Trope-a-Day: Reading Your Rights

Reading Your Rights: Played straight… but not with the same rights.  The Empire never got around to finding a reason to prohibit self-incrimination, and while you do have the right to an attorney, you’re supposed to know that (and also, you are obliged to answer questions before he gets there.

Rather, the Watch Constabulary would like you to be aware that you have the right to answer all their questions fully and completely, to introduce any evidence or make any statement you wish – which will be conveyed to the court, to accuse anyone – although false accusations are themselves crimes, and the cost of proving them false will be charged to you – and to voluntarily submit a copy of your mind-state to the court (if they didn’t feel the need to subpoena it) for analysis.  In short, you have the right to try and make your case without artificial constraints.

Although the courts do not, it is fair to say, look kindly upon attempted judicial filibusters come the sentencing phase. Remember, you-if-guilty are liable for all the costs of arraignment and prosecution…

The Importance of Physics Class

“Station Ops, this is Clovis One-Four, reporting on-site from incident gamma.”

“Clovis One-Four, Station Ops, go.”

“Station Ops, some damn tourist tried to board the garden ‘fuge by dropping from above again. No secondary casualties, thank Athnéël, but the groundscape’s a mess.”

“Clovis One-Four, do you need a medical team?”

“Negative, Station Ops, just the coroner and a pressure washer.”

“Despatched, Clovis One-Four, and eugh.”

“Ain’t no good way to describe a hundred-yard streak of stupid, Station Ops. Clear.”

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.

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.


Siari’s Bore
Mer Dinévál Countermass Station

“Excuse me, ser. Enforcer Jynne Cerron, Watch Constabulary; my colleague, Pén Cieng, Throat-Grip Defense. I’m afraid we require a word with you.”

The lanect thus addressed started, and turned to look at them with an instant protest.

“I haven’t done anything!”

“Regrettably, ser, you are the subject of a complaint we have received from a citizen-shareholder regarding the theft of certain items from their person four point one minutes previously, supported by supplied lifelog and oversight evidence, which constitutes probable cause for this inquiry per Valentia’s Code. You have the right under the Transparency Act to view this evidence, if you wish…? No?”

“This is outrageous! I had nothing to do with this –”

“I regret that too, ser, but I am afraid that a complaint has been made against you and an inquiry deemed justified by overwatch. You may, of course, file a complaint if you wish. Now, I see that you are carrying an embag. Would you open it for me, please?”

“I don’t consent to a search!”

“We don’t intend to violate your privacy, ser, and no search is called for. You don’t need to empty the bag, and may conceal the opening if you wish. Just unseal it, please.”

The lanect fumbled briefly with the seal on the embag, and simultaneously, a small, electronic voice spoke in distress:

…am being stolen! I am an Aelaviel High Fashions ‘Highfall’ purse in flame red, belonging to Citizen Aríë Harradeln, and I am being stolen! Please return me to my proper owner! Repeat: I am being…

“Thank you. Unfortunately, the stolen property has now confirmed that it is in your possession. You are under arrest by the Watch Constabulary. You have the right to give a full and complete accounting of your actions…”

As the lanect took to his heels in flight, grabbing a handguide for the nearest drag, she switched seamlessly to the public announcements channel.

…in answer to our questions. If you feel we have overlooked any information relevant to your case, you have the right to call it to our attention. If you feel we have misunderstood or misconstrued any…

“Why do they always run?” her colleague grumbled. “Ops, give me a two-second kill on autodrag four, Siari’s Bore, frame eleven. Constabular override.”

…of your answers, you have the right to provide further elaboration or explanation. If you are confused by our questions or procedures, we will explain them to you. You may provide evidence against others as part of your answers…

The autodrag slammed to a brief halt, enough to let momentum take over, tossing the fleeing lanect up and over his handguide, breaking his grip on it and sending him hurtling into the air.

…but false accusations will be punished. You have the right to engage an advocate to help you to prepare for trial…

“It makes them feel better, probably,” she replied. The sound of cursing drifted to them from where the lanect drifted helplessly in mid-air. “Briefly, anyway. Tell the courthouse we need a drone pickup to take this guy straight to arraignment. I’ll have the report filed by the time he gets there.”

…but no right to refuse to answer questions before your advocate is available. Do you understand these rights?

Trope-a-Day: Instant Emergency Response

Instant Emergency Response: As a side effect of the AI monitors on the raw feed mentioned under Big Brother Is Watching, which both make sure response is dispatched to observed crimes and accidents as they happen, and which are happy to use predictive algorithms to make sure that its in place before they happen; and inasmuch as the various emergency services have widely distributed robot hotels to make sure that they can at least get cybershell feet or wing on the ground very rapidly, emergency response is very rapid, and most of the time, you dont need to explicitly call it in if youre in public.

Trope-a-Day: Improbable Aiming Skills

Improbable Aiming Skills: Training for the various sentinel occupations, including the Imperial Legions and, yes, also the Watch Constabulary tries its best to achieve these, or at least to avert Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy really hard.  In these modern days in which you can have a top-flight ballistics software package running in your head and arbitrary amounts of computer power, locally networked sensors, etc., etc., in your gun – well, let’s just say that the standards for improbable have been raised a tad.