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.


The Virtual World

What do I care for your suffering? Pain, even agony, is no more than information before the senses, data fed to the computer of the mind. The lesson is simple: you have received the information, now act on it. Take control of the input and you shall become master of the output.

– Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, “Essays on Mind and Matter”

The juxtaposition of this secret project with this Yang quote is very reflective of Alpha Centauri’s origin in the 90s. As we saw in the post on the Data Angels, cyberspace was different back then: it was a place where everything was possible, and thus you could throw anything at it to see if it sticks. If virtual reality, then why not real virtuality? There might be something to it, after all.

Hindsight does not help in this particular regard, given that this kind of cybernihilism tends to flower in seedy parts of the web where toxic masculinity is cultivated as a virtue. Twenty years on, as real and virtual have collapsed into one another and become post-digital, the whole notion of a (let alone the) virtual world is rather disingenuous. Sure, disappearing into a virtual world was a tempting proposition back in the days (and it featured prominently in the Alpha Centauri lore books), but we all know someone who’ve disappeared into World of Warcraft, and all that this entails. There was something to it, and it bore unpleasant fruits.

For all this, we have not realized the dream of the Virtual World: a place wherein you fully immerse yourself to the detriment of everything else. The Matrix has yet to materialize (pun intended), but the idea that it inevitably will, or even should, has faded to such a degree that you need a certain cultural sensibility to remember its intensity. As with those who were enthusiastic about 70s music in the 90s, there is a certain remove which marks is as a different experience than actually being there, in time and space. If the Virtual World is a decontextualization device, then it ironically needs to be recontextualized.

Anything is possible in the virtual world. You can be anyone you want, anything you want; Sherry Turkle can write extended passages psychoanalyzing the significance of online avatars. On the internet, no one knows you are a dog. Radical freedom is around the corner, when the bonds of the physical world are shattered and we become free to pursue who we really want to be, given our newfound access to all the great works of art and literature ever created in human history –

It would be dystopic to a fault to posit a virtual world consisting entirely of middling youtube celebs being their personal brands, but it would not be too far off. As a cyberculture, we have received vast quantities of information about what it means to live in a hyperconnected world where phrases such as “surfing on the digital superhighway” makes sense. It turns out that Yang’s phrasing in terms of input and output does not hold. It all becomes a feedback loop where a select few bits of data becomes iterated upon until it ceases to be recognizable from without.

Twenty years later, we have lost all ability to can. Which, considering, might be a good thing.

The Weather Paradigm

I shall not confront Planet as an enemy, but shall accept its mysteries as gifts to be cherished. Nor shall I crudely seek to peel the layers away like the skin from an onion. Instead I shall gather them together as the tree gathers the breeze. The wind shall blow and I shall bend. The sky shall open and I shall drink my fill.

– Gaian Acolyte’s Prayer

The weather paradigm is, at its core, an acceptance of the fact that ecological systems will do what they do regardless of whether you want them to or not, and that in the long run it is better to adapt to it than to resist it. Rains will fall or they will not fall; it will be sunny or it will be cloudy; there will be floods or there will be drought. These things are out of one’s control, and admitting this is the first step towards being able to utilize them more efficiently.

Presented in this way, it might seem obvious. However, it takes a great deal or reflection to arrive at this seemingly straightforward proposition. For starters, this point of view looks at ecology on a systems level rather than at a human level; this is not an answer to the question “what do I need to do in order to increase the output of my farm?” Rather, it is a question of its own: where, knowing what we know about the flows of energy, water and minerals, would it be prudent to locate a farm? The difference is subtle, but crucial. In the former case, you have already decided where to grow things, and now seek to optimize for that position. In the weather paradigm, you constantly keep yourself attuned to the various flows and adjust accordingly, perhaps even moving the farm altogether if that seems the more prudent option.

This is a more overall understanding of ecology, and moreover it is a very dedicated way of organizing a society. No one person can be this in tune with the ecological system, or even gather sufficient data on their own to approach such a state. There is no “I” in “team”, less so in “ecology”. The weather paradigm is above all a societal effort, consisting of data gathering, forecasting, theoretical ecological modeling and – not least – legal flexibility. It is ecological insight turned into societal practice, on every level, with tremendous benefits following from it.

It is interesting to note that this secret project does not reduce ecological damage caused by terraforming efforts – it only makes these efforts easier and faster to complete. Understanding how a system works and how to adapt to it to get the best result does not automatically translate into being in harmony with it. Humanity at this stage might be able to understand Planet and its ways, but that does not necessarily mean Planet likes what humanity is up to. The map is not the territory.

