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Old February 25 2015, 07:21 PM   #1
Travis Chesser
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The Breen (and my problems with them) (SPOILERS)

So, I've finally gotten caught up with all the books in recent years, just finished Section 31: Disavowed. Great book, but it reinforced my issues with the usage of the Breen that has bugged me for some time.

I know that the whole Khitomer species/Typhon Pact stuff is meant to be a stand-in for Cold War US/Soviet Union relationships, where espionage took place, etc., but actual full war between the two never broke out, but at this point I cannot see how the Federation has not declared war on the Breen or at least the Typhon Pact has not kicked them out.

The Breen have time and again attacked, killed, or gone against any sort of uneasy peace. Between Mack's first Typhon Pact book, his Data trilogy where they murdered a Federation officer, and now this, it has simply gotten unbelievable that there have not been repercussions for them yet. Again - even if its being removed from the Pact. Everyone knows what they've done and that they keep attacking people, and Kamemor seems like someone more level-headed.

I just have gotten... a little wary of their portrayal and the fact that they have suffered no repercussions.
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Old February 25 2015, 07:46 PM   #2
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Re: The Breen (and my problems with them) (SPOILERS)

The Soviet Union isn't really a good analogy; the Pact is more informed by the post-superpower era, as formerly marginalized states assert their interests and move into the power vacuum. Granted, it is a "cold war" sort of situation as well, but it's not an exact, one-to-one parallel with Earth history, since that would be pretty implausible.

As for Breen repercussions, didn't the Breen government that was behind the events of Silent Weapons get overthrown from within? And that debacle surely undermined the Breen's standing and credibility within the Pact as well. I'd call those repercussions.
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Old February 25 2015, 08:30 PM   #3
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Re: The Breen (and my problems with them) (SPOILERS)

The Breen have been embarrassing themselves on the interstellar stage over the last few years, and it's definitely had an effect on the wider political situation, in that the more hostile arm of the Pact keeps undermining itself, even marginalizing itself; both within the political community as a whole and within the Pact specifically. Not only did the Breen domo get handed his notice by the Congress, but the Gorn and the Romulans are openly accepting hopeful olive branches from the Federation's prominent member worlds. The Breen are dangerous and unpredictable, and all it's doing for them is depleting their treasury and costing them assets. I'd argue that we are seeing repercussions, though I do get where you're coming from.

The Breen are going to end up being viewed as a rogue state if they're not careful. I think we've seen signs of this, in the subtext at least. (Personally, I wonder what's going to happen after Hobus, and whether the Breen will support their allies or try to wrest power from their bloodied rivals).

If anything, I think the Breen are a great commentary on the tragic waste that leads to so many prosperous nations falling into economic ruin because, for example, their leader decides he wants to spend a third of the country's wealth on building himself a giant palace. In Silent Weapons, we saw the Breen leader piss away what could have been significant victories and triumphs for his people because he had his obsessive eye on a grand prize, and the lower ranks were continuously being told "do as you're instructed without question; you're not privy to the greater picture, and can't understand the leader's great vision".

In Silent Weapons, the Breen note that even if the nature of their scheme was unknown to most, "all of local space" knows that one of their ships was shooed out of Federation territory in disgrace. The Breen have antagonized the Romulans (in that they spend as much time playing the Starscream to the Star Empire as they do anything else), and they've shown both the Gorn and the Kinshaya that as far as the Confederacy is concerned their supposed partners are little more than tools, and that the Breen are quite happy to walk all over their sovereignty and throw them under the bus. The Tzenkethi are still working with them, but even then one of the most important Thots recently defected to the Coalition (fat chance Ab-Tzenketh is giving him back, I assume), and after Venette the Tzenkethi seem to have been shocked into stepping back from the scheming, while the Breen have the totally opposite response to their failures and keep rolling on to the next project. As for the Tholians, they seemed to channel all of their efforts into Andor and that was a bust, so they're apparently keeping a low profile at the moment. Like the Tzenkethi, they're more cautious and defensive than expansionist. The Breen have a manifest destiny, which even their fellow Hostile Sub-Pact members lack.

As for repercussions from the Federation...To be blunt, when you have evenly-matched powers balanced precariously against each other, saving face is more important than confronting the truth. The important stuff goes on behind the scenes and in the shadows. No-one wants a full-on war unless they know they can win. So that means schemes to undermine the opponent, and tailored, carefully calculated counter-operations, lots of deniability and the refusal to address the state of hostilities. This presumably goes double for the Federation, which is genuinely invested in maintaining the idea of a stable international/interstellar community, presumably in the hopes that if you play at a lie long enough it begins to become the truth.

