NGOs for a somewhat "Traveller"-like setting



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.

Religion in "Flat Black"

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?


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”.


Would they help adherents of any ideology, so long as they had one? Or would their help be limited to a specific range of ideologies they agreed with?


I was thinking the former. Civil War breaks out on New Cataluña. The Interstellar Brigades publishes a menu of factions and their ideologies on every world where it is active. Volunteers choose a side and apply to the Interstellar Brigades. The Brigades provide briefing materials, assistance in travelling, and contact with a reliable recruiter.

I can’t see the Empire being terribly sympathetic.


That sounds as if they’re a profit-making organization?

On one hand, they would likely face criticism from volunteers who thought they ought to be donating transport free of charge.

On another, they might be suspected of encouraging ideologically motivated conflict on various planets as a way of drumming up business. They might even actually be doing so! Perhaps they could make consultants available, or software. “You appear to be formulating a manifesto. Would you like help with that?”

On another, maybe they could provide the equivalent of Kickstarter or Gofundme. . . .

If they’re nonprofit, it would seem that they would have some theory of why ideological conflict as such was for the greater good. . . .


I’ve been dreaming up such theories, starting with the eugenic argument (there are two).

The Institute believes that it is important for the human race and human societies to develop “naturally” by friction with the environment. If they should also believe in the importance of kneading and internal friction that might motivate them to do it.

There is fucking for chastity in a brothel, the IB might think that first hand experience of war was an important object lesson for ideologues.

Why not? FIFA and the IOC are.

They’d doubtless be happy to collect donations for the purpose of subsidising transport. And if for example some cause were keen to pony up the transport costs on a “per head of cannon fodder delivered” basis I can’t see why the Interstellar Brigades wouldn’t facilitate. But the only way to travel is with Spaceways, and Spaceways isn’t going to be offering any discounts for warmongers.


“20% off the return leg of your trip, on the basis that you probably won’t be using it.”