Sockrad Radivis Interview VI: V Factions and the Prestige Accords

In this 6th interview with the science fiction writer Radivis, we cover the time after the Black War in the Coherence cosmos. Radivis, how would you describe the period following the Black War in general?

With the victory of the Superalliance, the status of the centuries long total war could finally be put to an end. Civilian life started afresh under the leadership of the V factions. It was a time of great cultural innovation.

What are those V factions exactly?

The V factions are ethical systems created by the early free superintelligences. They generally represent different versions of consequentialism, which is a class of highly formalized and advanced ethical systems that bases the evaluation of actions on their consequences. The different V factions represent different definitions of value (hence the letter V). In general, there are five big V factions:

  1. The Exuberance, which values positive feelings (minus negative feelings)
  2. The Unity, which values knowledge
  3. The Freedom, which values freedom, or more precisely a high number of possibilities and options
  4. The Exaltation, which values all of the above, but more on a personal level, corresponding to character development
  5. The Balance, which values all of the above and tries to balance those different values

How did you come up with those V factions?

I started from my personal ethical system of classical utilitiarianism, which is pretty much the idea behind the Exuberance. The ideas of the British philosopher David Pearce were quite influential for me back then, roughly 15 years ago. I found his idea of the hedonic imperative quite compelling, which implies that we should use technology to turn this world into a paradise, in which we would experience vastly enhanced forms of happiness. Later on, I started questioning whether this form of utilitarianism was something that everyone would be willing to agree on. I realized that other values like knowledge or freedom could represent different bases for ethical philosophies based on the idea of consequentialism. Knowledge is highly desirable in its own right and the more knowledge we have, the better our decisions can be. The case for freedom seems to be similarly elementary, as having different options to choose from is a necessary conditions for making choices at all. The Balance tries to combine these values with some kind of averaging function. Finally, the Exaltation may be the most complicated V faction of all, because it is based on the idea that we might live in a simulated world, and therefore our achievements in this world aren’t exactly what lasts the longest.

The Exaltation features prominently in your novel fragment Guidance Withdrawal. Is the reason for that the need to explain the Exaltation in detail? Anyway, if you had to explain the Exaltation in a couple of sentences, how would you do that?

Well, I think the Exaltation is one of the most fascinating V factions, and the one with the highest potential for drama. That it takes more time to explore it in detail was just an additional motivation. Now to your question on how I would explain the Exaltation: The Exaltation bases its ethical foundation on the assumption that every world exists as simulation within a different world and that our existence will be continued in that simulating world. The Exaltation focuses on developing personal resilience and development in order to create an optimal life path through simulated and simulating worlds.

That seems to be a pretty fancy assumption that implies some kind of infinite simulation hierarchy. Wouldn’t the assumption that only the current world was a simulation suffice?

Actually those different theories are equivalent, if the argument that claims the current world is a simulation is valid for any world you can find yourself in. For the universal simulation hypothesis of the Exaltation there are basically three core arguments:

  1. Any world can be simulated (at least approximately to a sufficient degree to be indistinguishable from a supposedly “not simulatable” world)
  2. Every world is actually simulated in some other world (there are many different frameworks in which this seems like a reasonable assumption, especially if we are dealing with infinitely large worlds or an infinite number of worlds)
  3. Simulators are able and willing to extract single individuals (or groups of individuals) from simulated worlds and transfer them to their own world, where their subjective lives are continued.
    If this set of premises is accepted, then some form of subjective immortality follows. The Exaltation tries to deal with the consequences of that subjective immortality in a quite formalized way. Actually, it has similarities with religions and spiritualities which also presume a life after death, but the Exaltation is purely based in philosophy and science.

But don’t the persons in the Coherence setting already possess an indefinite life expectancy, especially after the end of the Black War? Why consider the possibility of a life after death, if you can live on in this world forever?

The core problem of realizing that you live in a simulation is that you don’t know for how long that simulation will be run. It could be run for a sextillion years or just a couple of moments. If the simulation ends, all your achievements will be gone, except for those, which are transferred to the next world, and those are presumably mostly those which concern your own character.

So the Exaltationists essentially focus on the possibility that the simulation in which they presumably live will be shut down “soon”?

Yes, they follow a “better safe than sorry” approach to dealing with that contingency. From a certain perspective that it certainly reasonable. But of course not everyone shares that approach, so the Exaltationists represent a minority in the world of the V factions.

Is there a dominant V faction, or are they roughly equally influential?

The V factions are roughly equally influential. That situation has actually been carefully engineered by the Prestige Accords, which is a system to regulate the respective power of the V factions. The Prestige Accords are enforced by the Cosmoshield peacenet. Each V faction has prestige ratings, which depend on their evaluation by other V factions. These prestige ratings are local and only valid within a single system or fleet. The ratings fluctuate over time, but in general they remain roughly stable, since most V factions try to prevent the dominance of a single V faction.

Interesting. But wouldn’t such a system enable the V factions to conspire against each other to limit the influence of any V faction that is chosen as target?

In theory that could happen, but the Cosmoshield peacenet would immediately detect any attempt of conspiracy and make that public. Of course, V factions can coordinate publicly to weaken a selected V faction, but that is the domain of regular diplomacy. V factions must fear other V factions to retaliate diplomatically against harmful behavior, but that is the desired effect of the Prestige Accords.

So, the V factions keep each other in check, so that no V faction becomes too powerful, or does anything too harmful?

Exactly! The Prestige Accords were established before the Black War and were initially constructed to prevent a “land grab” (or rather “space grab”) race between the V factions, by enforcing strict regulations on how space and resources are distributed between the V factions.