Reflections on Power

In a recent discussion, Aria Jenneth posed an interesting proposition: “I’d be interested, some time, to see you reflect back on the role of power in your own life, Arrendis. You do have a lot of it, and have for a long time.”

And you know, on the surface of it, she’s not wrong. I’m a capsuleer, after all. And I’ve been an alliance director in one of the most powerful alliances in nullsec. So, yeah. I guess I have had ‘a lot of’ power. So…you know… reflections on the role of power in my life. It’s an interesting idea.

Also, as many of you know, I believe that we are not immortal. We are disposable and quickly and easily replaced. We die. The original Arrendis Culome died, a long time ago. I am not her. But I carry her legacy, and her debts, because I owe all that I am to her, and to all of the intermediate clones that lived and died between her and myself. The events of their lives leave their mark on me, as surely as on each of them. For the sake of simplicity, I’m just going to refer to the entire chain of duplications as a singular individual. Because really, it’d just get confusing if I have to start numbering us so I can properly ruminate on the many, many ways power in different forms has influenced my life.

When I was young, ‘power’ was a simple thing. It was ‘who makes the decisions?’, and that… well, it wasn’t me. My mom was in charge, and that was that. At the time, she was a technician on Huggar Station—not officially in charge of anyone, but making a name for herself in her department. These days, she runs the maintenance crews for her range of deck levels, so, you know, she’s still got all the power in the immediate family.

But real ‘power’ was in the hands of the young Chief of the Clan, Tarn Stjörnauga. He took over from his uncle, Inaz Stjörnauga, before I have clear memory of events, but as he was when I was little, Tarn was… bold. Decisive. Clear-eyed and proud, and he made all of us proud to follow him. He was inspirational, and that let him set a powerful example of who we could be.

When I was nine, Chief Tarn’s rising star faltered… though in hindsight, it’s probably for the best. He was among the many people who threw their hat into the ring to become Tribal Chief. Looking back on it with the eyes of an adult… it was a long shot at best, and the over-reach probably signaled to many of his allies that ‘bold and confident’ might also be ‘brash and arrogant’.

Regardless, he didn’t get far in the process, and eventually supported Midular’s ascension. Though they quietly butted heads multiple times over her time as Sebiestor Chief, he always supported the Ray.

However diminished by his over-reach he might have been in Tribal politics, though, within the Clan, Chief Tarn was still the strong, decisive leader, and when cloning was married to capsule in YC 104-105… well, he was able to harness the collective will of the Clan to start getting people tested.

And that’s where I come into things. I wasn’t the first member of the Clan to show clone compatibility promise, but I was one of the first three. The others were Mikal Kenarath, whose family lived on the Eystur III - 1 assembly plant, and Davin Frálmadhur, who was taken in by our Clan with his parents when they were liberated during a raid in Empire space. They settled, I think, on the Logistics Support station above Floseswin VI. Of course, this was years before CONCORD would make that space a war zone.

As an aside, in the future, if CONCORD wants to designate a war zone, they can bloody well do it with their own space. Let’s see all four empires’ paramilitary mercenaries fighting over Yulai, instead of places where people are just trying to live their lives.

Anyway, the whole Clan scraped together extra money to send us all off to schools that fit our aptitude. both Mikal and Davin ended up going to the RMS, while I got sent off to Pator Tech, in Illinfrik.

Mikal didn’t make it. He just… cracked, I guess, and never really recovered. Last I heard, he’d declared himself [translation: unfit to be among a group; exiled] and left Republic space entirely. Scuttlebutt’s placed him everywhere from the Cartel to throwing in with the 24IC, so… who the hell knows?

Davin, though, he sailed through, joined the Fleet, and I think ended up transferring back to the RSS only about a year or so ago. He always credited his success to Chief Tarn’s steadfast example.

And that’s why I include this bit. I mean, I know some folks are probably reading this going ‘what the hell does this have to do with power?’, but to a kid, or a youth, or really, even most baseliners, that’s what it’s all about. Inspiration, setting an example, being a person to be emulated… that’s power, right there. It’s the first kind of power any of us encounter: we want to grow up to be like our parents, or our leaders, or our heroes. That power shapes us in profound ways.

For me… yeah, I wanted to be that kind of strong, decisive figure. I wanted to be like Tarn Stjörnauga, and I was acutely aware of just how much I owed my Clan. Everything at Pator Tech was all about studying, and doing well, and keeping my head screwed on straight so I could make my people proud, and repay them the faith they showed in me, and the money they invested. At least, until YC 110.

As many of you might remember, basically, all hell broke loose across the cluster. Everywhere. All at once. At school, it felt like nobody had any idea what was going on. There were even rumors that all of it was just too… simultaneous, that everything erupting in the Empire, the Thukker armada that we now know as the Elder Fleet, Heth’s assault… that it just couldn’t all be happening at the same time by chance.

