Eldraeic Word of the Day: Zakhrehs

(I realized upon using the word in a comment thread here that I’d never actually given the full definition, so…)

zakhrehs: “barbarians”; specifically those sophonts who are alien to the Imperial ethical and moral traditions, in re libertism, negentropy, and gentlesophly behavior.

It should be noted that this term does not refer to those who merely come from foreign lands/strangers (Eldraeic qildaráv, “persons-from-yonder”), or those who do not knowingly subscribe to the Fundamental Contract (Eldraeic ulvaledar, “unbound-people”); rather, it refers to those who reject the core precepts of the Imperial ethical and moral traditions, whether or not they are aware of them in the first place. In particular, it does not carry any implication of primitivity or undevelopedness.

Anyone, regardless of species or ethnicity, who lives by the core rules of these traditions is “civilized”, and will be treated well. Even an honest effort by the ignorant will be looked upon favorably. In the areas within the Empire’s sphere of influence, autochthones who adopt Imperial ways — or seem to – will be treated with respect, perhaps to the annoyance of their neighbors. Intentional rejection of the core Imperial traditions, however, is nearly equivalent to declaring oneself a barbarian.

It is neither a direct cognate for any of the classic Imperial insults – i.e., “Defaulter”, “choiceless”, “slaver”, “parasite”, “dullist”, “cacophile”, or “entropic” – nor a direct reference to foundational concepts such as the Fundamental Contract, the Code of Alphas, the Nine Excellences, the Five Noble Precepts, etc. Rather, it is a general implication that the referenced person or society, while not technically and to-a-legal-standard provably guilty of specific and enumerated acts of coercionism, infiduciarity, theft, mooching, razorwalking, willful culture-lack, destructionism, disharmony, and chaos, is nevertheless in the speaker’s opinion a repulsive, nauseating mass of all, or at least many, of those things, and deserves to be treated accordingly.

It is no less insulting for all its generality and implicitness.


Weighed in the Balance Sheet

“There is one thing that comes before the Fundamental Contract. That thing is the Fundamental Ledger. Before your first breath, before your first thought – even as your mind coalesces out of chaos, long before you can know your own nature as a sophont, its bindings are sewn and its pages cut, their pages empty, snow-white and pristine.

“As it must be, for without choice, there can be no obligation, and without existence, there can be no choice. New-made and yet unchoosing, free of all ties that bind, you owe the world nothing, as it owes nothing to you.

“But all through your life, your every action fills it. Black, and red. Credit, and debit. Profit, and loss. Every deed is recorded in full measure: no trick of manipulation, nor guised externality, nor immaterial value, escapes the view of the Hidden Cog or His Market’s Eyes.

“And at the end of infinite time, when all books are tallied and the accounts finally closed out, this is how you will be judged:

“Have you created value, or merely consumed it?

“In the universal accounting, were you an asset… or a liability?”

the Book of Covalan, Commentaries & Sermons


The Contract That Is Not

The most important thing to know about the Fundamental Contract is that it is not a contract.

The second most important thing to know about the Fundamental Contract is that it is not fundamental.

Or, rather, while it is expressed in the form of a contract, it is not one in actuality, and while it is fundamental to law, both the law of oath-contracts and the law otherwise, it is not fundamental to ethics.

It is, instead, a restatement of the fundamental inalienable and non-derogable right, inherent in the the nature of all sophont and volitional beings, to liberty and its concomitants in a format which better permits explication of the privileges and obligations that inhere therewithin (with regard, in particular, to the avoidance of choice-theft), and thus in membership of the greater community of sophonts.

It is not a contract, therefore, inasmuch as its authority does not derive from the sophont’s innate power to place themselves under obligation by their consent. (That would indeed be circular, if it were to be the case.) Rather, it derives from – by consisting of – the ethical fundamentals implicit in the nature of sophont beings, by which all entities that are, remain, or are composed of or controlled by, sophont beings are necessarily bound.

This is a matter of natural law, akin to gravity or supply and demand, if indeed not even more fundamental than either, and thus not subject to revision or denial.

