Question: Last Shot Rule

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

Anyway:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions: Leonine Contracts, Illusory Promise, Resurrective Eidolons, and Intentional Communities

I might be jumping the Trope-a-Day queue a bit, but do the eldrae recognize the validity of the concept of a Leonine Contract?

In particular, how would they analyze the situation in the Chesterton quote at the top?

Well, fundamentally in ethics, there ain’t no such thing as a Leonine Contract in that sense.

(I say “in that sense” because there are fraud, coercion, and things that look like contracts but aren’t1, none of which count, along with mixed forms like good old Vaderian “altering the bargain”, some of which are classed with leonine contracts even though they aren’t, technically speaking.

Most relevantly, though, there’s no doctrine of unconscionability – i.e., the notion that a contract is unenforceable because no reasonable or informed person would otherwise agree to it – on the grounds that all people legally competent to sign contracts are by definition reasonable persons capable of informing themselves, which classifies those who do not inform themselves as bloody stupid2. And inasmuch as the Empire has a social policy on that sort of thing, it’s to not protect people against the consequences of Being Bloody Stupid, because that’s how you end up with a polity full of helpless, dependent chumps.)

But leaving aside all such instrumental considerations, the fundamental ethical reason why there ain’t no such thing as a leonine contract is that the concept of one necessarily implies that you can compel the service of other sophonts (or their property – say, their food – which is part of them by the principle of el daráv valté eloé có-sa dal) without their informed consent and no, just no, even if you are starving. Not even a step down that road of treating sophs as instrumentalities. That’s how mutual-slave-states end up rationalizing all their bullshit. So not happening.

That being said, in the latter situation given in the aforementioned Chesterton quote, what an Imperial citizen-shareholder trying that one might run into are the Altruism Statutes, which are basically the statute law backing up Article V (Responsibilities of the Citizen-Shareholder), para. 4 of the Imperial Charter:

Responsibility of Common Defense: Inasmuch as the Empire guarantees to its citizen-shareholders the right to, and the means for, the common defense, each citizen-shareholder of the Empire is amenable to and accepts the responsibility of participating in the common defense; to defend other citizen-shareholders when and wheresoever it may be necessary; as part of the citizen militia and severally from it to defend the Empire, and its people wholly or severally, when they are threatened, whether by ill deed or cataclysm of nature; and to value and preserve the rich heritage of our ancestors and our cultures both common and disparate.

…which makes doing so in itself a [criminal] breach of their sovereign services contract, belike, because they voluntarily obligated themselves in the matter.

(Although I should also make it clear that someone rescuing you from a situation they themselves did not create is owed recompense by the principle of mélith. If you value your life (which people who are still alive presumptively do), you owe the one who preserved it in due proportion.)

Plus, of course, this sort of thing is basically fuelling your extremely unenlightened self-interest with a giant pile of burning reputational capital, which apart from being bad for you in general, is likely to be particularly bad for you the next time you require the volunteered assistance of your fellow sophs…


Given the central place sacredness of contract has in Imperial society, what do Imperial law and eldraeic ethics have to say about illusory promise?

(And as a follow-on, even if there aren’t any legal, moral, or ethical obstacles as such, what will the neighbors tend to think of someone who’s constantly hedging their bets by resorting to them whenever they try to enter into a contract with someone else?)

Well, the first thing I should say is that there are far fewer examples of it under Imperial contract law than under most Earthly regimes I am familiar with. The obvious example that constitutes a lot of it is “lack of consideration” *here* – whereas Imperial contract law, being based on the ancient-era laws and customs of oaths, doesn’t require consideration at all, and simple promissory statements to the effect of “I promise to give you one thousand esteyn” are legally binding in a way that “I promise to give you one thousand dollars” isn’t.