We protested. Honestly, I’m not even sure we knew what we were protesting. But void witness, we were protesting, dammit! That whole year… I was lucky I graduated, really. But after a certain point, I guess sometimes good study habits just pull you through on autopilot. It’s all a blur, but by the time I did graduate, the political atmosphere in the Republic felt… hostile, let’s say. Shakor’s government, in a lot of ways, felt like backlash not just against the parliamentary structure of the prior government, but a pronouncement of judgment on the Sebiestor Tribe as something that needed to be… humbled.

That’s a kind of power, too, you know? Public opinion, subtle influences and mood, that kind of thing. You make people feel like they’re not wanted, and they’ll take the hint. In my case, there was definitely an influence there, and it basically set me on the road to everything else. The new government didn’t want people like me, they’d gone out of their way, before the vote of no confidence, to kill people like me… screw ‘em.

My father’s uncle is someone the Clan doesn’t name. He doesn’t, as a rule, get talked about. Just saying this much will probably get Anna the Younger pissed off at me—you know, like the way me breathing gets her pissed off at me. He was a trader, traveling to other nations with his goods and bringing back things he found interesting… until the thing he found interesting was a girl who wanted him to stay.

I feel like I need to make this clear, though: there are ways to do things, and ways not to do things. If you want to be with someone from outside the Clan, that’s fine. Most of our people are one or two generations away from that kind of thing, at most. We have good relations with other Clans, and that’s a solid part of it. You want to settle down with someone from outside the Tribe… it’s less easy, but you can do it, no need for special permission, just… you know, expect questions like ‘which Tribe claims the children?’

You want to marry someone who isn’t Minmatar? Now there’s hoops to jump through. There’s basically two ways to do it: the right way, and the wrong way. The right way involves things like getting the immediate family’s approval, then teaching your intended about our ways… you get a representative of the Chief or the Lawspeaker to approve of your choice and begin the process of formal adoption into the Clan, then there’s the evaluation of how well you’ve taught them, the ritual trial by combat, extended sessions of tickle-torture…

Ok, I might be kidding about some of those, but you know, I gotta maintain some of the mystery here, right?

Anyway, the wrong way? The wrong way is ‘screw you guys, I’m marrying the foreigner and we’re living by her peoples’ customs’. Which is what this particular individual chose. So yeah, we don’t speak of him.

Thing is… they had kids. Who had kids. Now, these people are not ‘family’ to me. They make no claim to be of our blood, and that’s fine. But they also haven’t committed any offenses against us, and we’re not the Empire, so generational offenses aren’t a thing. Their grandfather was a dick? Not their fault.

What’s that matter, right? Well… networking is another form of power. Faced with a potentially hostile work environment, and feeling the obligation to repay the Clan’s investment… I reached out, and ended up with a job offer, hauling freight around the Imurukka constellation.

I spoke with my family. I spoke with Anna the Elder. I spoke with a few other people who were wise and respected within the Clan. And when I had their blessing, off I went to work as an independent capsuleer. I did contract work for Lai Dai for a while before I was contacted by a local mining operation that was looking for a combat pilot to fly cover. The money was better, and it gave me the chance to start networking some more, so I took the gig. And for a while there, that was basically it. Keeping an eye on telemetry as folks mined. Wasn’t thrilling, but it paid the bills and let me send a few million a month back to the Clan.

You might be thinking ‘a few million? Every month? How much did they invest in you?’ and I can understand that… but that’s not how it works. They invested what they had. Everything I will ever make as a capsuleer is because of their investment. If I buy a shiny new battleship tomorrow, I am only able to buy that battleship because of their investment in me, a decade and a half ago.

And that obligation… that’s also a form of power. I will never be free of my debt to them. It can never be fully repaid. Just as I can never repay my mother for, you know, giving me life. All our lives, we develop these debts we can never repay, except by always repaying them in any way we can. I don’t say this with resentment, or some kind of ‘oh no, I can never get free of this’, but rather… wonder, and joy.

Humanity is a social species, and those of us who are not monstrously neurodivergent (because not all monsters are insane) spend all our lives not just indebted to others, but giving others the things they need without thinking, without hesitation. That generosity of character, of… spirit, if you will… it’s an amazing thing. And it’s powerful, in ways… most people never even stop to consider.

That might be something we do differently. The Stjörnauga teach our children from a very young age that when you take on a commitment, you see it through. Obligations are sacrosanct. We cannot survive if we abandon our obligations. Separated and scattered, we would wither and fade, as individuals, and as a people.

