Monday, November 21, 2011


When sitting down to write about this to a largely American audience, which in general treats 'democracy' as a largely misunderstood religion as opposed to political system, one must take pause.  I should like to emphasize before beginning, O gentle reader, that I have no interest in discussing America's brand of democracy, nor the viability of democracy in that, or any other country.  I tell you that I am here to discuss democracy as a technology, and not as an ideology.

Once again, it will please be understood that technology is a tool for the purpose of obtaining, managing or producing a result.  Gunpowder was a technology that enabled a small, controlled explosion.  Fishing is a technology enabling one to catch fish.  Democracy is a technology intended to produce emancipation.

At some future date, when I am finished writing about all the technologies from the Civilization IV tech tree (I've been writing these for more than two years now, an average of two and a half weeks apart), I intend to pull apart the other aspects of the game, including the various political statuses ... so I don't want to blow all my future points about emancipation now.  Suffice to understand that emancipation is the imposed equality of individuals - at least with respect to the state and the law.  Actual equality ... well, that is something for nature to say.

The reader will please note that by the time one obtains Democracy in the game, all the religions have been founded.  Democracy is, in effect, the answer to religious technologies ... the ultimate 'fuck you' to the religionist perspective.

And I will explain how and why, but I find first I must derail this conversation to give some comment to misunderstandings about the Greek conception of 'democracy.'

Democracy did make certain people equal in the ancient Hellenic world ... IF you belonged to a democratic polis, or city, and IF you were a male, and IF you had a certain amount of wealth, and IF you didn't piss off the wrong people and get yourself ostracized.  A great many of the Greek cities were anything but 'democratic,' a great many of the Greeks were women who had no political life, a great many Greeks were without much money (or were slaves) and a small number of very bright, clever, honorable and loyal Greeks were cast out of 'democractic' cities for which they gave their blood.

However, we cannot completely discount the presence of honest, dyed-in-the-wool democracy among those Greeks who were priviledged to be considered more equal than others, for one simple reason:  politics ruled in Greece, and NOT religion.

Nobody is really sure why.  No one has any proven explanation for why the Greeks, in a time when virtually everyone in the world operated to a strict religious framework, did not themselves embrace the spiritual.  The result of not embracing the spiritual meant magnificent advancements in philosophy, science, mathematics, medicine, engineering and on and on, but seriously, no one knows why.  There are many theories.  Some of them are quite silly:  climate and the food they ate, etcetera.  But there is no proof.

There were various groups of people who, with the rise of science and enlightened thinking, began to seriously consider in the 15th century forward the proposition of removing religion from any role in the state.  The reasons for this are simple: religion imposes upon the social framework a small elite of individuals who 'know' the mind of God - or Gods, or what have you.  This elite is propagated through careful training of a select few who are allowed to be indoctrinated into the elite's belief system - which in turn has been created to tell the masses what to do.

When religion was first established some six thousand years ago, the Priest elite imposed order upon the a scattered and variable population, telling them when to plant, when to pay their taxes, when to obey the king and when to rise up as a population and destroy the enemy.  The Priest elite was useful, and those populations which had a strong Priest elite tended to effectively destroy populations whose religious fervor was less than fanatic.  A fanatic population equalled power, and a Priest elite enabled kings (and sometimes themselves) to control a fanatic population.

The rise of education created doubts about this fanaticism, however, and by the time of the late Middle Ages various other forms of social construction had moved in and taken the place of religious fervour.  In fact, it was becoming increasingly clear that religion had transformed into a force that destroyed power - as was evident in places like Poland or the Middle East, where the power of the religion was strong enough to crush scientific and social development, producing an increasingly backwards culture in comparison with Western Europe.

Consider: the Catholic Church in the 17th century was strong enough to completely muzzle Galileo's genius ... and the genius of hundreds of others besides.  The Church was so effective at this that it literally destroyed the budding education system in Italy, pushing genius elsewhere and condemning Italy to becoming the intellectual backwater it still remains today - where the church STILL has far more strength to comment that it ought to, compared with Great Britain, Scandinavia, Anglo-America or France.

In every country of the world still owned and operated by a religious elite, scientific thought is doing all it can just to keep its head above water.

The reader must understand:  the crux of democracy is not 'giving power to the people.'  It is perfectly obvious that the religious elite possessed the power of the people in great quantities, having fed the people the diet and then taking advantage of the shit it yielded thereafter.  The anti-religionists were not silenced down on the ground by the elites - they were silenced by the massive hordes of believers the elites could call upon when things got hairy.  The mass burnings and executions perpetrated by the Inquisition were not witnessed by disgruntled, terrified people who hated the power the elites held over them ... no, the crowds cheered and were pleased that their leaders were dedicated to the wishes of a mythical god who without a doubt wanted all these witches and blasphemers killed most horribly.

