An Imperial response to "The Brute Force Approach"?

First, a link to the story. The Brute Force Approach by Michael Z. Williamson - Baen Books (yes, story is free to read)

Now. The Freehold of Grainne is broadly similar to the Empire, in terms of governance. Some sarcastically call it a “Laissez-faireyland” but the creator will point out the uncomfortable closeness to Robber Baron Capitalism.

This story is one of those.

Here’s the pointed quote:

“Budd, what do you have?”

“Not much concrete, sir. Their engine controls are destroyed. Power is suboptimal, efficiency is under forty percent, leakage in all directions and it’s gammas and fuel. Some of the fuel is still fusing as it leaks. The plasma stinger’s half melted. I’d say someone planted a bomb, except we’ve got that report on lifeboats and parallel systems. It looks like complete neglect. I have no idea how it’s boosting that hard.”

Garwell said, “The feeds on that model are capable of three G. It’s a converted LockGen cargo boat. They must be wide open, though they’re supposed to fail closed.”

Stadter asked, “When was the last overhaul, and inspection?”

Budd said, “According to this, last year, but…it was by Vandlian.”

Stadter said, “I see,” and everyone stared at him. For him, that was profanity.

“Yes, I get it,” he said. Vandlian Assurance Inspections was a subsidiary of Resident Service Labs. RSL were in the midst of punitive proceedings for massive fraud on quality ratings. This was probably one of those. Eventually it would get added into the numerous suits and billions of credits in settlement. For now, though, lives mattered.

Fraud on quality ratings, threatening the safety of at least 197+19 passengers and crew, just in this story.

So, aside from enough profanity to get some appreciation from enlisted folks everywhere, what’s the likely fallout onto Vandlian and RSI if this situation happened in the Empire?

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Hmm. The Empire doesn’t do slavery. So years of imprisonment at hard labor seems right out.

Execution and deletion of back ups with confiscation of assets?

Execution for sure, possibly forced reeducation/mind-editing if they can find any backups…

I’m not sure about confiscation - don’t recall if that’s a thing the Empire does even to their own criminals? I can’t figure out their policies in my mind well enough to tell between “they don’t do that at all, it’s absolutely heinous” and “they do that like all the time for any crimes where reeducation is at all relevant” though it’s probably one or the other.

Execution for wilful mass-murder. Also fraud, wilful negligence, and a bunch of other crimes, but the execution bit seems set in stone.

Wouldn’t be confiscation of assets, but rather the Curia grinding along and saying, “you owe X much to each of the people you have harmed,” and then the idiot having to sell as many assets as required to pay up.

And given how the Eldrae appear to feel about liars, that X is likely to end up a very large amount indeed.

The Empire does allow for debt-indentures, however. I suspect it would take Vandlian a very long time indeed to pay back all that the deception was judged to have caused.

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Honestly, the hardest part in answering this question is trying to come up with a scenario in which it could even happen in the first place.

Because it’s evidently not that similar in terms of governance (bearing in mind that not all governance is government), based on the author’s description.

(This is also to skip over the obvious point that you’re also talking about an extremely-high-trust society with a perfect-trust society embedded into it, whose business environment is generally such that dictum meum pactum and pacta sunt servanda are the accepted rules of the game, and trillions of esteyn routinely change hands on a promise and a handshake. People simply don’t do these things because they are simply not done; it’s off the edge of the cultural map.

To look at @Morgrim 's example of Throne v. Ferlyn Kazesh in re Taniris chemical disaster, everyone is so appalled by that because back home, such things do not happen and something screwy must have happened to let Kadesh be admitted in the first place. Unfortunately, Imperial citizens and smaller businesses, lacking the cosmopolitanism of the Big 26, are caught out by this sort of thing on a semi-regular basis, leading to an equally semi-regular series of demands for extremely severe penalties and blows to international relations.

I’m not even sure I can adequately communicate the differences in expected probity levels, here, but you know the old and ongoing scandal concerning the amount (of the order of 70%-80%) of olive oil that is fraudulent in some way, including quality fraud but also a substantial quantity of heavily-adulterated or not-olive-oil-at-all oil on sale, even under and at quality brand names?

Well, you can tell that you’re not in the Empire because the CEO of Whole Foods hasn’t committed a very public seppuku for this abject failure in his responsibilities to his customers. And, no, I don’t mean that as a metaphor.)

