Police state

The last three entries serve as an introduction to the general rationale behind the formation of a police state. Order must be maintained, loyalty sustained. The barbarians are at the gate, and unless every effort is put into keeping them out they are sure to overrun us all. Whether the barbarians are humans or mind worms makes little difference – survival hangs in the balance either way. It is therefore essential to build sturdy gates situated in imposing walls, to keep everyone where they belong.

These walls can be both physical and metaphorical. When it comes to physical walls, their necessity is obvious, and it might even be possible to rally popular support in their construction – especially if there really are barbarians out there. Over time, however, the walls are internalized. There are us and them, and it is imperative beyond everything else that the difference is maintained with rigor and swift ruthless severity. As with physical walls, it is impossible to be on both sides at once; either you are with us or against us.

In Modernity and Ambivalence, Bauman explores the mindset of modernity by taking a detour to the humble act of gardening. Gardening is a very ordered and structured activity, especially when it comes to large garden. There is a plan to things – these plants grow in these spots, and this other area is reserved for these other plants. Everything has a designated place. The art of keeping the grounds is making sure that everything is where it is supposed to be, whilst at the same time keeping out the things that are not supposed to be. Weeds, in particular, are to be rooted out with swift efficiency – if they are left unattended, they will grow exponentially and ruin the carefully laid out plan. If the designated plants are to live up to their full aesthetic potential, every other plant must die. There is and can be no ambivalence on this point. Just ask the Caretakers.

The same line of thinking is present in society as a whole, albeit for the most part in subtler forms. Modernity is keen on making plans and policy documents describing how things are supposed to be. Once these blueprints are made, the work of making them manifest in reality begins. Whatever happens to slow down or hinder the progress of the work is removed, like so much weed in a well-kept garden. Progress must be made, order must be maintained. Those who do not comply are the enemies of progress, who must be removed and taught a lesson in how the future is going to take shape.

It might seem something of a leap from removing weeds in a garden to removing politically inconvenient opponents, but both are born from the same impulse to maintain order. The only difference is in what the impulse is directed at. In both cases, the end results might very well be impressive works of art: a well-tended garden and/or a well-ordered society. If the only thing you have to go on is the end result, both might even speak to the same sense of aesthetic enjoyment. As William Gibson said of Singapore: it is Disneyland with the death penalty.

The point of this detour is to point out that few police states are ends in themselves. They are almost always motivated by some external pressure or future telos. If the barbarians are at the gate, it makes sense to crack down on internal dissent so as to be able to focus the entirety of society’s resources on keeping them at bay. If society needs to be radically restructured to meet the demands of the future (be they economic or aesthetic), then allowing luddites and anti-future elements to have full political freedom is counterproductive. Progress must be made. The ends justify the brutality of the means.

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The Command Nexus

Information, the first principle of warfare, must form the foundation of all your efforts. Know, of course, thine enemy. But in knowing him do not forget above all to know thyself. The commander who embraces this totality of battle shall win even with the inferior force.

– Spartan Battle Manual

Continuing the trend of centralized command structures established in Doctrine: Loyalty, the Command Nexus takes it one step further. While it is reasonable to think that every faction get their own command nexi over time – by necessity, if for no other reason – the Command Nexus represents a singular devotion to integrating military coordination into the fabric of society to such a degree that it happens seemingly automatically. It becomes just another routine thing to include in planning documents and maintenance operations.

The Spartans would, of course, be a natural fit for this secret project. Their inherent ambition to become the best warriors on each and every possible field of battle goes hand in hand with ensuring that everything is known about where there’s a war to be fought. Information must not only flow from where the enemies are, but also where they could potentially be. Not only to be able to muster a defense should they attack along those vectors, but also to enable counterattacks along these very same lines. If the enemy does not know about these potential battlefields, then they provide a means through which to harass, sabotage or even destroy them if caught unawares. Knowing is half the battle.

The other half of the battle is being able to project force wherever and whenever it is warranted. This is, above all else, a question of organization and infrastructure. Knowing which forces are where and what capacities they possess is a prerequisite for issuing orders relevant to the situation; being able to distribute these orders in a swift and reliable manner is not something to be taken for granted. It requires dedicated efforts, hardened lines of communication and extensive drilling to keep the flows of information open and operational. War is, above and beyond anything else, an intensely social activity.

The Spartan Battle Manual is – from what we have seen of it – keen on emphasizing the possibility of inferior forces winning despite the odds. Most of it comes down to organization and readiness. Having more numbers than the enemy means very little when they know where to strike in order to cause chaos and disarray. As Clausewitz pointed out, the main objective of any battle is to disable the enemy’s capacity to resist, not to destroy them. Cut off the lines of communication, split up the troops in disparate contingents and undermine every point where coordinated resistance can be mounted – and victory is achieved.

