Our neighbour, the Grand Duchy of Menistaria, is renowned for the perfection of its laws and the indolence of its civil servants. Whether there is a causal link between this perfection and this indolence, and if so, in which direction it travels, is a matter of some dispute among doctors of laws and social scientists, both within Menistaria and abroad. Those who hold that the state “governs best which governs least” claim the lethargy of the Duchy’s authorities as an exemplar of their favoured dictum. Against them, it has been pointed out that Menistaria’s code of laws, regulations, administrative findings and judicial precedents address all possible social interactions, and encompassed half a million printed volumes prior to their digitization. More than three decades ago, Dragobuss and Enthalamia (2068) estimated that the corpus would require a full million volumes if published in the same format as the old books. Whatever you may wish to do in Menistaria, it is likely that there is a law against it, and another law protecting your right to do it.
To determine which precedent applies at any given moment and in any set of circumstances is a laborious process. It is on this ground that other scholars, including Dragobuss, have claimed that it is this profusion of laws that accounts for why employees of the state can so rarely be roused from their customary torpor. To be overruled by a superior officer is a great shame for a Menistarian civil servant, accompanied by demotion and pecuniary loss. Against Dragobuss, however, Enthalamia has pointed out that the legendary laziness of Menistarian administrators can be documented all the way back to the distant origins of this jurisdiction, lost in the mists of time, when all the laws were written on a slender vellum scroll. As is well known, Dragobuss accused his former collaborator of an excessive reliance on oral tradition in his scholarship, and challenged Enthalamia to a condensed matter duel at 15 paces, in which they both met their tragic demise.
Since then, scholars specializing in Menistarian society have preferred to keep to themselves, to the point that the field has nearly died out. For much the same reason, the purpose of this paper is not to expound on the causality question, which I consider essentially unanswerable (Indement 2085), but to give an account of an ancient Menistarian tradition—the bribe—and in so doing to clear up some misconceptions on that matter.
It is true that, to initiate a legal proceeding of any sort, whether a criminal trial, civil claim or administrative ruling, requires a bribe. The possible exceptions are so few as to constitute proof of the basic truth of this as a general rule. Moreover, we must bear in mind that absence of evidence for a bribe is not evidence of the absence of a bribe (Indement 2086a).
It is absolutely not the case, however, that a bribe alone is sufficient to secure the outcome desired by the person making the bribe. That nearly every case is decided in favour of the person most likely to have bribed an official proves nothing, as I will endeavour to show, at first through logic, and then by examining the few documented exceptions where a bribe resulted in calamity for the person giving it.
The logical case is simple enough: if a person’s position before the law is perilous, the indolence of the officials works to their benefit. If you have committed a murder, or your enemies have accumulated enough evidence to frame you for a murder, then the last thing you want is for your neighbourhood inspector or the district prosecutor to be diligently assembling a case. They will only do so if your enemies or the family of your victim have bribed them.
But what if,” you may ask, “I provide a bigger bribe to the inspector or prosecutor than my enemies did, to get him to exonerate me?” Certainly you could try that, but the laws of Menistaria have accounted for that circumstance. With a small bribe to the prosecutor’s superior officer, your enemies can instigate an investigation into whether or not the first officer found against the law in exonerating you. If his superior finds against him, then all bribes collected in the case, both from your enemies and from you, are forfeit and divided between the superior investigating officer and the state treasury. If he is honest, the superior officer will determine this according to the law. If he is greedy, then he will still determine this according to the law, for if his finding is counter to the law, a small bribe to his superior could lead to a new investigation and an even larger forfeiture. To try and cover his tracks, he would need to fabricate evidence to support an unjust conclusion, and this course of action is ruled out by the universal indolence of the bureaucracy. Simply put, as laborious as it is to determine the correct legal finding in the Menistarian system, it is even more laborious to cover one’s tracks after an incorrect finding.
“Ah,” you say, “but what if someone is wealthy enough to keep bribing their way all the way up the bureaucracy?” You are too clever by half. Bear in mind that there are 32 ranks and orders in the Menistarian bureaucracy, culminating in the Grand Duke himself. Naturally, the wealth of the Grand Duke is such that it would be impossible for a bribe to have any impact on his judiciousness. In the rare instances that a case comes before him, both parties are expected to bring offerings, but these are in the nature of tribute rather than a bribe, as compensation to His Excellency for distracting him from tapir hunting and deer racing. If His Excellency happens to find in favour of the party whose gift is more to his liking, that is immaterial when considering the legality of his finding. Since, in the last instance, it is up to His Excellency to make and remake the law, it is logically impossible for any of his findings to be counter to the law. In any case, the bureaucracy considers its highest duty to be the prevention of any proceedings rising to the attention of His Excellency, not least because all officials involved at any level of such a proceeding will be exiled to the wastes of Attar.
