Questions: Spite, Amendments, Nomic, Favor-Trading

So what’s the eldraeic take on spite? (In both the game theoretic and emotional senses.)

In the former, that it’s pointless and self-defeating, inasmuch as it’s a negative-sum interaction. You lose, they lose. The best you can do in a spiteful interaction is come out relatively better off because they lost more than you did, even though in absolute terms you end up worse off yourself. Simply walking away or minimum-cost defensive action wins every time.

(Humans are prone not to think of it this way because exchanging absolute losses for relative gains makes sense if you’re operating on primate relative status instincts; you get a larger piece of a smaller pie. Eldrae, contrariwise, tend to think of relative status games as perhaps the single dumbest notion the universe ever came up with, and so recognize that they’d be worsening their own position right off the bat.)

So far as the emotional sense is concerned, it’s spiritual entropy. The sort of thing that chews away at the soul, and if indulged or unless corrected, likely to end up leading you directly into one of the Antithetical Heresies, probably the Defiling Nihility with a chance of the Obstructive Naysayer.

More pointedly, what’s their take on Hamiltonian spite?

It has all the negative qualities of Wilsonian spite, with the additional fillip that it’s pure-quill “To improve my position it is sufficient to worsen someone else’s.” In their above-mentioned paradigm, that qualifies as both stupid and evil, as well as unsatisfying (the one-eyed human king might be able to derive satisfaction from seeing better than all his blind subjects, but it would never occur to the one-eyed eldrae to use other people as his yardstick in the first place).

How amenable is the Imperial Charter to amendment or revision? We’ve been made aware that it’s possible, but how does the amendment mechanism itself work?

The amendment mechanism is a spectacular pain in the ass. Of course, that’s by design; if you can’t push whatever amendment you wanted to make through said spectacular pain in the ass, it almost certainly wasn’t both important and generally agreed with enough to be an amendment. Specifically to quote:

Article IV: On the Amendment of this Charter
After the ratification and implementation of this Charter, amendments may be proposed for consideration in three ways:

  1. By a two-thirds vote of each of the Chambers of the Senate; or
  2. By a proposal put forward, concurrently or consecutively, by two-thirds of the demesnes of the Empire; or
  3. By a citizen proposal, put forward in the same manner as an initiative, which achieves the support of one-third of the citizen population.

Any amendment proposed for consideration by either of these methods shall first require a substantive vote of each of the three Chambers of the Senate for ratification;

And, this having been achieved, shall then require a three-quarters vote in a plebiscite of all citizens of the Empire for further ratification;

And shall then become effective on the first day of the next year, following this final ratification.

A substantive vote, incidentally, means a 5/6ths vote rather than a 2/3rds vote of a substantively quorate Senate. So in order to approve an amendment, you have to win 2/3rds of each of the three Chambers of the Senate, or 2/3rds of all the constituent nations, or 1/3rd of the citizen-shareholders; then win 5/6ths of each of the three Chambers of the Senate; then win 3/4s of the citizen-shareholders (total, not just voting).

There’s a reason it’s only been amended 12 times in over 7,000 years.

Also, there are some parts that can’t be amended at all:

Article V: Irrevocable Provisions
The provisions listed here within shall not be amended, nor shall their amendment be proposed. They shall remain above all power of amendment or repeal.

  • Section I, Article I: On this Charter
  • Section I, Article III: Limitations of Imperial Government
  • Section I, Article IV: On the Amendment of this Charter
  • Section I, Article V: Irrevocable Provisions
  • Section I, Article VI: Dissolution
  • Section III, Article III: Fundamental Rights of the Sophont
  • Section III, Article VI: Nonrestriction
  • Section III, Article VII: Equal Protection
  • Section III, Article X: Renunciation
  • Section IV, Article I: On Sovereignty
  • Section IV, Article II: Full Faith and Credit

For various reasons. Not kicking away the latter you’re standing on while you’re on it (I.I, IV.I), because the governance shouldn’t invent new roles for itself without going through the proper procedure (I.III), because amending the amendment rules or the irrevocable sections would defeat the whole point of having them (I.IV, I.V), because when they said inalienable they meant it (III.III, III.VI, IV.II), because there shouldn’t be special privileges in ethics (III.VII, IV.I again, IV.II again), and because people shouldn’t be deprived of their right to wind up their collective body (I.VI) or their right of exit (III.X).

And the Curia will throw out any proposals that are going to make the whole thing nonsensical due to innate self-contradictoriness, or suchlike.

But apart from that? Easy.

By extension, how comfortable are the eldrae with incorporating nomic mechanisms into games and contracts, as a general rule?

Perfectly comfortable… when used appropriately and properly scoped. A fully general nomic contract is a potential suicide mission, in the same way that a unilaterally, arbitrarily modifiable contract is, and no-one in their right mind’d consent to that. But building nomically adaptive contracts such that they can handle unanticipated changes within the essential scope of the contract – well, doing that is exactly how smart-contracts began in the first place.

Given how it’s an eldraeic principle that everything can be quantized in some fashion, can (and do) favors accrue “interest” in some fashion, just like monetary debts and balances?

They could, if the people involved wanted to set them up that way. In practice, they don’t: a debt carries interest because of the opportunity cost of lending money; namely, you can’t spend it while you don’t have it (and you risk losing it) and that deserves compensation. But unlike money, there’s not the same opportunity cost of having an outstanding favor.

Is there such a thing as “favor arbitrage,” where you can make arrangements to connect people you owe favors with people who owe you favors to resolve both at a profit to yourself?

