5 Legal & Ethical Dilemmas in the world of Netflix’s Altered Carbon
If you’ve watched Season 1 of Altered Carbon, then you can skip directly to the list. If you haven’t, then read on.
Altered Carbon presents us with a future where your consciousness (the collective total of your memories and mind) is stored digitally in ‘stacks’ (essentially a hard drive) embedded at the base of your cortex (back of your neck). So if your body is damaged beyond repair (like say you get stabbed in the heart or choked or drown), the paramedics can just put your Stack in another Sleeve (a body, which can be grown in a lab) and you simply pick up where you left off. Stacks can be put in any body; there’s no restriction of age, ethnicity, or even gender. The result: there’s no such thing as death — unless the Stack is damaged beyond repair.
But, of course, there are complexities due to religion and economics. Some choose not to have a Stack and live a natural life (and death) because they believe those with Stacks don’t have souls. Also, only the really rich can grow their own Sleeves (which are often exact replicas of themselves). If you can’t afford to grow one yourself, and damage your sleeve, your Stack gets assigned a Sleeve at random. So it’s entirely possible that you’re originally a 75 year-old Latin American woman who Stack gets embedded in a 40 year-old burly Asian biker’s sleeve. It’s a world where imprisonment means getting your Stack removed and put on a shelf for the duration (your body gets recycled as a Sleeve).
Now, in this world, try answering these questions from a legal and ethical perspective:
- Age of Consent: If you slept with a 15 year-old in the sleeve of a 45 year-old, and you didn’t know the person was 15, would it still be considered statutory rape? Devil’s Advocate says there’s absolutely no way you would be able to make out your partner was underage; so while he/she may be charged with something resembling ‘fraud’, you might walk away free.
- Fidelity: If you were in a committed relationship, and swapped bodies (sleeves) to sleep with someone other than your partner, is it still cheating? Devil’s Advocate says you technically haven’t increased the number of partners you’re sharing your original body with — so it’s not cheating.
- Incest: If you and/or your sibling had their Stack re-sleeved into a total stranger’s body and had sex, would it still be considered an incestuous relationship? Devil’s Advocate says incest was outlawed and frowned upon because any children born of such a union could be prone to genetic deficiencies. But if the bodies are not from the same lineage, then that problem wouldn’t exist. So what’s the issue?
- Murder: If you’re in a habit of choking your partner during sex (with their consent), and accidentally killed them in the act, then are you culpable for involuntary manslaughter — knowing that his/her stack can just be put into a new sleeve to bring them back to life? Devil’s Advocate says that getting kinky is fine if no one’s complaining. And since death itself is not a permanent state of being, choke away.
- Sexual Identity: If you’re a straight man whose stack gets embedded in a woman’s body, and you find yourself attracted to another woman, then are you straight or gay? Devil’s Advocate says Sexual Identity as an identifier ceases to exist because Gender is not permanent; stop thinking about it and get it on.