Of the remainder, some things are similar (the Curial courts will impute meaning on the basis that everyone is assumed to be acting in good faith, for example, and a contract to which one does not agree – the website terms and conditions changed without notification, say – is no contract at all, as mentioned above.) But in other cases – say, the promise of the proceeds of the promisor’s business activities, where the promisee doesn’t specify any particular activities and thus leaves open the option of ‘none’ – the Curial courts will point out that that is a completely legitimate outcome within the contract and so there’s no cause for action. Read more carefully next time.

So far as people who try to deliberately play the sneaky-weasel with this sort of thing – I refer you to my above comments about unenlightened self-interest and giant piles of burning reputational capital. Getting a reputation for doing this sort of thing without a damn good reason for so doing, preferably explained up-front, tends to rapidly leave a businesssoph without anyone to do business with…


Is it possible, even after the loss of a particular personality pattern in death, for a “close enough” pattern as to be effectively identical to the original person to be forensically reconstructed from secondhand sources (such as archived surveillance footage, life logs, individual cached memories and sense-experiences, and the like)?

Theoretically, you could make an eidolon (technical term for a mind-emulating AI based on memetic analysis) that would meet that standard – which is what makes them useful for modeling purposes – then uplift it to sophoncy; but in practice, “effectively identical” would require the kind of perfect information that you aren’t going to be able to reconstruct from the outside. The butterfly effect is in full play, minds being the chaotic systems they are, especially when you’re trying for sophont fidelity (which is much harder than just making a Kim Jong Un eidolon good enough for political modeling): you miss one insignificant-looking childhood incident in your reconstruction and it swings personality development off in a wildly different direction, sort of thing.

And it certainly wouldn’t qualify for legal purposes, since the internal structure of that kind of AI system doesn’t look anything like a bio-origin mind-state.


In split-brain scenarios, would each half of the brain be considered a separate, independent mind (regardless of whether or not they’re the same person) under Imperial law?

That depends. It’s not strictly speaking a binary state – and given the number of Fusions around of different topologies and making use of various kinds of gnostic nets, there is pretty extensive legality around this. The short answer is “it depends approximately on how much executive function is shared between the halves, much as identity depends on how much of the total mind-state is shared”.

Someone who has undergone a complete callosotomy is clearly manifesting distinct executive functions (after all, communication between the hemispheres is limited to a small number of subcortical pathways), and as such is likely to be regarded as two cohabiting individuals (forks of the pre-op self) by Imperial law.

And if they do eventually diverge into independent personalities (or originated as such upon the organism’s conception — say, if it began life as a single body with two separate brains with minimal cross-communication), what are the implications for contract law and property ownership?

That’s pretty much by standard rules. In the split-brain case, you’ve effectively forked, and those rules apply: property is jointly owned (with various default rules in re what is and is not individually alienable) and all forks are jointly and severally liable for the obligation of contracts until and unless they diverge.

In the polysapic (originating that way naturally) case, or the post-divergence case, they’re legally separate individuals who just happen to be walking around in the same ‘shell; ownership and contracts apply to them separately. That this sets up a large number of potential scenarios which are likely to be a pain in the ass to resolve should be sufficient incentive not to pursue this way of life unless both of you can coordinate really well with each other.

Could one mind ever possibly evict another?

Only if the other signed over his half of the legal title to the body to the one, which would probably be a really bad idea if he wasn’t planning to depart forthwith anyway.


Are there any particularly good examples of successful intentional communities in the Associated Worlds?

(Not including the Empire itself, even if it counts on a technicality; looking for more things on the smaller end of the scale.)

Oh, there’s lots of ’em, at least if you allow for a rather broader scope of purposes than the Wikipedia article would suggest. Within the Empire, the most successful example would be the metavillage or metahabitat phenomenon, which is exactly what it says on the tin – a village or hab designed specifically to appeal to people with common interests, and to memetically, architecturally, functionally, etc., synergize with those interests: a writer community will have large libraries, many coffee shops, plentiful sources of inspiration, and lots of quiet walks and nice places to sit and write, for example. A space enthusiast community might even have a community launchpad! And the lifestyle is spreading elsewhere, too.

