Well, I am personally not a holder, though many in my family are. I can certainly pass on my family’s insights that I have gleaned.
My family have had holdership as far back as we’ve recorded the practice. We’re a very old family, and rather old-fashioned. In that regard, holdership is a means by which those who live within the Empire but are ignorant of its precepts are educated of its workings, and the holder is a facilitator of that process. But, most importantly, it’s the most grave responsibility anyone could possibly have. Whereas in most empires’ people are relatively forgettable individually, the positions created for them and resources provided them are all that matters and control is maintained solely by access to those two elements, holders are given complete control and custody of their wards themselves. My uncle told me once that if you aren’t worried of the wisdom of every decision you make on a slave’s behalf, you shouldn’t bear that rod. You have complete control to hurt them physically, mentally, educationally, spiritually, in all manners by which one could feasibly hurt another, hurt which very easily could serve no purpose. And their success lies ultimately on your shoulders.
Bearing all that in mind, the failings of a holding are ultimately the fault of the holder. With complete custody comes complete responsibility. That’s a less common maxim these days, where slaves are often seen as commodities much the same way as the employed are seen elsewhere, but holdership is ultimately the development and culturing of people. It is a holder’s job, essentially, to make people into better contributors to society, and it’s a difficult job. For families new to the practice, it can seem that short-term wasting of people for personal good is the most profitable way to go about it (if one ignores the theological responsibility).
However, there is great reward to holding, if one takes a long view of the holdership. We conduct our business the way it was conducted long before the Moral Reforms. Slaves are chosen when more are needed (and if you’re doing this correctly over generations, that need should be ever-growing as your holding expands) from the stocks primarily for their willingness to serve. In the long term this is the most important qualification not only of slaves, but of Imperial peoples. They are then taught all the necessary civics they need to survive and thrive, and are educated in a profession. Should they fail in either regard, it is endemic upon their administrators to either find out why and correct the issue or to put them in a new position where they do the most good. Slaves need room to fail more than even their free contemporaries; they are still learning how to be citizens. And though punishment could be had, it is important not to rule by the whip. That fails inevitably. My uncle told me often that if being sent back to the blocks for resale wasn’t the most feared punishment you could level, then the problem most certainly lay with you.
Thus, the idea of slavery should not be to make more slaves, it’s to make more Imperial citizens of worth. Slave milling is an inherently costly practice. Slaves may not require wages, per se, but they require all the re-requisites of life to develop (and eventually to deliver their maximum benefit). Slaves need to be fed, sheltered, taught, ministered to, entertained, introduced to society, taught to interact with that society, taught to contribute to that society, and all those things (and the resultants thereof) are costs that rest with the holder. Failure to receive them are, of course, the holder’s responsibility. If your slaves are ill-adjusted to the society they live in, that is the holder’s responsibility to rectify, and the seeds of those failures grow from negligence.
Much better, of course, to have freed people who can be expected to provide for their own needs. However, that’s not as easy as just turning the people loose; people who are ill-adjusted to society tend to view it as an adversary even when it provides for them. Without a proper understanding of money and property, they may fail in their business ventures, steal to shore up those failings, and then receive punitive blame for their crimes, for example. These, also, are the fault of those who taught them, and if they are themselves freed slaves, that is again the holder’s fault (even freed people in the holding should receive a good moral and civil education, even if the responsibility is nominally theirs to learn and teach their children).
So the best, and most profitable, way to bring people through the system is to purchase slaves with a pedigree of loyalty, work-ethic, and education (yes, they are more expensive, but they pay long-term dividends). Within a few generations at the very most (and if you’ve researched correctly, your first-generation release rate should be relatively high) you should have crafted a professional who can strike out on their own in your name. Once you feel comfortable freeing them, you put your money where your mouth is, giving them a loan to start their business, employees if you can arrange them for further educational purposes and all the help they need to perform in that capacity. Many will fail, perhaps more than a few times, and if they do, there is always extending the loans, re-enslavement, or simply re-employment to a more successful business venture so they can continue to learn. Even in the case of freed people, keeping businesses within the extended breadth of the holding and hiring your own is the optimal situation.
If one of these freed people is highly successful, it is important then to bring them into the lower echelons of the house (especially before someone else notices and does it first, stealing away your best and brightest). To succeed such in the empire, a citizen will hopefully have internalized these civic principles. As such, that is the time to marry them to another member of the (by God be you so blessed) extended family to give them a measure of political responsibility. Over many generations, if they become more and more successful, they shall hopefully marry higher and higher up the order to secure themselves as a family in their own right, perhaps even become holders themselves. And, as their family is part of your House, their success is your family’s success. Thus, what seems like it isn’t initially of optimal good (even if the improvement of people isn’t an interest of yours), turns out to provide the most benefit of all to everyone involved.
That’s the way that it’s supposed to work, but it relies very heavily on holders taking responsibility for the people in their charge. Not as much worrying about the positions or the profits (those come with time) but the people themselves. They, and their descendants, are ultimately what profits their holders, and those rewards only come with good stewardship. Again, if slaves do not want to serve you more than risk the outside, you must eventually take that responsibility upon yourself. You own their entire lives, you have no one else to blame if those lives aren’t an improvement over a roll of the dice.
Now, all that being said, that’s the best way I can describe it to people in purely civic terms. Theologically, it shouldn’t need to be said that in the first few lines of the Scripture:
“The Amarr people came into the world and the world came into being.
Our illustrious ancestors freed their souls from the evils of the old.
world and created a new one.
The great Amarr Empire was founded to cultivate the spirit of man.
To do so the enemies of the outside had to be defeated and the enemies of the inside controlled.
The Lord gave our Emperor the power to harness the Good and punish the Evil.
Ever since, the Emperor has lived the lives of his subjects and breathed the air of authority.”
- The Scriptures, Book I 1:14
(Context provided, emphasis is mine)
It is very easy to lose sight of that emphasized line when you are very concerned with the Empire’s enemies, but the Empire was not founded in order to control those enemies (that is a prescription). It is founded to cultivate mankind, not only slaves but all of us. We are all, as a people, growing into our roles which God eventually intends for us. That means never forgetting our original Scriptural purpose is people, helping them grow, helping them succeed, and helping them to help the next group in line. That it is ultimately rewarding to go about this work properly is a secondary concern, crafting a more harmonious society by harmonizing the people in one’s charge is a service in itself and one by which the ultimate reward can be obtained.
It’s a tremendous responsibility and should weigh a heavy burden on all those upon whom the right is bestowed. It is often difficult to understand that those upon whom the highest position is provided are those most at risk of damnation, for the responsibilities given them are so intrinsically important to the Mission and their failings so culpable of cascading failure down the line, but it is true. Thus my uncle’s best advice, “Fire alone builds not a temple. The blade of a sword hammers a poor nail. Quarry your stone with reverence for it is all that stands when you fall.”
Always be building, know what you are building, and never destroy something you don’t have a plan for afterwards. That is the essence of holdership according to my family’s holders.