I'm trying to create a nation that is greedy, opportunistic & obsessed with profits and trade. They are cunning, treacherous schemers that will swindle you despite all the pleasantries and assurances to the contrary. If they had any religion it would be Ferengi rules of acquisition

Basically a I'm constructing humans that have combination of psychological traits from fictional races (Ferengi, Hutts, Goblins, Toydarians) and stereotypes about middleman minorities (Jews, Chinese, Parsi, Lebanese, Indian).

How should Volto parents educate their children in the art of scheming, hyprocrisy and taking advantage of others?

1st Edit

Just to make something clear, Volto are hypocrites. Honesty for thee, not for me. There's nothing wrong with doing something illegal as long as you don't get caught. In public every Volto would present themselves as honest and trustworthy, but that's only a facade. They will stab you in the back the first moment it's to their advantage, and can get away with it. As long a you outlived your usefulness, they'll drop you like hot potato.

No successful Volto will ever tell how they really earned their fortune. They might (shadow)write a book how they worked hard and had a foresight to invest in the right time. But you could be sure that's only intended for gullible fools. The only way that Volto could learn how their things are really done is through experience, from close family and extremely rarely from good friend or mentor.

2nd Edit

Volto are humans.The story is set in Earth, with technological level of near past. Discrimination of women is on a Mad Men level.

  • $\begingroup$ In this culture would having these "greed" traits be a positive thing? Would a greedier more selfish person be considered more accomplished or from a better class of people in your peoples society? $\endgroup$
    – Shootatme
    Dec 10 '16 at 8:08
  • $\begingroup$ Yes Gordon Gekko would almost be a hero youtube.com/watch?v=VVxYOQS6ggk No Volto would ever be that honest, everything else is spot on. $\endgroup$
    – Quark
    Dec 10 '16 at 8:30
  • $\begingroup$ If people try to maintain public appearances how is it that everyone has the underlying values you describe? Not impossible but interesting $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Dec 10 '16 at 16:25
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ So basically a nation of Trumps. $\endgroup$ Dec 10 '16 at 17:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Quark: You missed my point. (Guess that's what I get for using sarcasm :-)) What I was trying to say is that the characteristics you attribute to your Voltos are absolutely normal mainstream human behavior. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 12 '16 at 18:51

I think the fundamental (though not insurmountable) problem with such a people (and the thing that always bothered me about the Ferengi) is that lies are parasites of truth. Truth can exist without lies but not vice versa. For lies to function properly they depend on a culture of honesty.

The apprentice system mentioned by AlexP for example could only work, if the apprentices can reasonably hope that they somehow get more out of the deal than they lose by being exploited. The state rewarding those businessmen with the largest margins depends both on the state not being so utterly corrupt, that it siphons off those margins to get paid for the reward; and that there is an honest way for determining how much money the company made. Importantly: money itself is dependent on honesty. Rampant counterfeiting or excessive printing by the state would rapidly cause their economy to collapse.

There is no way of getting around the problem that they need honest communication to exploit. If you can't trust anyone there is no need to even listen to them.

Personally, I think the best way of going about the problem is by letting them have some form of modest nationalism along with a state that strictly enforces basic rules of commerce. Even the Ferengi could rely on the contracts that they made. If their internal laws are very strict, if supervision and enforcement are functional, they can have enough reason to believe one another to conduct business.

They might also have a disinclination to screw over other Volto. A part of this would be esprit de corps, but also because Volto are much more vigilant. The economy could then be based on screwing over other nations: they would be naturally inclined to head out into other places with softer targets. There are millions upon millions of suckers out there! If they are then “patriotic” enough to send a portion of their earnings back to their homeland – then you have a parasitic people living in a nation that is itself parasitic. They could, of course, also do this for their families, for some sort of prestige back home or for benefits that other nations might not be able to supply as easily. You say they treat women like crap? Perfect! Have them earn more wives back home in a world that is largely monogamous. Even compared to a modestly polygamist society, they could hope for ludicrously large harems of imported slaves back home.