Power is always in the hands of the people.  That is why when you seek power, you find out what the people want ... or what they can be made to believe they want.

The crux of democracy, then, is to rid the social construct of the elites who control the people - by disallowing them any say in the enacting of state power.  Oliver Cromwell proposed a simple, direct solution: execute as many of the elites as you can find.  Other groups have chosen banishment, and still others have attempted to let ALL the elites operate at the same time, with the expectation that no one elite group would be able to gain all the power at the same time.

There are quite a number of religions, after all.  And each religion has its own particular elite, and each elite vies for power against the other elites, seeking to convince the population that their particular brand of spiritualism is the best one.  Once you've gotten your spiritual claws into someone, you must perpetrate that spirituality in your new follower's children ... this not only enables a continuation of the process, but with exhortations for your followers to have lots of children, you increase the number of your future followers, also.  What's more, when you manage a certain critical mass of worshippers in a population, those who don't believe will pretend to, from a natural shame they possess.  Humans do not want to be disliked, or persecuted.  If they perceive that everyone else is going through the motions, they will go through the motions.

Democracy proposes to do away with all of this.  Believe whatever you want, says democracy, but the state shall be run regardless of your beliefs.  Or rather, those persons who have beliefs other than yours will not be persecuted by you, nor shall their effect upon the state be less than the effect of your followers.

The ideal has been that, if individuals were enabled the vision of a life without the religious crutch - if the religious population could see that their religion gave them no special status in the social construct - they would abandon their religion.  And so it has happened.  The vast majority of persons in democratic countries are not religious - well over 70%.  They do not attend church, they do not traditionally pray to any god, they do not sacrifice or give money to religious causes.

However ... they pretend to.  Even in a democracy, it seems, shame has a great deal of power.

Let us consider the best and most brilliant moment from the film The Mummy with Brendon Fraser and Rachel Weisz.  Forget, if you will, the quality of the film, and merely remember the scene where John Hannah - the librarian's goofy brother - is about to be destroyed by the followers of Imhotep.  Quite rationally, rather than be ripped apart, he turns around and begins to chant along with all the braindead, mindless followers.  And they leave him alone.

Welcome to the failure of democracy.  We can build a system that enables the presentation of creative perspectives, and the subsequent vote upon those perspectives, but we can't overcome the most basic human assumption about society: that deep down, at the core, we just want to be left alone.  And if that means chanting the name of a brutal murderous entity (Imhotep = the Christian God), just to placate all the moronic twisted souls around us, even if we don't believe any of it for a second, we will.  It's just easier.

How many of you, upon being roped into attending some church or other similar service during Christmas, were prepared to denounce everyone around you out loud?  How many of you football players, when told to take a knee and pray to god, refused?  It was easier to just knee and mumble Inhotep along with the coach.  Then you could play football.  Which was, after all, the point.

Fair enough ... let me put the soapbox over here for a moment.  What in the mother of christ does any of this have to do with D&D?

Answer: not a fucking thing.

You are not playing this game on the pretext of believing or disbelieving in either a religion, nor a social philosophy.  You are not investing this time in order to promote the benefits of this game over that game.  You are not a football player taking a knee.  You are, one would hope, standing up to the DM and not bowing to social conventions.

At least, I hope you're not.

On some level, your players as they move through the D&D world, are legitimate mavericks moving against the bump and flow of the world's belief structure.  You're outsiders ... necessarily, in that your basic motive is the profit motive.  To succeed at the profit motive - in this case measured by experience - you HAVE to stir the shit, you have to make waves, you have to slaughter the Priest elite and you absolutely cannot buckle under and believe.  Otherwise, the game becomes unbelievably dull, unbelievably quickly.

Face it.  If the DM says Imhotep, are you going to repeat it so he or she leaves you alone, or are you going to ask, "What the fuck are you talking about?"

Part of the immortal rush of this game is the tremendously freeing concept of not having to take it on the chin, of not having to be polite to the neighbors or rubbing blue mud into your belly button because they do.  Players have to have the right to act like democratically emancipated persons in a world where everyone else is chanting in rhythm.  It's the rugged individualist's creed - I shall not knuckle under the bullshit rules the DM creates.  I shall fight the DM's stupid monsters, I shall attack whomever I like, I shall destroy whatever I wish and I shall chortle with glee as I do it.

