Beacons of knowledge in an ignorant world
ognoscenti is a blanket term referring to the intellectual classes of casterway societies. Depending upon the speaker's context, cognoscenti can refer to a specific role or career field, or it can be used simply to talk about any "learned person". Most of this article delves into the formal "order" known as the cognoscenti. But in informal, or colloquial, parlance, anyone who is viewed as sufficiently-intelligent may find themselves referred to, occasionally, as "cognoscenti".
here is certainly nothing illegal about being cognoscenti. They are an accepted, critical, and valued part of all casterway societies. Nevertheless, their entire order has a long and checkered history with regard to the law and their relationship with established power structures. On several occasions, despotic leaders have gone so far as to ban the cognoscenti - even to the extent of hunting them down. Such draconian measures are rare, and have never lasted more than a century-or-so when enacted. But they highlight the sometimes-fraught balance between those who rule and those who know.
Versus local authority
The cognoscenti have found themselves in peril when their scientific conclusions clash with state-sanctioned dogma, or when their pursuit of esoteric knowledge puts them in opposition to prevailing ethical or moral standards. Where the cognoscenti have come under particular scrutiny is with regard to religion. There is nothing in cognoscenti teaching that refutes religion. Nor does it restrict its own members from holding or practicing religious beliefs. But their near-slavish devotion to raw, verifiable truth tends to leave them more prone to atheism than the greater population at large. In those cases where religion holds an official, state-sponsored role in the government, these tensions have proven to be particularly troublesome. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the nations of the Inqoan peoples. Most Inqoan states have been, practically or officially, theocracies. The official state endorsement of religion has, at times, led to open conflict between the government and the cognoscenti, even as government offices continued to employ cognoscenti for their practical skill sets. Even when they are not clashing directly with the government, they can still raise the ire of the general population with activities such as these:
The clandestine collection of freshly-buried bodies for research.
Chemical experiments with fire or explosives.
Administration of experimental concoctions to treat the chronically- or mortally-ill.
Ranging into the Ontorlands to gather rare supplies for their experiments.
Keeping, and/or disseminating, banned texts.
Teaching scientific findings that contradict local religious dogma.
Their Own Standards
None of this should be taken to imply that the cognoscenti lack standards or a moral compass. In fact, they can be quite fastidious about expelling their own members for violating their own guidelines. And their guidelines can be overly-strict and quite rigorous in their application. It's just that cognoscenti regulations do not always align perfectly with the regulations of local government, or the population at large. And when there is a gap between those two sets of standards, most cognoscenti will retreat to their klysters and conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with their own standards.
In the Jongshzen langage, the word "hongyang" means "cognoscenti from the countryside". Coincidentally, it is also the word for "clown".
Niek Lorgen, Ucaranian cognoscenti, 2020 AoE
ualifications can vary wildly, with one of the greatest distinctions being that of physical location. There are exceptions, but in most casterway societies, the process of becoming cognoscenti can be quite formal and rigid in the urban centers. Conversely, there's often little-or-no real training in rural communities. Different standards of qualification can create tension between city- and country-cognoscenti. Predictably, the urban dwellers tend to look on their rural equivalents as ignorant impostors who do not deserve the "cognoscenti" label. And their rural counterparts look at the city dwellers as arrogant and dismissive of their skills. The further one travels from an urban area, the more likely it becomes that the local cognoscenti is merely "the oldest person in the village" or "the person that everyone seems to respect the most". In this regard, the rural cognoscenti are often equivalent to chiefs or tribal elders.
The urban cognoscenti are often the complete opposite. They are typically expected to train - sometimes for decades - before they even have the honor of being known as the most-base-level cognoscenti. This training frequently takes place in ancient centers of higher learning - and the training is usually provided by the most exalted of senior cognoscenti. The training is also splintered into many different paths, as the higher echelons of cognoscenti are all expected to pick one-or-two targeted areas of expertise. Once they have a baseline of general knowledge, the young cognoscenti may require extensive dedication to a narrow field of knowledge before they will truly be accepted amongst their learned peers. Although the universities, libraries, and other centralized centers of learning certainly house the majority of cognoscenti training activities, there are still many programs that require an aspiring apprentice to spend significant years "in the field" before they can claim to have completed their studies. Although it's rare, there are certainly some in The Know who complete their entire training regimen without ever having set foot in a learning institution.
My vocation is that of a cognoscenti apprentice. I have always been a cognescenti apprentice. I will always be a cognoscenti apprentice.
