February’s Patreon Questions

Without further ado:

If you should encounter a situation where you have, in good faith, undertaken an obligation that is not itself particularly onerous or ethically objectionable, yet you find yourself in a situation where you must either violate some third party’s rights or default on said obligation, what is your best course of action?

(Let’s say, for instance, you’ve taken on an obligation to deliver a particular package to a particular place at a particular time, but in order to do so, you have to pass through a Gate of some sort — and the Gatekeeper is not willing to negotiate passage or pass along the message.)

Well, then you’re screwed, aren’t you?

Your best and indeed only course of action is to suck it up, pay the compensation, and take the rep hit assessed for an involuntary default. (After all, at least it is an involuntary default, so while you’re screwed, you’re not totally screwed.)

That’ll hurt, but that’s what one might call a teachable moment in Why We Don’t make Unqualified Promises Of Things We Might Not Be Able To Deliver, savvy? Did y’all sleep through the day they taught impracticability clauses in contracts class?

I was recently reading an article on the Forbes website about self-driving cars and accident liability ( http://www.forbes.com/sites/omribenshahar/2016/09/22/should-carmakers-be-liable-when-a-self-driving-car-crashes/#7be8eec81f40 ) when a thought hit me that similar matters must come up all the time in the eldraeverse, given the ubiquity of nigh-seamless artificial intelligence .

Which leads me to ask: In an incident where a device that has enough self-agency to make decisions in a “live” environment but not the requisite self-awareness to qualify as a sophont ends up acting in a way that causes injury to person or property, what sort of standards and procedures do the courts of the Empire use to determine who bears the liability?

That depends entirely on who bears the fault, and to what proportionate degree, as is normal in liability cases that end up in front of the Curial courts.

Which, once all the logs from various systems and other applicable data have been collated, is something to be sorted out in court between – to stick with the self-driving car example – the odocorp (as the road and road-grid provider), the car manufacturer (and its software developers and/or wakeners), the car owner (and possibly their maintenance and/or customization provider), anyone else involved (since in the Empire road designs that mingle pedestrians and vehicles are considered Not Done, if you wander into the road and get hit by a car, it’s almost certainly on you), all of the above’s tort insurers, etc., etc.

This can occasionally be complicated, but fortunately the courts have lots of forensic failure engineers on hand for situations just like this.

 

…There Is Only Awesomeness

So, today I was randomly reminded of In The Grim Darkness Of The Contact Form, and the hypothetical fictional possibilities of a face-off between the Empire and Warhammer 40K’s Imperium of Man, which details I cover there with a note that I can’t really deal with metaphysical mismatches like the wackiness of the Warp.

Well, here’s what occurred to me this morning:

The Tyranid hive mind is known for creating a “shadow in the Warp” that plays merry hell with all psychic communications, Warp travel, Warp-related abilities, and anyone with any sort of psychic sensitivity that happens to be beneath it, which appears to be everyone who isn’t a blank or a Necron.

So, folks: what do you think the Transcend, a hive mind collective consciousness with some additional relevant features, like a core brain the size of a star system and moon-sized local ganglia, looks like in the Warp?

(My take:

Best case, you have a Big Freakin’ Glow in the Warp, which is a lot nicer than the Tyranids’ shadow but which will still interfere with your day and is not to be fucked with.

Worst case (for the existing galactic powers): A weakly godlike superintelligence just got promoted to strongly godlike, and as the Warp’s first Order God/Constructive Power it has issues to raise with absolutely everyone.

We also might have to start calling its part of the galaxy the Eye of Harmony, but I think that name’s been used before…)

 

The End of the Inquirocene Epoch

Bad news, I’m afraid, gentle readers.

…it looks like I’m going to have to start enforcing what I have been ignoring up to now, namely, treating asking questions as the one-per-$-per-month Patreon reward that I declared it to be, rather than as something freely offered when questions are asked.

I don’t really want to do this, as I rather enjoy expounding on little details, and for that matter, it is in some cases useful to explore some worldbuilding edge cases. The trouble is, however, writing up and in some cases figuring those answers requires much the same part of my brain, and for that matter the same part of my motivation, as writing. And thus, answering them, or just having them lying around to be answered, I have noticed, is having a fairly serious adverse impact on the amount of actual writing that I’m able to get done. (Especially since I have a contract job in the early stages which, from past experience, is also something that can impact my writing time.)

So, while not foreclosing the option entirely, this is an attempt to limit the volume to something a little more manageable, or rather something compatible with the fiction that is, after all, the point of the exercise.

I do, of course, continue to welcome your thoughts, speculations, and so forth, in the comments, even if I can’t reply to all of them.

Requesting your understanding,

The Somewhat Frazzled Author

 

A Question Grab-Bag

Clearing the decks on a scale that is large…

So after many back-and-forth sessions involving questions and answers, I’ve gotten the impression that in eldraeic morals and ethics, there’s essentially a continuum with “coercion” at one end, “ideal enlightened self-interest” at the other, and in between a fairly broad space of behavior which, while certainly unpalatable to a large number of people, technically isn’t forbidden as such.

This might be a useful point at which to discuss the difference between ethics and morals in their terms, for which it would be useful to invoke RFC 2119 terminology.

Much like that, it’s a three-level system.

  • There are matters of the fundamental deontology, which are MUSTs and MUST NOTs;
  • There are matters of arêtaic ethics, which are SHOULDs and SHOULD NOTs;
  • And there are matters of morals, which are MAYs and MAY NOTs. (Well, sort of: in the sense that morals are personal and supererogatory rather than essential and obligatory, if you will.)

Such unpalatable behaviors generally fall into the second level.

It’s also rather apparent that the eldrae themselves (and other people like them) probably occupy the extreme high end when it comes to wisdom and foresight with all the technological powers they’ve essentially gifted themselves with. Among those powers comes, essentially, something that would come eerily close to precognition to those not similarly gifted.

