Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Rationality in the year 40,000

There has been some discussion lately on Ammobunker about the nature of "civilians" in the 40k universe, inspired by Exokan's WIP civilian figures.  Some argued that there are no civilians in the traditional sense in the far off year of 40,000, and that all are subsumed into guilds and factories to the extent that all form a part of the military machine.  Others point to the irrationality of having a workforce comprised of workers dedicated to mindless task repetition, and how this does not allow for population growth or change, even with the constraints of a universe at constant total war.

In short, is a hive populated by generational guilds of skull-faced-lion-maned-mono-task-drill-armed-stiletto-heeled maniacs, or is it populated by sober serfs who work very hard for little reward, but are otherwise fairly familiar members of humanity?

Here is a quote from Thistle, who has an official and public hand in the look and development of 40k: ...they cannot be considered civilians - the very term itself is something i would not weave into the 40k canon a bit like money or latin they just do not exist in the far flung future... [sic]  Civilians as we conceive of it do not exist, just like money [!] seems a bit much for me.

Here is an opposing quote from MarcoSkoll: And, I feel that even as dsytopian as the setting might be, the fact it has sustained itself for the last ten thousand years must mean that huge swathes of its population remain capable of reproduction and parenting.
As delightfully morbid as a butcher with huge hydraulic cleaver for his arm might be, grafting the entire labour force to their tools does mean they're going to find themselves somewhat limited in their ability to raise children. 
Seems more on the money, where the strange and colorful aspects of the universe are in fact strange and colorful because the rest of the universe is more mundane, and rational.
Rationality in the blurb-official 40k has always been lacking, as when it is mentioned that the Adeptus Mechanicus and similar only can run and produce machines with the appropriate blessings for the machine spirit, sacred oils, and so on, while at the same time we have hive worlds with populations in the billions, toiling in factories uncountable, which would mean that either every factory has thousands of Tech Priests, and production is staggeringly inefficient, or that in fact machine worship is just a surface gloss, and that workers toiling at machine tools uncounted produce weapons and goods without necessitating any intervention by holy water sprinklers.   Priests of Mars has characters impressed into service on the Techno-Ark as plasma engine serfs, slaving away at cleaning plasma chambers, even unto death, but even those were impressed into service from a world where they worked for wages at normal (if difficult) jobs.

Irrational repetition of tasks also produces non-rational actors, which means that you can not create an effective population of officers, engineers, supervisors, and (importantly) Inquisitors from it.  As these are demonstrably a part of the 40k universe, they must therefore be produced by rational means from rational people, so there must exist at least a portion of the population which is not given over to unthinking total military production.

Another way to look at this question is total number of military effectives of a population.  We could look at the historical example of the Soviet Union in the Second World War, which had a population of approximately 140 million, and 34 million under arms during that period. (~24%).  If one reduces that number slightly to account for the fact that such a high number under arms and so many killed during the war caused a post war population crash, and that the Western Allies produced some of the material used by the Soviet war machine, you could say that 20% of a population under arms is close to a sustainable maximum. So indeed, there must be civilians in the other 80%, as they could not all be children.

Recent works by Dan Abnett in particular, and the Black Library novelists in general, paint a universe where war is constant, but not ever present, as there are sectors where life is, for want of a better word, normal, and there are battle lines, well away from the day to day life of most of the population. Indeed, Ravnor, Eisenhorn, and Gaunt confront the difficulties of the imperial bureaucracy, guilds, and, but still see civilians and humanity as separate from the war machine, and civilians as separate from their jobs.

So just how rational is that far off year where there is only war?  I suggest to you that the rationality of that distant time is alive and well, despite and perhaps because of the irrational times in which humanity lives.  While irrational elements persist, they are a coloration on the drab grey workaday world of the rest of humanity.  Our aforementioned augmented guild worker is part of the reality of the world, but there are masses of rational (but constrained) civilians to support them in their work, by undertaking the less specialized and standard tasks of existence.

Anyway, provided you made it through this, what do you think?


cappadocius said...

I think where you sit on this issue relates to where you sit on the issue of 40K as a satire in the same vein as Judge Dredd, or if you come at it from the POV of an anthropologist of a real, breathing future era. If your 40K is the 40K of being sent to the penal legions for overdue library books, and of Arbites psykers whose sole purpose is scanning citizens for signs of disloyal thoughts, then 80% of the population being under arms or otherwise directly contributing to the war effort is not too much to expect. There are technologies and drugs undreamed of 40,000 years in the future, as far beyond our understanding as airplanes and stainless steel phillips-head screwdrivers are to a rock-chipper in the paleolithic - so why can't you take the population of the world and set it to monotasked fanatical assembly line work for 16 hours a day, seven days a week, and still convert these biological machines into fanatical but independent-minded Inquisitors with the appropriate tools? The Imperium is the most complete and oppressive fascist dictatorship humanity has ever known - who's to say that children aren't taken from the womb (if that's even where they gestated to begin with) and given over wholly to state-sponsored caregivers, so Hydraulic Butcher and his wife Vaccuum-Face can keep to their appointed tasks?