Basically, there have been repercussions, I think. Politically, not militarily. Kamemor's Romulans are in ascendance within the Pact, supported by the Gorn (who will never trust the Breen again), the Kinshaya have reason to mistrust Breen influence too, the Tholians and Tzenkethi have both tasted of the humble pie and seem to be reconsidering their rashness, or at least keeping their heads down...but the Breen keep on trying to fight a full-blown shadow war against the Federation. It's not going well for them, really.
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Old February 25 2015, 11:47 PM   #4
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Re: The Breen (and my problems with them) (SPOILERS)

^ Nicely summarized.
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Old February 26 2015, 12:31 AM   #5
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Re: The Breen (and my problems with them) (SPOILERS)

I'd even go so far as to say that the Breen have pushed the Gorn and Romulans closer to leaving the Typhon Pact and either standing on their own or joining the Khitomer Accords.
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Old February 26 2015, 10:25 AM   #6
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Re: The Breen (and my problems with them) (SPOILERS)

Realistically, the recurring conflicts between the Federation and the Breen Confederacy have not so far led to war because neither government wants a war.

For the Breen, that condition may be temporary. When we first met him in Zero Sum Game, it appeared that Domo Brex was not interested in war per se. Like the other Typhon Pact leaders, Domo Brex wanted to acquire slipstream drive technology in order to achieve technological parity with the Federation, which he feared as a threat to the Breen because of slipstream's potential as a crippling first-strike enabler. However, there wasn't a clear indication that this would necessarily lead to war should the Breen slipstream project have come to fruition; the Federation government launched their infiltration and sabotage project out of fear that the Pact would then out-compete the Federation for resources and territories in a long-term cold war. So as of 2382, it was not immediately clear that Domo Brex's government posed an existential threat.

The second time we encounter significant hostile Breen action towards the Federation, Brex's government is participating in a joint Tzenkethi-Breen-Tal Shiar attempt to steal Dominion technology in order to develop artificial wormhole technology. This operation leads to the Third Battle Deep Space 9 and the station's destruction, as well as the destruction of the S.S. Xhosa and thousands of civilian and Starfleet deaths. The Federation essentially choses not to declare war upon the relevant parties because it becomes clear that the Typhon Pact's hegemon, the Romulan Star Empire, was not itself in support of the operation and had finally succeeded in clamping down on its own rogue elements; this done, the Federation apparently decided that an adversarial but non-warfare policy towards the Breen was best, in part because it believed the progressive Romulan government would have a curbing influence on Breen aggression.

That belief may have been accurate for almost any other Domo, but it becomes clear in Cold Equations: Silent Weapons that Domo Brex is not (if he ever was) a rational political actor. Whereas other Typhon Pact leaders such as Tzenkethi Autarch Korzenten Rej Tov-AA may pursue limited hostile action against the Federation for substantive gain of some sort, they still act rationally and do not pursue overt warfare, which they view as not in their national interests. Domo Brex, on the other hand, is described by other Breen as possessing a disturbing fanaticism, and willingly sacrifices a significant tactical advancement in the form of the captured Soong-type android army in pursuit of Memory Omega's wormhole technology from the Mirror Universe. The Soong-type android army could have been a huge asset for the Breen, particularly given both their special operations and clandestine intelligence-gathering utility, but he explicitly pursued jaunt drive technology over this out of a goal to literally dominate the galaxy. He was interested in more than Breen hegemony--he wanted out-and-out conquest, and for his failure this Hitlerian figure was removed from office.

Domo Pran originally seems like he may be a more rational political actor, and he still may yet be. He did decide to pursue the same jaunt drive technology that Brex did, but his actions in doing so were much less reckless--he risked a single starship and special operations company instead of the entirety of an advanced tactical asset;he made certain to attack a state (the Galactic Commonwealth) that would likely be unable or unwilling to retaliate due to the dimensional barriers separating his Breen Confederacy from the Commonwealth; and he obfuscated the origin of the attack by virtue of hitting in the Mirror Universe, leaving the Commonwealth to (from his POV) likely end up retaliating against the Mirror Breen. That last bit is not an accurate assessment of the Commonwealth's ability to discern the attack's origins, but there is no evidence Pran or the other Prime Universe Breen leaders know about Memory Omega's dimensional spying technology, and is therefore a likely motivator in his thought process.