With that in mind, a few additional questions:

1. How do those who advocate the principle of non-coercion account for the fact that some people can better predict another’s most likely response to a particular stimulus better than the target themselves can, or have different willpower and self-control reserves?

By and large, on the former, they don’t feel the need to. Your consent is not vitiated by your merely being predictable. (If it was, it’s hard to see how dull people could be interacted with at all.)

On the latter…

2. In particular, what’s the eldraeic take on temptation? Obviously you’re ultimately responsible for your actions and yours alone, but is willfully, continually, and deliberately expose someone to a stimulus for your own ends while knowing that their indulgence may destroy them or end with them in an exploitable position — even if it only comes about “by their own free choice” on the surface according to a technicality — recognized as a form of coercion in and of itself?

…only if it’s a targeted superstimulus, such as something exceeding voluntary persuasion thresholds, or the sort of thing used by a certainty-level persuasive communicator, because those amount to ways and means of rooting your brainz.

Mere weakness of will is a personal defect, not a cause of action. You should work on that, or failing that, go see a psychedesigner and have that fixed.

(After all, you can always walk away. They have the freedom of speech, not the freedom to make people listen to them.)

3. Roughly where does the dividing line between “coercion” and “acceptable-if-pernicious exploitation of another’s flaws and failings” lie?

The bright line is very clear: it’s coercion if it violates the principle of consent, specifically, to quote:

No sophont may act upon the person or property of another, except through the other’s memetically-shared consent, in response to an action-correspondent memetically-shared request.

For legal-ethical purposes, a meme is considered a unit of information expressed through symbols: e.g., writing, speech, farspeech, infographics, Uniglyphics, or other symbols with a broadly published, specific meaning enshrined through law, contract, or long-standing custom, such as the knotted club or spacer’s marlinspike that identifies a brawler’s bar.

Imperial law distinguishes this, thus, from direct or indirect manipulation of another’s mind by mechanisms which do not pass through the cognition, ethical function, and self-awareness of their mind, and thus deprive them of the ability to act accordingly; this constituting choice-theft.

Imperial law further requires that the memetically-shared request correspond accurately to the action consented to, and therefore communicate the request properly to a reasonably informed listener; non-informed consent, in Imperial praxis, is no consent at all. Likewise, implicit consent, based on extrapolations of meaning and/or symbols whose meaning the reasonable person would not be aware of, is not considered valid.

…that sets the limits of MUST NOT. There are any number of things that you SHOULD NOT do that you can still theoretically persuade people to let you do (assuming they weren’t that bright, slept through Bad Ideas 101, ignored their pocket obligator software, and didn’t subscribe to any reputation networks) but this is the limit of MUST NOT.

To finally sum up this line of thought along with related ones raised elsewhere: Ignorance, inattention, uncompensated Dunning-Kreugerism, careful avoidance and/or bypassing of the mechanisms designed to cull bunco artists out of civilized society, et al. et seq. will let people determined to screw you, screw you.

Insofar as people think about this particular issue, it’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

On the grounds that anyone this careless about their talcoríëf is a walking disaster just waiting to happen any way you slice it, and therefore it’s better that it happens to them sooner rather than later, and consequently, on a larger scale and with more other parties involved.

…oh, one last side-note:

After all, full sanction only truly works against those who depend on others to supply their own essentials — and we are talking about a universe where, even if your support staff up and quits on you because you’re under sanction, you could (with enough resources, fabricators, and knowledge base at your disposal) simply replace them outright with self-forks, greenjacks, and non-sophont automatons that you own outright. And even full sanction amounts to little more than a mutual recognition of the status quo when you’re the one who owns the food, the ore stockpiles, the roads, the utilities, etc.

If being placed under sanction makes annoying, dysfunctional people wrap themselves up into a tiny little autarkic bubble where they can basically live off their existing capital so long as it lasts while playing happy-happy games with themselves and not bothering anyone else…

…that is a win for the social enforcement mechanism. You’ve taken your ball and gone home; hope you enjoy playing with yourself; don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.

One: Do the eldrae have any sort of concepts analogous to “pay it forward”? Is stipulating that an obligation can be discharged not by direct compensation, but by instead performing the same or an analogous action for a future (and often unspecified) third-party beneficiary, something they recognize as valid? If so, how common (relatively speaking) are exchanges of this sort in the Imperial / Associated Worlds “contractual ecosystem”?

You can contract that, sure. (Under Imperial law. From aspects of various questions, I get the impression that you think that contract and other law across the Worlds is much more harmonized than it actually is: apart from the basics defined in the Accord on Trade which concentrate on letting different systems interface with each other, they can vary quite radically between polities, and thus choice of law is important. Certainly, a lot of entities from outside the Empire like to specify its law as their choice of law regardless, since it manages to be both flexible in definition and rigorous in application where contractual matters are concerned, but it’s by no means equivalent to a galactic standard.)

It’s considered quite useful, as a self-replicating means of having one’s will done, although the wise contractor will include some sort of appropriate termination condition and a smart-contract monitor, inasmuch as for the former, few things remain relevant indefinitely, and for the latter, one should remember that a party undefined at time of contract cannot enforce said open-ended contract, because they aren’t party to it yet.

I have no idea how common they might be; the contractual ecosystem is a seething mass of arbitrarily many arbitrarily defined types of contracts, so that would be nontrivially quantifiable even if I had a basis to quantify it. There are “some”.

Two: On a semi-related note, how common are (for lack of a better way of putting it) self-replicating contracts? Can a contract stipulate specific terms, conditions, and forms that are encouraged or prohibited when subcontracting part of the obligation out, including a recursive replication of the subcontracting restrictions clause itself? (To keep it short and sweet, can a contract essentially say “All subsidiary contracts made in pursuit of the terms of this contract must be devised according to the same format and with similar stipulations as this one”?)