All of this underscores the importance of a centralized command structure and of integrating it with society as a whole. While the Spartans make a virtue of necessity, other factions will have to follow suit to some degree. As the old saying goes: no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. But planning is essential.

Perimeter defense

Having now established a secure perimeter, we have made ourselves relatively safe from enemy incursions. But against the seemingly random attacks by Planet’s native life only our array of warning sensors can help us, for the Mind Worms infiltrate through every crevice and chew through anything softer than plasmasteel.

– Lady Deirdre Skye, “The Early Years”

Being inside a building is, more often than not, an advantage when it comes to being on the defensive. The sheer presence of solid physical material between yourself and everything on the outside confers all sorts of advantages – warmth, the ability to organize your daily activities through specialized rooms, and of course the inability of things to enter in except through the door. Being thus sheltered from cold, chaos and calamity, you are ready to face the world on the occasions when you venture outside.

These advantages are all incidental, however, and differ from the sorts of protection afforded by constructions specifically built to create a difficult-to-conquer regions. Urban warfare is made difficult by the sheer fact that getting from point A to point B is difficult unless you already know the geography and can navigate the city streets. It is made a nightmare if the city is intentionally designed to include defensible positions, choke points and kill zones without cover. There is defense, and there is defense.

The Perimeter Defense represents an active investment in these kinds of intentional defensive architectural features. In a sense, it is the militarization of architecture. Given that life on Chiron is almost exclusively happening inside the built environment of bases, it by extension means the militarization of entire lifeworlds. Yang makes no secret of this, and intentionally built his bases underground specifically with this in mind. On Chiron, the dividing line between civilian and military endeavors is blurry at best. To quote from Virilio’s Bunker Archeology:

Anticipation and ubiquity are war’s requirements, and distance or prominent obstacles must not impede intelligence or reconnaissance. On the one hand, one must see all and know all, and, on the other, must create masks and screens infinitely tighter than any nature offered – than any of those we have dissipated or surpassed.

We can see this dual dynamic in Deidre’s quote. On the one hand the Perimeter Defense will defend against human enemies; on the other hand, only sensors can defend against Mind Worms. Defensive architecture will only take the colonists so far – the defense must go on the offense, as it were, and include anticipatory equipment that can see the enemy (be it human or worm) arrive from a distance. The effect of this is a society which at every point in time anticipates an incoming attack. Even when no attack is incoming, the preparations made for its eventuality has an effect on the present. It becomes part of the everyday mentality, even if it is rarely addressed explicitly. A base is a home, but it is also a bunker. By necessity, design, or both, that is the home the colonists built for themselves.

Doctrine: Loyalty

Therefore a wise prince will seek means by which his subjects will always and in every possible condition of things have need of his government, and then they will always be faithful to him.

– Niccolò Machiavelli, “The Prince”, Datalinks

Machiavelli is funny, in that if you only ever read the Prince, you get a very specific impression of what his project was. If you read another book of his – it almost doesn’t matter which one, but the Discourses on Livy have the advantage of being available online – this impression shatters and becomes a source of amusement and confusion. Machiavelli extols the republican values of past eras and discusses ways of bringing them to life in the present – which is about the furthest away from the whole spirit of the Prince it is possible to be. A lot can be learnt by trying to figure out whether the Prince was merely a work written to keep his patron happy, or if it is actually a genuine treatise on political philosophy. My advice is to not settle on either position too soon.

Turning from the past to the future, this technology represents a turn to realpolitik in colonial development. Merely having ideals is one thing, but being able to enforce them coherently across an entire faction is quite another. Even without a political agenda, it still has to be done to keep factions cohering as a single political unit. Some unifying legal framework has to be adopted and enforced, and there has to be a routine in place for how to obey commands from faction headquarters. Disciplined obedience has to be maintained, less the whole situation deteriorates into a series of quarreling city states who all have their own rules, regulations and customs. The centralized state apparatus, as envisioned in this game, requires an extensive and far-reaching sense of loyalty to even be possible on a logistical level.

Of course, there are no politically neutral forms of political organization. Not even anarchy is apolitical, it is merely another form of governance, which is why the Data Angels can only exist in the form of a faction. On Chiron, survival as a politically relevant entity is inextricably linked to statehood, and thus some version of Doctrine: Loyalty becomes inevitable. The situation of humanity as a whole – succeed or die – is fractally mirrored in the political survival of ideologies. Mobilize enough survivors with sufficient ideological fervor and technical prowess to make your vision of what it means to be human manifest in the world, or go extinct. Loyalty is the name of the game.

The question is where on the spectrum between the Prince and the Discourses any given faction ends up. The Usurpers would destroy the universe in their blind loyalty to their leader, should it become necessary. The Pirates, on the other hand, are very likely to see breaches of the Code of the Sea as an offense worse than outsiders would initially suspect. Both are aspects of loyalty with a social order, and despite the vast gulf between these positions, the key role of a centralized command structure unites them. Even as it divides them and drives them to war with each other.

