Responding at once to a couple of past questions:
3. Roughly where does the dividing line between “coercion” and “acceptable-if-pernicious exploitation of another’s flaws and failings” lie?
When it violates someone’s fundamental rights and/or their mental integrity (i.e., doesn’t pass through their volition).
To give a specific scenario that relates to a particular longstanding brain-bug of mine: If, say, an “aggressive hegemonizing negative-amortizing subprime lending swarm agent” were to construct and offer a loan contract and payment plan that is tailor-made to exploit a lesser sophont’s overconfidence in their own abilities and failure to fully internalize the implications of the wheat-and-chessboard problem specifically so that the creditor can have a legitimate (or “legitimate”) excuse to Foreclose On All The Things when the impossible-to-pay loan comes due.
That’s non-coercive and non-fraudulent, unless it’s actively hiding things, and so legal. It’s scummy, but it’s legal – and, incidentally, the reason why (given the below on the need to make good choices and the reasons not to protect people from making bad ones) they teach you how to interpret these things in the local equivalent of middle school, which includes a very pointed section on why one must never, ever, ever agree to anything that one does not fully understand.
And on a comment back here:
At what point does the Empire start expressing it’s disapproval of hucksters who find a way to lawyer the letter of an agreement into something that enriches them and leaves the other party f****d?
The Empire doesn’t. (For three reasons:
One: a great and abiding respect for freedom of choice, which necessarily implies not armchair-quarterbacking other people’s choices, and includes even the No-Backsies Principle, in which it won’t undo choices just because in retrospect they turn out not to be the choices that one would prefer to have made.
Two: Because once you start getting into the reasoning behind people’s choices and the values that lead up to them, things rapidly start getting subjective as all hell. The Curia is proud of its elegant system of objective law free from personal bias, but as soon as it starts trying to decide what agreements ought to be acceptable to whom and which shouldn’t be, it’s inserting its personal subjective opinions into matters of justice where they don’t belong.
And finally, Three: Because the more you protect people from the consequences of their bad choices, the more you end up with a civilization full of helpless chumps who can’t make good choices.
The Empire looks at civilizations where this, that, and the other are strictly regulated to avoid the necessity of thought or reading what you’re about to sign, and the courts are more than happy to undo any decision that they deem sufficiently unwise, and so forth, and sees a population of serfs that want to be serfs, because they’ve learned helplessness to the point that they can’t even imagine being able to run their own affairs.
And it wants none of it. People won’t ever achieve eudaimonia if you turn ’em into coddled chattel.)
So, as I said, the Empire doesn’t. Imperials, however, do, via a fine array of socially-mediated consequences.
Now, it seems to me I have perhaps not been clear as to exactly how far these socially-mediated consequences can go. There are, obviously, initial consequences to burning your reputational assets with, say, the Ephemeral Contract and the Desirable Counterparty Meta-Rep Association, inasmuch as you’ll quickly find yourself doing business from an unfavorable position with extra surcharges and restrictions on top. But that’s not the end of it.
Recall that the Empire has a genuinely free free market, and all trades are done strictly by consent; i.e., absolutely no-one is ever compelled to do business with anyone they don’t wish to do business with.
And then there is the Accord of Adamant. (Because it’s both transparent and hard.) It isn’t governmental at all; it’s simply a private agreement among gentlesoph traders – virtually all gentlesoph traders – to shun those who are declared to be acting with very poor form. And, transitively, to also shun those pledged to the Accord who decline to shun when called upon, since that damages the effectiveness of the Accord.
(If you’ve read Wright’s Golden Age trilogy, you can think of them as something like – although not identical to – the College of Hortators.)
Now what you see in the above linked post is what qualifies as a gentle if pointed reminder. “These people aren’t playing by the rules in this business, so don’t contract with them in this business.” That is not the limit. The limit is the sort of thing that the hypothetical asshat with his carefully constructed contracts that, while consensual and within the letter of the law, are nonetheless designed explicitly to screw people over, is going to run into.
Namely, full sanction. In which the Accord posts a call-and-advisory that no-one should contract with you ever.
So much for your bank account. That’s a service, and you’re under full sanction. Get used to dealing in the cash economy.
Except no-one will take your money, because you’re under full sanction.
Want to pay your rent? Full sanction. Buy food and water? Full sanction, or if you’re really lucky, buying bread from gray-market slash-traders at a 50,000% markup. (And gods help you if you’re a spacer, because hab fees and/or air supply services? Full sanction.) Communications? Full sanction. Travel? Full sanction, which includes with the odocorps who own a lot of the actual roads, upon which your presence outside the public right-of-way concessions would now be trespassing. Tort insurance, incarnation insurance, health care? Full. Sanction.
