The Complexity of Complexity

In the first volume of our work, reason and natural philosophy have appropriately laid waste to the claims of imbeciles and nihilists by virtue of an inarguable demonstration that the most fundamental rules of ethics are implicit in the very nature of ethical actors themselves, insofar as an examination the ontology of volition itself clearly carries forth these implications.

In the following chapters of this volume, we shall construct a further objective extension to these core ethical principles by addressing the implications of information theory and the study of complexity. In particular, we shall demonstrate the principle that more complex systems are superior to simpler systems – or, rather, that systems whose dynamic properties require more bits to describe are more meritorious, thus more deserving of existence, than those describable in fewer bits.

Destruction, in this paradigm, goes against ethics because it randomizes the system destroyed. (Although a random system requires many bits to describe precisely, its dynamic behavior can be simply expressed as “random”.) Final erasure of information is, of course, worst of all.

To such extent as this may seem simple, it is not. While it is trivial to assert the superior merit, in isolation, of a porcelain tea-set over a pile of fragments, consider, for example, the question of homogeneity. Naively, one might consider a large homogeneous system of little worth, inasmuch as it takes little more information to describe a thousand identical items than a single one, and the resources consumed by the others could be used to instantiate diversity; but this ignores the question of the complexity of their interactions in the larger system – from which the great value we place on ecosystems, which contain many near-identical components, is derived.

In theory, while we speak airily of a system, in reality, there can be no such isolation. Any given situation is inhabited by a complex fractal embedding of multiple conceptual systems on many scales, all of which have their own informational content and complexity, and all of which must be taken into account.

– Ianna Quendocius, Scientific Ethics, introduction to Vol. II

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


Trope-a-Day: Pillars of Moral Character

Pillars of Moral Character: Yes, the Imperials too have their own version of that traditional “duty is heavier than a mountain; death is lighter than a feather” proverb.  And could indeed deliver a fine lecture, if needed, on the analog of on and giri – they just call that one mélith.

See also Blue and Orange Morality.

More Questions, More Answers

And more questions arrive:

Here is an interesting what if for you. If you could live in the Eldraeverse would you want to?

They had me at immortality.

Or at post-scarcity.

Or at vastening.

Or at forking.

Or at the Repository of All Knowledge.

Or at, y’know, space.

Or at a refreshing absence of self-appointed gibbering loons under the impression they’re entitled to tell everyone else what to do, or else

So, um, yeah, pretty much.

What parts of Eldrae culture make you personally uncomfortable?

I may be a bad target for this question.

Partly because I’m an SF-reading, SF-writing, transhumanist anarchist. On the Yudkowsky table, my future shock level is somewhere between 3.5 and 4. And while, being human, I have the innate wisdom of squick, I’ve told it to shut up so much due to, well, items one through four above, that these days it barely twinges.

I’m sure there are some things, that I can’t think of off the top of my head – and, yes, that means I do find nothing wrong with that, and I have no problems with that either, have fun going through the index – going on in Imperial space that would make me uncomfortable, permissive society that it is, but for the most part the things that do so – many of which exist elsewhere in the Worlds as a whole – are those things that violate the principles of Consent and Obligation. Which are *there* frowned upon very strongly indeed.

What do you think the hardest cultural difference for you or humans in general to accept would be?

…all of it, in gestalt.

Well, take a look at Blue and Orange Morality and Values Dissonance; and then note that we probably suffer from it worse than most exotic species, because as fellow hominins, we’re close enough to fall into the Uncanny Valley rather than being alien enough to be expected to behave in an alien manner.

And an unfortunate number of instincts we have are just plain wrong by their standards: we don’t respect other people’s lives or their property and especially not their choices, are xenophobic, unempathic, incurious, emotionally labile to the point of hysteria, situationally ethical, obsessed with relative tribal status, and deeply in love with ugliness.

No-one likes to be seen as an inferior species. Especially if they’ve actually studied Earth culture at a shallow level, and come away with the notion that a large proportion of us are the kind of inferior species which, if invited to dinner, is likely to insult their host, take a shit on the table in the middle of the fish course, sexually assault someone over dessert, and steal the candlesticks on the way out, and not doing so is considered coming out ahead of the norm. (Side note: it really doesn’t help that our media does such an excellent job of portraying us as a Planet of Complete Assholes.)

All of which is to say, well, to get along *there* we’d have to completely repress and deny even the slightest, most sublimated trace of envy or enyious-sounding ideas and even a hint of the “there oughta be a law” instinct, cultivate self-control and rationality enough to suit the talcoríëf-esteeming locals (preferably while not losing the capacity for deep passion and childlike delight in things, losing which is also part of their hypothetical critique), find a way to desire neither to lead nor to follow nor to care what the Jones’ are doing, and develop adequately large sticks up our asses about politesse, respect for other people’s stuff, and the principle of the thing – while not showing any weakness on these points, because we will be judged constantly, and especially on what we are in the dark.

Being human and therefore possessed of unavoidably human mentality, it’s hard enough to get my mind into this framework properly enough to write them, never mind trying to live it 24/7. Fortunately, *there*, they have cures for that.

(Note: This may seem harsh, but a thing to remember is that we’re the ones who come with brains hard-coded to relative status hierarchies, and in this scenario. we’d be judging ourselves against people who’ve been engaging in a relentless program of no-holds-barred self-improvement for centuries.)

Do the Eldrae favor punishment, rehabilitation, or something else as a means of combating crime?

Imperial judicial penalties (as handled by the Office of Reconstruction and Execution by the Curial courts, once they’re done), draw from two paradigms: mélith – balance and obligation – and medicine.

So there’s no punishment, per se. By either philosophy, engaging in that is absolutely pointless.

What there is is restitution and cure. The former takes the form of fines: either directly restitutive where economic crimes are concerned, according to the Fivefold Rule (repaying the victim fivefold), or in the form of weregeld. Also, in either case, the criminal is responsible for paying all costs incurred due to his crime, including police costs, court costs, loss-of-income-and-time for the victim and any and all witnesses, etc., that lost time due to the case, and so forth. All debts must be paid, says Saravoné’s Code, and they mean every word of it. (And if you don’t have the assets, they’ll still get it out of you one way or another.)