Sure. That’s basically standard form for things like, say, non-disclosure clauses which you wish to bind not only your contractee but whoever they might contract with in the course of execution also. (Naturally, the more you bind the means, the less appealing your contract is to potential counterparties, but that’s a negotiated-reasonability issue that’s easy for reasonable sophs to work out between themselves.)

I also feel that I may save some time here by stating outright that the default answer to questions of the form “Can a contract…/…as valid?” is Yes for essentially anything that doesn’t directly contravene the Contract (or, by virtue of previous contract, the Charter). Exceptions to this are very rare indeed.

When it comes to saying things that need to be said but that you know the listener isn’t going to want to be hear, is it better to be polite or to be frank — inasmuch as there may be situations where adherence to the formal protocols of politeness may obscure the (real or perceived) urgency of your message?

Be polite. This is for two reasons:

First, the notion that you can’t be polite and frank/urgent at the same time is one of those products of having a tragically inadequate language, that doesn’t have evidentials and attitudinals and other features designed to convey exactly this sort of information.

Second, while not strictly true in a logical sense, it is heuristically true that rudeness is strongly correlated with poor argumentation and outright dark-side epistemology, and as such it is generally accepted throughout the Core Cultural Region that it is rarely worth listening to anyone who cannot comport themselves with appropriate propriety.

Which is not to say that you cannot be cutting, snarky, or indeed Sophisticated As Hell, as well as simply purveying unwanted truths, but the sophisticated part is not optional.

Does Imperial law have anything analogous to our “Son of Sam” laws?

No, principally because there’s never been a need. People who would otherwise be in a position to make money from publicizing their crime are generally either (a) too dead to do so, or (b) not prone to do so because they’ve been through meme rehab. Either way, it’s not been a significant issue.

The eldrae’s perspective on causes of action related to fraud and physical coercion have been expounded on at length, but what about mental and emotional coercion? Does Imperial law have anything analogous to “negligent” and/or “intentional infliction of emotional distress”?

No, for two reasons. The first is that what they might see as legitimate applications of our tort by that name are already covered. To use a couple of examples from Wikipedia’s article, there is “The common law tort of assault did not allow for liability when a threat of battery was not imminent,” a defect which the Imperial law’s tort of assault does not suffer from on at least two different grounds; and “An example of an act which might form the basis for a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress would be sending a letter to an individual falsely informing the person that a close family member had been killed in an accident,” something which there is illegal under the tort of falsification of information, and possibly a species of fraud. Other things might fall under, say, defamation, anharmonic indecency, etc., etc.

Those things that aren’t – i.e., don’t have an actual tortuous act at their core – well, they’re fluff. You don’t have a right not to be outraged, and you certainly don’t have a legal remedy for anything that isn’t unquestionably mala in se, not just mala in percipi.

A pair of somewhat related questions pertaining to the eldrae and their Blue and Orange Morality:

One: What would the eldrae think of the “seven deadly sins” and the corresponding “heavenly virtues” if they were introduced to them? Much has been said directly about their takes on pride and greed, and there’s plenty of indirect evidence for their probable takes on lust and sloth, but I’d be interested to see an in-depth treatment.

(I’m also curious as to whether they might actually see certain “opposed” virtue-vice pairs as actually being complementary, not conflicting.)

Well, let’s see. (And in short, obviously, because there would obviously *there* be a lot of written thought about such things, not all in agreement and suitable to ready summarization in a single in-depth blog post.)

First, it is perhaps worth listing the Nine Excellences, which are the closest equivalent to the virtues, although not all that close. These are: Unity (or self-integrity, perhaps); Honor (including within its scope the minor virtues of justice, truth, and clemency); Duty (including the minor virtues of liberality and tenacity); Courage; Harmony (including the minor virtues of beauty, courtesy, refinement, and the appreciation of excellence); Right Action; Liberty; and Dignity (including the minor virtues of pride, propriety, and temperance). There is no equivalent list for the vices; the Antithetical Heresies are manifold, inasmuch as there are always many more ways to be wrong than to be right, and in any case, are mere defects in the virtues. (As we’ve covered previously theologically speaking, evil, or Entropy, rather, has no essence of its own; it’s merely a distortion of a thing’s true essence.)

Second, it’s also worth mentioning a key philosophical note as expounded here: the empowering balance of passion and reason, talcoríëf and valxíjir, and the ideal encapsulated within, that of dispassionately and cold-mindedly choosing a course of action, and then carrying forth that action with absolute passion.

That done, let’s examine the sins in pairs with the virtues, as is often done:

Gluttony and Temperance: Now, temperance is also among the Nine Excellences, but with not quite the same meaning. After all, as the Word of Cinníäs puts it, “Lack is the greatest intemperance.” Ain’t nothing wrong with pleasure: eat, drink, be merry; sate yourself with all the world’s delights. These are the proper rewards of prosperity earned.

Temperance, if you ask the Prince of Wine, is defined as avoiding harming yourself or others (don’t be a mean drunk!), becoming a slave to addiction, or losing the proper joy in your pleasures. Abstemiousness for its own sake or for the sake of some notional “moderation” is pointless.

Greed and Charity: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge, has marked the upward surge of [sophontkind].”

– inevitable quotation at this point

Because, well, obviously. Greed and its handmaiden ambition are the spurs from which greatness and achievement in general come. Were it not for greed, desire, and ambition, people would still be living in caves and shitting in the woods. The Empire, great and glorious beyond all greatness and glory, didn’t achieve its current exalted state by modest means through modest ends – it achieved it by the starkly rapacious pursuit of awesomeness.

Or, to put it as one of the more colorful books addressing the topic might:

“What do you get if you disdain greed an’ ambition? Bunch of jackasses sitting around on their planet flippin’ each other off, writin’ smug little tracts about the naturalness of mortality and the moral superiority of poverty, wastin’ perfectly good extropy while the future passes them by. Their home biospheres must be so embarrassed to give rise to such perfect, unadulterated wankers.”

