to be on the receiving end of certain social consequences. At best, that means spending a lot of time having all the cracks in your Weltanschauung poked into and levered apart by people first trying to understand, and then earnestly trying to help you with your philosophical problem.

At worst… well, self-inconsistent is no more a complement than unprincipled, which amounts to wilful self-inconsistency – or attempting to defend self-inconsistency – which latter has cast a black stain of ickiness over concepts like pragmatism or compromise, due to their frequent invocation to defend self-inconsistency. And let’s not even start on “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion!”, the responses to which are starkly unprintable1.

So, basically, if you don’t enjoy the cut and thrust of debate and/or staring unflinchingly at the consequences of your beliefs… don’t go, ’cause you won’t like it there.


Footnotes:

1. These responses will, eventually, concede that you do technically have, freedom of thought and all, the right to your own opinion however ludicrous and inconsistent it might be. However, they will go on to state, that does not include the right to be taken seriously, the right not to be mocked and shunned by all cognitively capable people, or the right not to be labeled the dumbest piece of crap that ever crawled out of Waste Reprocessing and evolved the power of speech all across the public reputation networks. Which is not defamatory, because it’s obviously true if you believe that.

Trope-a-Day: The White Prince

The White Prince/Sheltered Aristocrat: See also Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense for the purely financial aspects of this (post-scarcity vs. poverty), but this also applies across the Associated Worlds and their Decade Dissonance, and in general… well, let’s just say that the most developed civilizations are more or less Utopias, and Utopians have, shall we say, problems in appreciating the problems of non-Utopians.  Which we might as well go ahead and define as people for whom pain is not transient and for whom misery and suffering are not quaintly antiquated abstract concepts.

(ObQuoteStuckInMyHeadWhileWritingThis: “Oh, I’m in pain!  I think this is what pain feels like!”)

…of course, in their case, the naiveté where the social issues of “precivilized history” is concerned is matched with appalling competence in technical issues, with the predictable consequences appropriate to that.

In The List Of Ways In Which I’m Not Writing Utopia…

…for humans, anyway, is this Slate article, from which I quote:

It’s all a lie. This is the thing about creativity that is rarely acknowledged: Most people don’t actually like it. Studies confirm what many creative people have suspected all along: People are biased against creative thinking, despite all of their insistence otherwise.

“We think of creative people in a heroic manner, and we celebrate them, but the thing we celebrate is the after-effect,” says Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley business school who specializes in creativity.

Staw says most people are risk-averse. He refers to them as satisfiers. “As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform,” he says. Satisfiers avoid stirring things up, even if it means forsaking the truth or rejecting a good idea.

Even people who say they are looking for creativity react negatively to creative ideas, as demonstrated in a 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania. Uncertainty is an inherent part of new ideas, and it’s also something that most people would do almost anything to avoid. People’s partiality toward certainty biases them against creative ideas and can interfere with their ability to even recognize creative ideas.

To say that this is spectacularly non-adaptive to the local cultural conditions *there* is – not that it’s even all that adapted to modern human culture vis-a-vis plains ape tribes – perhaps, an understatement of only moderately lesser magnitude than saying that our physiology is somewhat non-adaptive to skinny-dipping on Titan.

“You wake up. Your house has been moved overnight to another town. That, at least, you were expecting. What you weren’t expecting is that the new town is built entirely within groves of bioengineered trees, and you already have an e-mail from the Architectural Aesthetics Encouragement Circle and Neighborly Greetings Committee asking if you’re staying long. But, hey, they attached welcome cookies! Nom. Your next e-mail is from your accountant, apologizing for not being able to get back to you sooner due to being at a convention. You spend first breakfast trying to decide if you’re more surprised to learn that your accountant is a space whale who lives in the solar corona, or that your accountant practices her profession as a hobby, being a millionaire six times over from her licensed fan-genomes for the fictional pets of small, equally fictional magical equines.”

It’s now half an hour into your waking week, and you have absolutely no reason to believe that the rest of it will be any less… interesting, or at any lesser rate.

If you weren’t born and raised with the understanding that conformity is some sort of bizarre mental illness of the psychotically dull (probably hyponeiria, but hey, we have an entire DSM of these things) – well, you’ve got to learn to love surfing on the chaos. Or it will drive you nuts.