Obviously, such a grim dystopia doesn't lend itself to individual-focused entertainments such as role-playing games or adventure fiction, so the writers for those media have HAD to take a different approach. Ideas that even *if* worlds within 5 light years of Terra are these grim, inhuman pits of irrationality and existential despair, out on the borders where control is by definition weaker, there is more freedom and less conformance to the goals of the elites. Or they have to acknowledge that while it's hilarious to have a blurb about a Mechanicus ritual take ten minutes of unguents and prayer before hitting the "On" button (which he can't even read! Ho ho!) in the wargame, it's not at all true to the facts that religions have always made accommodations with reality when push comes to shove, and that it's impossible to both prevent humans from questioning how things work *and* keep them at a level of cognition to successfully prosecute a war, let alone an interstellar civilization.

I think the best route to take is something of a middle route: to acknowledge the "truthiness" of the irrational satire of 40K in interpreting the "real" setting, while also acknowledging that we can only perceive the world of the Imperium through the darkened glass of 40,000 years of history, and our perception of what's rational and believable has as much accuracy to the "reality" of the setting as a Paleolithic caveman's imaginings has to OUR reality.

Lasgunpacker said...

Excellent comment Cappadocius.

I think that the easiest solution is to just asume that there is a spectrum of "grimdark" where we move from Hydraulic Butcherman consorting with VaccummFace Woman to produce embryos in a factorum dedicated to the creation of more tool faces, to a pastoral wonderland of sturdy Willa Cather-esque pioneer types (raided periodically by deparaved dark eldar of course).

Lead Legion said...

I expect you're both spot on. I've always imagined it that only "serf" types were given grafts/bionics of the most impersonal sort, and even then only for very specialist tasks such as mining and the like. Does implanting a cleaver in a butcher really make him more efficient? Hell no! How he could move meat off the hanger and onto the block without cutting it? What about performing tasks that require a filliting knife rather than a joint breaking cleaver?

It makes no sense for anyone other than those performing a single, mono-reptitive task to have any sort if bionic implant at all. And even then, it would have to be one that would not impair normal life to any great extent.

What's the point of paying a fortune to have your cook's hand replaced with a chef-ing multitool hand if he's only going to slit his throat with it the first time he gets an itch in his sleep?

As for hordes of techpriest, I've always read it that activating a machine for the first time or performing repairs (as oppossed to swapping out parts as a car fitter might do today) requires an actual Tech Priest. Thus, the only time a Tech Priest might visit a factory such as you describe is when a machine breaks down beyond the capabilities of a layman "fitter" to fix.

So yes, there are civilians. Not every world is dedicated to producing war materials. There are tomb worlds, agri world, shrine worlds, even holiday worlds. PLus countless of normal, generic "Imperial" world where the economy isn't specialised to any great extent.

Lasgunpacker said...

Good point about the variety of planet types Lead Legion. Primative agri worlds in particular would not have the sort of mono-task workers mentioned.

And I like your point about the cyber cook slitting his own throat in his sleep... implants would be dangerous if they are not removable (another argument for some sort of socketed bionic arm with specific tools left at the work place for the next shift)

AWu said...

Very interesting discussion gentlemen.

I am firmly in the position that if one have to treat Imperial society as a functional social system (Talcott Parsons style), one have to treat grafted individuals and grimdark as a rather smallish segment of greater society.

Firstly: Its just not sustainable.
Imagine Bull Gorg, greatest pit fighter of the Underhive (wielding two chainsaw in place of his arms and wearing trousers) when he tries to do some of his bodily functions..

take your time..


Even in most oppressing societies, people have to had some free time to socialize, reproduce, and went off steam.
People worked in insane circumstances in soviet gulags, but such institutions were death camps. They were meant to destroy inmates, not to sustain war driven economy.

On the other side, grimdark, insane characters from John Blanche art are much more interesting and catching...

So no wonder that modelers prefer to model them, and not mundane clerks and bakers instead..

Ive tried to make Necromunda civilians one day. Ive made pair of them, without any augmentations or wacky stuff. Pair of House Goliath construction workers who were to lead a team of workers for scenario crowd uses.

And after this pair I don't have any motivation for more.. They are not mundane people you could meet on our streets but they do not have such character I am fascinated with in 40K.