In Consider Phlebas, the Culture seem to be spreading throughout the Milky Way, but having very little to do with other civilizations. The Idiran war seems to be forcing the culture to reevaluate their stance on galactic diplomacy.

Fast forward to the events of The Player Of Games, the Culture is trying to steer the Azadian empire into breakdown and reform. In Use Of Weapons, Cheradenine Zakalwe and Diziet Sma are exclusively tasked with intervening in less advanced civilizations, to guide them into a more peaceful path.

I'm looking for evidence that supports or contradicts my theory that the Culture interfered with other civilizations to a greater extent after the Idiran war.

  • 4
    “The Culture never interferes in other societies?” Lededje said, trying to sound scornful. It was one of the few things she could recall having heard about the Culture back in Sichult ... it didn’t use money and it was ruled by its giant robot ships that interfered in other civilisations. ... “Good grief, yes, we’re interfering all the time,” the avatar admitted. “But it’s all carefully thought out, long-term managed and there’s always got to be some strategic goal that’ll benefit the people being interfered with.” - Surface Detail
    – Valorum
    Jun 26, 2021 at 8:42

1 Answer 1


This question seems to be founded on a mistaken impression of the Culture in the Consider Phlebas era. Interfering in other cultures is something the Culture has always done; that's what Contact Section and especially Special Circumstances are for.

The only desire the Culture could not satisfy from within itself was one common to both the descendants of its original human stock and the machines they had (at however great a remove) brought into being: the urge not to feel useless. The Culture's sole justification for the relatively unworried, hedonistic life its population enjoyed was its good works; the secular evangelism of the Contact Section, not simply finding, cataloguing, investigating and analysing other, less advanced civilisations but - where the circumstances appeared to Contact to justify so doing - actually interfering (overtly or covertly) in the historical processes of those other cultures.

With a sort of apologetic smugness, Contact - and therefore the Culture - could prove statistically that such careful and benign use of 'the technology of compassion' (to use a phrase in vogue at the time) did work, in the sense that the techniques it had developed to influence a civilisation's progress did significantly improve the quality of life of its members, without harming that society as a whole by its very contact with a more advanced culture.

Faced with a religiously inspired society determined to extend its influence over every technologically inferior civilisation in its path regardless of either the initial toll of conquest or the subsequent attrition of occupation, Contact could either disengage and admit defeat - so giving the lie not simply to its own reason for existence but to the only justificatory action which allowed the pampered, self-consciously fortunate people of the Culture to enjoy their lives with a clear conscience - or it could fight

Consider Phlebas, "Reasons: the Culture"

  • 1
    The question isn't whether they interfere, it's whether after the Idirans stopped being a threat to the Culture, whether they used this as carte blanche to interfere more.
    – Valorum
    Nov 19, 2021 at 19:12
  • 1
    @Valorum It was never the Idirans they were worried about when interfering; it was only the HLI/Elder/Sublimed civilizations they had to keep on the good side of. Would it help if I added additional material to the effect that the Culture only cared about the Idirans because the Idirans could prevent/undo their good works?
    – DavidW
    Nov 19, 2021 at 19:18
  • The Idiran war was fought on (amongst other ground) the fact that the Culture was meddlesome. It's not clear whether, having won the war, they decided to meddle more or relaxed and actually meddled less.
    – Valorum
    Nov 19, 2021 at 19:19
  • To use an imperfect analogy, it's like you're growing a crop. A nearby river floods, threatening to destroy your fields. After you have saved the fields from the flood, do you grow more because of the flood? No, that wouldn't be the reason.
    – DavidW
    Nov 19, 2021 at 19:19
  • 1
    It was clear that the Idiran War was mutually started. The Idirans largely considered that they were already at war and that the formal start of proceedings was merely paperwork; "The war, long before it was finally declared, was regarded by the Idiran high command as a continuation of the permanent hostilities demanded by theological and disciplinary colonization, involving a quantitative and qualitative escalation of armed conflict of only a limited degree to cope with the relatively equivalent technological expertise of the Culture."
    – Valorum
    Nov 19, 2021 at 19:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.