In Which Reality Is Exactly As Strange As Fiction

In today’s news, it turns out MSNBC’s legal correspondent, Ari Melber, has proposed treating “fake news”, or more technically “disprovable media claims” as a species of fraud along the same lines as fraudulent advertising – and therefore something the FTC can protect the public from.

Long-time readers may notice a certain similarity to the Empire’s  long-standing principle that “the freedom of speech is not the freedom to deceive” that establishes lies on matters of fact as criminal fraud, only aggravated by the number of people you’re lying to.

It’s just a more limited (concentrating only on “deceptive businesses” and keeping the government away from “actual journalists” and “citizens exercising their right to lie” – O tempora! O mores!) and government-centered (rather than creating a cause of action for anyone lied to) version of it. Which differences probably make it worthless anyway, but just in case anyone’s getting ideas from my fictional politics…

…it works there because of a millennia-old tradition of intellectual integrity (“right to lie, indeed!”) and of principled valxíjir and of not being a bunch of malevolent means-justifying sons-of-bitches. Both I and my fourth-wall-breaking characters strongly anti-endorse the notion for use here, where approximately none of those conditions hold true.

 

A Quick Note: Freedom of Speech

And just one more thing…

Actually, it occurs to me that there’s one other quirk worth mentioning.

Their version of freedom of speech doesn’t cover fraud.

Now, ours doesn’t either, to an extent – at least when it’s monetary fraud, and when it’s addressed to some distinct identifiable subset of individuals. But if you’re deceiving everyone, or doing so in a blatantly non-commercial manner, it’s pretty much fair game.

The Empire’s version, on the other hand, while wide-ranging in many ways, maintains as a fundamental legal principle that the freedom to speak is not the freedom to deceive. So you can talk as much as you want about what you believe, as a matter of faith; you can have whatever opinions you like, no matter how bizarre, unpopular, repulsive, hateful, or vile, and publish them to your heart’s content; you can take provisional positions on the unknown; and you can be mistaken, provided that you’re willing to accept and acknowledge correction.

But the moment you appear to be deliberately lying about, misrepresenting, or otherwise playing silly buggers with a matter of fact, the Curial courts will nail your ass to the wall on criminal “Intentionally Wrong Calculation/Falsification of Information” charges, and those charges will stick. That you’re defrauding millions of people instead of thousands isn’t an ameliorating factor, it’s an aggravating one.

(That strict application of this would result in maybe 99% of most polities’ political, lobbying, and activist establishments and maybe two-thirds of their journalists being immediately condemned to vigorous and stringent meme rehab and recon is something the average Imperial finds funny as hell. And kind of depressing, but mostly funny.)

Unusual Rights

A question asked on my worldbuilding list:

Any strange or even silly rights enshrined in law in your cultures?

Alas, most of the rights found in the Empire are relatively conventional; for the strange and silly, it’s much easier to look in the realms of bizarre tradition and ancient, yet still operative, contracts. Of course, there are some elaborations which might strike us *here* as a bit peculiar…

The four fundamental rights (Domain, Defense, Common Defense, and Fair Contract) are all pretty straightforward and familiar to us, pace the way that they manage to wrap life, liberty and property up into one single concept. Most of the charter rights (the ones you get by virtue of being an Imperial citizen-shareholder) are also fairly familiar (Person and Property, Knowledge –

Although we might find it a little odd that in their version of that right, access to information comes first, followed by freedom of research and inquiry, with freedom of speech and the press coming in third behind them. Also, our version of freedom of speech hasn’t so far had the need to state “save when such information or speech constitutes, in whole or in part, infectious or self-executing code”; nor does our version of freedom of assembly qualify itself by saying “subject to the availability of free public volume in which to assemble” – no blocking the streets or occupying buildings and calling it free assembly! – or “and the capacity of the local environment to sustain life”, ’cause air ain’t free and the ability to generate it isn’t unlimited.

– Arms, Association, Trade (which is familiar, even if we mostly don’t have it), Petition and Appeal –

Including, Roman-style, the ability to appellatio your way right up to the Imperial Couple if you think you have a case, although abusing this particular right tends to have… consequences.

– Voyage, and Justice.)

But there are some rather unusual entries at the end of the list. The right to walk around in whatever body you want:

Right of Self-Mutagenesis: The Empire shall respect the right of each and every sophont of self-ownership insofar as, but not limited to, each citizen-shareholder’s inalienable right to modify their physical substrate as they shall see fit, through genetic or cybernetic technologies or through any other means, including the right to transfer their mind-state to such replacement physical substrates as they shall see fit.