Thus, it would be highly irrational for a party who knows himself to be in the wrong to make a bribe, regardless of his wealth. He would have better luck gambling in the Menistarian national lottery, with its 1.72×1016 or so possible combinations. Even in cases where the distribution of liability is disputable or the precedents are unruly, it is rare for the people of Menistaria to seek the attention of the authorities, since such cases can quickly escalate with total bribes exceeding the stakes of the original dispute. The Menistarians have developed a host of alternative dispute resolution techniques that avoid the state entirely, ranging in severity from non-binding arbitration to the blood feud. That all of these techniques have been ruled illegal does not prevent them from taking place. If anything, it binds the populace together in a kind of permanent conspiracy, not against the state, but evading the notice of the state.
“Yet why,” you ask, “does the state allow such rampant corruption among its own officers?” The word corruption, as you use it, does not exist in Menistaria. The corresponding word in their language refers instead to rulings against the law, not to the giving or taking of bribes. For it is the unique genius of the Menistarian legal system that the giving and taking of bribes is the one human relation upon which there is neither prohibition nor restriction. The officials may take as many bribes as they wish, so long as the bribes have no impact on the outcome of their decisions. The people may bribe whomever they wish, so long as they expect nothing of it but a moderate acceleration of justice.
These facts are well known among all adult Menistarians of sound mind. That is why all the cases I have assembled have involved foreign visitors who, misled by the well-known prevalence of bribes in the Menistarian system, have made the mistake of assuming that through bribes they could gain unjust advantages.
Consider the case of Lexapris of Anthiona, an itinerant trader from somewhere in the southern lands. In 2073, a mob of women in the Menistarian village of Intanjlia accused him of using miscalibrated scales and sought to impose the customary punishment of forfeiture of wares. His scales were in fact miscalibrated, but since his stock included such now-rare commodities as coffee and cacao beans, he planned to effect an escape from the village dressed as a pregnant woman. To prevent Lexapris from trading in Intanjlia, the local trader Ervind son-of-Ervind presented a chicken to the Marketkeeper 32nd Rank Olkabuss. With such a proceeding hanging over his head, Lexapris would not be able to trade anywhere in Menistarian territory, so, stealing into Intanjlia under cover of night, he presented a kilo of the intoxicating coffee beans to Olkabuss. He instructed Olkabuss in the lost arts of roasting, grinding and brewing the beans into a fortifying beverage. Feigning suasion, Olkabuss told Lexapris to come to the market square first thing the next morning with all his wares, intimating that Lexapris could expect both exoneration and a large order for a consignment of coffee beans. Instead, Lexapris was subjected to the mandatory confiscation and a flogging, intended not as punishment but as inducement to get out of sight before the other traders arrived. That evening, Olkabuss invited the most comely of the market women to his home to learn the arts of coffee brewing and claim their share of the reward (Indement 2086b). It is said that they remained awake through the night, and to this day, if a visitor to Intanjlia should find himself in conversation with a toothless crone, he can expect to hear highly debauched tales of that evening.
Most cases that I found are of similarly low stakes and local significance. Not so with the case of Ralv Peits, allegedly a citizen of the Vale of Silikonia, who bribed his way to the 3rd Order, reaching the attention of the High Director of Purchasing for the Battalion of Communications Technology, Marquis Ildaemonas, where he received his inevitable rebuff. Beginning in 2080, Peits sought to secure a contract to install a nationwide quantum-comm network. Domestic competitors insisted that he had no such technology, and even if he did, it would violate the Marquis’ Code of Universal Decryption. The case stretched over eight years, at the conclusion of which the Marquis had secured enough wealth from the forfeited bribes of his inferiors that he could retire to his country estate, installing his son Vendribuss as the new High Director. The Silikonian Embassy disclaimed any knowledge of or responsibility for Peits, who was so impoverished by the proceedings that he had to hire himself out as a shipboard nuclear technician to secure passage across the sea (Ildaemonas et. al. 2090).
