Principles of Extra-Human Law
I have spent some time reviewing my list from yesterday, and am beginning to think through more fully the implications. Ultimately, the questions concerning offworld jurisdiction and law are mostly relatively simple to address, at least in logical form if not administratively. The nations of the world, working through the appropriate supranational body, can form a uniform body of law governing property rights and allowing for the national chartering of vessels and enterprises. National law is then perfectly capable of governing the contracts and property covered therein, as well as separately assessing their own tax implications. However, I would suggest limiting ports of registration to those nations who have materially contributed to the space-launch infrastructure enabling commerce – it simply won’t do for Planetary Resources to launch craft registered in Cyprus or Liberia. There are, however, a number of questions hinging on deeper philosophical questions.
The legal status of aliens is definitely a step upwards in complexity. I would posit that the proper treatment of aliens is simply as such – “aliens”, using the conventional definition as foreign nationals. They are to be governed under the relevant Earth legal regime when inside a to-be-defined Zone of Exclusion surrounding all Earth property. I think it is a prudent exception to allow them extraterritoriality when aboard any of their ships, but certainly not when aboard an Earth vessel or inside of any Earth settlement. Aboard their own vessels, they may obey whatever law they wish, assuming the concept of “law” is legible to them.
However, what is the standard by which aliens may qualify to be treated as aliens in our legal systems? Of course, only humans have human rights, but “human” does not automatically confer on one full legal rights. Our general working definition is a set of rights conferred along a sliding scale of sentience – mentally capable adults have more rights than minors, who in turn have more rights than the brain-dead. Those rights can be impaired through individual actions, for example the loss of voting rights for convicted felons.
I’d suggest a reasonable standard for allowing aliens human rights (let’s start with the right to bodily integrity and get to voting muchlater) is threefold: sentience/agency, ability to understand the concept and body of law, and ability to abide by the law. This clarifies things somewhat: An appendage of a hive mind would not be an individual legal entity, entities too cognitively different to meaningfully converse with a human cannot be treated as a person, and something with no short-term memory can’t be party to a contract. It’s still quite vague, though – if aliens show up in Earth orbit under their own power, that probably indicates they are sentient as we would understand it. There are still a number of core concerns and edge cases:
- How unique is human cognition? Do the criteria listed above apply to all technological races, many, few, or only one?
· Connected to the above – how universally meaningful is the concept of law?· What degree of communication distinguishes a hive mind from a group of closely (perhaps psychically) bound individuals?· Must aliens be organic? If not, wouldn’t these same considerations apply to human-built artificial intelligences?
The edge case that is actually bothering me is the idea of a new race of aliens, let’s call them Dexters. Dexters are sentient, more or less cognitively legible to us, andcompulsively malevolent. They can have a meaningful conversation with us, can read and be party to legally binding contracts and be generally pleasant over the phone. However, whenever they are in the same location as a human they are biologically compelled to kill said human and feast on their flesh. Can a Dexter be prosecuted for its killings? I am inclined to say no, because I frankly don’t see the point.
This does, however, lead one to the question of what exactly discipline and punishment are, and what are the purposes they serve. Perhaps I should try and finish that book. I do seem to have gotten a bit away from my original purpose – I shall have to devote more thought to the question that really bothered me before starting this post, which is the question of the applicability of legal jurisdiction to time travelers who commit a “crime” “before” the drafting of the laws in question. As you can tell from my quote marks, I’m really quite uncertain on the topic.