The latter takes the form of memetic rehabilitation and reconditioning, for virtually all non-violent crimes and minor crimes of violence. Despite the name, this has little to do with rehabilitation in the Western penological sense when, to one extent or another, prisoners are supposed to rehabilitate themselves; meme rehab & recon means being handed over to the psychedesigners, the redactors, and if necessary the brain surgeons.

(On the grounds, you see, that people who cannot grasp and duly follow the principles of consent and obligation, or the Fundamental Contract, are self-evidently insane, and need their mental dysfunction repaired like the faulty component that it is. That being said, the Curia has a tremendous respect for the free will and self-integrity of the individual, and as such meme rehab & recon is not compulsory. If you genuinely prefer dying as yourself to living as your repaired self, you may opt for euthanasia at any time.)

More serious violent crimes (the ones which literally can’t make restitution for their crime because the bill is too high to pay with anything other than their entirety) and cases of incurable dysfunction with or without recidivism are handed directly over to the executioners or euthanatrists, respectively. The intent behind this death penalty, however, is neither punishment nor deterrence (after all, it’s not the severity but the certainty that counts); it’s surgery – cutting out society’s sick parts as surgeons once removed incurable tumors.

(Note: You can put that down under things humans would find culturally difficult to accept, too, inasmuch as the average human, citizens of Western democracies especially, is not likely to be comfortable with a legal system that has but two penalties, brainwashing or death. (But, hey, if you don’t like brainwashing, you can always choose death, right?))

Trope-a-Day: Morally Bankrupt Banker

Morally Bankrupt Banker: Subverted; most Imperial bankers (especially those from Gilea & Co.) are very, very moral people.  By the eldrae’s rigidly propertarian standards, and with total dedication to the Principle of Money and the sacred trust that is his fiduciaries’ wealth, which isn’t necessarily the kind of fluffiness most people think of when they say “morality” in this context, but is also very distinct from not having any.

Trope-a-Day: Immortality Immorality

Immortality Immorality: Averted, inverted, mocked, beaten soundly, and left to expire if it wants to so damned much, in much of the Galaxy.  The Imperials (and many other transsophont civilizations) are of the opinion that anyone who can’t tell that death is an eo ipso Bad Thing, meaningless, pointless, useless, unjust, unforgivably wasteful, personally destructive, and so on and so forth is an idiot, and the ephemeralist factions that propose that it is good for society and even the individual are substantially worse than that.

Of course, said ephemeralists play it entirely straight, but, well, the trouble with being ideologically committed to death is that given enough time, you will lose the greater argument with people who trend the other way.  Demographics are a bitch. Such is… life.

Trope-a-Day: Light Is Not Good

Light Is Not Good: Well, the Imperials certainly look the part of “light”, being all shiny and glowy and identifying with all kinds of light- and flame-based imagery, philosophically and religiously, but “good” – well, unless your personal morality identifies the good really strongly with knowledge, beauty, excellence, negentropy, self-integrity, obligation, the inevitable march of progress, and remorselessly enforced free will (among other blue and orange things), not really.  And if your notion of the good runs counter to those things – most commonly with utilitarian commitments to Luddism or collectivism – then Light Will Crush You.

(On another note, it may be noted that while among the eikones of eldraeic religion, the bright lights to aim at, there are eikones of good concepts – order, peace, prosperity, joy, justice, liberty, healing, honor, etc. – there is not one eikone that embodies good, as a concept.  It is, ah, insufficiently nuanced.

Of course, there are none that embody evil, or indeed any concepts on the dark side of gray, either.)

(See also tomorrow’s trope-a-day, Good Is Not Nice!)

Trope-a-Day: Even Evil Has Standards

Even Evil Has Standards: Not in general played any straighter than it is in reality – the dumb and brutal kind of space pirate/raider, in particular, is infamous for atrocities – but seen on occasion.  A lot of Renegades, even the gone-plain-and-simple-evil ones, still have their instincts and culture programming, and as such tend to avoid slaving and other blatantly choice-stealing, and often adhere to codes circling around the twisted form of mélith that could be summarized as “those who aren’t asking for it shouldn’t get it”.

The Problem of Evil

A question asked on the conculture mailing list:

How do our various cultures — especially the non-human ones, and also especially the non-terran ones — view this Problem of Evil? Or do they even recognise it as a principle? Or do they see Good as the Problem…? Also, is Evil a “real thing” or a by-product of cultural evolution in a people?

Well, now.

The eldrae don’t really think of Good and Evil as contending cosmic principles.  Those would more accurately be described as Light and Dark – on the one hand, the Flame, the cosmic positive principle of volition, creation, excellence, and energy, and the Darkness, the negative cosmic principle of chaos, destruction, and entropy.  But while Dark may be Evil, in many if not all of its aspects, Light is not exactly Good (and nor is it, well, terribly nice – at least by human moral standards).  Unless you happen to identify the good really strongly with beauty, excellence, negentropy, obligation, the inevitable march of progress, and remorselessly enforced free will, anyway.

Neither of them is personified, strictly speaking.  Light arguably is in the form of the eikones (personifications of concepts) as a whole, but none of them represents the Light itself; they’re shards of it seen through a prism, individual colors derived from the light of the Flame.  Meanwhile, Darkness —

Well, that gets into beginnings.  The fundamental tenet of eldraeic theology is that the universe is fundamentally broken.  It obviously shouldn’t be, but something went wrong at some point, and we’re stuck with it.  (Explanations vary; the Church of the Flame doesn’t really have a consistent creation myth.  One common postulate is that it’s down to Aldéré, Divine Ignition, creator goddess of the eikones, being mad as a hatful of badgers inasmuch as creation is the only thing that matters, and what happens afterwards is “not her department”, which is why she coos every bit as much over the creation of say, Ebola, as the creation of a magnificent work of art; but there are many alternative cosmogonies.)  The Darkness is this brokenness; it’s entropy and its consequences, the reason we live in an imperfect universe in which energy dissipates, destruction doesn’t always lead to new creation, information can be lost, people die, flaws go unamended, and assorted other offenses against The Way Things Ought To Be In A Proper, Perfect Universe persist in happening.