Much can be learnt by comparing the various modes of political organization with each other. My advice is to not proclaim any one position as the correct one too soon in your reading.

Democracy

Democracy is an active process. As such, it is not a characteristic or attribute that a polity has; democracy is something that a polity does. If the act of performing democracy continues, so does democracy; should the activity ever find itself slowing or ceasing, democracy goes away and is replaced by some other form of government. The transition can be fast or slow, instant or gradual, a result of a radical shift in rulership or the already existing potentates squandering their democratic heritage. Whatever reason, the end of democracies always boils down to a singular cause: the democratic activities faded away, to be replaced by other forms of being together in the world.

The most popular (pun intended) democratic activity is free and open public elections. But it would be a mistake to reduce democracy to this single intermittent act of public participation in governance. Rather, it is the most visible instantiation of the democratic principle that those in power have to make themselves relevant to those they govern, in such a way that their way of governing makes sense and is overall agreeable. Voting is an expression of this principle in action, but it is not the only one.

de Tocqueville wrote of democracy in 19th century (northern) United States that it was characterized by a strong sense of participation in communal affairs. This he attributed to the vast amount of associations the citizens formed – every issue, no matter how big or small, had spawned some sort of association to make sure things got done, problems solved and politicians involved. Every association was an exercise in democratic governance in and of itself, and thus their prevalence ensured that everyone got an education in democratic virtues. Free individuals coming together to discuss what to do and how to prepare for the future is the essence of democracy – indeed, much like the hokey pokey, that’s what it’s all about.

Thus, democracy is not defined by a particular set of institutions and a particular way of transferring executive power every so often. To be sure, these institutions are important and have to be there, but they do not constitute democracy. Democracy is a way more decentralized and widely distributed form of government. From the lowliest of drones to the brightest of talents – everyone’s included, both on voting day and every other day.

Ensuring that these lofty ideals are in place and in action on Chiron is not something that happens on its own. Even among the Peacekeepers, whose explicit goal is to further democratic governance whatever it takes, the tendency to accidentally slip into authoritarian modes of conduct is present. More so in other factions, whose commitment to democracy (liberal or otherwise) is not as enshrined as sacred principle. As we saw in the case of Fundamentalism, it is possible to simply slip into a non-democratic form of government by sheer force of inertia and externally imposed necessity. The colony must survive; with regards to this overarching goal, holding elections and forming coalitions to sway public opinion are not activities whose immediate usefulness are obviously apparent to everyone involved. Despite them being involved.

The game simulates this by having Democracy impose a malus on a faction’s Support rating. In game terms, this means that units cost more minerals to maintain and new bases lose their production bonus upon being founded. This is a gesture towards the inherent contradiction of democracies: given that democracy is an active process which takes a lot of effort to keep going, a lot of productive capacity can be let loose upon the world should it be but refocused from performing democracy. There is always the temptation to do less of democracy and more of something else – Yang, of course, taking this tendency to its logical conclusion. But this contradiction is present even in smaller contexts. As de Tocqueville noted, it begins with local associations and extends from there.

Children’s crèche

Proper care and education for our children remains a cornerstone of our entire colonization effort. Children not only shape our future; they determine in many ways our present. Men and women work harder knowing their children are safe and close at hand. And never forget that, with children present, parents will defend their home to the death.

– Colonel Corazon Santiago, “Planet: A Survivalist’s Guide”

The inclusion of this building in the game amuses me. Given that Alpha Centauri is an American game, it is by necessity framed through an American lens. The implication of including what is basically a child daycare center, and having it require an extensive research effort to even become available as a construction option, is that the whole idea is so outlandish as to belong to the realm of science fiction. While this framing was probably not the intended narrative outcome, it does say something that the one way to get proper childcare facilities, from a US point of view, is to build a giant spaceship, go to another planet and discover (after lengthy scientific investigation) that the treatment of kids is something of a big deal. It has hard to shake the feeling that this hard-earned insight could have been gained through a less circuitous method.

One such method might be to turn to the pragmatist John Dewey, who wrote extensively on the nature of education and learning. Education is a system for instructing people (primarily children) with various skills deemed necessary for functioning and participating in society. Learning is the processing of information and acquisition of new useful skills, and a vital component for relating to the world. The two are only ever tangentially related, where the things a child actually learns while in school might differ substantially from what the curriculum has to say. To paraphrase a section from Democracy and Education: education is only effective in so much as the child actually cares about what is being taught, and merely going through the motions of being educated is neither necessary nor sufficient to learning. For one thing, the learning outcome of a particularly boring lecture might be a proficiency for falling asleep even on uncomfortable chairs during suboptimal noise conditions.

