NGOs for a somewhat "Traveller"-like setting

How does the Empire dominate? Or do you hand wave that?

Hmm. So the Empire is empire-forming planets with life on them? (Presumably non-sapient life.)

I can see an NGO dedicated to recording as much as it can about that life. They might be allied with GreenWar, or at least prepared to talk to each other, but they’re not trying to prevent the destruction - humanity needs planets! But there might be something interesting in terms of weird chemosynthesis or strange presapient societal patterns or whatever, so they do a massive data gathering exercise, and later it can be gone over and maybe learned from.

Or maybe the data crystal will sit on a shelf for fifty years until someone’s looking for an M.Sc. planetology thesis topic.

There’s a certain Time Team vibe: learn all you can before the bulldozers come in next week. Probably some of them hope that they’ll learn something Really Amazing and stop the clearance, but they don’t really have time to check the data; that would get in the way of gathering.

I like this. Possibly this NGO might be also dedicated to running continuing simulations of what they recorded pre-destruction. These simulations could themselves be the subject of argument because a faction might want to derive actual useful information and another might want simulations that always inevitably collapse early to offset some present value calculation made to address the long-term impact of the destruction. All of the fun of the matrix and calculating the underfunded portion of a defined benefit pension plan at the same time.

It has the monopoly of armed and interstellar transport. It maintains this by keeping armed spacecraft in orbit around every world with the industrial capacity to make spacecraft, and destroying anything that leaves the atmosphere without having first passed inspection. In the case of spacecraft constructed in orbit, it inspects throughout construction. It licenses and monitors spacecraft crews. It conducts periodic and random inspections of operating spacecraft and space habitats, and it spies on research and industry that could potentially produce an FTL drive or secretly build a spacecraft.

If any world resisted to the extent of attacking its ships in orbit e…g. by using ground-based weapons it would concentrate massive force in eight weeks or less and using orbital weapons systematically to destroy the industrial base of the planet, destroying all important transport and communications hubs and links, orbital assets, significant power stations and manufacturing facilities, warehouses, stockpiles of raw and semi-finished materials, large or military vehicles, military bases, groundports, and partridges in pear-trees. It never threatens to kill everyone on the planet and render it permanently uninhabitable by using one of its CT weapons, but everyone knows that it could and that it reckons one planet and its entire population an acceptable price to pay to prevent a renewal of the state of war that existed before it took over.

In short, it dominates by naval and commercial supremacy in space, force, the threat of force, and terror.

The colonies tolerate this — rather than strangling the Empire with an economic embargo, for instance — partly because resistance would be costly and hard to organise, partly because the Senate (consisting of their appointees) is nominally in charge and does exercise some restraint, and partly because the Empire is constrained against meddling and meddles little in their internal affairs.

From a Doylist perspective the Empire is set up this way

  • to keep the multitude of colonies culturally and socially isolated, so that they remain quirky,
  • to allow colonial societies to remain variously horrible, so that PCs will have plenty to struggle against, and
  • to make players not keen to hand issues over to the Proper Authorities, besides
  • preventing player characters from owning and operating private interstellar ships.

The Empire and its situation in Flat Black are if anything over-developed. I didn’t originally mean it for a setting for playing Imperial servants in, but it has turned out that way — perhaps because I didn’t put in enough early work on other interstellar organisations.

Yes. The main reason that the Imperial executive turned out more independent than the people planned for who negotiated the Treaty of Luna (which is to say, the constitution), and that the Empire turned out more powerful than they expected, is that the monopoly of interstellar travel gave the Empire lucrative control of access to new worlds for real estate development. There is some political argy-bargy about their interim government, the types of governments that they will get, and the admission of their senators into the Senate, but that has all been running rumbling along for about 35 years on terms that are not bad enough for anyone to make them pull the plug. The Empire needs an Establishment Act for each new world, and with the help of grease from the aid budget to colonies in the “Levellers” faction and a balance of the interests of the LRA, Feds, and Jackals factions (over what governments they will have, and the likely impact on the balance of power in the Senate in fifty years) they pass in batches of about ten per year.

Now, there are plenty of planets and some moons that are suitable for life but that have no autochthonous life on them. But they have no oxygen to breathe and highly reduced chemical environments that will take a lot of oxidising before oxygen can start accumulating. The Empire and its predecessors have inoculated a vast number of such planets and moons with organisms that will make them habitable to aerobes. But that is going to take at least about ten thousand years.

There are also multitudes of planets that have simple, anaerobic biologies on them including nothing more sophisticated than a stromatolite. But those haven’t yet produced a breatheable atmospheres. The Empire and earlier interstellar travellers have dropped biome bombs on them, too. But it will take at least a couple of thousand years, and probably a succession of further inoculations, to produce a breathable atmosphere.

