Lore Reality CheckTarek Raimo
Previously, I have written a three part series each about the Caldari-Gallente war and the Amarr-Minmatar conflict. I have, of course, omitted a great deal of the histories of the involved parties but I dug deep into the backstory of EVE while researching for those articles. While researching, I often asked myself what motivated those people, and why they collectively acted one way or another. Writers of science fiction regularly imagine societies and cultures both similar and different from our own, and those inventions are most engaging when they possess a depth and realism that we can relate to. Frank Herbert’s Dune, Ian Banks’ Culture, and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series come to mind as some outstanding examples of such artistry. Looking at the four great powers of New Eden, how do they compare to our own world, and are they “realistic” models for working societies?
The Amarr: Manifest Destiny
The main thing many people would question about the Amarr is how they managed to come so far despite their religious conservatism. There are many examples of religious orthodoxy actively working against scientific progress particularly when it comes to astronomy. For a long time the catholic church refused to accept the idea that the Earth revolves around the sun and even persecuted those who would claim it to be true. So how could a dogmatic theocracy rise to the stars first among the lost settlers of New Eden? As a counterpoint, our own history includes evidence that religion does not necessarily stand in the way of scientific or technological advances. The Middle Ages, for example, saw the spread of Islam lead to an age of enlightenment for North Africa and the Orient. Literacy among the common people, along with advances in Mathematics, Astronomy, Medicine, and Philosophy increased to levels Western Europe would not see for centuries.
After the Protestant reforms broke through Catholic obscurantism, Western Europe also had its fair share of pious scientists: Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton come to mind. Even Charles Darwin, who is often dismissed by Christian conservatives today, was a profoundly religious man. For them, scientific reason was not antagonistic to religious faith; in fact, it was quite the opposite. Islamic and Protestant scholars were convinced that studying nature was a way to understand God’s creation. Both Muslims and Protestants believed that it is the religious duty of the faithful to do so. We do not know for certain whether the Amarr faith is interpreted in a similar way, but they did believe it was their God-given mandate to reclaim New Eden. That would certainly require the use of scientific methods to make space travel possible.
Clearly, religion does not have to stand in the way of progress—it can inspire it—but how about an ancient regime enduring millennia without fundamental change? Societies such as the Caldari or the Gallente developed in several stages, until they became what we know today. Even recently, both nations went through periods of totalitarianism quite different from their usual regimes. The Amarr on the other hand were a theocratic Empire even in the days before they became a spacefaring civilisation. Again, we find examples of similarly long-lived regimes in our own world.
Pharaonic Egypt was similar in many ways to the fictitious Amarr Empire. It was a strictly hierarchical society that practiced slavery. It was ruled by priests and a monarch with divine mandate, and it lasted for more than 3000 years. During all those centuries, Ancient Egypt was among the pinnacles of civilisation. The Chinese Empire was established more than 2100 years ago, and only ended with the revolution of 1912. Its cultural identity and political establishment was so strong, that even conquerors from outside, like the Mongols and Quing, were effectively absorbed by the nation. Religious authorities did not play as strong a role in imperial China, but it nevertheless was a strictly hierarchical society with a massive and authoritarian state power structure. Even in today’s People’s Republic, the cultural legacy of the Han Chinese is predominant, and one might wonder how different the modern state bureaucracy really is from the old imperial administration.
Obviously, it is possible for authoritarian regimes to endure for many centuries and even resist cultural influences from outside. The main problems which recur in societies like that are corruption and intrigue at the top of the hierarchy. When power is concentrated in the hands of so few people, their actions have disproportionate influence on society. During the centuries of its existence, the Amarr Empire had a number of troublesome periods resulting from the actions of megalomaniac Emperors, corrupt court officials, powerful religious splinter groups and capricious royal heirs.
The Caldari: Corporate Power
I have previously written about the relationship between Ayn Rand’s philosophy and the Caldari State, explaining how this corporate meritocracy is very close to her objectivist ideals: a society where the most persistent and resourceful entrepreneurs are free to build their corporate empires unfettered by government bureaucracy or a social welfare system that supports underachievers. The question remains whether such a society could actually work. If we look at our own world, we do find examples of corporations motivated by profit alone achieving great works throughout history. The far-reaching excursions of European and Chinese sailors were motivated by commerce and eventually lead to the first transnational corporations that generated wealth, created employment, and facilitated the exchange of goods from all over the world. In the United States, it was corporate initiative that created a network of railways and telegraphs. Even today, despite all deserved criticism, corporate capitalists keep pushing the envelope by creating new products and ideas.
The main problem facing a society built on corporate power is factionalism. Corporations may unite against third parties when their interests align, but they remain competitors for resources and market shares. Such disunity has in fact been a political problem for the Caldari State on several occasions. Another major issue is the failure of profit-seeking corporations to address social inequality in a broader sense. The backstory of EVE Online regularly mentions social unrest as one of the serious troubles the Caldari have to contend with internally. There have been periods of large-scale worker’s uprisings resulting from appalling working conditions, and those only involve the people who actually have jobs. The disabled, sick or elderly who can not fulfil a function needed by the corporations simply become non-entities to such a society. In fact that is exactly what the Caldari call them.
In our own world there are hardly any examples of such a society functioning on a large scale. Historically there were the cities of the Hanseatic League and other urban trade-centres like Venice, Amsterdam or Antwerp, which were effectively run by corporations for extended periods, but all of them were surrounded by larger states with entirely different social contracts. In modern times, the United States have developed into a society where corporate capitalism is so strongly involved in politics that it is sometimes difficult to see where one ends and the other begins. 20th century Japan also had a strong corporate dominance over all aspects of society. It is no coincidence, that the Caldari state appears like an extreme version of those two societies. Neither the US nor Japan, however, are fully under corporate control without any other form of regulation or social contract.
