calledtoventure: a circular device with unlabeled buttons and lights (ki device)
Lanli co Manci ([personal profile] calledtoventure) wrote in [community profile] glowfic2015-09-24 07:03 pm

an unusual job interview

Branch, on the forum:
I can recommend other sources of information as well, but I would prefer to do so privately.
Ahrotahn replies by PM.
More sources of information are welcome, including your own opinions, even if you don't feel uniquely qualified. (Maybe especially if you don't feel qualified; experts are sometimes tempted to be too clever.)

greatcomposure: (⑤ it all works out)

[personal profile] greatcomposure 2015-09-25 12:29 am (UTC)(link)
Branch responds quickly.
The specific government of which I speak is the Barrayaran Empire, one of two major multiplanetary empires in Nexus. (I prefer not to mention its name on the forum for privacy reasons.)

I live here, and have for many years. My son (Leaf) was born here. He works for the government in a somewhat flexible capacity, currently as unofficial overseer of interdimensional affairs - unofficial because the existence of the forum has not been officially acknowledged, out of concerns about how the public would handle the idea. Only a select few know the truth, mostly Leaf's immediate family and the Emperor of Barrayar.

I mention the above in order to demonstrate why I believe that extending protection to the Cavern would not substantially increase the Barrayaran Empire's access to significant magical or technological advantages. It's done all right so far with what it has, in my estimation.

Since I understand that you might not want to take my word for it under the circumstances, I have sought and acquired permission from Nifl to recommend her as a reference on this subject. She has had occasion to observe the Barrayaran Empire closely from an outside perspective, and although I don't know her very well, my impression of her is of an extremely thoughtful and level-headed person whose opinion is worth listening to.
greatcomposure: (⑧ egalitarian)

[personal profile] greatcomposure 2015-09-25 04:13 am (UTC)(link)
There are on the order of two hundred settled planets in Nexus. Social and economic conditions vary widely. I'm not an expert on galactic politics, but I could mention a few examples that stand out to me particularly, if you'd still find that valuable with the understanding that it's not anything like a comprehensive or balanced overview.

Before I answer any questions about cultural attitudes, I think I should mention that the Barrayaran Empire has been undergoing a period of rapid cultural shifts over the past century or so.

To give you the history in brief: When humanity first began establishing colonies on strange planets, the planet of Barrayar was one of the first to be settled; then, halfway through terraforming and with only the first wave of colonists having reached the planet, one of the wormholes on the only known jump route collapsed. There followed six hundred years during which the rest of the galaxy went on colonizing planets and undergoing social and technological development, while Barrayar quickly reverted to preindustrial technology levels due to lack of infrastructure and suffered an accompanying societal collapse, then had to contend with a half-terraformed planet and a few nasty accidents with decaying technology as they tried to assemble themselves into a functional civilization.

Then the rest of the galaxy rediscovered Barrayar along a different and stabler wormhole route. Barrayar was welcomed back into the galactic community, and then almost immediately conquered by the Cetagandan Empire. Through a combination of galactic aid and astonishing luck, they repelled the invaders after twenty years of occupation; for fear of a repeat incident, they went on to conquer the planet that lay at the galactic end of their new wormhole route and which had accepted a bribe to let the Cetagandan invasion fleet pass. After this success, the military-expansionist faction that was active at the time gained enough support to launch an attempted invasion of another planet for no good reason at all, but they lost that war soundly enough to discourage them from trying again, and the popularity of that attitude has only diminished since.

It seems that in the last decade or two things have begun to settle down at last, but it's still very much the case that after all those upheavals, there are sharp cultural divides on Barrayar between generations and across the gradient of galactic contact. The Emperor himself is on the younger and more cosmopolitan side, but his is by no means the only voice in Barrayaran politics.

