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One of the running jokes in Shards of Honor is that everyone on Beta Colony seems to deny having voted for "Steady Freddy" (the president). Furthermore, at one point Cordelia says this to a reporter:

"The government's doing a cover-up. What I know could blow the administration sky-high. […] If it were known I was talking to you, you might not get a chance at a second interview. No rough stuff—just a little quiet disappearance in the night, and the ripple of a rumor about 'gone for medical tests.' Know what I mean?" She was fairly sure he didn't—his media service dealt mainly in sex fantasies—but she could see a vision of journalistic glory growing in his face.

She's lying, of course, and she's not exactly emotionally stable at this point; but the implication seems to be that a real news reporter would know what she meant, and that the government really does disappear people for political offenses. (Beta Colony puts its criminals in creepy psychotherapy — The Warrior's Apprentice puts it, "the Betans didn't jail offenders, they cured them" — so "gone for medical tests", even if literally accurate, could also double as the analogue of our "held for questioning".)

Throughout the series, Beta Colony is presented as at least superficially liberal, democratic, free, tolerant, and civil-rights– and equal-rights–focused (with a few exceptions: having a child requires a license; weapons seem more tightly restricted there than elsewhere; etc.), but I wonder if the above are to be taken as hints that it's less free and democratic than it appears. Are there any indications one way or the other?

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It's possible, though the 'I never voted for him' quotes throughout the book are more a tongue-in-cheek depiction of the dissatisfaction that even a citizen of a healthy democracy may feel--after all, depending on how many candidates are allowed to run, a majority of people on Beta Colony may in fact have voted for other candidates, with Steady Freddy getting only a plurality rather than a majority win.

However, there's another hint that the Beta Colony government employs more stringent means to control its citizens. In one of the later books of the Vorkosigan series (I think it is A Civil Campaign), Cordelia invites the reader to consider how the government manages to enforce its strict birth control policy. The hint is that some form of coercion or strict punishment is imposed on potential or actual offenders.

In general, Beta Colony is presented as coming closer to a utopian ideal than most of the other societies in the Vorkosigan universe; however, Bujold, skilled as she is in understanding and applying human nature to her creations, shows us that each society makes tradeoffs for its version of order and stability, even liberal Beta Colony.

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    Re: "The hint is some form of coercion or strict punishment is imposed on potential or actual offenders": Really? I totally missed that. In Barrayar there's some discussion of contraceptive implants (IIRC, Cordelia feels "naughty" for having hers removed, since on Beta Colony she'd have needed a license), but she also mentions that unlicensed children are (IIRC) "so rare that they're dealt with on a case-by-case basis". I don't remember any allusions to punishment. Do you think you can find that passage? – ruakh Mar 14 '13 at 16:35
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    Thanks Tynam! And ruakh, the passage I'm quoting is in A Civil Campaign, page 312-313 in my hardcover physical copy, in which Cordelia is Baba-ing Kareen's parents into submission. She is comparing Barrayar's and Beta Colony's social methods for ensuring that children are cared for in each society. The quote: "Sexual behavior seems open at the price of absolute social control on its reproductive consequences. Has it never crossed your mind to wonder how that is enforced? It should." – Metamaterial girl Mar 14 '13 at 22:35
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    To elaborate yet further on this - Beta Colony takes a very non-punitive, nonviolent approach to social engineering. Therefore, to be effective, the tools it does choose must be subtle and extremely pervasive. I would suggest that these tools do relate to the control and presentation of information - from media spin, to psychological manipulation in the form of 'therapy'. I also submit this idea: to keep a person in therapy until they not only toe the party line, but utterly believe it, is coercion, regardless of the moral value of the party line so espoused. – Metamaterial girl Mar 14 '13 at 22:44
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    In fact, "to keep a person in therapy until they not only toe the party line, but utterly believe it" is the central tenet of the novel 1984, with the minor little substitution of "torture" for "therapy". – Martha Apr 14 '13 at 19:03
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    possibly its a reference or inspired by the misquote:"I can’t believe Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him." – Roman A. Taycher May 5 '14 at 10:42
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You are missing the obvious problem with Beta Colony's oppressive government: Cordelia's own situation at the end of Shards of Honor. She is nearly driven to a nervous breakdown by government harassment and has to flee to Barrayar to avoid being psycho-cured of being in love with Aral Vorkosigan because a few psychologists would rather believe that she is a psycho controlled spy. She was drugged without knowledge or consent to elicit information, and was about to be imprisoned as well, all without any kind of trial or defense.

There is a creepy iron fist inside those goody-two-shoes gloves.

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    The situation at the end of Shards of Honor was complicated by the fact that they'd just fought a war with Barrayar. Cordelia knew things about that war that she had to keep secret. Thus, the story she told the Betans had enormous holes in it. I believe the implication was that there would have been a trial, had Cordelia stayed, but a trial was the last thing she wanted. – Martha Jun 19 '14 at 19:09
  • Thanks for your answer. I'm not "missing" that problem -- as you say, it's obvious, and you'll note that I used the word "creepy" inside the question itself -- but I was just asking about the democracy itself. She wasn't being persecuted for dissidence, or suspected dissidence. – ruakh Jun 19 '14 at 20:50

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