(And that, of course, is just physical entropy.  Mental-spiritual entropy is also responsible for choice-theft and parasitism and envy and sloth and cacophilia and destructionism and humility and most of the other sins in the book.)

It’s almost gnostic, in a way, except that while the gnostics would claim that matter and the material world are inherently evil, the Flamics would claim that matter itself strives, self-organizing into stars and worlds and galaxies, crystals and snowflakes, and life, life everywhere, in one great outcry against the deathward fall of the universe, until eventually it produced sophont life, whose purpose, such as it is, is to continue to strive to make the universe better, and eventually fix it completely, restoring it to the flawless state it always should have had.

“Anything that is broken can be repaired.”

So, to return to the original question, evil (or Darkness, rather) doesn’t have an independent existence per se; it’s merely inherent in the flawed nature of the universe and everything within it.  In sophont terms, it’s that little inner voice that encourages people to take short cuts, to be satisfied with less, to be less than they can be, to bring others down rather than raise themselves up (relative status systems are, they would say, very entropic), to not strive, not achieve, not improve, and to prevent others from doing so.  That’s the hole in the world trying to suck out your awesome; good, or Light rather, consists of not letting it.  But it is a distinctly identifiable concept you can point to, and say “that’s it”.

(More on some related concepts at Blue and Orange Morality and Little Darknesses.)

Trope-a-Day: Black and White Morality

Black and White Morality: Depends on the angle you look at it, really.  Outside observers would argue that the Imperials, for example, must practice a black and white morality; after all, they have an objective ethics, or so they claim, and a mathematical calculus of ethics by which to measure everything…

But then, that’s an objective ethics, which is just the core of morality.  They do have several different moral systems, albeit that a very definite majority of them hew fairly close to the knowledge-and-beauty-good, entropy-bad clade that defines the moral mainstream.  More importantly, they are entirely capable of understanding the degrees of nuance in the universe that mean that (a) just because someone is mistaken does not mean that they are evil – and that can potentially be anyone with the possible exception of the Ephors of the Curia, who were designed as self-improving incarnations of Incorruptible Pure Pureness – and (b) there is not just good and evil, there is better and worse.  Reality, as you might have gathered from Morality Kitchen Sink, is much more “White and Pale Gray and Mid-Gray and occasionally Dark Gray” versus “Black and Dark Gray and Mid-Gray and occasionally Pale Gray” than it is White vs. Black.

See also: Blue and Orange Morality, Morality Kitchen Sink.

Trope-a-Day: Morality Kitchen Sink

Morality Kitchen Sink: The way the universe works, people being complex – sophonts can be found spread all over the moral spectrum from shiny white to deepest black, often at the same time in different contexts.  More importantly, bearing in mind the sheer variety of sophont minds despite the constraints placed upon them by sharing a physical reality-substrate, they can also be found in blue and orange, purple and red, green, yellow, brown, puce, taupe, and fuchsia.

Trope-a-Day: Incorruptible Pure Pureness

Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Not overwhelmingly more than any other reality (although the emphasis Imperial-style moral teachings put on self-integrity, importance of probably helps make people substantially more resistant to temptation).  And, of course, remember Blue and Orange Morality, which does, ahem, offer a somewhat different slant on the qualifications for what exactly the right thing, and indeed, the greater good are.

(This remains true even into the Transcendent era; the protections implicit in the collective consciousness ensure mutual loyalty and benevolence between its members; not necessarily towards the rest of the universe.)

Played straight with certain special types of minds: the Ephors of the Curia, for example, are essentially artificial intelligences constructed out of the law to judge the law, and are utterly, 100% loyal to the Fundamental Contract, the Imperial Charter, statute law, and precedent, in that order.  They can’t be corrupted, bribed, influenced, or swayed by emotional appeals.  The concept of higher motivations than The Law simply doesn’t exist in their mental universe.

The other example that leaps to mind is the use, in some professions, of specially-designed gnostic overlays – mental add-ons which supplement personality rather than replace it, and in these cases, specifically, plug-in values.  The constabular overlay is used by on-duty members of the Watch Constabulary, and those deputized and self-deputized, and includes those values deemed necessary for those members of society paid to and permitted to use necessary force, including strict adherence to the law, respect for the rights of their fellow citizens, incorruptibility, and so forth.

Another interesting one is the objectivity overlay, widely used among some journalists who are writing not for the editorial pages.  Plug this one into your head, and it suppresses personal opinions, interests, and assorted other emotional and subjective considerations, while leaving you still competent to do your job.  It guarantees your ability to write unbiased, fact-based stories, however appalled by yourself you might be when you take the overlay off.

Trope-a-Day: Beauty Equals Goodness

Beauty Equals Goodness: Very much averted in one sense, even by local standards (see: Blue and Orange Morality) of goodness.  It is perfectly true that the eldrae and the other Imperials are an extraordinarily Beautiful People.  But by the same processes, so are the Renunciates.  And so are the Renegades – even the Renegades who are very, very bad people indeed, by anyone’s standards.

Quite appropriate, really.  After all, even fallen angels are still angels.

In another: yes, one of the qualities they esteem is beauty, as a form of excellence.  But this does not imply, simple-mindedly, that the beautiful are the good.  Rather, the dogma holds that it implies that the good deserve to be the beautiful, and therefore that beauty ought to be promoted by the sophont in those places where blind nature and random chance got it wrong again.

Not Quite a Trope-a-Day: Values Dissonance

Posting this one out of order, too, because it may be useful to have it up here in future, and – well, because having fictional people and real people call each other names just seemed fun to me when I was writing it up.  So.