In a manner of speaking. If A owes B and B owes C, connecting A and C transfers A’s debt to C, paying off B’s, and then performance pays off A’s, leaving no-one indebted to anyone.

Now if you happen to have collected a lot of favors, like, say, the Marquis de Carabas, and you happen to know people who could use certain favors from certain people, you can certainly arrange introductions there, at which point the provider no longer owes you and the recipient owes you one. And some path-pointers operate in this mode to transfer in one direction or another favors you can’t use or can’t fulfil, either way. But that’s not you doing it: that’s involving a third party, whom you owe for their trouble.

Also mainly in reference to favors, but with potential application to monetary debts as well: We all know by now the Imperial attitude to failing to discharge an obligation that you owe to someone else, but what’s their attitude about imbalances perpetuated by the creditor refusing to, say, take payment offered in good faith for an “early release,” or intentionally holding a favor in reserve to call in at an advantageous time?

Well, I think their first question would be “what imbalances?”

(I mean, in the first case, well, unless there’s an early release clause in the contract, it’s not like you have a right to early release – and if there is, they can’t refuse to take it. But even if there isn’t, if you happen to have the cash on hand to pay off the debt, principal and all interest accrued right up to the end of the normal term, and they still refuse to renegotiate for the same money offered earlier, there’s nothing to stop you from sticking that into an escrow account with a smart-contract attached and forgetting about it.

And in the latter case – well, since most people are going to call favors in when there’s an advantage to doing so, I’m guessing you mean “when it will disadvantage the debtor in some way?” But unless you’ve written and agreed yourself into a tight corner, it’s not like favor-repayment is so tightly defined as to demand specific performance right then, either. Unless you inadvisably promised to jump when they say “frog”, or you owe a life-debt to someone being hunted by assassins today, or something, you can say “Sure, but I’m getting on a lunar shuttle in less than an hour, so it’ll have to be next Tuesday, if that’s okay by you?”)

Or, I suppose, there’s the psychological factor of having a debt hanging over you, but – that’s another case of primate status hierarchies. It makes us feel all stressed and subordinated to have outstanding debts, but that plays on instincts they don’t have. So far as an eldrae is concerned, “a debt and its repayment sum to zero”. Unless and until they’re actually behind on servicing it or flirting with default, it’s no big deal, and no little deal either.


I’ve been taking a moment or two today to futz with Ethereum, which is – as the site puts it – “a decentralized platform that runs smart contracts”.

I mention this as something that might be of interest to Eldraeverse readers, since if you squint very, very hard when you look at it, you can see the beginnings of the fancy automatic-resource-management-and-smart-contract infrastructure I describe the Worlds as having – I mean, back in its equivalent of the technological paleolithic, but then, it’s a lot easier to write about these things than actually sit down and develop them, y’know?

Anyway. Even if you’re not quite so determined a poker of new technologies as I am, you might still want to take a browse through the project site and some of the examples and possibilities therein described. This piece of the future might not be here quite yet, but you can smell it from there!


Questions: Holdouts and Self-Owning Property

While doing some reading on weapons from Bonnie Scotland, I came across this:

“When the Highlander visited a house on his travels having deposited all his other weapons at the front door he did not divest himself of his concealed dagger, since in these far off days it was unsafe to be ever totally unarmed, not because he feared his host but rather because he feared intrusions from outside. Accordingly, although retaining the dagger; out of courtesy to his host he removed it from its place of concealment and put it somewhere where his host could see it, invariably in his stocking on the side of his hand (right- or left-handed).”

Obviously requiring a visitor to disarm themselves has already been established as rather impolite elsewhere, but are there any particular courtesies or points of customary etiquette regarding walking into someone’s house while carrying a concealed “holdout” weapon?

It’s similar but not identical: as you note, it would be bad form to ask a visitor to disarm. On the other hand, it’s also bad form (unless you have some particular special role, such as “professional bodyguard playing the concealed role” or “guild assassin”, or circumstance, such as “travelling abroad among presumptuous barbarians”) to go around with concealed weapons. A daryteir (gentlesoph) wears his weapons openly.

(Of course, if it’s a halfway decent concealed weapon, it’s also an easy bit of bad form to get away with. But a gentlesoph should know better.)

So what would be the legal status of the Tree That Owns Itself under Imperial law?

More generally, does Imperial law recognize the concept that property can be owned by an “owner” that is non-sophont (or, indeed, inanimate)?

Well, the simple answer is no, as the general case is – as it is *here*, which is why the Tree That Owns Itself really doesn’t in legal terms – that you can only convey property to something which has the legal capacity to receive it, which is to say a legal person.

The more complicated answer is “yes, sort of”, in a couple of ways:

  • Uplift the tree to turn it into a natural person, which is implicitly also a legal person, and not only thereby can own itself, but automatically does.

But that’s a little complicated. The more useful general way of doing this is:

  • Incorporate a trust, or define a smart-contract, to act on the tree’s behalf. As legal persons, either of them can own it. Assign the trust the fiduciary duty to act in the tree’s interests, or program the smart-contract likewise, and you’ve created something legally isomorphic to the self-ownership of sophont persons – or at least enough so that you could comfortably refer to it as owning itself in any register other than formal legal terms.


Trope-a-Day: Post Mortem Comeback

Post Mortem Comeback: As in Dead Man Writing, the leftover personal and fiduciary AI systems, smart contracts, etc., left behind by the deceased are all still running, and since smart contracts aren’t automatically terminated by death, it’s not all that hard to make sure that some of your will still gets done.

Even on those rare occasions when permadeath is in play.

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.