Questions: Leonine Contracts, Illusory Promise, Resurrective Eidolons, and Intentional Communities

I might be jumping the Trope-a-Day queue a bit, but do the eldrae recognize the validity of the concept of a Leonine Contract?

In particular, how would they analyze the situation in the Chesterton quote at the top?

Well, fundamentally in ethics, there ain’t no such thing as a Leonine Contract in that sense.

(I say “in that sense” because there are fraud, coercion, and things that look like contracts but aren’t1, none of which count, along with mixed forms like good old Vaderian “altering the bargain”, some of which are classed with leonine contracts even though they aren’t, technically speaking.

Most relevantly, though, there’s no doctrine of unconscionability – i.e., the notion that a contract is unenforceable because no reasonable or informed person would otherwise agree to it – on the grounds that all people legally competent to sign contracts are by definition reasonable persons capable of informing themselves, which classifies those who do not inform themselves as bloody stupid2. And inasmuch as the Empire has a social policy on that sort of thing, it’s to not protect people against the consequences of Being Bloody Stupid, because that’s how you end up with a polity full of helpless, dependent chumps.)

But leaving aside all such instrumental considerations, the fundamental ethical reason why there ain’t no such thing as a leonine contract is that the concept of one necessarily implies that you can compel the service of other sophonts (or their property – say, their food – which is part of them by the principle of el daráv valté eloé có-sa dal) without their informed consent and no, just no, even if you are starving. Not even a step down that road of treating sophs as instrumentalities. That’s how mutual-slave-states end up rationalizing all their bullshit. So not happening.

That being said, in the latter situation given in the aforementioned Chesterton quote, what an Imperial citizen-shareholder trying that one might run into are the Altruism Statutes, which are basically the statute law backing up Article V (Responsibilities of the Citizen-Shareholder), para. 4 of the Imperial Charter:

Responsibility of Common Defense: Inasmuch as the Empire guarantees to its citizen-shareholders the right to, and the means for, the common defense, each citizen-shareholder of the Empire is amenable to and accepts the responsibility of participating in the common defense; to defend other citizen-shareholders when and wheresoever it may be necessary; as part of the citizen militia and severally from it to defend the Empire, and its people wholly or severally, when they are threatened, whether by ill deed or cataclysm of nature; and to value and preserve the rich heritage of our ancestors and our cultures both common and disparate.

…which makes doing so in itself a [criminal] breach of their sovereign services contract, belike, because they voluntarily obligated themselves in the matter.

(Although I should also make it clear that someone rescuing you from a situation they themselves did not create is owed recompense by the principle of mélith. If you value your life (which people who are still alive presumptively do), you owe the one who preserved it in due proportion.)

Plus, of course, this sort of thing is basically fuelling your extremely unenlightened self-interest with a giant pile of burning reputational capital, which apart from being bad for you in general, is likely to be particularly bad for you the next time you require the volunteered assistance of your fellow sophs…

Given the central place sacredness of contract has in Imperial society, what do Imperial law and eldraeic ethics have to say about illusory promise?

(And as a follow-on, even if there aren’t any legal, moral, or ethical obstacles as such, what will the neighbors tend to think of someone who’s constantly hedging their bets by resorting to them whenever they try to enter into a contract with someone else?)

Well, the first thing I should say is that there are far fewer examples of it under Imperial contract law than under most Earthly regimes I am familiar with. The obvious example that constitutes a lot of it is “lack of consideration” *here* – whereas Imperial contract law, being based on the ancient-era laws and customs of oaths, doesn’t require consideration at all, and simple promissory statements to the effect of “I promise to give you one thousand esteyn” are legally binding in a way that “I promise to give you one thousand dollars” isn’t.

Of the remainder, some things are similar (the Curial courts will impute meaning on the basis that everyone is assumed to be acting in good faith, for example, and a contract to which one does not agree – the website terms and conditions changed without notification, say – is no contract at all, as mentioned above.) But in other cases – say, the promise of the proceeds of the promisor’s business activities, where the promisee doesn’t specify any particular activities and thus leaves open the option of ‘none’ – the Curial courts will point out that that is a completely legitimate outcome within the contract and so there’s no cause for action. Read more carefully next time.

