Questions and Answer Time Again

Yes, it’s that time again.

Before I get started on the actual Qs and As, though, I said to myself that I was going to link to this: Current Affairs’ “Some Puzzles For Libertarians”, Treated As Writing Prompts For Short Stories, over on Slate Star Codex, in which Scott Alexander takes the usual collection of weak-man arguments and beats them to death with a rather witty shovel. I approve, and so do the people in my head.

A random thought that occurred to me: Given that the eldraeic lifespan is such that such matters could theoretically come into play, does Imperial property law account for continental drift and other such tectonic activities?

To an extent. Certainly it includes guidelines for resolving issues brought up by more common and minor tectonic activities – earthquakes, volcanism, fault-slip, erosion, and so forth. (One presumes, although I haven’t looked into it, they have some procedure for resurveying property lines in California when the San Andreas jiggles its way along another foot of displacement, and it’s probably like that. If they don’t, please don’t disabuse me of the notion; I’m enjoying the delusion of competence.)

Not so much for continental drift, mostly because it’s really, really slow, and so far hasn’t proven to be much of an issue on the ten-thousand year time scale that the Empire’s existed for (using Earth as an example, we’re talking sub-kilometer adjustments over that span, almost all at sea), or rather less on planets that have continental drift.

And it’s probable that well before it becomes a bigger issue, someone will want to fix the whole continental drift issue, anyway. While an active interior is good for a living planet, like so many things in nature, it’s consequences also bloody inconvenient and need to be taken in hand by somesoph who knows what they’re doing.

I was reading somebodies blog, and thought, literally

“this person is a Plutarch for people”

(in that they see a web of debts and transactions and operations, and seek to optimize in a way that generates value)

Is that facilitator or not-politician caste behavior?

That’s mostly an executor darëssef function (although hardly limited to them; see also, say, plutarch arbitrageurs and hearthmistress symposiarchs, et. al.), and specifically the profession of the path-pointers, who specialize in optimal go-betweening and xicésésef, which latter is very similar to the Chinese guanxixue, although without the negative implications.

Something that could serve as either a question or a “plot bunny,” at your discretion:

It is often said that “You cannot fool an alethiometer” — but that presumes that the alethiometer itself is functioning as intended.

So what happens when one is tampered with and / or breaks?

The self-test, anti-tamper, and external verification (as in, a physically separate verification system that you plug the thing into) systems all light up a pleasantly bloody shade of crimson, and go “eeeeeeeee”. These things are used, after all, to verify matters of great importance, and are designed, built, and audited appropriately.

Also, if you’re using it in any sort of formal proceedings and have an operator even half awake, the results will be off as you walk through the test question series. It doesn’t just give you a true/false indication, after all – it’s doing dynamic mind-state analysis in real time. If you’re going to tamper with it, you’ve got to do so in a way that generates a plausible alternative readout that matches all your observable actions and reactions, otherwise you’ve got the mental equivalent of bad lip-syncing going on.

(And if the questioner can smack your ass or insult your mother without generating the appropriate characteristic spike in the readouts, that’s all kinds of probable cause right there.)

Now, there are ways to fool basic alethiometric verification, especially when it comes to past events. (Sophont memory, in many cases, is fallible – look at human memory, which rewrites itself every time it’s remembered, and that aside, this is a universe in which memories can be edited, deleted, spliced, folded, spindled, and mutilated; or you can come up with some memory-duplication trick such as the one seen in Minority Report, or some other such device.) This is why the Curial courts don’t treat it as a sure thing and gather confirmatory evidence from forensics, alibi archives, Oversight’s public monitors, data trails left behind, etc., etc., and why sophisticated alethiometers will pull in some of that themselves to perform second-layer truth-checking: “Subject is telling the truth as he recalls it, but the public record actively contradicts this. Recommend deep scan for redactive signatures.”

But the weak spot to attack is pretty much never the alethiometer itself. It’s actually much easier – ironically enough – to fool yourself into not knowing that you’re lying, or knowing that you ever fooled yourself into not knowing that you’re lying, or…

(And leaving no traces behind in physical or data evidence, too, but if you can pull off the former, that should be easy!)

