Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm
(c) 1979 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.
Chapter 21. Extraterrestrial Governments
"In the long run the individualist always loses to the organization."
-- Gordon R. Dickson, from Ancient, My Enemy (1974)2165
"Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. Autocracy is based on the assumption that one man is wiser than a million men."
-- Robert A. Heinlein, from Time Enough for Love (1973)2601
"In other words, the 27,000 members of the Galactic Confederation expect Earth to pay for what they receive. This necessitates a form of mutually acceptable exchange commonly called money. Earth valuta is of no consequence in the Galaxy. Galactic currency must therefore be obtained. Only by selling the Galaxy goods or services or luxuries which they fancy can foreign currency be derived. Once obtained, this Galactic currency can then be used to purchase extraterrestrial goods for our own use."
-- Hayford Peirce, from "Rebounder" (1976)3001
"Because of the Alderson Drive we need never consider the space between the stars. Because we can shunt between stellar systems in zero time, our ships and ships’ drive need cover only interplanetary distances. We say that the Second Empire of Man rules 200 worlds and all the space between, over 15 million cubic parsecs. But consider the true picture. Think of myriads of tiny bubbles, very sparsely scattered, rising through a vast black sea. We rule some of the bubbles. Of the water we know nothing. .
-- Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, from The Mote in God’s Eye (1974)668
Government commonly is viewed as an instrument of authority over specific groups, organizations, and states. Authority implies coercion. Indeed, as Poul Anderson has claimed, perhaps the best traditional definition of government is "any organization which claims some right to exert physical force over individual members."78
Xenologists shy away from such limited conceptions of political activity. The idea that physical force, competition, or combat are essential to large-scale social organization lacks the generality and universality required of all xenological formulations. Alien governments may indeed be designed to perform strategic, military, or policing functions, but a vast number of other purposes are imaginable as well. Coalitions to promote common economic interests and trading agreements might serve as the basis for government, such as the European Economic Community (EEC), the Central American Common Market (CACM), the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and so forth here on Earth. Organizations designed solely for the betterment of social conditions may arise; others might exist only for the purpose of cultural or philosophical exchange, regulation of agricultural production, tourism and recreation, social engineering, mining, penal confinement, or the spread of scientific knowledge. While human governments commonly take on elements of coercion and force, there is no reason to insist that this must be a universal feature of all extraterrestrial societies.
Perhaps the most general definition of government is the "thermodynamic" one: Government is a social system that stores specific information about a society and the way it works, and which uses this information to establish and maintain order and complexity. As a negentropic system, government, much like life and intelligence, necessarily must exhibit a number of communicative and control aspects.3071 Of course, the exact mix must vary with incredible diversity among alien societies. Some organizations will stress communication, others control. But all will manage information so as to regularize and complexify sociocultural behavior. Defined in this broad fashion, xenologists confidently may assert that all societies -- both human and nonhuman -- must display some form of governance.
[Note: See also the author's article "Galactic Empires", published in 1983.]
21.1 Dimensions of Extraterrestrial Government
The first task before xenologists is to devise a comprehensive taxonomy which subsumes all forms of alien governments. The job is fantastically difficult, for there are dozens of different ways to describe a given system of governance. (See de Blij,725 Etzioni,832 Katz,1768 Krader,1745 MacIver,818 McLennan,1866 Parkinson,2600 Rodee, Anderson and Christol,821 Wescott,264 and Wit.817) Human political scientists don’t even agree on how to categorize human polities, and it is virtually certain that Earthly political forms fail to exhaust the universe of possibilities.
But xenologists must start somewhere. So, despite the enormity of the task, theorists have attempted to isolate a few of the most critical dimensions of government. Each dimension, or "governance scale," may be thought of as a coordinate axis which helps to define the geometry of government.
Ordinary physical space as we know it may be described with three coordinate axes set at right angles to each other. Each object in the universe may be uniquely located using a three-dimensional geometry. Political space, as provisionally identified by xenologists, can be viewed as having six primary dimensions. Theoretically, each alien government occupies a unique position in this 6-dimensional "space." Any governance system thus may be described -- albeit incompletely and imperfectly -- by a series of six "political coordinates." These are as follows:
1. Cultural Scale;
2. Leadership System;
3. Organizational Centralization;
4. Economic Basis;
5. System of Exchange; and
6. Sociopolitical Freedom.
The entire proposed taxonomy for extraterrestrial governments is summarized in Table 21.1 in Section 21.1.
21.1.1 Governance Scales
There are six dimensions of goverance, as shown in the taxonomy in Table 21.1, below.
The first dimension is called "cultural scale." This is simply the potential power of the organization as measured by energy production. In this book, civilizations are classed as Type I, II, III, or IV according to a familiar scheme. The chart gives a few extra subdivisions under the Type I planetary culture for added resolution.
The second dimension of governance is the system of leadership employed. The Taxonomy gives several different classes of leadership with illustrative examples of each in parentheses. Expanding Plato’s traditional tripartite model, leadership falls along a spectrum ranging from nullity to totality. There is rule by none (Chaos), rule by one (Autocracy), rule by a few (Oligarchy), rule by many (Republic), rule by most (Democracy), and rule by all (Pantisocracy*).
The main problem in selecting a leadership is how to determine which "one" or which "few" shall head the organization. This normally involves what one writer has called "the myth of legitimacy."3035 That is, persons must believe their leaders are "legitimate" before they will willingly submit to the organization. If this is accomplished by election, and an autocracy is the class of leadership, the result may be called a "limited monarchy." If we have a republic instead, the result might be called a "representative democracy." if selection is based on military power, an autocracy would be called "despotism" and an oligarchy might be called a "military junta." The Taxonomy lists 30 bases of legitimacy of leadership that might conceivably be adopted by alien cultures. (Note: These bases are not exclusive. For instance, "aristocracy" is an oligarchy that may be based on wealth, heredity, or both.)
(Class of Leadership)
(Bases for Legitimacy)
TYPE I PLANTERY
TYPE II STELLAR
TYPE III GALACTIC
TYPE IV UNIVERSAL
Autocracy (Dictatorship; Monarchy; Constitutional Tyranny; Despotism)
(Limited Monarchy; Representative Democracy)
(Direct Democracy; Electronic Demarchy; Collegial)
(Organized Anarchy; Ordered Anarchy of the African Nuer, the Paliyans of South India, etc.; Sociocracy)
Species or Race (Nazism)
Heredity, Kinship, or Descent
(Monarchy; Aristocracy; Chieftain)
Sex (Matriarchy; Patriarchy)
Intelligence, Diligence (Meritocracy)
Ideology (Fascism; Marxism; Capitalism)
Religion (Theistic Monarchy; Theocracy; Papacy; Sodality)
Established Custom Agency of Cultural Change Moral Character or Integrity Written/Express Political Constitution (Constitutional Monarchy; Bureaucracy)
Wealth (Plutocracy; Aristocracy)
Property (Feudalism; Suzerainty)
Economic Success (Syndicalism; Corporate Feudalism)
Agency of Trade (Guild)
Instruments of Production
Agency of Communication
CONSENT OR COMPULSION
Popular Election (Limited Monarahy; Parliamentary Demooracy)
Cunning and Intrigue (Cabal)
Martial Arts (Warrior Chieftain)
Military Power (Despotism; Mafia; Military Junta)
Defensive, Economic, or Constitutional Emergency (Dictatorship; Ochiocracy; Constitutional Tyranny)
Empire or Imperium
Open Barter with Fixed Exchange Ratios
Open Barter with Bargaining
Open Barter with Favorite Medium of Exchange
Amplified Biological Intelligence
Machine Sentiency (Mechanocracy)
Bioneered Genetic Superiority (Eugenocracy)
Agency of Galactic Engineering
The third dimension of governance is the degree of organizational centralization. Unitary governments are most centralized -- there is a single focus of authority to which all decisions are referred. Empires may be regarded as falling within the unitary classification,823 but they characteristically involve two separate governments within a single political system: The internal government, which controls the interior or homeland, and the imperial government, which has dominion over subject peoples or external geographical areas. Empires are normally of two kinds. When the two governmental entities are geographically distinct, such as the British, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese systems on Earth, we have a "colonial" empire. "Coterminous" empires exist where the subject areas coincide geographically with the homeland, as in the Turkish, Austrio-Hungarian, and most of the oriental empires.
In a federal system, power is distributed between the central and local governments in such a way that a new unity is established while retaining the original territorial diversity. A federal organization requires a definite surrender of claims of sovereignty by component areas as well as the right of secession.2990 Confederations are the loosest possible associations of independent social or political units having some common governmental machinery. No new central unity is created. An alliance is a special limited form of confederation having as its purpose a single objective or temporary expediency.
The fourth dimension of governance is the economic basis of the organization. Laissez faire is total nonintervention by government in economic affairs; communicative activities are okay, but there must be an absence of control. Piracy is a peculiar form of laissez faire in which economics is reduced to a contest of military prowess and cunning between competing social units, again without benefit of legal direction by governmental authorities. Manorialism (sometimes called "feudalism") is an institutionalized system of property ownership and personal contracts between individuals as a substitute for "public" control -- the manorial lord replaced the governmental control function within his local fiefdom.
Mercantilism involves the emergence of real public control. This may include taxation or regulation of the means and fruits of production, under the theory that the economic interests of the larger political body are more important than those of mere individuals. The corporation or "conglomerate"1771 format is a way individuals can fight back. A group of persons is legally licensed to act with the powers, rights and privileges of a single person (a very powerful "individual"). Welfarism represents still further public control of the economy, in which the welfare of the citizenry is promoted more by the organized efforts of the government than by private institutions. Socialism is the end result -- government exercises complete control of all the means of production. However, the distribution of economic benefits is still determined in the private sector. Under communism, both the means of production and the means of distribution are controlled by the political organization of the society.818
The fifth dimension of governance is the exchange system employed.874 Exchange between social units involves an act of giving or taking one thing in return for another as its equivalent. Due to environmental heterogeneity and differing abilities, individuals are likely to be in possession of different kinds and amounts of resources than their fellows. Economic historians agree that the most primitive system of exchange is gift exchange, which may perhaps be regarded as an informal method of bartering. Slightly more sophisticated is silent barter, which enables individuals to rid themselves of surpluses and to enjoy the specialized products of their neighbors -- without having to actually confront a feared or hated neighbor. (The party desiring exchange leaves the merchandise in some place the other party cannot help noticing it, such as a pathway, meeting site or game field. If the recipient finds the goods undesirable or insufficient, he leaves them and comes back later after giving the donor a chance to increase the offer or change its contents. Acceptance of offers were expected to be reciprocated, failure of which could lead to warfare.)
Open barter is more direct.2880 It is usually available only when social units become capable of peaceful and friendly intercourse. All forms involve simultaneous exchange. For instance, barter at a fixed exchange ratio is the first attempt to assign value to commodities; this mode shifts to barter with bargaining as exchange relations between social groups become more regular and the range of things traded becomes too extensive for simple ratio systems. Open barter with favorite medium of exchange involves the use of some plentiful bartered commodity as a measure of value for all other commodities.873 Valuable money such as jewelry, coinage, or ingots of rare metals represents the next evolutionary step, but this soon gives way to symbolic money -- bank notes, paper currency, stocks and so on. Ultimately, electronic funds transfer technology or the development of a more generalized sentience may permit the emergence of reciprocal obligation exchange systems in which value as well as specie becomes purely symbolic.188
The sixth dimension of governance is the level of sociopolitical freedom granted the individual. There are at least four distinct societal types. Societies may be libertarian, with full civil, political, economic and communicative liberties for each individual. Egalitarian organizations require not necessarily liberty, but rather only that all group members be treated with absolute equality. Authoritarian governments concentrate policymaking within the leadership; citizens acquiesce out of habit or tradition, and obedience to authority is pervasive and rarely questioned. Totalitarian regimes are radical versions of authoritarianism.2586 They have been described by the late Benito Mussolini, a notorious human practitioner of this form of rule, as "everything for the state; nothing outside the state; nothing against the state."821
The 6-dimensional "political geometry" described above is able to characterize in broad fashion most known terrestrial societies. Despite its distinctly human flavor, presumably the Taxonomy may be extended to our analysis of extraterrestrial governmental systems consistent with the Hypothesis of Mediocrity. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the Taxonomy is that it may be used to imagine new political forms that are extremely rare or have never existed on Earth. By selecting alternatives from each of the several columns, imaginative xenologists can generate literally millions of hypothetical alien governmental entities.
