Dan Melson: December 2013 Archives

Third Book

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The climactic scene finally gelled! Will likely finish the third novel tomorrow!

(well except for galleys-like things and running it by a reader or two for feedback)

The prior step ended with the realization that not only did government have to be minimalist, and consciously so, it had to be composed of people who would be paying a personal price if it - or they - failed.

How do you do that? One constant of the people who make country- and civilization-killing decisions here on Earth is that they know they'll be long dead when the chickens come home to roost. This has happened time and time again, from the Greeks and Macedonians through the Romans, and probably back to the dimmest mist of prehistory, although it's hard to find such records before the Romans.

In fact, these killer decisions often come well before a nation or civilization's point of greatest power or influence. For really strong nations and civilizations, it takes several. It took at least three we know about to actually kill Rome, the first of which happened in the time of Julius Caesar, if not before - contrast how many at the pinnacle of power left by violence before Julius, as opposed to after. I'm not blaming Julius personally, in fact my understanding is that his enemies put him in a situation where his choices were to die while having it happen, or fight it and by fighting it feed it. I'm not as familiar with Imperial China, but the number of nation-killers there there is also at least three. Was the civilization and people any less powerful, no technological resurgence could have brought them back as a world power in less than a century since the Imperial mandarins fell.

These killer decisions also serve to limit the peak power of a civilization. If the political changes of Julius Caesar's time had not wounded Rome to the heart, where would their equivalent of Hadrian's Wall been built? Norway? Samarkand or Lake Victoria? Panama? Suppose the killer decision had been avoided entirely, because the person making it knows they will be around when the chickens come home to roost?

What does that require? Well, given the amount of time large forces take to play out, it takes significantly extended lifespans. About 160 years separates Julius from the building of Hadrian's Wall. That's two full long human lifetimes under standards then extant - a man is born at the first event, dies of old age at the same time his heir is born, and his heir dies at the time of the second.

Longevity researchers these days believe we'll have the ability to make at least 140, and at least one says a thousand. I think they're both conservative - the 1000 figure was derived from a less than 1 in a 1000 chance of dying in a year available to certain groups today. It takes no consideration of increases in skill or judgment based upon increased experience. If means are found to prevent or reverse deterioration, why should 1000 be an upper limit?

So the second consideration would be a political class that sees the consequences of their actions not simply in terms of what happens today, but what will happen to them centuries from now, if not millenia.

In the late 1970s, it became fashionable to bash the large scale stellar states that featured so prominently in science fiction. It was "plainly impossible" and exhibit A was always the writer's preconception of what government did: Social work and industrial boards of this and that and regulations concerning the use of typewriters and television and all sorts of other technologies that have since become outdated.

In other words, overhead.

The overhead becomes bigger and more complex with each successive layer of government, as for some reason they feel a need to coordinate for complete uniformity. It quickly gets to the point where parasitic overhead, or the inherent load on the system, far outstrips any actual benefit received.

But that's assuming you buy into that particular vision of government. Understandable enough - that has been the trendline of every government in recorded history. Government tends to grant itself ever greater powers. It turns out that this is a major reason why they fall apart, either internally, through external factors, or most often, both. The Huns and Goths that destroyed Rome did so because they saw a rich, tempting target inadequately defended, but I have severe doubts as to whether they could have done the same to the Empire of Augustus' time or the Republic of a hundred years earlier, despite the fact that both were smaller and controlled fewer resources. Ditto the Mongols that invaded China, and any number of other invaders elsewhere on the globe.

But there is another philosophy, with a long history, even on Earth: The minimalist government. It was most clearly articulated in 1776 and 1787-9, but there have been other articulations. We in the US have fallen from it since for several reasons (which are subjects for another time) but we were still close enough to it as the nineteenth century closed to make for a valid study.

So the obvious response was to postulate a minimalist government. But in order to be stable, there has to be a reason why a minimalist government stays minimalist. The incentives for the individuals involved in government all run to grasping ever greater powers for themselves. So there has to be a reason why they do not engage in that practice. A self-interested, long term, reinforcing reason. Better yet, more than one reason. People are inventive at following what they see as their self interest. World history can be viewed from this vantage. Indeed, it's the vantage point that tends to make more sense than any other.

This was the germ of the first tenet of the universe: A government composed of individuals who have an understanding that their individual self interests lie in keeping anyone else in that government from acquiring more government power than they absolutely have to have

 



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This page is a archive of recent entries written by Dan Melson in December 2013.

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