– Fíërí Lariantinos,
author of Fuck Me, Would You Look At These Assholes?
(approximate translation)

Now, sure, greed may inspire some people to wrong actions various, but that’s not greed’s fault, now is it? There is pretty much no notion in the world that can’t inspire wrong actions if misunderstood, and people who turn to theft and fraud and suchlike are not wrong for being greedy, they’re doing greed wrong.

So far as the charity side of things is concerned? Imperials do not approve of charity in the traditional theological sense, inasmuch as that sense implies self-sacrifice (not a popular notion; you can buy things with yourself in their praxis, but it’s an unfortunate and unavoidable necessity to be avoided whenever possible, not a virtue!) and other aspects of Comtean altruism. And, indeed, the nearest local equivalent of the Parable of the Widow’s Mite ends with the lesson that it is unwise to give away that which you need to take care of yourself, and that the eikones do not expect it of you.

On the other hand, you will note liberality listed among the virtues of the Nine Excellences, and indeed, liberality, generosity, and open-handedness are very much considered laudable. On the gripping hand, they are also considered to form very much the complementary pair with greed, since one’s capacity to be generous depends very much on one’s capacity to generate. They are two virtues, therefore, best practiced in conjunction.

rarity-my-little-pony-friendship-is-magic-20570179-570-402

tl;dr Rarity is best moral exemplar.

Lust and Chastity: Yay, lust! (See gluttony for pleasure and greed for desire, basically.)

Well, okay. Imperials are also very keen on some aspects of chastity. Discretion, which is the excellences of Dignity and Harmony. Honesty in relationships, as elsewhere. Commitment. The bounds of one’s obligations.

But within the bounds of obligation, commitment, and discretion, it’d be a sad and sorry thing if there weren’t some lust, now wouldn’t it? This is one of those talcoríëf-valxíjir each-in-its-place scenarios.

Sloth and Diligence: Sloth is spiritual Entropy, period. Often, specifically, the Antithetical Heresy of the Deedless Cripple. That’s a terrible, terrible sin indeed.

As far as diligence goes, though, they would say that that doesn’t go far enough. Diligence is merely doing what one ought do. By contrast, the excellence of Right Action implies not only that one should do what one ought do, but one should also strive to do more. Being content to only do what one ought do is itself a minor kind of, well, slothfulness.

Wrath and Patience: The only sinfulness of wrath, an Imperial would say, is that if you haven’t had your neurochemistry properly adjusted, wrath makes you stupid. Typically in ways that cause one to strike the wrong target, cause collateral damage, wander off into evil areas like torturing your enemies to death or harming innocents to hurt them indirectly, and/or get your damnfool self killed.

But once you have cold-mindedly ensured that you have the right target and have done the proper strategic and tactical planning, then go ahead and strike down upon those who attempt to poison and destroy your brothers with great vengeance and furious anger, and other colorful metaphors. It is… appropriate. Empowering one for such unpleasant necessities is what wrath is for.

As for patience: this depends on the aspects involved. They are very keen on those aspects such as “Building a sense of peaceful stability and harmony rather than conflict, hostility, and antagonism; resolving issues and arguments respectfully, as opposed to resorting to anger and fighting,” where possible, as you can see from the Excellences. That’s just good positive-sum sense as well as virtue.

On the other hand, it’s not an absolute virtue. As they’d point out with regard to us specifically, he who turns the other cheek has to put up with a lot of… cheek, and one of our more common tragedy-of-the-commons social failure modes is the way that a lot of bullshit persists because no-one’s willing to call the perpetrators on it.

They also notably prefer the virtue of clemency over that of forgiveness/mercy, because indiscriminate mercy tends to leave a lot of enemies at your back, sharpening knives. Clemency is more discriminating. Also, and they are very clear on this, that means you get a second chance. Key word: a. You do not get an arbitrary series of nth chances, because just as nice is not cognate with weak, kind is not cognate with stupid.

Envy and Kindness: Not a whole lot to say here. They are against envy and pro kindness.

(They would go so far as to say that they’re a lot better at spotting envy, given how much our society reeks of it and even promotes it as virtue under another name, but that’s what one might call an implementation detail.)

Pride and Humility: Ah, yes, pride. Pride is a virtue, on the one hand, because self-awareness is a virtue, and pride is self-awareness of your own awesome. It is a virtue on the other hand, symmetrically, because it creates the ideal version of yourself that you are compelled by it to live up to. Mirror and goad in one.

Hubris, though, is not a virtue, being a way to lie to yourself and to others – but, one should note, it’s never hubris if you can back it up. (Nor is arrogance, per the excellences of Harmony and Dignity, although steering away from unconscious arrogance is a hard, hard task.)

But humility is not a virtue for the precise same reason. It amounts to telling yourself that you aren’t as good as you are – which is also lying to yourself and to others. (And if even you’re accurately humble, it amounts to a claim of “I’m afraid I kinda suck”, to which the universal response of your annoyed colleagues *there* is “Well, stop it!“)

(ObSophontology: This may play better for species with hierarchical instincts where a lack of humility in subordinates may be perceived as a threat to the position of the leader. In eldrae, the reaction is more likely to be that a lack of pride in colleagues may be perceived as a gap in the competence of the group.)

Two: Much has been said about how eldraeic morality looks distinctly alien from human eyes, and how ours would accordingly look deficient in theirs — but is there such a thing as “taking it too far” on the opposite end of the pendulum swing? How would the eldrae criticize those whose particular deviation is not (metaphorically) a famine, but rather a surfeit?

Not deficient. Different, yes, and often plain wrong, but that’s as often because of too much as too little. See temperance above, for example, or the moral weight that many human moral systems place on purity or authority.