Velo Alfania, Vetrian cognoscenti, 3636 AoG
ecause of the extensive years of study that are expected for most cognoscenti, it's imperative that they're earmarked for this vocation at a young age. Most learning centers will not accept new trainees after the age of thirteen or fourteen. This limitation can be amended somewhat if the aspiring cognoscenti is lucky enough to have a qualified priori who is willing to school the apprentice with particular time and attention. Once a trainee has been formally accepted, the schooling process can be as short as five years, or as long as three decades. The wide difference is mostly based on an apprentice's area of specialization. But it can also be affected by culture and by the particular proclivities of a chosen priori .
Cultures residing nearer the eastern coasts of Islegantuan and the western coasts of Isleprimoton tend to expect a longer training period for future cognoscenti. Cultures closer to the central regions tend to allow shorter (yet, more formalized) training processes. But even for those students in these more "forgiving" environments, the training process can be particularly long if they've chosen to apprentice under a specific priori who insists on an elongated tutelage. It's entirely up to the aspiring apprentice as to whether they want to accept the longer training regimen. But once a specific priori has offered to mentor a given apprentice, other priori will avoid offering similar services to the same apprentice. So the young would-be cognoscenti will not have the option to "shop around" for the most lenient priori. After the priori is satisfied that training has been completed, the apprentice is formally recognized as a true cognoscenti. But that doesn't mean that they're "finished", or that they've "arrived". They will be assigned to continue their scholarly duties in the field, where they will be looked upon as a junior cognoscenti with a long career of advancement required of them if they're ever to achieve the rank of priori.
Payment & Reimbursement
here is rarely ever any formal payment afforded to any cognoscenti. In the smallest of communities, the "profession" is often thought of as a duty or an obligation - just as some might think of elected office or military service as their duty. In those environments, a cognoscenti typically has a "day job", but will lend their wisdom to the town, and its leadership, as needed.
In larger communities, the cognoscenti are paid primarily through non-monetary considerations. This means that they are often provided living quarters (frequently, alongside other cognoscenti) and meals. They may be assigned occasional service providers who will, for example, tailor their clothes for no charge. If it's not feasible to provide such supporting manpower, they may be given a modest stipend with which they're expected to provide the other necessities that aren't given to them directly by their benefactors. Just because they are not "paid", in the traditional sense, this does not necessarily mean that they cannot be handsomely rewarded for their efforts. In the highest echelons of their order, they can even achieve great wealth. This can occur because their services are often provided with a quid pro quo.
Quid Pro Quo
This informal understanding of non-monetary remuneration means that most of the cognoscenti's efforts will be meagerly rewarded - or not at all. For example, if a cognoscenti cleans-and-bandages a peasant's infected wound, thus saving the peasant's life and allowing him to continue his modest profession, the peasant might provide nothing in return but a heartfelt thank you. Even if the peasant feels obligated to reward the cognoscenti, the "payment" will no-doubt be so minimal as to be nearly ceremonial in nature. But if that same cognoscenti were to save the life of a wealthy scion, then it's generally considered poor-form if that scion does not in turn provide some kind of offering as a sign of their gratitude. Of course, if the scion is miserly, that "offering" may still be inconsequential. But history is replete with stories of cognoscenti who have grown rich and powerful themselves by virtue of the valuable service that they provide to those who were already rich and powerful. Where this plays out most favorably for the cognoscenti, is when that cognoscenti can provide some kind of ongoing knowledge that serves to continually enrich one-or-more wealthy patrons. In those scenarios, it's common for those patrons to eventually provide so much non-monetary remuneration to their valued cognoscenti that the cognoscenti eventually becomes wealthy in his own right.
A Tale of Cognoscenti Wealth
One example of this is that of the Inqoan cognoscenti Isra Thorkil. In 1288 AoE, Collian divers were still collecting millishells with a nearly-random approach. They knew that the creatures migrated frequently from one bed to the next, but they had no idea how to predict such movements. So they just sailed to a given spot and commenced diving, hoping that it would be a "lucky" day. A Collian merchant lamented to her that there must be some better way to predict these movements. But he had no idea what that might be. Intrigued by the problem, she told him that she would be happy to research it, but that it would probably be some time before she had anything concrete. Having no better options, he agreed. Three years later, she came to him with specific instructions on where to dive, on what days, and at what depths. He was flabbergasted when her advice led to one of their best returns in months. He came to her the next day and asked her for the secret. She told him that she would be happy to give him specific forecasts, on any given day, as frequently as he cared to ask - but she would not divulge the underlying forecasting process. As is customary for cognoscenti, she never asked him for any form of payment. But as is customary for well-heeled individuals who benefit from the knowledge of the cognoscenti, he felt obligated to provide her with some type of consideration. And given the fact that he came to her, nearly every day for years on end, looking for that morning's diving forecast, the "considerations" he provided piled up quickly. It wasn't long before he was the wealthiest millishell merchant in Islegantuan - and she had such an enormous collection of houses, business partnerships, and another other non-monetary type of asset, that she died as one of the wealthiest members of The Know.