For instance, we might imagine a Type III emergent galactic society ruled by an hereditary oligarchy based on the means of production, with a tight unitary organization and a socialistic system of wealth distribution to the citizenry. We can envision a global republic of machine sentience, totally decentralized and egalitarian. Somewhere else we may find a stellar democratic theocracy engaging in piracy on the high frontier, operating with a loose-knit system of opportunistic alliances. Most feared among galactic governments would be the totalitarian unitary military autocracies; most laggard the republican bureaucratic constitutional confederations; most mysterious the alien pantisocratic agents of communication who trade by silent barter between the stars. Extraterrestrial decentralized monarchies, libertarian communists, and democratic empires are all quite possible.**
[Note: See also the author's article "Galactic Empires", published in 1983.]
* Pantisocracy or "organized anarchy" has been characterized as having fluid participation, a variety of inconsistent and ill-defined preferences, and an unclear organizational technology.837 Sociopolitical anarchies have been treated on rare occasion in science fiction. (See LeGuin,2577 Niven,2421 Van Vogt,2977 and Weinbaum.2979)
** Science fiction writers have experimented extensively with diverse political forms, including Anderson’s Polyesotechnic League,2876 Commonality,2885 and gypsy pirates of space2959; Asimov’s interstellar theocracy and galactic empire2944; Heinlein’s Constitutional Tyranny2601; Niven and Pournelle’s Galactic Imperial Aristocracy668; LeGuin’s Ekumen97 and planetary anarchy2577; and Vinge’s Interplanetary Demarchy.2861
21.2 Alien Political Organizations: Xenopolitical Factors
Naturally, not all governmental forms that may exist are equally likely to exist. The Taxonomy devised in the previous section suggested something of the possibilities but failed to address probabilities. Xenologists would like to know which political systems are more or less likely to occur, why, and where.
Probably one of the most important determinants of the nature and scope of alien governments is the type of sentience of the individuals who represent the social units comprising the political system. We have briefly examined the question of extraterrestrial intelligence and consciousness in an earlier chapter, so we may now proceed to analyze the effects of different minds upon the mode of governance.
In Chapter 14 we found that a central characteristic of intelligence is its ability to handle increasingly generalized classes of information. Below is an oversimplified list of "mental types" above mere reactivity, in order of ascending negentropic efficacy:
1. Genetic sentience;
2. Reptilian brain sentience;
3. Limbic brain sentience;
4. Neocortical brain sentience;
5. Communal sentience;
6. (higher-order sentience...).
(Genetic sentience involves a society that is aware of itself but whose members lack individual awareness. Brain conscious creatures have individual awareness but no societal consciousness. Beings with communal sentience will possess a visceral self-awareness both of the individual and of the society.)
Creatures with genetic sentience are preprogrammed to operate independently of all other units for the good of the society, so such lifeforms might theoretically survive at any cultural scale. Brain-sentient ETs likewise capable of independent action because of their individual awareness, probably also may aspire to any cultural scale. But communal sentients may be somewhat more restricted. Science fiction writer Charles Sheffield has hinted at this problem among humans with biocybernetic implants -- a kind of electronic telepathy. He describes what might happen when such communal creatures attempt to expand their cultural scale:
Can you imagine how men with implants would react if they were taken to a place where they were light-years, or light-hours -- or even light-minutes -- away from the supporting memory banks, and the shared data? I don’t think they could take it. They’d go insane. It’s pretty obvious that the worst punishment you could inflict would be to disable a man’s implant. Like being in solitary confinement, but probably a lot worse.2962
The effects of mental type on class of leadership are equally surprising. Without personal self-awareness, genetic sentients cannot recognize any leadership at all. Chaotic government is most likely. Brain sentients may have systems of governance ranging across the entire leadership scale. But communal sentients, with their social viscera and dualistic insight, should strongly tend toward pantisocracy because the mechanics of rule by all will be enormously simplified through electronic telepathy. It may be that only communal beings are capable of forming truly successful anarchs.2979 Similarly, genetic minds might lack concepts of reciprocity -- with no sense of the self there can be no empathy for the selves of others. Communal beings should tend toward the opposite extreme, choosing a highly symbolic exchange system that everyone agrees "feels" right.
Centralization may be a concept unique to brain-sentient races. Both genetic and communal sentients will have strong social senses which are missing in brain sentients. It is quite possible that federation and empire are organizational forms that can exist only when individual awareness is present and social awareness is not. Similar considerations may obtain with regard to economic systems -- perhaps only brain sentients can conceive of a system of production and distribution responsive more to individual than to societal needs. Perfect communism may be possible only among genetic or communal sentients.
As for sociopolitical freedoms, genetic-sentient aliens have no individuality and thus should be the natural totalitarians of the universe. As sentience becomes more generalized, libertarianism should become possible. Communal ETs theoretically are capable of adopting any level of freedom, depending upon the relative emphasis on self-awareness versus social awareness in the existing sociobiological and cultural milieu.
In summary, increasingly generalized sentience should favor smaller cultural scale, broader classes of leadership, more symbolic systems of exchange and more libertarian forms of government. Centralization and individual economic freedom may be concepts unique to brain-sentient species.
Another significant limitation on extraterrestrial governments is the problem of dispersion -- the relative distance between social or political units. These units may be individuals, cities, planetary civilizations, stellar communities, or galactic societies, depending on the cultural scale involved. Dispersion is a very flexible concept. It may refer to large physical distances between units or to the length of time required for communication between them. Functionally, the element of dispersion acts to limit the effectiveness of a government by restricting its ability to communicate and to transport the means of control.
While the notion of dispersion may be used to analyze governments at all cultural scales, we shall concentrate on the interstellar regime since this is less frequently discussed in the literature. Distance alone may be the critical factor. The dispersion of social units decreases as their physical separation becomes less:
1. 106 light-years (intergalactic dispersion)
2. 104 light-years (galactic dispersion)
3. 10 light-years (interstellar dispersion, Disk)
4. 1 light-year (interstellar dispersion, Core)
5. 10-5 light-years (interplanetary/stellar dispersion)
6. 10-9 light-years (planetary dispersion)
To the extent an extraterrestrial civilization technologically is able to surmount physical dispersion and engage in communication and/or control, it may have government at that scale. Interstellar government thus is sharply limited by the transportation and communications technology available to it. At least four distinguishing technological scenarios may be identified:
1. Suboptic transportation, optic communication
2. Suboptic transportation, hyperoptic communication
3. Hyperoptic transportation, optic communication
4. Hyperoptic transportation, hyperoptic communication
Dispersion is effectively reduced as a culture moves from scenario (1) to scenario (4). Much as radio, telephone, and air travel have caused Earth to "shrink" during the 20th century, so will interstellar dispersion decrease as the carriers of information and control begin to travel at hyperoptic (faster than light) velocities. It must be admitted that communication and transportation are not exactly equivalent. From a control and distribution standpoint, fast transport may be somewhat more effective than fast message-sending. Still, a galactic government could position outposts and supply depots near populated centers and dispatch warships or supplies by "remote control." This probably is not a perfect substitute for direct physical presence, but it’s the next best thing. So the series above from scenario (1) to scenario (4) represents a continuous sequence of decreasing dispersion in the interstellar regime.
How will dispersion of sociopolitical units affect the form of alien governance? Let’s consider each of the six political dimensions given in the Taxonomy.
Increasing speed of travel and communication between units effectively reduces the time-distance between them. More units can be added to the organization without additional cost in communication or control delay time. As dispersion decreases, cultural scale is free to increase. Hyperoptic talk/travel will make galactic-size organizations possible.
Similarly, a very high degree of dispersion (lightspeed or slower talk/travel) will render empire virtually impossible.1135 As one science fiction writer explains:
Punitive expeditions would be nearly impossible, hideously expensive, and probably futile: You’d be punishing the grandchildren of a generation that seceded from the Empire, or even a planet that put down the traitors after the message went out. Even a rescue mission might never reach a colony in trouble. A coalition of bureaucrats could always collect the funds for such an expedition, sign papers certifying that the ships are on the way, and pocket the money .... in sixty years someone might realize what had happened, or not.1226
As dispersion lessens, greater organizational centralization becomes possible since the leadership is better able to communicate or enforce its decisions.600 In other words, while decentralized forms are always possible, low dispersion should permit centralized governmental entities to emerge.
What about leadership? At high levels of dispersion, probably only chaos is possible in the interstellar regime. As dispersion decreases, autocracies and oligarchies may emerge where strong, diligent individuals or small groups are able to command the loyalty of widely separated cultural enclaves. As dispersion becomes small or negligible, democracy and pantisocracy (which require more debate and communication between social units) become possible.
As for economics, free market laissez faire and piracy are most likely under conditions of extreme dispersion, since planning and control are virtually impossible across great distances when time delays between data reception, decision, and implementation are too great.982 As dispersion becomes less severe, the economy can be controlled more effectively. Socialism and communism become more likely when dispersion is low or negligible.
With high dispersion a "blind" exchange system such as gift exchange or silent barter is most reasonable. As talk/travel becomes quicker, fixed exchange ratios can be set and bargaining may take place because both communication and delivery are faster and more reliable. At the lowest levels of dispersion, symbolic valuta become possible as well.
Finally, as regards sociopolitical freedoms, large distance and high dispersion should make libertarianism all but mandatory. As dispersion lessens, causing the effective talk/travel distance to "shrink," tyrants and mobocrats will find it easier to force authoritarian or totalitarian regimes upon subject populations should they desire to do so. There is considerable support for the above speculations from political histories of societies on Earth. Xenologists have searched for examples of human cultures having geographical dispersions analogous to those of widely separated interstellar communities.55,883 The best examples on Earth appear to be the island chain societies of the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.884
Consider the early Hawaiian political system. True to expectations, it remained primarily tribal (low cultural scale with high dispersion). The leadership was autocratic or oligarchic, consisting of military chieftains or classes of ruling nobles. Most often, chaos ruled among widely separated island communities and only weak alliances ever formed. The economic system remained essentially manorial.887 Today, by virtue of modern communication and transportion technology (decreased dispersion), the Hawaiian islands are part of the United States -- a national, republican, federal, corporate/welfare, egalitarian political system. Our speculations check against the facts.