The Human Genome Project

To map the very stuff of life; to look into the genetic mirror and watch a million generations march past. That, friends, is both our curse and our proudest achievement. For it is in reaching to our beginnings that we begin to learn who we truly are.

– Academician Prokhor Zakharov, “Address to the Faculty”

Sometimes, you read a book which opens your eyes to new things. Every page answers new questions you did not know you had, and continued reading keep generating more such answers. The learning process keeps going from first page to last, all the while the excitement for what is to come grows from previous experience. And then, the book ends, not with a climax of ultimate insight, but with a rather mundane summary and a bibliography which you should check out sometime but probably won’t. During the read it was an exciting experience, but afterwards, looking back on it, it was less than it seemed at the time.

The Human Genome Project of our world has that characteristic. In 1998, when Alpha Centauri was released, the hype was enormous about the future prospects following the complete mapping of every aspect of the human genome. Knowing where all the genes are and what they do would eventually cure everything there was to cure, someday, sometime. A few years later, the project was deemed complete, and after that there has not been too much noise or enthusiasm about its results. There have been results, to be sure, but they have all been gradual, incremental and not yet of the cancer curing variety. The hype has died down, and the slightly less romantic (and hype-funded) work of finding out what we have found out has continued ever since.

To return to the book analogy: it is like writing an introduction that lays the groundwork for the book to come. It is a good start, but it does not actually count until you have written the rest of the book.

In-game, this secret project adds a talent to every single base, making it easier to keep them from rioting. The implied course of events is that the health benefits from mapping the intricacies that make up human beings are many and distributed roughly equally among the population. This makes sense at first, until you consider that scientific knowledge has a tendency to be shared, and that it thus should make everyone better off in the long run, regardless of who built the wonder. A more down-to-earth (pun indeed intended) interpretation is that a faction dedicating itself to reconstructing the accumulated advances from the old world would attract the best biotech people from all other factions. These biotech experts would then stick around, since this faction clearly is where the action is.  Over time, this would become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as everyone went to where everyone went, thus ensuring they would keep coming.

There is something to Zakharov’s quote, though. In order to move forward it is necessary to have a map of the terrain, even on these small scales. The difference between 1998 and now, however, is an increasing awareness that the map is not the territory. It is better to have a map than to not have one, but it only ever makes it easier to know where to look and where to go. The actual getting to the places on the map requires more sophisticated tools, which have to be built in different projects at different times. Contrary to Borges, this map will be far larger than the terrain.

The Merchant Exchange

Human behavior is economic behavior. The particulars may vary, but competition for limited resources remains a constant. Need as well as greed have followed us to the stars, and the rewards of wealth still await those wise enough to recognize this deep thrumming of our common pulse.

– CEO Nwabudike Morgan, “The Centauri Monopoly”

The Merchant Exchange is one step above the developmental levels of the Industrial Base required to build it. Where the base is concerned with getting things moving in a figurative sense, the Exchange is all about getting things moving in a literal sense. Logistics and finance are the name of the game, and the base that builds the Exchange are the London, Singapore or Hong Kong of the new world. It would be the place to go for commencing commerce, international or domestic. Which is to say, it would be a competitive advantage of note for the faction building it.

Most of this advantage would come from being first. A planet with only one site of commerce and exchange makes very little sense, and it is only natural to find other such hubs across the geography. Being unique would be the mark of a small planetary economy, but being first also means being able to set the rules for further transactions. Furthermore, the second and third such hub would have to establish connections with the first hub, thus increasing its connectivity. While they would functionally do the same things as the Exchange, they would differ in that they do not have the institutional gravity coming from being the prime mover. Once something becomes a habit, it becomes hard to shake it; once a sufficient number of sufficiently wealthy merchants makes a point of being at the Exchange at all times, it becomes a profitable habit to boot.

Mechanically, this secret project adds one energy production to all base tiles that are not xenofungus. Given that most tiles produce no energy at all, this is a substantial improvement. Ironically, despite Morgan being quoted (with their leader quote to boot), the Morganites initially stand least to gain from this advantage. The extra income is tied to the number of citizens per base, and with the population limit of four per base, the additional energy is less than expected. It does, however, speak to this being an early project: it facilitates commerce between people, and it can only facilitate to the extent that there are people to be facilitated.

As time passes, the Exchange becomes less of a crucial financial nexus and more of a prestige operation. A profitable prestige operation, to be sure, but nowhere near the monopoly envisioned in the quote. Nevertheless, staying attuned to the energetic pulse of the economy is a very Morganite thing to do; energy, after all, is life.