Modern cuilco society is complex and disunited. There is no single cuilco ‘government’. Most social processes among the cuilco are within the sphere of economics – private industry is the engine of cuilco activity. Cuilco are, almost without exception, ardent libertarians – they believe that state organisations exist only to ensure a free and honest market, and have no moral authority to compel individuals to any degree beyond what is necessary to maintain adequate law and order. Most state organisations are more akin to insurance agencies or arbitration schemes into which individuals pay; functions such as health-care, education and security are typically provided by independent companies. Cuilco economists believe in the perfection of the market; however, although they recognise that, say, the existence of monopolies and cartels is a potential flaw in the market, little is done to combat these threats, largely because cuilco cannot be trusted to operate even a large corporation, let alone a criminal conspiracy. Cuilco corporations are effectively small and largely independent; many large conglomerates do legally exist, but they tend to lack centralised control, and operate as loose families of companies rather than as unified agents. Company ownership, which is disseminated through investment companies, is not the source of immense wealth, or particularly unequal distribution of income. There is little in the way of an entrenched economic ruling class, at least in any locality – families rise and fall in wealth over the generations – although some areas, and some planets, are richer and more powerful than others.
The free market, however, is not entirely free, and not due to restrictions by the states (of which there are several thousand) either. Instead, the hand in the shadows is the hand of the monastic institutions.
Cuilco religions are, in most cases, not primarily mass-engagement movements. Indeed, ‘religion’ is perhaps not the most useful term. The central structures are monastic institutions.
The cuilco monastic institution has several distinctive features, but in every case the defining characteristic is its pattern of abnormal and counter-instinctual relationships. Members of monastic institutions, or ‘Orders’, are ‘bound’ into the order by the imposition of relationships (by controlling permitted interactions between individuals) designed to produce an open structure of social bonds. Again, central to cuilco sociology is the small number of social relationships each individual is able to maintain, which tends to result in small closed social networks living in parallel. In monastic institutions, cuilco are taken from their prior social context and subjected to constricted and controlled socialisation, designed to impose new relationships upon them, with the relationships forming an open network spanning the whole of the Order (broadly, this means that if A is ‘friends’ with B and C, in the natural order of things B and C are also likely to be friends, given that both must be (socially and geographically) close to A, and hence probably to one another; but in an Order, A is encouraged to be friends with E and F, who are in turn prevented from knowing one another). This means that, as an institution, each Order is able to benefit from high investment and solidarity (each member is a ‘friend’ of a friend of a friend of, etc, eventually each other member). This enables Orders to act in coherent and consistent ways across time and space, to a degree secular organisations cannot imitate.
This feature also gives Orders their internal structure. Within the Order, power is easy to locate by manipulating the network of relationships to place the powerful at the most critical nodes (that is, for A to influence B, they must influence the common friend C, and vice versa, giving C a position of greater influence – if D and E must also act on each other through C, and F and G must also act on one another only through C, C is in a position of great power). Power in an Order therefore lies at the social ‘centre’ of the organisation, through which all threads of influence must travel, while at the periphery individuals are relatively isolated from other peripheral individuals. However, for an Order to have power outside of itself, it must also have external connections – individuals who have relationships both with insiders and with outsiders. These connected individuals allow the Orders to pervade through cuilco society, and give them enormous social influence – the ‘quickest route’ of influence between two cuilco will almost always be through the middle of an Order.
Orders are not purely a sociological phenomenon or centre of influence, however. They are also ideological institutions. Each Order is typically dedicated to one or more divine beings, and members are required to be subserviant to that being, and its ‘earthly’ representatives. They typically abjure not only their family lives, and for the most part the hope of having children, but also many of the temptations of external society. This is not to say that the Orders are stocked with ascetics, however. Cuilco do not generally believe that the flesh is evil, and indeed within the Orders individuals ardently pursue the pleasures of the flesh (for the most part short of actual reproduction); instead, they are concerned with the false and distracting temptations of sophisticated society, not as evils in themselves, but as lures away from the simple, natural pleasures. Life inside a cuilco monastery is therefore a rather pleasant thing – in addition to good (though simple) food and drink, and sexual and sporting (and sometimes both combined) play, cuilco are great fans of practical jokes and surprises. It is not unusual for one monk to wait hours in a shadowed crevice for the opportunity to jump out on his friend and tickle him. If cuilco have no qualms about the flesh, however, some do have reservations about the holiness of the mind. Many Orders encourage the seeking of ‘mindlessness’ – sometimes in extreme form by decapitating and/or bifurcating their most ardent followers.
The Orders have complex structures. At the extreme periphery there are the forums where outsiders can engage with the Order. In some cases, this is by being allowed to form a relationship with a ‘guru’ figure from within the Order; in other cases, it is by forming a small community of ‘canons’, tangentially linked to and supportive of the Order. Within these are a further layer who may be termed ‘lay friars’, who have extensive relationships inside the Order, but are still permitted to maintain external links – these are the lifeblood of the Order’s influence and relevance. Within this layer are the gurus (whose only external ties are religious), and then the cloistered monks themselves; within that layer are the hieromonks, who direct the Order not only in their obedience to their patron deity but also in their political orientation.
However, this is not to say that these ‘inner’ members have no contact with the outside world. This is certainly true of many monks, but others are intentionally sent out into it as ‘deacons’ (they are moved from ‘mission’ to mission to prevent them from forming lasting relationships outside the Order). The most important of these are the hierodeacons, hieromonks sent out into the world, who are given the most important missions. Two typical forms of hierodeacon are the Director (who is sent to give spiritual guidance to a corporation or state) and the Inquisitor (who is sent to evaluate the spiritual standing of an organisation, individual, or practice).