– Fundamentals of Imperial Law, Valarian Elarios-ith-Elarios


Questions: On the Fundamental Contract

[Regarding this] So what happens in those cases where a soph finds that their qalasír demands them to do something that goes against the Fundamental Contract? (More specifically, what’s the moral obligation in those cases where their only possible choices are “Commit an unspeakably heinous crime” and “Repudiate your entire reason for being,” with no middle ground or “third option” conveniently available — and they’re morally aware enough to know that it’s a serious problem?)

Well, if you find yourself in that situation, then you’ve got yourself a difficult problem to solve. The kind of problem that’s likely to end with a corpse of you.

(Civilization as a whole would prefer that it reached that end through your honorable suicide, belike.)

For what it’s worth as a consolation, future composers of tragic operas will consider your story excellent source material.

(From a comment here) Which leads me to a question that’s a little tangential to the original post, but in one form or another has been haunting the back of my mind for a while: Would a contract where one party waives their rights under the Fundamental Contract as part of their contract obligations — and does so voluntarily, and not through fraud, duress or coercion — in lieu of the other party’s discretion be considered a valid contract? (For the moment, let’s ignore whether it would be moral to draw up such a contract in the first place and assume that the relationship is already a fait accompli.)

Or, to put it another way: Can a mentally and morally competent soph willfully choose to surrender their right to choose?

Legally, yes –

(Except that you’re really not, because those rights protect you from things done against your consent, and so contracting them away is isomorphic to giving your consent, so. You can’t give consent for something to be done without your consent, because the Law of Non-Contradiction will come and both slap the stupid out of you and not slap the stupid out of you.)

– that’s how such things as indentures and the Declaration of Situational Mental Incompetence and even some parts of the Imperial Charter work, for example – but with certain provisos; primarily, that as with contract law in general, one must have the legal capacity to contract to make one in the first place, and one of the things that impairs said capacity is everything included in the category of “being bugfuck crazy”.

(Now, it’s not like they’re going to pull an unconscionability doctrine out of thin air and decide that no-one could possibly have intended to sign any contract like X – rational sophonts are expected to grow a quad and pay attention – since even selling yourself into lifelong slavery, excuse me, perpetual uncompensated indenture [distinguished inasmuch as you can’t sell a property right in yourself because you’d have to alienate yourself from yourself to do so, and you can’t] may be less a case of “being bugfuck crazy” and more a case of “being bloody stupid”, from which latter the law does not protect you. Although, in fairness, the former is rather more likely.

But it does give probable cause for the Guardians of Our Harmony to run their checks to make sure that you are not, in fact, bugfuck crazy, and invalidate the contract if it turns out that you are.)

((This probably does not get you entirely off the hook, as such a judgment – while much more likely to save your ass *there* than *here*, due to a rather broader definition of what constitutes unacceptable irrationality – is also going to lose you your tort insurance and demote your legal standing right back to minor-equivalency. Which will suck.))


Questions: Pacifism, Forking, Conflicting Rights, and Lost Keys

Specialist290 e-mails with some questions. (Also some compliments, for which thank you kindly, but what’s getting responded to here are the questions…)

Here goes:

  1. Are there any major subcultures / subcommunities within the Empire that deviate significantly from the “ideal norm” enough to be noteworthy without actually violating the Charter itself? For instance, are there any “pacifist” (using the term loosely) strains of Imperials who attempt to live by non-violent principles inasmuch as they can do so within the constraints imposed by their charter responsibility to the common defense (as opposed to the “shoot first, ask questions of anything that survives” knee-jerk reaction typical to the eldrae)?