Over time, other nations would come to trust them about as much as a Nazi trusts a Jew – they are, after all, the worst stereotypes of Jews come to life. This would be precisely where their education system gets involved: They would depend on being recognized as anything but Volto. This naturally entails learning a variety of foreign languages and foreign customs, extensive theatrical training, being assigned a new identity, learning to create identities of their own etc. – they would basically be spies acting primarily in their own interest. Maybe they employ the strategy of assuming a nationality other than the one of the country they're infiltrating: If you don't want to be recognized as an American in Turkey, fooling Turks into believing that you're an Italian is easier than fooling them into believing that you're a Turk. This would of course be connected with more obvious economy/mendacity focused education, including knowing the legal framework of the countries they want to specialize in and just a variety of games of deception (think of all the traitor games that are popular today like The Resistance – or games of bluffing like poker of course).

The strategy is basically this: liars need the reservoirs of truthfulness to flourish, so they cut back on lying back home and try to exploit the honesty of others.


Are you trying to describe a nation which actually is "greedy, opportunistic & obsessed with profits and trade", or are you trying to describe a nation which is perceived to be so?

If the nation is truly supposed to be made up of greedy, opportunistic etc. people then I suggest that it depends on the degree of greed, opportunism and obsession with profits. In moderation, those are admirable qualities, the basis of capitalism. Look at the education systems (at home and at school) of nations which are exceptionally successful in international commerce; America, China, England, Israel, or Japan come to mind.

In excess, those character traits will surely doom the nation; since the nation is already doomed, your imagination may be limitless. You may imagine that parents will teach their children to dissemble and to speculate sentimentalism; you may imagine that schools teach sophistic techniques, that teachers will track their pupils ability to cheat (at exams, at homework, and so on), that their religion resembles prosperity theology, that the society and the state reward the traders with the largest margins -- for example, the traders with the largest margins are seen as social stars, or the state uses a stack evaluation system, where the traders which obtained the largest margins get to enslave those who lost the most money. Young people may be apprenticed to successful traders and serve a term as unpaid interns to learn how to sell. The society may show an extreme case of interest in upward mobility, with a corresponding disdain and shunning for those who show a decrease in revenue.

If the nation is only to be perceived as greedy, opportunistic and obsessed with trade, then the situation is much more nuanced, because essentially any nation which is successful at creating wealth will be so perceived by the less successul nations. The Dutch in the 18th century, the English in the 19th, the Americans in the 20th were widely perceived as greedy, faithless opportunists obsessed with trade. See "nation of shopkeepers" and "perfidious Albion". In this case, the education system of the nation will simply be a good education system; depending on the historial analog you want to make, you can model it on the English, German, or American system. Children will be educated to be independent, enterprising spirit and initiative will be encouraged, the society will praise success in all forms, risk-taking will be seen as a positive attitude, and so on.

  • $\begingroup$ The nation that IS greedy. A man is only worth the sum of his possessions $\endgroup$
    – Quark
    Dec 10 '16 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with your suggestion is that they are hypocrites too. Nobody in their right mind would teach their competitors how to game the system. The They want other people to be honest so they could take advantage of them. So honesty for thee, not for me. The only way children could learn how the system really works is from their parents or close relatives. $\endgroup$
    – Quark
    Dec 10 '16 at 8:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Quark: Nations cannot be greedy etc. Only people can. A nation composed exclusively of exceedingly greedy dissembling faithless opportunists cannot survive. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 10 '16 at 8:52
  • $\begingroup$ They unite against foreigners. $\endgroup$
    – Quark
    Dec 10 '16 at 9:29

Why would a scheming, greedy, profits-driven opportunist ever educate their children? Education costs money and resources and risk revolution; much better to impress a basic trade skill on your children and lock them into indentured servitude to the family. (The Ferengi have been mentioned to do something like this). You want your slaves to be just intelligent enough to speak and do their menial tasks, but not so intelligent that they have second thoughts about their rightful place in the grand scheme of things (in a dingy factory, pulling levers).

Children would be born prolifically, probably in vats or some other bulk-production system, as the only employees these merchantilists* would have full control over, for their entire lives, are family members.