Would Domo Pran have pursued Brex's overtly expansionist foreign policy with jaunt technology? This is unclear. It is possible he would have pursued it simply in order to maintain military parity with the Federation and to allow the Confederacy to ascend to a position of hegemon within the Pact. This is my suspicion, since he opposed Brex's initial jaunt drive operation and seemed unwilling to risk many resources to acquire the technology.

As for why the Federation did not retaliate with an open declaration of war? Well, it did not retaliate against the first operation (Zero Sum Game) because it wished to avoid war and use a covert operation to deny them the slipstream technology instead. Refusing to openly confirm that slipstream technology had been stolen also left the door open for a disinformation campaign to leave the Pact with doubts about whether they had acquired all of the Federation's slipstream info.

I've already covered the Federation's lack of retaliation against the destruction of Deep Space 9.

Why did the UFP not retaliate with war after the Breen's jaunt operation? The most obvious is simply this: While the Federation may have known enough to establish the identity of the political actors who assassinated the presidential chief of staff and attempted to assassinate the President, the evidence was not utterly irrefutable. In addition, Picard's destruction of the Breen ship attempting to salvage the wreck of the Memory Omega starship ShiKahr meant that there was no solid evidence left that the Breen were attempting to steal jaunt technology. Add to this President Bacco's general desire to avoid war, and her diplomatic success in convincing the Romulans and Gorn to create a moderate bloc within the Pact, and you have an explanation.

Finally, the Federation literally had no way to retaliate for Pran's MU operation. The Breen did not attack the UFP, they attacked the Galactic Commonwealth. And the agency that helped thwart them, of course, does not officially exist--and so Breen hostilities against the Section 31 team cannot be reported.
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Old February 26 2015, 06:53 PM   #7
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Re: The Breen (and my problems with them) (SPOILERS)

This has been a wonderful evocation of why current Trek is so much fun.
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Old February 26 2015, 07:23 PM   #8
Travis Chesser
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Re: The Breen (and my problems with them) (SPOILERS)

Thanks for the replies everyone. And David, I'm hoping you didn't take my question/comment as an insult. I love your books! But I did really enjoy this discussion thread. I don't post here often, but have read the boards for a few years.

The interesting thing is when I was listing all the examples of Breen activity, I forgot the one that I actually thought would/should instigate war the most, which was the destruction of DS9, lol.

I think I maybe am just still stinging from their murder of Choudhury. That one hurt. You know - I think I am just stinging from all the deaths that we got hit with fast. Esperanza hurts for me personally than any of the others.
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Old February 26 2015, 08:04 PM   #9
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Re: The Breen (and my problems with them) (SPOILERS)

^ Then I've done my job correctly.
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Old February 28 2015, 03:22 PM   #10
Deranged Nasat
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Re: The Breen (and my problems with them) (SPOILERS)

Sci wrote: View Post
Whereas other Typhon Pact leaders such as Tzenkethi Autarch Korzenten Rej Tov-AA may pursue limited hostile action against the Federation for substantive gain of some sort, they still act rationally and do not pursue overt warfare, which they view as not in their national interests.
Given that the Tzenkethi leader holds his or her post on merit, having tested highest on whatever criteria the Tzenkethi use to judge leadership potential, it makes sense that Korzenten, for all his antagonism toward the Federation, would be a rational player. Cultural biases and ideological baggage aside, a test for leadership potential surely weeds out those prone to psychological instability or megalomania, whatever the culture. Order being such an obsessive ideal for the naturally fluid Tzenkethi (ah, now I'm recalling the Odo-Cory scene in The Missing; good stuff), their system no doubt insists that a leader have a sense of perspective. The idea of a Tzenkethi leader pulling a Brex is hard to accept; somewhat ironically, given that the autarch (as the name suggests) is an entirely independent figure whose advisors, we see clearly in Plagues of Night, are mostly just playthings. But then Korzenten isn't a megalomaniac - he knows he's the best. That's why he has his job to begin with. . "God don't make no mistakes...that's how he got to be God" . Tzenkethi leaders may be tyrants by any outsiders' perspective but they're certainly very stable personalities.

Indeed, the Tzenkethi have taken the opposite response to the Breen - after their scheming nearly got out of hand at Venette, the Tzenkethi have scaled back the aggression. Korzenten told Alizome at the end of Rough Beasts... that now they could give the Federation reason to fear them, and in Plagues of Night he followed through on that, but his first goal was stability within the Pact, and kicking sand in the Federation's face seems a secondary policy pursued when it's judged that Tzenketh has the stability and protection it needs to make it feasible. The Breen will destabilize the Pact to achieve their goals, whereas everything the Tzenkethi have done was about achieving a stable Pact - notably, of course, their initial manipulations on Romulus (even if Kamemor later started moving around the board on her own; like I've noted before, Tzenkethi are so used to playing with pieces that stay where they're put that for all their brilliance they don't quite see that their alien tools will soon wander off and change the outcomes).