In the fictional universe of New Eden, the main explanation why the Caldari State does not dissolve under the pressure of social equality movements lies with the cultural roots of its people. The Deteis and Civire have long existed on a harsh and unforgiving world before they met the much more egalitarian Gallente. Social Darwinism is likely to be part and parcel of their collective conscience, and the idea that the unfit are just meant to fail would come as natural to them, as the notion that those capable of great achievements also deserve to reap the full benefits without any obligation to care about others.
The Gallente: Democracy and Arrogance
The Gallente Federation comes closest to our contemporary understanding of a modern democratic society. Most EVE players would be familiar with the idea of a nation with a president, a senate and a democratically elected parliament including several political factions. As a generally liberal, affluent, and multicultural society that encompasses many diverse ethnic and social groups within its borders, the Gallente Federation is quite comparable to the United States, Canada, or the European Union. Considering the existence of several large, stable, and politically significant nations on Earth that are so similar to the Federation, it is easy to imagine that such a society could also exist in a distant future on an interstellar scale.
The darker aspects of the Federation also contain many facets that could come directly from our own history books or contemporary news. Nationalism and ethnic tensions can run high, powerful intelligence agencies play their own clandestine games while evading accountability, ruthless corporate tycoons leverage their economic power to dominate politics and there is a strong tendency to use overwhelming force in defense of freedom and democracy. Like the Amarr, the Gallente claim that their ideals are superior and can therefore be imposed on others. Some Gallente would even go so far as to say that they must be imposed on others for their own benefit.
How often have we seen the same happen in our own world? Regularly, democratic societies assume a mandate to enact regime change in some other nation because they are convinced that this would be the best for the people there. In a similar way, the Gallente saw it as only natural that Caldari society could be improved if it became more like their own. They also assumed that the emerging Minmatar Republic must appreciate a democratic government modeled after the Federation. After all, many Minmatar refugees were happy enough to live in such a society for decades already. Just as similar experiments in large-scale social engineering failed in our world, so they did in our fictional gaming universe. In response to Gallente meddling, the Caldari eventually seceded and even fought against the Federation for centuries. The Minmatar also emancipated themselves from Gallente influence and dismantled the democratic system which was imposed upon them. The Gallente Federation is realistic to a degree that could almost be considered metaphorical for our own modern times.
The Minmatar: Tribal Alliance
Tribal spacefaring societies have a long tradition in sci-fi writing, and we have almost come to take them for granted. Such cultures are also prominent throughout our history, and even in modern times some of them still exist on a larger scale. Among the most notable ones are the various states of the Arab Peninsula and the remnants of the original Iroquois Nation which still exist in Canada. The main difficulty when imagining a tribal society taking to the stars lies with the precondition of large-scale engineering projects that require global cooperation.
Tribal societies are often strongly factionalist, and as such the Minmatar would face a problem similar to the Caldari corporate state. Just as corporations are at odds with each other, tribes might have different traditions and worldviews that can lead to clashes—which could be overcome either through consensus or subjugation. The EVE backstory describes the Minmatar tribes as a collection of ethnic groups that have long fought each other on their homeworld but eventually united to form a global society and expanded into space. The alliance of the Five Nations in North America provide a historical example of how that process could develop.
Another problem of tribal factionalism comes into play when there is an outside antagonist. The colonisation of North America and tribal regions of Africa by Europeans or the Ottoman occupation of Arabia historically demonstrated the difficulty tribal cultures have to form a unified front against such an aggressor. Divergent interests can lead to fluctuating alliances and some tribes might even join the invaders. In the fictional history of New Eden, the very same happened when the Amarr invaded Matari space and the Nefantar turned against their brethren in an effort to save themselves. Even when the Minmatar gained their freedom, the Nefantar initially remained on the Amarr side and the Thukker decided to remain completely independent.
Outside aggression can also act as a catalyst for unification. Modern Saudi Arabia is a direct result of Bedouin tribes uniting in rebellion against Turkish occupation. Apparently, the Minmatar were not in need of such a catalyst to develop global unity. In our own world, we have some examples of tribal societies forming large nations without major outside influences. The Tartar Confederation, the Mongol Empire, and even the precursors of modern Germany were such unions of clans or tribes. What sets those examples apart from the Minmatar, is that they usually lost diversity as unification progressed. The Minmatar also have many shared traditions and common paradigms, but to a large extent, the tribes remain culturally and ethnically different. Potentially, that can be explained by the eugenics program used by the Amarr to breed their slaves for their most desirable qualities. We do not know whether Minmatar of different ethnic backgrounds were more homogenous before the centuries of Amarr bondage, but personally I would expect them to have become much more alike, especially the less nomadic tribes like the Sebiestor and Brutor.
I find that overall, the nations of New Eden are decent examples of imagination. I envision each one of them could actually turn out the way they are described. Any problems they have are a direct result of the tensions similar societies had and have in our own world. I like that the writers of the EVE backstory acknowledge that, and weaved such troubles into the history of their imagined cultures. Too often, science fiction authors engage in lots of hand-waving. I often found Star Trek to be particularly prone to such behaviour. Admittedly, Star Trek writers had to create antagonists or foils that the protagonists would act upon for an episode or two, but there are also many examples of fictional societies in the Star Trek universe that were fleshed out very well over the years. In games there is also a strong tendency to simply introduce a warrior race, a hyper-capitalist society, or a deeply religious culture without much explanation of how they work internally.
In EVE, there is no particular need to develop a complex and realistic backstory since much of the player interaction happens independently of such story elements. In light of this, it is especially commendable that the writers of CCP invested the time and effort.