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Random Walking Fluffster's Brain
Worldbuilding: New Liberty, the now-named colony on the still unnamed colony world 
13th-May-2015 10:44 am
Writing, Fennec
In my ___ Days of Worldbuilding post Aldersprig asks:

|Pre-Western Civil War:
|How does slavery work?
|What's the style of government, if anything?
|What's the tech level?

This setting shows up in four pieces from back in 2011 (content warnings: slavery, some violence, and serious-need-of-rewritingness):
* Family Politics, in which a young man wakes to find himself a prisoner.
* Izzy, a follow up to the previous piece from the viewpoint of the slave of the previous viewpoint character.
* The Talk, wherein Jayce decides Izzy needs The Talk.
* The Next Morning, which sees Jayce and Izzy having to deal with another change.

Content note: Involves question about both government and slavery within a setting and answers to said questions.

Political note: Yes, the founders of the colony claimed to be pushing for a conservative libertarian structure. Please note the word claimed in that sentence.

Q: What's the style of government, if anything?

A: The International Colonization Authority required all groups wishing to establish a colony to file a charter documenting among other things the manner in which the colony would be governed. New Liberty Holdings filed a charter stating in the preamble that their colony would be established following libertarian principles. Maximizing individual freedom and having only the minimum government necessary for ICA approval. So, question answered... Right? No. What the preamble claimed the rest of the document largely contradicted or qualified in nearly every aspect other than minimizing the existence and powers of any central governing body.

Read further in the charter and it quite clearly states that citizenship in New Liberty's colony would depend on purchasing a share in the venture. These shares would come in two grades. The more expensive preferred shares would allow one to claim and own land. The more you preferred shares purchased the greater the share of land received. Those buying the preferred shares become the ancestors of the ruling Families. The less expensive standard shares were still expensive, roughly equivalent to purchasing a large newly built house and a few acres of land today. If a potential colonist could show possession of desired skills such as medical or engineering knowledge discounts were available for standard shares. Only those possessing these shares and their immediate families would be considered citizens and any issue put forward for a decision by balloting could only be voted on by them. (Side note: Citizenship here is essentially a property right. If you're listed as one of the owners of a share, you're a citizen. What does this mean for disowned or otherwise unrecognized descendants? At what age is someone officially added to the list of owners of a family share? Answers: The Writer's Magic 8-Ball says situation undecided – this likely varies from family to family.)

In addition to purchasing shares one could also join the colony project by accepting a labor contract. The contract laborers agreed to accept whatever job was offered to them in return for passage to the colony and a guaranteed that they would be provided with food and shelter. It should be noted that the agreement did not include any other guarantees such as being granted citizenship. Even at these terms New Liberty's governing board received more applications for Contract Laborer berths than there were openings, allowing them to pick and choose those they felt would be the least troublesome. As the laborers were officially being offered a contract and reimbursement for their work this was not considered slavery by the ICA and was not objected to. In theory a contract laborer could choose to end their contract at any time and either seek a contract with a different citizen or ask for a contract with better terms.

The charter's preable was accurate in the minimizing of formal government. The same board that served to run the initial colonization venture continued on as the governing council for the colony. However, this council had very few powers (or rather most of the powers it held no longer had any meaning once the colonists boarded the transport ship). The council's power largely fell into two areas: council membership was made up of the heads of landholding families or their designated representatives which meant council meetings provided good opportunities for the powerful to meet and make deals. Additionally in the event of contract disputes citizens could ask for binding mediation in a process overseen by the council. However, even in the case of such mediation the council had little means to enforce the decisions beyond peer pressure and the threat of lost reputation. Notably the council had no authority over the actions of citizens on their own property and no power of taxation. Effectively each territorial allotment was an independent city state that included hereditary membership in a debating society and private club for the ruling family.

Q: What's the tech level?

