Curiously Enough, This Came Before Software

contract module: To avoid both unnecessary repetition, and to avoid the additional labor of poring over the mass of said repetition in search of differences from the commonplace form, Imperial contract law has long embraced the use of contract modules, sets of predefined and referenceable clauses and specifications to address specific issues within the contract in standardized manners, controlled by equally standardized variables introduced at the beginning of the contract. A variety of contract modules are available covering matters as disparate as arbitration, assignment and transfer, choice of law, confidentiality, delivery, escrow, execution, force majeure, notice, translation, waiver, and indeed allow for many more areas in which the obligator and his client may choose to rely on existing, well-established terms for a specific scope, with which terms they are already thoroughly acquainted.

Agabanda: In common use, this references the largest collection of form contracts and contract modules in common usage, more properly known as Agabanda’s Compleat Obligator: Form Contracts and Modules for the Practical Contractor, published in annual volumes by Academy of the Quill and Coils Press. Citations from Agabanda are typically given by volume, chapter, and number.

Wistio interpretation: (from it’s establishing case, Wistio Automatics v. Ryudailai Pier Eleven Shipbuilding Cooperative) A rule of interpretation for modular contracts specifying that, for the avoidance of doubt, clauses and specifications from any and all relevant invoked contract modules shall override any clauses and specifications found within the contract itself, except where the intent for the base contract to override the module is explicitly stated in the clause or specification in question. The function of the Wistio rule, if examined from that angle, is to ensure the usability of contract modules by preventing situations of uncertainty from arising in which invoked contract modules and the base contract contradict each other without clear statement of which has legal priority.

One exception to the Wistio rule of interpretation (established by the later case, Jacaranda Graving Company v. City of Dal Épareil) is that strict sectioning clauses or contract modules may not be overridden by any clause or specification not given at the point of invocation of the module itself, since to require the study of the entire contract (and all its referenced modules) in order to determine whether or not the strict sectioning rules apply as given vitiates the essential purpose of the strict sectioning clause or module itself.

strict sectioning: A strict sectioning provision (or contract module – most typically referenced as Agabanda IV/1/3) within a contract provides that (a) the contract is divided into sections whose scope is limited to a particular function, or aspect, of the contract, defined by the heading of that section; and that (b) any clause or specification located in a section other than that to which it applies is automatically null and void as out of scope. In this way, one may be assured, when reviewing the contract, that all provisions relevant to one’s use-case are found in their appropriate sections, and one need not hunt through the entire document for hidden traps, buried clauses, or counter-illegibility assurance.

– Salvarin’s Dictionary of Legal Principles

Question: Last Shot Rule

(But first, a quick administrative note. If you’re sending me something through the Contact/Ask form and want to include a link, please be aware that it filters out HTML, including links. You’ll need to include the URL explicitly, or I won’t get it.)


1. Does Imperial contract law have anything analogous to the “last shot rule” enumerated here?

The closest analogy would be the Rule of Accord, which in keeping with the general rule of mutual informed consent, holds that unless all parties to a contract are agreeing to the precise same contract, there is no contract. (Any altered terms are, essentially, mere non-binding proposals.) If it turns out that that wasn’t the case after the fact, the contract is annulled, i.e., retroactively never existed in the first place, and unless everyone feels like being reasonable people, involves some untangling of affairs back to the status quo ante.

(This, of course, does permit the so-called “Battle of the Forms” in which both parties repeatedly send slightly tweaked versions of the contract back and forth in order to have the last word. *There*, there’s never been any particular urge to fix the problem with some hack like UCC 2-207, on the grounds that people willing to engage in bizarre irrational-sum games like that pretty much deserve their self-inflicted punishment.)

Avoiding things like this, incidentally, is where the traditional obligator “Thus is our contract written; thus is agreement made.” social ritual comes from. It’s not legally necessary in any way, but it’s a convenient convention to ensure that an accord has actually been reached.

2. Would “The contract I read is not the same as the contract the other party claims I signed” constitute a valid defense for non-performance?

…and so, yes, in a manner of speaking, since if that were to be the case, there isn’t and never was a contract to perform.

Of course, it’s also probably an allegation of fraud…

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.


Pacta Sunt Servanda

el claith ul covalár an-el feämar duolor rrilmirímúl sá ulessár: (“a contract not possessing the quality of legality does not unmake itself”).  The legal principle that a contract to perform an illegal act is not thereby voided, established in Morat Allatrian-ith-Alclair v. Vinath Sargas-ith-Sarathos, Ethring District Court (13).  The court ruled that the contract was not void on the grounds that the illegality of the act (a murder for hire) to be committed by Citizen Sargas-ith-Sarathos could nevertheless not impair either party’s capacity to contract for its performance, further noting that to treat the contract as void in itself would impair the prosecution of Citizen Allatrian-ith-Alclair for the murder (under the doctrine of el daráv valté eloé cófé-sa mahíré, “a sophont is equivalent to all his associated tools”).  Thus, the court determined, Citizen Allatrian-ith-Alclair could file suit against Citizen Sargas-ith-Sarathos for non-performance of contract, but that in the case of such a contract the remedy of specific performance would not be available, no court having the power to order a criminal act under Imperial law, and that any material remedy awarded would be considered forfeit as inherently the causal proceeds of engagement in crime, likewise.

The decision in Morat Allatrian-ith-Alclair v. Vinath Sargas-ith-Sarathos has had little impact on Imperial domestic law, since the restrictions on remedies possible have provided little incentive for those contracting the performance of crime to file suit for non-performance, especially since to do so in cases where the crime in question has not yet come to the attention of the Ministry of Harmonious Serenity would be to provide them with a prima facie confession.  It has, however, had some impact in cross-jurisdictional cases where the contractee is required to perform an act illegal in their jurisdiction of domicile or citizenship, or the jurisdiction in which the act is to be performed, but where the act in question is legal under Imperial law.

– Salvarin’s Dictionary of Legal Principles