Tuesday, July 24, 2012

City System

A couple of years ago, - no, oh God, nearly 3 years ago - I got talked into trying to write a Nanowrimo novel. I made it to the end of November with something like 15,000 words, about 35k short (of the official 50k target), but then I kept going, and finally stopped towards the end of the spring in 2010. There was other writing that was more important, and I had reached what seemed like a good stopping point, about halfway through the story - and, coincidentally, I had reached 50,000 words.

Anyways, I still think about the story sometimes. Maybe someday I'll finish it. Yesterday I was thinking about the world that I had set up, vaguely, in the background. It's a reflection of some of my political thinking, but I never made any of it really concrete, just alluding to details here and there. A lot more of it is put together in my head than there in the story. Since it's on my mind, though, I thought maybe I'd write some of it out here. First some background for the background:

The story is centered on a few characters over the course of two days of what I would call the Second NEL Crisis. The setting is the distant future (the year Akan Era 852, sometime during the fourth millennium of the Common Era), on the planet Akan, populated by hundreds of millions of humans. Soon after the initial phases of the colonization, interstellar ships stopped arriving from Earth, and there has been no contact between the worlds in more than 800 years. It is unknown what stopped the ships, but some sort of natural or man-made disaster is assumed to have severely disrupted Earth's civilization, which was already dangerously unstable.

The Akan civilization is based around something called the City System, where the only sovereign entities are city-states, of which there are hundreds, and where certain rules maintain the independence and adaptability of the units of the System. Different Cities (always capitalized in this context) operate under different rules, according to their own preferences. Some may be libertarian or anarchistic, some may be communistic or totalitarian, etc., but they all have to abide by certain City Laws, established long ago, which ensure the stability of the overall system. There must be a dozen or more of these Laws, but I have only really thought about a few of of them:

The 1st City Law institutes an Intercity Congress, where revisions to the original laws are discussed and passed. Decisions can only be made through consensus of the entire body, so as new Cities are added, deliberations slow down more and more. Revisions to the Laws typically take decades. The more immediate responsibility of the IC is to monitor the City Law Enforcement Agency, which is discussed below.

The 2nd City Law is that no City may make administrative decisions for another: the Independence Law. Administrative control is measured quantitatively, and if more than half of a City's administration can be traced to other Cities, then it is the responsibility of demonstrably independent Cities to rectify the problem through mediation. Naturally, the methods for measuring control are controversial, and change with the times, but they have to be universally applied and agreed on through consensus. A result of the consensus requirement is that while the control measures do change with the times, they change very slowly, and the main problem with them is usually that they are seen as out of date. Consensus on new terms can take generations, and only a few dozen methods have been fully instituted over the 852 years of Akan history.

The 3rd City Law is that all citizens must be able to enter and leave Cities freely: the Open City Law. So, Cities cannot block entry by citizens, and cannot prevent citizens from leaving. The standard exception to this rule is that citizens may be arrested or imprisoned; immigration and emigration, however, are held to be out of the fundamental control of the Cities. Some cities may have such strange and insular cultures that few outsiders want to join, or that few insiders feel capable of disconnecting, but these situations are quantified as matters of individual choice and not City coercion. Cities may have requirements for City registration, and may tax insiders or outsiders differently, but requirements are quantified as prohibitive or not. Again, the methods by which such quantifications are made are instituted by consensus, and change but slowly. Before and after the comet Yandel-Yokum impact of AE832, the 3rd Law was widely suspended as Cities struggled to accommodate enormous population transfers from destroyed or abandoned Cities. This disruption of the System resulted in numerous crises across Akan, including the First NLE Crisis of AE835.

The 4th City Law is that intercity aggression and standing armies are jointly prohibited. Police forces, when they exist, are required to demonstrate that they cannot project force beyond the borders of their respective Cities. Intercity violence triggers intervention from other, non-involved Cities. Given that much of human life in AE852 is virtual, lived through machines and computer networks distributed, in some cases, over many Cities, just what constitutes 'force' is a recurring controversy. It is currently agreed that physical and virtual force should generally be treated as equivalent.

The Tensor Law, effectively the Last City Law (if I knew exactly how many there were, it would be the Nth), institutes the agency of the City Law Enforcers. These are a system of inspector-judges who quietly monitor and evaluate the legal performance of the Cities. Their power derives from the CLE Tensor, a mathematical instantiation of the City Laws, to which individual CLEs (in English, "see-el-eez", not "kleez") are neurologically bound - the Tensor acts as a key for the agents, giving them unrestricted access to City networks all over Akan, but also acts as a strict behavioral constraint: agents are prohibited from directly interfering in City affairs. All of their judgments and observations are reported through public channels to the Intercity Congress, although they strive to act in secrecy. The CLEs are not under the direct control of the IC, however: they act autonomously in accord with the Tensor. CLEs are widely seen as incorruptible and infallible. Changes to the Tensor, like changes to any individual City Law, require IC consensus, and happen only very, very slowly.

By the way, a story from a while back was told from the point of view of an individual CLE.

Other Laws establish the responsibilities and limits of Intercity governance of natural resources, of interplanetary space, and of inhabited areas outside City borders.

The Second NLE Crisis, the subject of the novel, is where this system is subjected to a serious and perhaps permanent breach. What happens when the best course of action is to abandon a deeply entrained system that has persisted for nearly a thousand years?

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