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.

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.