The right to alter your mind as much as you want, however you want to do it, so long as you don’t go the bad kind of crazy:

Right of Gnosis: The Empire shall respect the right of each and every sophont of self-ownership insofar as, but not limited to, each citizen-shareholder’s inalienable right to modify their mind-state as they shall see fit, through noumenal pharmacy, psychedesign, noetic modification, or through any other means, provided only that such modifications do not constitute pernicious irrationality threatening the public order, the public safety, or the public health.

And the right to a guardian angel:

Right of Assistance: Inasmuch as the Eldraeic Transcend exists coextensively with the Empire, the Transcend guarantees to all Imperial citizen-shareholders, whether currently Aspects of the Transcend or not, the assistance and advice on demand of a Transcendent coadjutor.

Of course, being the sort of civilization that it is, the Imperial Charter immediately follows up the section talking about rights with the corresponding section talking about responsibilities, since for damn sure you can’t have one without the other – and besides, all of them would be illegal if people didn’t agree to them first up:

Article V: Responsibilities of the Citizen-Shareholder

To permit the fulfillment of the purposes of the Empire, as laid down in this Charter, all citizen-shareholders of the Empire agree and contract, by virtue of their citizenship, to fulfill the responsibilities here laid down.

Responsibility of Law: It shall be the duty of each citizen-shareholder of the Empire to abide by this Charter and respect its ideals and institutions; to follow the law of the Empire in such matters as this Charter shall provide for the existence of such law; and to uphold the sovereignty and unity of the Empire.

Responsibility of Taxation: Each citizen-shareholder of the Empire is amenable to and accepts the responsibility of paying such taxes as this Charter permits and as the Exchequer shall deem necessary, for the maintenance of the Imperial government and the fulfillment of its purposes herein defined.

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.

Responsibility of Eminent Domain: Each citizen-shareholder of the Empire is amenable to and accepts the necessity of transferring specific and enumerated items of property to the government of the Empire or that of a constituent nation when it shall exercise the power of eminent domain as set forth in and restricted by this Charter, provided that public necessity, legally determined, shall clearly demand it, and when they shall have been previously and equitably indemnified.

Responsibility of Sortition: Each citizen-shareholder of the Empire is amenable to and accepts the responsibility of service, when selected, either in the Senate or in such local assemblies as the demesnes in which they are domiciled shall require, for the sound governance of the Empire; and to vote when called upon in plebiscites.

Responsibility of Self-Development: Each citizen-shareholder of the Empire is amenable to and accepts the responsibility of participating in the civilization, culture, prosperity, and progress of the Empire, and of educating and advancing themselves so far as shall be necessary to participate therein.

The existence of this responsibility shall not establish any governmental privilege to define the meaning of, or the terms upon which one may engage in, such participation, nor to deprive any citizen-shareholder of their citizenship for failure to meet such standards.

Another little quirk in the Charter is that it’s very clear that reproductive rights are neither inherent nor unlimited, because the about-to-be-born have rather more fundamental rights of their own, and not all parents are exactly pure in motive, and there are certain standards that people shouldn’t be created below:

Article XIV: Imperial Rights of Genesis

Inasmuch as its creation affects the incipient sophont as much as those responsible; and inasmuch as such incipient sophonts are often incompetent to manage their own affairs and defend their own rights;

And inasmuch as the Empire recognizes that no sophont should exist as an instrumentality for another;

Each citizen of the Empire is amenable to and accepts that the creation of another individual sophont, whether by inherent reproduction, biological cloninglogos iteration, duplication of mind-state vectorneogenetics, or any other means, and the development and education of that sophont to the point of independent legal competence, may be restricted by the Empire, either for the public health, or acting for that of the potential incipient.

Which gets elaborated on by later statute law concerning minimal standards of upbringing, genetic health, the ban on semislavery, etc., etc., the requirement that both the creator and the hypothetical reasonable sophont would find life within the parameters available to the created satisfying, and ultimately to the Prime Rule of Genesis, “You have the right to be created by a creator acting under what that creator would regard as a high purpose.”

Also worth mentioning by our standards is that the Empire doesn’t have a separate notion of “animal rights”, rather, there are sets of rules which explain how the rights of sophonts “trickle down” into the realm of the pro-sophont and non-sophont in proportion to their degree of sophoncy/sapiency/sentience, such concepts not being bright-line definitions in reality but, well, kind of fuzzy. Those expecting to be charged with animal cruelty may well find themselves surprised to be charged with straight-up assault, battery, and/or corpicide, depending on degree. (And if you are cruel to your pets, possibly also charged with infiduciarity, inasmuch as they enjoy essentially the same protections in law as other dependents.)