So, on to your specific questions:

Use the phrase 'political dissent' on Barrayar to anyone over the age of twenty-five and the association that springs to mind will almost certainly be civil war. That isn't to say that the one thing necessarily leads to the other. But coming as I did from a planet with a long and comfortable history of peaceful democracy, it took me some time to adjust to the way things are done here. On Beta Colony, I would expect an unpopular decision by the President to be met with large numbers of people gathering in public spaces to loudly complain. On Barrayar, that sort of thing happens very rarely, and rarely avoids turning into a riot when it does; instead the everyday complaints travel a more circuitous route, whose particulars I confess I do not entirely understand, and reach the Emperor either officially as relayed by district Counts or unofficially as relayed by informal consultants and the intelligence service. He considers all three to be valuable sources of information on the public mood.

Official policies and institutional behaviour in practice are surprisingly congruent across nearly every context, but it can sometimes be hard to tell what exactly the official policy on some matter is. On political dissent, I would say that the Emperor is actively interested in understanding opposing views, whereas his Counts vary widely in their willingness to listen to their people's complaints; but the range is between listening closely to dissenters and mostly ignoring them, rather than between listening closely and having them forcibly quieted.

As I've just implied, Counts have considerable autonomy in how they rule their Districts. Sergyar and Komarr (the other two planets in the Empire) each have a Viceroy; as I understand it, the Viceroy of Komarr is more or less an interface between the Emperor's authority and a local government whose structure is largely unchanged since the planet's pre-colonization days, and the Viceroy of Sergyar has more direct personal authority but a far smaller population who are mostly concerned with the ongoing terraforming of their planet. (Sergyar had no human inhabitants before Barrayar discovered it.)

The exact nature of the interface between the Emperor's authority and the people of the Cavern would be the sort of thing you'd discuss with whoever ends up formally negotiating on behalf of the Empire, but I can predict that you'd be very unlikely to receive a Barrayaran Count or Viceroy unless you specifically requested one; the likelier outcome is that the Cavern is asked to appoint a representative, perhaps you, perhaps someone else, who swears formal allegiance to the Barrayaran Empire and then contacts a corresponding representative in Nexus whenever something happens in the Cavern that the Barrayaran Empire ought to know about.

Immigration and emigration policies are fairly permissive, but both are infrequent. Barrayar and the wider galaxy are still getting used to one another. Formally speaking, anyone who has the means to reach the planet, arrives without significant contraband, and is willing to make an oath of allegiance can become a Barrayaran imperial subject; also formally speaking, anyone who has the means to leave the empire may do so. I'm not aware offhand of a procedure for renouncing one's citizenship, but I'm sure that if one exists it's arcane and ritualized and involves more reciting prose than filling out forms.

The poor are a troubling issue that is becoming steadily less troubling. Attitudes are mixed on all sides, but by and large I'm very proud of the progress Barrayar has made since I moved here. I was initially shocked to discover that not everyone on the planet had access to computers and the planetary information network, which is considered a fundamental right on Beta Colony; in a few more decades, it's possible that will have changed.

Criminal justice is perhaps the most troubling issue of all. The standard punishments for many crimes are frankly barbaric by galactic standards. The Emperor is working on reforming those, but by political necessity it can be a very slow process. Curiously, the harshest and most dramatic punishments are reserved for the military and aristocracy. In most other societies I can think of where the ruling caste's criminals are normally judged through different channels than the rest of the population, it's those in power who get off lightly, but the Barrayaran cultural consciousness seems to take serious infractions by members of the ruling caste very personally.

I should add that the precedents and attitudes I'm describing apply primarily to the planet of Barrayar. Komarr works very differently on many levels, and since I've never lived there I have a passing familiarity with them at best. In a way, though, that very disparity is extremely Barrayaran: setting broad policies and from there relying on unwritten precedents and the decisions of the most relevant authority figure in a situation is how Barrayaran society as a whole tends to handle itself. Which, in practical terms, means that if your Cavern comes under the protection of the Imperium you can expect to be mostly left alone to continue your existing dispute resolution practices, whatever they are. This approach has its flaws - most notably, it requires placing an awful lot of trust in one's relevant authority figures - but for your purposes I expect it to be more convenient than otherwise.