As such, that critique is likely to be along the lines of:

“Some vices miss what is right because they are deficient, others because they are excessive, in feelings or in actions, while virtue finds and chooses the mean.”

(That was Aristotle in “Nicomachean Ethics”, but it would fit just as well in the mouth of any dozen Imperial ethical philosophers.)

(And on a related note, what’s the typical reaction to those from criticized cultures whose reaction is to take the criticism to heart in such a way that they end up becoming “more eldrae than the eldrae” (in the sense of perhaps-superficial aping of behavior without apparent understanding of the underpinning psychology)?)

“They understand. They do not comprehend.”

(I mean, technically that’s the Heresy of the Thoughtless Churl, but, to steal another quote, “The very young do not always do as they are told.” In this case, it’s childish zeal. They’ll grow up in time and with a good example.)

What is the general attitude towards the idea of the “Socratic gadfly” or the “Devil’s advocate” — those people who advance arguments for controversial and unpopular views and measures less to seriously advocate their implementation, and more to encourage interesting discussion and / or get people to seriously think about why they are committed to the things they believe and espouse?

Annoying, but useful.

(Useful enough that people have devised Socratic questioning-daemons to run on your personal mindware, mark you, but still. Even the Intellectual Integrity Movement can only impress people with Socrates’ utility and get them to respect and listen to him; they can’t make him loved.)

So does the Imperial legal system lean more towards adversarial or inquisitorial procedure?

On the one hand, you’ve mentioned before that every citizen is expected to be able to argue their own case on their own behalf, which may imply an adversarial element. On the other hand, the whole notion that legal judgments should always be based on clearly enumerated principles in a comprehensive legal code as opposed to having the judiciary effectively legislate through case law precedent is very much a civil law idea, and most civil-law judiciaries tend to favor inquisitorial procedure.

This is a case where drawing too-close analogies to Earthly practice is likely to lead one into error, especially as the two concepts are only bound together by historical accident.

To address the latter point first, bear in mind that the comprehensive legal code exists for one reason: namely, you can’t reasonably expect people to follow the law if they don’t know what it is, and that means that there has to be somewhere they can go and look it up.

But the original Imperial Codex of Law was written as a codification of the very-much common law-like codes originally generated during the Ungoverned Era. And more relevantly, while it can be added to by legislation, it is also added to by binding precedent in the traditional case law manner. But, since the ability for people to check what the law is is still necessary, and there’s a limit to how big a precedent search you can expect a layman to perform, every dodecentury a commission goes through the last 144 years worth of case law and transmogrifies it into statute law, such that the Codex remains definitive – and then new precedent starts building up again, and the process repeats.

Which on the whole may be closer to the common-law model, but ain’t exactly it.

As for the former, it hews closer to the inquisitorial model. The justices of a Curial court are empowered to investigate anything they please, and do so once the case has been presented. There is typically an Advocate for Innocence and an Advocate for Guilt, who concentrate on the case from that particular perspective, but both are first and foremost officers of the court, whose primary oath-sworn goal is to find the truth, and never to win the case for my client, as is the case for any other contracted advocates, for that matter. (Forgetting this is a very quick way to end up out of the bar and into the dock.)

So you can think of it as a common-law system with a mostly-inquisitorial procedure for short, but that’s not an entirely accurate picture.

Given the prevalence of space dwellers, sustainable closed habitats, sophisticated in situ resource harvesting techniques, and the quasi-magical Clarkean matter-energy cornucopias underpinning it all, are there any particularly notable groups that effectively make the on-the-go, take-your-home-with-you approach into their way of life? Are there any especially notable large-scale nomadic or itinerant movements, whether in the old sense of communities like the gypsy caravans or Central Asian steppe hordes, or the subculture-sense like the “RV lifestyle” or the traveling hippies whose home is their beat-up VW bus?

There are nomadic space travelers in canon, yes, including some entire species.

Speaking specifically for the eldrae, there are the Traveling Houses, who have embraced the on-the-go lifestyle since the Bronze Age-equivalent with various tech and scale updates as they go, and some of the Variosotec maintain their plains-dwelling nomadic heritage into the modern era, along with some other cultures…

…and that’s all I’m going to say about that for now, because I may/will want to do something with them in the future, and so am not going to spill the details in advance. 🙂

You know, after doing some thinking, it strikes me that, at times, there’s an awful fine line between qalasir and “pernicious irrationality” — fine enough to make me wonder if any outsiders have ever accused the Empire of practicing some form of doublethink by alternately exalting as a fundamental virtue and condemning as a fundamental vice the same thing under two different names.

And, if so, what the Empire’s philosophers and moralists response would look like.

“Category error.”

…approximately. I mean, that’s getting your supergoal drives and your volition dynamics all mixed up with your cognitive methodologies. Comparing whats, muches, and hows. You don’t want to do that. Nothing but confusion will ensure.

(Although there is a slight asymmetry inasmuch as while reason can’t tell you what to want, it can tell you what not to want. And yet.)

This may also be further illuminated by contemplation of the empowering paradox of passion and reason, as discussed above.

A few queries on language:

1. What is the Eldraeic language’s name for itself and its speakers?

The people are elen eldra informally, or el eldaratha more formally. (Which, as is traditional, means “the People”, or literally, “the thinking ones”.) The language, therefore, is el traeldra laranlír (“eldrae-type-of language”, where laranlír ‘s roots could be glossed “song-of-words”.)

2. Is there a central regulating body / “language academy” that mandates proper language use (whether formally or informally), or is the situation more like English where there’s simply a broad consensus with lots of room for variation? (Or, given the free-wheeling “emergent order” attitude the eldrae take to nearly everything else, is is sort of a mix of both?)

A mix of both.

The version published by the Keepers of the Language, themselves part of the Conclave of Linguistics and Ontology, in turn part of the Eupraxic Collegium, is definitive. Of course, since they also train professional logotects, eonymics, and sphragists, it’s also innovative.

