The Ordein




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t has been argued that it was the establishment of the Ordein, more than any other single innovation, which made possible the transition from the Time of Empire to the Time of Riches. It is ironic, then, that the Ordein was always coceived by those who lived under it as a solidification of the ordering of imperial society.

As the Empire itself dissolved as a political force, the populations of the varied lands of Greenhall became even more conscious of the Empire as an ideal. The Empeira, as it was known in Olimac and the other lands of the east, held out the promise of a universal political and social reality, in which everything and everyone had its place, The realities of the political machinations of the various nation-states and kingdoms could be subsumed under a larger envelope of order and hierarchy, however fictive.

The belief in the reality and relevance of the Empeira depended on a social code that could be relied upon to organize and channel human behavior across the whole breadth of the continent. The Ordein thus established a set of particular social expectations that maintained a kind of cultural unity throughout the Greenhall, even society fragmented linguistically and politically.

The Ordein was a body of civil laws, to be sure, but it was much more extensive and persuasive than its purely legal manifestations. Most of its most salient principles were never articulated. Notions of honorable conduct between peers, for example, were not limited to specific rules of etiquette, but dictated, in a subtle fashion, even the nuances of body posture, gesture, and tone of voice. Rules for everything from dining to courtship became ingrained and stabilized, varying little from place to place.

Old concepts of patronage were generalized to create a permeable class system, in which individuals of different social standing could negotiate arrangements of exchange and collaboration that would have been unthinkable in the Time of Empire. It was this development that launched the economies of trade for which the Time of Riches is noted. The prospect of rising to the power of the elite classes through shrewd use of resources and interpersonal contacts, though seldom realized in fact, created an enormous incentive for many people who might otherwise have lived lives of resigned drudgery.

Paradoxically, the Ordein was both liberating and oppressive. It allowed for the movement of wealth, technology, and people of status between countries and social classes, but it resisted innovation in the rules of the game by which such exchanges took place. After its successful establishment, people of power (and people seeking power) became dependent upon it. The mechanisms for securing personal success could not be tinkered with or questioned, for fear of throwing the whole system into disarray. The stakes were very high for an individual trying to maintain a position of power within an intricate web of social connections. Even a slight faux pas in living up to the expectations enshrined in the Ordein could make one into a pariah.

As time passed, the Ordein became a progressively heavier burden on human activity. Such intense attention was devoted to the niceties and appearances of personal conduct that few resources were left for actually producing things of value or exploring new prospects. Were it not for the fact that the rural labor force was general less ambitious and hence less concerned with the nuanced requirements of the Ordein, even the provision of food and shelter might have dwindled and stagnated.

Whatever its blessings and curses for the lives and hopes of individual people, there is no doubt that the Ordein was the key factor in stablizing Greenhall society over many centuries. It was a pattern which, once established, was extraordinarily self-sustaining and impervious to disruption.

The Imaginarium is a regular feature of Starweaver's Gems from Earth and Sky

Copyright © 2008 Tom Waters