Segueing from the specific to the general: Do Imperial law and eldraeic ethics acknowledge anything approximating “non-contractual duties of commission” and “privileges of necessity” as expounded upon here: ? Particularly, do they have formal necessity defenses or anything like them in either tort law or criminal law?

On the former: no. There’s no such thing as a non-contractual duty of commission, because that would imply that you could be obligated by something other than your own power of contract, which we know is not the case; and everything not obligatory is supererogatory.

(There are certain things that might look similar – say, the Responsibility of Common Defense et. al. from the Charter – but those are actually contractual duties of commission which you obligated yourself to on signing up to join the community of civilized folk. A self-sovereign autonomous soph doesn’t have any of those.)

On the latter: there is a necessity defense, and also its close cousin the justification defense. With the exception of “necessity in the heat” cases (say, grabbing someone else’s shotgun in a life-or-death scenario, and giving it straight back to them), which in any case have the tendency of being settled non est over a beer, the courts look with a very jaundiced eye on necessity pleas, and you’d better be able to show that you exhausted essentially all your legal options first. If you plead necessity when you stole to feed your starving children, you’re going to need to be able to show that (a) your children are starving, and (b) that the local community is entirely devoid of employment opportunities, eleemosynary organizations, and people willing to help you when you asked. You did ask, right?

The legal principle *there* is not Necessity does not have a law, it’s Ill means poison all good ends, and if you argue that you’re the exception, you’ll need to hit legal standards of proof for that.

(Justification is even harder to get away with, since a plea of justification amounts to “I was right, and the law is wrong, and it should be changed by precedent in my favor”. It’s arguing “well, he needed killing” and having the court rewrite the rules on preemptive self-defense to include your reasoning. It has happened, but if you’re going to try out this one, have a really good argument ready.)

First off what would the Empire think of the Yeerks either as a fictional construct if a culture where to independently invent basically the Animorphs books or a real group if they were to encounter an actual species like that? If you haven’t read Animorphs or just don’t want to touch the copyright issues involved in mentioning them by name I want to know how they would react to a sophont species that is a sophont parasite and semi-obligate slaver. One that is basically a slug with the ability to take over a sophont host body. Most of them are fine with this set up, but a small minority will only infect willing hosts (they can act as muses/live in psycodesigners instead of living control collars) and a much larger group strongly want the ability to have bodies without slavery but are willing to infect unwilling hosts when that is what is available. Hope thats an acceptable question, will have more in the morning.

I’m not, alas, familiar with that ‘verse in particular, but as it happens, this is something I’ve thought about given another very similar species in functional respects, Stargate SG-1‘s goa’uld.

The thing is that semi-obligate is functionally equivalent to not obligate. (I mean, sure, being a sophont without much ability to do anything without a host body to possess means the universe has kind of handed you a shit sandwich, and yet.) Which is good, because that means you aren’t actually anathematic.

Since the rule is consensuality, they have no issues with those who go the Tok’ra route (of mutually willing symbiosis), and would be more than happy to sell non-sophont empty bodies by the gross to those looking for them. But if you go around possessing the unwilling, it’s not going to go very well for you. Best to leap on that first opportunity to get a non-slave body and throw yourself on the mercy of the court, belike.

Given the importance of consent and free will in the Eldraeverse, how are age-of-consent/ maturity test issues handled, when a self requires a development period before it can be fully autonomous?

Tort insurance; more here. Basically, when a tort insurer is willing – by virtue of your demonstrated competence and responsible nature – to let you self-sign a note large enough to meet the Insurance Quota for Independence, you are no longer a minor in the sight of the law. Not all things are directly tied to the IQI – for some activities your counterparties will want to know that you have rather more cover, if you didn’t figure out that it would be a good idea to have it yourself – but it’s the figure that the Empire wants to see before they let you become a citizen-shareholder, so it’s commonly used as the definition of “majority”.

(Specifically as regards age of consent, see the comments on the IQSC, here.)

So, question about Eldrae entertainment of the do they have something like this variety. In the Amenta setting that has eaten rationalist tumblr they have cleaning based entertainment as a distinct genre both as something that is added to other types of shows and as a standalone thing Given the Eldrae’s aesthetics about cleanliness do they have something similar? If not why not?