Indonesia is another illustrative island chain society. Prior to colonization the Indonesian group was ruled by an absolute monarch, symbol of the highest status in the local religious pantheon. The basic cultural unit was tribal, the central government decentralized and loosely administered, and the economic system manorial. Today, the culture remains fractured. In 1955, just a few years after independence from the Dutch empire was granted, no less than 170 political parties competed in the national elections and representatives from 26 of these were elected to office in the parliamentary legislature. This so weakened the cabinet that Sukarno was forced to assume dictatorship in 1957 to restore order.1866 The history of the Philippines is remarkably similar.2989
The Tongan islands too were originally ruled by a military dictator theocrat who presided over a confederation of island-states. The economic system was manorial, involving "lords" and fiefdoms bearing a striking resemblance to medieval European feudalism.886 The Samoans, who occupy 14 volcanic islands in the southern mid-Pacific, have a basically tribal society. Individual tribes are organized into districts, but these are notoriously unstable political units. There is no record of any unified government holding sway over the entire Samoan "nation" (e.g., chaos reigns at this level), although occasionally a sacred warrior-chief may assemble a short-lived decentralized autocratic alliance on the two largest islands of the chain.888 The record of Caribbean island groups is much the same.2623
There are several other Earthly analogues to high-dispersion interstellar communities.831 For example, desert societies, clustering around water holes and infrequent oases, exemplify an insular existence upon a sea of sand. Desert people tend to be extremely nomadic, organized into families or small tribes. Alliances are rare; when they do occur, they take the form of staunchly egalitarian oligarchies or autocracies of convenience. Piracy and laissez faire with open barter are the most common economic forms.2620
The Eskimos, who inhabit the arctic deserts of the north, lived in bands of less than 50 persons. They had no chiefs or standing deliberative assemblies, and there was "rule by none" among bands. Laissez faire was most common and total decentralization the rule, with controls on social aggression based on informal devices such as kinship systems. The dominant attitude was highly libertarian: Suicide and revenge were considered socially acceptable.1745
Our xenopolitical speculations with regard to dispersion appear to be reasonably accurate. To summarize, a decrease in the dispersion of social units (whether by decreasing physical distance or by technologically increasing the velocity of transportation or communication) should permit extraterrestrial governments to evolve in the following directions: Bigger cultural scale, leadership by larger segments of the population, more organizational centralization, greater control of the economy, increasingly symbolic valuta, and more totalitarian methods of governance.
The size of a governmental system is defined as the number of relevant sociopolitical units that comprise it. This is essentially a measure of population in any organization. Note that size does not refer to physical or geographical distribution (which is closer to the concept of "dispersion" discussed in the previous section).
What is the effect of size on extraterrestrial government? Size has been recognized as a critical factor since ancient times -- the State described in Plato’s Laws was always to have 5040 citizens (7 factorial), a population which the Greek philosopher supposed to be the maximum number of people that any one person could ever know on an individual basis. This suggestion, while of questionable validity, embodies a basic truth: As the population of sociopolitical units increases arithmetically, the number of possible interactions between them necessarily increases exponentially. Communication and control thus become more difficult with increasing size.1867
If size increases and unit dispersion is held constant, cultural scale tends to rise because more energy and additional living space are required to support a larger population. Perhaps more important is the effect of size on leadership. Organizational theorists long have recognized that increasing the number of interactive units normally causes the fraction of rulers to decrease.851 According to Mosca’s Rule: "The larger the political community the smaller will be the proportion of the governing minority to the governed majority."2960 Or, framed in another way by Bruce H. Mayhew of Temple University in Pennsylvania: "The relative size of a ruling elite is a decreasing function of the size of the system it governs."851 Formal research studies in recent times have confirmed that the fraction of supervisory personnel decreases as organizational population rises.835
The effects of size have not gone unnoticed by political scientists. Perhaps the best-known of the published formulations is Roberto Michels’ Iron Law of Oligarchy.828 According to Michels, growing political systems invariably tend toward more oligarchic forms of government. He cites a variety of reasons for this observed phenomenon. First, the sheer number of organizational members rules out direct participation by everyone in the political decision making process. (In smaller aggregations all individuals may be politically involved; in larger systems, many cannot.) Second, larger organizations are more complex because there are so many more interactions possible between units. The division of labor increases and individual roles become more specialized, so problems become more and more incomprehensible to all but specialists -- and "expert" power emerges. Third, since information and control can be better wielded at the top by a few rather than by many, the position of leadership becomes more impregnable and elitist. Finally, leaders acquire over time a working knowledge of the organization and the particular ways it works. Merely by exercising his leadership functions a top official eventually makes himself almost irreplaceable to the organization.
Size also has a significant effect upon political centralization. Among relatively small populations, all modes from unitary to total decentralization ought to be possible. But as size increases, despite the shrinking percentage of the ruling elite, the absolute number of rulers continues to grow (though at a decreasing rate). More leaders means more possible interactions among them, which implies more chance for conflict and a greater likelihood that leadership units will be working to cross-purposes. Organizational unity will be strained and will tend to break down into less centralized forms. As size becomes huge, leadership most likely will fragment into smaller and smaller entities -- first federation, then confederation, and finally all the way to total decentralization at maximum size.2885,827
All economies from communism to laissez faire probably are possible at low population levels. As the number of units increases, interactions rise exponentially and methodical, deterministic economic planning becomes more difficult.974 At some point, increasing size produces a system so complex that it cannot adequately be planned because there are too many possibilities and too much data.829,2961 (The effects of data overload are well-known to systems theorists.3071) As population becomes vast, the market must be left to tend to itself. Laissez faire probably is the only realistic option in such circumstances.2885 Rising complexity also sets limits on mode of exchange. Silent barter is fine among small populations which exchange relatively few goods. But some uniform system of symbolic valuation or reciprocal obligation will probably be necessary when astronomical quantities of commodities change hands among vast populations of sociopolitical units.
And assuming unit dispersion is held constant, libertarianism is more likely in political systems of enormous size. This is due to the relative difficulties of control, dissemination of ideology, and communication in very large organizations, all else being equal. The result is somewhat analogous to the effects of increasing unit dispersion -- increasing size while maintaining constant dispersion among units (constant population density) is equivalent to increasing systemic dispersion, which, much like increasing unit dispersion, should favor libertarianism. This seems true even among nonhuman animal communities on Earth. According to sociobiologist E.O. Wilson, "the more complex the society, the more likely it is to be egalitarian."565 On the other hand, as systems become smaller in size it becomes easier to impose authoritarian or totalitarian governments.
By way of summary, an increase in size of a political system should cause an increase in cultural scale, more oligarchic modes of leadership,2978 decreasing organizational centralization, a trend towards a laissez faire economy and a symbolic exchange system, and a more libertarian form of governance.
The fourth most important factor influencing the character of alien governments is heritage. Heritage is a measure of the biological, ecological, cultural, and historical commonality to be found among social units comprising a political organization. Common heritage generally promotes cohesion; diverse heritage tends to destroy it.3071
Biology is the most fundamental heritage shared by groups of life-forms. Political systems comprised of sentient beings of a single species may be expected to stick together more than aggregations of foreigners. Monospecies cultures should be more cohesive than polyspecies cultures. Political union between races of wholly different biochemical or thermal regimes, or between natural and synthetic lifeforms, seems less likely because of the probable lack of any sensible common heritage.
Science fiction writers repeatedly have pointed out that we may not be able to understand our own descendants who travel out into space and colonize other worlds.2362,2204 Adaptations to higher or lower surface pressures and alien gravity fields will cause changes in human skeletal design, musculature, and blood content. Trace elements in alien soils and plants may affect our colonists’ biochemistry and alter psychological response in many subtle ways. In just a few thousand years, human space travelers could evolve into a new genetic race altogether.2885
Among planet-evolving lifeforms, climatic homogeneity and the presence of large ecologically uniform continental land masses or ocean bodies should encourage commonality of culture and history. Climatic heterogeneity and the existence, say, of broken island chains or an ecologically diverse network of small seas connected by rivers, should lead instead to diversity of culture.2619 Island communities on Earth, as in the Caribbean, the Pacific, and Indonesia illustrate quite well the extreme factionalism and ethnicity that can emerge from a splintered or diverse environment. And it appears that heritage and dispersion are inversely equivalent influences. The more widely scattered the social units, the more diverse will be their historical and cultural experience and the less common heritage they will share.
How does the heritage factor apply to extraterrestrial governments? Political systems involving units with a high degree of commonality theoretically should be able to create governments of any cultural scale from planetary to universal. As heritage becomes more diverse and cohesion begins to dissipate, smaller and smaller governance systems are probably all that reasonably can be held together. A system with total diversity may be expected to be maximally fragmented in smaller cultural groups.
Among homogeneous societies, all forms of leadership from autocracy to pantisocracy should be possible. Introduction of heterogeneity reduces the number of options. Government by common consent (rule by most or all) is likely only when there exists reasonably strong cultural cohesion. With more diverse heritage, the necessary cohesion may be lacking and a shift to more oligarchic and autocratic modes of rule is expected. Similarly, unitary government appears virtually impossible in the face of extreme sociocultural diversity. Political systems with no common heritage -- maximum diversity -- most probably will remain decentralized.
What about the economic system of an alien polity? Any form is possible when mutual heritage is great. But as biological or cultural heterogeneity increase, the abilities and needs of the subject population vary greatly. Cooperation becomes more difficult, cohesion weakens, and controlled economies such as communism and socialism become more difficult to manage. In the extreme case of maximum diversity, communism is virtually impossible -- it is likely that only loose-knit impersonal economic systems such as laissez faire will be viable. Also, as commonality decreases, symbolic exchange systems may become increasingly difficult to use. Agreement upon the meaning and value of symbolic valuta may be harder to achieve, leading to the emergence of simpler systems such as silent barter or gift exchange.
On the heritage factor alone, low or moderate diversity should allow everything from libertarianism to totalitarianism to exist. But extreme heterogeneity of biology or culture will make it more difficult for a ruling class to impose stringent values of allegiance and purpose upon subject populations. High diversity implies that a more libertarian ethic should prevail.
In summary, we find that a decrease in commonality of biological, ecological, cultural or historical heritage among social units in a political organization should cause a decrease in cultural scale, a tendency to autocratic or oligarchic modes of leadership, systemic decentralization, decontrol of the economy, a return to simpler and less-symbolic exchange systems, and an increasing prevalence of libertarian ideals.
21.2.5 Xenopolitics: Tentative Conclusions
It must be reemphasized that all of the conclusions reached in this section regarding extraterrestrial systems of governance are speculative and theoretical. No alien polities have yet been discovered or observed, and human political scientists cannot agree as to the pertinent dimensions of government. There is no consensus on which factors are most important or exactly how they affect social organization. Significant factors may have been omitted from the above analysis, and there is no guarantee that factors and dimensions are absolutely additive as we have assumed -- there may exist synergistic effects of which we are unaware.
It is in this spirit of tentativeness and uncertainty that the two tables comprising Table 21.2 are offered. These represent a cautious compilation of our xenopolitical analysis up to this point. The topmost table permits the reader to select various factors, and then to read off which form of governance has the highest probability given those factors. The table at bottom is just the first table turned inside out: The desired governmental form may be selected, and the conditions most likely to give rise to such a system may then be read off by the reader.
In making a determination using these tools, the various measures frequently conflict. When this occurs, more weight should be given those probabilities associated with the more important factors. In the formulation presented here, sentience is considered most significant, followed, in order, by dispersion, size, and finally heritage.