This doesn’t prevent unofficial linguistic innovation, of course, but at least it generally keeps it to innovation, and holds the line on meaning-degrading changes and other forms of linguistic entropy. Since, yes, emerging order and the professionals can’t predict all the innovation that is required, the Keepers include several departments whose function is to harvest unofficial linguistic innovations and roll them back into the next release of the canonical language.

3. Are there any particularly strong examples of fixed expressions or collocations in Eldraeic?

Yes.

(Not really equipped right now to pull some out randomly, but I know there are several seen in various back postings here.)

4. You’ve mentioned elsewhere that the language has a diverse array of honorifics. Are there any particularly common (or otherwise good-to-know, such as when addressing Their Divine Majesties or the local runer) ones beyond daryteir?

Leaving aside titles, a non-native speaker without special requirements probably should be prepared with respectful-address, to-a-professional-in-their-context, to-an-[Excellence|Exquisite|Perfect|Paragon], to-an-[exultant|praetor|runér], from-one-who-demands-by-right, from-one-who-acknowledges-fault, and to-one-whom-one-does-not-know.

If invited to anything out of the ordinary, ask the symposiarch. That’s what they’re there for.

5. Given the heavy focus on logic in constructing the language, how tolerant is Eldraeic of paraconsistent logic? (For that matter, how comfortable are Imperials and the eldrae themselves with paraconsistent logic in the general case?)

The language supports it as another tool in the auxiliary set.

(It’s only a tool, mind. It’s a way of handling lack-of-knowledge problems, since reality itself cannot be inconsistent, only incomplete.

And the general view of things is that multi-valued logics, especially probabilistic and specifically Bayes-descended logics have proven themselves a superior way of dealing with these problems, but there’s no particular objection to it. Unless you assert that it actually reflects reality, at least.)

On the subject of the Equality Concord, we know that they make heavy use of mind-state manipulation and memory redaction. But what level of self-awareness do the members have? Are there any members who are completely non-self-aware?

All the equalitarians are fully sophont. It wouldn’t be nearly as creepifying if it was just one of those bizarre p-zombie cults that crop up from time to time.

 

Feel Free To Skip: An Election-Time Question Response

How would one, given the current situation on Terra, move humanity towards becoming something more Imperial, and in doing so, not cause massive amounts of death and destruction?

…if I had an answer to that one, I’d be Chairman of the Vanguard Party, not an ‘umble SF author.

(Honestly, if I was feeling all upbeat and hopeful at the moment, I’d say “education, enlightenment – and the Enlightenment – and maybe some voluntary cognitive surgery”.

If I was feeling less serious, I’d go with a Dr. Horrible quote and say “Anarchy – that I run!”

But it’s election season here in These United States, and as I’m unable to escape the spectacle of almost everyone trying to decide whether to kneel before the monochrome authoritarian or the colorful fascist and receive their leavings of the screwing about to be rightfully delivered to the Other-Tribal-Americans, those unspeakable, interchangeable bastards, my opinion of humanity in general is busy experimenting to see if it can find some new depths to sink to, and so I’m going to quote a somewhat different part of the Horrible canon:

Any dolt with half a brain
Can see that humankind has gone insane
To the point where I don’t know
If I’ll upset the status quo
If I throw poison in the water main

Listen close to everybody’s heart
And hear that breaking sound
Hopes and dreams are shattering apart
And crashing to the ground

I cannot believe my eyes
How the world’s filled with filth and lies
But it’s plain to see
Evil inside of me is on the rise

…without the counterpoint.

I might be more than just a little bitter, cynical, and depressively-triggered right now, despite the best efforts of the medications. Ask again later.)

 

The Sanction (also, Questions)

Responding at once to a couple of past questions:

3. Roughly where does the dividing line between “coercion” and “acceptable-if-pernicious exploitation of another’s flaws and failings” lie?

When it violates someone’s fundamental rights and/or their mental integrity (i.e., doesn’t pass through their volition).

To give a specific scenario that relates to a particular longstanding brain-bug of mine: If, say, an “aggressive hegemonizing negative-amortizing subprime lending swarm agent” were to construct and offer a loan contract and payment plan that is tailor-made to exploit a lesser sophont’s overconfidence in their own abilities and failure to fully internalize the implications of the wheat-and-chessboard problem specifically so that the creditor can have a legitimate (or “legitimate”) excuse to Foreclose On All The Things when the impossible-to-pay loan comes due.

That’s non-coercive and non-fraudulent, unless it’s actively hiding things, and so legal. It’s scummy, but it’s legal – and, incidentally, the reason why (given the below on the need to make good choices and the reasons not to protect people from making bad ones) they teach you how to interpret these things in the local equivalent of middle school, which includes a very pointed section on why one must never, ever, ever agree to anything that one does not fully understand.

And on a comment back here:

At what point does the Empire start expressing it’s disapproval of hucksters who find a way to lawyer the letter of an agreement into something that enriches them and leaves the other party f****d?

The Empire doesn’t. (For three reasons:

One: a great and abiding respect for freedom of choice, which necessarily implies not armchair-quarterbacking other people’s choices, and includes even the No-Backsies Principle, in which it won’t undo choices just because in retrospect they turn out not to be the choices that one would prefer to have made.

Two: Because once you start getting into the reasoning behind people’s choices and the values that lead up to them, things rapidly start getting subjective as all hell. The Curia is proud of its elegant system of objective law free from personal bias, but as soon as it starts trying to decide what agreements ought to be acceptable to whom and which shouldn’t be, it’s inserting its personal subjective opinions into matters of justice where they don’t belong.

And finally, Three: Because the more you protect people from the consequences of their bad choices, the more you end up with a civilization full of helpless chumps who can’t make good choices.