But to return to the insimilarity in terms of governance, remember that the Imperials are very good at solving coordination problems, and because of this, this is a necessarily a much, much bigger scandal. If Vandlian Assurance is operating as an assurance inspection firm and wants to be taken seriously by anyone (such as, primarily, the shipping line’s hull and tort underwriters), they’re going to have a review board scrutinizing their operations. The inspectors are going to be guild professionals, who have their own scrutiny because the Ancient Sodality of Mechanical Assurance and Actuarial Assessment doesn’t hand out professional licenses to any schmuck; their entire function is deschmucking the profession. And as professionals, they don’t answer to the company on professional matters. And both the former review board and the latter guild are both audited by metareviewers, probably at least both of the Auditors of Operational Righteousness and the Board of Merchane Propriety. There are lots of Very Serious People who are deeply invested into making sure that this sort of thing is many-nines impossible.


So, y’know, you’re not looking at this. This is some TPLPP-level fail that happens in the land of barbarians, morons, crooks, and people who suck at riding herd on barbarians, morons, and crooks. If it happened in the Empire, which is to say we assume Vandlian and RSI are entities with “ICC” after their name, you’re looking at a scandal of the multi-millennium which managed to compromise or deceive this entire structure, while somehow preventing the whole festering affair from coming to the attention of the Guardians of Our Harmony. We’re somewhere around “National Transportation Safety Board, FAA colluded with Boeing to cover up existence of aircraft held together by duct tape with knowledge of senior White House officials” levels of upgefuckedness.

If that were somehow to happen, the fallout would be apocalyptic. The number of people making most sincere apologies - and that one is a euphemism - would run into the thousands, and that’s before we even get to the people who’d be actually executed for negligence-indistinguishable-from-malevolence. All those organizations would be discredited into nonexistence and their contractees blackballed from essentially all further employment. Vast streams of effort would be abruptly shunted into devising a system that can’t suffer from whatever bizarre failure mode took down the last one.

Civilization-shaking disaster sort of thing, you know?


Now, if it happened out in the Periphery, well, shit, that’s Tuesday. The shipowner and everyone with an inspection certificate from those guys get placed on the “Will be denied passage within the Imperial territorial volume as an unacceptable navigational hazard” list by a weary bureaucrat somewhere in a State & Outlands sub-office and life goes on. You don’t expect a bunch of those polities to run a safe spaceline any more than you expect, say, Angola to run a safe airline. Best you can hope for is not to get any of it on you.


Do I detect a fellow Kris Longknife fan?

I haven’t got around to reading those yet, sorry to say.

I should note that I expect the Imperial rescue operation to go about how the Freehold rescue went in the story. Massive response, everyone in area helping. Just about zero casualties due to mindstate vectors in broad use among the people.

Guess I don’t exactly grok a functional high-trust society, in terms of how this is just about impossible to happen in the Empire (at least not possible for Vandlian/RSL to be ICCs). Too many human scammers, sadly…


Well, let’s see…

“I’m from a place where the worst someone can do to you is forget to say thank you.”

- Lucy MacLean, Fallout

There are four principal reasons:


While the Transcend is not fully coextensive with the Empire, an overwhelming majority of Imperial citizen-shareholders are Transcendent constitutionals, which forms a perfect-trust society inside the extremely-high-trust one.

(When I say perfect-trust society, I mean that very literally. Members in the collective consciousness don’t betray each other for, fundamentally, the same reason that your liver doesn’t decide to screw over your spleen.)


The Empire is a very old and well-established society, on the one hand; and on the other, it’s one that understands the very fundamental libertarian truth that you live and prosper almost entirely in accordance with your ability to cooperate and coordinate.

As such, it has very good institutions to make that work. You can’t just hang out your shingle and start operating as inspectors; as mentioned above, you’re interacting with a complex set of guilds and independent reviewers and metareviewers and insurers, et. al., carefully structured, evolved, and time-tested to make sure that everything runs smoothly and correctly¹.

It’s very hard to subvert.

I have not read the Freehold books myself, but the eponymous polity sure isn’t that old, and based on the author’s position in your OP and the quote at the end of the link:

From there, I wondered how such a story would work in the Freehold universe, which, despite some parties alleging it to be a “utopia,” bears several significant resemblances to the era of robber barons and exploitative management. There are many things done better by the free market. However, some things actually do require government infrastructure to effect properly. Whether or not quality standards for spaceship inspections are among the latter probably depends in part on who’s arguing the point, and if they intend to be aboard. Even if one can settle up economically afterward, duel or seek vengeance, it’s probably better to have the intact ship in the first place.