Values Dissonance: In-world, plenty of it, discussed and handled – as mentioned under Culture Clash – fairly often, because there’s really not much of an alternative in a polyspecific universe, and there are polyspecific and multicultural polities and colonies in which people essentially have to work it out.

Out-world, which is to say, between them and us, plenty of it too.  Look at all the values dissonance evident just from Blue and Orange Morality, for a start, starting with the section on propertarianism and working down.  Or, to put it the way that two people unwilling to take anything but the hardest line on values issues would put it:

They’re grasping and materialistic; we’re envious thieves and whinging martyrs.  They’re cold and uncaring; we’re testosterone-poisoned, bleeding-heart hysterics.  They’re self-centered bohemian insubordinate eccentrics; we’re conformist power-worshipping submissive drones.  They’re legalistic and rigid; we’re treacherous and unreliable.  They’re obsessive perfectionists; we’re sloppy incompetents.  They’re impossibly demanding; we just don’t care enough.  They’re mad scientists; we’re afraid to ask the hard questions.  They’re childishly enthusiastic; we’re boringly cynical.  They’re stultifyingly polite, formal and baroque; we’re as subtle as a brick to the face.  They’re stuck-up judgmental aesthetes; we’re appalling cacophiles who seem to think shock value is an adequate substitute for artistic merit.  Their sense of humor is overly intellectualized; ours is maliciously cruel.  They won’t even try to implement reasonable, effective, broad-based solutions; we’re discipline addicts pathologically incapable of leaving folks alone to work things out.

They’re environmental criminals for wanting to turn the universe into a garden; we’re environmental criminals for refusing to fix what nature got wrong.  They are morally outraged about our treatment of the prosapient species of our world, starting with the dog, dolphin and octopus and working down the list; we… can’t see what all the fuss is about, evidently.  At war, they’re ruthless killers who don’t “follow the rules” and embrace civis Romanus sum; at war, we’re soft-hearted idiots who can’t remember which side we’re on.  They’re gun-crazy madmen who even arm their children; we’re incredible hypocrites for pretending people have a right to defend themselves and then denying them any practical means to do so.

They hate the poor because they don’t give them everything they need and sneer at the downtrodden; we hate the poor because we choke off their opportunities, ignore their rights, and coddle even deserved failure.  They hate the disabled because they insist on fixing everything; we hate the disabled because we keep making more of them.  They’re cruel and inhumane because they execute violent criminals and brainwash the rest; we’re cruel and inhumane because we lock criminals up in prisons for years of pointless torture.  They are so permissive they can’t have any meaningful moral standards (and, yes, this is contradictory, but read moral standards as something like the modern US sense of “family values…in re sexuality, marriage, public modesty, guns, drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc., etc., etc.”); we are so restrictive we can’t have any meaningful notion of personal freedom (again… yes, but it’s a stereotype).

They’re outspoken and judgmental about (which they would call actually believing in) their sense of ethics and morality and intolerant when it comes to the people that offend their effete sensibilities; we’re so morally flexible (for which they would read lacking) we’ll skip lightly past any amount of suffering, oppression and rot as long as it’s happening somewhere we don’t have to look at it.

Oh, and for different reasons (they refuse to treat anyone differently for the sake of individual fairness, or give the notion of group identity any ethical weight; we think two wrongs can make a right and never generalize to the big picture), each party thinks the other is a bunch of howling (sexist | racist | everythingelseist) bigots.

All of which is not to say that individuals necessarily think all or even any of this, and indeed, as between any two societies people could often find each other pleasant, upstanding chaps, and indeed good friends, especially once individual variation is taken into account.  But there are certainly plenty of places to find said dissonance if you care to go looking…

(For more possible examples, well, look at the Ethnographical Questionnaire series on this blog, which has plenty of them already, and will have yet more.)

Ethnographical Questionnaire: XII. Questions of Sex

This is actually something I finished and published on an old, non-dedicated blog some time ago (October 2010) concerning this particular piece of my worldbuilding, and for the sake of completeness – and because it ties into some of those issues and attitudes mentioned under Blue and Orange Morality – I’m reprinting it now here so that my worldbuilding category will be properly representative.

So, I’ve recently been working on answering the “Ethnographical Questionnaire” set of worldbuilding questions for my conculture – not quite this version, but another version by the same person, I think – in the interest of, by so doing, expanding on all sorts of areas and possible unconsidered lacunae in my current imaginings.

And since I know at least some of my current readers basically follow along just for the worldbuilding snippets, and the rest of the stuff I post here be damned, I thought I’d share each section with y’all as I got it done.

As it happens, the first of the sections which actually is complete – in the sense that every question in it is answered, not just some here and there, is section XII: Questions of Sex.  So if you’d like to know more than you knew there was to know, and for that matter probably more than I knew there was to know, about sexual mores in the Empire of the Star, well then, read on…

How does your society define incest?

Incest is defined in two ways; or rather, there are effectively two separate concepts both covered by the same English word, in translation.

The first is reproductive incest, which is a matter of genetic hazard.  Once genetic technology became available, technically it’s no longer even a matter of consanguinity – instead of concerning itself with reproduction of people closely enough related to probably cause bad recessive genes to pop up, it concerns itself with any reproductive act that could cause bad recessives to pop up, even if the people in question are entirely unrelated.  It is considered a de facto crime against the child resulting, by causing or risking its exposure to, genetic disease, and is punished accordingly.

The second, intergenerational incest, addresses matters of dubious consent due to familial authority issues.  Under these rules, incest as defined as sex with ancestors (or siblings of ancestors) or descendants (or sibling’s descendants) two or fewer generations away from you; i.e., parents, uncles and aunts, grandparents, granduncles and grandaunts, children, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, grandnephews, and grandnieces.  Stepchildren and adoptive children are considered as blood relatives for the purpose of this calculation.

