Psychology

Government structures are reactionary

One thing you will be doing when writing Science Fiction is creating governments, something that I think is not done as well as it could be. Often writers just take current governments, scale them up then transplant them. This I think is a wasted opportunity.

One lesson that history teaches is that when a people are writing a constitution, and deciding what basic shape their society should take it is almost certainly going to be reactionary. People are going to see the problems they had with the previous government and want to avoid them. The entire US Bill of Rights is written in this way, each one is something that the British did that the colonies did not like and did not want to happen ever again.

That in fact was why the US’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, gave the federal government almost no power. It could not even tax, the only source of income it had was from selling land it owned.

To understand the reasoning for the new government all you have to understand is what the sentiment is for the old one. This is why I say that government structures are reactionary, they almost always reflect what the people don’t want to see again.

The point of the post is this; If a people were starting a colony and were mostly happy where they were from I would expect to see them create a government similar to their home. However the odds are they would not be, you don’t become a colonist if you’re happy and content with life were you were born. If your leaving everything you know you have to have a good reason, it could be anything from too much religious freedom (pilgrims) to wanting more upward mobility (much of the early American immigrants) to almost anything else.

So when your talking about setting up a new government think about what problems the first generation had with its previous government, think about what they disliked and why they left. This is where you can get a lot of drama and some real world building.

Religious colonies are nothing new, all you have to do is open a history book to see examples, I think going in directions that are new would be more interesting. Even within the confines of a representative republic there is a lot of room for new and interesting governments.

Maybe a nation was founded by people who hate large corporations and don’t want them to form. How would they do that? And just as importantly what problems would that cause? How do they deal with colonies from other systems?

Or a colony was founded by the super rich who want a place away from taxes and oversight. They might create a system where bills are voted on by money, or your vote counts for more if your richer.

All government systems are flawed, no matter the one in place a large number of people will dislike it. And never forget your a writer, you want problems, even small ones can be useful.

So You Want A War

War is, for better or worse, quite common in science fiction. If you want to use it you need to understand at least a few basic things. There are in fact books written on it. I am just going to start with the most basic ideas you need to understand.

First you must understand the goals of each side.

To give a real world example think of the American revolution. The colonies lacked the ability to get even a small military force across the Atlantic. They had zero chance of bringing the British to their knees. Yet they won. They could have lost every battle and still won the war. The goal was to make the cost of victory so high the British were unwilling to pay it.

The strategies used were very different then during the second world war. Both Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany launched wars of naked conquest and greed. They had to be beaten back tooth and nail. Both sides reached the points of no return, where victory was not even remotely possible (far before the end) yet they kept fighting.

The goal of a side in war might be simply stated “Make victory cost too much” but it informs everything about how that side fights.

There are times when there is no national goal. This almost always this means someone is meddling. Someone is pushing leaders of one nation into a fight against their own national interest for reasons of their own. If this is the case you need to understand that too.

Modern wars are at least as much economic contests as military ones. Germany’s tanks were better, but the allies had 4 or 5 tanks for every German tank.

When a country is gearing up for war, it affects almost everything about life there. During World War Two whole industries were revamped. Car production stopped for a few years because tank production was more important. Copper was so important for the war effort that the Manhattan project had to use precious metals from Fort Knox when it needed a huge amount of wire.

When a country is at war it completely changes the economy. One of the more subtle ways of showing a country is at war is to start off with showing the economic effects.

A nation can act selfish, but have selfless solders. This is not a contradiction. When I was first learning about World War Two in elementary school, I read something that stuck with me to this day. It was about how when the Japanese emperor went on the radio and surrendered, a peasant was ashamed because she felt that they had failed him.

No one can blame the solders of Imperial Japan of selfishness. That however is the very thing that Japan as a whole was most guilty of. The war was little more then the people of Japan seeing something across the sea and deciding that they wanted it.

The point I am making is that a nation can and often does act in ways that the individuals who comprise it never would. It is a somewhat scary part of human nature that people will do things for their children or their nation that they would never do for just themselves.

While a number of limited wars have occurred of course, they do tend not to happen when both sides feel in danger of being wiped out. I find it hard to believe, for example, that if a nation had nuclear weapons that they would not use them in a do or die situation. It is the same with chemical and biological weapons. In such a situation you would no more hold back than if you were in a knife fight and had the chance to kick someone in the balls. Few would restrain themselves if they thought it was really do or die.