Most cases involve men, as the bureaucracy is almost exclusively male and the social norms of Menistaria quite patriarchal. Rarely do women travellers enter Menistaria unaccompanied by a husband or male relative, though there is no formal prohibition against it. Thus the recent case of Ekfrasia, a woman of Olakia taken as a wife by Timo son-of-Hidreth, is instructive as an index not only of the peculiar function of the bribe in Menistaria, but of how relations between the sexes among the Menistarians are governed as compared to the other cultures of this region. After six months of marriage, Ekfrasia sued Timo for divorce. By the laws of Menistaria, however, divorce requires mutual consent except in proven cases of “extraordinary cruelty.” By all accounts, Timo was cruel, at least as we Olakians would understand it: he beat Ekfrasia every night, prostituted her to his friends on the weekends, and made her cook and eat yeshtonk, a Menistarian “delicacy” made of pressed, rotten fish, at least once a week. Sincerely believing that these facts would be sufficient to prove “extraordinary cruelty,” Ekfrasia baked a tray full of sweetened meat pies for Yenelia wife-of-Burdo, a Marriage Counsellor 30th Rank and the only female state official in Timo’s village with the authority to decree divorces.
As a citizen of Olakia, I sympathize greatly with Ekfrasia. Yet as a legal scholar, I am compelled to point out that Menistarian law defines “extraordinary cruelty” in meticulous detail. Among the precedents and regulations, we find the following definitions:
These laws and definitions apply equally to men and women, at least formally if not in practice, and bizarre as they may seem to us, perhaps we can acknowledge that they are in some way fair. As it happened, Timo was always careful not to draw blood when beating Ekfrasia, and his friends were considered, by Menistarian standards, to be quite handsome. If anything, Ekfrasia might have been convicted of “extraordinary cruelty” for her distaste for yeshtonk, but Timo never presented evidence that she actually refused to cook or eat it. It seems he genuinely wished to remain married to her. Despite the delectable meat pies and the ties of feminine sympathy, Yenelia did her duty under Menistarian law and found promptly against Ekfrasia.
This case, like that of Lexapris, might have remained purely local in significance were it not for the successful conspiracy of some Olakian friends and relatives to kidnap Ekfrasia and bring her back across the border. Since then, our government has refused the Menistarian demands for compensation, and we face the threat of war. Much as I sympathize with our sister Ekfrasia, and cast no blame upon her co-conspirators, as a peace-loving citizen of Olakia and a scholar of Menistarian law, I hope this essay will help our people and our government to better understand our neighbours, to set aside our pride, and to step back from the brink. War is the ultimate injustice, and if it can be avoided, there is no price too great to pay.
Dr. Clemons Indement is a Doctor of Laws and Professor Emeritus at the University of Latanzia.
Dragobuss and Enthalamia 2068. A General Theory of Menistarian Justice. Bulodova: Menistarian State Publishers, 2068.
Ildaemonas et. al. 2090. A Glorious Reconstruction: Memoirs of the Contributions of the Battalion of Communications Technology to Menistarian Resurgence. Bulodova: Menistarian State Publishers, 2090.
Indement 2085. Out of a Blind Alley: Aporias of Causality in the Administration of Menistarian Law. Latanzia: University Press, 2085.
Indement 2086a. “Forensic Accounting and Menistarian Legal Studies,” Journal of International Comparative Law, vol. 70, no. 1, pp. 105-111, January 2086.
Indement 2086b. “Business Ethics in Menistaria: A Cautionary Case Study for Traders,” International Trade Bulletin, vol. 5, no. 25, p. 4, June 2086.
Story copyright © 2017 by Joseph Tomaras
Artwork copyright © 2017 by Dotti Price
Joseph Tomaras is a writer and a research administrator (if you have to ask, you don’t want to know) who lives in Maine. His short fiction has appeared in Asymmetry, Salvage Quarterly, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, FLAPPERHOUSE, The Future Fire, Unlikely Story (may it return from hiatus), Big Pulp, Clarkesworld, and the late, lamented The Big Click, among other places. He also tweets like crazy as @epateur.
Dotti Price is an artist and illustrator based out of East Tennessee, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Her art is inspired by local wildlife—black bears, foxes, and deer—and by classic literature and fairy tales. It has been featured in area art shows, galleries, and businesses. Dotti has also taught art and designed set and prop pieces for kids’ theatre camp.