With a clarificatory follow-up:

To clarify on that first question, since I realized on further reading that my example was worded rather vaguely and the use of “pacifist” might have the wrong implications:

Let’s say that you have an Imperial citizen-shareholder who, through the vagaries of whatever process formed their personality, has an aversion to the use of lethal force in any circumstances except when another life would be directly threatened by refraining from the use of lethal force (including their own — they’d be perfectly willing to kill in self-defense as well if they themselves were threatened that way).  They wouldn’t be against carrying or using a weapon, since they realize (as a condition of the previous) that the use of lethal force may certainly be necessary.  Nor would they interfere with the victim’s use of lethal force to subdue a criminal if the victim themself were on hand to defend their own property.  Nevertheless, they view the unnecessary use of lethal force (as parsed through their own moral lens) as an injustice if there is any chance that the criminal in question can be rehabilitated.  Let’s say that, furthermore, they had the means to actually subdue a criminal caught in the act non-lethally and prevent them from inflicting any further harm in a way that would still preserve the criminal’s life (though if the criminal in question would rather die, they’d still honor the criminal’s exercise of free will).

Would that sort of behavior be condoned as acceptable civilized behavior within the framework of Imperial society?

Well, the first thing I must ask you to bear in mind, of course, is that permadeath is hard in a world full of noetic backups – just imagine how hard it is for the people who have to try and implement the death penalty – requiring serious premeditation, and very much not something you are going to be able to inflict in a self-defense sort of situation.

You really can shoot first and ask questions (of the reinstantiated) later, which shifts the effective definition of “lethal force” quite a lot, not so? At least so long as we’re talking about corpicide, and not cognicide.

This is a modern development, of course, but most albeit not all of what’s been seen on-screen is in this era, so it’s particularly relevant.

Anyway, the general case, ignoring that particular consideration. Actually, contra stereotypes, what you propose isn’t actually all that far from the mainstream view. If you were to ask 100 people on the Imperial street, I’m pretty sure you’d get a 90%+ consensus that it’s obviously better to hand petty criminals over to the therapeutic mercies of the Office of Reconstruction to be, y’know, repaired. In an ideal universe.

But that being said, it’s not yet an ideal universe.

And what they teach in self-and-others defense classes is the hardcore version of caritas non obligat cum gravi incommodo. Yes, that’s the ideal, which is why they send the Watch Constabulary’s rookies on the Advanced Non-Lethal Polyspecific Incapacitation Techniques course. But that is a lot longer and more difficult to master than anything that the soph on the street can be expected to master by way of basic self-and-others defense (which, in practice, may well just be what they teach at school-equivalent), and the way this breaks down, per standard mainstream ethics, is this:

a. You are not obliged to place yourself at risk in order to show mercy to an attacker, slaver, or thief, although you may if you choose to;

b. However, you are not entitled to make that choice for anyone else. Their risk management is not yours to decide.

c. Reliably stopping someone and keeping them stopped in a non-lethal manner is a difficult challenge, and not best suited for amateurs.

d. Which is why we teach you to shoot for center mass and make sure that said person isn’t getting up again, because that’s something we can teach you to do reliably in this course.

d. i. Which you are perfectly entitled to do, note, because the Contract is pretty clear on the point that once you deliberately set out to violate the rights of others, you lose the protection of your own. (Note: this is not to say, even though it’s often misinterpreted to say this by outworlders, that permakilling every petty thief you see is the morally optimal solution. It says that it’s ethically permissible, which is not the same thing – hell, it may even qualify as morally pessimal, depending on your own interpretations of same.)

e. And the law is written accordingly, because there’s a limit to the burdens we can reasonably expect people to undertake in pursuit of their Charter-mandated duty to protect the rights of their fellow citizen-shareholders.

So returning to the original question: the governing principle here is going to be “can you make it work?”. If you are going to attempt non-lethal solutions, you’d better be damn sure that you can make your non-lethal solutions work effectively, because you will be held responsible – by the Court of Public Opinion, at the very least – if you fuck it up and fail your duty to protect the rights of your fellow citizen-shareholders because you were flibbling around like an amateur. If you can do it successfully and effectively, that’s great, and you will receive all due plaudits for doing so – but screwing up or exposing people to unnecessarily high levels of risk trying will be looked upon with all the traditional Imperial distaste for incompetence. Caveat pacifist.

