Cyberpunk, meritocracy, and the end of the “end of history”
Most people on here are familiar with neoconservative intellectual Francis Fukuyama and his idea of the “End of History”. At the conclusion of the cold war Fukuyama claimed that:
>the worldwide spread of liberal democracies and free-market capitalism of the West and its lifestyle may signal the end point of humanity's sociocultural evolution and become the final form of human government.
Now he has since recanted these views as it is apparent that they were wrong. The zeitgeist of the 1980s and 1990s was a strange thing compared to today, a sort of libertarian-doomerism prevaded, with some cheerleading the coming neoliberal Era like Fukuyama, and some left-liberals fearing it. Nevertheless all sides agreed that shrinking government was the future, leading to either an Ancap dystopia or utopia, depending on which point of view. Its when you take this into account that theorists like Nick Land begin to make sense, as well as other accelerationists.
Cyberpunk author William Gibson’s 1980s and 1990s novels have also been viewed through many lenses, of techno-phobia, but there is a political reading of his work, based on who Gibson was/is: an anarchist (and later, left-liberal) baby boomer who despised Ronald Reagan and “Reaganism”, i.e. what we would today call ‘neoliberalism’. Gibson, on Reagan:
>If I were to put together a truly essential thank-you list for the people who most made it possible for me to write my first six novels, I’d certainly owe as much to Ronald Reagan as to Bill Gates or Lou Reed. Reagan’s presidency put the grit in my dystopia. His presidency was the fresh kitty litter I spread for utterly crucial traction on the icey driveway of uncharted futurity. His smile was the nightmare in my back pocket.
Cyberpunk, when you take away all the cool technology, is essentially an Anarcho-capitalist dystopia. Corporations control everything and government is non-existent. In that sense Gibson’s dystopia had more in common with ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ than anything called ‘cyberpunk’ today. But while Atwood focused on the evangelical christian aspects of Reaganism, Gibson focused on the libertarian-economic aspects and the cold warrior aspects (in Neuromancer, the war between the US and Russia happened, originally inventing the Hacker Cowboys as a military project to use against the Russians in the process).
Some say 9/11 ended this era. Others say it was the financial crisis. In the inter crisis period (roughly 2013-2020), between the recession and the pandemic, neoliberalism once again reared it’s ugly head, with neoliberals resurrecting the mythology like ‘the great moderation’, zombie Reaganism returning in the form of Trumponomics, with his tax cuts for the rich, despite his faux-populist messages. Gibson himself referred to the Trump era in a tweet as a “Jim Jones remix of the Reagan Era”, the similarities are apparent as both politicians represent an era of cultural and economic right wing backlash against the working class, both politicians were celebrities, both even used the same slogan of “Make America Great Again”.
While Gibsonian visions of cyberspace were, in my opinion, fueled more by his experiences with mind altering substances as a young man than anything resembling the actual internet, I often wonder what a young William Gibson would write today. If Gibson was born 40-50 years later as a millennial or a zoomer, what would his dystopia be? In my opinion, it would include many more traditional dystopic elements such as an expansion of State power in the form of overweening intelligence agencies. The power of corporations would remain. It would of course include Climate change.
In my opinion the dystopia of the future will not be like an ancap cyberpunk dystopia, or a 1984 form of totalitarian statism, but a bizarre hybrid of the two. It will also be tolerant, multicultural, and will perfect the dictatorship of capital by eliminating barriers to meritocracy.
Meritocracy: The ideology of the 21st century bourgeoisie.
As Marx himself said, “The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class”. Unlike previous, more aristocratic ruling classes, though, the 21st century capitalist class seeks to legitimate its rule with the concept of “meritocracy”. Even as income inequality grows more severe and the myth of social mobility grows ever less believable, the ruling elites lean even harder into the myth of ‘merit’. This has lead to the rise of “helicopter parenting”. Whilst many boomers complain about over-involved parents, the reason for this, is to make sure that children reproduce the class status of their parents, by not leaving anything to chance. If it means redrawing the educational district so that only the children of wealthy families get into a certain school, getting tutors if their child’s grades start to slip, etc. then they do it. To make sure they have the right grades, go to the right schools, so they can end up in the same social class, either upper middle or upper class, as their parents. Meritocracy serves as a validating myth “we worked hard to get where we are” that the 21st century bourgeoisie, and to a lesser extent their professsional-managerial hangers-on clings to as a justification for their wealth. This is why they also find the idea of racial and other privilege so threatening, because it undermines the basis for their self conception of deserving wealth. If the system is rigged, then it’s not meritocratic.
