I'm toying with magically binding contracts existing. For now I'm trying to figure out if such can exist without being either leaving loopholes, being easily abused, or otherwise resulting in a very uncomfortable situation. My question is basically if I introduced contracts as described below to a story will a reader say "Wait, what if I do X with them?" that ruins the contract.
I don't like making magic able to 'think' and make decisions, such as whether or not I actually fulfilled a stated contract. To get around that my binding contracts don't work on some magical third party making decisions; it instead is based off of the mind and interpretations of the people signing the contract. The contract must be entered into at the same time by two (or more) signers. The basic rules are:
Interpretation of a contract
- The contract is binding based off of the signers' interpretation of the contract. You can't sneak in loop holes or abuse of language to trick me into signing something I didn't think I was agreeing to since I'm only bound to what I honestly believed I agreed to.
- When all signators are entering the contract, their subconscious minds are temporarily connected. During this time they get a vague sense of whether or not everyone agreeing to the contract understands it. If two people have very different subconscious understanding of what they are agreeing to then they will know there is a conflict and the contract will not take until they both feel they have come to an agreement on whatever they originally didn't agree on.
- Similarly, if one party intends to not abide by the contract, to abuse a loophole in it, or otherwise has intent to subvert the stated intent of the contract in some way, the other will sense this and as such won't sign.
- While they do get a subconscious sense that there are disagreements or malicious intent when a contract fails to take, they only get a very vague idea of what the issue is -- this isn't indirect mind reading. They still need to sit down and talk to figure out what the actual problem was and find a proper agreement that will take.
- This might still leave room for smaller disagreements that weren't severe enough to prevent the contract from taking, or that neither side had thought enough about to realize they weren't in agreement about it at the time of signing. If this happens they can discuss this and will both be compelled to try to find a fair and amicable agreement to fix such a disagreement. I stress though that this is about what they honestly see as fair and amicable which may be different then what the other one believes is fair. They can go to arbitration if necessary to sort this out.
- After signing it's possible to modify, or cancel, a contract but only if both sides consent to it and they likewise agree as to what the modification is.
- The contract can force something like a very targeted version of OCD on someone to compel them to follow through with the content of the contract. If I promise to give someone an item I'll feel strongly compelled to do it. I can ignore the compulsion, but it will tend to grow stronger, more invasive, and potentially even debilitating until I cave in and do what I agreed to do.
- The severity of a compulsion is based off of what the signer believes is reasonable given their actual agreement and circumstances. So if I promise to give you something and simply refuse I'll feel a strong and escalating compulsion until I give it to you. If I promised to sell you my house only to find out it was struck by lightning and burned down while I was signing the contract I'll feel a lingering, not escalating, discomfort since I didn't follow through with the contract but it's largely not my fault. If instead I promised to give you something and then lost it through sheer incompetence I'd feel a much larger and lingering discomfort since I'm largely at fault for why I can't do what I promised, but it won't be as strong or building as if I was actively resisting doing something I otherwise could do.
- If I can't follow through with contracts, I'll still be compelled to try to make arrangements to compensate you appropriately for my failure -- such as by returning the money you payed me for the house that unknowingly had burned down before I signed the contract -- much in the same way as how I mentioned smaller disagreements may come up in the last section
- Contracts must be entered into willingly and knowingly. If a signer feels too forced a contract will not take -- both parties will know whether the contract took or not.
- Consent is not always a boolean operator. There can be situations where someone feels mildly forced by circumstances to sign, but not as if the force is so strong as to prevent a contract taking at all. This may weaken the later compulsion the contract can cause. Both parties will know how strongly a contract will bind someone, a party may refuse to accept a contract if they feel a party won't be strongly enough compelled by it due to feeling forced to sign.
A third party can serve as an arbitrator. This usually happens by the arbitrator signing a contract with the two saying they promise to be fair and unbiased as they can be if they promise to accept their decision. I haven't yet decided a good way to decide who gets to be an arbitrator or what to do if both sides can't even agree on that details; especially in the case when one side may be suffering a potentially stronger compulsion then the other putting them at a disadvantage on needing to pick an arbitrator quickly. Worst case A's compulsion to find an arbitrator fast may put them in such duress that they couldn't sign a contract agreeing to arbitration because they felt compelled to sign it?
Mostly I see problems being when two people disagree on what constitutes a 'fair' resolution of a contract in more complicated situations. While the contract signing should prevent blatant misinterpretation, it still leaves room for later ambiguity, especially if one side becomes incapable of doing something they agreed to when they signed a contract.
I also worry that it may make put someone without a conscious, a sound sense of right and wrong, or even a firm understanding of reality in a position where they can violate the contract freely because they honestly feel it shouldn't apply to them. For instance what happens if someone's paranoid schizophrenia kicks in after they enter a contract convincing them that the other signer was part of the illuminati, had forced them to sign with some mind control device, and thus the contract was signed without consent and shouldn't bind them?
Of course you have the opposite problem of someone perhaps feeling they didn't do enough to abide by the intent of a contract even when most honest third parties would say they had, causing them to feel forced to continue making ever more convoluted steps towards 'fixing' their perceived failings.
So, given my attempt to create a 'safe' magical contract which doesn't depend on magic being sentient to act as an interpreter, how badly can it be abused or go wrong, and what steps can be taken to make it a viable and safe option to use?