Finally, regarding diplomatic relations with the United States of America: Of course the Barrayarans would be the last people to say that a vast technological disparity leaves one party completely helpless before the other. But in addition to the vast technological disparity, we also have rather a lot of magic. If the worst should come to pass - and I don't expect it will, but naturally I can make no guarantees about the behaviour of the USA's military - in practical terms I confidently predict that the Imperium has the resources to ensure that the Cavern is totally unaffected by twenty-first-century atomics. And since those resources mostly consist of me and my son, I can also confidently predict that we will pursue deescalation rather than retaliation from there.

I entirely understand why you would ask these sorts of things, and I welcome all concerns and requests for clarification. I also repeat my recommendation that you ask Nifl for her perspective if you haven't already, assuming I haven't conclusively scared you off yet.

Perhaps I should explicitly mention that I wouldn't have made this offer if I didn't truly believe it would work out in your favour. I am personally acquainted with the Emperor of Barrayar; he has been consistently impressing me with his competence since he became Emperor, and consistently impressing me with his thoughtful and responsible nature since long before then; the post is currently hereditary and he is currently immortal, so there is no fear of his being abruptly replaced by someone else who might come less highly recommended.
greatcomposure: (⑦ this way of seeing)

[personal profile] greatcomposure 2015-09-25 02:19 pm (UTC)(link)
Of course. Take all the time you need.
greatcomposure: (⑨ between)

[personal profile] greatcomposure 2015-09-25 11:33 pm (UTC)(link)
Conventional anti-atomic defenses in Nexus involve a lot of military and technological infrastructure that I'm sure you don't have and might not want; my confident predictions about anti-atomics are based in the combination of technology and magic, which is if anything even trickier to mass-produce in a sustainable way, but has the advantage of not being easy to derive advanced weapons from.

If you would like the Cavern defended against nuclear weapons, separately from considerations about whether or not to join the Imperium, then I will briefly take off my 'friend of the Barrayaran Emperor' hat and put on my 'World-Tree Coalition field agent' hat and say that I would be happy to help, with the understanding that whatever solution I implement probably won't be the sort of thing that can be picked up and moved around and conveniently duplicated. Magic sometimes has that problem.

In my experience of having lived on Beta Colony for a little more than thirty years and Barrayar for a little less than thirty more, each system of governance has both advantages and disadvantages over the other. But I would never have offered to extend you the protection of Beta Colony even if I knew its President as well as I know the Emperor. If you became a Betan subsidiary, at some point someone in the ever-shifting political roster would be overcome with the temptation to interfere, and the Cavern would find itself being brought up to Betan standards in all particulars whether it liked them or not. Under the Barrayaran system, I trust that if a hands-off approach is established at the start it will be maintained until fairly renegotiated.

Dealing with the poverty issue generally entails widening access to education, medical care, and survival necessities, after which the people who formerly did not have those things find their lives much improved.

I should emphasize that lack of net access is considered a shocking violation of basic rights on Beta Colony. Conversely, on Barrayar reproductive freedom is an unquestioned right, and on Beta Colony any resident with a functioning uterus is required by law to turn it off until they qualify for a parenting license. It's all in what you're used to. But Barrayar is getting closer and closer to the point of universal access to education.

A quick comparison of criminal justice systems: On Beta Colony, criminals can be fined, have assets confiscated, or be sent to therapy, and may be temporarily confined while deliberations are ongoing. On Barrayar, they can be fined, imprisoned, have assets confiscated, or be killed by a number of different strangely specific methods, and I'm sure there are more possibilities I'm leaving out through lack of familiarity. But, having been briefly subject to nonconsensual Betan therapy, I'm not fully convinced that the Barrayaran setup is unambiguously worse.

You're right that I can offer very few unqualified guarantees here. I certainly support you in exploring all your options before you commit to anything. In my experience, though, it is usually possible to avoid catastrophe but sometimes impossible to avoid all risk of it. Whether the risks of Imperial protection look better or worse than your next option is not in my hands; all I can do is try to ensure that your understanding of this option is as accurate as possible.