It's getting to be a theme on this blog, but as I catch up on back episodes of Isaac Arthur's Youtube channel, I am finding that one thing or another touches a nerve and I realize "I really hadn't thought about that."

Today's episode is:

In my earlier post on Werewolf Colony, I established that certain people who have an uncontrolled ability to shapeshift are moved to a remote colony, to protect society at large.

On further reflection, this is the perfect answer to the typical insanity defense when it comes to Magical powers. If your inability to control your powers represents a clear and present danger to society, allowing you to remain in society is a cruelty to others. However, as you are not legally culpable for your crimes because you were insane at the time, it really is not fitting to send you to prison (or punish you in any other way.)

A quick summary of how most jurisdictions handle the matter is the M'Naghten rule:

the jurors ought to be told in all cases that every man is to be presumed to be sane, and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes, until the contrary be proved to their satisfaction; and that to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.

Now, what about other crimes? We have different grades of crime in our world, and many, many conflicting but overlapping jurisdictional rules in my own place of residence (Virginia in the United States). There are Federal Laws. There are State Laws. There are Local Laws. Some people live in communities with more laws on top of that in the way of a Homeowner's association. If you rent, your landlord can apply their own rules. And if I work at my office, I work under the rules of my employer.

So for the purpose of this essay, we will invent an artificial framework that is really only useful for discussing crime and punishment in my made up fictitious world.

Types of Crime

To avoid the tyranny of the witch hunts of old, we will assume there is a universal understanding of how civilization operates. And part of that civilization's operation is mediating disputes and extracting retribution for society on whole from bad actors. For the purposes of the book, there were a series of hideous warlords and entrepreneurs who ran roughshod over the early colonists on the Moon. In the uprising that followed, those colonists enshrined a universal set of operating rules that all off-world colonies must obey.

(Not "must obey" in the sense that some police force is going to come in and make them do it. "Must obey" in the sense that any society that doesn't follow these guidelines breaks down.)

These early Moon colonists were a pragmatic liberatarian bunch, so it pained them to actually have to put together a series of laws. In putting together the Code of Tranquility they tried to protect as many freedoms as possible, while introducing as few legalistic constraints as possible. The actual code is written in the language of computers known as Dziwak, so a 1:1 translation into English is impossible. So I will paraphrase.

In translating the legal code, the general pattern is always specified first. The exception to the general pattern follows. If two statements conflict, the latter statement overrides the first.

The first mandate restricts the legal code to those who are sentient. Sentient beings must be capable of determining right from wrong. A sentient being using a non-sentient means to enact wrong is culpable for the action they ordered or otherwise caused. It also has rules how a being is promoted to sentient status (i.e. Children gaining the age of majority or artificial intelligence gaining self-awareness). It also has rules for how previously sentient entities are demoted to sub-sentience (i.e. humans who have lost reason because of illness or injury.)

The code elaborates on agents who a not considered sentient. These include children and animals. Children are either operating under the tutulage of a parent, guardian, or mentor. In the absence of the above, the operate as wards of the state. Children can be tiny humans or artificial intelligences in training. It is understood that these beings are on the path to attaining sentience one day, and that their "Guides" have a legal responsibility for them. Humans are not considered "children" until they are capable of living apart from their incubator (i.e. breathing, eating, maintaining their own pulse.) AIs are considered children if they can venture into the world with an independent power supply. In the case of AIs that reside inside of a fixed computer (like HAL in 2001), venturing into the world means accessing external communications via consoles of network connections.

The second mandate states that all sentient beings have a right of survival. Every sentient being is permitted to take any action within reason to ensure the survival of themselves or the non-sentient beings under their care. The code then goes into a series of definitions of what constitutes survival. Long story short: it is restricted to cases of genuine life and death. Life is defined as continued agency. Death is defined as being incapable of future agency. For a human, causing a cessation of life functions is death. For computers, reformatting their memory is death. Uploading the brain patterns of a human being into a computer and then disposing of the body is a bit of a grey area. And the code goes into EXPLICIT detail about the grey areas...

The third mandate is the principle of Deconfliction. Long story short: one sentient being must not consciously put its own existence in conflict with another sentient being. If they do, the party who was not party to this decision has every right to take whatever means are necessary to remove themselves from danger. They also have no obligation to protect the life or property of a bad actor in removing themselves from danger.

The fourth mandate is the principle of Restoration. If the action of one sentient being deprives another of property or opportunity, the wronged sentient has the right to restitution. As this is the part of the code that first mentions property, you better believe there are pages and pages to do with what is or is not property, etc. I'll spare you those. And if you thought the rules on property were long winded, the rules for opportunity are even more long winded.

So we have a lot of principles, but how does that pertain to law? Well now is the time to start getting into types of crime. At least in the civilized portions of space.

Property Crime

Property crimes are where one party takes property from another without just compensation. The remedy is for the perpetrator to make the aggrieved party whole.

A life sustaining resource consumed for survival is not considered property. But if you take more than you can immediately use, that is considered theft. Basically if you are walking through an orchard, and you are hungry, it is perfectly legal to pick an apple and eat it. However, putting that apple in your pocket and carrying it home (without compensating the farmer) is theft.

Agency Crime

Agency crime is using an ability or instrument to force another party to do what they would otherwise not agree to. It doesn't matter what that ability or instrument actually is. It could be leveraging a debt, holding a life hostage, or using a mind control spell.

This part of the legal code has more grey areas than a trashy S&M Erotica, though.

