[LMB] Being Betan

pouncer at aol.com pouncer at aol.com
Mon Jun 5 16:34:14 BST 2017

Pat Mathews says:

>Beta doesn't admit it, but they seem to actually 
>have what I'd call an empire in all but name. 

I'm no doubt setting myself up to be seen as
pedantic but "empire" has other important 
definitional characteristics in my usage, and
I object. And, pace other comments, it has 
little to do with whether the participants
(citizens, subjects, serfs, or rulers) of an
Empire or other organization feel happy, or safe,
in their system. 

This goes to my notions about "Vorish virility"

Byzantium, Rome, Memphis (Cario), Tikal, and
Nanjing controlled empires, centering control
on command of trade routes. A primary city
depended on harvesting resources from remote
suppliers. The city WAS the civilization: It
locally hosted the government, the church,
the university, the commodities market, the
(patronized) arts community, and whatever
passed for mass media. No subsidiary city
(especially those of resource-supplying
territories subsumed in the Empire's expansion)
was allowed to advance in population or
institutions to attain the status of rival. 

These all depended on resources being more or
less abundantly available for the taking. 

I think in general science fiction, especially of
the "used furniture" variety involving monocologies 
and monoconomies ("morning on Mongo") don't 
delve deeply into the sociological effects of
terraforming.  Bujold is, of course, different 
and better -- at least with regard to Barrayar.
The back-story problems of the "Firsters" led to
competing, organic, social-clusters who sometimes
enjoyed (or possibly suffered) greater 
independence, and sometime more central 
administration. "Empire" wasn't a given, constant, 
feature of Vorishness.  And military enforcement of 
the Emperor's whims wasn't taken for granted. 
Micro-wars between counts and districts were common.
Even in a period of rising central -- imperial --
management, a mere thousand or so men with only
bladed weapons could plausibly threaten
Dorca's enforcers -- who had at least a few 

Ekaterin practically apologizes for her relatives
who are "rural Vor" administrators -- "more 
rural than Vor" she says.  I suspect that is
the historic and (in Miles's day) modal norm. 
The Vor class faced the problem of keeping a 
hostile eco-system AND a class of short-sighted 
planters, herders, and crafters all at bay in 
favor of protecting, encouraging and accounting 
for Earth-decended vegetable matter in accordance 
with the Counts' and Emperor's long-term plans. It
might be a full lifetime between planting maples
and then supervising the harvest of sugar sap.  
Another lifetime or two might pass before forests
were thick enough tubing replaced individual 
buckets. ("More efficient" Piotr SAYS, but easier for 
central authority to account for necessarily 
implicit.) Long term resource management is the thing 
for Vorish men. The military enforcer part, as Piotr 
tells Cordelia, comes along right after.  I suspect 
it was the Ceta plan to harvest Vorish helots and 
janissaries to conquer Komarr that distorted Vorish 
virtues toward more military -- less eco-warrior - 
forms of public service. 

In any case, were Komarr not perfectly situated to
become the chokepoint of trade useful to a traditional
Empire, neither the Cetas nor the Barrayarans would
want it. Nor form the political structure of 
Empire necessary to exploit it.  

Coming back to Pat's point, then, I don't see any
evidence that Beta Colony has the sorts of
features of Empire necessary to control trade and
exploit/extract resources from that control. So
I don't like extending the term "Empire" over 
Beta and alliance of daughter colonies. Beta seems
very much the "Federated Alliance of Decent 
Societies" sort of thing on fannish maps. IMHO, YMMV.

Oh, then, I do expect at some point in Gregor's
heirs' future they'll be facing a Sergyarian independence
movement.  We see that shaping up with the local volcano...

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