Closing out (for now) the series I’ve been doing on the diophel, an alien species
Diophel are a fast-breeding and expansive species, on the whole. They occupy ten core planets, and have bases on another dozen (the diophel impulse for independence seems greater than their desire for ‘natural’ surroundings, so they have created many sealed colonies on otherwise uninhabitable worlds, as well as having hundreds of space habitats). They have another four planets developed in co-operation with the neighbouring thaugomur (the thaugomur provided much of the resources and construction work, while the diophel provided the majority of the settlers), two with the turigd and two with the liwak. They have a ‘domestic’ population of around 100 billion (though ‘diophel-controlled’ planets have a total population of closer to 150 billion, counting other species), and billions more live on alien planets.
Diophel are a gregarious and largely welcoming species, relatively unconvinced by any speciesist or segregationalist doctrines – they are, by and large, happy to allow aliens to live among them in the same way that they have always allowed other diophel species to live among them. Diophel planets have also become home to small numbers of thaugomur, many ieed, many liwak, a fair few trotel (a species with only one homeworld of its own, discovered by diophel and welcomed into their worlds), and large and growing numbers of turigd. This is not to say, of course, that there are not species tensions on the diophel planets, particularly regarding the fractious and ill-disciplined turigd (who have largely sought to live among diophel to escape the disorderly behaviour of their own conspecifics) – species relations (and, for example, the question of segregation vs assimilation) are a major political issue on many diophel planets. But as a whole, diophel disputes are far more likely to pit different diophel polities against one another than they are to pit species against species (or genus against genus).
The diophel are not a unitary species. Combined, their military might would be sizeable – doubtless, they could defeat, say, the thaugomur in a total war. But in practice, while diophel might unite if an existential threat to their genus ever arose, they are mostly fragmented politically; because the diophel are so fragmented, it is difficult to make sweeping generalisations about their culture. It is, however, possible to describe a ‘most common’ prototypical form.
Prototypically, female diophel are arranged in large flocks of between 50 and 200 (sometimes more) adult individuals. Ritualised, free-will exchanges of females help bind each flock to its neighbours, as does a considerable emphasis on female lineages and shared ancestry. Often, the exchanging of females reaches a point where the flock itself, as a genetic entity, is a legal fiction, its membership all but entirely comprising newcomers. The functions of the human ‘corporation’, for instance, are typically fulfilled by a flock, which, if particular skills are required, will recruit its members from outside; each spaceship, likewise, is run as a family. This approach tends to yield inflexible and slow-adapting institutions – ‘sacking’ a worker is tantamount to divorcing a wife or disinheriting a child, and while females do move between flocks repeatedly it is never a casual matter – but on the other hand it tends also to yield a high level of psychological commitment by the individuals concerned. What’s more, the interweaving exchanges of females enmesh the individual in multifaceted concepts of familial identity – a female diophel will owe allegiance to her primary flock, to be sure (which is likely to be her work colleages), but also to the flock from which she came, which is itself likely to be distinct from the flock in which she was born – and her deference to her mother (probably the most important single diophel relationship) not only brings with it allegiances to her mother’s own changing pattern of flock allegiance, but is itself mirrored by the fictive maternal relationships she adopts on entering each new flock. On a larger level, hierarchies are established by physical and mental dominance, by wealth disparities, by mother-daughter dominance, and above all by (legally) inherited status form complex webs of authority and submission. The resulting system is, in theory, highly authoritarian and rigid, with very little scope for elections or accountability (a group may ‘elect’ an individual for a certain task, such as being the foreman, but this is a matter of convenience with little fundamental authority). Above all, it is important to see the primary unit of diophel society as the flock, as fuzzy-edged as that has become, rather than the individual, who takes their identity from their place within the flock (or, at least, from their places at the intersections of a number of flock identities). Diophel are not typically able to point to a single individual who is ‘in charge’ of any situation – although there are more dominant flocks, particularly when it comes to certain matters, and there are certainly more and less dominant individuals within each flock (with, again, that dominance often shifting with the area of governance in question), there is very little sense of the most dominant member of the most dominant flock being in any way ‘the ruler’. On the largest scale, most diophel societies largely can be considered as fractal bodies, families joining in neighbourhoods, neighbourhoods joining in city-states, city-states joining in nations, and where multiple nations share one planet those nations can join together in a planetary society, itself a part of larger groupings. However, these groupings must be seen not as distinct entities, but as, as it were, ‘clumps’ or ‘lumps’ in a continuum of social networks – two neighbouring nations are distinct only in that social connectivity is greater within the nation than between them, but there will still usually be links between the nations, and for individuals at ‘the border’, the idea that they are indeed at the border between two distinct nations may not have occurred to them at all.