Sci wrote: View Post
Domo Brex, on the other hand, is described by other Breen as possessing a disturbing fanaticism...a goal to literally dominate the galaxy. He was interested in more than Breen hegemony--he wanted out-and-out conquest.
You can see why they worked so well with the Romulans in Plagues, despite the spectre - already introduced in Zero Sum Game - of direct competition between their peoples. In The Buried Age, it's mentioned that the Breen often have a sense of manifest destiny; ironically enough, given their preoccupation with concealment and secretiveness, they're more overtly aggressive that the Tholians or the Tzenkethi, who tend to view the outside world in xenophobic - defensive - terms. (As expanded on in Vanguard and Brinkmanship, essentially on a physiological as well as a cultural basis). We certainly see some of that appeal to defensive concerns with the Breen - many of the individual Breen seemed genuine in their belief that the goal of gaining quantum slipstream was to protect against Federation dominance through parity. But, like the Romulans, the Breen are caught between the twin poles of fearful paranoia and a sense of national destiny as overlords. Factions in their society - and in their own individual psychologies - seem to pull between these. Of course, there cannot be two galactic overlords, which contributes further to the tensions between Breen and Romulan. Ah, Romulus. Either it's on their side against the Federation (Tal'aura), and so a threat as a direct competitor even while it's a true ally, or else it wants stable relations with the Federation (Kamemor) and is a rival for control of the Pact's destiny. It's an ally that's an ally that's a rival or else it's an ally that's a rival.
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Old March 3 2015, 09:09 AM   #11
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Re: The Breen (and my problems with them) (SPOILERS)

Do not forget that in The Struggle Within, Breen mercenaries were directly responsible for a massacre on the Kinshaya capital world that led to regime change there and condemnation even from Pact members.

The Breen have not had a good time of it.
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Old March 3 2015, 01:14 PM   #12
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Re: The Breen (and my problems with them) (SPOILERS)

Deranged Nasat wrote: View Post
Sci wrote: View Post
Whereas other Typhon Pact leaders such as Tzenkethi Autarch Korzenten Rej Tov-AA may pursue limited hostile action against the Federation for substantive gain of some sort, they still act rationally and do not pursue overt warfare, which they view as not in their national interests.
Given that the Tzenkethi leader holds his or her post on merit, having tested highest on whatever criteria the Tzenkethi use to judge leadership potential, it makes sense that Korzenten, for all his antagonism toward the Federation, would be a rational player. Cultural biases and ideological baggage aside, a test for leadership potential surely weeds out those prone to psychological instability or megalomania, whatever the culture.
I think that may be an overly optimistic assertion. I certainly agree that Korzenten is a rational political actor, but I'm very skeptical of the idea that you can design a test capable of objectively determining who is a good leader and of weeding out megalomania. I mean, you are literally talking about a society where everyone is indoctrinated to worship the Autarch as a virtual god -- seems to me that megalomania of sorts is almost a job requirement.

(And that's to say nothing of my general skepticism towards the Tzenkethi genetic caste system -- I think Corazame's arc in Brinkmanship/The Missing is a good refutation of its supposed infallibility in determining both personal potential.)

Order being such an obsessive ideal for the naturally fluid Tzenkethi (ah, now I'm recalling the Odo-Cory scene in The Missing; good stuff), their system no doubt insists that a leader have a sense of perspective.
Does it? I mean, that's a very subjective concept, isn't it, a "sense of perspective?" A good sense of perspective might be for them to recognize their relative power, and the fact that Federation expansionism only ever occurs either consensually or in unclaimed territories, and to therefore decide it's in their best interests to ally with the Federation rather than to be antagonistic towards them. A good sense of perspective might be to recognize the fallibility of their attempts to create a genetic caste system and to instead use their genetic engineering skills to embrace an orderly egalitarianism. Even if they cannot embrace egalitarian democracy, a good sense of perspective might simply mean rejecting the idea of absolute monarchy in favor of a more generalized aristocracy--absolute monarchies are terribly unstable systems of government, since they thwart the ambitions of many while only celebrating the one, leading to constant coup attempts.