(Those looking to obtain the full collection of situational stress disorders may try also going nuts from the way that everything is nonetheless perfectly orderly – with perfectly intersecting automated traffic and shiningly pristine streets and so forth – at the same time that it’s utterly anarchic. The cognitive dissonance has been known to confuse the hell out of visitors, which in turn confuses it out of the locals, who can only say “Well, y’know, anarchy isn’t chaos,” as if it was the most obvious thing anyone’s ever said in the entire history of obviosity.

It never helps.)

Which is not to say that only risk-insensitive NT-dominant extremely neophiles need apply, of course – just that it appeals to a set of personality types that are skewed very much off the standard human baseline.

 

Trope-a-Day: Utopia

Utopia: Well, the Imperials would certainly like to think that they live in one, or at least an asymptotic approach to one, anyway.

Of course, as we pointed out back in Imperial Dream, the Empire is a utopia for people who think the way that the Imperials think people ought to think (“the right sort of ambitious, self-motivated, self-defining, run-through-life-without-a-guidebook, make-it-up-as-you-go-along soph”). Kind of sucks if you need other people’s terms to live your life by, though, really sucks if you want to define those terms for other people, and can be quite horribly crushy if you actually want some darkness, ugliness, or mediocrity in your universe, even just as a contrast to the pervasive drive towards unrelieved, inescapable shiny awesomeness. You deviated cacophile prevert, you.

In short: there ain’t no universal utopia. The Empire tries for it, with its ideology of “An it harm none, do as you will – so long as it’s awesome!”, but even then, people who don’t know what they want, whose wants involve harm, coercion, or externalities, or who want non-awesomeness, are pretty much screwed.

There’s also a particular non-utopian case which I might well mention, exemplified by this quotation from John C. Wright’s The Golden Age:

Helion had leaned and said, “Son, once you go in there, the full powers and total command structures of the Rhadamanth Sophotech will be at your command.  You will be invested with godlike powers; but you will still have the passions and distempers of a merely human spirit.  There are two temptations which will threaten you.  First, you will be tempted to remove your human weaknesses by abrupt mental surgery.  The Invariants do this, and to a lesser degree, so do the White Manorials, abandoning humanity to escape from pain.  Second, you will be tempted to indulge your human weakness.  The Cacophiles do this, and to a lesser degree, so do the Black Manorials.  Our society will gladly feed every sin and vice and impulse you might have; and then stand by helplessly and watch as you destroy yourself; because the first law of the Golden Oecumene is that no peaceful activity is forbidden.  Free men may freely harm themselves, provided only that it is only themselves that they harm.”

[…]

Helion looked sardonic.  “‘Mistake’ is such a simple word.  An adult who suffers a moment of foolishness or anger, one rash moment, has time enough to delete or destroy his own free will, memory, or judgment.  No one is allowed to force a cure on him.  No one can restore his sanity against his will.  And so we all stand quietly by, with folded hands and cold eyes, and meekly watch good men annihilate themselves.  It is somewhat… quaint… to call such a horrifying disaster a ‘mistake.'”

The Empire’s like this. You are the captain of your soul, the proprietor of yourself, the beneficiary of an unshakable tradition of absolute self-ownership. You have bodily – and cognitive – autonomy in an actual, meaningful, and complete sense (granted, if you venture into the territory labeled ‘pernicious irrationalism’ you will subsequently have to be autonomous elsewhere, but no-one can or will actually stop you), not the limited ones some of *here*’s activists use. You can do anything you want to yourself, massively self-destructive things included, and when you’re doing it to you, you don’t even need informed consent, because the only person who could judge that is also you.

So far as they’re concerned, the Freest of the Free, that’s the way it has to be. Yes, some people accidentally wipe themselves out, but it’s a very small number, and we count on our ongoing tradition of being clever and wise and temperate and disciplined and creatures of talcoríëf to keep it that way – but if we take away your ownership of yourself, then what are you?  Nothing that belongs in a free society, and neither are we. A degree of choice-and-self-mastery-risk is the price you pay to live in a world without gorram slavers.

Humans, contrariwise, by any brief examination of your local democracy, are on average very keen on taking powers away from everyone so that they personally don’t do anything dangerous, bad, or unpleasant with them. Empirically, we don’t seem to like living without safety rails everywhere.

The Imperials would consider that a lamentable lack of character (which, indeed, is what they consider it in-universe when someone takes the individual option to disempower themselves out of fear of what they might do), but nonetheless, it’s probably enough to take the Empire out of the utopia category for most of this planet’s ape-descendants.

 

Trope-a-Day: Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism

Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Played straight at both ends.