The Empire looks at civilizations where this, that, and the other are strictly regulated to avoid the necessity of thought or reading what you’re about to sign, and the courts are more than happy to undo any decision that they deem sufficiently unwise, and so forth, and sees a population of serfs that want to be serfs, because they’ve learned helplessness to the point that they can’t even imagine being able to run their own affairs.

And it wants none of it. People won’t ever achieve eudaimonia if you turn ’em into coddled chattel.)

So, as I said, the Empire doesn’t. Imperials, however, do, via a fine array of socially-mediated consequences.

The Sanction

Now, it seems to me I have perhaps not been clear as to exactly how far these socially-mediated consequences can go. There are, obviously, initial consequences to burning your reputational assets with, say, the Ephemeral Contract and the Desirable Counterparty Meta-Rep Association, inasmuch as you’ll quickly find yourself doing business from an unfavorable position with extra surcharges and restrictions on top. But that’s not the end of it.

Recall that the Empire has a genuinely free free market, and all trades are done strictly by consent; i.e., absolutely no-one is ever compelled to do business with anyone they don’t wish to do business with.

And then there is the Accord of Adamant. (Because it’s both transparent and hard.) It isn’t governmental at all; it’s simply a private agreement among gentlesoph traders – virtually all gentlesoph traders – to shun those who are declared to be acting with very poor form. And, transitively, to also shun those pledged to the Accord who decline to shun when called upon, since that damages the effectiveness of the Accord.

(If you’ve read Wright’s Golden Age trilogy, you can think of them as something like – although not identical to – the College of Hortators.)

Now what you see in the above linked post is what qualifies as a gentle if pointed reminder. “These people aren’t playing by the rules in this business, so don’t contract with them in this business.” That is not the limit. The limit is the sort of thing that the hypothetical asshat with his carefully constructed contracts that, while consensual and within the letter of the law, are nonetheless designed explicitly to screw people over, is going to run into.

Namely, full sanction. In which the Accord posts a call-and-advisory that no-one should contract with you ever.

So much for your bank account. That’s a service, and you’re under full sanction. Get used to dealing in the cash economy.

Except no-one will take your money, because you’re under full sanction.

Want to pay your rent? Full sanction. Buy food and water? Full sanction, or if you’re really lucky, buying bread from gray-market slash-traders at a 50,000% markup. (And gods help you if you’re a spacer, because hab fees and/or air supply services? Full sanction.) Communications? Full sanction. Travel? Full sanction, which includes with the odocorps who own a lot of the actual roads, upon which your presence outside the public right-of-way concessions would now be trespassing. Tort insurance, incarnation insurance, health care? Full. Sanction.

You can’t even beg for alms, because giving them to you? Would break the sanction.

Using the letter of the law to defeat the spirit of the law is something which the law, definitionally, can’t handle, but other social institutions have ways to ensure that indulging in that sort of thing puts you on a very unpleasant path to one of three ends:

Escalating until you do something for which the hammer of the law will come down on you; or

Fleeing the Empire; or

Starving, alone and freezing, in the dark. (At which point a municipal robot removes your corpse for hygienic disposal and bills your estate for the city’s costs.)

Such sanctions are a pretty useless weapon for an individual, or a group – even a large group – because of the level of cooperation required. But if you manage to be the kind of demented-if-lawful-to-the-letter asshole that society as a whole gets pissed off at, well, society can take away all the benefits of participation that it once offered you without once crossing a single coercive line.

 

Questions: Sleep, Implied Contracts, Twinning, Pandeism, Cascading Default, The Drowning, Deals with the Devil, White Elephants, and Stargates

Random thought: Do eldrae sleep?

Yes, except for a few unconventionally modified clades. Specifically, it’s necessary in order to dream – because bio-brains get very unhappy when they don’t get their maintenance downtime. The nowline doesn’t need as much as the baseline (being quite happy to sustain three to four hours a night, or go without for several days if given an extended rest period thereafter), but that’s about where the diminishing returns set in.

The unconventional modifications tend to each come with their own disadvantages.

Do Imperial law and common custom acknowledge the validity of implied contracts, whether implied-in-fact or implied-at-law?

Not as such. The Curial courts have no particular desire to have to invent the terms of contracts and try to parse out the meeting of the minds that may or may not have been.

Instead, to save time, they have form contracts, which are basically library functions in contract law that can be invoked by various things: purchasing over the counter, entering a brawler’s bar, and various other legally defined social rituals. That ensures that the terms are defined, and contracts are always entered into intentionally.

You mentioned that sometimes someone can acquire a backup twin if their incarnation insurer mistakenly believes them to be dead. How is this resolved legally? Is property and assets split evenly? How about debts and obligations? Relationships? Can one arrange in advance what will happen and are there established precedents and norms?

When one person becomes two, the basic legal rule (in the absence of any specific agreements between self and self otherwise) is that various things attaching to them instead attach to the corporate body of both of them. So their property and assets, rather than being split, are jointly owned by both of them; they are jointly and severally liable for all debts and obligations; like any other contracts, they are jointly and severally attached to any relationships they’re in; and so on and so forth.

If it happens accidentally, such that there isn’t any previous agreement, it’s up to the new selves to exchange rights and obligations and buy each other out. Or, y’know, remerge and become one person again.

How are disputes resolved (for those foolish enough not to be able to come to an agreement with themselves).

If all else fails, they can always call on the Curial courts to make a division for them. (This is not recommended; the Curial courts dislike having to referee this sort of thing that reasonable people should be able to work out between themselves, so doing that guarantees that you’ll get a solution that neither of you will like.)

So what would the eldrae make of the idea of pandeism — that the Universe as we know it came about when a Creator of necessarily immense power and knowledge (though explicitly not an omnipotent and omniscient Deity in the classical Abrahamic vein), for whatever reason, ceased to be a unitary consciousness? How compatible would such an idea be with the precepts of the Flamic faith if someone were to make an effort to reconcile the two?

