Monday, 24 July 2017

Alternative Societies

Among many other issues, writers and readers of sf discuss:

how society should be organized here and now;

how it was organized in various historical periods;

how it might be organized if some initial conditions were altered - indeed "Changed."

Fsf authors imagine future and alternative feudalisms.

Although Poul Anderson's Terran Empire has all the trappings of historical imperialisms, it defends, in return for a modest tax, planetary populations who are free to organize their internal affairs however they decide.

The Change has deprived SM Stirling's Emberverse of the benefits of the industrial and technological revolutions but has not reduced it to mere subsistence level. In the High Kingdom of Montival, the Chancellor informs a young heiress that the Queen:

"'...will settle lands on you from the Crown demense, several manors, to be held by you in your own right for life as a tenant-in-chief of the Crown, and to descend to the heirs of your body.'"
-SM Stirling, The Tears Of The Sun (New York, 2012), Chapter Two, p. 27.

This fortunate young woman will have her pick of suitors and could even marry a landless man if she prefers.

"Land" means not just earth but commoners working the land and receiving in return for their labour only a small fraction of the wealth that that labour creates. Let's have everyone equitably benefitting from the fruits of their labours.

14 comments:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Also, of course, Anderson's Terran Empire was based as well on HIGH technology. Which includes things like an advanced medicine, biology, physics, engineering, a FTL drive, etc., etc.

And I certainly agree with the idea that wealth should be widely distributed. But that requires an economy as free as possible. And one way of doing in Montival would be landownership to be as widely distributed as possible, given the technology available and the most practical ways of using land.

So, I approve of the grants of land discussed by the Chancellor here. It means LESS land being directly held by the state, after all.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
That still leaves us with this one young woman being simply given all this wealth created by other people. I still think that a fairer, more equitable system should be possible.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

First, human beings are LIKE that, whether or not we like it. It's impossible for there to be a totally "fair" system. To say nothing of the difficulties in even defining the word. I would stress as well that in the ordinary course of inheritances and purchases, the land given this young lady would eventually come into WIDER ownership. I would prefer to have as little coercion by the state in such matters as is possible.

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I forgot one point I should have thought of when I wrote either of my two prior comments. There IS a way of thinking the lands given to this young woman can be "fair." She and her brother Huon were the younger siblings of Odard Liu. Recall how WELL and successfully he had served Montival and Artos. Even to the point of sacrificing his life. I can well imagine the Lady Regent Sandra and the Chancellor deciding that Odard's services to the state were so important that he had a claim on the gratitude of the state. And since Odard was dead and left no children, I can see them deciding his next heirs, the brother and sister, inherited that claim on the gratitude of the state.

I hope this helps clarify the matter!

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
There are very different ways of thinking about how society should be organized. Sandra Arminger would want to perpetuate the wealth and power of her heirs forevermore whereas other rulers would be more open to the idea of wealth becoming more widely distributed over time.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

But this doesn't address my suggestion that Odard Liu's services to Montival were so important that his heirs could be said to have inherited his claim on the state's gratitude.

Exactly how should Montival be reorganized given how mankind was forced to a lower level of technology? I still argue that as free an economy as possible is the optimum way to go.

Lastly, the Regent Sandra certainly wanted her descendants to rule Montival, but I don't think her policies were designed to concentrate all wealth and power in their hands. And, the Regent actually pursued policies after Norman Arminger died which had the effect of distributing wealth and power more widely in the PPA.

Sean

S.M. Stirling said...

The grant in question is in the PPA, where "owning" land essentially means you're the government, and responsible for things like police functions, public works, education (with the Church), and so forth.

In other parts of Montival, other systems predominate.

Eg., among Mackenzies society is much more egalitarian than ours -- Duns control their own land, and most individual families in a Dun have their own farms which are roughly similar in size. Other members are artisans and specialists like healers. The collective functions are managed by the Dun's "oneach", roughly like a town meeting.

Also note that one of the fundamentals of the Great Charter is that everyone is free to leave the member realm where they live and settle somewhere else (provided it's willing to take him in).

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
I agree that being forced to a lower level of technology makes it difficult to reorganize society.
Mathilda's care for Odard's heirs is just in the circumstances.
Paul.

S.M. Stirling said...

So there are any number of alternatives in Montival; if you want something like capitalism, you can move to Corvallis, which is fairly democratic but is also a bastion of sink-or-swim individualism; if you want to live in a "pagan moshav", you can settle in the Mackenzie duthchas, which is egalitarian but which individualists would find irksome precisely because of that, and so forth. The CORA territories are a near-anarchy. Lords in the PPA have to make living on their manors tolerable enough that people don't just up and leave, because then they'd have no revenues, and the situation is different again in the guild-dominated Chartered Cities of the Association's territory. The Free Cities of the Yakima League are sort of like the Swiss Confederation; there are autonomous tribal territories with very varied internal arrangements. For that matter, you can always move outside Montival completely if you want, to say the Dominions in the old Canadian territories.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

Again, thanks for making points I should have thought of myself. Esp. the bit about how to own land in the PPA comes with responsibilities the owner has to carry out if he wishes to keep the land.

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

And we DO see MOST of the PPA barons as being smart enough to realize they had to govern lightly if they wanted to obtain revenues from their fiefs.

And I like the DIVERSITY of socio/political arrangements seen in Montival. It reminds me of the similar situation seen in Poul Anderson's Terran Empire.

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Better to be as decentralized as possible and to foster a wide variety of socio/political arrangements. For which, see Mr. Stirling's enlightening comments!

I'm glad we now agree about the Liu family.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

To one and all,
The Mackenzies and Corvallis are democratic in different ways and the High Kingdom is a loose federation with a hereditary president. Right on, comrades!
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Again, I'm reminded of the socio/political diversity to be found in Anderson's Terran Empire, not only among very different planets colonized by humans, but even more so with the non human races in the Empire. I'll quote some of Dominic Flandry's comments from Chapter III of THE REBEL WORLDS to illustrate this: "What's right in one place may be wrong in another. One species may be combative and anarchic by nature, another peaceful and antlike, a third peaceful and anarchic, a fourth a bunch of aggressive totalitarian hives. I know a planet where murder and cannibalism are necessary for race survival, high radiation background, you see, making for high mutation rate coupled with chronic food shortage. The unfit must be eaten. I know of intelligent hermaphrodites, and sophonts with more than two sexes, and a few that regularly change sex. They all tend to look on our reproductive pattern as obscene. Not to mention the variations imposed by culture. Just thing about Terran history."

I think the optimum or desirable situation is a state which tolerates socio/political diversity as long as its member societies live in peach with one another. Such as with Anderson's Terran Empire or Stirling's Montival.

Sean