So far as people who try to deliberately play the sneaky-weasel with this sort of thing – I refer you to my above comments about unenlightened self-interest and giant piles of burning reputational capital. Getting a reputation for doing this sort of thing without a damn good reason for so doing, preferably explained up-front, tends to rapidly leave a businesssoph without anyone to do business with…

Is it possible, even after the loss of a particular personality pattern in death, for a “close enough” pattern as to be effectively identical to the original person to be forensically reconstructed from secondhand sources (such as archived surveillance footage, life logs, individual cached memories and sense-experiences, and the like)?

Theoretically, you could make an eidolon (technical term for a mind-emulating AI based on memetic analysis) that would meet that standard – which is what makes them useful for modeling purposes – then uplift it to sophoncy; but in practice, “effectively identical” would require the kind of perfect information that you aren’t going to be able to reconstruct from the outside. The butterfly effect is in full play, minds being the chaotic systems they are, especially when you’re trying for sophont fidelity (which is much harder than just making a Kim Jong Un eidolon good enough for political modeling): you miss one insignificant-looking childhood incident in your reconstruction and it swings personality development off in a wildly different direction, sort of thing.

And it certainly wouldn’t qualify for legal purposes, since the internal structure of that kind of AI system doesn’t look anything like a bio-origin mind-state.

In split-brain scenarios, would each half of the brain be considered a separate, independent mind (regardless of whether or not they’re the same person) under Imperial law?

That depends. It’s not strictly speaking a binary state – and given the number of Fusions around of different topologies and making use of various kinds of gnostic nets, there is pretty extensive legality around this. The short answer is “it depends approximately on how much executive function is shared between the halves, much as identity depends on how much of the total mind-state is shared”.

Someone who has undergone a complete callosotomy is clearly manifesting distinct executive functions (after all, communication between the hemispheres is limited to a small number of subcortical pathways), and as such is likely to be regarded as two cohabiting individuals (forks of the pre-op self) by Imperial law.

And if they do eventually diverge into independent personalities (or originated as such upon the organism’s conception — say, if it began life as a single body with two separate brains with minimal cross-communication), what are the implications for contract law and property ownership?

That’s pretty much by standard rules. In the split-brain case, you’ve effectively forked, and those rules apply: property is jointly owned (with various default rules in re what is and is not individually alienable) and all forks are jointly and severally liable for the obligation of contracts until and unless they diverge.

In the polysapic (originating that way naturally) case, or the post-divergence case, they’re legally separate individuals who just happen to be walking around in the same ‘shell; ownership and contracts apply to them separately. That this sets up a large number of potential scenarios which are likely to be a pain in the ass to resolve should be sufficient incentive not to pursue this way of life unless both of you can coordinate really well with each other.

Could one mind ever possibly evict another?

Only if the other signed over his half of the legal title to the body to the one, which would probably be a really bad idea if he wasn’t planning to depart forthwith anyway.

Are there any particularly good examples of successful intentional communities in the Associated Worlds?

(Not including the Empire itself, even if it counts on a technicality; looking for more things on the smaller end of the scale.)

Oh, there’s lots of ’em, at least if you allow for a rather broader scope of purposes than the Wikipedia article would suggest. Within the Empire, the most successful example would be the metavillage or metahabitat phenomenon, which is exactly what it says on the tin – a village or hab designed specifically to appeal to people with common interests, and to memetically, architecturally, functionally, etc., synergize with those interests: a writer community will have large libraries, many coffee shops, plentiful sources of inspiration, and lots of quiet walks and nice places to sit and write, for example. A space enthusiast community might even have a community launchpad! And the lifestyle is spreading elsewhere, too.

There’s also the First Distributed Exclavine Republic, which again, is exactly what it says on the tin. Planned habitats designed to Imperial social norms scattered all over the Worlds. And then there’s the various monasteries, retreats, and the like of the Flamic church.