On one level, it has very few compatibility problems – the Flamic faith expends much more time on ethos than cosmos, as evidenced by its existing multiple creation myths which don’t trouble themselves particularly with consistency. And it’s no stranger an idea than many of those creation myths are, particularly in these days of mechanimism and pervasive nanoecologies.

It may, however, somewhat troubled by the pretty clear notion among the Flamics that the creator is a schmuck, for making (or in this case, becoming) such a fundamentally broken universe in the first place. So it would need to be a school of pandeism that can cope with the idea of performing invasive surgery on a blind, idiot, possibly suicidal deity.

And perhaps more interestingly, if said Creator were to have left behind some sort of “last will and testament” (or some other analogous set of injunctions) in the fundamental fabric of the Universe’s structure for its possible beneficiaries to decode and implement, what sort of considerations would the Imperial Curia have to take into account in deciding whether to accept it as a valid and enforceable document?

A contract with only one party is no contract. (Leaving aside the special case of contracts with one’s future self, which is the form many oaths take.) Nor can a creator bind their sophont creations, because they’re independent of will. So between those two alone, it’s not looking good for enforceability.

And the content is going to affect how seriously anyone might take it as advice, even. As mentioned before, the creator is a schmuck. No-one’s going to take the word of the entity responsible for either screwing up and creating entropy, or worse, deliberately creating entropy, as particularly ineffable.

When there are just two parties involved, debt and obligation seem to be pretty straightforward: Once you undertake an obligation, you assume liability for discharging it, and if you default, Bad Things Happen.

However, how do things work out under Imperial law and eldraeic practice when, for instance, A’s default on their obligation to B causes a “domino effect” where B is unable to fulfill their obligations to C as a direct result, causing C to default in turn on their obligations to D, who then has to default against E, etc.? Is each party still responsible solely for its own obligations, or is there some mechanism by which part or all of their liability in this matter can be assigned to A for their role in knocking over the first domino?

“You, and only you, are responsible for yourself,” as the old legal maxim has it.

Contract arrangements delegating risk notwithstanding, you are responsible for all of your obligations. If you choose to subcontract some of your obligations, well then, you’ll want to be confident you have a backup, can cover a potential default yourself, or otherwise hedge  it (using subguard insurance, say, or surety bonds, just like in our system, or guild backing of the subcontractor).

(The courts do have systems to stack cases and process them together for optimal handling in the event of cascading defaults, but that’s merely a convenience feature.)

1. So what’s the “Big Picture” historical view on the Drowning of the People? The “It all happened in seven hours” tale makes for a good yarn to tell around a campfire or kitchen table, but I’m sure that there must have been plenty of preexisting movements, trends, and ideas well before the event itself that all came to a head in that moment.

Actually, that’s more or less accurate for that part of it.

As indicated, the preparations for the revolution took place over years, and the overthrow itself took about a year from start to finish – and afterwards, it took more years to establish the start of what would later be known as the institutions of the Ungoverned Era, to put them on a proper philosophical grounding with the existing ideas floating around (including but not limited to this particular philosopher), and even more time for those to coalesce into the first things resembling a modern Society of Consent…

…but the part where the revolution decided that the democratic faction of their leadership were trying to be the new boss, just like the old boss, and chucked them over a waterfall? That happened pretty much as described.

2. While we’re on the subject of the days of yore, does eldraeic folklore or mythology have any tales in the same vein as the “deal with the devil” plot, where an ambitious yet impatient and shortsighted individual makes some kind of pact with an unsavory sort that (to put it mildly) ends up putting them at a disadvantage, and has to find some sort of loophole to escape their obligation or else risk eternal damnation (or some other equally sordid fate)?

I haven’t written any of them yet, and they are obviously somewhat different inasmuch as most Eldraeic belief systems have/had no adversary/negative-principle personification, merely a negative cosmic force, but it seems quite certain that there are plenty of fairy tales with morals relating to incautious pledges, yes.

(Many of them do probably relate to Úlmiríën, the Necessary Chaos, eikone of rogues, shapeshifters, trickery, epiphanies and unwonted revelations, and sudden paradigm shifts, but hesh’s not a evil deity, but a trickster deity whose bargains, while often painful, teach. Hesh is, after all, the Necessary Chaos.)

Does the Empire have an equivalent of the proverbial “white elephant,” either as an idiom or as an actual “gift”?

The concept exists, as does the social maneuver, although as yet I do not know their names.

After reading that the Empire sends out automated stargate deployment ships, and so there are systems with stargates in them that are otherwise largely unexplored, a thought struck me. How would the Empire respond if they sent a scout through one of these stargates and discovered that there was another non-Imperial, non-Voniensan stargate already in that system? Has that, in fact, ever happened?

By doing SCIENCE to it!

(Carefully and respectfully, of course, certainly. But it’s an obvious scenario that leads to seeking out more of that knowledge and friendship that the Exploratory Service is so keen on.)

And, per below, it has happened…

Also, regarding stargates in the Worlds, the Empire and the Republic are the only folks with the capability to make them, no? I know you’ve said before that Ring Dynamics made most of the stargates in the Worlds, but you never really hinted at anyone else having a weylforge (other than whatever it is that the Republic’s been mining), so I assumed that the non-RD gates were of Imperial manufacture too, just technically by different companies or maybe state-owned.

Ring Dynamics is the only Imperial company in that business, and owns and operates all of the Empire’s gates, under one contract or another, as well as leasing gates and selling gate services elsewhere.

The (rare) non-Ring-Dynamics ones, for the most part and subject to the author’s better-idea privileges, are almost all either rediscovered ancient paleotech relics (many of which are administered by Ring Dynamics under contract because, well, they have people who understand the tech), or belong to local Vingean Powers who figured it out on their own.