or a certain type of person, the benefits of being a certified member of the cognoscenti can be substantial. Some of the most-famous, most-influential humans, throughout world history, have been cognoscenti. They have often been the sole force driving the advancement of casterway technology. They have served as trusted advisers to monarchs and world leaders. The highest leadership councils almost always reserve a seat for the regions' senior priori.
ue to the pliable nature of the cognoscenti moniker, their purpose can be wildly disparate between cultures, regions, or time periods. Depending upon current social mores, any of the following are potential roles for qualified cognoscenti:
- Senior/trusted advisor
- Tribal elder
It can, at times, be challenging to identify those activities which are assumed in the purview of the cognoscenti, versus those which are typically assigned to others. The easiest rule-of-thumb is that the cognoscenti read/learn/instruct/understand, while other professions do (with some notable exceptions). If books are the hard drives of Excilior, then the cognoscenti are its CPUs.
For example, the cognoscenti have been involved in the legal systems for years. Yet they would never accept a role as a judge. Nor would they be involved in the active trying of cases or the representation of parties. Instead, they are scions of legal history and judicial theory. They won't argue your case in the courts. But they may be instrumental in helping you to uncover a novel, and successful, legal strategy. They may also be well-versed in all of the precedents and prior case law that is applicable to your current legal issue - including the precedents created by unique cases that originated in entirely different countries.
The cognoscenti are loathe to involve themselves directly in politics. They will rarely accept legislative or ambassadorial positions. But they are consulted by those same political players. And in the cabinets of large governments, the cognoscenti almost always hold permanent, influential roles, bending the ear of the planet's most powerful bureaucrats. These relationships need not be formal. There are many world leaders who have become known to always have their closest confidante right by their side. And it's not uncommon for that confidante to be a cognoscenti who does not, technically, hold any of the formal roles that are employed around the leader.
They also hold massive influence over the education system. The deans of prestigious universities are typically members of the cognoscenti. However, those same cognoscenti will rarely bring themselves to teach classes directly, unless, of course, those classes consist entire-or-primarily of other cognoscenti. Colleges often deploy an informal, two-tiered caste system amongst their instructors. The cognoscenti professors are also those given the privilege to almost-exclusively conduct research, only occasionally being required to teach a class or two. The other instructors spend the majority of their time directly conducting classes, while only occasionally being allowed to indulge in research.
The fields where the "hands-off" approach fails are generally in science and medicine. The best physicians, performing hands-on procedures, are all cognoscenti. And in the scientific realm, they hoard the most cherished experiments for themselves. In fields such as physics and geology, the cognoscenti dominate the potential participants. But in chemistry and botany, they wield a vice grip against anyone who dares apply without first qualifying as cognoscenti. Although most intellectual endeavors contain at least some proportion of both "regular" and cognoscenti adherents, this mix does not apply to chemistry and botany. Anyone trying to pursue scientific knowledge in those fields, without first being a qualified cognoscenti, is considered to be a rank amateur - and borderline-dangerous, at that.
I'm not much of a poet. But to my ear, "cognoscenti" and "condescending" are a perfect rhyme.
Sophocles Panayi, Thignian moss farmer, 3111 AoG
he cognoscenti simultaneously occupy two disparate, and sometimes conflicting, positions in the social hierarchy.
On one hand, they are the unquestioned "thought leaders" of humanity. The most significant scientific advancements are typically birthed in klysters. World leaders, making decisions that effect the entire planet, routinely lean on cognoscenti for sage advice. In a practical sense, they are directly responsible for delivering some of the best medical practices known to man. And they routinely extend their services as a kind of informal "social safety net" to the poor and disadvantaged. For these reasons, and many more, anyone who appreciates intellectual rigor will hold the cognoscenti in high regard.