…it certainly doesn’t appear that they understand the latter, either. With all due respect to Mr. Williamson, some of us have spent time thinking about how certain things can be achieved without the point of a gun, at least among people who aren’t sufficiently unenlightened to defect in the single-player prisoner’s dilemma.

[Now, to be fair, you could maybe, in theory, make something like the accident happen - but you’d have to a secure a deliberately incompetent non-guild, non-reviewed starship maintainer to look after your safeties-bypassed ship, run without hull or operational insurance, find a non-guild-codicil and non-cover-requiring starport to operate out of, stick to non-cover-requiring areas of space, find an unlicensed and uncovered - for otherwise they would lose said licenses - non-guild crew to run it, and dig up passengers willing to pay no mind to their insurers’ warnings that stepping aboard this thing will void their tort, health, and incarnation insurance on the grounds that they aren’t paying for Fucking Idiocy Cover.

At which point most legal claims will be laughed out of court on the grounds that having bypassed every single system and institution designed to prevent this sort of thing from happening - brother, you asked for it!]


Their culture is much less favorable to the criming. There’s a reason “defaulter” is close to the worst insult in their lexicon.

I mean, seriously, you can’t throw a rock on Earth without some dipshit explaining that it’s for a good cause/the poor dears can’t help themselves/it’s because of oppression/poverty causes crime/it’s okay because it’s a corporation, maaaan/eat the rich/kill the poor/in their culture…/virtue is only owed to the virtuous/honesty is white supremacic colonialist bullshit/but they’re the outgroup/it’s not a big deal, why so uptight?/etc./etc./etc. ad thoroughly naus.

Imperial culture, being strongly intolerant of bullshit and brain worms even when they’re dressed up as nuance, considers all these arguments carefully and then throws them out of the airlock. You are a sophont, ergo you have free will and the ability to recognize and choose the Good. You chose poorly. That is the thing and the whole of the thing. Selah.

(It’s helped by a couple of things: first, that local law is much more concentrated on the mala in se, i.e., genuine ethical issues, makes it both much clearer and easier to respect; and second, that rather than let it be something people are expected to pick up essentially by osmosis, they actually go to the trouble of formally teaching ethics. By the time you reach majority, you’ll be thoroughly schooled in game theory, decision theory, ethical calculus, etc., etc., and thus all the reasons why, if you wish to have a civilization worth living in, one does not defect.

That this also does wonders to reduce the appalling moral effects of relativists, pragmatists, and, of course, the absolute worst is what you might call gravy.)


It’s fairly noticeable, when one thinks about it, that most crime is committed by morons. (Specifically, I note, including this kind of white-collar crime. I mean, seriously, what did they think was going to happen? Things that can’t go on forever don’t. Playing chicken with the odds is not a viable long-term strategy.)

Which makes it very relevant that there, the triple-teams of eugenics, eumemics, and eutechnics have been systematically and preemptively amputating the left-hand side of the bell curve for many generations, on the grounds that providing the best for your descendants means creating that eutopia in which all the children will be above average, dammit.

This has quite the salutary effect.

It should be noted, of course, that these systems aren’t perfect. The Empire does produce some criminals. It’s just that by the nature of the people and the environment, they have to be extremely competent, professional, ingenious, and subtle. (My go-to example here is usually: see Leverage, now multiply by transhumanism.)

It’s also not a bad reference for types of crime you might see: always grand heists and grifts, never the petty kind. That’s because they’re a proud race, and dislike being called petty² almost as much as they dislike actually being it.

  1. It also helps that you’re working with a structure composed of professional (in the technical sense) contractors, not non-professional employees.

  2. Don’t say things like that. That’s how you get your desk stolen during your inauguration.

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for, fundamentally, the same reason that your liver doesn’t decide to screw over your spleen.

A couple of years ago I spent what was possibly the most agonizing night of my life followed by two weeks in the hospital because my gall bladder did in fact decide to screw over my pancreas. But I guess that’s a thing that happens when your genetics haven’t been optimized over the past several hundred generations.

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It’s an analogy, and as such saves at -6 to pedantry-based attacks.

( :grinning: )

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