The general remedy is to make the person who leveraged their agency overtop of another person's responsible for the damage that is committed. For example, if a gunman has a child hostage and makes the parent perform an unspeakable act, it is the hostage taker that has legally performed the unspeakable act. If a hacker compromises a bank's computer and uses it to perpetuate a fraud, the hacker is still the one perpetuating the fraud.

"Date Rape" is generally prosecuted as an agency crime. As is using your authority over someone to exact sexual (or any other) favor. The line between quid pro quo and non-consent is fuzzy and something that judges, arbitrators, and juries struggle with.

Violent Crime

Violent crime occurs when a party physically or psychologically injures another party through deliberate acts. It's what you would expect: Assault, Battery, Murder, Rape, Mind scrambling.

Violent offenders are evaluated on their propensity to commit a crime in the future. While making their victims whole (financially or otherwise) is considered the punishment, any incarceration is considered rehabilitation. And once incarcerated, beings are held until a panel of experts determines they are unlikely to offend again.

In some jurisdictions this may mean being sent to a psychiatric asylum. In others, it may mean being thrown out of an airlock. In still others it may entail a radical reprogramming. The principle is that once convicted of a violent crime, and proven unable or unwilling to control the tendencies to commit violent crime, a being is removed from polite society until that control is restored.

Perception Crime

Perception crime is using an ability or instrument to conduce someone to act, or to misrepresent something of value. I.e. Fraud. The nature of the ability or the instrument doesn't matter. If you somehow pull the wool over someone else's eyes to cheat them out of property or opportunity, that is a crime.

Because of the range of magical and technological deceptions, the principle of Caveat Emptor is completely out the window in the post-modern era. Trying to write a law that codifies every possible way that illusion magic could be misused, while not also prohibiting legitimate was impossible. So the legal code simply covers the motive and the damage. To make a claim you must show that property or opportunity was lost and that a misrepresentation was made during the negotiation process.

There is no "small text" on contracts in Sublight. Making something so overly long that it needs to be initialed in 30 different places is considered prima-face deception.

Social Taboos

Spacers have a number of quirky taboos that are enforced through a combination of moral outrage, shunning, and outright police action.


Any durable good purchased has an expected usable life. That usable life must be able to be obtained through normal maintenance and replacement of consumables. Sabotaging the useful life of good by making normal and accepted maintenance impossible is considered acting in bad faith. If parts are found to be substandard, the sellar makes the buyer whole.

This rule seems oddly specific. But in space, resources are at a premium. A bad actor who generates junky merchandise not only rips off the customer, they generate a lot of trash that the state has to process. Basically, when you buy something it has to state on the packaging or display how long the item is expected to last. On demand, the seller most provide an expected maintenance schedule AND estimated lifetime cost for replacement parts.

Trash Making

Spacers have a natural aversion to using a disposable item where it is technically practical to design something reusable for the purpose. Outside of strictly hygienic products, there is practically nothing disposable. Public events use rental plates and cups. There are no disposable diapers, paper napkins, or paper towels. Spacers earn "recycling credits" when they turn in used food packaging, bottles, cans, etc.

While more energy does go into washing, sterilizing, and/or reconditioning packaging, ships have power to spare. They don't have infinite space for trash, and disposing of waste at speed is a hazard to navigation.

Unsolicited Notifications

Bandwidth is precious, as is the ability for a Spacer to control their stream of information. Unwelcome distractions lower quality of life, produce stress. Junk mail wastes energy in delivering, time for the person to sort. Junk electronic messages hog bandwidth and attention (even if it is the attention of an AI to dispose of).

Political campaigns are given an allotted amount of bandwidth, and the reach of those messages is strictly limited to parties who are actually voting on the subject.

Mandatory Suffrage

If you are entitled to a vote on a subject or for an election, society demands that you exercise that right. Failure to vote is considered anti-social, and even punishable by fines in some jurisdictions.

Mutual Benefit

Making a living in spacer society is encouraged. Making a killing is not. Anyone who seems to be generating a lot of excess income is considered a thief, even if they haven't been caught yet. A business that generates a lot of proceeds for very little expense is considered a cancer. Every jurisdiction implements a progressive income tax on individuals, with the top brackets exceeding 90%. There are also strict rules about co-mingling income between individual accounts and corporate accounts.

No Hoarding

Economies only work when money and commodities circulate. Individuals are entitled to "save up" exactly one lifetime's worth of income, as many expendable resources as they could actually use, etc. They are entitled to one full-time residence. Anything beyond that is considered fair game to confiscate and redistributed to the needy. The mechanisms for this redistribution vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Commercial property has different restrictions. While the rules vary by commodity, the system emphasizes that inventory must flow. There are also heavily fines/criminally punishments for anyone caught inventing artificial shortages. Price speculation is considered abhorrent as a practice.

Leave it better than you found it

Anyone who borrows a tool returns it cleaned/sharpened/in good repair. Anyone who utilizes a common space picks up the trash (even if they didn't make it), repairs any damage they see (even if they didn't cause it), etc. If you take home a dish, you return it filled with something. (Or at the very least: CLEAN.)

If someone is suspected of taking advantage, this is considered a black mark on their social standing.

On the other hand, someone who has a reputation for picking up the slack of others is considered esteemed.

Many societies have a system for tracking "Social Currency". Individuals have a reputation score that others can provide positive marks or negative. This includes reports from the libraries, hotels, rental agencies, sports clubs, etc. about how often they have borrowed something and how often something was returned damaged, and how often restitution was made. (Damaging something is not considered a black mark if a good effort was made to reimburse.)