(And, well, okay, it’s fair to say that you’re going to be looked at funny if you try and apply this principle to many serious crimes. If you catch, let’s say, a would-be rapist in the act and go to any sort of trouble to restrain them non-lethally, people are going to be asking “Why bother? We’re just going to have to kill him anyway, and now we have to do all this extra paperwork. Dammit.”)

((Further note: I also note “Nor would they interfere with the victim’s use of lethal force to subdue a criminal if the victim themself were on hand to defend their own property.” with the possible implication that this hypothetical person wouldn’t be willing to use lethal force to defend someone else’s property.

…there’s not a let-out clause for that. By that fine old legal principle of el daráv valté eloé có-sa dal, person and property are deemed equivalent, so the exact same self-and-others defense rules apply, and that’s a non-optional obligation.

If you are in a situation where you cannot use non-lethal methods to defend someone else’s property, you must – by the terms of the Charter you agreed to – use lethal methods to defend said property. Otherwise, you will find yourself in court staring down charges of Passive Accessorism/Unmutualism, and your very own appointment with the Office of Reconstruction.))

  1. What’s the dividing line between an instantiated fork of your own personality and a new person who shares your memories? Has there ever been a case where a forked dividual has “evolved” (so to speak) into two legally separate individuals?

Well, there’s both a legal one, and a social one.

The latter amounts to “well, do you think you are the same person?” After all, contradicting someone who thinks they’re someone else on that point would be, at best, rather rude.

There is also a legal standard based on sophotechnologically-determined degrees of divergence (somewhat arbitrary, but you have to draw a bright line somewhere for legal purposes) which is used whenever this sort of question winds up in the court system, be it a civil argument over “He’s me!” “No, I’m not!”, or determination of who exactly the criminal liability attaches to, or whether the restored backup or new edit is the same person in fact, or various other possibilities.

(It is, of course, fairly hard to describe the technical details of exactly where that line is without having the actual scientific vocabulary of sophotechnology to call upon, but as your humble author, I can promise that I know it when I write it…)

On the latter question: absolutely. Happens all the time, sometimes accidentally, mostly intentionally. (Hell, some people prefer to reproduce that way.)

  1. If there’s an apparent “conflict of interest” among any combination of the fundamental and charter rights that arises in the course of a sophont being fulfilling its duties, how is that resolved? Is there an order of precedence where one supersedes the other in the case of conflict?

The only hard and fast rule there is that the rights deriving from the Fundamental Contract (absolute and natural) always supersede those granted by the Imperial Charter when they’re in conflict. Necessarily so: they apply by definition to all sophont beings everywhere, everywhen, whereas charter rights only exist by virtue of the ongoing contract between citizen-shareholders, and you can’t contract away natural law. Makes no sense.

By and large, there’s not a major issue with conflict; the fundamental rights are non-extensive, negative-only, and tightly defined, more or less specifically such that conflict wouldn’t be a problem. Which isn’t to say they never conflict –

(The obvious real-world example, of course, being A Certain Controversial Medical Procedure, which in many cases leaves you with the very ugly choice of deciding to violate one party’s life, or violate the other party’s liberty/property, for values of property equal to body, or else making up some magical unscientific bullshit so you can pretend you aren’t doing either.

In the modern Empire, of course, that’s solved by said procedure having joined the catalog of antique and unpleasant historical medical barbarisms along with leechcraft, trepanation, and in vivo gestation itself, but it’s not like they never had to confront the issue.)

– but they don’t do so very often.

In which cases, there isn’t an order of precedence, but there is precedent, if it’s come up before. If it hasn’t come up with before, you are expected to use your own best judgment when it comes to doing as little harm as possible. It may well – almost certainly will – come up for review afterwards, but the Curia won’t punish you for trying your best to do the Right Thing even if it decides you did the Wrong Thing.