Here on Earth, not picking up something while in school is likely to not have too severe consequences. For one thing, if something is important, it will come up in context once it becomes relevant. As long as the major skills are acquired – reading, writing, numeracy, some general sense of what society is and how it works, some basic science – the rest can be remedied retroactively. There is no one lesson which teaches you a vital life skill where you will fail as a human being if you don’t show up on that particular day. The connection between learning and education contains sufficient redundancy to allow for less than 100% retention.

On Chiron, there might very well be such lessons. How to quickly seal off breached areas, how to affect emergency repairs on malfunctioning equipment, what to do in case of mind worm attacks – any moment can become a catastrophic situation, where the swift application of critical skills means the difference between life and death. It therefore becomes imperative to minimize the gap between education and learning; perhaps the effort required to accomplish this paradigm shift is the reason for not placing this facility on tier 1.

Another method is to turn to children’s author Astrid Lindgren. The various depictions of children and how they relate to the world is instructive with regards to how they can more readily be taught what they need to know. Rather than viewing things in such alienated terms as “learning outcomes”, Lindgren teaches us to see the world as a child: as big, scary, and full of interesting mysteries. These mysteries will inevitably be explored, regardless of what the grown-ups have to say on the matter; the drive to explore can either be dismissed as irrelevant to the learning process, or incorporated as a vital component of it.

Both Dewey and Lindgren have the distinct advantage of being available to us right here, right now. No interstellar journey required. To bastardize a common expression: given enough sustained lack of attention, any sufficiently existing body of knowledge becomes indistinguishable from science fiction.

Ethical Calculus

Some vices miss what is right because they are deficient, others because they are excessive, in feelings or in actions, while virtue finds and chooses the mean.

– Aristotle, “Nichomachean Ethics”, Datalinks

This is, in many ways, the defining research project for this chapter. It deals with the age old questions of how we should live and how we should organize the societies we live in, which we have encountered in different ways in other parts thus far (particularly with regard to social policies). What course of action is prudent, moving forward? And how much is it prudent to sacrifice in order to get it all done?

The ‘ethical’ part of Ethical Calculus is straightforward enough, but what about the ‘calculus’? What gives? To gain clarity on this, it might be prudent to consult the other, lesser known line of in-game paratext about this technology:

Throughout the history of mankind, philosophers have grappled with the question: ‘How shall we then live?’ Ethical Calculus lays down mathematical principles uncovered by Social Psych to address this question, essentially providing calculations and functions that determine appropriate behavior.

This is a trope familiar from Asimov’s Foundation series. The main plot point is that it is possible to mathematically predict the future, and that one man does so with such accuracy that he is able to leave helpful messages regarding current events to Foundation members hundreds of years down the line. Math has been used to great effect in the past, and will do so again in the future. By unleashing the powers of quantification upon the world, great new leaps in science and ethics will be accomplished.

Readers with long memories are wont to point out that Asimov nuances this trope in two ways. First, it is made abundantly clear that the math is only able to predict the overall development of society in the aggregate, with the understanding that a smaller sample size means a greater amount of noise in the predictions. This is a macro theory. Second, a wholly unforeseen individual arrives at one point in the story and throws every prediction out of whack. Everything eventually muddles back to baseline, meaning that things go on as predicted anyway, albeit with a few new quirks and kinks. The math-based prediction paradigm both works and does not work.

Around the same time, Popper wrote The Poverty of Historicism, where he outlines the problem of prediction the future of social systems. The problem, to put it bluntly, is that social systems consist of humans, and that humans tend to react to having their futures predicted. It is possible that a prediction actively causes the thing predicted to happen, which makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy (i.e. because a certain outcome was predicted, efforts are made to ensure that it indeed comes to pass).  Conversely, it is equally possible that efforts in the reverse direction are made, meaning that a prediction might be the very thing that causes the thing predicted to not happen. Any model of predicting the future would therefore have to include the effects of the model itself on the future predicted, which could become very convoluted very fast.

We can close this section by returning to Aristotle and his definition of rhetoric. Rhetoric primarily concerns things that could be different. A mountain is unlikely to be swayed by a powerful display of rhetorical prowess – it will continue to exist like a vast, silent counterargument. A group of people might be persuaded to climb a mountain, rather than doing anything else. The same goes for any other activity or policy – where things can be done differently, rhetoric comes into play with regards to which specific outcome comes to pass. Given the established habits and virtues established by a colony in its early days (as we saw in the last chapter), the space of things that could be different gradually becomes smaller as time goes on. Ethical Calculus thus runs the risk of becoming a tool for reinforcing the trajectory a given faction is already headed, by providing a numerical framework within which the desired outcome is presented as inevitable. There is, after all, no greater argument than a mountain of numbers all pointing towards the same conclusion. The future is coming; the only ethical move is to prepare for it. To quote the famous ethical theorist Margaret Thatcher: there is no alternative.