You can’t even beg for alms, because giving them to you? Would break the sanction.
Using the letter of the law to defeat the spirit of the law is something which the law, definitionally, can’t handle, but other social institutions have ways to ensure that indulging in that sort of thing puts you on a very unpleasant path to one of three ends:
Escalating until you do something for which the hammer of the law will come down on you; or
Fleeing the Empire; or
Starving, alone and freezing, in the dark. (At which point a municipal robot removes your corpse for hygienic disposal and bills your estate for the city’s costs.)
Such sanctions are a pretty useless weapon for an individual, or a group – even a large group – because of the level of cooperation required. But if you manage to be the kind of demented-if-lawful-to-the-letter asshole that society as a whole gets pissed off at, well, society can take away all the benefits of participation that it once offered you without once crossing a single coercive line.
What if someone were to setup a scum-contract as a deliberate honey trap for the insufficiently sentient, and then when the jaws of the trap close on them offer an alternate payment in the form of the idiot attending a psychdesigner?
In line with both my broader intent and @fooquuxman’s comment, let’s assume the following mitigating considerations are also in play:
One: The offeror doesn’t deal with everyone in this way — they’re willing to deal reasonably with people who are themselves reasonable and intelligent (such as Imperials) — but they have a list of “acceptable targets” for whom all bets are off, usually those who have already established themselves as hasty, wasteful, or otherwise a burden on society who probably wouldn’t be missed and insufficiently concerned (in the offeror’s eyes) about how their screw-ups affect those around them, even if they’re technically allowed to do that.
Two: In line with 1 somewhat, the initial terms of the contract aren’t impossible to fulfill and don’t unjustly enrich the offeror at the expense of the offeree if fulfilled in good faith; they just rely on the offeree exercising a certain level of discretion, foresight, sense of obligation and fair play, and self-restraint which, in certain particular cases, are known to be improbable to manifest in certain particular offerees.
Three: In line with 1 and 2, the initial terms of contract are not themselves particularly onerous, but whenever the offeree defaults on their end of the bargain, the offeror presents them with two options: The offeror declares a default and pursues judgement against the offeree, with all the attendant legal and social consequences that would entail for the offeree; or the offeror “generously” offers to waive part of the defaulted debt and defer the rest through a new contract which is slightly more restrictive, more difficult (but still not technically impossible, as above) to fulfill, and has slightly more serious consequences for the next time the offeree defaults. (Wash, rinse, and repeat, gradually salami-slicing away the offeree’s liberties via contract each time they choose the “easy” way out rather than the according-to-local-standards virtuous one.)
Four: Finally, let’s assume they’re not doing this simply to enrich themselves through unenlightened self-interest, but rather as part of their own rather ruthless take on negentropy, which can be expressed briefly as: “If it’s true that ‘A fool and their assets are soon parted,’ we might as well do our level best to ensure they don’t end up in the hands of another fool.”
Perhaps also relevant: https://eldraeverse.com/2012/01/25/and-stay-out/
There’s also another (less formal, more subtle) mechanism that you’ve mentioned under “angel unawares” and a few other tropes, namely that irritating enough elements of the Transcend will cause the other elements of it to be ill disposed towards you. “Brazil thinks you’re an asshole”, etc.
Absolutely so, indeed!
(As one might expect from the general way things are done thereabouts, there are plenty of ways to express such social disapproval, from the gentle and subtle to the rather blunt – this is merely the largest hammer in the toolbox, for use when lesser tools have failed. 🙂 )
Another thought that hits me in this matter: It seems that, by the same principle that “absolutely no-one is ever compelled to do business with anyone they don’t wish to do business with,” there is nothing that (in theory) prevents you from acquiring a legitimate controlling interest in the raw resource sources and the transportation network that carries them and then using that as yet more leverage once you start putting your schemes into action.
After all, full sanction only truly works against those who depend on others to supply their own essentials — and we are talking about a universe where, even if your support staff up and quits on you because you’re under sanction, you could (with enough resources, fabricators, and knowledge base at your disposal) simply replace them outright with self-forks, greenjacks, and non-sophont automatons that you own outright. And even full sanction amounts to little more than a mutual recognition of the status quo when you’re the one who owns the food, the ore stockpiles, the roads, the utilities, etc.
(i.e. “Either you get with my program, you can sell everything you own to me to pay for the ticket out of here, or you can stay here and starve.”)
And, of course, the fact that Imperial society even has the mechanism of full sanction in the first place and the Empire recognizes its validity means that, if they try to call you to the carpet on this, you get one free play of the Not So Different card.