On the other hand, the cognoscenti stereotype is that of someone who believes they are the smartest person in the room - and is not afraid to let you know it. Granted, in any "average" setting, the cognoscenti in the group probably is the smartest person in the room. But their overt confidence in their own intellectual abilities, coupled with their typical lack of social graces, can make their presence... grating. Poor or unsophisticated citizens tend to excuse the cognoscenti's demeanor. After all, if it weren't for the cognoscenti, there would be many small-to-midsize villages with no doctors or teachers. But among the higher echelons of urban society, the cognoscenti are sometimes viewed with a weary eye. They are not ignorant to this dynamic. Those in The Know tend to keep a low profile, offering their insight only when it is explicitly sought. But some dramatic chapters in world history have revolved around ambitious cognoscenti who dared to wade into the fetid waters of politics.
he volume and the makeup of the cognoscenti order varies between rural and urban settings, from one nation to another, and between different cultures. But the cognoscenti are never plentiful. At most, in a thriving, bustling, long-established metropolis, the cognoscenti might account for 0.5% of the population.
Amongst the nations of Islemanoton, all of the cognoscenti are women. Men are simply not allowed to begin training for The Know. Across Islegantuan, The Know is dominated by women, but there are certainly men amongst their ranks. In Isleprimoton this dynamic is flipped, with the cognoscenti population being roughly 70% male.
Technically, there are no financial or class barriers to joining the cognoscenti. But practically speaking, there can be many such barriers. Those raised in poverty are often dismissed by the greater society as being too ignorant and too simple to ever consider joining The Know. Even if a poor child's family and greater-community are open-minded enough to recognize the child's intellectual potential, the odds are still high that the practical realities of poverty will make it nearly impossible to follow a path of learning. Still, there are certainly famous examples of influential cognoscenti who defied their origins in the slums and hovels.
Because the cognoscenti life is often one of lonely research, minimal social interaction, esoteric subject matter, and long moments of quiet introspection, even the well-heeled tend to steer clear of the profession - if they have better prospects. This means that the most common prototype of the cognoscenti are those who A) hail from wealthy-or-connected families, and B) demonstrate superior intellectual ability, but C) exhibit some kind of physical, emotional, or personality trait that ultimately makes them awkward or undesirable in social settings. For this reason, the world's elite want the cognoscenti around when they are trying to solve the most difficult of puzzles for the highest of stakes. And then, once the issue is solved and there is no "pressing" problem on the agenda, they typically want the cognoscenti to go away.
ryffyn Corrington is widely acknowledged as the first cognoscenti. He did not use the word. Nor would he have ever referred to himself as such. But as Cervia Polonosa's most-trusted counselor throughout the early establishment of Auld Cervia, he established many of the original guidelines and rituals that would eventually come to be associated with the cognoscenti. It is then somewhat ironic that, throughout all of the current nations of Islemanoton, men are explicitly barred from the cognoscenti.
In that early society, long before the Age of Expansion, it became a standard practice that any city of significant size would feature, somewhere near its core, a klyster from which all cognoscenti research would emanate. Those early klysters were extremely primitive by modern standards. Sometimes, they were nothing more than a tree that was designated as a meeting place for the fledgling members of The Know. But as the order grew, so too did their associated infrastructure. By the dawn of the Age of Rivals, the cognoscenti - and their associated klysters - were some of the most audacious and dependable features in every city center. Although their rituals would, inevitably, evolve and splinter across continents, and across ages, they have maintained a central role in society to this day.
ecause they indulge in such a wide range of disciplines, there is no universal tool set that is germane to their order. For those who work in the physical sciences, they will frequently commission the creation of their own, custom tools needed to conduct their experiments. In the practice of medicine, the "standard" surgical tools all originated through cognoscenti trial-and-error. But the use of those tools is not controlled or limited to cognoscenti.
Perhaps the most common "tool" of the cognoscenti is the book. Many outside of cognoscenti ranks are literate. And a few wealthy souls certainly own books. But the vast majority of all tomes are written, owned, and disseminated by the cognoscenti. They write most of the books. They are almost solely responsible for the replication of those books (a tedious process carried out, painstakingly, by hand). And they absolutely consider it their mission to maintain large collections of those books.
Casterway societies - even in the largest cities - have no concept of a "public library". All repositories of written knowledge (aside from the stray books kept amongst the elite) are, in practice, cognoscenti klysters. The public can enter the klyster and ask to peruse the tomes. Public, in this context, means "wealthy, elite, connected, or powerful". Even once they are on the premises, any reading must be completed onsite. The books themselves are almost never allowed to leave the grounds. And even once someone has been granted access to the vast private collection, that does not mean they have access to all the books. Every cognoscenti library contains sections that are locked away and reserved for their eyes only. The controlled access is not limited to public-vs-cognoscenti. If the library is large enough, it will undoubtedly have aisles, or entire chambers, containing books only accessible to the higher levels of The Know. It is a grave offense for a junior cognoscenti to sneak into these restricted areas and the penalty is almost always expulsion.
iven the broad array of their disciplines, it's impossible to define a specific set of materials that are common to all cognoscenti. But there are some items that have become closely associated with these scholars.