Total Decentralization, Alliance
Laissez Faire, Piracy
I, II, III
Chaos, Autocracy, Oligarchy
Total Decentralization, Alliance, Confederation, Federation
Laissez Faire, Piracy, Manorial, Mercantile, Corporation
All Nonsymbolic Systems
Libertarian, Egalitarian, Authoritarian
Democracy, Republic, Oligarchy
Federation, Confederation, Alliance, Total Decentralization
Corporate, Mercantile, Manorial, Piracy, Laissez Faire
Open Barter, Money, Reciprocal Obligation
Oligarchy, Autocracy, Chaos
Alliance, Total Decentralization
Piracy, Laissez Faire
Symbolic Money, Reciprocal Obligation
I, II, III
Republic, Oligarchy, Autocracy, Chaos
Federation, Confederation, Alliance, Total Decentralization
Corporate, Mercantile, Manorial, Piracy, Laissez Faire
Open Barter, Silent Barter, Gift Exchange, No Reciprocity
Oligarchy, Autocracy, Chaos
Alliance Total Decentralization
Piracy, Laissez Faire
Silent Barter, Gift Exchange, No Reciprocity
Type I Planetary
Genetic, Brain, Communal
High, Moderate, Low
Common, Similar, Divergent
Type II Stellar
Genetic, Brain, Communal
High, Moderate, Low
Common, Similar, Divergent
Type III Galactic
Type IV Universal
High, Moderate, Low
Common, Similar, Divergent
Genetic, Brain, Communal
Common, Similar, Divergent
Genetic, Brain, Communal
Low, Moderate, High
Small, Large, Vast
Common, Similar, Divergent
Genetic, Brain, Communal
Low, Moderate, High
Small, Large, Vast
Common, Similar, Divergent
High, Moderate, Low
Common, Similar, Divergent
Genetic, Brain, Communal
High, Moderate, Low
Common, Similar, Divergent
Genetic, Brain, Communal
Small, Large, Vast
High, Moderate, Low
Small, Large, Vast
Common, Similar, Divergent
Genetic, Brain, Communal
Suppose we want to know what kind of government a race of genetic sentients is most likely to have, given that their transportation and communication technology is fairly primitive (high dispersion), huge populations are involved (vast size), and all organisms share a common heritage. We go to the topmost table of Table 21.2. On the dimension of cultural scale, we find the following. Sentience factor: All scales. Dispersion factor: Type I or II only. Size factor: Type III or IV only. Heritage factor: All scales. Since two of the factors conflict, we weight the more important one more heavily and conclude that a Type II stellar culture is the most probable result. Similarly, for the other dimensions of governance we conclude: Chaotic leadership; total organizational centralization; a watered-down communism such as socialism or perhaps even welfarism; little or no reciprocity; and very little sociopolitical freedom, most probably authoritarian.
Conversely, let’s assume we’re trying to find a galactic democratic libertarian corporate empire. From the bottom table of Table 21.2, such a government is most probable among extraterrestrial creatures with minds roughly resembling our own (brain sentients), having either hyperoptic transportation or communication or both (low to moderate dispersion), and involving a large population with common or similar heritage.
21.3 Extraterrestrial Organizational Cybernetics
Cybernetics is the scientific study of control and communications systems. Since information is the lifeblood of any organization, the cybernetic analysis of alien governments involves handling flows of data and the management of entropy.822,1030,3071 Xenologists are primarily concerned with the problems of system complexity, system structure, and functional system stability in extraterrestrial political organizations.
21.3.1 System Complexity
Complexity must be regarded as one of the most fundamental cybernetic parameters of a system. The more parts a system has, and the more interactions which occur among them, the more complicated it is.2991 A number of writers have attempted to argue against the possibility of large galactic governments on the ground that the immense number of sociopolitical units would give rise to unmanageably complex information systems.63 One illustration of this effect is called the Galactic Democratic Federation Model, which goes as follows.
Imagine a government responsible for 1000 member worlds,1474,1059 each with 10 billions citizens. The Federation operates under a Constitutional representative democracy much like the United States. In the Galactic Congress, as in the U.S., each Representative speaks for about 500,000 Citizens. Even with such marginally effective representation (how can one really speak for half a million?), the population of Congress rises to 20,000,000 individuals (as compared to the present 535 members of the U.S. Congress). Assuming at least 100 research and support staff for each Congress creature in the Federation, the population of the Capitol Planet rises to 2 billion. (One wonders what kind of global subgovernment would be needed at the Capitol to restrain such a large number of aggressive, devious politician-lawyers.) The problem of complexity is further exacerbated if more member worlds are added to the Federation, if galactic high technology and artificial habitat construction techniques permit several orders of magnitude greater population per star system to exist, or if a better representation ratio is demanded by the citizenry (the U.S. Constitution provides one Congressman for each 30,000 persons).
Another favored illustration of the problem of complexity in the universe is the Galactic Encyclopedia, variants of which include the Cosmic Telephone Directory55 and the Galactic Planetary Survey.63 The Encyclopedia is intended to serve two purposes: First, to assemble all current information accumulated by all sentient races comprising the galactic civilization, and second, to record new data as it becomes available and to update the Encyclopedia on a continuous basis. Most writers attempt to demonstrate the "numbing complexity" of the project, thereby "proving" that the Galaxy can never be surveyed, recorded, governed, or understood.
Consider a Galactic Confederation with a billion (109) member worlds. How much complexity does this represent? Present human planetary civilization generates perhaps 1013 bits of useful new data each year.3521 has been estimated that humanity may be specified by a data set on the order of 1015 bits total. A billion planetary cultures with an average of 1015 bits/world means that the Galactic Encyclopedia starts off with an impressive 1024 bits in the first edition. This is enough information to fill ten billion Libraries of Congress.
As for the annual update, each person alive today on Earth adds, on average, only about 2500 bits/year to the sum total of human knowledge and culture. Let us generously assume that future high technology will allow the negentropic output of each individual to rise nearly five orders of magnitude, up to 108 bits/year. If each member star system has an average population of 100 billion people, then the annual addition to the Encyclopedia should be 1028 bits/year. Over the course of an eon of galactic history, the total accumulation will amount to 1037 bits of information. Impressive?
Not really. If we calculate the minimum energy theoretically required to process this information it is astonishingly small. According to the late Princeton mathematician von Neumann1726 and others,3073 the basic thermodynamic requirement for information processing is a mere 9.56 × 10-24 joules/bit-K. Hence, at the minimum universal equilibrium temperature of 3 K, the first edition theoretically may be assembled for as little as 30 joules of energy. Each annual supplement requires an additional 300,000 joules, the approximate caloric content of 4 lumps of sugar. Even after one eon of progress, the Billionth Edition of the Galactic Encyclopedia (1037 bits) could be copied for only 3 × 1014 joules, or about 0.3 second of the power output of a mature Type I planetary civilization. (Table 21.3 gives the maximum theoretical information handling capabilities for cultures at each of the four major levels, assuming the information is processed at a system-wide average temperature of 3 K -- at lower temperatures more data can be processed, but energy costs may rise.) This does not seem unduly expensive or unreasonable.*
3 × 1032
3 × 1037
1 × 1055
2 × 1045
3 × 1048
7 x 1067
2 × 1056
3 × 1059
7 x 1078
2 × 1066
3 × 1069
7 x 1088
Still, the idea that energy and mass requirements for large-scale information handling appear almost negligible should not blind us to the fact that tremendously advanced computational, cybernetic, and sociopolitical technologies will be required even to approach the grand theoretical limits suggested by von Neumann’s work. Problems of structure and interrelatedness are central.
For several decades cybernetic theorists and organization analysts have tried to study and understand the general characteristics and evolutionary dynamics of large, complex systems. Often they begin with the basic notion of entropy. According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, entropy tends to increase -- in fact, can never decrease -- in any system that is energetically isolated or "closed." Such systems, whether of life, intelligence, or of society, cannot accumulate information and complexity without drawing energy from the external environment. Negentropic processes can only occur in "open" systems.
On the basis of "social entropy" considerations, it is expected that organizations which are virtually closed to all outside contact tend to increase in systemic entropy.1030 Disorder and randomness spread, causing decentralization and generalization of political functions. Conversely, organizations which remain open to outside contact should experience a decrease in systemic entropy, the result of progressive negentropic processes. Organization should become more centralized, jobs more specialized, and patterns of internal structure more complex.3071
The Square-Cube Law has also been found to affect the size and growth of large sociopolitical systems. Many years ago it was noticed that the components of an organization concerned with its external relations tend to be proportional to the two-thirds power of the number of components having to do with internal relations.824 This is often hailed as demonstrating that organizations are growth-limited by the sheer difficulty in getting communications from the "surface" of the system (where it contacts the environment) to the decision makers scattered throughout the corpus of the organizational body. Since the surface of a body increases with the two-thirds power of its volume, the analogy is certainly compelling.
It appears that the Square-Cube law acts on social systems in much the same way it does on biological ones. In a living system, doubling the linear dimension of an organism quadruples surface areas and octuples volumes. Since lung, alimentary, brain and other tissues must service eight fold-increased volumes, but matter and information inputs will only be passing through fourfold-increased surfaces, organ surfaces in larger animals must become at least twice as convoluted just to break even. Similarly, Dr. Kenneth Boulding, Director of the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado, has proposed that there exists for all organizations a "principle of increasingly unfavorable internal structure." As a system grows larger, it becomes impossible for it to retain the original communication and control structure intact. More information regarding efficient survival must be added to the structure to enable the organization to maintain healthy functioning. Says Dr. Boulding:
As an organization increases in size beyond a certain point, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain an adequate system of communication between those people who are directly in contact with the environment of the organization and those who are in major executive positions. If the information system is in adequate, information which is essential for the survival of the organization does not get transmitted to those who are mainly responsible for its policies. Increasing size is possible only at the cost of increasing complexity of structure.829
So as organizations grow larger and maintain proper open contact with the environment, both internal structure and leadership tend to centralize. It is Michels’ Iron Law of Oligarchy all over again. In comparison to these centralized, autocratic-oligarchic systems, notes Boulding:
Acephalous, nonhierarchical organizations, like a democratic family or a commune, or even a producers’ cooperative, have even sharper limits on scale, simply because the number of people who have to talk to each other increases much faster than the number of people in the organization. Groups employing participatory democracy have the same tendency for fission as does the amoeba, for very much the same reason.824
As systems grow larger they tend to become more specialized.3071 The division of labor in society, as in multicellular lifeforms, is a cybernetic "trick" that enables an organization to assimilate larger amounts of information and become more complex. Research in the field of organizational evolution indicates that the number of occupational positions increases roughly as the logarithm of system size.835,839 Large size also affects the exact mixture of specializations chosen to solve the problems of scale.
According to social cyberneticist John D. Kasarda at the University of Chicago Center for Urban Studies, the most prominent organizational changes occur in the field of communication: As institutions, communities, and societies expand, substantially greater proportions of their personnel are devoted to communicative functions. It may therefore be inferred that the major role of holding large social systems together rests with those whose primary function is facilitating communication.852 Xenologists are interested in research into the problems associated with large complex organizations because of the insight gained into the difficulties of designing galactic governments and other intricate interstellar regulatory or communications systems.
According to recent systems analysis work completed by Duane S. Elgin of the Center for the Study of Social Policy at SRI Inc., and Robert A. Bushnell, former General Counsel for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, any social system that grows to extreme levels of scale, complexity and interdependence soon displays the following characteristics:
1. The relative ability of any individual to comprehend the system will tend to diminish.
2. The capacity and motivation of the public to participate in decision making processes will tend to diminish.
3. The public’s access to decision makers will tend to decline.
4. Participation of experts in decision making will tend to grow disproportionately, but this expertise will only marginally counteract the effects of geometrically mounting knowledge requirements for effective management of the bureaucracy.
5. The costs of coordinating and controlling the system will tend to grow disproportionately.
6. An attempt may be made to improve efficiency by depersonalizing the system.
7. The level of alienation will tend to increase.
8. The appropriateness of basic value premises underlying the social system will tend to be increasingly challenged.
9. The number and significance of unexpected consequences of policy actions will increase.
10. The system will tend to become more rigid since the form that it assumes inhibits the emergence of new forms.
11. The number and intensity of perturbations to the system will tend to increase disproportionately.
12. The diversity of innovation will tend to decline.
13. The legitimacy (popular consent) of leadership will tend to decline.
14. The vulnerability of the system to disruption will tend to increase.
15. The performance of the bureaucracy will tend to decline.
16. The full extent of declining performance of the system is not likely to be perceived by the participants in that system.2963
Social and political systems, like living organisms, have a tendency to maintain growth for as long as possible. Duane Elgin and his coworkers have devised a simple theory of bureaucratic evolution which is summarized on the following page. The model bears a striking resemblance to many of the "rise and fall" and cyclical evolutionary theories of civilization published by political scientists over the past century.** (For instance, C. Northcote Parkinson has assembled historical evidence to suggest that the evolution of leadership in sociopolitical systems may be cyclical, as follows: Dictatorship, to aristocracy, to republic, to democracy, then back to dictatorship.2600)
Very broadly, then, xenologists draw the following general and highly tentative conclusions from modern systems theory: that extraterrestrial governments will tend to increase in size; that these organizations will become more concerned with internal communications as they grow; that they will tend to become more centralized and specialized with increasing scale, so long as they do not become isolated systems; that xenopolitical organizations may follow a regular course of birth, growth, decay, and death, except when new and successful techniques are developed which permit additional structural complexity to be acquired while efficiency is maintained; and, finally, that extraterrestrial living systems may be subject to the same general systemic laws of structure and function as all living systems on Earth.3071
* On the basis of quantum mechanical considerations, H.J. Bremermann has estimated the theoretical minimum amount of energy that can serve as an informational marker.3072 No organized mass-energy system, he claims, can process information faster than 2 x 1050 bits per second per kilogram of mass. In theory, a 1 microgram device totally dedicated to information processing with perfect efficiency could accept the Billionth Edition of the Galactic Encyclopedia in only 50 microseconds. A mass of 2 x 1019 kg could process the entire nominal peak data output of a Type IV universal civilization. Apparently a single "Library World" easily could serve as information repository for an entire galactic or universal civilization.