A: The civilization the colonists left had technology that would for the most part not be utterly foreign to us today. The biggest breakthrough technologies were energy related: fusion power was no longer perpetually twenty years away but a widely used and almost boring technology, batteries were cheap and powerful enough to not only displace internal combustion engines in cars but also make electric light aircraft common, and 3D printing (more commonly known as additive manufacturing by this time) processes advanced enough to print microprocessors and replacement organs. The Colonization Authority sponsored the design of workshop cargo modules for colonies that while not cutting edge were designed to be extremely durable (not quite Ragnarök Proof as some people refer to the technology in Battletech, but that not for lack of effort). These workshop modules likewise included libraries of designs that placed durability and repairability above peak performance (rumors that in many cases designs were flawed and included due to cronyism were roundly criticised by the Colonization Authority and also often true). New Liberty Holdings arranged for a joint order of the workshop modules for the preferred shareholders as well as assisting in obtaining third party design libraries. Standard shareholders who wished to bring such workshop kits or tools were required to make use of their cargo allotment and did not receive the same assistance in purchasing them.

At the current date between two and three hundred years after the New Liberty and the other colonies settled on the as yet unnamed world a wide spread of technology levels can be found. Large farm fields can be found worked with hand tools and animal drawn plows while in the background are landing strips for aircraft and sub-orbital shuttles. Family members make use of augmented reality implants that allow them access to the colony's data networks wherever they may be while many of the descendants of the contract laborers go their lives without once touching a phone let alone using one or operating a computer. The rulers of New Liberty are believers in the saying that knowledge is power and are willing to forgo efficiency to maintain their power. To a great degree the modest sized middle class has cooperated with this as those in power are their main customers and the skills and property they have are all that separate them from the contract laborers.

Q: How does slavery work?

One could very easily argue that despite the Colonization Authority's approval and the founder's arguments otherwise that the contract laborers are slaves. The first generation arrived with little more than their clothes and were paid solely in food and shelter. Education for the majority of the laborers is limited to the skills needed to perform their jobs and little opportunity is provided to achieve a better life. The majority of those who do reach a better state are domestic workers who catch someone's eye and marry up. A few through hard work, dependability, and a bit of luck manage to gain additional training and promotion.

It is uncertain just when someone went from merely taking advantage of the power they held over the laborers to declaring one a slave for the first time. The earliest recorded case of involuntary servitude occurred early in the first century of the colony when a contract laborer had their contract canceled and replaced with an indenture as punishment after committing an act of arson. Contract laborers were not paid with currency but instead food, clothing, and shelter. As a result the indenture contract drafted up for this case gave a debt to be repaid listed in hours of labor above and beyond those expected of the other laborers. Over the following years many other territories within the New Liberty colony made use of indenture as potential punishment short of execution for serious crimes with nearly all of the cases restricted to the laborers and a handful of citizens who were not members of the ruling families. The common understanding that these were punishments handed down for despicable crimes meant that the indentured often found limited sympathy. Unless the local ruling family had been heavy handed these punishments were usually seen as well earned.

The first known case of openly acknowledged enslavement occurred in the second century of the colony. A young and angry laborer chose to intentionally sabotage an irrigation system by damaging a number of flood gates to prevent them from being closed. By the time emergency repairs were made far more water had been released than intended, damaging crops as well as flooding the ground floors of some of some storage buildings and laborer dormitories. After debating the punishment the laborer was given a choice. He could either accept an indenture set for so many hours he would spend the rest of his life working it off or he could clear the debt by selling not a contract but his very self to a Family member who had expressed interest in him.

Facing a choice between a lifetime of punishment work or working directly for the Family member he agreed on the spot. This was most likely not the case of making someone a slave but simply the first time such an arrangement was openly acknowledged. It was viewed as a bit tacky by some the family member's peers, mostly due to the open nature of it, and scandalous in news reports in the colonies other than New Liberty on the planet. But having happened once the idea spread. As with all things in New Liberty, the process depended on the rulers of each territory. Some refrained from using it as anything but a punishment for extreme acts while in other territories one needed only to attract too much attention to be at risk of becoming property. Acceptable treatment of slaves also varied depending on the views of the leadership of each of the Families. In many early cases children born to slaves were sent out to the laborer residences to be raised by others but as time went on the status of slavery became accepted as inheritable and this escape wasn't provided. Thus, with the Jayce and Izzy pieces you have the slave Izzy who had committed no crime himself but was simply the son of a cook who was a slave, a slave who quite possibly had also been born to that state rather than being punished for a crime of their own doing.

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