So. Power. Different forms of it have influenced my life in different ways. From the inspiring example Chief Tarn sets to the cold hostility of the Shakorite regime to the power of familial bonds, it shaped my younger self into someone who sees individual effort as a way to honor obligations to the group, someone who wants to excel at whatever I do, and someone willing to set out on my own, far from the familiar surroundings of home. But of course, it doesn’t stop there.

I spent about two years with the mining corp, expanding my abilities and learning to fly a logistics cruiser, before the officers of the corporation decided they were going to take some vacation time, spend their money on creature comforts. The corporation shut down, and me… I went home. Decided to take a break, myself, and spent some months working as a technician on Huggar Station. Of course, my capsuleer status meant I wasn’t actually employed by the RSS… but mom pretty much turned a blind eye to me helping out. After all, I knew those machines. I’d been working on them almost before I could walk.

That changed when one of the corp officers contacted me. The group of them were looking for ‘big money’ by going out to hire on with a nullsec corporation, and he wanted a reliable logistics pilot to watch their backs. There’s that power of social bonds, again, eh? The group of us bounced from one corp to another for a bit as the different corporations decided their different paths. One corp got kicked out of their alliance, but we’d made enough friends to get a couch to crash on. The next eventually decided to go start their own… but different members of our little knot had started making a name for themselves in specialized circles. So when that corp left, we shifted again, this time changing alliance but remaining within the coalition.

Eventually, most of them retired. The few who didn’t… well, one of them made himself extremely useful within the Recon team, and when he moved into Goonwaffe, he brought us with him.

All through this, I was just a normal line member. I’d done some work for Recon, but I didn’t have any authority or influence beyond that of anyone else. I’d starting anchoring the logistics in fleets, but even that wasn’t any kind of special thing—FCs usually didn’t even know who their logi anchor was, in those days. Instead, all of the power and influence in play then was networking, social bonds. The people who knew me, knew me because they’d worked with me. And as I did the job more and more, the number of people who knew me grew.

I’ve described how I came to be the fitting director. It was around the same time that I started putting together the group that would become RepSwarm. Power? Maybe, but again, any power involved in RepSwarm was entirely social in nature. I couldn’t compel anything there. As fitting director… sure, I had the ‘power’ to mandate what people fly, but… at the same time, that’s not really power at all. It’s another obligation.

The GSF Doctrines and Fitting Director position exists for the benefit of the line members, and the FCs. The military leadership identifies a need, and we design to fill that need. We tell everyone what to fly not because they have to do what we say, but because they need to know that the fits they’re using are reliable, even if they don’t know how to fit a ship themselves. And the FCs need to know that the fleet’s performance will be consistent and predictable. So is that power, or is that service? If the line guys don’t show up for a doctrine, that doctrine fails. If the FCs can’t use it the way we designed it to be used, it fails.

We don’t have the power there. They do, the people who actually fly that fleet.

And yeah, I’ve had input into strategic decisions. But at no point have I had any kind of authority over membership. Generally, the directorate… doesn’t, except within their specific spheres. An FC can give orders on his fleet… but only on his fleet. The finance guys can figure out what tax structure to set up… but they can’t give anyone orders. Even Mittens only has what power the line gives him, by showing up.

I’ve seen two directors play the ‘Do you know who I am?’ card at line members who were mouthing off. Neither one of them was a director a day later. I’ve seen raw, low-level skirmish commanders cut Mittens off and tell him to shut the hell up—in those words—in front of hundreds of people in their fleet. Every time, he’s been delighted, and he’s spent months singing their praises. Because he knows he’s not an FC, and when there’s a fleet, the FC is the guy in charge, not the ‘space tyrant’.

Everyone in leadership, from the lowest FC, logi anchor, or recon, right up to the top of the Imperium, is a cog in a machine, and that machine exists to serve the masses, because they are the Imperium, not us.

So where’s the power in that dynamic?

You asked me to think about how power has influenced my life. In the time I spent in the leadership of the most powerful capsuleer organization in New Eden, I’d have to say the most profound effect power has had has been to reinforce the lessons of my childhood: leaders exist to serve. They do not exist for themselves. Whoever is at the top of the pyramid is not the person who is truly powerful, or truly ‘in charge’. In the end, they exist to serve those at the bottom of the pyramid.

And if they don’t? If the people higher up in a power structure claim to be the ‘betters’ of those lower down, if they insist power flows from the top? GET OUT. That is a recipe for disaster. Leadership exists to benefit the masses. Remove the leaders, and the masses will figure out who they should listen to. Remove the masses, and leadership will probably starve, because they haven’t got a clue how to actually tend the fields.

Eventually, the masses will figure that out. When they do… the parts to make a guillotine tend to be really cheap.