** See especially Appelbaum,275 Boulding,30 Darwin,706 Fried,1893 Harris,2896 Hoyle,2998 Kroeber,280 Marina,2587 Marx and Engels,3242 Naroll,1888 Newcomb,1889 Otterbein,1887 Parkinson,2600 Quigley,35 Sorokin,31 Spencer,1895 Spengler,2999 Stapledon,1946 Sumner,1883 Toynbee,3000 Vayda,1890 Wescott,264 Wesson,823 White,36 and Wilson.565,3198 For more substantive or more mathematical treatments of sociopolitical evolution akin to Anderson’s "psychodynamicians,"2997 Asimov’s "psychohistory,"2944 and Simak’s "behavioral symbolism,"1059 the interested reader is referred to Berelson and Steiner,3075 Bowden,265 Calhoun,1031 Carneiro,3231 Cole et al,2983 Forrester,2981,3185 Gray,2985 Harary,2 Hilgartner Randolph,1739-1741 Lem,29 LeVine,1881 Lomax and Berkowitz,3232 Markarian,1794 Mayer and Arney,2984 Meadows et al,2982 J. Miller,3071 R. Miller,2986 Ricci,893 Richardson,1769 Thompson,2987 Wesley,1717 White,3025 Wright,585 and the Journal of Mathematical Sociology, which commenced publication in 1971.
21.3.2 System Structure
The larger an extraterrestrial organization, the more information it must subsume within its structure in order to survive.3071 Structures which contain more information characteristically are more complex, more differentiated and specialized. (See Child,839 Melcher,1867 and Presthus.825) Fascinating theoretical work in general systems structure conducted by Ross E. McMurtrie at Princeton University has demonstrated the need for hierarchical structures in organizations. McMurtrie found that in large, randomly connected systems increases in size or connectedness between components (complexity) have a generally destabilizing effect on organizational performance. The introduction of even a crude hierarchical structure has an enormous stabilizing effect on system behavior.1735 The virtual inevitability of hierarchy is part of modern systems theory. (See Boulding,829 Laszlo,2992 and Simon,826 but compare Thayer.1868)
Large complex systems tend to decline in performance after they reach a certain size. Eventually they enter a stage of "systems crisis," which may lead to very different results: On the one hand, the systems may move toward total collapse; on the other, the Systems may be transformed. The far right column in Figure 21.1 suggests the shift in the character of a system if it is to successfully resolve the problems of Stage IV. Note that the "social product" of a bureaucracy may be defined as the improvement in well-being of the clients of a system produced by the operation of that system. The social product might be health care, education, or some other public service.
Duane Elgin and his fellow researchers2963 developed a composite description of the behavior of a hypothetical bureaucracy as it proceeds through each of the four stages of growth, as illustrated in Figure 21.1 and the text following.
Relative level of systems comprehension
Degree of public participation in political process
Degree of public access to leaders
Role of experts in decision making
Costs of coordination and control
Degree to which human interactions are rationalized
Level of alienation
Legitimacy of basic value premises
Degree of counterexpected systems behavior
Degree of system's rigidity
Number and intensity of perturbations
Degree of diversity of innovation
Legitimacy of leaders
Degree of systems vulnerability
Level of systems performance
Relative capacity of system's participants to perceive systems
Stage 1: High Growth/Era of Faith
In the "springtime" of growth, the relative level of systems comprehension is high, and the scale, complexity, and interdependence of the bureaucracies are low. There is a strong faith in the efficacy of shared values and goals. There is a belief that these values are part of the natural order, and that basic to this system’s destiny is the natural unfolding (e.g., as if by an "invisible hand") of these values. This is also a period of great vitality, innovation, and energy as economic and sociopolitical entrepreneurs are the agents of creative expression of this social order. The social leaders have considerable legitimacy, and the high performance of the system speaks of unbounded potentials.
Stage II: Greatest Efficiency/Era of Reason
In the "summertime" of growth, the relative level of systems comprehension is moderate, and the scale, complexity, and interdependence of the bureaucracies have increased substantially relative to the earlier period. The systems have become sufficiently complicated that their effective functioning is not simply a matter of faith but requires the efforts of a brain trust. Creative, intellectual advisors’ bring rationality and order into the operations of the systems and become an integral aspect of leadership.
The level of alienation increases, but this seemingly reflects a consequence of higher geographic and occupational mobility. Rather than a pathological condition, this era seems healthy in comparison to the parochialism of the preceding era. The level of systems performance is still increasing, but the bursts of vitality of Stage 1 have been replaced by a more methodical planning and implementation process. The costs of coordination and control are beginning to mount but can be kept within tolerable limits by the judicious use of rules and regulations to rationalize, standardize, and simplify operations.
Stage III: Severe Diseconomies/Era of Skepticism
In the "autumn" of growth, the relative level of systems comprehension is low and dropping rapidly as large, barely comprehensible bureaucracies have grown into largely incomprehensible supersystems. As leaders disavow their responsibility for error and maximize the visibility of their own increasingly modest achievements, the system’s constituency be comes increasingly disillusioned, apathetic, and cynical. Both faith in the basic soundness of the system and trust in rationality to solve the mounting problems are virtually exhausted.
Leaders are more tolerated than given active support and legitimacy -- there seems little alternative than to cynically acquiesce to those leaders who say that they alone have adequate information to truly understand what is happening. Yet, the declining levels of systems performance, the crisis atmosphere that pervades the management of the system, the growing numbers of disturbing events and the loss of allegiance to basic values create a situation in which consensus falls to very low levels. Decision-makers are increasingly unable to cope with complex problems that demand superhuman abilities. Costs and problems of coordination and control are mounting rapidly, and the benefit to the constituency seems to be declining with equal rapidity; consequently people are less willing to support the actions of the bureaucracy.
The bureaucracy is becoming increasingly rigid, distant, and dysfunctional and yet insists that its constituency conform to its increasingly rationalized and standardized procedures when interacting with the system -- thereby reinforcing the apparent inhumanity of the system and further reducing the system’s legitimacy. Further, the rigidity of the system engenders a loss of resilience and, coupled with growing perturbations (many of which arise from the counter-intuitive and unexpected consequences of ill-considered policy actions), the system seems increasingly vulnerable to disruption.
Stage IV: Systems Crisis/Era of Despair, then...?
In the "winter" of growth, the relative level of systems comprehension is minimal. The systems are on the verge of chaos and collapse. There is a rapid turnover of leaders, prevailing ideology, and policy solutions -- yet nothing seems to work. Every attempt at creating order (short of a highly authoritarian structure) seems overwhelmed by growing levels of disorder. The level of systems cohesion is very low which, in turn, exacerbates the problem of system’s leaders who govern virtually without support.
The rigidified bureaucracy is made somewhat more resilient by the rapid turnover of personnel and policy, but the vulnerability of the system is so high and mounting crises are of such seriousness that whatever additional resiliency has been added to the system is quickly depleted in a grinding downward spiral into bureaucratic confusion and chaos. The situation becomes simply intolerable and untenable.
From this period of systems crisis, any one of four plausible outcomes may emerge: (1) succcessful muddling through the situation (although muddling through seems more characteristic of the processes which led to Stage IV crisis conditions); (2) a descent into chaos as the size, complexity, and interdependence of the system’s problems overwhelm decision-makers; (3) an authoritarian response in an attempt to rationalize and simplify the coordination and control processes; or (4) transformation as the system evolves to a higher level of structure which is both more efficient and more simple. Which of these four outcomes is most likely to occur is impossible to say without specifying the circumstances that surround a system in Stage IV crisis conditions.
Two problems -- communications and control -- must be addressed by any alien sociopolitical system. These may be analyzed in terms of the twin concepts of hierarchy and span of control. Hierarchy represents levels of increasing managerial specialization. Each hierarchical level is comprised of supervisors of roughly equivalent responsibility. Span of control, the number of subordinates administered by each supervisor, represents increasing managerial generalization. Studies of governmental and private organizations have shown that the number of hierarchical levels and the span of control tend to increase as the whole system expands.
But span and hierarchy are also known to be inversely correlated. That is, widening the span of control necessitates decreasing the number of levels of supervision, whereas increasing the number of hierarchical levels necessitates narrowing the span of control. As one writer puts it: "An organization is in many ways like a rubber ball. If you squeeze it in one place, it bulges somewhere else."827 The traditional organization with its narrow span of supervision and many levels is shaped like an elongated pyramid and customarily is referred to as a "tall" organization. With wider spans and fewer levels, the pyramid becomes wider at the base and shorter in height. This is called a "flat" organization. The drawings in Figure 21.2 are illustrative.
| | | | | | | |
X X X X X X X X
| | | | | | | |
-------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- --------
|||||||| |||||||| |||||||| |||||||| |||||||| |||||||| |||||||| ||||||||
XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXX
At far RIGHT, the ultimate centralized tall organization. There is a control span of 1:1, and the number of hierarchical levels exactly equals the number of personnel. Control and behavioral unity are maximized; communication is at a minimum. Personnel job functions are maximally specialized. BELOW, the ultimate decentralized flat organization. There is a control span exactly equal to the number of personnel. Lateral communication is maximized; control and behavioral unity are at a minimum. Personnel job functions are maximally generalized (nonspecialized).
It’s easy to understand the complementary nature of span and hierarchy on the basis of general systems theory. As systems become more ordered, they tend to become more specialized and centralized -- or taller. The ultimate in centralization, as shown on the next page, is the absolute vertical dominance hierarchy, in which span of control is unity and the number of levels equals the number of personnel. In this extreme case control of subordinates is maximized because each individual supervises only one subordinate and reports to only one boss. Communication is minimized since each message must change hands a maximum number of times before reaching its intended recipient. Therefore, tall organizational structures are associated with a policy emphasizing control.
Decentralized systems, on the other hand, tend to be more generalized. The ultimate flat organization, also shown in Figure 21.2, has only one hierarchical level and a span equal to the number of personnel. In this case we see that communication among subordinates is maximized because the length of the channels carrying messages is minimized (direct person-to-person in every exchange). However, control is virtually nonexistent except insofar as personnel spontaneously decide to cooperate. Therefore, short organizational structures are associated with a policy emphasizing communication.
According to Kenneth Boulding, extreme centralization fails to optimize performance because of the breakdown in the communications network. Poor communication weakens control.829 But excessive decentralization also fails to optimize because of the relative lack of coordination and uniformity of approach. Communication is inhibited because everyone is trying to talk at once. The trick seems to be to find some balance between flatness and tallness in each system and for each sociopolitical mission.3002,830 It is interesting to note that humans tend naturally to create rather tall organizations, perhaps due in part to their simian heritage as reflected by the tendency among primate troupes to segregate into vertical dominance chains. Sentient ETs derived from a carnivorous catlike species or a race of intelligent octopuses who valued individuality above all else might be predisposed to form flatter organizational structures.
