A seat at the table

The Crippled God is wreaking havoc. He’s poisoning the warrens—the sources of magic—and killing the Elder Gods. But the Elder Gods, the contemporary Gods, the Ascendants—mortals ascended to God-like status—and the various mortal races are beginning to fight back. 

Thus far, the Crippled God hasn’t been playing by the rules. Captain Ganoes Paran is considering changing that. Currently, the Crippled God is an outsider, a God not recognised as so. But what if he was given a seat at the table? This is the state of affairs in the third volume of Stephen Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen.

“ ‘Your lack of fear has me curious, Gruntle. You seem to see no risk in legitimizing the House of Chains. Why is that?’
The man shrugged his massive shoulders. ‘But that’s just it, isn’t it. Legitimizing. Right now, the Crippled God’s outside the whole damned game, meaning he’s not bound by any rules whatsoever—’
Paran suddenly sat straight. ‘You’re right. Abyss take me, that’s it. If I bless the House of Chains then the Crippled God becomes . . . bound—’
‘Just another player, aye, jostling on the same board. Right now, he just keeps kicking it whenever he gets the chance. When he’s on it, he won’t have that privilege. Anyway, that’s how it seems to me, Captain. So when you want to sanction the House, I thought: why the fuss? Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. The gods can be damned thick-witted on occasion — probably why they need us mortals to do the straight thinking when straight thinking’s required.’”

Upon reading this, I paused. It reminded me of so many individual’s and organisation’s stories. Think about what happens to an underground artist that builds a following. Perhaps it’s an indie musician, or an emcee. She plays intimate gigs. She talks to fans before and after shows. She puts out EPs, mixtapes. She releases singles and put them up for free online. She trials new songs in front of live audiences. In short, she gets some traction by being good and minimising the layers between herself and her fans. Consequently, label execs take notice and begin circling. They utter sweet words to her, make promises, hint at a blank cheque, and not long after, the formerly underground artist becomes just another signed musician. No more “showing your work”. No more intimate (unprofitable) gigs. No unscheduled releases. No unmitigated interaction with fans. No longer can the artist just pick up and jam with another artist, in private or public. Oh no. She has channels to go through, paperwork to get cleared, nods to seek. The underground artist, just as she begins to make some waves, is given a seat at the table, brought into the game.

It’s analogous to startups. A business model or technology is implemented and it threatens an industry’s incumbents. Because they have no funding they have to operate differently. They have to be light, fast, responsive to the market they serve and the problems their tech or business model encounters. But only until they get some capital. Once they’ve got capital they can slow down, they can take longer, they can work in private for years. Formerly, they were an outsider, a blinding, aggressive, tenacious, potentially disruptive force. A threat. Not any more. The “freedom and security” they sought via a source of capital has shackled them.

  They—whoever “they” turns out to be in your particular story—will offer you a seat at the table just as you position your hands and plant your feet, ready to overturn it. Which leaves you with a choice: take the seat and become one of them, bound by the same constraints, or wink, smile, and flip the thing over. Continue playing your game—in which you make the rules and decide what matters—and let everyone else figure out what the fuck to do about it, or become just another player in someone else’s game. What will it be?