Dystopia with a Dollop of Environmental Degradation

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A less talked about and common characteristic of cyberpunk is it’s calm yet distressing portrayal of the environment. Sunny blue skies, clear diamond starlit nights, sunrises and sunsets beaming with colorful harvests of sunshine are replaced by thick dreary overcasts, soft rain penetrating dense smog, and monotone daylight. At night, the subtlety of the climate crisis is overshadowed by exuberant city lights and holography. Perhaps it’s a euphemism of our current outlook, where glamour captures our attention at the expense of our immediate earthly concerns. Moreover, cybercities seem alive at night instead of at day. Perhaps the denizens of the cyberworld prefer the warm glow of corporate advertisement to the daytime simulacrum of hell on earth.
Dystopian imagery need not be appear so bleak. The youth in James Dashner’s The Maze Runner lived an idyllic setting of sorts; if you don’t mind roughing it. A rustic life outlined by greenery, plows, and hammocks seems lovely compared to soul crushing urban decay. But the horrific and humongous roaches beyond the moss-covered walls belies the lack of freedom for Dashner’s characters. Cyber-cacotopias, in contrast, typically unveil soul-crushing imagery both inside and outside the megacity. The contrast is chromatic, where energetic shades of blues, purples, pinks, and reds emanating from 3-D billboards imprint character onto teeming, and yet dead, city landscapes that share the same drudging black and grey hues of its urban fashion. It’s as if corporations monopolized life itself. Although cyberpunk urbanity has a unique radiance, it’s still a visual assault on the spirit.
Why I think cyberpunk is able to slightly sprinkle hints of dread is through its display of climate crisis and urban decay. It’s something many people feel as something that is real, happening know, and only getting worse.
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The air quality and color reminds me of Gattaca and several scenes from Blade Runner 2049. BBC News Caption (Bambang. When the particulate index reaches the level of 2,900. Photo by Bjorn Vaughn.).

Meta-Vision

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Speculation:

I wonder, as our civilization accumalates more data as a function of the information age (and beyond), then the capacity of what I call meta-vision comes into being? It may be similar to Dune’s idea of Precience or the less useful stock-market predictions, in that “knowing the future” is a skill that has major advantages. The ability to predict future events based on an insane amount of information is not science fiction. Statisticians do it all the time. In fact, I remember my college poly sci days learning about how statisticians can be so accurate I actually felt an existential threat from that type of power. It’s not 100% accurate of course, but the craft is accurate enough that tens of millions of dollars can be spent on one project. Statistics used to predict future events is part of every industry today, especially politics, and every decade the practice gets better and better.

As corporations accumalate more capital, I think their potential for information dominance throughout society becomes more likely. They would have the money to pay for anything they wish to know. Didn’t Google just announce “quantum supremacy” (whatever that means) a few weeks ago? Aside from strong governments that can counterbalance mega-corporations, the only equalizer that I think could possibly compete with such power disparity is civil society, for a lack of a cyberpunk moniker. I refuse to use the phrase “the people” as if people who are apathetic, or co-opted, or belong to an opposing tribe don’t exist. Wikipedia, underground hackers, quality journalism, corporate activism, your USB device, are all examples of possible resistance to such over-whelming power. It’s not to say none of that can’t be comprimised, but to be recognized. In politics you learn, people power can compete against monetary power.

INFORMATION IS POWER. What a simulateously liberating yet horrifying maxim. Any rational actor would value more of it and the more powerful an entity becomes, there’s no less reason to limit the capacity for acquiring it. I think dystopian futures involve actors, probably mega-corporations, having such power disparity over the common man as to be no different that a totalitarian state. Can civil society prepare itself if or when, the state won’t act?

Free-Market Faith

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It is one thing to believe capitalism is the best game in town and another to believe capitalism is crap, but still the best game in town. I find myself in the latter’s dugout, finding reasons to play when many misunderstand the rules. But I will now attempt to bat with this post and hope to load at least one base.

Understanding the basic tenets of capitalism is really quite simple, until you pin the origins of its canons. For just one example, people may believe Adam Smith is the father of capitalism, but may be surprised to learn Smith never heard of it. The word “capitalism” or “capitalist,” does not appear once in Smith’s book The Wealth of Nations (1776). Instead, the word “capitalism” actually appears in the later half on the 19th Century and many attribute Karl Marx in coining the term. Therefore, Smith did not create an economic system inasmuch as he identified existing and efficient economic relationships and expounded those relationships….get this…for the benefit of mankind.

Just as surprising, Adam Smith writes about the short-comings of these relationships. Although he mentions the Invisible Hand, which is only briefly mentioned in his canonized and dogmatized Wealth of Nations, is a factor in how human society organizes its economics. Smith wrote an earlier book called The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), which talks about balancing the idea of self-interest with higher moral considerations, most pronounced is the idea of community and importance of sympathy. I doubt Adam Smith and Ayn Rand would have all that in common.

When people talk about the free-market, what they are really talking about are aspects of the market they benefit from and not an entire systemic set of principles that benefits everybody. It’s why commerce is not charity. The term free-market, which also does not show up in The Wealth of Nations, is a non-sensical term because markets are never free. But it’s a great marketing ploy to brand markets as a place for freedom. A place that government, which is one of the few great powers that can restrict corporate power, should keep it’s filthy dirty hands off. Ironic when government is by default the scoundrel but corporations and banks the scamp. It’s not to say governments can’t be a major problem in our economic affairs, they often are. But listen to narratives demanding unrestrained greed and you just might see that using bad governments is a hidden ball trick.

Of course market regulations can be stupid. But think about how free-marketeers talk about how unjust the government is to them and not who loses to their quest for profit. Free-market talk is a ploy to get people who don’t profit to back people who do, even at their own expense.

Maybe Trump And His Ilk Are Pivotal Against The Political Apathy In America?

When I was in college years ago I remember reading that political apathy being one of the greatest threats to democracies, especially to modern liberal types. It probably still is. Think of it. How can democracies work if the governed don’t care to even give their consent? What happens to the quality of the democracy when constituents feel too comfortable with their own lives, or when they believe an afterlife is more important than politics, or when they don’t fully realize their own self-interest, or when they just “feel” disenfranchised?


The educated vote at higher ratios than the less educated. But for how decently educated America is, I don’t think our voting turnouts for the last 50 years have matched. I may be wrong. Records show that barely over 50% of our VAP (voting age population) have voted in the last 20 years. Then if education won’t cut it, then what could help?

ANGER. It’s a great motivator. In some ways it’s better than conscious, and rational, and deliberate action. The former can get you off the couch and on your feet in less than a second. The later, whilst can give time for contemplation, might be interrupted by the next commercial or be forgotten by tomorrow’s end. Anger can help you remember because anger leaves brain-waffling impressions in your mind. Dwelling on the anger does make you think, which is not to say it naturally comes with fair-mindedness followed by some sort of enlightenment, and makes you reassess the things you care about. Is this way, anger has it’s political uses.

Is it possible that Trump can help drive voter turnout for Democrats in numbers that can shatter the elections of 2008 and 2012? Whether or not Trump wins 2020, I doubt his supporters will fade way. Remember, Trump is more the symptom than the cause. Demoralized, yes. Less fanaticized, I think it’s only going to get worse.

Mobilizing the people who would vote against you is less than getting your agenda done without them noticing. I have heard that Trump’s tactic relies on creating dumpster fires to distract you from the bigger fire elsewhere. The importance of this is to put out both fires, albeit starting with the more dangerous one first, if you have no choice to prioritize. But if the dumpster fires churns out swarms of apathetic people to leave their houses, then who does it really help?