Modular Ethics

Modular Ethics
Image from Bernd Helfert

The problem of maintaining a system of law and ethics in a society as fluid and dynamic as many of those in the Terragen Sphere has led to the proliferation of memetic technologies to "synchronize" the ethical beliefs of travelers with those of the societies they encounter. Collectively known as "modular ethics," these are discrete packets of ethical and moral memes, reviewed and verified by authoritative bodies, and offered to immigrants as a precondition to entry. Newcomers to a community are expected to "install" the latest modular ethic of the region before they become a member, and may "uninstall" that module only in the event of their departure from the community.

The motivation to produce these devices grew out of the increasing frequency of criminal "culture shock" experienced by travelers when intermingling with various disparate societies. While a wide cross-section of Terragen culture may share some common ideas concerning permissible behavior, other ideas vary radically from one polity to another. In order to avoid problems associated with defense from ignorance, modular ethics were developed to give citizens an intuitive sense of how more commonly observed laws such as "thou shalt not commit murder" relate to the more offbeat, local color laws such as "thou shalt not step on the purple grass." Since what constitutes simple, innocent acts in one society may come across as gross crimes in another, modular ethics provide individuals with a means to protect themselves, just as it gives a society a means of protecting its most cherished traditions.

Modular ethics include much more than just an academic knowledge of the presiding laws of the land. They include psychological adaptations to give context and motivation to the laws they teach. Not only does this eliminate confusion for travelers, it also gives them a near-instinctual system of checks to help keep their behavior in mind. Going back to the example above, travelers with a correctly installed modular ethic will have the same ethical reaction to stepping on the purple grass as they might to committing murder. Thus, they will likely be as careful to avoid stepping on purple grass as they would be to avoid killing a compatriot.

Of course, modular ethics aren't a perfect solution. Many polities ban their use as unnecessarily coercive. These areas view such technologies more as mind control, rather than a helpful "tour-guide to morality." Furthermore, modular ethics are only truly effective in those who exhibit an ethical character to begin with. In order to motivate travelers with (for example) no qualms about killing to avoid purple grass, more invasive memetic indoctrination is required.

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Development Notes
Text by David Jackson
Initially published on 16 September 2004.