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The fortune tellers take over...

I'm supposing an ancient world in which a specific class of magic users, called Gazers, were able to use their powers to massively increase their own wealth (insurance fraud, money lending, high stakes gambling), launch successful coup attempts and win wars of conquest or regime change.

The art of gazing could be used to figure out what to say, when to say it and who to say it to. It could predict who would want to assassinate you if you did X or what variables you should manipulate in order to cause a convenient accident Final Destination style.

Normal humans were absolutely no match for these near omniscient practitioners and their tools.

The Gazing arts would be taught to family members and trusted apprentices, who would then be able to share in the wealth and power that followed.

Eventually, the courts of power ended up being filled with Gazers. Royals had to learn the art or be fall under the control of subordinates who had de facto control of their kingdom.

The end result is a decadent court of seers.

The problem here is that much of court intrigue relies on the capacity to keep secrets and deceive. How would deception work in a world where your enemies can see their futures and alter them accordingly?

Would there be heirarchical deadlock? Would people even talk to each other, why should I speak to you if you and I know both know how the conversation is going to go? Would violent confrontations even happen if both parties know the outcome?

Could you tell me at least one thing which would be indisputably true about such a political landscape?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Pingcode, rek, Ash, elemtilas, Renan Sep 10 '18 at 15:32

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ This might give some ideas, although the premise is more immediate than long-term: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/10939/… $\endgroup$ – Erik Sep 10 '18 at 12:53
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    $\begingroup$ I fear that this question is at least a little bit opinion based. Furthermore, how exactly does this "Gazing" work? Do they see the most likely future? Or a couple of them? Are only gazers capable of changing fate? Or is every conscious decision of every human being capable of doing so? $\endgroup$ – DarthDonut Sep 10 '18 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately it is somewhat opinion based - more detail is needed to avoid problems of answers having to make up large chunks of the world $\endgroup$ – Pingcode Sep 10 '18 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ Have you read the Dune series? You should. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 10 '18 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ One of the themes in Herbert's Dune books after Dune itself was the consequence of having too many people seeing the future. So A gazes and sees that B will try to assassinate him. So A changes his plans, which forces C to change his plans, which forces D to change his plans, which forces (wait for it) B to change his plans, and now A doesn't know what to do. Remember the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which in this application means the act of looking changes the future, meaning your Gazing is not as accurate as you'd hope. $\endgroup$ – JBH Sep 10 '18 at 20:31
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Although you could see into the future, this does not change the fact that deception is still possible.

Neither entrapment, or neat double-crosses.

As people, we have inherent failings. We can only concentrate on a certain number of things at a time. We can only comprehend a certain distance. We can only view a small view cone.

These factors won't change simply because your vision changes from seeing around you to seeing into the future.

Therefore you could imagine the following scenarios:

  • Distance into the Future: A scenario could be created to give the impression a series of events would lead a certain way, causing an inferior Gazer to make a decision, but at a disadvantage because he didn't see far enough.
  • Trap in the Future: A deceptive setup that traps someone in the future. For instance, a series of barriers which force the inferior Gazer to do something.
  • Not seeing wide enough in the Future: You may think you're the master of the universe, only to realise your universe is a subset of someone else's
  • Not seeing Up or Down, or Laterally: Seeing into the Future you forget the past, or the present, and don't realise your doom is there, or had been set before you. Also, your view of the future is limited to your point of view, to your position - this could be a problem as it may show an issue in the wrong light and open to deception
  • Limited Concentration: A deluge of information making it hard for Gazers to make a decision. In your world, people would talk to each other for the purpose of distilling the future into neat sizeable chunks of information, tailored to suit a point of view.

As with anything, we are still creatures limited by our perception. It alters little that our perception could be in the future. Just like sight has limits, so does the future.

If we saw everything, forever, our minds would go insane. It is only useful if we could limit it to digest it - and as soon as you do that we open ourselves to deception and weakness.

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For the people at the top, it would be much the same as politics today. Given that the Gazers are able to take actions to make consequences occur then the future is not fixed. If Gazers are in opposition to each other then they will tend to cancel out assuming that all Gazers are equally capable.

One thing to consider is that foreknowledge is not sufficient on its own. If I want to be a successful merchant then I need planning skills, interpersonal skills, willingness to spend time building up a reputation for reliability etc. If I want to be a successful fighter in the front lines in an army then I need to physically condition myself, learn weapon skills etc - knowing what actions need to be taken to achieve an outcome and having the skill to take those actions are two different things. The only real difference is that I possibly do not need to learn from failure by following paths that will not be successful, however, in a situation where I am competing with other Gazers even that is probably not the case.

Which leads to another point - how perfect is the Gazers' ability to influence the future? The whole principle of the Butterfly Effect is that the tiniest action will be amplified over time. So a Gazers' ability to influence the future depends on how absolutely perfectly they can physically influence the world. Ending a sentence with a vowel that is pronounced for a twentieth of a second too long, moving the little finger of the left hand a millimetre too far - these differences could be the difference between success in influencing an event a year away and failure. The Gazers would need to be masters of precise speech and movement, but unavoidable human imperfections would limit how far in the future they could reliably influence.

