To what degree is the Empire a Socially Scored Society?

So, I happened to see that the 'verse has appeared on the Socially Scored Society page over on TV Tropes, with the following entry:

  • Eldraeverse: The Empire of the Star has multiple reputation networks, your scores on which can affect the price you pay at vendors, job prospects, and in at least one case if you accumulate a low enough score an organization will pay you to leave the empire. The author has claimed that it’s not a dystopian feature in-universe because eldrae are not the same sort of inherent bastards humans are.

Well, now. That’s not quite what I said, and it probably shouldn’t be taken as Word of God on the topic insofar as I was responding to a particular article at the time. So let’s look at this a bit more deeply.

Firstly, it’s worth noting that we’re talking about a mature reputation network system, something that so far as I know, few have tried to portray in SF. Naive single-numerical-score based on individual bumps-and-drops on a universal system are almost cliché, but this isn’t one of those. For one thing, there is not one rep-net system or score, there are lots of them. They are, by and large, designed for and around a specific topic, many of them don’t depend on sophont input at all, and all of them are tied into an extensive ecosystem of other rep networks, meta-rep networks, cultural offset systems, specialist oversight such as the Exuberance Monitor COG, et. al.

tl;dr: it’s a very sophisticated system, and benefits from lots of experience in filtering out factors that aren’t relevant - including specifically the known problems of the first generation kind.

Secondly, a large part of the description of the trope is this bit:

In practice, this system will be portrayed as easily manipulated and prone to mob mentality and the whims and snap judgements of other people. In this society, people are kept at bay by the threat of public dislike, as it ruins not just your day but your entire reputation and likely material life.

Like I said, many of these don’t rely on sophont input at all. Even for the ones which do, your judgment is accompanied by a snapshot of all relevant data that gets filtered by artificially intelligent filters, and processed in accordance with topical relevance, trust ratings, affinity group membership, and your past reputation for making incorrect snap judgements. (Yes, if you routinely feed bad snap judgements into the system, your input will be progressively discounted according to your ongoing score on the Ambijective Social Assessment Accuracy Meta-Rep system.) And, hell, most bumps and drops come from people’s muses rather than directly from the people anyway.

People have spend much more time working on this sort of stuff than it, or indeed society, has existed on Earth, folks. It’s not impossible to manipulate a rep system, but the people who can do it tend to be organized and quite professional criminal groups, because it tends to require remarkable amounts of technical skill.

Also, it’s unlikely to ruin your entire reputation, simply because these things are, as noted, topically focused. I’m thinking right now of an obvious example of a person whose rep score on, say, Eye on Truth (which is focused on research, science, open source, open hardware, and general contributions to sophont knowledge) would be through the roof, even as their score on the Dataweave Vituperation Index sinks into the mud, and of course people whose focus is itself on different things will thereby perceive your reputation differently.

These far-reaching negative opinions don’t even have to be for good reasons, either: the people behind the ranking system can give you a “bad rating” just because they don’t like the shirt you’re wearing.

Not really the case on any rep-net except possibly for Exquisites or something particularly fashion-focused…

See, bumps and drops come with context, which is to say, evidence. You can’t just throw in an anonymous bump/drop and leave it at that, because that leads to fairly obvious problems.

Meanwhile, the system usually just rewards those who are socially adept, whether or not they are actually good people or deserving of better treatment: anybody trying to social climb in this type of society will focus on becoming more conventional and appealing, while nonconformism is penalized.

This is the place where the “not the same sort of inherent bastards” factor mostly comes in, and it’s not actually that simple. This goes way, way back to matters of blue and orange morality, and most importantly, to conformity.

It is not, I think, necessarily to say that humans are inherently bastards to say that they are wired for social conformity. A quick look at our extensive body of proverbs on that point should demonstrate the truth of the latter.

This, however, is not obliged to be the case for all species.

Let me introduce you to tratalmir ulkith. A pair of words which means “proper indifference to the affairs of others”, explained in detail here.

To sum the whole thing up: people who aren’t bothered by nonconformity in others in the general case of society are unlikely to feel the urge to force people to conform in the specific case of reputation networks. The rep-nets don’t create that pathology; they just provide a new and potent vector for it if you are people who are already that way inclined.

(I note, rather ironically, that becoming more conventional in the implied sense is actually likely to penalise you in Society, because everyone will find you distinctly dull and uninteresting.)

Lastly, though, where I am going to turn my dissent around a bit, I shall say that there is social conformity and social conformity.

As partial context for what I’m going on to say, I’m going to suggest considering the example of Japan, which considers social harmony extremely important (and in sundry ways enforces it) while yet and at the same time providing the observer with quite the motherlode of downright weirdness to reflect upon, in a somewhat paradoxical manner.

The Empire loves its eccentrics and its individualists, and thus also provides rich soil for the latter. But it also is very fond of its social harmony, and is not shy about making that point. This is, arguably, another variant on the Libertist Paradox: most countries have an uncountable mass of laws, and enforce them laxly and indifferently. The Empire has very few laws, but enforces them rigorously and exceedingly well.

In this case, tratalmir ulkith as virtue and social custom affords your eccentric vast scope to be as curious a character as they desire without fear of social censure.

But let us be real here for a moment, there are plenty of people whose deviation from the norm isn’t a quirky and unique expression of their individuality, it’s a dull and commonplace way of shitting up the world for everyone around them.

(We all know the people are assholes to waitresses and customer service staff, and petty bullies-turned-managers throwing their insignificant power about to make everyone under them miserable, and people who don’t return shopping trolleys, and the rest of the general cast of characters who aren’t technically breaking any laws but cause the world to be that little bit suckier for everyone stuck in it with them. Add your own here.)

And so far as the people who subscribe to the relevant rep networks and meta-rep networks are concerned, it is very much a good thing if the iron fist of social disfavor meets the solar plexus of their special kind of assholery, because no-one should be - and no-one is - obliged to deal with their crap.

If the consequences of being a colossal asshole are sufficient to make you feel unwelcome enough to leave, that gets a cheery Working As Designed from Team What Sort Of Ridiculous Comic-Opera Parody Of A Savage Just Abandons Their Goddamn Shopping Cart, Anyway?

Grim meathook future?

They don’t think so.


I liked one of your earlier examples (somewhere) where Gregory House would have a terrible rep score in a lot of places…but if you looked for a medical provider, he’d be near the top of the heap. A very definite “he might be…okay, he is an asshole, but when you need someone like him…you really need someone like him and he’s the best at what he does.”


I guess the problem, as with much of scifi, is that technologies like rep-nets are used as storytelling devices to explore human issues, rather than as engineering systems that can or would be improved upon.

Time to reclaim sci-fi for the engineers!


I am awkwardly and strangely pleased to have a part in bringing to light the comic-opera parody so described….

Best line I heard on house was something along the lines of: “If he wasn’t the best doctor, he wouldn’t still be working here.” Implying that House’s ‘skill’ at figuring out what was wrong with the patient outweighed his extremely abrasive persona.

1 Like