Damned if I know. Maybe?

(On one hand, I can’t think of any reason why it specifically couldn’t exist. On the other hand, cleaning is the sort of tedious and mundane activity best left to non-sophont robots; while it’s important work that has to be done, Lubricating and Checking Tolerances of Turbine Shaft Bearings: The Movie is not what you might call a potential blockbuster hit, either. On the gripping hand, a culture with high weirdness-support and a large population can support all manner of weird niche media. So.)

I gather that Imperial guns have more penetration ability than modern firearms, but how much more? In particular can military longarms like the IL-15i punch through enough things to meaningfully change infantry tactics by making it impractical to find cover in many environments? Really more compare and contrast of legionary tactics vs modern ground warfare would be interesting, but the cover thing jumps to mind as a potential major change.

To some extent: while penetration ability has increased, materials science has also made a lot of objects tougher than they used to be. So there’s less cover around, given that former light cover now isn’t useful as any kind of cover, but it’s not as drastic as it might be.

Another side of this is that there’s a limit to how much you want to dial up the penetration (although this varies a lot between weapons); the problem being that if you make an ultra-penetrant weapon it has a nasty habit of passing right through its target and expending most of its energy on the distant landscape, whereas you might prefer that it did more damage to the target and less to the collateral. (Similar to the superiority of soft-nose or hollowpoint rounds to full metal jacket for killing vs. wounding.)

(As a side note: the most immediate thing I suspect we’d notice that affects legionary tactics – well, apart from the clouds of drones and semi-autonomous mechagrunts doing the heavy lifting – is the death of most camouflage. Given the signature of even light infantry power armor, there’s not a whole lot of point in visual stealth, except for specialized units, and so there has been something of a return to the age of military bling and dressing to intimidate impress.)

The charter posts give some info on how the cost of citizenship is set, but doesn’t say how much it is. Do you have an approximate number for the setting’s present/a feel for how qualitatively expensive it is for the average new shareholder?

This is an area where I try to avoid presenting hard numbers, mostly because that’s likely to come back and bite me on the ass, but feel-wise —

It’s not particularly cheap. You’re basically providing the investment capital whose resulting revenue stream is going to pay for your Citizen’s Dividend and most basic services for the rest of ever (although at least there’s not inflation), so in that respect, it’s like saving up enough money that you can live off the interest/dividends/etc. without depleting your capital. On the other hand, that’s less than it might be, because post-common-material-scarcity has brought the cost of living (in monetary terms, that is; in prosperity terms it means the living is exceedingly rich) down quite a lot.

To come up with a decent comparison – and I reserve the right to change this if I think I was wrong – it’s probably something of the order of buying a nice house in a good neighborhood, in some suitably average city *here*. Fortunately, it’s an investment that will more than repay itself over time.

(Most poorer immigrants either find a sponsor, or take advantage of the Empire’s laissez-faire immigration policy by spending some time as a non-citizen resident earning the money to buy their citizen-shareholdership. The Imperials like this option, because this helps select for people likely to prosper in their society.)

I was reading up on the Core War and had a passing thought: what kind of threat would be necessary to cause the Republic and the Empire to team up with one another (however reluctantly) and what would be the Imperial reponse should the Republic start getting eaten by say, a pissed-off God-sophont? Vice versa?

You’ve got an example right there in the form of the Leviathan Consciousness. Existential threats tend to focus the attention wonderfully.

On the latter: offer to help, ’cause ex-threat. As for what happens if they don’t want the help and yet obviously need it, both sides have plans for what amounts to “invade these idiots to help them out before they get themselves killed and us along with them”. The Admiralty calls theirs CASE LAMENTING OVERLORD; the Exception Management Group probably has something similar.

Addendum to my last missive: precisely what in the nine hells was the thing the Republic was making use of for their stargates? And has the Empire got plans to deal with such things aside from just buggering off into unknown space as quickly as relativity allows?

An archaeotech wormhole-maker someone working for the early days of the Propulsion Group mined from a dead weakly-godlike’s brain.

And most of those things don’t need dealing with at that level. Vulture archaeologists dig up archaeotech relics all the time, and most of them are relatively harmless, and even most of the ones that aren’t only cause localized annihilation.