Sexual relations with more distant generations, even in the line of descent, is not considered intergenerational incest due to the nugatory familial authority exercised at that generational distance, and the practical difficulties posed by the fact that, in a society of immortals, anyone who lives long enough will be related to just about everyone.

Note that by these incest rules, sibling/sibling relationships are permitted provided that all involved are consenting competent adults.  While extremely rare, certainly unconventional, and likely to draw social… curiosity, albeit not condemnation, in the absence of reproductive considerations, there is no compelling public interest in its prohibition.

[How does your society define] Rape? How do people react to these?

Imperial law and custom defines rape as any sexual activity involving another person without their consent, or when consent has been gained through means coercive (including but not limited to duress, and also including pharmacological and other technological coercive devices) or fraudulent.  Consent may be given or withdrawn at any time; there is no non-terminable advance consent (“unlimited right of conjugation”) possible under Imperial law.

As for how people react: well, the penalty for rape under Imperial law is death.  Sometimes, the courts even get to apply this penalty; usually, when it’s reported after the fact and prosecuted as the result of an investigation.  Those caught in the commission of the crime or in hot pursuit thereafter rarely survive the experience; which tells you the public view of things quite definitively, I should think.

(And just to make it completely clear, we’re not just talking about strangers in dark alleys, here.  Anyone unwise enough to believe that they’re safely surrounded by friends, fraternity brothers, or some such is just begging to have a short lesson in the consequences of betrayal added to the lynching which shortly will ensue.)

What secret vice is believed to be widely practiced? What secret vice actually is practiced?

It’s hard to really pin down something as a secret vice.  Seriously.  Again, it’s because this is such a very open society – and most professional procurers of one vice or another are as aware of the value of marketing as any other entrepreneurs, so most vices have fairly public proponents.

Well, I suppose that most people don’t admit to their sexual vices, but that’s not due to shame – that’s because ladies and gentlemen of quality (Eldraeic daryteir) don’t blether on about their sex lives or other intimacies in public, or even group, settings, for reasons that amount to showing a decent amount of respect for a partner’s privacy.  But it’s not like you won’t find information on them everywhere from Introduction to Practical Hedonics (okay, maybe Intermediate Hedonics) to Xenophilia for Beginners.

What sexual habits are widely believed common among foreigners?

Well, many less cosmopolitan citizens are of the opinion that since so much of the rest of the Galaxy is “a hotbed of strutting would-be authoritarians and deluded self-abnegating submissives eager to sell their precious sophont rights for a handful of shiny beads and some dubious promises” – to indulge briefly in stereotyping of rather doubtful quality – then they’re probably bringing their thoroughly nauseating ideas about dominance and coercion to bed, too, and just… ewww.

They are, however, and fortunately for foreign relations in general, aware that even acknowledged jackboot-analog-wearing discipline addicts still find overt coercion in this area pretty damned icky, though.  At least in public.

How do people react to homosexuality? Is it frowned on? Encouraged?

Pretty much the same way they do to heterosexuality, or bisexuality, or asexuality, or xenosexuality (incidentally, for anyone pondering mechanics at this point – and to borrow a note from a Spider Robinson book – every sophont species has fingers, tentacles, or some other sort of manipulators; anything else is gravy) for that matter.  Love’s a funny thing, and not all that common in this universe.  When the lightning strikes, don’t let go of it.  Mere bodily issues can be sorted out later.

(And, hey, these days when the exowomb and high biotechnology have solved the reproduction problem, uploading/downloading has made bodily gender the next best thing to a fashion choice, and psychedesign can rewrite your sexuality any time you want if your desires don’t match up neatly with your affections, then really, not only are the last qualms of the heir-desiring dealt with, but the whole question has almost been reduced to meaninglessness.)

Or, to put it another way: Their gods never said no.

Are premarital sexual relations allowed? Extramarital?
Is sex confined to marriage? Or, is it supposed to be?

Premarital, yes.  There is a notable societal preference that sex should take place within some kind of emotional relationship, however, but not necessarily marital, or even cohabitatory.  Imperial social custom provides for a number of semi-formal degrees of such things, scaling all the way down to delesessqámél, which can be approximated as but not precisely translated as “friends-with-benefits”, provided that the friends in this case actually do care about each other, even if not to the extent of love.

“Hooking up” and the one-night stand, however, are socially disfavored, not so much as a matter of morality, but as a matter of bad taste [and, yes, that applies to both sexes equally] (although a reasonable case could be made that anything called out by the Names, Numbers, and Novas as bad taste is probably in an even worse social position that something called out by the moral mavens).  There’s also an aspect of pity involved: much as a doughnut lover might have for someone who insists on only eating day-old doughnuts with the powdered sugar scraped off.  Sure, they can enjoy doughnuts that way, but one can’t help but feel they’re missing a large part of the point of the exercise.

As for extramarital, well, that depends entirely on the wording of the marital contract in question.  Virtually all of them mandate exclusivity, it is fair to say, whether dyadic (again, the majority) or polyadic.  To explain this, recall that the highly self-willed eldrae weren’t born a species of calm, serene, honor-bound ur-logicians; they achieved it through centuries of bloody strife and trying to put an end to same.  Promises of exclusivity secured on a daryteir’s iron-clad word serve to prevent society from tearing itself into shreds in fits of jealous rage (also, note, the property of no particular sex), and thus the cultural tradition is established and maintained.  Frankly, you’re much more likely to see an option to add a member to a polyad – or convert a dyad to a polyad – by mutual agreement in a marital contract than an “open-relationship” clause.  (Not that those are strictly necessary; you could just mutually agree to recontract, but some people like to put these things out there explicitly.)

That said, every probability curve has its ends, and so there probably are a few open-relationship contracts out there.  They may not have all that much luck finding extramarital partners in practice – since, well, everyone knows about the fit-of-jealous-rage thing, and even if someone claims to have set all such things aside, one may well prefer Not to Taunt – but there’s no ethical or social injunction against them.  Remember, the sin in adultery is the contract-breaking/betrayal, not the having of the sex.

