Mark Sachs (ksleet) wrote,
Mark Sachs

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My big mistake was going into cosmology for the money.

(Working on the comic. It's comin', it's comin'!)

I was noodling around with the story to my old comic Malarkey a little while ago. That comic includes a bunch of characters I'm simply fond of, so even though it's hard to nail down a plot successfully I'll still pull them out and reshuffle them every so often. While doing so, though, I started thinking. A major player in Malarkey is always the Hegemonic Government, a vast nation that covers much of the settled Milky Way. In some iterations of the story it's been a conspiracy-riddled organization, in others it was an absolute and powerful force for good and in still others it was largely uninvolved in the events of the story except when a military spacefleet is needed to clean up the mess after the plot has blown up in my face. But either way it's just a thing which one assumes can control, or at least manage, the Milky Way Galaxy in much the same way that the government of your average advanced Western state controls what goes on inside its borders.

But does that make sense?

Picture the classic thickly settled Galaxy, like in Asimov's Foundation series, in a setting like those which does not assume any kind of post-human evolution. We're talking one hundred billion stars, separated by distances of up to one hundred thousand light years. There would be thousands of inhabited planets, ranging from obscure little rural colonies of a few thousand folks up to Trantorian city-worlds with billions of inhabitants. Add in space stations, enclosed colonies on otherwise uninhabitable worlds, and even people messing around in comets if you like, and we'd be talking millions of individual settled objects. There's be perhaps a trillion people or more. (As I recall, Asimov's Galactic Empire had a quadrillion citizens.)

And one government is going to control all that? One human government? With all the skill and finesse of the modern-day governments we have today?

Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha!

It's absurd. It's nonsensical. I can't make myself buy it. A Star Wars-like tyranny, maybe, possibly, could pretend to control everything, but even then planets by the thousand will simply slip through their fingers as Imperial dictat is diluted through uncountable layers of bureaucrats and functionaries spreading out from Coruscant. And whatever its sins, my Hegemonic Government is actually supposed to be a roughly consensual outfit with a structure vaguely similar to the American model. There's just no chance.

(I realized this, incidentally, as I was mentally writing a speech delivered by one of the characters, ranting at the protagonist for his conspiracy theorizing. How could he possibly believe the Hegemonic Government would even have the capability to pull off a grand conspiracy? It turns out she argued so eloquently she even convinced the author of the story she was in that it would never work.)

But that doesn't mean the idea must be disposed of. How about a Hegemonic Government that doesn't work? Now we're talking. The grand maps in the fancy buildings on the capital worlds include the entire Galaxy, and perhaps the bureaucrats even believe they control it, and perhaps most planets even sincerely acknowledge that the Aitch-Gee is in charge. But in practice the farther you get from the capital interaction with the central government becomes rarer and rarer. Perhaps an HG-coordinated relief effort will show up if a major disaster percolates through the galactic newswires. Or every twenty years a functionary will fly in and attempt to enforce some obscure regulation. Throughout most of the Galaxy the HG is at best a distant abstraction, at worst maybe even a legend.

The government itself would still be huge, of course. The United States Government employs somewhere between two and three million people and spends on the order of a trillion and a half dollars every year, which leaves a lot of cracks for things to slip through -- now scale that up a few dozen times and substantially reduce the amount of useful things that actually get done. A Hegemonic Government that employs billions of people and has a dozen worlds for its "District of Columbia" would be rife with empire-building. Endless layers of bureaucracy, departments growing hidebound and useless then being pushed to the back of the closet and replaced with brand new departments that in the end become just as useless. You could run a lot of conspiracies inside such an organization where not only does the left hand not know what the right hand is doing, it is usually unaware that there is a right hand. And of course every "conspiracy" would be full of dedicated public servants convinced they were carrying out the orders of the duly elected government, as they unconsciously worked at utter cross-purposes to each other.

Why would the other planets go along with this? Well, for one thing, it's harmless in many ways. In theory everyone gets to vote for Galactic President; in practice news of the election doesn't even reach many worlds, never mind actually collecting votes and getting them to the capital by the deadline; but afterwards the Galactic President's actions don't directly affect those worlds anyway, so is it really such a burden? And of course, there would be no income tax levied to pay for the HG. Such hugely populated and wealthy worlds as those that make up the federal district would create enough surplus to pay for the colossal dead weight of the galactic government all by themselves. Meanwhile, planets generally don't go to war with each other since they all accept that they're in this thing together, and on rare occasions the HG even gets its act together and carries out humanitarian or police actions that earn it a bit of good press.

I like this idea, even if I can't quite picture what to do with it. It's absurd and laughable and yet so... not evil, merely very human.
Tags: nerd
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