Xenologists recognize that the problems of management in a galactic empire may be serious indeed. Due to the extreme system size, the number of levels and broad spans required will be enormous. Most human terrestrial organizations have spans of 10 subordinates per supervisor or less. Using this figure, a galactic empire controlling ten billion planets having ten billion inhabitants each would require at least 21 hierarchical levels of supervision. The performance of such a system may be far from spectacular. It is well-known that human organizations with more than 6-8 hierarchical levels tend to become excessively bureaucratic. Communication upwards, in the words of one writer, becomes "an exercise analogous to swimming through progressively hardening concrete."2963
Advanced biotechnology may give extraterrestrials a helping hand in this matter. The installation of individual biocybernetic implants and deep cultural databanks may make information processing somewhat easier for galactic managers. Or perhaps molecular electronic machine intellects must be constructed in order successfully to run a galaxy. If spans of 100 subordinates can be managed properly using some technological device, then the number of hierarchical levels can almost be halved -- from 21 down to 11. The structure of an interstellar empire might then be as suggested by Table 21.4.
Imperial Office or Rank
Size of Class
Number of Planets Controlled
Number of Subjects Controlled
By the very nature of the beast, the Emperor will have absolutely no contact with non-interstellar personnel. His relations with his knights would be not unlike the relationship between the United States President and the mayors and city managers of American cities. To the Galactic Emperor the starkeepers, each responsible for 100 worlds, will seem much as U.S. citizens appear to their President. Planetary governors will be viewed as "the rabble," a simple but perhaps surprising fact which may have innumerable consequences in the field of interstellar power politics.
Xenologists are also interested in another branch of organizational cybernetics known as "control loss theory." This field has major implications in large extraterrestrial systems with respect to hierarchical structural design. Economist Oliver Williamson recently devised a simple mathematical model based on the standard hierarchy/span conception of sociopolitical organizations.2964 In this model, goals are generated at the top of the hierarchy and actions to implement them are executed at the bottom. In between there are a number of supervisory levels. At each level, bosses give orders to subordinates which they in turn received from above, and which are expected to be passed on down the chain of command. According to Williamson, at each level there is a small amount of loss of control, a tiny bit of "slippage" -- orders are misinterpreted or diverted, personal power tactics take their toll, and part of the original intention of upper echelons is lost. Noise -- entropy -- creeps into the message.
Each level adds to the cumulative control loss, and the total loss ultimately emerges at the bottom as the proportion of production workers’ time that does not further organizational goals. We can get a rough idea of the efficacy of control in the hierarchical Empire outlined in Table 21.4. There are 11 levels of control, so orders change hands 10 times. If the interlevel control parameter is set at 95% -- the optimistic end of the range suggested by Williamson -- then the net control at the level of the citizenry is (0.95)10 or 60%. That is, the Emperor’s goals will only be about one-half effective. If the interlevel control parameter is set at 85%, the lower limit recommended by Williamson, then net control drops to a mere 20%. Only one-fifth of the Emperor’s plans and commands ever reach fruition at the level of the Imperial citizenry.
Peter B. Evans has used Williamson’s control loss model to compare the behavior of several different hierarchical structures.840 According to Evans, higher efficiencies can be achieved at low cost by switching to a "multiple hierarchy" -- a system in which there is more than one channel of control and communication between upper and lower echelons. The simplest organization of this form is the dual hierarchy (Figure 21.3). Using control loss theory, Evans shows that dual hierarchies will always achieve superior control than unitary hierarchies, all else being equal.
Figure 21.3 Dual Hierarchy of the Modified Galactic Empire
X, Y = Imperial Bureaucracy
C = Imperial Citizenry
So let us assume that the Galactic Emperor creates a complete second hierarchy of ministers, senators, and so forth on down to the centurion class. (Both classes of centurions watch over the same citizenry.) This plan requires the expansion of the Imperial Administration by only 1%, or the additional hiring of 0.01% of the general population of the Empire to new bureaucratic positions. Thus, costs are minimal.
How about benefits? Since the Emperor is a benevolent and capable leader, he orders his engineers to produce a hideously expensive but superior electronic implant and personally assumes supervision of the two independent cabinets, totaling 200 subordinates. What kind of control has he now? An interlevel control parameter of 95% gives a net organizational efficiency of 84%, an improvement of 40% over the unitary hierarchy. A parameter of 85% achieves a net efficiency of 35%, an improvement of more than 80%.
The superiority of dual hierarchies is well-known in business and public administration. Line-and-staff dual systems have been used in large companies since the late 19th century.2970 The idea of dual hierarchies with parallel channels of access are familiar to students of bureaucratic structures in Communist societies2967,2968 and large multinational corporations in Western societies.2969,1746
Higher-order multiple hierarchies are not uncommon. One study of the Bureau of Employment Security showed that regional offices served not as end points for the tree-like branching of a unitary hierarchy, but rather as points of convergence for several parallel hierarchies.835 Industrial research, such as the description of the Milo fractionating plant in the late 1950’s, demonstrated the existence of no less than six parallel channels of access from the central office to the plant in addition to the obvious chain of command running through the plant manager.2966 Apparently multiple channels enhance control while increasing the potential for conflict (e.g., who does the emperor believe when reports disagree, which chain of communication is more reliable, etc.?). But, notes Evans:
The disadvantage of this potential for conflict may be outweighed by the necessity of greater control in service organizations like the Bureau of Employment Security, where measures of output are more vague, or in cases like the Milo head office, where surveillance must be from a distance.810
In xenological terms, the benefits of multiple hierarchies will become most apparent when sociopolitical units are separated by interstellar distances or when extraterrestrial organizational goals are vague and unfocused Still another governmental format which may be adopted by ETs is called "hierarchical lattice structure." Harrison C. White’s analysis of a small manufacturing firm (Figure 21.4) showed that this structure is far more complex than simple parallel hierarchies.2965 The system involves a complex lattice of hierarchical links which provides a startling multiplicity of communicative pathways to the top.
Figure 21.4 Lattice Structure of a Small Manufacturing Oganization840
Lattice structures are difficult to analyze properly using present cybernetic theory. From the viewpoint of control loss models, the large number of alternative channels of information should serve to centralize power near the top and improve net systemic efficiency. But consider the position of the scheduler in the reproduction of White’s organizational diagram (three pages previous). This individual has more interlinkages than the president of the firm! Asks Evans:
Are positions at which channels intersect from both above and below -- like the scheduler in White’s manufacturing organization-powerful because of their centrality to the network, or oppressed because of the multiple sources of control directed at them?840
Final word on the comparative benefits and costs of various structural forms that may be utilized by extraterrestrial governments awaits the development of a more sophisticated and complete theory of organizational cybernetics.3071,2975
21.3.3 System Stability
Stability is an ambiguous term in political science. According to some theorists it may be static, dynamic, oscillating or adaptive.585 Others have defined political stability as the absence of such disruptive events as armed attacks and guerrilla warfare, assassinations, general strikes, major governmental crises, purges, riots and revolutions, demonstrations, and other forms of violence.842 Still others require a static structure of government or equate political stability with system maintenance.
In view of its tremendous importance, political scientists have made astonishing little progress in the field of general systemic stability analysis. One of the notable exceptions is a study recently completed by Ronald J. May at the University of Sydney in Australia. After analyzing a number of federated governments throughout world history, May concludes that most of them lack dynamic stability. Looking back on the historical record, he says:
Federal government has not proved to be a very stable form of political organization. Instability is inherent in the structure of federal decision making in a dynamic context. Although for a time a balance may be achieved between the forces of separatism and centralism, in most cases federal systems either succumb to separatist tendencies, in which case either they disintegrate or they are held together by the coercion of the weaker by the stronger units, or national integration proceeds, in which case the original federal form becomes increasingly irrelevant to the political actuality.850
May suggests that the ultimate outcome is a function of a number of factors such as initial differences between units, the original format of federation, the extent of interdependence among member sovereignties, the urgency of the need for unity, and so forth. Relative wealth and size of the component political units may exert a controlling influence, however.2971 According to May:
The evidence suggests that, in general, when large, rich units are ranged against small, poor units there is some chance of federation being preserved, but the likely outcome is centralization with large unit dominance; in the extreme case federalism may yield to a unitary state. When small rich units are ranged against large poor units, on the other hand, there is a strong tendency for the small units to secede.850
While there have been several other attempts by political theorists seriously to engage in systemic analysis (see Hurwitz,845 Merritt,975 Russett,843 and Wright585), few sufficiently generalized results have emerged that are directly applicable in xenology. Thus xenologists turn once again to cybernetics theory for guidance.831,1867
In the field of stability, perhaps one of the most useful ideas is the concept of feedback. Feedback is a flow of information that has a reciprocating and moderating influence on organizational behavior. Information generated by the system and presented as output is fed back in as input via a "feedback loop." The system thereby keeps an eye on itself and becomes better able to establish and maintain a state of homeostatic equilibrium.827 Sudden stimuli applied randomly to the system and wildly oscillating inputs are quickly "damped" out.
Theoretically a well-designed extraterrestrial governmental organization possessing no time delays in feedback should be capable of instantaneous response to disruptive influences and should exhibit perfect dynamic stability. However, time delays are inherent in all real physical systems, and this problem will be further exacerbated in the case of interstellar systems because of the comparatively large lag times in transportation and communication between the stars. And whenever delays exist in any system, any variation by one of the quantities moderated by the feedback loop may be perpetuated indefinitely.833 In other words, without multiple control loops certain disturbances introduced in one corner of a galactic empire could propagate throughout the system, reverberating in continuous oscillations instead of settling down. According to systems analysts, galactic governments should be designed to be "resilient" with "soft failure modes" (nonlethal), When unexpected events occur, a well-designed xenopolitical system will not collapse but rather will degrade gradually.
Tim Quilici of Rockwell International has devised a very simple "systems" model of an interstellar economics system to illustrate the basic concept of feedback (Figure 21.5). Using a single loop mechanism, a socialistic alien government attempts to hold stable the price of some valuable trade commodity -- say, "positronic brains" -- by controlling supply. The "brains" are manufactured on the Capitol World, a center of industrial development and political control, and are shipped to Outback 10 light-years away. Communication is via microwave, but interstellar freighters can only make 25%c. Demand for "brains" (to control the agricultural and mining robots on Outback) has remained virtually constant for the last century at 100 units per year. Suddenly, in 2400 A.D., due to poor weather and a series of unusually violent seismic tremors, demand begins to fall. Over a decade it drops to 50 per year, at which point it levels off and holds steady. What happens to the price of "brains" that Capitol World is trying to control?
The demand for positronic brains on planet Outback is normally 100 units at the going price of $3 × 106 each, delivered F.O.B. from Capitol World. The government at Capitol wishes to hold the price constant by controlling supply. In the figure at left, demand on Outback drops precipitously from 100 units/year to 50 units/year, due to bad weather. This causes the price to fall to $2 ×106. By halving the number of shipments of positronic brains to Outback, the Capitol World government can force a return to the old price level.
Above is a block diagram of the proposed systems model of Outback economics. P(t) is the price of positronic brains on Outback. Q(t) is the quantity supplied to Outback by the Capitol World government. C(t) is the consumer demand on Outback for positronic brains. Since Outback is 10 light-years from Capitol World, messages travel at 100%c, and interstellar freighters travel at 25%c, the communication delay dc is 10 years and the transportation delay dt is 40 years. The system thus may be de scribed mathematically as follows:
P(t) = e•Q(t-dt) + e•C(t)
Q(t) = P0/e - P(t-d0)/e + Q(t-dc-dt)
where e is elasticity, equal to 20,000 $/positronic brain.