I'm not so convinced that the Tzenkethi system must necessarily produce rational Autarchs. I simply think that it has at this current time.

The Breen will destabilize the Pact to achieve their goals, whereas everything the Tzenkethi have done was about achieving a stable Pact
Which, to be fair, does not mean that they have not made errors that have destabilized the situation. They calculated that they could use the alienation between the Federation and the Venette Convention to weaponize Venette starbases without reprisal, but the Federation made it clear that they had misjudged Khitomer Alliance reaction to a Venette alliance with the Pact. They tried to stare the Federation down, and only blinked first Korzenten realized how badly he had erred and destabilized the situation.

Korzenten is a rational political actor insofar as he will pursue his goals as far as he can without intentionally risking a major destabilization, and insofar as he isn't literally out to conquer the entire quadrant. He is, however, subject to the same errors of judgment to which any rational being may be subject. Think Kennedy and Khrushchev over Cuba (as compared to Hitler and Chamberlain over the Sudetenland).

- notably, of course, their initial manipulations on Romulus (even if Kamemor later started moving around the board on her own; like I've noted before, Tzenkethi are so used to playing with pieces that stay where they're put that for all their brilliance they don't quite see that their alien tools will soon wander off and change the outcomes).
An excellent insight.

It does make me wonder -- there's no way Tzenkethi genetic engineering is so good that there are not Tzenkethi dissidents, no Tzenkethi radicals or Tzenkethi democrats. Hell, we know from Articles of the Federation that at least some of the Tzelnira are disloyal enough to the Autarch and loyal enough to their families first that they'll smuggle their children out of Coalition space for Federation medical treatment. So where are the Tzenkethi dissidents? Where are the dissatisfied Tzelnira? The angry Tzenkethi workers? The Tzenkethi academics who like studying heretical Federation democracy just a little bit too much?

Sci wrote: View Post
Domo Brex, on the other hand, is described by other Breen as possessing a disturbing fanaticism...a goal to literally dominate the galaxy. He was interested in more than Breen hegemony--he wanted out-and-out conquest.
You can see why they worked so well with the Romulans in Plagues, despite the spectre - already introduced in Zero Sum Game - of direct competition between their peoples. In The Buried Age, it's mentioned that the Breen often have a sense of manifest destiny; ironically enough, given their preoccupation with concealment and secretiveness, they're more overtly aggressive that the Tholians or the Tzenkethi, who tend to view the outside world in xenophobic - defensive - terms.
I'm going to display my political bias here, but I think this makes sense for another reason: The Breen, as established in Zero Sum Game, are practitioners of a particularly all-encompassing brand of corporate capitalism. If there's anything the history of the British and American empires has shown, it's that capitalism has a historical pattern of driving its practitioners to conquer or to dominate new lands in order to find new markets or new resources to be exploited. This can, in particular, be a unifying imperial mission, as demonstrated by the way the imperial impulse unified the English and the Scots in service of the pound-sterling, or the way it brought together the Yankees, New Yorkers, Tidewaterers, and the Deep Southerners in North America both before and after the U.S. Civil War. So the Breen's imperial impulse, I suspect, has some very powerful economic forces driving it--forces that feed both their elite, and their need for intra-Breen unity.

rfmcdpei wrote: View Post
Do not forget that in The Struggle Within, Breen mercenaries were directly responsible for a massacre on the Kinshaya capital world that led to regime change there and condemnation even from Pact members.

The Breen have not had a good time of it.
Excellent point -- I had restricted my analysis to Breen/Federation encounters, but you're right to point out that intra-Pact backlash from the Brex government's interference in internal Kinshaya affairs would necessarily also come into play.
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Old March 3 2015, 06:22 PM   #13
Deranged Nasat
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Re: The Breen (and my problems with them) (SPOILERS)

I love these sorts of discussions. It's one of the reasons I spend so much time here.