There’s also the First Distributed Exclavine Republic, which again, is exactly what it says on the tin. Planned habitats designed to Imperial social norms scattered all over the Worlds. And then there’s the various monasteries, retreats, and the like of the Flamic church.

I haven’t a huge number documented elsewhere in the Worlds – and in any case wish to save the ones I have for spoiler-free future use – but there are a lot of them. Remember the Microstatic Commission and its thousands of tiny freeholds? Well, those tend to exist because of the ease of anyone with some idea they want to build a community around being able to launch a hab into some chunk of unclaimed space and set one up. They’re very popular ideas in this particular future, both affiliated with larger polities and entirely independent.


Footnotes:

1. The obvious thing here being software EULAs and other such instruments which you don’t get to read before implicitly consenting to. The general reaction of a Curial court to that sort of thing is “haha no”.

2. Which is why the law does permit contracts – like, say, many of *here*’s credit card agreements – that permit one party to unilaterally alter the terms, provided you give your informed consent to them as per normal.

Granted, it is also widely held *there* that no-one capable of anything resembling functional cognition would ever sign such a thing, so it’s not like they show up very often.

 

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.))

 

Trope-a-Day: Magically-Binding Contract

Magically-Binding Contract: In two forms, both technically nonmagical if you don’t count the Clarkian sense.

Firstly, regular old smart-contracts, which are self-enforcing, inasmuch as the contract itself takes the form of an AI which acts to enforce/fulfil itself – which can, relevantly, cover anything from simple supervisory work, to suing you for breach and demanding specific performance, to hiring mercenaries or assassins to enforce the contract, if you know what I mean?

The other would be the geas. In the modern, non-mythological sense, that would be a dynamic mind-editing thought-virus that – in the legal consumer versions, that is, that come with an intact obligator seal on them – make the idea of violating the deal you just agreed to of your own volition literally unthinkable1.

Geases are used extremely rarely, and even suggesting that one might be used (in a society where one’s word really is and ought to be enough for anybody) is a very strong insult; but sometimes you do need to be able to make a deal with the untrustworthy, and that’s where these come in.

(A related concept is that of the Cilmínár professional – doctor, advocate, etc., named after the world on which the process was developed – who have used geas technology on themselves to be able to guarantee to their rich and paranoid clients that they are genuinely incapable of betraying their clients’ interests.)


1. One important thing to note here is that you don’t see that stereotypical scene in which someone is doing something while desperately struggling against the geas or other compulsion in order not to. To struggle against doing something, you have to be able to conceptualize the notion of not doing it. With geas technology, you can’t do that.

Trope-a-Day: I Gave My Word

I Gave My Word: Played very, very straight indeed.  As is known throughout the Worlds, the word (or debt) of an Imperial is as close to absolute as you can get.  (They are sometimes, if you are prone to abuse these things, Exact Words, and since they are cautious with regard to the vicissitudes of possibility and the universe, often hedged with qualifiers – this formed, in fact, the basis of the Empire’s contract law, hence the term oath-contract, and why unlike many jurisdictions, they do not require consideration – but they will very definitely be binding and executed as given.)  No mighty oaths or swearing-bys or other elaborate formulae required; a simple I Give My Word is enough for anyone.

Indeed, while not legally binding in the way that giving one’s word is, just about any promissory statement given is considered morally and ethically binding.  Let those who are in the habit of speaking loosely and promising casually beware the social consequences, indeed.

Trope-a-Day: Exact Words

Exact Words: The Imperials are, of course, sophonts of their words.  It would be very bad form for one to chop logic so closely and obey the letter, and not the spirit, of an agreement.

Unless, of course, your counterparty is trying to do it to you first, or other such constrained circumstances apply (such as, say, certain kinds of diplomacy, in which a non-cooperative environment is essentially assumed), in which case, everyone’s an exquisite space-lawyer.