When demand for positronic brains on Outback falls, so does price. The Capitol World government finds out 10 years later, by microwave communication. Shipments are immediately cut in half, but since 40 years’ worth of cargo is already en route, the effects of the cutback are not felt on Outback until 2450 AD. By 2400 AD, 60 years after the change in demand, price has returned to normal.
As we see from Figure 21.5, the decrease in demand on Outback causes an immediate price reduction there. Suddenly there is a glut on the market. The price remains low as too many new "brains" continue to pour in from Capitol World -- which has not yet had time to react to the changed circumstances. The situation, in this simple model, is not fully remedied for 60 years following the initial disturbance. This suggests some of the difficulties inherent in interstellar commerce and government. Systems theory should allow similar modeling of the dynamic behavior of vastly more complex galactic organizations, provided their modes of operation and multiple feedback loops can be precisely and quantitatively specified.
Dr. James G. Miller, pioneer in systems science and president of the University of Louisville in Kentucky, has developed what is probably the most comprehensive and far-reaching general systems theory devised to date. Miller claims that his theory, and the principles which emerge from it, are applicable to all living systems from cellular lifeforms to organic societies. Xenologists expect that this work may profitably be extended to considerations of xenopolitical systems as well, primarily because of its general and universalistic approach to systems analysis at all scales of organization.
In his fascinating 1100-page monograph entitled Living Systems,3071 Miller considers living systems at seven different levels of complexity: Cells, organs, organisms, groups, organizations, societies, and supranational systems. Based on fundamental notions of evolutionary unity, he then derives nearly 200 cross-level hypotheses which he asserts may be general characteristics of any living system. The following are six of these hypotheses which xenologists believe may have relevance to the problem of stability in xenopolitical systems at all cultural scales:
Hypothesis 5.2-2: The greater a threat or stress upon a system, the more components of it are involved in adjusting to it. When no further components with new adjustment processes are available, the system function collapses.
Hypothesis 5.2-10: Under equal stress, functions developed later in the phylogenetic history of a given type of system break down before more primitive functions do.
Hypothesis 5.2-11: After stress, disturbances of subsystem steady states are ordinarily corrected and returned to normal ranges before systemwide steady-state disturbances are.
Hypothesis 5.2-12: More complex systems, which contain more different components, each of which can adjust against one or more specific environmental stresses and maintain in steady state one or more specific variables not maintained by any other component, if they adequately coordinate the processes in their components, survive longer on the average than less complex systems.
Hypothesis 5.2-13: Under threat or stress, a system that survives, in the common good of total system survival, temporarily subordinates conflicts among subsystems or components until the threat or stress is relieved, when internal conflicts recur.
Hypothesis 5.2-19: The greater the resources available to a system, the less likely is conflict among its subsystems or components.3071
One last point about xenopolitical systemic stability. A few cyberneticists have suggested that really complex networks with intricate webs of feedback and feedforward loops "may include processes of consciousness of internal monitoring of certain states of the net."822 Galactic organizational systems which have accumulated vast quantities of information may perhaps in some sense be viewed as having memory, will, consciousness, and various other sentient life functions.3071,827 Intergalactic contact between two such entities would truly be "a meeting of cultures," and would almost certainly be incomprehensible to any single individual or race of individuals.236 How such communication might effect the equilibrium and stability of each of the two "conscious" networks is unknown, but the implications are many for the sextillion or so sentient beings involved.
21.4 Strategic Galactography
Galactography is a descriptive science which deals with the physical features of galaxies, their political and economic subdivisions, their natural resources, lifeforms, and industries.3199 As the subject is both massive and complex, and since many pertinent areas have been touched upon elsewhere in this book, we shall restrict our discussion here to a brief overview of a few strategic aspects of economic and military galactography.
21.4.1 The Economic Viability of Interstellar Cargo Transport
An astonishing fallacy that appears repeatedly in the literature is the assertion that interstellar freight costs must be so prohibitive that not even gold, diamonds, radium ingots, or complex microelectronic devices would be worth their weight in trade between the stars.553 This notion often is used to demonstrate that trade in any commodity other than knowledge (data) is a futile and cost-ineffective endeavor. Fortunately, this simply is not so.
Two civilizations inhabiting different star systems can trade in bulk goods for comparatively little energy. Each culture, for example, may erect a giant mass driver which is used to dispatch cargos as well as to receive them. Here’s how such a transport system might work.
As the consignment arrives at Solar System A, traveling at its normal operational velocity (say, 50%c), it is swallowed by the giant mass driver. The driver decelerates the robot cargo vessel by coupling with magnetic fields. Kinetic energy is recovered and converted to potential (stored) energy. (See Chapter 19 for some ideas on how this might be done.) The cargo ship, now at rest, is unloaded and filled with goods ordered by the inhabitants of Solar System B. Finally, using the energy stored during the craft’s arrival (plus a small bit of local energy to balance conversion losses), the ship is accelerated back up to 50%c and shoots out the barrel of the giant mass driver bound for B. If A and B are 10 light-years apart, each trading cycle should require only about 20 years.
The total energy which must be handled during each cycle phase is about 3 x 1024 joules, which looks like a job for a Type II civilization.* However, most of this energy is recovered because a mass driver constructed by advanced aliens may incorporate superconductive windings and ultra-high-efficiency storage devices. So what is the cost, in terms we can understand? Assuming roughly $0.01/kilowatt-hour, the mass driver regenerative system must be 99.998% efficient to achieve costs comparable to the space shuttle (about $1000/kilogram) -- but between stars. If 10%c missions are acceptable, the required efficiency drops to 99.93%; if 1%c missions are sufficient, only 92.6% efficiency is needed. And large-scale power generation in space may permit energy to be produced vastly cheaper than on Earth’s surface today. If the price of energy drops by three orders of magnitude, then the required efficiency for the 50%c mission is only 97.7% and for the 10%c mission a mere 23.8%. With sufficiently refined technology, interstellar bulk trade in raw materials and manufactured items may actually be cheap!
* A Starship Enterprise-sized cargo vessel (190,000 metric tons) is assumed.
21.4.2 Galactic Trade Routes
Generally speaking, trade routes are fixed along the shortest possible physical pathway between the sources of the principal commodities shipped and the major centers of consumption.1169 Each regime of travel has a unique set of physical characteristics that dictate the distribution of optimum routes. On land, surface conditions such as mountain chains and passes, accessible waterways, impassable swamps and deserts are determinative. On the sea, the curvature of the Earth, ocean currents, wind patterns, and the presence of iceberg fields, monsoon tracks and other hazards to navigation are more critical. In the air, trade routes are fixed mainly by political considerations, distribution of major population centers, jet stream and other atmospheric conditions, and so forth. In the realm of interstellar commerce, too, a unique set of problems prove determinative.
Probably the single most important parameter in deciding which trade routes should be utilized by an extraterrestrial civilization is the level of sophistication of transportation technology. Starships restricted to speeds below 50%c will gain no benefits from relativistic time dilation. Time of flight between neighboring stellar systems in the Disk will average on the order of decades for the vessel’s crew. Even if physiological longevity is greatly extended, starships will probably have to call at inter mediate ports to take on fuel and fresh crews. Even vessels able to pull 99%c won’t do significantly better. For such starships, the time dilation factor will cut trip time down to about 14 shipboard years per 100 light-years of travel. While it is certainly possible to imagine traveling for decades without pausing to refuel, resupply, or recrew, the longer the flight time the less likely starships will not stop at intermediate points.
In other words, starships limited to 99%c or less probably will not be able simply to aim at target star systems anywhere in the Milky Way and journey directly towards them (though "leading the target", of course, to account for proper stellar motions during the journey). Rather, since the distances are so vast and the travel times so long for the crews, manned trading missions most likely must follow certain prescribed routes as they crisscross the Galaxy engaging in interstellar commerce. (Unmanned robot cargo ships are another matter -- they can be "aimed and shot.") Regular ports will be visited and many planetfalls made as starvessels "hop" from solar system to solar system along paths calculated to cost minimum time or energy. Eventually these may be legislated into law as a matter of convenience by the ET Interstellar Transit Authority.
Intragalactic trade routes may also be fixed in accordance with physical heterogeneities in the Galactic environment. For instance, hydrogen gas is an order of magnitude more plentiful along the spiral arms than in the interarm regions. Hence xenologists expect that Bussard ramscoop vehicles might adopt trade routes called "ring routes" by network theorists. Ring routes follow a clockwise or counterclockwise pathway around the circumference of the Galaxy (the arms of the Milky Way) and then follow a radial route inwards to the final destination. Using an external ring route the trip path will be about 250% longer than a simple direct (straight) route; using an optimized internal ring route, however, this excess distance may be reduced as low as 37%.2629
It will also be recalled that the number of habitable star systems (classes F, G, and K) is only a few percent higher in the spiral arms than in the interarm regions, so self-fueled starships will not tend to follow trade routes aligned with the Galactic spiral structure. To an economic galactographist, the Galactic Disk is essentially uniform with useful star systems. However, there are certain clumpings of stars which impart valuable heterogeneity to the intragalactic environment. One example of this is the galactic or "open" cluster.
Galactic clusters contain from a few dozen to nearly a thousand suns, usually confined to a more or less spherical volume ranging from 5-65 light-years in diameter. About 500 clusters are known (see table next page for a few of them), and it is estimated that there are about 20,000 scattered throughout the Milky Way.1945 While this imples a mean distance between them of about 1000 light-years, this figure is very misleading because clusters are largely confined to the spiral arms. Taking this into account, the true mean separation works out to perhaps 100-300 light-years.
Galactographic considerations suggest that civilizations located in clusters may form close-knit economic units. This is possible because solar systems in galactic clusters typically are separated by a mere 0.5 light-years, which is an order of magnitude closer than normal stars (such as our Sol) in the Galactic Disk. Interstellar trade routes may be designed as a series of overlapping arcs connecting series of galactic cluster trade associations around each spiral arm. (Each cluster may represent individual political units, small pockets of interstellar civilization scattered across the Galactic wilderness.)
There are many other nonuniformities in the galactic distribution of stars which may have economic implications for galactic governments. Stellar belts, associations, and galactic star clouds (bright "knots" of suns found in Cygnus, Scutum, Sagittarius, etc. in our own galaxy) are more diffuse aggregations than clusters but may serve to concentrate trading activity to some degree. Globular clusters, metal-poor and probably also planet-poor, may be exploitable without danger to sentient lifeforms (since such clusters most likely harbor none). With 104-106 Population II stars each, globulars (Table 21.5) represent rich lodes of fusionable hydrogen and a possibly very lucrative mining venture for industrious galactic entrepreneurs.
(modified from Robinson3086)
Name of Cluster
Age of Cluster
4 × 108
4 × 108
2 × 108
3 × 107
Praesepe "The Beehive’ (M44, NGC 2632)
2 × 109
3 × 107
3 × 107
M7, NGC 6475
2 × 108
4 × 108
7 × 107
7 × 107
4 × 108
3 × 109
Trapeziwn (NGC 1976/80)
1 × 106
4 × 108
9 × 108
7 × 107
3 × 107
M23, NGC 6494
4 × 108
M6, NGC 6405
7 × 107
1 × 106
M25, IC 4725
3 × 107
M41, NGC 2287
3 x 107
9 × 106
Tr 37, IC 1396
1 × 106
9 × 106
M67, NGC 2682
4 × 109
7 × 107
M35, NGC 2168
7 × 107
3 × 107
M37, NGC 2099
2 × 108
NGC 4755, "Jewel Box"
3 × 107
2 × 108
Lagoon Nebula (M8, NGC 6523 & 6530)
1 × 106
9 × 106
5 × 109
9 × 106
Rosette (NGC 2244)
1 × 106
M46, NGC 2437
3 × 107
M11, NGC 6705
2 × 108
1 × 106
M16, NGC 6611
1 × 106
9 × 106
3 × 107
NGC 869 [ the Double Open Cluster ]
9 × 106
NGC 884 " " " "
9 × 106
7 × 107
5 × 109
M22, NGC 6656
7 × 109
5 × 109
M4, HGC 6121
9 × 109
1 × 1010
7 × 109
5 × 109
M55, NGC 6809
5 × 109
P410, NGC 6254
9 × 109
M13, NGC 6205
5 × 109
P412, NGC 6218
7 × 109
2 × 1010
M92, NGC 6341
3 × 109
M5, NGC 5904
5 × 109
7 × 109
MIS, NGC 7078
4 × 109
M3, NGC 5272
7 × 109
M2, NGC 7089
5 × 109
7 × 109
Another major heterogeneous feature is the general density gradient of suns in the Galactic corpus. Stars are about an order of magnitude more numerous near the Core than in the outer Rim regions of the Disk. As we move inward from the Rim, number density rises continuously. Stellar metallicity is also about ten times higher in the Core than in the Disk, so more planets, lifeforms, cultures, and mining ventures are possible nearer the more central regions of the Galaxy. (This is also where globular clusters are most abundant.) Economic and sociopolitical activity is expected to concentrate towards the Core.