Sociopaths and Narcissists

A Sociopath is someone who lacks what are sometimes called the higher emotions: love, compassion, or a sense of shame. They only have the basic lizard brain emotions such as fear and anger. They lack the ability to feel sorry for anyone else, or any sense of empathy whatsoever.
A Narcissist is someone who has the higher emotions but only as they apply to themselves. Like sociopaths, they lack the ability to care about anyone else.

Depending on which study you are looking at, between 1% and 10% of the population in the west is either a sociopath or a narcissist.
Studies also show more than half the people in prison for violent crimes are sociopaths.

While most sociopaths and narcissists can blend in well, there are easy ways of testing for it. For example, upon seeing someone grievously hurt there are certain psychological changes that can’t be faked. Those changes can be tested for. There is no reason a society could not have mandatory testing for all its people upon adulthood.

So knowing the above what if a society decided to treat them as second class citizens? Tattoo them, forbid them from running for office or anywhere that lives would depend on them.
There is no real data on what would happen to our society at large. From what little data we have a large percentage of CEO’s and politicians are either sociopaths or narcissists (sociopaths at least tend to gravatate to positions of power and money, such as being a surgeon). While we have no way of knowing for sure what would happen, I think the changes would be both profound and subtle.
Both groups are fond of the big lie. The idea that if a lie is big enough and absurd enough it will be believed. This often works because we assume everyone’s brain works like ours does. We assume people we are talking to or who are talking to us have compassion as we do.

Doing this would of course create an underclass. What I find interesting is how this would be an underclass that would have little to do with money or with hereditary. You would be putting people there because of who they are and not what they are.

The outcome of this could range on one extreme from being disabled. Little socal stigma, they would just be unable to do certain jobs. The other end of the spectrum they would be untouchables, shunned by all and trusted by none.

The Justice system

One subject that comes up only occasionally in sci-fi is how future societies punish criminals.

In modern western societies almost all punishment come in one of two forms, either prison time or money.

While people may sometimes speak of rehabilitation little is done on that front today.

Prisons are very expensive to maintain, not only in terms of money but in terms of manpower. They rely on a large tax base and on having a good amount of manpower.

While fee’s have the benefit of not costing tax money, they do have the disadvantage of being asymmetrical. What is a small fee to one person is a large one to someone else. Its very hard to have a set fee work on both a wealthy businessman and someone who makes minimum wage.

When you are making a future society think about how they will punish those who wronged them. Maybe more importantly, consider what they want more; punishment, recompense or rehabilitation. You also have to consider how important productively is. If a people need workers badly enough, they might not be willing to take them out of the workforce so any punishment can’t remove them from the workforce.

Even if punishment stays the focus, there are many other ways we could go about it. Humiliation was common at one point, as was mutilation.

One idea I could see taking hold is having a chance at death be the punishment for every crime. If you killed someone, you have a 1/3 chance of drawing a death penalty. If you messed up someones lawn you have a 1/500, ect.

Its possible that punishment will not be the focus of the justice system at all, it will instead be recompense. If you kill someone you have to make up for it.

Maybe you have to support his family. If he was donating to a charity you have to as well. You have to in every way possible make up for him not being alive anymore. Maybe even to the point of organ donation.

Under this system the rich might be able to kill poor people without much problem. It would just mean a day in court after which you tell your accountant to pay them and you never think about it again. Legally nothing could be done against you.

I would probably make faking injuries and framing people much more common. If you make it look like someone made you unable to work they would have to pay for lost wages. Maybe a lot of lost wages.

Such a system would be contingent on the ability to enforce. How hard would it be to run away? If we are talking about a cashless future where everything is done electronically and its all tied to your ID then it might be very hard.

Rehabilitation is the third option, a more compassionate society then ours might not want revenge or even for the offenders to fix the problems they caused but for the offenders to become better people. They might not want a murderer to be punished. Rather they may want the murderer to know why what he did was wrong and to never do it again.

While it may be tempting to go in a Star Trek style direction with this I think it would be more interesting to go the other way. What if you had brainwashing technology and used it when someone committed a capital crime. The murderer would be forced to believe that murder was wrong.

What effect would that have? What would it be like to be an unrepentant murderer who was forced to feel that what he did was wrong?