Sci wrote: View Post
Deranged Nasat wrote: View Post
Sci wrote: View Post
Whereas other Typhon Pact leaders such as Tzenkethi Autarch Korzenten Rej Tov-AA may pursue limited hostile action against the Federation for substantive gain of some sort, they still act rationally and do not pursue overt warfare, which they view as not in their national interests.
Given that the Tzenkethi leader holds his or her post on merit, having tested highest on whatever criteria the Tzenkethi use to judge leadership potential, it makes sense that Korzenten, for all his antagonism toward the Federation, would be a rational player. Cultural biases and ideological baggage aside, a test for leadership potential surely weeds out those prone to psychological instability or megalomania, whatever the culture.
I think that may be an overly optimistic assertion. I certainly agree that Korzenten is a rational political actor, but I'm very skeptical of the idea that you can design a test capable of objectively determining who is a good leader and of weeding out megalomania. I mean, you are literally talking about a society where everyone is indoctrinated to worship the Autarch as a virtual god -- seems to me that megalomania of sorts is almost a job requirement.
The Tzenkethi value order and fear chaos, apparently on a very primal level. It seems likely to me that a measured and self-correcting thought process is inherent to their concept of correct leadership, and that a tendency to rash or obsessive thinking would render one illegitimate for a leadership post. It's a system in which the overall leader has complete freedom (and is near-worshipped) entirely because he or she is judged psychologically suited to leading - and given the translated title, perhaps more accurately embodying? - the Coalition and Tzenkethi society. Not that they're good enough to somehow eliminate those troublesome traits; as you say elsewhere, they're not as completely in control of their own genetic destiny as they like to claim or think, so I'm certain that lapses occur, but as a general template of personality I can't see a Tzenkethi leader behaving irrationally in a manner that might harm the Coalition as it stands. Unlike the Breen, who are possibly taking the Confederacy down a path to ruin. There can be error - Korzenten definitely made a few, all stemming in my mind from one fundamental underlying flaw in his thinking - but the self-destructive behaviours shown by Brex seem completely alien to the Tzenkethi character as I read it. As I'll get to in a bit, though, it depends in large part what a given reader wants from the Tzenkethi and their depiction.

Sci wrote: View Post
(And that's to say nothing of my general skepticism towards the Tzenkethi genetic caste system -- I think Corazame's arc in Brinkmanship/The Missing is a good refutation of its supposed infallibility in determining both personal potential.)
I enjoyed the Corazame arc, too, and it's a valid and intriguing critical analysis, so to speak, of the Tzenkethi system. I wouldn't say it's the only angle on it, merely an important one, a necessary voice in the chorus. Brinkmanship and The Missing have an interesting and compelling take on the Tzenkethi, but there are other perspectives on how they might work. Indeed, the books in question take pains to present the situation as lending itself to at least some measure of plurality, with the obsessive focus on the ills of their system, displayed by Peter Alden, presented as unhealthy. McCormack and George seem to have different takes on the Tzenkethi - as well they should, as it leads to a richer experience for readers. A sense of who these people are...understanding is a three-edged sword.

Sci wrote: View Post
Does it? I mean, that's a very subjective concept, isn't it, a "sense of perspective?" A good sense of perspective might be for them to recognize their relative power, and the fact that Federation expansionism only ever occurs either consensually or in unclaimed territories, and to therefore decide it's in their best interests to ally with the Federation rather than to be antagonistic towards them. A good sense of perspective might be to recognize the fallibility of their attempts to create a genetic caste system and to instead use their genetic engineering skills to embrace an orderly egalitarianism. Even if they cannot embrace egalitarian democracy, a good sense of perspective might simply mean rejecting the idea of absolute monarchy in favor of a more generalized aristocracy.
Ah, but those perspectives are at odds with the current package of ideas and assumptions upon which the Coalition and the Tzenkethi social order as a whole are founded. Like all societies, the Tzenkethi are inherently conservative. A sense of perspective, in the sense that I used it there (and you're quite right to note that I should have qualified such a subjective term), is to understand what is likely to place stress on the existing system, what might undermine it or threaten its cohesion, and thus undermine the role in which the autarch finds him/herself. A sense of perspective places the shape of the society and its existing balance above the personal desires of the individual leader.

That said, it's entirely possible - I would even say likely - that the Tzenkethi system and the perspective of its leaders is functional so long as the Tzenkethi are an insular and isolated society, but lose relevance and slide increasingly to the dysfunctional when the Tzenkethi Coalition is taken as part of a larger system into which it has become incorporated. And they have recently taken that step...

Sci wrote: View Post
Absolute monarchies are terribly unstable systems of government, since they thwart the ambitions of many while only celebrating the one, leading to constant coup attempts.
In human societies. With a human tribalist psychology (which doesn't describe all humans, though apparently a vast majority). Maybe the Tzenkethi are different. Who's to say they would favour ambition in the sense alluded to here? Absolute monarchies are unstable among tribal humans because a) they frustrate and illegitimate tribal human social instincts (not necessarily or inherently a bad thing; any form of society encompassing more than a hundred related people in a village tends to do that to some degree, at least in some ways) and b) to be blunt, and somewhat paradoxical to my last argument, all tribal human societies are unstable anyway. If Tzenkethi - the majority of them, at least - are geared toward a different psychological/social framework, their system with its resemblance to absolute monarchy might be very stable.