I haven’t a huge number documented elsewhere in the Worlds – and in any case wish to save the ones I have for spoiler-free future use – but there are a lot of them. Remember the Microstatic Commission and its thousands of tiny freeholds? Well, those tend to exist because of the ease of anyone with some idea they want to build a community around being able to launch a hab into some chunk of unclaimed space and set one up. They’re very popular ideas in this particular future, both affiliated with larger polities and entirely independent.


1. The obvious thing here being software EULAs and other such instruments which you don’t get to read before implicitly consenting to. The general reaction of a Curial court to that sort of thing is “haha no”.

2. Which is why the law does permit contracts – like, say, many of *here*’s credit card agreements – that permit one party to unilaterally alter the terms, provided you give your informed consent to them as per normal.

Granted, it is also widely held *there* that no-one capable of anything resembling functional cognition would ever sign such a thing, so it’s not like they show up very often.


11 thoughts on “Questions: Leonine Contracts, Illusory Promise, Resurrective Eidolons, and Intentional Communities

  1. As always, I appreciate the thoroughness of the responses.

    One more question that just hit me: Given that the Fundamental Contract is, well, a contract, who or what is (was? will be?) the Fundamental Contractor?

    (Or, to put the question in a different sense, what is the Fundamental Contract’s ontology?)

    • Actually, the curious thing about the Fundamental Contract is that it’s neither a contract nor fundamental… 🙂

      (Expanded in most recent post: )

      So one could, I suppose, say that the Fundamental Contractors are “all sophonts”, having consented to it in much the same way that all massy objects consent to the law of gravity and all priced objects consent to the law of supply and demand…

  2. On a semi-related note: I think I’ve come up with a socoi-ecological niche in the Associated Worlds that a clever, self-conscious, forward-thinking Borg-style assimilating hive mind might reasonably fill without having to change its behavior much at all: Aggressive hegemonizing negative-amortizing subprime lending.

  3. After rereading the response to the first question, I now realize it doesn’t entirely touch on an issue I was trying to drive at, so to re-pose the question with reference to a specific (admittedly somewhat extreme) scenario:

    What would Imperial law and eldraeic ethics have to say about someone who, through means that are not in and of themselves inherently coercive and would be well within their rights to exercise, deliberately created artificial scarcity of a necessary good or service specifically to “game the system” by exploiting the marginal utility curve until they reached the point where their victim would be willing to consent to otherwise perverse and onerous terms?

    Say, for instance, a local landholder goes out of his way to deliberately buy up all the food that comes into a nearby community until they either agree to sell their property to him or starve and allow him to homestead it.

    Or, perhaps in a more immediately relevant situation, say we get a polity that has a very dark version of the Prime Directive where, while adhering technically to the very letter of the <a href=”>Common Volumetric Accord, rings the space surrounding a planet with drift habitats in such a way as to choke them off from any access to the rest of the solar system, then charge some very high tolls (on pain of the offending craft being blown out of space, of course) or being required to agree to some sort of onerous and humiliating concessions. (And it’s explicitly not a case where the planetbound party actually started something that would make galactic opinion think these sorts of measures would be justified.)

    • …I should probably apologize in advance if I sound a bit eye-rolly here; that’s because being a libertarian I have inevitably seen lots of these arguments, typified as the “but what if someone built a road all the way around your property and refused to let you cross it, huh? What then?”

      The short answer boils down to: these are edge-case Bond-villain plots, and the trouble with edge-case Bond-villain plots is that they’re arbitrarily hard to pull off if you have a healthy market and a functioning legal system.

      I mean, that first example? Leaving aside that this requires local shopkeepers and food producers to blow their own feet off, arbitrageurs love people like this guy. He’s the closest thing you can get to an infinite demand sink. The market’s answer to that is to ship in more food, and bifurcate your price structure: keep prices down for the locals so that the game doesn’t end, but hike it as much as you can get away with when selling to the landowner. Since he can’t possibly outweigh the food production of the entire market, he either gives up, or goes bankrupt and gets to have a happy-happy time in the middle of a huge pile of rotting food forever. Either way, his plan is fail and someone else now has lots of his cash.