So, to answer the question directly: The Volto educate their children by brutal example (natural selection). Many of their children will just make the best out of it that they can, learning quickly that pulling the lever faster gets one some minor increase in benefits (closer to an air vent, or a less-squeaky lever). Strong arming other workers into pulling their levers faster gets one a promotion to Supervisor and a plasma whip. They'll naturally learn to use their brute force to take what they need. Supervisors who don't punish their crews enough will be demoted back into ranks, where the next Supervisor will literally whip them into shape. Supervisors who are too brutal will decrease the productivity of their crew, and likely be terminated. The harsh (plasma pistol) firing will serve as a lesson to other Supervisors.

And some of those children, maybe one out of every vat-load, will be born with extra intelligence. When a Volto parent discovers one of their children organizing the other children into working for them (think Tom Sawyer, not labor union type organization), they pull that kid out of the mines and move him or her into Management (before they damage the Prole worldview too much). The ability to manipulate their fellows without force, but with the invisible hand of economic theory would be taught to them, on the job. They'll learn, or they'll go back to the mines, and their bretheren will be all too happy to get their hands on the "suit" who reduced their water rations to save on repair parts for the water pumps.

This, in fact, will be the biggest weapon used by the Management class against their own staff: do what I tell you to do or you go back to the mines to die at the hands of the Proles. Life in Management is a swift learning experience because your life is one check-mark on a form away from ending brutally at the hands of your oppressed under-family. One will learn how to manipulate their fellows, wring every drop of profit out of their under-family, and backstab each other to gain rank or cover their butts. Only the most backstabby, vile members of the family will survive to be a Parent, the C-levels of society.

Many will fail back into the mines as scapegoats or victims of purges, some will settle in the middle ranks as a headcount, doing just enough to keep their berth and having so little motivation for upward advancement that their supervisors never have to kill them off for safety. And those with the best biological makeup to be the scum of the scum will be the only members with enough pull to make it to the C-Level and become part of the next vat's gene pool, thereby building those features in to their family's DNA. Proles mate with Proles to fill out the working class, and C-levels mate with C-levels to increase the efficiency of the Management class.

(* Many writers make the mistake of having uber-evil Capitalists, but that falls apart, as many features of Capitalism run contrary to the very overbearing, backwards minded concepts of these societies. For an example, take Star Trek: DS9. The Ferengi didn't even let their females wear clothing, and consigned them to the house, thereby pre-emptively shutting down half of the workforce (and half of the available market for goods! Women not buying clothing?! I couldn't not buy shoes!) A whole season's worth of Quark episodes surrounded the Ferengi Grand Nagus turning into a banking and industry genius, only for Quark to find out that his mother was the actual intelligence behind the throne! All those middle managers, marketing executives, and (yes) shuttle mechanics being forcefully excluded from the market? That's not Capitalism!

That's more like Mercantilism. Keep your resources internal. Exploit your workers to the bone. Refuse imports, focus on exports. Your aliens are more Mercantillist than Capitalist. Just a little detail to write in.)

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, these folks may be schemers, but they are extremely short-sighted ones. They ask "What can I screw you out of today?" (thus creating an enemy) rather than "How can I arrange things so that I can make money off of you for years to come?". Or the classic example of the difference between shearing a sheep every year, and ripping its hide off in one go. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 11 '16 at 0:20

Clearly, if one could pass along only one key skill to the next generation of schemers, it should be the careful, clever means of subverting complex systems (whatever the underlying technology) -- namely hacking.

So Computer Science skills are foundational, as is programming in the broadest sense. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenspun's_tenth_rule, our prospective schemer will inevitably plumb the UrLanguage Lisp... but in what form?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scheme_(programming_language) is the obvious choice -- and thus must be avoided by a schemer at all cost. If not Common Lisp then I'd suggest a nice, open-source basis for scheming, namely https://www.gnu.org/software/guile/


  • $\begingroup$ I appreciate your sense of humor and I love s-expressions, however I don't think that your inside joke is a fitting answer. $\endgroup$ Dec 10 '16 at 16:42

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