On the other hand, I'm led to ponder that their system might also be not what is naturally the default for them, or stemming from their psychological foundation, but something that's embraced because it's the exact opposite. The fluid Tzenkethi and their obsession with order is a most intriguing scenario. (As I said above, the scene between Odo and Corazame in The Missing is a favourite, like the Devna/Noar scene in A Choice of Futures, one of those "take two of the established races/cultures and play them against each other" scenes - Tzenkethi and Changeling, both fluid in form but rigid in thought).

I participate in a role-playing forum set in the Mass Effect universe, where one of my characters is a hanar, another "naturally fluid but culturally rigid" people. I'll copy something I wrote in a post there, some musing on the hanar that seems relevant. (Tzenkethi are even more relevant when it's considered that service grade Tzenkethi refer to themselves impersonally as a show of humility, like hanar do). This isn't a perfect match of course - for one thing Tzenkethi prefer tight places and physical confines, whereas hanar are creatures of the ocean, so one of the arguments made here is not applicable to Tzenkethi at all. Still:

"The most important concept in understanding relations between these ones and their neighbours, it has come to believe, is fluidity. These ones are fluid by definition; they immerse in it, make their home in it, and their interiors lack the internal mineral support network of the other Enkindled races. These ones are free and unrestricted in movement, save by the deepest, most crushing depths. These ones can explore in multiple directions, take in stimulus from multiple planes without confusion. Other peoples can not. They seek freedom from their confines, from their lack of access to the vertical axis. One might argue that they are propelled, inspired, pushed into motion, by the desire to escape their restrictive awareness, their closed circles. These ones, as the most honourable Nothinyssis wrote in Essays On The Essential Singularity of Form, are a reverse of this model. These ones are fluid; thus they seek the security of structure. They form sects and cults to provide them with a mooring. These ones construct a frame of language and courtesy, as the Enkindlers permitted them to.

Did the other know that the humans have many myths regarding renegade deities or other beings gifting their race with such boons as fire? The others were gifted the means to break free of natural restraint, to alter their surroundings. They speak of "doors opening"; new directions made accessible. These ones do not yearn for that freedom; these ones inherited it at birth! These ones are compelled by restraint, by the closing of doors that might otherwise allow danger to strike. When these ones were Enkindled, the Enkindlers - in their most generous wisdom - bestowed upon these ones structure; the means to order thought and communicate it through Word. These ones, then, may be said to be the antithesis of the other races! These ones crave a framework of certainty, and the Enkindlers ensured that these ones might have the means to create it".

Indeed, I've wondered - ever since the novels fleshed out the Tzenkethi - why Sisko and co believed as credible the idea of a coup on the Tzenkethi homeworld. Tzenkethi? A coup? Taking the "absolute monarchies are unstable" argument, it makes sense. Taken in terms of how the Tzenkethi were interpreted in the novels and - equally importantly - how I interpret that interpretation, I now view that incident as the Founders playing to Federation biases. The Federation needs the Tzenkethi to be unstable and non-functional, just as the Tzenkethi need (though to a more extreme and unhealthy extent) the Federation way to be an inevitable path to societal collapse and horror. They are strongly inclined to believe that the other's way is dysfunctional. They'll happily believe it even when they shouldn't.

Clever Founders.

Sci wrote: View Post
I'm not so convinced that the Tzenkethi system must necessarily produce rational Autarchs. I simply think that it has at this current time.
I suppose a large part of it comes down to what a given reader finds the more interesting. I tend to think the Tzenkethi as a functional civilization is far more interesting at this juncture than repeating the Cardassia/Klingon/Romulan approach of having them be a inherently dysfunctional society poised to unravel. It's too easy to condemn a society when it's inherently unstable and therefore unable to realistically claim that it works without looking foolish and desperate. When its moral and social mores are alien or uncomfortable there's far more to get a grip on, in terms of story-telling, when they're thriving because of it. Actually, this may be in part why Peter Alden has his obsessive and unhealthy emphasis on the evils of the Tzenkethi system. He knows it (largely, not entirely, but largely) works for them; he can't accept that.