The greater galaxy, by and large, is a cynical place.  It may not be a Crapsack World – hell, it doesn’t even come close to a Crapsack World – but it is a realistic universe – which is to say, entirely indifferent to the sophonts within it, even when they are adequately supplied with unenlightened self-interest, nihilism, or out-and-out bastardry, and guided by blind chance and, of course, the endless deathward drag of entropy.

The Empire, by contrast, is a exceptionally shiny and idealistic Utopia of wealth, freedom, the complete absence of death, disease, poverty, crime, war, or anything else that might disturb the serenity of the average citizen-shareholder; a place where everyone can trust and be trusted, people always care, and happy endings always happen for good people.  And they’re working quite hard on knocking off universal entropy.  (Of course, that’s so because they work very, very hard to make it so – including things like building into their collective consciousness an entire machine-god to replace blind chance with a superior organizational principle, one more prone to fortunate coincidences, happy meetings and Destined True Love.)

Essentially, back in the day, the dozen or so Founders disapproved really rather strongly of the default state of things, and essentially declared war (metaphorically speaking – the paradoxes involved in warring your way to utopia is something else they’re quite aware of, however hilarious punching grimdark in the face with a spacemagic fist of doom can be on occasion) on cynicism, nihilism, and other forms of entropism in the name of holding ideals hard enough that they become real. Because if the universe believes otherwise, the universe is wrong, and dammit, we can fix that.  Their modern tradition-continuing clade-heirs, who make up a supermajority just about everywhere, are very aware that utopia doesn’t come easily, and ensure that things stay the way they’re supposed to work – the way they would work in a properly constructed universe – at least inside the borders – even if that means occasionally acting cynically outside them.

The long term plan, of course, is to ram their paradigm down the throat of the entire universe… but since that’s hard to do and Utopia, they would argue, by definition can’t Justify The Means, it has to be a very long term plan.

(Not that they’re the only enclave of idealism.  Of course, ideals are to a certain degree a matter of personal taste – the founders of the Equality Concord were profoundly idealistic, and they did create a kind of utopia… if you ignore the effective elimination of free will.)

The People Who Sing Them Have No Social Conscience

So, I’m a little thrown off my stride today by receiving another e-mail from a reader who is of the opinion that, while okay, maybe not message fiction, but that I need to be more socially conscious in my writing, perhaps a bit less impractically utopian and touching on/incorporating a few of the real-world issues of the day, especially those ending in -ism.

Well, here’s why that’s not going to happen, said here so that I can use it as a FAQ for future reference.

Firstly, while it is often said by various people, especially in the critical sector, that the purpose of fiction in general and science fiction in general is to reflect on real life, I do not hold with that. (Yes, granted, I have fallen off the wagon once or twice.) A world should exist for its own sake and have its own issues arising from its internal logic, otherwise it lacks integrity. It may, in some ways, be applicable – in whatever people draw from it – to real life and its issues, but it shouldn’t be purposive in being it, or else it’s always somehow hollow.

Secondly, I am aware of the the various issues ending in -ism – and oh so many more that have not yet been granted such a word – and the pettiness, ugliness, and menial brutality deriving therefrom and perpetrated upon all sides. That’s the gloriously shitty monkey heritage of mankind, folks, and if you live on Earth, whether you grow six layers of callus, spend your days wrapping yourself in cotton wool, or plunge straight into the putrid mass, it’s virtually impossible not to have to acknowledge that it’s there. But I see no particular virtue in keeping my imagination there, too.

If I wanted to write poison, I’d be a journalist. If I wanted to read sewage, I’d follow the news. If you’re looking for worlds featuring the per-diem grotesqueries of human existence, you are shopping in the wrong store, and sorry to say, you always will be.

Because I am an impractical Utopian, and I do write in a universe where the protagonists’ culture, by and large, has escaped – or never had – our genetic and memetic/cultural impulses to be total bastards; in which life is good; people are happy and refrain, by and large, from being assholes to each other; Light and Dark (if not the rather fuzzier Good and Evil) are clearly defined; and the ethically, axiomatically, mathematically-wrong people who perpetrate those sorts of things exist largely to be punched in the face by the (metaphorical or literal) spacemagic fists of doom of bright, shining idealists, thereupon ceasing to be a problem. The literature of hope, and all that, and yes, also the literature of escapism. And proud of it. Sometimes people need to stop looking around and take a moment to look up.

Because, thirdly and in turn, if you can’t even imagine a better world, what damn chance have you ever got of building one?