Otherwise, though, of course. The responsible parties try to have response cases around for everything: CASE DEMIURGE EMBALMED deals with resurrection seeds, just as CASE DEMIURGE WILDFIRE handles active perversions, and that’s before we get into the exotica like CASE SCISSOR REVISION (hypothetical time travel that breaks the laws of time travel),  OPERATION VACUUM AVALANCHE (oops, physicists accidentally the universe), OPERATION EPOCH SHATTER (hacking the simulation to see if it is a simulation, with timing-channel attacks on quantum physics), or get as far off the map as OPERATION BLACKWATER BISHOP (Outside Context Problems, bearing in mind that all of the above are Inside the Context).

How does the empire treat sportsmanship? how much exultation in victory is considered appropriate before it becomes offensive to other competitors? Likewise are competitors expected to be stoic in defeat or does exceptionalism encourage declarations that you intend to come back and win next year?

Ah, well, to answer this one, I should start by dropping a reminder of the Imperial attitude towards relative measures of status/achievement (basically, it’s irrelevant) versus absolute ones, and for that matter identity-based status (even less relevant), and how that affects the sporting world.

Specifically, spectator sports are significantly less popular *there* than *here* (unlike participatory sports), and also most sports place much less emphasis, if any, on interpersonal competition. It’s not absent – inasmuch as you can’t have, say, a martial arts tournament without pitting people against opponents – but it’s not really the point.

Underlying this is that the eldrae find it very difficult to care about relative ability. Being faster, higher, and stronger than Joe, here, might mean that you’re awesomely excellent, or it might just be that you’re the least sucky schmuck on the schmuck-pile. They care about their absolute awesomeness, which means your modal athlete isn’t competing against other sophs, they’re competing against their past selves and the constraints of the universe.

So to bring this back around to the original question, you can exult all you want in victory, because you’re not exulting in defeating other competitors. The exultation is that in the past, you wished to become stronger/better (tsuyoku naritai!, a concept which I badly need to translate into Eldraeic), and now you have succeeded in that endeavor. Had you failed to improve or declined in performance, even if you still surpassed that of all other competitors, you would not see it as a victory. And absolute measures, unlike relative measures, aren’t zero-sum: one’s gain isn’t another loss. You don’t take anything away from anyone else by becoming more yourself.

(Indeed, thinking again of martial arts tournaments, it is far from unheard of for the victor from our perspective, having defeated all of his opponents, to acclaim one of those he defeated for having become most, while deeming his own improvement lesser, even though he might be stronger in an absolute sense.)

Thought you might enjoy this article here. And might as well ask: How did the eldrae eventually resolve *their* analog to the “adblocking arms race,” if indeed it isn’t still ongoing?

Heh. Well, blocking would be much easier *there* anyway, inasmuch as IIP is not an anonymous system: since all traffic requires user/device certificates from the sender, and while not all but many documents come with their very own digital imprimatur, rejecting all traffic from a given identity is downright trivial.

But in any case: it wasn’t much of a race, because as you may have noticed, heh, the locals *there* are rather better when it comes to failing to fail at coordination problems. The consumers of ad-supported media understood the relevant mélith, which is to say that you are paying for these goods with polite attention (these are the people who didn’t even skip ads in the days of video recorders because, y’know, we have an understanding here); and in return, the advertisers (see also notes here) felt little need to violate the implicit terms of this arrangement by upping the intrusiveness to asshatly levels, which in any case would not have been to their advantage. Such conflict as there was ended with a whimper, not a bang.

And, of course, the cultural expectations with regard to privacy are also different. Imperials consider commercial organizations working hard to figure out what they want, like, or might consider interesting to be a positive good.

Spending as much time as we do to block information-collecting used for these ends comes across as putting a comical amount of effort into making your own life less convenient by making it harder for the desire-satisfaction sector to satisfy your desires, and why the heck would anyone want that?

(Outworld, of course, your mileage will vary. In the Rim Free Zone, for one, the v-fog is often more than thick enough to obscure vision, and visitors are advised to make use of some truly vicious network and memetic firewalls.)