The huge advantage the Gazers have is in foreknowledge of medium-term events that are to all practical purposes outside their control. This should be a really good thing for their kingdoms - having rulers who know in advance when there are going to be droughts, floods, storms, earthquakes etc allows for effective disaster planning. When the Gazers were on the outside looking to make a quick buck this would not have helped the kingdom (unless they were altruistic they would just have bought and sold goods based on future shortage or surplus), but now it is their kingdom and their tax base depends on them keeping it as healthy as possible. (It would be really good if the real-world rulers were Gazers who knew the truth about anthropogenic climate change and would take appropriate steps to keep the planet habitable.)

Regarding your question about "Would people even talk to each other..." - yes, absolutely. If they are conversing with another Gazer then they will both be trying to influence the future. Regarding a conversation with a non-Gazer - things will only fall out the way you want them to if it occurs. The only time a Gazer would avoid a conversation would be if the act of having that conversation will have a negative consequence. It is sort of like a diet and exercise program - knowing that undertaking it will improve your health is no use unless you actually do it!

Finally, I suggest consideration of whether all Gazers would seek power. Lots of intelligent people who make good predictions today do not. Unless the ability to gaze is genetically linked to a particular personality trait (and the description of teaching makes it sound more like a skill), Gazers would do whatever they wanted, because they have the knowledge to ensure that they can manipulate events to make it work. Both especially altruistic and self-centred Gazers may seek power, but other Gazers are likely to have different goals. If you like solitary time and you can foresee how little of it you will get politicking your way to the top, you will choose another path. Similar outlook factors will influence lifestyle choices - Gazers can presumably deduce what actions will lead them to have a natural long life, but while some people will choose a perfect diet and exercise regime, others will choose to enjoy a more decadent lifestyle for less years. One thing reminiscent of the witches and wizards in the Discworld series is that Gazers will know in advance when they will die of natural causes - so they can plan to enjoy their own funeral and are likely to do so.

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Your deceptions would become increasingly complex, but they wouldn't vanish.

As you said:

The art of gazing could be used to figure out what to say, when to say it and who to say it to. It could predict who would want to assassinate you if you did X or what variables you should manipulate in order to cause a convenient accident Final Destination style.

A Gazer can look into the future to get a hold of what variable he can manipulate to influence an outcome. This means that the future isn't set in stone, and so the Gazer has agency and a privileged source of information.

Sadly enough, all the Gazers have this. So, your court members and scheming politicians have to deal with the fact that there are more players manipulating the ourcome. Much like a giant, time-warping chess game with multiple opponents, everyone has to think in advance of what are the moves of the enemy.

As Flox says in his answer, every seer may be limited in his ability to see the future. Also, every schemer must be aware of the others.

For example, I may scry that inviting the king on a hunt on a given day will eventually end up him falling from horseback and dying. Meanwhile, a seer loyal to the crown may prophecize the very same thing and act some countermeasures (for example, advicing the king to avoid the hunt, and hold a turney instead). Also, in a court dominated by those Gazers of yours, even the slightlest move may incur on suspicion.

If the king knows I scried his death, this may be enough to get me imprisoned for treason. I expect a lot of suspicion seeping through your upper cast, and a lot of heads falling due to shady, uncertain claims.

Another thing you should consider is that Gazers may have a good grasp of the future and of a chain of causes and consequences, but they rely on the present as normal humans. This means that they still need to make sure that something happens the way they need to, otherwise that future won't happen as planned. Any link on the chain of cause-consequence may be broken in the present: for example, if I may need to send my subordinate in a certain place for my prophecy to fulfill ... but he could be delayed as he gets there. He could be killed. Or he could be subtly mislead in way I can't predict.

And in (i'm assuming) medieval enviroment, it's difficult to control things outside your grasp (communication relies on couriers, letters, carrier pigeons and so on...)

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Give someone the illusion of what they want - but in such a way that you get what you want.

Let's say that your main Rival aims to become Emperor/Empress. You in turn need to manipulate things such that (s)he sees a future in which (s)he is sitting in the Imperial Throne, bedecked in the Royal robes, with the official Crown of State being brought to him/her - but, what (s)he does not see is that the ceremony is interrupted, and (s)he is instead exposed for his/her manipulations, arrested for his/her crimes, and put to death - allowing you to become Emperor/Empress in his/her stead.

There is an excellent example of this in the Web Serial "Worm":

The "Big Bad" has an ability known as "The Path to Victory". If you can imagine an outcome, it will both give you all of the steps necessary to reach it and enable you to carry them out flawlessly. We're talking "throw a business card off the roof of the Chrysler building and have the wind blow it into the hand of someone in Times Square who was just talking about the product it offers" flawless. However, his biggest desire is to see his missing (and dead) mate alive and well. When the heroes set up a convincing fake/simulacram of this as bait for a trap, his own power leads him into it so that he sees the "outcome" he wanted.

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