Sci wrote: View Post
Korzenten is a rational political actor insofar as he will pursue his goals as far as he can without intentionally risking a major destabilization, and insofar as he isn't literally out to conquer the entire quadrant. He is, however, subject to the same errors of judgment to which any rational being may be subject.
True. As I said, the Tzenkethi aren't always great at judging what action they should take on the wider board of galactic politics, because they're such a controlled, stable and xenophobic society. Amusingly, they're like Venetans themselves - needing to play catch up when they realize what it truly means that others are not like them. Korzenten was playing the aliens - the Romulans, the Venetans, the Talarians - as he'd play the Tzelnira, and that wasn't good judgement, because it's akin to hunting animals that have been trained to flop down at your feet as soon as you appear, only to then wander out into the bush and expect the same success.

Sci wrote: View Post
It does make me wonder -- there's no way Tzenkethi genetic engineering is so good that there are not Tzenkethi dissidents, no Tzenkethi radicals or Tzenkethi democrats. Hell, we know from Articles of the Federation that at least some of the Tzelnira are disloyal enough to the Autarch and loyal enough to their families first that they'll smuggle their children out of Coalition space for Federation medical treatment. So where are the Tzenkethi dissidents? Where are the dissatisfied Tzelnira? The angry Tzenkethi workers? The Tzenkethi academics who like studying heretical Federation democracy just a little bit too
much?
I'm not entirely sure we know enough about how Tzenkethi concepts of individuality and individual space work. A society as ordered and divisive as theirs, and a racial psychology as drawn to enclosed space and used to making the most of it, potentially has room for considerable mental space in which to become comfortable with the self, alongside a tendency not to desire access to another's invisible world. (Consider Andorians, who draw lines internally and have little sense of territory or privacy outside of their own heads, though they guard those jealously). Perhaps there is ample space for a given Tzenkethi to let off its frustrations while, in terms of functioning as a piece within their society, they slot easily into position. Maybe it takes more repression to make a Tzenkethi snap - or indeed make a fuss - than it does a human.

Probably, of course, any real deviants - those who do act out - are reconditioned or disappeared, but then perhaps it depends where in Tzenkethi space you are. There were some intriguing suggestions of non-uniformity in the Tzelnira scenes in Plagues of Night.

Sci wrote: View Post
I'm going to display my political bias here, but I think this makes sense for another reason: The Breen, as established in Zero Sum Game, are practitioners of a particularly all-encompassing brand of corporate capitalism. If there's anything the history of the British and American empires has shown, it's that capitalism has a historical pattern of driving its practitioners to conquer or to dominate new lands in order to find new markets or new resources to be exploited. This can, in particular, be a unifying imperial mission, as demonstrated by the way the imperial impulse unified the English and the Scots in service of the pound-sterling, or the way it brought together the Yankees, New Yorkers, Tidewaterers, and the Deep Southerners in North America both before and after the U.S. Civil War. So the Breen's imperial impulse, I suspect, has some very powerful economic forces driving it--forces that feed both their elite, and their need for intra-Breen unity.
Very good point, Sci. That makes perfect sense to me, and I think the books greatly support it. I particularly liked the depictions in Zero Sum Game of Breen citizens being identified by their commercial footprint; by the imprint they make and the reaction that ripples through the system, rather than by anything to do with their core self.

Sci wrote: View Post
rfmcdpei wrote: View Post
Do not forget that in The Struggle Within, Breen mercenaries were directly responsible for a massacre on the Kinshaya capital world that led to regime change there and condemnation even from Pact members.

The Breen have not had a good time of it.
Excellent point -- I had restricted my analysis to Breen/Federation encounters, but you're right to point out that intra-Pact backlash from the Brex government's interference in internal Kinshaya affairs would necessarily also come into play.
Which is why it wouldn't surprise me to see the Kinshaya tuck in under the wing of Romulus in the manner of the Gorn; they too have suffered from the Breens' interference and apparent unwillingness to view their supposed partners as anything other than tools.
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Old March 5 2015, 12:20 PM   #14
rfmcdpei
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Re: The Breen (and my problems with them) (SPOILERS)

It is interesting to observe how the novels have developed the Breen Confederacy into a sort of dark reflection on the Federation. The Breen work as an dynamic and ostensibly egalitarian and multispecies civilization, but the way they achieve these aims is consistently authoritarian if not totalitarian, and quite violent.

I wonder how they got this way. Other Trek civilizations have their foundational traumas. What happened to the Breen?
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Old March 5 2015, 04:01 PM   #15
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Re: The Breen (and my problems with them) (SPOILERS)

rfmcdpei wrote: View Post
I wonder how they got this way. Other Trek civilizations have their foundational traumas. What happened to the Breen?
Well, you know what they say: It's not easy being Breen.
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