What people get wrong about neoliberal IDPOL is that its not done because it’s adherents believe it, but because racial/gender inequality strikes into the heart of their self serving mythology. So there are two options from there: 1- to deny it (conservatism) and say pull yourself up by your bootstraps, lazy blacks etc. This is a doomed political project IMO because it clashes with observed reality in a way that increasingly fewer people are able to deny. The second option is 2- reform capitalism to save it, not as in the 20th century, by instituting Keynesian Reforms, but by eliminating the attacks on the meritocratic-mythology by creating a more diverse, inclusive form of capitalism.
The dystopia of the future will not be dominated by the Patrick Batemans of the world, but rather, but those whose only problem with ‘American Psycho’ is that the protagonist was a white male and not a queer woman of color, in which case it would be a story of empowerment, of a woman reclaiming her sexuality and violently smashing the patriarchy by axe murdering her (probably sexist) male co-worker. Ronald Reagan in drag. The marriage of Judith Butler and Milton Friedman. A Hippie in an expensive suit – the ‘Californian Ideology’ on steroids. Left wing identity politics will be deployed, paradoxically, in support of the system, by associating populism with fascism and left wing critiques of inequality with whiteness. A sort of verbal jiu jitsu, where a left wing criticism of the system was recuperated and re-appropriated in service of defending that very system.
Most, if not all dissent will be siloed by both the ruling class and the right, into a populist/nationalist right, and a neoliberal “left”. A new libertarianism, a hyper-woke dictatorship of capital is emerging, and unlike the previous libertarianism, it will have greater moral legitimacy due to its philosophy of anti-racist meritocracy. It will call itself the left, and be culturally an heir to the new left, rather than the autistic ravings of Mises, etc. but it will, in other language, justify capitalism.
Affirmative action and ESG scores aren't meritocratic but still predominate US companies.
Man that's a lot of text to complain about le woke stuff
>>1279842>In my opinion the dystopia of the future will not be like an ancap cyberpunk dystopia, or a 1984 form of totalitarian statism, but a bizarre hybrid of the two. It will also be tolerant, multicultural, and will perfect the dictatorship of capital by eliminating barriers to meritocracy.
Neat, I'm writing a cyberpunk game and that's literally how I'm writing the setting.>While Gibsonian visions of cyberspace were, in my opinion, fueled more by his experiences with mind altering substances as a young man than anything resembling the actual internet
To be fair, Neuromancer was published in 1984. Inter-network communications had only been invented a year prior, and the Internet itself wouldn't exist for another 7 years. You can't blame the guy for getting it wrong.
Honestly, I think that the narrative has shifted against Elon Musk simply because he's destroying the idea of meritocracy. In 2012 people thought he was a genius visionary, but over the past decade he's slowly shown that he's just a rich dude that got lucky. He alone won't destroy the justification of meritocracy, but he's doing damage and will be punished for it.
the internet already existed in the 1980s, you mean the world wide web
>Cyberpunk, when you take away all the cool technology, is essentially an Anarcho-capitalist dystopia
Due to the mainstreaming of its aesthetics and the vapid (even if cool-looking) derivatives, people treat the -punk suffix as a formality but cyberpunk was and is first and foremost an dystopic anti-authoritarian satire. I wouldn't go as far as to restrict it to 'anarcho-capitalist', but that's not a stretch either as many do embrace the techno corporate/s-as-a-state setting.
As an aside, the -punk artistic movement parallels solarpunk, where anarchists and to some decree socialists in general strive to keep it recognized as a cultural movement rather than a shallow green-utopian aesthetic.
But yeah I don't even know why you brought it up at all. All you really said was "in my opinion he would have wrote about something else if born today".
In fact, this whole post is a long pointless rabble culminating in the silly second-last paragraph. It's like you've looked at twitter social-rejects and based your worldview around it.
The mainstream of capitalism is liberalizing, just like the mainstream of western Christianity liberalizes. It's a self-defense mechanism which may fool people on the surface, but to think that being inclusive is enough to save capitalism as it once again shoves us into depression…. no. It's a bandaid on an infected wound. Shit, if anything it might just help us overcome race-war bullshit and focus on economic class unity. Or maybe I'm being too optimistic again!
I love going on YT videos of old Jungle tunes and reading all the comments by burned-out sesh heads. They have a special way with words.
the G part of ESG is meritocratic, and so is E if you include environmental externalities