Congratulations, You’ve Overthrown the Bastards! (Now You’re the New Bastards)

You’ve thrown a revolution! Now the real work begins.

Medusa in the Graveyard, the second book in Emily Devenport’s Medusa Cycle follows Oichi Angelis in the aftermath of her takeover of the generation starship Olympia. Below, Devenport explores what it means to overthrow a government and the potential to become the new “bastards”.

By Emily Devenport

The Good Guys won the revolution and the Bad Guys lost, so everything the Good Guys do to fix things must work out wonderfully, right?  Because the Good Guys are smart, so they must know how to keep the lights on and the trains running on time.  But alas, winning a war, or a revolution, or an election, is not the same thing as knowing how to run a government.

Complicating your efforts are the Old Guard who know how to run things, but who also know how to gum them up.  It’s pretty easy for them to make you look bad, because you’re going to help them do that with your good intentions (which turn out to be not as feasible as you thought, and which also have unintended consequences).  Oligarchs may feel the ensuing chaos is good for them if they can manipulate banks and courts into ruling in their favor, but farmers, manufacturers, and consumers don’t like chaos, they want stability – and they vote.  This is the challenge every incoming administration faces on Earth: entrenched interests and oligarchs fight any change in the status quo, even though most citizens don’t like things as they are.  Move that situation to a generation ship, and things become  simpler in some ways, more complicated in others.

In Medusa Uploaded, a lot of the oligarchs were assassinated, which was convenient for revolutionaries trying to make the transition to clan leaders.  However, regardless of who the Old Guard may be, or in what sort of gravity well they may abide, they always have a support network of bureaucrats, officials, and technicians who actually know how to do things.  Do these folks deserve a probation period, in which the incoming administration attempts to cultivate them?  If you’re going to replace them, should you at least give them a chance to school their successors?  Make it worth their effort; reward their good work and give them input in the new administration, even if you don’t agree with their ideology.  This is how consensus is built, and though it is rarely as successful as it ought to be, it’s far better than having to re-invent the wheel every time there’s a regime change.

Unfortunately, incoming administrations rarely seem to grasp the value of conferring with the officials who are departing, whether they’re trying to get their own government running, or they’re trying to create an interim government after a war.  The results are predictable.  If you get rid of all of your “enemies,” you may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  We’ve seen this happen time and again in human history.

For example, it’s amazing how naïve the Bush administration was about their reformation of the government of Iraq – until you consider that they had just done something similar when they took over the U.S. Government.  These days, when new administrations bid farewell the previous bureaucrats, they do so with considerably more distaste than they used to; people are more polarized in their ideology.  It’s possible that Bush and his appointees ignored the extensive briefings prepared for them by outgoing officials, just as they ignored advice about not tampering with the equilibrium in the Middle East, when they blundered in to create their “flower of democracy.”  This is the sort of situation I pondered when trying to figure out what comes next for the population living on Generation Ship Olympia. 

In Medusa in the Graveyard, our heroes are finding out that assassinations don’t solve everything.  In fact, they can makes things worse.  Diplomacy, negotiations, trade agreements, regulations – those are the things that get your society running smoothly.

However, what seems like negotiations to some, plays out more like war to others.  You may believe you’ve gotten rid of all your enemies, but you’re likely to find out you’re wrong – and also that you’d better get over it and shift gears.  Olympia is moving into a solar system with well-established trade agreements; the Olympians discover that their new neighbors have treaties with their old enemies, and with other people they haven’t even met, yet.  What’s the first thing they need to do?

In my opinion, they need to get trade started.  Everything else springs from that.  To illustrate why, I need only refer to the disastrous trade policy of the Trump administration.  I suspect it will go down in history as a classic example of how not to negotiate with partners.  If Oichi and her cohorts decided to slap tariffs on goods coming into Olympia, and those tariffs made it impossible for Olympian soy farmers to compete in the new market, she might find herself on the wrong side of an airlock.

Many people voted for Trump because he was the guy who said the right things about manufacturing and mining jobs.  If he had made those remarks on Olympia, he would have been expected to follow through with them.  The fact that he hasn’t, casts light on a problem in government – the empty campaign promise.  In a country the size of the United States, you can get away with those shenanigans for quite a long time.  On a generation ship like Olympia, the failure to follow through can cost lives.  Your promises have to be realistic, especially if your citizens suffered under the old regime with little or no say in the decisions that affect their families.

If that’s the case, how do you please people who have been restricted their whole lives?

By making some concessions.  Give them something they want, with an indication that things could continue to improve if everyone works together.  Make sure you deliver on that promise, and be realistic when you observe the results.  What is sustainable?  What creates opportunities for all of your citizens, instead of just a select few?

True, you may ultimately discover that you need to make deals with some of those old bastards, after all.  That’s the toughest lesson of all – that the Bad Guys believed they were the Good Guys.

So what does that make you?

If you want to be one of the Good Guys, you better keep asking yourself that question.

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