Thursday, March 24, 2011

Social Stuctures in The Black Desert II

         Yesterday, we discussed why the traditional social models seen in science fiction - Libertarian, Corporate, and Military - are ill-suited to the development of permanent space colonies.  I hope I didn't crush your dreams too terribly much, RocketFans, with that bit of cold water.  If it makes you feel better, I didn't much like the news when I first heard it either.  But let's remember our Hard SF motto: when confronted with an ugly fact, change your plot to account for it not the other way around.

         Fortunately, I had the idea for New Romani already.  My intention with the NuRom was to make a space-faring culture in a different model from what was normally seen, which is good, since the normal social structures don't seem to cut it.  The NuRom in The Black Desert are a loose collection of IPV "Vardos" That are made up of those craft's original crews and their descendants and any new people accepted into the clan.  These Vardos are loosely affiliated with Asteroid Colonies that were abandoned or damaged in the War and have now been made into homes for NuRom families and a place to maintain their ships.  The NuRom rarely if ever trade, but the Vardos gain resources for the colonies by transporting cargo and people around the Black Desert at lower costs than most corporate or military IPVs can match.  All that's just fluff, however.  The point of the NuRom in this post is to offer us a different social model, one that combines the traits of a vibrant, sustainable culture with the amount of hierarchical authority necessary to keep a group of individuals organized and focused on the task of keeping the society as a whole alive.

          In a word, Tribalism.

         A tribe is a rather ambiguous organism; the definition has changed over the years as the cultural biases of 19th century colonialism are slowly phased out.  For our purposes it is important to note that tribal societies are no longer considered to be less evolved socially than state-based societies, anymore than a Panda is less highly evolved than a human.  For purposes of their environment, Pandas are actually more highly evolved than we are, because they are perfectly adapted to their ecosystems, where as we must constantly modify ours.  The fact that Pandas will go extinct because they cannot adapt to human activities fast enough is immaterial.

         Trust me, I'm a Biologist.

         Objectively, a tribe can be characterized as emphasizing strong social ties, being ethnically homogeneous, parochial, and stable.  Stability and strong social ties are the key factors that would make a tribal society in space logical.  The integration of individual ideals and goals with what will benefit the whole tribe is  needed to indoctrinate and raise children in an environment where one's life so obviously depends on others.  The stability issue is also paramount, as the resources in space are limited.  Capitalism, as practiced today in the US, will never be viable in space, so it is pointless as a Hard SF author to consider it.  Think about it - 1% of the American population "earns" 95% of the Gross Domestic Product annually.  There is now way that a space colony can support 99% of the population with only 5% of its resources.  So forget free enterprise; egalitarian economics will be the only way to survive.

         As for ethnic homogeneity,  this would with the NuRom be more along the lines of the "us vs. them" mentality - you either are NuRom or you aren't, and if you're not, they don't care who you are.  There will be rivalries between different Vardos, to be sure, but in a pinch, any NuRom will support another against an "outsider" without hesitation.  Parochialism, a narrow and provincial mindset, will also be likely among the Gypsies of space as a consequence of this homogeneity.  Ecological devastation on Terra, Dysonite scheming on Venus, Martian high-handedness - it's all their problems.  As long is someone wants passage and has something useful to trade for it, the NuRom don't care. 

         Due to the nature of space, there will have to be a form of hierarchy at the head of a space-tribe.  The NuRom in their Vardos will be organized in much the same as the IPVs always have; there is, after all, really only one way to run a rocket.  Being a tribal society, however, means that those in command, the Boros(as), are elected for their talents and experience, not appointed by command back on Terra.  The Boro may be still be a jerk, but he or she will be their jerk, not HQ's.

         This model offers a reasonable explanation for whole families living in space as well.  The officers of the IPVs that chose to desert after the nuclear strikes on Terra would make every attempt to get their surviving families out as well.  With so many dependents, the IPVs would simply have to secure an abandoned asteroid colony or two in order to house them and see to their safety.  The Romani parallels may have started as an affection, but would, over the decades evolve into a distinct culture with a romantic reputation.  This reputation would, of course, come from the literati of the Expatriate movement, who would use the Vardos as cheap travel to Mars.  The governments of Terra would not really be able to to stop the Vardos and their crews of deserters; they have their hands full with the collapse of the home world's ecosystem and the Vardos are essentially the only thing keeping trade in essential raw materials open in the interim.  The Treaty of Mars, of course, recognizes the NuRom's independence and grants amnesty for their crimes of mutiny and desertion.

And yes, this leaves Mars with the bulk of military IPVs in the solar system, with the nations of Terra holding on to maybe two or three apiece. This military disparity is what keeps both Terra and the Dysonites from trying to acquire Mars.  Mars, for her part, has enough AI integrated into society that any aggressive military action against any of the system's other powers is considered both impractical and unnecessary.  That's the beauty of AI - ego, paranoia and greed are not motivations for policy.
          This tribal model isn't the only viable one, of course, but it is viable.  Next week, we'll discuss other social models, or the economics of a NuRom Vardo, which ever strikes my fancy.  Tomorrow there will be no post; it's my wife's and my eleventh wedding anniversary, and I've got other things to do...

            BTW, for those of you keeping track, this is our 99th blog post.  I plan on spending the weekend cooking up something special for the 100th.


  1. So martian society is run by AI? How interesting!
    For my space habs (my techlevel is quite a bit higher than yours) I use the Communist model, with slight twists. Flesh bodied people consume a lot, they have to work so much just to sustain themselves that giving up their freedom for the ability to stay alive after they get sick/unproductive seems a reasonable trade-off. Non-human people, who have replaced their body with a brain stem that can link itself up to mechanical or electrobio GM clones effiently have vastly reduced the constraints upon themselves, and are 'freeier'. They can save up for stuff other than food, air, water, rent, so can act as the military and political/economic leaders of the hab.
    Back on the ground, especially on secondary planets (like your Mars), flesh people are actually cheaper and more efficient, as they can live in a shirtsleeve environment without needing all the complicated and expensive hardware a brainstem needs. On densely populated homworlds, infrastructure is developped enough for brainstems to regain the advantage, if not only for the improved connection to the planetary Simverse.

    The tribal model you propose is intriguing however, and I will look into applying it to low tech/moving space hab colonies.

  2. The bit about tribalism reminds me of David Maurer's EXPLAINATION OF HISTORY


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