The cognoscenti are almost the sole source of paper across the planet. This springs from practical utility, because they are also the largest consumers of that same paper. Books, in general, are widely viewed as the purview of the cognoscenti. Although the occasional tome is held by well-heeled socialites in palatial estates, and small rural communities often own a communal copy of Cervia's Logs, the vast majority of all books are manufactured, housed, and maintained in klysters.
Chemistry & Botany
The cognoscenti also represent (almost) the entire market for raw chemical and botanical resources. Every klyster spawns a cottage industry of amateur, peasant, gatherers who will coalesce at the compound's gates every morning to present whatever materials they have managed to scrounge from the countryside over the previous day. In theory, there is no material that is "out of bounds" to be brought to the cognoscenti, as virtually anything might have some value in their current research. But in practice, the cognoscenti are most often interested in:
- Elemental ores
- Recently-harvested, rare flora
- Carcasses of rare creatures
- Cadavers (preferably, as fresh as possible)
- Books scavenged from other locations
- Historical curios
Every klyster also has a designated member who is tasked with meeting the peasants each morning, perusing their offerings, deciding what (if anything) is truly of value, and then offering to purchase it for a modest price. The peasants are at a disadvantage in these "negotiations" because there is typically no other market for their offerings. The cognoscenti's purchaser will usually dictate a (trivial) price and tell the peasants that they can either take it or leave it. At times, this contributes to a smoldering resentment amongst those same peasants when they believe they aren't receiving a fair price for their wares. Nevertheless, if the klyster is large enough, it's inevitable that a small cottage industry of opportunist peasants just outside the gates will manage to scratch out a minimal existence by constantly foraging throughout the countryside and then selling their loot to the mysterious sages behind the gates.
ecause numerous cognoscenti ply their trades "in the field", and because those trades actually encompass a wide array of disciplines, there is no defined "workplace" in which all cognoscenti practice their craft. The cognoscenti can be encountered, theoretically, in any particular location. But in the public imagination, there is no site more closely associated with cognoscenti than the klyster. They are only found in major cities. There is never more than one klyster per city. Although cognoscenti are free to roam as they please, there are some, pursuing particularly-insular veins of knowledge, who almost never leave their home klyster. In sparsely-populated regions, there are cognoscenti who never been in a klyster. But to the average citizen, the often-grandiose klysters serve as a tangible (and often, imposing) symbol of the cognoscenti's influence.
iven the open-ended nature of their search for knowledge, the services provided by the cognoscenti could be summarized as "anything that can be performed by a highly-educated academic". Generals have found creative ways to convert cognoscenti information into devastating tactical advantages. World leaders often consult with them before making any major policy decision. The courts reference them for historical precedent. Farmers have used their observations to automate labor and increase yields. It is, literally, difficult to find any area of casterway society that has not been influenced, in some way, by the cognoscenti. Nevertheless, there are certain industries and services that are explicitly associated with the cognoscenti. They are:
Everything from direct surgical procedures, to the long-term care of chronic conditions, to the treatment of contagious disease.
Administration of educational institutions, conducting and overseeing academic research, occasionally providing direct instruction.
Trusted counselors, policy analysts.
Chemistry & Botany
Conducting all manner of experiments on the Excilior's vast, and often uncatalogued, resources.
If there is a written record of anything that has occurred on Excilior, that record was probably created by the cognoscenti, and it's almost-certainly housed-and-maintained by them.
Dangers & Hazards
he cognoscenti tend to enjoy exceptionally-long and exceptionally-boring lives. They are rarely exposed to taxing, physical labor. They are never sent into battle. They have access to the best healthcare (usually provided by one of their fellow members). When holed up in their klysters, they lead modest existences, but they want for little. They're rarely forced to miss a meal and their quarters are comfortable, albeit spartan.
The key exception to these standard exists for those who choose to study the chemical and botanical arts. Their annals are filled with cognoscenti who had a bit-too-much curiosity, paired with not-quite-enough caution, and they managed to blow themselves up, or to asphyxiate themselves while mixing new concoctions. And although no cognoscenti has ever been accused of bravery, they can become blindly foolhardy when seeking rare resources in the wild. For this reason, when seeking rare elements in the dark reaches of the Ontorlands, or when venturing into wilder regions of the forests, they are often assigned a guide that is proficient in ranging and self defense.