Human observers may be surprised that there is no place in this monastic system for theologians. Indeed, some Orders do encourage some or all of their members toward theological study, but for the most part theology is not considered a primary function of monasticism. The Orders are concerned with practice, not theory – the ‘meaning’ of their rituals, the ‘true nature’ of the gods they worship, is of little interest to them, and they instead justify themselves to their members through personal faith, mystical experience and vocation, and to their lay supporters through their social utility and political convenience. This is not to say, however, that cuilco as a species avoid theology – while it is true that they tend to be a practical species with relatively little concern for the imponderable and the inaccessible, they do have their share of theologians, philosophers, metaphysicians, moral theoreticians and the like. These people are simply not affiliated with organised religion (instead they are likely to be found in consultancy companies, providing their intellectual services to the souls of the workforce of other industries – if a philosophy can’t be sold, cuilco tend to feel, it’s clearly not worth having).
The Orders are not, precisely, united. There are dozens of major Orders, and hundreds of Orders in total, some with semi-independent branches, affiliates, and local franchises. And yet this is not quite as chaotic as it may seem. Orders are arranged in loose alliances (often determined by convergence in the details of their monastic regulations, rather than any theological or ideological unity), have recognised spheres of influence, and are bound together both by dispersed inter-Order social networks and by centralised ecumenical organisations.
The strength of cuilco ecumenicalism allows the Orders to exert intense political and economic influence: an adverse judgement from an ecumenical inquisitor is likely to be devastating for any organisation. In addition to this ‘moral’ influence, the Orders often fulfil quasi-legalistic roles, with Orders frequently chosen as arbitrating bodies, and ecumenical tribunals an accepted form of highest court of appeal. This cuilco perceive not as theocratic rule by the Orders, but as individuals and corporations in a free market and a free state choosing voluntarily to seek arbitration from the least corrupt, the most impartial, organisations available: the Orders. The Orders, for their part, mostly take these duties very seriously – although they allow ‘the good of society’ to guide their decisions, for the most part they believe that the good of society lies in just and consistent rulings.
Beyond their role as oversees and harmonisers, however, the Orders are also important economic institutions in their own right: they both invest in and directly operate a number of industries. In particular, the Orders are highly prominent in large-scale endeavours with cost/reward matrices that exceed the scope of private corporations. Space travel, planetary defence, colonisation and energy production are sectors in which the hand of the Orders is tightly felt.
But the power of the monastic institutions should not be overstated, either. In population, they account for between 3% and 15% of cuilco societies, depending on location (on average around 10%), and own no more than around 40% of cuilco wealth in total, heavily concentrated in certain sectors. Most of cuilco society operates with little interference from the Orders – most cuilco will rarely if ever encounter an Inquisitor or a Director in person.
Finally, one exception to the general cuilco emphasis on the free society must be mentioned: slavery.
Cuilco believe that the right to sell oneself into slavery is fundamental, and historically many cuilco have taken advantage of that right, both to provide money for their families and to obtain access to more affluent parts of society; in particular, the Rediscovery of cuilco on other planets was accompanied by (voluntary) mass enslavement into the colonial society. Moreover, the children of slaves become slaves in turn, albeit only for a temporary period until the ‘debts’ they incur through being raised have been paid off (as a result, slave children are often raised quite comfortably – the more money is spent on them, the longer they will remain slaves as adults). With increasing wealth and decreasing inequality, slavery has become less common, but there are still sizeable numbers of cuilco slaves – between 5% and 20% of cuilco in any given society will be enslaved.
Nor are these cuilco alone in their slavery. Cuilco have few qualms about interspecies contact, provided other species abide by their rules and customs, and wealthy cuilco have for centuries been importing slaves of various alien species. Most significant among the slave species are: the tandey and borompha – both of which species were given interstellar technology by the cuilco in exchange for mass-enslavement; the shograt – who provide slaves as war reparations; and the pletiokaur, whose own slave society happily trades its citizens to cuilco masters. However, cuilco are willing to buy any slaves of whatever species are available, including those enslaved in processes of dubious legality (cuilco consider any such issues of provenance to be a matter for debate between aggrieved relatives and the enslaving party… if the enslaving party ends up having to buy a slave back from the cuilco, fair enough (with appropriate increases in price made for the inconvenience, of course), but cuilco will not manumit a slave simply because they protest that they were enslaved unjustly, or because their family come looking for them; indeed, if the slave’s society is so terribly unjust as to let people be taken slaves willy-nilly with no regard for their rights, it’s probably not in their interest to send them back anyway (particularly if they show clear signs of brainwashing, like homesickness or pining for lost friends or the like)). The larger cuilco cities are there vibrantly multispecific.
However, it should be observed that slavery under the cuilco is not too terrible a proposition, relative to slavery in some other societies. Cuilco hold slaves largely as status symbols and as a form of wealth – their slaves are more likely to suffer from boredom than from overwork. Cuilco do not believe their own species to be uniquely important or generally superior (except politically, where its free society is favourably compared to the various forms of dictatorship practiced by aliens), and do not as a general rule mistreat their alien (or cuilco) slaves except through thoughtless negligence; the Orders generally encourage good treatment of slaves, as both spiritual and in the long term pragmatic best-practice. A slave among the cuilco will likely have little or no contact with their master – again, cuilco outside the Orders live in mostly closed societies, and slaves are outside the normal social circle. Nonetheless, cuilco are not afraid of using torture and execution on the rare occasions that slaves attempt any sort of uprising or escape.