How is adultery defined? What (if any) is the punishment? Who decides?

Adultery, sayeth Codex of Imperial Law, 114th ed., is defined as breach of contract, specifically, breach of a marital contract.  This is both broader and narrower than the definition here, inasmuch as it does cover non-sexual infidelities which our definition of adultery does not, if they’re specified, and it does not cover sexual infidelities unless exclusive rights of conjugation were specified in the marital contract as written.

As for punishment, that is a matter for the default law of contract, if not explicitly specified, and if explicitly specified, it’s determined to the marital contract as written.  It should be noted that the Imperial law of contracts doesn’t place any cap or limit on penalty clauses (since freedom of contract is a matter of public policy), so punishments can be quite severe; nonetheless, if you promise to forfeit it and still can’t keep it in your pants, well then, no-one can say you didn’t set yourself up for that, eh?

Is prostitution legal? How are prostitutes viewed? Is this accurate?

Well, it’s legal.  Just about everything that doesn’t involve coercion is, after all.  However, it never really caught on en masse, and I’ll give you the simplest reason for that: telempathy.  You tell me how well your sex drive works while basking in the cold glow of naked commercialism, and imagine just how good the market is for said service, except among the insignificant number of people who have that particular kink.

What is the greatest sexual taboo?

Coercion.  Which, yes, in its most obvious form is rape, but that may well not count as a sexual taboo, simply because it is a sexual crime, which is a whole other order of magnitude.  However, in taboo terms, the generalized taboo on coercion spills over onto sadomasochism and dominance/submission – while legally and ethically acceptable when consensual, they steer too close to the forbidden waters to be socially acceptable (in, for example, much the same way as indentured service contracts, only to an even greater extent, as more personal).

(While it might be thought that the opprobrium of coercionism would, in such cases, attach itself principally to the dominant partner, there is a matching opprobrium attached to willful submission to force, lack of the valxíjir proper to a free citizen, etc., that attaches to the voluntarily submissive.  Recall, please, that this is a culture which considers even the relatively small loss of autonomy inherent in the time-sale employment common elsewhere to be inadequate to truly support a freeman’s dignities.)

What does this society mean by the word “virgin” and how important is it?

It’s a medical term of art meaning ‘someone who has not yet had sex’, and unless you’re a doctor specializing in one of the related fields or possibly a lawyer involved in one of a rare type of lawsuit, it’s probably not of any great importance to you.

What constitutes aberrant sexual behavior?

As a general rule, “aberrant” sexual behavior falls into one of these four categories, in decreasing order:

  • Coercionism (not so much aberrant as Just Plain Evil)
  • Anything that, while it may be consensual, causes actual harm to someone.
  • Anything that, while it may be consensual, all parties involved aren’t enjoying.
  • Bedpost-notching without emotional involvement.
  • Non-consensual cession of privacy, or as one might put it without the legal jargon, “frightening the horses”.  Also covered here might be ungentlemanly sexual chit-chat that violates one’s partner’s reasonable expectation of privacy in their affairs, but that’s more a social deficiency than a sexual aberration.

Are there any cultural or religious strictures, norms or taboos that specifically address sexual conduct?

On the religious side, Cálíäh, eikone of desire, encourages, well, desire.  Although no more specifically for sex than for anything else.  Cinníäs the Reveler, eikone of hedonism (among other things), and Édaen, eikone of joy and recreation, want you to enjoy yourself – or more accurately, want a good time to be had by all.  Éjavóné, eikone of vengeance and protection, has some really harsh things to say about anything and everything not strictly consensual and, if relevant, intracontractual.  Lanáraé, eikone of romantic love (among other things), and the Lover Gods want you to find the right person to have it with. Medáríäh, eikone of fertility, industry, production, and therefore reproductive sex, wants you to make people with it.  Rúnel, eikone of etiquette and civilization, wants you to respect each other in the morning.  Véválíäh, eikone of hearth and home, wants couples to enjoy each other.  And Ithával, eikone of awesomeness, wants you to be really good at it.

Culturally – well, see the rest of these answers.

Are there secular laws that control or restrict sexual behavior?

There are laws against:

  • rape (no consent, or consent gained through coercive or fraudulent means);
  • bestiality (defined as sex with non-sophonts, including non-sophont intelligent machines; no capacity for consent);
  • necrophilia (again, no consent or capacity for same, although a case might be made if they bequeathed you their body specifically for the purpose, but fortunately no-one’s brought that particularly extremely gross case up before the Curia yet);
  • sex with currently unoccupied bioshells (not without consent of property owner, and eww);
  • sex with minors (i.e. not age-based, but all people who don’t meet the IQSC requirements; no capacity for competent consent);
  • reproductive incest (genetic hazard, and defined in terms of probability of same); and
  • intergenerational incest (i.e., sex with ancestors or descendants two or fewer generations away from you, due to familial authority issues.  And, well, genetic hazard, but that’s already covered).

Apart from that, so long as you’re consenting competent sophonts, go for it!

(Oh, except in the street, or other public volume not intended for the purpose.  Sorry.  It’s kind of distracting.  Remember, kids, the property line is your friend.  Addendum: vehicle hulls count as property lines, but please, tint the windows.)

At what age is it considered normal to engage in sex? Are there taboos against sex with children?

It’s not so much a matter of age, except by default.  Specifically, like all matters of majority and competence, your competence to engage in sex – which is one of the extremely short list of competences actually regulated by law – is determined not by age, but by the sufficiency of your self-signed (which is to say, held and paid for in your own right) tort insurance to cover the potential consequences.  Anyone holding this minimal quota of tort insurance is legally and socially empowered to have all the sex they want, provided that anyone else involved also does.

In practice, most people achieve their IQSC (Insurance Quota for Sexual Capacity) sometime in late adolescence.

Should sex be a one-to-one experience? Or are groups allowed?