(In keeping, you see, with their general policy that if you want people to use their judgment, you can’t smack them down for making a competent person’s mistakes or failing to use it exactly the way the hypothetical ideal person would have; that just leads to paralyzing initiative, or worse, setting up plans and procedures and the equivalent of zero-tolerance policies at a distance, which inevitably turn into stupid, unjust results up close with the sole virtue that since no-one was expected to think, no-one can be held to blame when charlie does the foxtrot.

They don’t hold with that.)

  1. What happens when an Imperial citizen inevitably loses the keys to their own house (whatever form those “keys” may take given the technology available)?

(Ah, now that one actually has a canonical answer from early on: Where Everything Knows Your Name.)

While there are other ways of doing this for specialized applications, in practice identity is stated and authenticated using a convenient device called a Universal – which is itself a little metal ball about a millimeter in diameter containing a specialized code-engine processor, your unique UCID, your megabit identity (private) key, and a few gigabytes of non-volatile memory for supplemental data. This does two-factor authentication against the authentication systems of the Universal Registry of Citizens and Subjects, the second factor being cognimetric (i.e., your mindprint) to prove that you are you, possibly upped to three-factor against attached local databases.

The Universal serves as more or less everything. It’s your administrative ID, passport, licenses, certificates, registrations, contractee ID, financial account numbers, medical information, insurance cards, membership cards, travel tickets, passwords, subscriptions, encryption keys, door keys, car keys, phone number, etc., etc., etc.

(And you almost never actually need to deliberately use it. Things that you are authorized to use/open/log on to/etc., or that customize themselves to the individual user, just work when you try to do those things, because they quietly do the authentication exchange in the background. To the point that you can sit down in a rented office cubicle on an entirely different planet and get your glasstop, your files, the lighting, chair, and microclimate adjusted to your personal preferences, and a mug of that particular esklav variant you like sitting at your elbow. Automagically. You can just pick up your shopping and walk out of the store, and it’ll automatically bill you. Walk right onto the plane, and your boarding pass checks itself. The entire world just knows who you are and behaves accordingly.)

In less advanced times, people used to carry these things around in signet rings, or other tasteful accessories, and suchlike. These days, though, it/s integrated into the neural lace and or gnostic interlink, and as such rests about a centimeter below one’s medulla oblongata. (Assuming for the purposes of this answer that you’re a biosapience.) If you somehow manage to lose that, you probably have bigger problems than being unable to prove your identity right now…

They do, however, break down, albeit extremely rarely.

At which point you place a call to the nearest Imperial Services office (a free-to-call-even-anonymously line for situations just like this), report the problem, and get it replaced. Which involves spending an irritating amount of time going through the process of validating your identity the old-fashioned way to the Universal Registry’s satisfaction, then having the faulty one disconnected and surgically extracted, then replaced by its shiny new functional counterpart.

It’s an annoyance, but not much more than that.

Trope-a-Day: Screw The Rules, I Make Them!

Screw The Rules, I Make Them!: Averted inasmuch as while an Enabling Act, in the Imperial context, permits one to violate any law that isn’t actually part of the Fundamental Contract or the Imperial Charter, it is itself a legislative instrument – i.e., The Rules – and subject to all the same formalities as any other such instrument.

Trope-a-Day: Obstructive Code of Conduct

Obstructive Code of Conduct: The Imperials would certainly argue that the Fundamental Contract, with its insistence on protecting people’s life, liberty, property, and contracts would be one of these.  (Of course, some non-Imperials would point out that, given the very large number of societies in the Galaxy that aren’t nearly so fond of those, the Contract also lets people like the Sanguinary Enforcers of the Liberty Ethic set the war-drums to beating any time they feel like it; which is unfair, but not completely unfair).

Also to be mentioned here are the Code of Alphas (the rather detailed Eldraeic honor-code with specific sub-codes for each daressëf), the Five Noble Precepts (entropy is bad, and here’s how not to feed it), and, for military purposes, the Ley Accords (the basic rules of “civilized” warfare – although since they’re mostly reciprocal rules, anyone who prefers uncivilized warfare will find their challenge happily taken up.  Less happily for them, usually.)