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

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

Here goes:

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

With a clarificatory follow-up:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– but they don’t do so very often.

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

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

They don’t hold with that.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trope-a-Day: Police Brutality

Police Brutality: Usually averted, day to day, as the Watch Constabulary is very well trained, highly disciplined, and – as the instrument of force that is legally permitted to apply it, law for the enforcement of – rigorously monitored and audited to make sure that it’s doing it properly.  Especially where the rights of the accused-and-therefore-not-yet-determined-to-be-guilty are concerned.

Played straight in a lethal, although not any other, sense inasmuch as the Empire, in general, maintains a very broad right of self- and other- and property defense where the regular citizen-shareholders are concerned – which is to say, there isn’t a reasonable force doctrine and you can shoot at criminals to protect any of those – and while the police are somewhat more restricted in that they’re obliged to try and arrest you, they aren’t actually any more restricted than regular citizen-shareholders where preventing crimes in progress are concerned if you are unwilling to be arrested.  Criminals caught by the Constabulary in the commission of a crime are advised to surrender immediately, for this reason.

Subverted where riots, occupations, and suchlike are concerned, inasmuch as Imperial law classifies these sorts of things as “insurrection”, and while the police won’t be brutal, that’s because insurrection is a military matter – and the situation will therefore be handled by people for whom “arrest” is outside their job description.

Plague and Quarantines

First, on a personal note, an apology to regular readers that things have been a little slow and irregular around here recently; for the last week or so I’ve been fighting off a dose of some inconsiderate virus whose symptoms appear to include bitter sinus headaches and sleeping eighteen-plus hours a day, neither of which is exactly conducive to getting much in the way of writing done…

Hopefully I’m on the mend now. And today, my plan is to hand out some chunks of worldbuilding that I have been able to work on while plague-ridden, by way of sharing what I have got. So, to begin with the thematically appropriate…

Coincidentally, thinking of plague, I happened this morning across a Seanan McGuire interview, and specifically, this section of it:

You’ve said that the modern lack of respect for basic health and quarantine procedures makes you want to scream.

No one respects quarantine anymore! Nobody comprehends quarantine, and absolutely nobody comprehends the fact that sometimes your “rights” and “liberties” do not have any place in this conversation. We have totally drug-resistant tuberculosis! And what do people with totally drug-resistant tuberculosis do? Do they lock themselves in their houses for the rest of their lives? Do they eat a bullet? No! They get on airplanes. And then they get pissed off when the CDC yells at them. Quarantine exists so that we can continue as a species to exist. And yes, it sucks if I say to you, “Dude, really sorry, had to shoot your wife. Had the totally drug-resistant tuberculosis, yo.” But you know what sucks more? Killing an elementary school because you went outside with your totally drug-resistant tuberculosis.

And, well, that’s obviously a question they’ve had to resolve in the Eldraeverse, which equally obviously is somewhere where your rights and liberties absolutely definitely have a place in the conversation, and woe betide anyone who might suggest otherwise…

But, that being said, it’s not something they find particularly hard to reconcile. After all, it says it pretty clearly in the Fundamental Contract:

“A person’s property and domicile may not be moved, destroyed, occupied, damaged, altered, or made use of without his informed consent. A person’s body is considered his own property, and so are his work and his services.”

…which is already the basis for why assaulting someone with, say, your fist, is considered unethical and unlawful. As is using a weapon of conventional construction. As is doing so negligently, so you can’t simply shoot randomly and assign the responsibility to whoever happens to walk in front of your bullet.

So, therefore, is negligently assaulting someone with your parasite, bacterium, virus, prion, etc. The difference here is quantitative, not qualitative.

Application, of course, varies. If you’re just that jackass who insists on going to work, or out to shop, say, with your streaming cold, or whatever, then your tort insurer is not going to be very happy with you at all, because your litigation losses in the microtort system are going to add up pretty damn fast.

Go walking around the town with a more serious but still not uncommon and treatable disease, the sort of thing we used to think of as common childhood ailments – well, then, someone’s getting sued, and someone’s going to court, and someone’s getting smacked down very thoroughly (heavy restitutive and punitive fines, meme rehab, etc.) for negligent battery of some class or another if they managed to actually infect anyone, because that shit? That shit is not acceptable.

Now, when it comes to the really serious things, the things the CDC *here* does not hesitate to impose quarantines for, like the local equivalent of said utterly drug-resistant tuberculosis, or ebola, and other such things of that class…

Well, technically

Technically, in theory, the Office of Disease and Toxin Control, Prevention, and Elimination can only post “quarantine advisories”.

But in practice, anyone who goes around breathing utterly drug-resistant tuberculosis over people is committing acts negligently equivalent to biological warfare with every glob of sputum they cough up, and that, right there, invokes that other fundamental sophont right, the Right of Defense and Common Defense.

So they can’t force you to stay either inside your home or, should you need to travel outside it, inside an IOSS 21347-compliant bionano containment suit.

They can, however, shoot you in the head, incinerate your corpse, and apologize afterwards if you don’t. (As can anyone else, of course, but the professionals like to get there first.)

Question: Terrorism and Open Societies

Here’s another one from the question box: I received a link to this article from a skeptical reader who questions how – or indeed if – the sort of open society I describe could possibly cope with this sort of lone-wolf, home-grown terrorism by individual extremists, needing few contacts and little equipment.