Ages ago I proposed that the players were not 'fucking heroes.'  This returns to that point.  Heroes do what society expects of them.  Heroes are slaves.  Heroes are puppets of the DM.  If your character is a Hero, you are not squeezing out all that this game can offer you.  You're a pawn.  You're a dupe.  You're everything the Priest elite has always wanted you to be.

And that is not the way this game is fun.


Baron Opal said...

"Heroes do what society expects of them.  Heroes are slaves.  Heroes are puppets of the DM."

Hogwash. Heroes are those who see to aid others sometimes in spite of society. Just because the player chooses to have his character pursue a noble end it becomes some slave to the DM's designs? Hardly.

Arduin said...


My absolute favorite Civ post so far. And that's saying something.

It would be exceptionally nice, I think, to figure out where/how the Greek democracy gained it's roots, what social pressures and so on culminated into that particular idea.

Please, please do not make me wait another 2.5 weeks for more of these. It has put a pleasant cap on an otherwise dull afternoon.

Alexis said...

That's good, Baron. The world needs more people like you, and less people like me.

But as an evil villian capable of monologuing oh so long, I must ask you as a hero to please offer a better argument for your position than "I know you are but what am I?"

Baron Opal said...

Fiend! Taunt me not with Ruebens.

I'll be happy to write something about why heroic options are worthwhile, but I will have to defer until later when I am more free.

Anonymous said...

Worthwhile isn't the issue is it?

I thought you were trying to show that heroes aren't societies puppets just doing what they do for the 'attaboys' and salutes.

I'm trying to think of an example of someone doing something noble despite society. Conscientious objectors were the first to come to mind, but people like that tend not to get called 'heroes'. Anyone doing anything in spite of society is going to be controversial and the word 'hero' seems to be reserved for uncontroversial people.

Oddbit said...

I notice you say democracy has little to do with adventurers, but I think it's an interesting to note on ething. That while low level adventurers they travel about working for the freedom of the people from harsh distant dictators, once the become landholders of large estates, what do they become? What does a party do when the people under them decide they want a democratic power over the party? What if the party's desires were thwarted by the vote of the people?

Maybe I misread something, but I find it an interesting thought, and something I have not heard of occurring yet.

Satchmo said...

"If your character is a Hero, you are not squeezing out all that this game can offer you. You're a pawn. You're a dupe."

Poppycock. A hero is a person who can see the strings attached to him. What he does with that information, whether he feels he should be The Fettered or
The Unfettered
is up to the player. And both can rock the boat quite well against the Priest Elite.

Alexis said...

If you will make a virtue of slavery, you shall concoct pious slaves. If they shall defend their sacrifice as virtuous, then exploitation must be a virtue too.

Satchmo said...

Standing by our principles in theory in easy. It's when we stand by them when we're tested that defines us. I will stand by mine.
--Superman, World of New Krypton

Who wouldn't want to play Superman?

Alexis said...


I stand by my principles every day on this blog. What names do you think they call me?

Is this easy?

Satchmo said...

Of course it is. And I respect you for not only standing up for your principles, but aggressively defending them.

The point I am dancing around however is the 'democracy' of the DM; do you defend the freedom of a particular player, even when they come to blows with the other players?

I realize that alignment is mostly a non-issue in the games you run, but, for example, if a fanatical paladin and an unethical fighter come to blows within the party, do you step in, or let the two fight it out? Both have a right to play their characters as they want, but in your mind is there a line separating appropriate decorum and indecency?

Or do you make the setting such that the question of ethics isn't a concern for the players, making the issue moot?

Alexis said...

I'm not interested in promoting democracy in my campaigns. Was not my point at all.

If two players really, really want to fight, I will let them. I would rather create an NPC to have a go at both of them, and thus push your paladin and fighter into a bond against a common enemy. In no way would I tell them, "You can't fight because I said so."

If I had a player who constantly started fights with his character for no reason other than to disrupt games, I and all the other players would ask that player to leave. That's as democratic as it gets.

If all the players unanimously ask me to oust one player, I will ... if I like that player, I'll run him in solitary games. But while I've asked people to leave under such circumstances, it happened that I didn't like the player either.

The line separating appropriate decorum is the same one between any and all human beings in a social situation.

If, on the other hand, you're asking about 'indecency' ... I don't have the kind of players offline who would give a shit. They are polite, considerate, friendly, easy to talk to and so on, but if your character started killing little boys after raping them, none of the people at my table would give a care. It's fictional, and fiction isn't considered rude.

If you seemed to know an awful lot of detail about it - well, then we might wonder about you.

But I don't impose 'ethics' at my D&D table. I impose ethics only with regards to personal contacts. I reserve the right to associate with whom I please.