Galactic communication routes may tend more to be line-of-sight than trade routes. These systems may be organized hierarchically with extremely complex network designs.2991 One writer suggests the following:
Local terminals handling ten worlds are constructed in space, presumably circling a star for free energy. The civilizations in touch with each terminal might range from a few hundred to a few thousand light-years away. The terminal receives signals from each and rebroadcasts them to the other members; in addition, it bumps a duplicate of the signal to a junction station further up the network hierarchy. From the junction it receives, and passes along to its member worlds, the full output of the galactic network, a great glut of information, perhaps edited in advance for potential interest to each idiosyncratic world. The more complicated junction stations in turn report to a large central station. A network of one central station and 1000 junctions, each in turn corresponding with 100 local terminals, could handle 1,000,000 worlds. Each society then would require only a single antenna, aimed at its local terminal.2607
Other designs, perhaps analogous to the decentralized nonhierarchical military ARPANET system or the ALOHANET packet radio network, may be more practical for complex interstellar communications.2484,2483
21.4.3 Interstellar War
Before we can explore the galactography of war, we first must ask whether war is in any sense a "universal" phenomenon.* If the answer is clearly negative, our subject matter may be a null set.
At least to the extent that competition and aggression are recognized solutions to ecological limitations, evidence accumulated to date suggests that the concept of war should not be strange to many sentient extra terrestrial races. Purposive murder, which has been called "individual war,"31 has been observed in countless vertebrate animal species, including lions, hyenas, macaques, chimpanzees, gorillas, baboons, elephants seals, wild dogs, hippos, seagulls, bears, and mountain lions.2946 Organized impersonal murder, or classical warfare, is more rare but has been seen among chimpanzees,2994 lions,2974 rats,455 and many species of social insects such as army ants65 and weaver ants.2993 Zoologist George Schaller observed a randomly selected Serengeti lion population for a total of 2900 hours and observed three murders.2974 As pointed out by E.O. Wilson, this means that lions are excessively violent by human standards:
If some imaginary Martian zoologist visiting Earth were to observe man as simply one more species over a very long period of time, he might conclude that we are among the more pacific mammals as measured by serious assaults or murders per individual per unit time, even when our episodic wars are averaged in. If the visitor were to be confined to George Schaller’s 2900 hours and one randomly picked human population comparable in size to the Serengeti lion population, he would probably see nothing more than some play-fighting -- almost completely limited to juveniles -- and an angry verbal exchange or two between adults.565
In his recent book On Human Nature Wilson expands on this point of view:
Recent studies of hyenas, lions, and langur monkeys, to take three familiar species, have disclosed that individuals engage in lethal fighting, infanticide, and even cannibalism at a rate far above that found in human societies. When a count is made of the number of murders committed per thousand individuals per year, human beings are well down on the list of violently aggressive creatures. Hyena packs clash in deadly pitched battles that are virtually indistinguishable from primitive human warfare. I suspect that if hamadryas baboons had nuclear weapons, they would destroy the world in a week.3198
Xenologists thus have every reason to suspect that alien races exist in this Galaxy both more and less "warlike" than humans.548 (And of course "war" implies only conflict, which need not necessarily involve any actual killing.1000,1541 There may exist stringent rules, codes, or legal requirements of war activity among ETs.933)
When is war most likely to occur? Consider the factors of sentience, dispersion, size and heritage.
Beings having genetic sentience have no concept of the self and thus no empathy for the pain and suffering of others. Genetic warriors should be the most ruthless and persistent, each individual driven on by the community urge with no thought of self-preservation. Similarly, communal sentients should be highly pacific among themselves but instantly reactive to any threat to the community at large. Personal sacrifice may be moderated by personal consciousness, but war will be perceived more as a match between two social organisms rather than as a contest between individual combatants. Patriotism may serve as a primary emotion rather than a vague ethical ideal, so communal soldiers may fight with a unity of purpose unparalleled in all of human experience. Finally, brain sentients such as human beings will fear for the integrity of the self without the matching support of a visceral sense of community. Xenologists expect them to be among the poorest warriors in the Galaxy.2980
High dispersion will make warfare more difficult. The late Quincy Wright, a leading international jurist and political scientist, showed that the frequency of war on Earth is inversely correlated with the number of barriers to mobility.585 Large populations tend to increase technological scale and accumulate excess resources which both permit and demand a larger scale of competitive activity. As heritage becomes more divergent, war between the different social units is expected to become more frequent since, according to Wright:
Cultural heterogeneity within a state tends to involve it in wars of two types: civil revolts of cultural minorities to resist oppression or to establish national independence and imperialistic wars to expand empire or to divert attention from domestic troubles.585
A number of writers have asserted that interstellar war is much too expensive to wage.63 This probably is not true. On energy considerations alone, war may be rather inexpensive. In an earlier chapter we discussed the dispatch of starliners similar in bulk to the Starship Enterprise. Let us convert to wartime status. Our heavy cruiser starvessel is dispatched from Capitol World at a steady 1 gee acceleration, reaching the enemy star system (100 light-years distant) in 9 years shipboard time using a Standard Flight Plan. The warcraft masses 190,000 metric tons and requires 9 x 1026 joules of energy to perform the maneuver.
When it arrives in orbit around the sole inhabited planet of the enemy star system, it hammers the civilization into submission by destroying all major population centers. This is accomplished by fusing into molten slag the top ten meters of 0.1% of the entire planetary surface area, a feat requiring 1022 joules. The equivalent of this in antimatter, if the energy is stored that way, is a mere 120 tons, which could handily be carried aboard a 190,000 ton starship. Similarly, a human-lethal dose of neutron radiation over the entire land surface of Earth probably requires no more than 104-105 megatons of well-placed nuclear explosives, corresponding to an energy requirement of only 1020 joules. Since either mission easily could be mounted by a mature Type II society, a galactic (Type III) civilization should find the effort of interstellar warfare rather trivial. Planetary sterilization might well be a standard instrument of foreign policy among ruthless expansionistic or totalitarian alien governments.
Will ETs experience the same motivations that have driven human beings to war for thousands of years? A desire for more living space is an oft-cited cause of war. There is no reason why population growth could not motivate competitive confrontations between alien races, especially during the initial phase of galactic expansion and colonization. Eventually, of course, even the Galaxy will be filled to capacity.1120 Even if planets and stars are taken apart for mass and energy, and artificial habitats are constructed to house the teeming octillions, relatively low rates of population growth can lead to extraordinarily large numbers in geologically short periods of time (a few million years). At least during the initial portion of galactic enculturation, interstellar lebensraum cannot be ruled out.
Another cause of war is the quest for power and security. Since we know that it is energetically fairly cheap both to attack and to be attacked, natural predatory alien instincts could find a convenient outlet. Defense may command high budgetary priority once the existence of military competitors with advanced starship technology becomes known. There may exist religious motivations for going to war, or the attacker’s cultural mores may have been insulted or disregarded during some past interaction between races. Also there are a variety of economic motives. Xenologists suspect that interstellar freight costs may be unexpectedly low, so lucrative rare metal, alien artifact, or slave/animal piracy and trade may be able to gain a foothold in local "black markets" among close cluster or Core star cultures. Or, on a larger scale of conquest and appropriation, raw planetary mass or stellar hydrogen might be scooped away for use in high technology projects in progress elsewhere. (Local inhabitants may not be asked for permission.)3386
All this is not to suggest that interstellar war is inevitable or that it is necessary or even likely. But the chances are excellent that many highly intelligent but warlike mentalities may exist in this universe. To blithely assert that warmaking is somehow self-limiting or self-destructive is utterly irresponsible.** (See Clarke1103,373 and MacGowan and Ordway.600) As Murray Leinster once pointed out: "It takes two to make trade, but only one to make war."2877 And, according to Wilson, intelligence itself may be preadaptive for warlike behavior:
If any social predatory mammal attains a certain level of intelligence, as the early hominids, being large primates, were especially predisposed to do, one band would have the capacity to consciously ponder the significance of adjacent social groups and to deal with them in an intelligent, organized fashion. A band might then dispose of a neighboring band, appropriate its territory, and increase its own genetic representation in the metapopulation, retaining the tribal memory of this successful episode, repeating it, increasing the geographic range of its occurrence, and quickly spreading its influence still further in the metapopulation.565
In other words, the human predisposition to practice warfare may actually be evolutionarily adaptive.3241
There are a number of strategic considerations pertinent to the practice of interstellar warfare.2995 For instance, Core civilizations and cluster cultures might be expected to have greater opportunity for conflict, since the higher number density of inhabited solar systems decreases dispersion and brings more divergent cultures into contact with each other. Galactic clusters straddling valuable trade routes (e.g., black hole space-ports?) should be more heavily defended, just as mountain passes have always been crucial in Earthly warfare.737
Perhaps the most crucial element from the standpoint of military strategy is the physical configuration of the defending system. Even on Earth it is well-known that compact shape is of tremendous advantage to a state.726,737 Attenuated or fragmented borders are hard to rule or defend. The Square-Cube law is relevant in this context. The smaller the outer surface of the Empire in relation to its internal volume, the less vulnerable it will be to external attack. Simple geometry might predict that the optimum shape of a galactic civilization should be spherical.1474
Of course, matters are rarely this simple. Since most of the Galaxy is empty space, the "volume" of an interstellar Empire is mostly "holes."668 There is the possibility of two or more alien governments being physically interwoven, with or without conflict or even knowledge of the existence of the other. Perhaps one group prefers F and C stars while the other restricts itself to K-class suns. Or maybe one race inhabits jovian worlds and other prefers terrestrials. The possible complications and permutations are virtually limitless.
Capitol worlds would appear best placed at the geometric center of an expanding spherical Federation. However, in view of the possibility of interwoven civilizations and various other tactical and strategic difficulties, some xenologists would advocate a mobile capitol similar in size and construction to the Death Star of Star Wars fame or the Flagship Plesarius from the original-series Star Trek episode entitled "The Corbomite Maneuver."2996 This would help to prevent crippling attacks on the seat of government.
A few have gone even further, totally rejecting any notion of capitols in favor of a decentralized "distributed intelligence" network of control and military command. Such a system would have the advantage of mobility and the security that the destruction of no single part could seriously damage the whole. However, it would suffer the disadvantages of increased delay time between communications, needless duplication of effort at all levels, and relative lack of tactical unity of command.
* According to one writer: "Man is the only warlike animal, and intelligence was selected simply because only the stupid get themselves in a position to get killed in a tribal battle."2930
** Many have suggested that virtually immortal beings won’t risk centuries of future life on the battlefield. Asks one writer: "Would a solider be willing to fight for his country if he were jeopardizing 20,000 years? What cause would justify exposing a patriot to such a sacrifice?"69 Automated warfare may be the answer.
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