      As for the latter – well, it’s not as if real property just included the land, now is it? So it’s even simpler: some attack lawyers come to call and politely explain the concept of an easement to said polity, particularly as it pertains to access, insolation, and sky entropy sinks. (This may or may not also involve thwapping them on the nose with a copy of the Accord on the Law of Free Space.)

  4. The short answer boils down to: these are edge-case Bond-villain plots, and the trouble with edge-case Bond-villain plots is that they’re arbitrarily hard to pull off if you have a healthy market and a functioning legal system.

    Duly acknowledged. Nevertheless, there are plenty of places that don’t have healthy markets and functioning legal systems, and it seems that strict surface adherence to the protocols in question would sometimes be counterproductive in those situations. And perhaps “build a road around your property and refuse to let others cross it” might be a tad exaggerated, but “buy controlling interests in all the roads in or out and leverage that to impose restrictive road tolls” is both all too within reach and (in some places) all too common.

    Additionally, even if the situation isn’t quite as dire as those I’ve proposed, and even if it is eventually rectified on the surface by the power of the invisible hand of economics, there’s still the fact that (at least by the reckoning of my own particular version of ethical calculus, which I’m willing to admit may be flawed) by his actions, our hypothetical offender has produced not merely material but also psychological externalities for his victims, and may even have driven some of them to death beyond the threshold of recovery — for whom the fact that the system will eventually work itself out to the greater good of the survivors is of small comfort. Even if a value can be assigned to the debt owed to them, the fact that they’re irretrievably dead means that that debt can never be properly discharged — there exists an unbalanced obligation that cannot ever be properly settled with the wronged party. Would not the moral thing be to intervene before those debts become irreconcilable?

    My apologies if I seem to be in a particularly confrontational mood lately. It seems, though, that the more I think about these matters, the more it strikes me that there is something very off about the eldrae approach to things that, while often justifiable in abstract, seems unduly and perversely vicious at times, even taking into account the “minds vast and cool and unsympathetic” demanded by their own ethical standards.

    • Note that I’m saying that as someone who, in all other respects, would generally agree with most of what they believe and would voluntarily try to edit out some of my own shortcomings and logical biases if I could — but the fact that, for all their high-minded sentiments, the fact that they allow (and, sometimes, require) innocents to get caught in the crossfire without a second thought or a by-your-leave really rankles me.

      Certainly, I’ll accept that it’s the moral fault of the offender, not the executor; certainly, I’ll accept that sometimes drastic measures are taken; certainly, I’ll accept that sometimes the targets are people who absolutely must be stopped; certainly, I’ll accept that some of those caught up in the “collateral damage” may be implicitly complicit by their own inaction — but what about recompense for those people who genuinely were simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, used as unwitting hostages, or who did try to genuinely change the system but got shafted? Are the debts owed to them simply written off?

      • Again, I generally agree with most Imperial sentiments in abstract, but sometimes the general Imperial attitude of smugness is just so unbearable that I wish I could tell one of them off for being a condescending little bastard. Even if it didn’t change his mind at all, it might be therapeutic.

        • Apologies for the comment chain; I sometimes have a hard time crystallizing what I’m thinking until I write it out and it gives me a chance to analyze what I’ve written. My posting style sometimes reflects that when I’ve gotten myself into a lather.

          I suppose the root issue is this: Maybe you’ve just written so much about those who have to clean up the messes after the fact and not enough about those who try to keep things from getting messy in the first place; or it may be a fault in the way I’m reading what has been written; or it may be that the fault lies nowhere, and that I’m accurately taking out nothing more or less than what you’re putting in; but it sometimes seems as though that, for all the good words they put in on the pursuit of excellence and the struggle to make the world a better place, the Imperials don’t actually care about trying to improve things beyond their little bubble and that they’d much prefer it if the rest of the Universe just burned up in a great conflagration so that they could fix it in peace — which rubs me the wrong way as a very misanthropic (misosophic?) perspective on things.

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