The Contract That Is Not

The most important thing to know about the Fundamental Contract is that it is not a contract.

The second most important thing to know about the Fundamental Contract is that it is not fundamental.

Or, rather, while it is expressed in the form of a contract, it is not one in actuality, and while it is fundamental to law, both the law of oath-contracts and the law otherwise, it is not fundamental to ethics.

It is, instead, a restatement of the fundamental inalienable and non-derogable right, inherent in the the nature of all sophont and volitional beings, to liberty and its concomitants in a format which better permits explication of the privileges and obligations that inhere therewithin (with regard, in particular, to the avoidance of choice-theft), and thus in membership of the greater community of sophonts.

It is not a contract, therefore, inasmuch as its authority does not derive from the sophont’s innate power to place themselves under obligation by their consent. (That would indeed be circular, if it were to be the case.) Rather, it derives from – by consisting of – the ethical fundamentals implicit in the nature of sophont beings, by which all entities that are, remain, or are composed of or controlled by, sophont beings are necessarily bound.

This is a matter of natural law, akin to gravity or supply and demand, if indeed not even more fundamental than either, and thus not subject to revision or denial.

– Fundamentals of Imperial Law, Valarian Elarios-ith-Elarios



Actually, there’s one other thing I could append to the previous post, with regard to Earth and why it’s probably a good thing that first contact ain’t gonna happen any time soon:

As has been pointed out to me, the thing that would truly make the Imperials despair is that even among people who recognize the problem, there is no significant movement to actually extend sophont, or even human, rights to everyone. We just have to push it forward one tiny special-interest group at a time, in what almost looks like the fear that if we start going around claiming rights are universal, we might accidentally give them to the wrong people.

(Personally speaking, my near-complete cynicism on this in re humanity was firmly set back on Tumblr some years ago, when I had the distinct pleasure of seeing a committed anti-racist, by their own account and history, argue firmly that Cerberus’s pro-human/anti-alien to downright human-supremacist policies in the Mass Effect universe were absolutely, 100% correct and justifiable, and that speciesism was in no way similar to and certainly not the same thing at all as actual racism, because it’s totally okay to discriminate against people who are actually, genuinely different.

…and other recapitulations of arguments isomorphic to historical arguments made by historical racists.

And so that was the week when my days of not taking rights activists seriously came to a definite middle, without some actual convincing evidence that their posture wasn’t a thin gloss over “give us ours, and fuck everyone else”.)

Trope-a-Day: What Measure Is a Non-Human?

What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Averted to varying degrees (and, obviously, in the naïve sense, completely averted since there are no humans at all).  The standard view, in the Associated Worlds, is that described in the Universal Accord on Sophont Rights: anything that thinks and has volition (i.e., is a sophont) is a person, and is entitled to all the rights associated therewith, and is exactly equal in the exercise thereof to every other sophont.

The Empire plays this very straight, and does, indeed, include all sophonts, including non-native aliens (and, yes, the starfish kind, and even the not-yet-understood), uplifts, neogens, artificial intelligences whether embodied or infomorph, uploaded minds, clones, forks, etc., etc. without distinction.  Anything and everything that thinks.

They also go further in extending limited, but still extensive rights to the merely prosophont, including more limited artificial intelligences and higher animals.  (The Empire is noted, in these cases, for eschewing “animal cruelty” laws in favor of simply broadly applying their existing laws where they fit.  In the Empire, you are expected to swerve your vehicle to avoid hitting animals of this class – and, y’know, not do tuna fishing the way we do tuna fishing, or eat octopodes, or go whaling at all – and should you, say, shoot someone’s non-uplifted dog without equivalent self-defense justification to that which you’d need to shoot a full sophont, you will be charged with corpicide and/or cognicide, and will suffer the full criminal penalties, including – if deemed malicious and/or sadistic – potentially being shoved into the fires of purification and purged out of the universe.

(And, yes, that we don’t do this, and, in fact, behave in the manner listed on the trope’s [since deleted] Real Life page are among the many reasons that they’d consider us to be playing Humans Are Bastards very straight indeed.)

Some would argue that they also go farther and extend at least some rights to inanimate objects – that, however, is not a matter of law, that’s just a matter of Blue and Orange Morality and that going around willfully damaging and/or destroying things really gets people’s negentropic hackles up.  Which then in turn, courtesy of this opinion being generally held, the reputation network, and the unlimited freedom of non-association, leads to being absolutely crucified in the Court of Public Opinion, and finding it very difficult to maintain any kind of reasonable lifestyle.

The civilized mode of the Associated Worlds follows this at least as far as sophonts are concerned, taking the broadest view there in law, although some private bigotries persist, as ever, and interpretation of some of those rights may locally vary (the Empire has long since had to recognize that it’s not going to be able to ram its views about government by the unanimous consent of the governed down everyone’s throat just yet).

Some of the less civilized parts (and, indeed, the arguably-superpower Voniensa Republic, which as an Expy of the Star Trek Federation replicates its noxious attitudes towards AIs, transsophonts, and property rights) carve out their own exceptions with regard to particular members of the list, which is where all those AI-slaver civilizations that produced the Silicate Tree, anti-upload ephemeralists, anti-uplift naturalists, etc., etc., come in.  And, of course, a few nasty areas don’t really apply these principles at all; the Equality Concord, for example, doesn’t recognize any sophont rights other than The Right To Serve The People With All Your Heart And Soul.