To meet the immediate needs of the growing human population for living space and of the Empire for revenue, it is necessary to terraform planets that will be habitable to paying settlers in only a few decades. That means terraforming planets (and moons) that already have pp(O₂) of at least 10 kPa at the surface. Ideally, it means terraforming planets that already have soil. And practically that means at least devastating and often exterminating the biospheres that produced said oxygen and soil. These often — usually — include multi-cellular organisms and some that exhibit behaviour. GreenWar is furious.

The Empire is in fact very careful not to terraform any worlds with sapient autochthones, and has set a lot of worlds aside under interdict because they have species on them that are sapient or might be nearly so. But it is just not the sort of organisation that would allow observers to come along on its preliminary investigations unless the Senate insisted, partly because GreenWar is violently opposed to the terraformation even of worlds with nothing living on them but anaerobic slime.

As an initial comment on this, I want to remark on religion as well. I tend to envision futures where religion really doesn’t have much role, because I don’t have any belief in any religion and don’t experience this as a lack. But on the other hand. . . .

I look at my feelings about space and humanity venturing into it, and they seem to me to have a lot of “religious” character. If I listen to Anne Passovoy’s Harbors or Echo’s Children’s Outward Bound I’m deeply moved, and I share the feeling that in some way humanity is MEANT to be out there, exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civlizations, and expanding through the cosmos. And I can’t offer any rational justification for that; I see that there are major problems to be solved, I don’t know if it’s possible to solve them, and I’m not sure anything would be gained by doing so. But I still feel that humanity ought to be trying, and that there’s something deeply lacking in people who don’t want that. It’s not an individual salvation faith like Christianity or Buddhism—more like the Judaic idea of the Promised Land—but it seems to be something like a faith.

I’m not sure how relevant that is to Flat Black, when I set it down. But I think I want to say that a future might have very little supernaturalist “religion,” but still have things that mobilize people in comparable ways. (Another one that appeals to me is uplift, the intentional creation of other sapient races from apes and elephants and parrots and ravens and octopods. . . .)

Incidentally, I’m not sure that Theraveda Buddhism is a religion. In some ways it looks almost more like a science, if largely an applied one. Certainly it seems to disavow belief in the supernatural in favor of a relentless agnosticism.

I think “Alliance for Independent Development” would be a better name for these clowns.

*Great List
Well focused on NGOs
I would view religions as a category best detailed separately.

I tend to assume that all Terrain religions continue into the Far Future but with ‘interesting’ variations. If it’s not that front and centre, I have ‘Adamists’ as all Judeo-Christian-Islamic in one.

Here is draft text of the chapter about “Other Interstellar Organisations” for my new brief Introduction to Flat Black. It is twice the word-count I budgeted, but worth it, I think.

Let me know if you think anything here is redundant, or if I’ve missed anything.

Other Interstellar Organisations

The Empire opposes any other government exerting power on the interstellar stage. And the cultural and commercial circumstances do not favour multi-colonial companies or franchise chains, except in banking and trade. But there are quite a few interstellar NGOs pursuing assorted agendas, some of which are discreetly funded and influenced by colonial governments, or even infiltrated by clandestine agencies.

The Alliance for Independent Development brokers development assistance for poor colonies free from meddlesome Imperial conditions. It is a front for rich governments in the Colonies’ Rights clique.

Amnesty researches, publicises, advocates for, and sometimes discreetly rescues prisoners of conscience, doxxing tyrants and staging jail-breaks.

The Association for the Advancement of Artificial People advocates for the liberty, civil rights, political equality, and reproductive rights of androids, parahumans, and digital sapiences. It is supported by, and believed to provide cover for agents of, the government of Simanta.

The College of Archivists, which many academic historians and field anthropologists strive to qualify for, is working on a multiply-redundant repository of confidential records of just about everything people do.

Democracy Unlimited advocates for democratic reforms, promotes best practice in electoral methods, and supplies election monitors. It is discreetly supported by some colonies in the Responsible Government clique.

GreenWar advocates to protect wildlife and the natural living environment, sometimes equivocating over terraformed wilderness. It opposes projects that will damage or alter biomes, especially terraformation projects on new worlds. GreenWar has been accused of terrorism.

Human Heritage strives to record and protect cultural treasures of art, literature, drama, architecture &c. It organises exchanges, exhibitions, and tours, and tries to protect artists and performers and their artistic freedom.