They take this very seriously. If a man kicks your dog, you can shoot him, same as if he kicked your child. And indeed, the Empire is possibly the only state in history to have a serious social movement campaigning for this trickle-down principle of rights to be extended to inanimate objects.

There’s also the notion of “virtual rights”, that process by which the rights of a given sophont are copied and conferred onto his partials, proxies, and software agents, while recognizing that they are the rights of the original, not of the proxy; a similar mechanism to the one that, *there*, passes through so-called “coadunate rights” from the member sophs to the branches, corporations, and other coadunations that they happen to be a member of.

Passing the Handbasket

To my successor in office:

I’m leaving you this unofficial note to welcome you to the unique position of being an ambassador to the Empire, to pass on a few hopefully useful pieces of advice, and frankly, to wish you more joy of the position than I had, even before the FO recalled me.

I’ve left contact details in the database for my more useful contacts in State & Outlands.  They can help you out on any of the routine administration that comes up under one of the twelve Accords – but only the routine stuff, unfortunately.  I’d also call Meris Solanel-ith-Serquel to your particular attention if you find yourself charged with any special negotiations; she’s a good back-channel contact and willing to tell you directly if you’ve any chance of getting anywhere.  Which most of the time, you won’t.

As for other matters that will come up:

One might be forgiven for thinking that a country with no visa requirements wouldn’t cause you many problems with visitors, but that’s to ignore their willingness to refuse entry to anyone insane (by their – rather broad – standards), and anyone one of their truth machines deems insufficiently honest when signing up to the statement of rights and obligations they require of anyone entering.  Given how much they preen publicly about their devotion to rationality and principle, this catches less people than you might expect, but your staff will still be arranging repatriations on a regular basis.

You might also expect that their equally proclaimed refusal to impose any tariffs or trade regulations would make that a relatively trouble-free area, too.  Here, your problems will come from the home office, as while the Imperial government declines to use such things in response to those we set up, any number of corporations, trade cartels, and out-and-out smugglers will shamelessly connive to circumvent ours – and even our prohibitions on certain products – with the tacit aid of local banking privacy laws and the non-cooperation of the Market Liberty Oversight Directorate.  I have collected and passed on a myriad of eloquent, polite ways to say, “We regret that we won’t enforce your unethical laws for you,” in my time here, and you will undoubtedly collect still more.

Cultural and military affairs are also problematic.  In the name of freedom of speech and information, they insist that people be allowed to publish practically anything and to read anything that’s published, and are not even willing to discuss this issue with us, whatever the reasoning and whatever their notorious data havens may contain.  On the military side, you may be able to get some action taken against a particularly controversial intervention, even if it’s only likely to be getting the admiral in question beached for a few centuries until everyone’s forgotten the issue in question; but so far as they’re concerned, mercenary work is legal, privateering is legal, attempting to overthrow or to subvert someone’s government using any technique that isn’t violent is legal, and while they’ve never actually come out and said that filibustering is also legal…

Go ahead and file some protests on any of these if you like; it’s worth it just to listen to one of their State & Outlands people pour honey in your ear for an hour or three.  But you’ll realize the next day they talked for all that time without saying anything, and I’ll promise you right now, that’s all you’re ever going to get.

And lastly, extradition.  You will face three problems, here.  First, they will not extradite anyone for something that is not a crime under their law.  Second, if their law would impose a more severe penalty than ours for a given crime, and it’s one they consider particularly serious, they will try their hardest to insist that we prosecute him in their courts, so that they need not accept a criminal back.  And third, the inability to reconcile which – in the viKeruaz case – proved my downfall, they may insist on the second at the same time as public sympathies at home demand that he not be prosecuted in their courts.

I wish you the best of luck, and a quiet term of posting.

Sev Din Alar,
Ambassador of the League of Meridian (former)

Reading Back

“On the one hand, yes, we do find it repugnant to restrict the freedoms of speech and information, even to this limited and circumscribed extent.”

“On the other hand, since we have an entire ward filled with babbling lunatics who thought that the Silent Library was ‘where we’re hiding the good stuff’ rather than ‘a prison for hideously dangerous brain-eating information life’, we’re still pretty sure it’s the right call, y’know?”

“No, you can’t see them. Some of that babble is also hideously dangerous brain-eating information life, and we’re not absolutely confident that the rest isn’t.”

– briefing new members of the Select Committee on Existential Threats