Males, meanwhile, are prototypically slaves, each wholly owned by a flock, and subject to sale. Yet they are not regarded as ornamental, but rather as valuable resources, not only for their labour but for their connectivity. The exchange of males is perhaps just as important as the exchange of females – most of the ‘institutions’ and ‘organisations’ that a human would recognise among in a diophel society are run entirely by males. It is males, for instance, who write the laws (females would say that they delegate their males to do the boring negotiations that draw up proposed codes of conduct that the females then choose to abide by), and males who conduct trade (females would say that they make the goods, and consume the goods, and delegate males to do the administrative negotiatory business of deciding which goods should be exchanged for what). Male slavery certainly does not result in male deprivation – indeed, females are more likely to go hungry themselves than deprive their males, not only because males are valuable assets (that can in a pinch be sold) but because doing otherwise would be horribly unchivalrous. In any case, a defining feature of prototypical diophel society is liberalism, both toward males and toward low-ranked females. Although society is highly authoritarian in structure – which is believed to be necessary in order to maintain law and order and social harmony – it is considered that actual oppression is both indicative of weakness and liable to cause dissent and instability. Diophel have thus largely come to accept a fairly laissez faire approach to governance, particularly on what might be considered ‘personal’ matters.
Religion perhaps also deserves some mention. Religion among the diophel takes two forms: ancestor worship and cult worship. Cult worship centres around the veneration of deities, typically through symbolic (often unusual geometric shapes or patterns are used) idols and icons. It is unclear what these deities are believed to be, as they are usually spoken of as being beyond comprehension. They may even all be one, though this is a poetic thought-experiment more than a determined doctrine. It seems likely that they may in some way be associated with a sense of place and identity-through-location, as colonising groups often ‘create’ new deities in their new homes, and deities can to some extent come to be used as symbols of national or urban or regional identity. Devotion to the deities typically involves simple but rigid ritualism, and there is often a class of professional priests who combine the performance of rituals with a simple, meditative lifestyle. Devotion is largely considered to be something done for its own sake, to express personal piety – although superstitious notions about the gods taking revenge or bestowing favours can be found, for the most part there is little clear concept of deities as active agents either this world or in any other (diophel typically have little or no concept of an ‘afterlife’ in any metaphysical sense). This sort of cult activity is almost entirely a male practice, at least in its active forms; females, however, are mostly respectful (if sometimes suspicious) of it, and many females, particularly in more crowded areas, like to sometimes take advantage of its products – it is not at all unusual to see the odd female sitting quietly in a temple garden to give herself a few minutes of calm on a busy day. Ancestor worship, on the other hand, is a female practice. Family lineages (both fictive and genetic) are known through female lines back for often two millennia, and most females can recite at least a few centuries. “History” education comes in the form of learning about individual ancestors and their lives – rather than there being any standardised course about the early years of interstellar flight, for instance, individuals will learn from their mothers and aunts about their distant grandmothers and grand-aunts who first came to the colonies. The ancestors are believed to ‘live on’ in a practical sense through their descendents – violating the will of one’s great-grandmother is considered much like doing this afternoon what you swore this morning that you’d never do, with little distinction made between changing one’s mind and disagreeing with one’s mother or grandmother (which is to say that it might make sense now and then, when situations change, but to do it too often or too quickly is a sign of unreliability at best and lunacy at worst). It is common, therefore, for individuals to debate the actions and intentions of diophel who died centuries ago as a way of deciding upon present actions – not only, as some humans do, in the form of nations second-guessing their founders, but on the scale of individual families (and ‘family’-like organisations like companies and militaries and so on). Much of a female diophel’s leisure time is likely to be devoted to memorising life-histories, looking at pictures, and the like. If a particular ancestor (most diophel have favourites) had some or other particular virtue, they are likely to be invoked to act through the living individual when that virtue is required.
It must be stressed again, however, that this is only a ‘prototypical’ modern diophel society. Some societies are more formalised, some less, some more authoritarian, some less, some give more authority to males, some less (though there are very few outright patriarchies surviving). Diophel encountered away from their home space tend to have simpler female social structures, but more individual freedom. Diophel on their homeworld tend to live in more complex and united societies that are also more strictly authoritarian (as is the case for many species, the homeworld is by far the poorest and most overcrowded planet). There are many more variations from place to place – in part because the desire to explore alternative social structures has often been a major reason for colonisation. In general, however, the most extreme deviations from this prototype are found in the smaller societies, whether isolated mountain villages on habitable worlds or enclosed bubble-cities on otherwise unpeopled rocks.