The Humanity League campaigns to protect non-combatants in war and prisoners of war, provides medical services &c., and organises relief in disaster zones. Respected and influential, it enjoys almost official status.

The Institute campaigns against the creation of artificial persons such as intelligent androids, parahumans, and digital sapiences. It also opposes the use of social engineering to create “unnatural” social environments, and even opposes the construction of orbital habitats.

The Planned Progress League advocates for technocracy and the use of social engineering and psychoengineering to create just societies. It provides advisors to reform movements. The PPL is discreetly supported by governments in the Public Safety clique.

The Reporter’s Guild advocates for professional standards in journalism and like endeavours. It accredits ethical reporters and aggregators, defends the freedom of reporting, and provides quasi-consular support to its insured members in difficulties.

The Sons of Patrick Henry campaign against slavery, serfdom, and like institutions, also mass incarceration. Some rogue effectives attack tyrannical trends in government.

Prominent NGOs such as those listed above have members, offices, and employees on most populous and developed worlds. But these are seldom skilled enough to do anything difficult, resolute enough to do anything strenuous or dangerous, or to confront opposition. NGOs therefore employ skilled and daring “effectives” as troubleshooters, field agents, and sometimes clandestine operators. Like Imperial servants and for the same reason, small teams of effectives are usually given big jobs and wide initiative. Everything that goes wrong is blamed on rogues.

It seems to me that a lot of political movements are of the same character, supplying people with

  • a sense of purpose,
  • a feeling of taking part with others in something large than their own interests
  • and a a sense of moral foundation.

Those are things that people crave and that tend to make them happier, and that religions commonly supply.

I’m not sure how relevant that is to Flat Black, when I set it down. But I think I want to say that a future might have very little supernaturalist “religion,” but still have things that mobilize people in comparable ways. (Another one that appeals to me is uplift, the intentional creation of other sapient races from apes and elephants and parrots and ravens and octopods. . . .)

I think the Imperial Mission is one such thing. I sometimes think of characterising the Empire as a monastic community, like the Hospitallers or Franciscans in having a mission.

I have gone berserk on the word count, and now have room to add one more NGO to my draft. Any suggestions?

Perhaps something commercial would be the go, to remind readers that not everything is a non-profit. A technical consultancy like Zodiac? A private effectuators agency?

What about a Michelin guide?

Something like the Geographical Society?

Just to help remind players that they’re not in Kansas anymore. why not have an organization that serves what our society takes it for granted is an eleemosynary purpose, but charges fees for its services and is expected to earn a return?

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I’ll have to think about that.

I’ve sharpened the focus of the College of Archivists, and added the following:

The Ethnographic Society promotes the practice of participant ethnography, organising field work for aspirant members, and sometimes helping them out of difficulties. It maintains marvellous collections of anthropological material, and is sometimes accused of promoting superstition in order to study it.

Or vice versa: they provide without charge something which everyone assumes is only provided commercially.

If I’m not confused about what doxxing is, I’m not sure how many tyrants it applies to. I don’t think Stalin, for example, or Qin Shihuangdi, lived in a private residence with a confidential location; I think both of them lived in large buildings with armed guards. Are there cases of tyrants with modest homes, historically?

In abstract principle that’s a symmetric case. But I see a couple of differences of nuance.

(a) Many such organizations have existed. For example, in the 1930s, when medicine was basically a commercial enterprise in the United States, cities commonly had charity hospitals, or charity wards in general hospitals. In the 1960s, when television in the United States was dominated by three large networks, PBS did a lot of broadcasting funded by contributions.

(b) The ethical assumption of many, perhaps most people in Western societies will be that providing things without charge is virtuous, but providing things for profit is at best neutral and at worst sordid. So the noncommercial organization does not naturally suggest “transvaluation of values,” which to my mind is one of the key sfnal effects (see for example Kingsbury’s Courtship Rite, with an entire human culture founded on cannibalism).

Though it would be possible to get such an effect with an organization that provides services commonly considered unethical to supply at all. One might, for example, have an organization that supplies addictive drugs free of charge to those who have a need for them, maintains sanctuary areas for their consumption, and defends the use of such drugs as a fundamental human right that all governments ought to respect. . . .

Not directly relevant, but a lovely bit from Davies’ Lying for Money talking about why reputation doesn’t work long-term on darknet drug markets:

A key difference between the online drugs trade and the normal economy, though, is that not all that many people are interested in building a career in online drug dealing and passing the firm down to their children. People grow up, leave college, or have the kind of short interaction with the legal system which suggests to them that a lifestyle change is in order.

What about an NGO that exists to help interstellar volunteers travel to other worlds to fight in ideological wars?

“The Interstellar Brigades”.

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