And finally, of course, there are all those backwater and uncontacted worlds that have never even heard of the Universal Accord, much less had a chance to sign it or not; travellers there are pretty much taking their chances.  Some, pleasantly enough, are cosmopolitan planets in waiting, and sign on to a broad view as soon as they run into one.  Others are nasty nests of nastier bigots who don’t recognize any personhood outside their own species, and for that matter, don’t even recognize the rights of plenty of people of their own species.

Like, say, Earth.


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.)

Ultima Ratio Omnia

It seems perhaps worth, in light of that last trope, describing one of those situations in which the Empire leaves people free to pursue their own foreign policies, if they so desire, so let’s skip right to the big one.  It is, if you will, an argument in two parts. The former runs like this:

1. It is an established principle of ethics that there is no alchemy which grants to groups greater (or lesser) rights than the sum of those of their constituent individuals. The form of their exercise may change; their essential nature does not.

2. The sovereignty of a polity, therefore, is no more than the collectively-exercised sovereignty (self-ownership) of its citizenship.

3. The right of a polity to make war, therefore, is no more than the collectively-exercised right of an individual to engage in the use of force, and is legitimate for equivalent purposes: namely, the defense of his own/their own sophont rights and/or the sophont rights of others. (Wars carried out for other purposes, as in the case of individual use of force for other purposes, are eo ipso illegitimate.)

4. By simple equivalence, an individual sovereignty (whether or not part of any polity) also possesses “the right to make war” on his own behalf for the defense of his sophont rights, inasmuch as this is ethically equivalent to any other use of force.

Such is merely standard Imperial jurisprudence. Here, though, is where it gets messy:

1. By the principle of consent, as derived from the right of domain (liberty and property) and that of contract, no sophont may be obligated against his will.

2. From this, therefore, we know that every sophont comes into this universe free and unencumbered by any obligation whatsoever, since no individual can bind itself previous to its existence.

3. The legitimacy of a polity’s governance, therefore, rests upon the voluntary (and explicit) assumption of the associated obligations by its citizenship, in accordance with the principle of consent. These polities we refer to as Societies of Consent.

4. It further follows that where such obligations are imposed upon sophonts without their consent, such as by birthright citizenship, descent citizenship, annexation, majoritarianism, or other force majeure, such governance is illegitimate by reason of violating the sophont rights of all its claimed citizens.

5. And as eo ipso illegitimate sophont rights-violaters, such nonconsensual governances are therefore legitimate targets for the exercise of the Right of Common Defense.

Most people, perhaps fortunately for galactic stability, treat this particular piece of ethical reasoning in much the same way as we do our “yay, democracy! boo, dictatorship!” fillip – namely, as something that’s obviously true, and always good for a denunciation at the Conclave, and handy to tack on to whatever other casus belli you might have this week, but it’s not like it means they have to go out and rough up every example of the kind right now, any more than we here in the Western democracies feel the need to go to war with every dictatorship on the planet just because they happen to be one.

On the other hand, it is due to the small number of people who look at said argument and add:

6. (insert plan here)

7. PROFIT!!!

…that the Empire still manages to produce the odd filibuster [1]. It is, after all, not actually illegal *there* to make war on icky dictatorships and icky democracies and other tyrannical so-and-sos with no respect for the rights of the individual soph, and indeed, it would be a severe violation of the Contract and the Charter were anyone to actually try and make it so [2]. As their delegation to the Conclave of Galactic Polities has regretfully explained on more than one occasion.

[1] It almost never works, mind. Experience has long since shown them that you can’t liberate people by force when they’re not free inside their heads, and so more practical types stick with subversion and snakeheading when it comes to kicking the slavers where they live. But even advanced, wise, and ultratechnological civilizations are not free of a certain quota of young, idealistic idiots who will convince themselves that surely it will work this time, even if it never has before.

[2] The very unofficial policy of the Imperial government, Navy, et. al., on this sort of thing is that it’s not illegal, no, but it’s also not official Imperial business and if you’re heading out to start something, you’ve pretty much voluntarily doffed the cloak of Imperial protection. If you deliberately pick a fight with a government and lose, it’s not their job to haul your ass out of the fire either – because you don’t have the right to potentially drag the rest of the citizen-shareholders into your private little war. You go a-conquering, you take your chances, win or lose.

Sophont Rights

[Imported from a post I made to my old blog, 10/12/2007.]

I tend to think “human rights”, per se, are a speciesist concept. (As a transhumanist by philosophy, I have to think about the possibility of alien species, human speciation by bioengineering, artificial intelligence, and so forth. A wider perspective, if you like.)

Thus, I attach my concept of rights (life, liberty and property, etc.) not to humanity, but tosophoncy. Sophont life – be it human, AI, human-derived, uplifted animal, alien, whatever – possesses those rights inalienably by virtue of its sophoncy, for such span of its existence that it is sophont, which for humans is (I believe based on what’s currently known) approximately from when cortical brain structures form to information-theoretic death.

(Non-human) near-sophont life – the almost-but-not-quites, great apes, dolphins, smart dogs, etc. – do not possess inalienable sophont rights, but possess subsidiary rights for their own sake in proportion to their degree of pro-sophoncy.

(Non-human) non-sophont life, which is most of the animal kingdom, and all of the plants, fungi, protists, bacteria, prokaryotes and viruses don’t possess any rights, but elsewhere in my value system I stipulate that we ought to treat them, and for that matter, inanimate objects, decently for their own sake.

(Human) near-sophont or non-sophont life, which mostly means humans that are or have been made defective in some way possess rights in the same measure as their non-human equivalents, logically, but practically speaking, we’re always going to treat members of our own species specially even if they’re no more sophont than a rubber-tree plant just out of human nature.