There is no particular moral freighting either way, per se.  Of course, what’s already been said above on the topic of exclusivity rather settles the matter for dyads, and the social disfavoring of “hook-ups”, etc., answers the question for the casual orgy.  Polyadic relationships, or at least the smaller ones where the logistics don’t become impractical, do prefer to find ways to involve everyone, though.  It’s just plain nicer that way.

Not Quite a Trope-a-Day: Blue and Orange Morality

I’m posting this one out of order, mostly because I’m finding more and more coming up in the list that reference it – the psychological differences between the eldrae, and indeed the Imperial, on the street and the humanity we’re used to and their effects on their sense of ethics is something that’s rather significant in the ongoing series of things. So here the main examples of this are, and intelligent commentary is welcomed!

Blue and Orange Morality: Well, sure, from their own point of view morality – or at least ethics – is pretty much Black and White Morality, but then, here, we’re looking at these things from a human perspective, at which point it looks very much more blue – or orange – than white.

Which is to say that – even aside from the issue of incomprehensibility of transsophont and postsophont minds to regular old baselines, or of the lack of transparency of thousand-year or ten-thousand-year plans to people who lack the relevant time horizon – it is a morality very much suited for people who are:

Intensely propertarian (coválír).  For the eldrae, a soph’s property is perceived very much as an extension of himself; “my house”, “my car”, or “my book” are as much a part of “me” as “my hand” is.  Property ethics, property law, and the appropriate delicacy a chap should observe around other people’s property follow appropriately.  You never appropriate or use someone else’s property, no matter how casually or trivially, without their consent, upon which you may never presume.

As a corollary to this, as a propertarian culture, they are comfortable assigning and quantizing value (not necessarily in monetary terms, since money is, after all, merely the quantum of exchange-value, which is a subset of value; and some values may invoke transfinite terms) even to intangibles and abstractions.  (Which is not to say that it despises sentiments and principles, or is cynical about non-material things; it merely requires that its adherents understand their own values in these areas.)  Nor do they devalue trade in the same way as human cultures, historical and present, do; entrepreneurship is very highly regarded.

(To give some other examples: In this paradigm, relationships, love included, are seen as an exchange of values.  To steal some text for this example from elsewhere, this means that in their idiom, “How much is your love worth?” is a strict cognate for “How much do you love me?” And, of course, the entire series of human romantic ideals about the pure and romantic nature of loving in spite of one’s partner’s lack of values, the more so the more they lack any discernible excellences, and suchlike, are nothing but one big does not compute.

Our materialism requires a small pile of footnoted background to make sense, inasmuch as our definition (preferring material objects of value to intangible objects which are somehow above value) makes no sense whatsoever in a paradigm in which everything has a value.

And while I suspect that the in-world translators wouldn’t actually be programmed this way, the purpose of language being communication and all, I invoke Artistic License to point out that many words have different value judgments attached to them.  Greed, for instance, still fundamentally the rapacious pursuit of values (such as wealth, status, and power), but is both (a) readily applicable to the pursuit of non-material values, and (b) an unambiguously positive quality.  Yes, Greed Is Good.  (Of course, greed is also often negentropic – see below.)  And, conversely, altruism is definitely not a compliment.)

Minds “vast and cool and unsympathetic”, to purloin a phrase.  While not a natural attribute – if anything, the state of nature was originally quite the opposite – talcoríëf, literally cold-mindedness, but implying rationality and self-mastery, is highly prized.  Emotions are nothing more than input data, possibly erroneous, to the computer of the mind.  Input informs the output, it does not control it.  One who cannot properly master their passions in all circumstances is at best temporarily incompetent and at worst a danger to everyone around them.

(And yes, by Imperial standards, Earth’s emotionally logohorreic societies desperately need to get in touch with their rational sides.  Which is what they’d tell you if they were being polite, and comments about “ranting hysteria” therefore aren’t in play.)

Profoundly individualistic.  While not so to the ultimate extent of the rijzh (whose predatory nature makes it almost impossible for them to associate) or the járaph (whose solipsism is such that they do not recognize the existence of not-self) – they can and do cooperate and form organizations and societies, which those species cannot – personal and abstract liberty is one of their most cherished values, up there with self-integrity.  Depriving someone of their ability to choose is the single worst sin in their moral system (for example, even criminals are offered the choice to die as themselves rather than submit to correction, but they would never consider using prison as a punishment).

This also, obviously, means that they don’t care much for peer pressure or social consensus, and would find humans’ instinctive habit of defining moral as normal and normal as majoritarian good for a laugh, although quite possibly a got-to-laugh-not-to-weep one.  An eldrae will fight any group, if not indeed the whole of society, uphill to prove a point, if he believes that it’s right, and society would be rather disappointed if he didn’t.

(The social effects are fairly obvious – after all, it’s no guess that people like this find it a considerable pleasure to watch slavers and tyrants – by their admittedly generous definition – receive their just desserts, and an even greater pleasure to make that happen.  One that is worth noting is with regard to employment; employment as we know it is practically nonexistent – not because it actually violates the strict moral precept, but just because selling off chunks of your time in which you will work under orders, vis-à-vis contracting to perform a particular task at your own will, is insufficiently dignified for a free man.)

Preoccupied with mélith – balance and obligation.  As obligation, this is generally quite clear; pacta sunt servanda is the rule of society, and I Gave My Word is in full play.  Promissory statements have the force of contract law – indeed, in the Empire, promissory statements are the basis of contract law, hence the general term oath-contract.  (They do warn people about this at port of entry, clearly and distinctly.)  And while, being exceptionally rational, they are careful to hedge appropriately and are exquisitely good at Exact Words when necessary, all the Galaxy knows that a promise from or a deal with an Imperial is something you can take to the bank.  Always.  Whatever it is, and whatever your relationship is, and however much of an utter bastard he might be in other respects.

(And, socially, you receive more credit for fulfilling an obligation than for doing something you aren’t obliged to do, because as all know, “obligations met are the foundation of civilization”.)