First, just because you have an open society that, by and large, is not interested in investing a lot of time into controlling what people do doesn’t necessarily mean that your security services suck. (Indeed, one could convincingly argue that they ought to be better, inasmuch as they can spend all their time concentrating on things that are actually mala in se rather than wasting a lot of time on authoritarian-moistening bullshit.)

Suffice it to say, canonically, while greatly restricted in what they can do to people who haven’t committed any sort of crime, the Watch Constabulary and the Fourth Directorate are nonetheless very good at what they do.

Second, of course, is that the Empire is rather picky about who can get citizen-shareholdership in the first place, and extends this particular pickiness even to people who were born there. You don’t get it for free just by accident of birth; it comes with responsibilities as well as rights, and if you cannot sit under an alethiometer and honestly declare that, yes, you do intend to honor the Contract and the Charter and all their implications (something that your homegrown radical could not any more than a would-be immigrant one), no citizen-shareholdership for you. And if you fail that test badly enough, well, here’s a ticket, now get the hell out.

(This is naturally decried as extremely culturalist, which it is; the standard response to such criticism is that no, it’s not prejudice, they have a perfectly valid postjudice against cultures that don’t respect the sophont rights of others, and in any case, the opinions of a of bunch of self-asserted advocates for thugs, thieves, slavers, defaulters, and other such degenerates will be filed in the appropriate receptacle.)

And thirdly, the Eupraxic Collegium does have a compelling interest of ensuring that the ungoverned, self-organizing public are, well, sane and rational, that being what permits a free society like this to exist in the first place, and are well equipped so to do.

But lastly, of course and for the major part, is the difference in attitude.

As has been mentioned before, I believe, the Imperial legal view of self-defense (or, rather, self-and-others defense) is somewhat different than ours, in that one is not, for example, obliged to wait until someone actualizes a threat in order to respond to it. You are entitled to take people at their word: if someone threatens you or someone else nearby, you can preempt their attack with your defense all you like. There is absolutely no duty to retreat: someone who attacks, or threatens to attack, is by definition, eo ipso, etc., in the wrong and invited the painful consequences that are about to ensue. And, for that matter, they think “proportional response” is the damn silliest idea they’ve ever heard of (with the possible exceptions of fighting fair and telling the enemy that you’re coming), so if you have to put someone down, you’re entitled to make sure that they don’t get back up.

The Imperial Rules of Civilized Warfare mirror this pretty much exactly on the group level, as you might expect.

In the above article, one quotation given is:

“Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict,” an Islamic State spokesman said in a September audio speech. “Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling.”

…you can say that kind of thing relatively safely on Earth.

Hell, you could say that thing kind of safely to a lot of people in the Worlds who share similar attitudes to people on Earth.

But if you say that thing to or about the Empire, or Imperial citizen-shareholders, that’s a preemptive self-and-others-defense casus belli right there, and it’s probably even the kind that invokes the “we don’t need no steenkin’ central ruling, this is covered under ‘imminent threat that will not admit of delay'” clause that lets any local commander act on their own military authority.

There, you say that sort of thing from any sort of position of authority, and shit is going down. Hell, you just sent said shit a gild-edged, engraved, heavy-bond-paper invitation to come party at your place and bring all its implements of destruction.

And so, when it comes to another illustrative quote:

“They’ve realized, hey, if our intent is to scare the s–t out of people—to trigger heavy-handed responses by government, to force isolation of the Muslim community, pushing them to more radicalization—what do you have to do? Take two guys into a mall, shoot it up, and you’re done. You’ll be out of there in 15 minutes, and we’ll be talking about it for days and weeks and months.”

Well, it’s true that that would be an excellent way to trigger heavy-handed responses from the Imperial governance, yes. The problem, however, is that so far as opinion there is concerned, our idea of a heavy-handed response is so much self-harming (because tightening security inflicts pain upon many-n of your own people for every n bad guys it catches, even before you start counting false positives) theatrical bullshit.

The way you do a proper heavy-handed response to polity-encouraged terrorism is to send out Admiral Cluster Bomb to turn Mister-Likes-To-Make-Threats-And-Encourage-People into Mister-Ash-At-The-Bottom-Of-A-Glass-Lined-Crater, preferably before anyone actually has a chance to make good on any of said threats.

In short: what keeps terrorism out of the Empire’s open society is that, by and large, would-be terrorists’ sponsors and encouragers have much easier targets to pick on than the one that will murderize, tenderize, and vaporize you from orbit the moment after you open your mouth and then pat itself on the back, standin’ up for civilized values and all, for doing it, not a twinge of conscience needed.

And it’s not like this is a hidden or an inconsistent policy. They’re very open about this policy and they do it every time, and have been doing so for ever, which has the decided advantage of ensuring that it’s a very rare occasion when they have to do it at all.

Trope-a-Day: Genocide Dilemma

Genocide Dilemma: The remarkably cynical view of the Conclave of Galactic Polities on this particular issue is that, yes, genocide is wrong and very, very illegal.  On the other hand, some species, polities, religions, or other groups are just so determinedly xenocidal that so long as they exist, they’re going to be starting wars and making someone miserable.  On the gripping hand, if someone insists on attacking you, you’re allowed to defend yourself even if they keep attacking you until you’ve self-defensed them all to death, which by and large solves the problem to the satisfaction of what has always, so far, been a working majority of the Accord.