Victims of the Cyberpunk Future

Alan P. Scott - Rants - Editorials

what steers the steersmen?

The following has been substantially edited down from items I posted on the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written.


One of the standard tropes of cyberpunk is the perfectly logical extrapolation from current trends in corporate/government interaction: the utter abandonment of constraints on corporations. Take a look at how many "anti-big-government" moves benefit ONLY corporations, not individual humans. Since corporations have a) no minds, and b) no supererogatory needs (no need to be responsible to anything but the corporation's own bottom line), this removal of restraints on them leads inexorably to, well, hell on Earth.

I think cyberpunk in general portrays an even more polarized society than ours, one in which there's a thin crust of decadent rulers who have powers almost unimaginable today, a huge caught-in-the-middle class of corporate drones leading poor and fearful lives even by today's standards, and a large but powerless group of marginal people, some of whom are quite intelligent but all of whom are incapable for one reason or another of fitting into the complex machine that society has become, and who are therefore even more disenfranchised than, say, today's homeless. Take a look at Jack Womack's Random Acts of Senseless Violence, for instance, or Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower. I'm sure that somewhere in the worlds of those novels, cyberpunks are winging through cyberspace, blithely cybering their cyberlives on the Cybernetic Cyberhighway... but the protagonists of those books don't see that part of it. And most real people (exempting those of us on the 'Net, I guess) won't see it either.

I'm disturbed by assumptions that we've somehow gotten past the supply-side excesses of the Reagan/Thatcher era, and are currently living under some different regime. The distress of John Major et al. and the elections of Clinton notwithstanding, we are still dealing with the legacy of the Reagan/Bush/Thatcher era; in fact, the Republican takeover of the US Congress and Clinton's shifts rightward indicate that the Clinton presidency was a mere wobble in the process. Corporation worship and the commodification of existence are proceeding apace, and L.A. is looking more like Bladerunner every day.

The "cyberpunk future" is ALREADY coming true, and despite the fact that Reagan and Thatcher are out of the picture, nothing is happening to change this. International agreements like NAFTA and GATT (pushed by Clinton, our so-called "liberal" president!) are only strengthening the trend towards a society stratified by corporate, rather than national, interests. And no one seems to be able to do anything about it - everyone agrees that the current situation is insupportable, but its "reformers" all seem bent on destruction rather than true reform.

I don't think, for instance, that any liberal would deny in private that the welfare system needs to be reformed. However, "reform" does NOT mean the Republican agenda, which is apparently to eliminate the entire concept without putting anything in its place except "get a job - and training - on your own dime - oh, and get your own dime, too."

Tort "reform" is another example of the same thing; it's almost always nothing but a buzzword for protecting corporations - nonhuman entities - from individual humans, whose grievances are often (despite propaganda and celebrated cases like the McDonald's coffee case) entirely legitimate.

1984 may have, in part, averted some of the future it portrayed (or at least I've seen that case advanced); sometimes, though, I fear that the cyberpunks are, if anything, hurrying theirs to fruition.

Original content on this page ©, 1996 Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.

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