As balance, this manifests as a need for balanced exchange.  It doesn’t particularly affect trade – by definition, any transaction in a free market is a balanced exchange, but in everything outside the markets… well, a favor for a favor is the rule, and while it might not be written down, any Imperial has a very good idea of exactly to whom he owes favors, and from whom he is owed them.  And there is a large part of the below-mentioned complex etiquette that deals with the giving, receiving, and prestation of such things.

(Of course, “a slight for a slight” is the flipside of “a favor for a favor”, but it’s one less talked about.  Relatedly, consider the distinct preference for “clemency” over “mercy” in their culture – which does create a favor-debt.

This also defines the nature of charity in this paradigm; leaving aside for a moment those direct-action organizations which do what they do simply because it fulfills their valxíjir or estxíjir – for which see below – and therefore receive internal balancing rewards, it tends to take the form of investment, or venture altruism.  Your typical venture altruist will invest in improving someone’s life and capacities in expectation of a return on investment, contractual and/or patron-client style.

Indeed, it has to be that way, because altruism, like parasitism, is an unbalanced and therefore immoral exchange.  By definition, therefore, anyone who would receive it is insufficiently moral to merit it.)

Driven, obsessive, or, if you like, bloody stubborn.  Whether classified as valxíjir, the individual form – which you could approximately translate as uniqueness, excellence, will to power, or forcible impression of self onto the universe – or estxíjir, the cooperative form – which you could approximately translate as wyrd, destiny, devotion-to-ideals, or dharma – or simply as qalasír, “the driving energies of the individual”, the eldrae tend to acquire a purpose, a loyalty, an interest, a focus, and however trivial the matter may seem, take it to the limit and if possible beyond.  Sometimes this is epic.  Sometimes this intense focus turns on (relatively) trivial things.  But for the eldrae, at least, and quite commonly for people who get caught up in it, there is no escaping the demands of qalasír… and “my qalasír required it of me” is an often-unquestionable and as often acceptable answer as to why one happened to do anything in particular.

(Even their word for dilettante is probably closer to polymath, in practical meaning.)

One of its most notable forms, of course, is…

FOR SCIENCE!  Yes, very much for science.  And with a sense of ethics that – these days, renegades excepted – pretty much manages to encompass informed consent, sophont/prosophont rights and externality, but which considers considerations of Potential Applications, social consequences, humanity(-analogs), or squick, to be the sort of pathetic mewlings one expects to hear from the WEAK, the INFIRM of PURPOSE, the too COWARDLY to FACE the FUTURE!  FOOLS!!  You DARE to stand in the WAY of PROGRESS!!! I’LL SHOW YOU, SHOW YOU ALL!!!!

Ahem.  We’ll continue when our narrator returns from The Madness Place.

(Incidentally, much the same applies in the alternative forms For Art!, For Craft!, For Engineering! and For The Humanities!)

Opposed to entropy in all its forms.  Obviously, as natural immortals, that includes death as the most obvious and also most blindingly wasteful form (hence the missionary groups in favor of spreading said immortality); but includes ideological opposition to chaos (vis-à-vis emergent order), loss of information, disease, biosphere loss, waste, damage, and destruction in general.  And they take their negentropy seriouslyRecycling is morally laudable, as a way in which the old is used to produce the new, and unlike most environmentalist interpretations, you can consume vast quantities of energy to produce aesthetic effects, and so forth, and terraforming and the artificialization or use of nature is all perfectly acceptable…

…but if you aren’t offended by carelessness, guilty at accidentally dropping glassware or scraping things in passing, appalled by neglected maintenance, and morally outraged by concepts like inbuilt obsolescence, you’re doing it wrong.  (To use a more active example, if terrorists flying loaded airplanes into occupied buildings with a death toll in the thousands sends us to war with controversy and protest, then contrastingly, in their paradigm, people flying completely empty airplanes into likewise empty buildings with a death and injury count of zero sophonts would be quite adequate to label said group a bunch of irredeemable entropy-cultists in dire need of killing in the public zeitgeist, with little fear of contradiction.  Adding the death toll back in, of course, would only makes it more so.)

And then there is also teir, which while glossed “honor” and in fact terrifyingly idealistic, has a lot more to do with self-integrity, intellectual integrity, contractual integrity, and the proper ways to go about all the other aspects of morality mentioned herein than it does with many of the things Terrans would ascribe that name to: inasmuch as it avoids gender-imbalanced chivalry (Eldraeic culture has always been pretty gender-egalitarian), says almost nothing about sexuality, deplores martyrdom, while it does preach courage is also appallingly Combat Pragmatic (they would agree with Mass Effect’s salarians about the stupidity/insanity of declarations of war/telling your enemies that you’re about to attack them, for example; and consider assassination one of the best methods of fighting, which ought to be unfair, or you’re doing it wrong), and is absolutely not ever to be confused with face (i.e., does not depend on what other people think of you; that’s reputation, or dignitas, which may be  important, but is (a) not relevant to one’s honor, and (b) distinctly subordinate to it, in that one should always throw it away to preserve one’s honor; see also Who You Are In The Dark) or thar (bloody-handed primitivism).

Lovers of excellence, in all its forms.  Thus, pride is a virtue, as long as it can be justified, and humility is very much not.  And the proprietary outright sneer at those who do not strive to shine (note the distinction, here, encapsulated in the word strive) and their “dullist” apologists is an expression of morality.

Self-consciously civilized; Eldraeic language, etiquette, social rituals, and civilization in general is baroque, complex, grandiose, and exceedingly polite, even to non-sophont machinery – including the careful separation of social relations from each other, when different ones exist between the same individuals – in at least a semi-deliberate attempt to cultivate, reinforce, and demonstrate local notions of the civilized virtues, and thoroughly repress any atavistic impulses that might try to crash the party.  (After so much genetic and memetic engineering and self-reinforcement, this is probably unnecessary, but for the same reasons, inevitable.)  Besides, it’s beautiful – and beauty, too, is an expression/symbol of positive morality.

(Which is why cacophiles also end up in the long, long list of barbarians whom society disapproves of.)