New Zealand Already Has A Chinese-Style Social Credit System

Some hysteria has been generated recently about China’s Social Credit System. Fears of a cyberpunk-style technodystopia have been stoked by new advancements in mass surveillance technology and data mining. As this essay will show, New Zealand already has a social credit system, and it does the same thing that the Chinese one does.

The Chinese social credit system, planned to be fully introduced by 2020, has sparked intense fears among libertarians. Already it is the case in China that people with too low a social credit score have been denied access to trains and other means of transportation. The biggest fear is that this Social Credit System will spread to other societies, leading to a world where certain groups of people get to enjoy extra-legal privileges denied to those lacking sufficient “credit”.

The Chinese system works by assigning every individual citizen a score based on their level of trustworthiness. This trustworthiness is calculated by combining a number of variables that relate to that individual’s criminal history, indebtedness, education etc. It also includes several Government blacklists, which have been compiled by domestic intelligence forces.

Anyone with a sufficiently low credit score will be denied services. This doesn’t only mean restrictions on transportation, as mentioned above, but also restrictions on where you’re allowed to live, what schools you may attend, who you’re allowed to marry and even what healthcare you’re allowed to get. Some far-thinking fantasists are afraid that an automated, computer-based system of social credit might be introduced to the West by tyrannical future governments to sharply restrict freedoms here.

In reality, New Zealand already has a Social Credit System that affords extra-legal privileges to certain groups, and so does everywhere else. It’s called wealth, and it is the default social credit system of every political system that has degenerated into oligarchy, as the West has done.

We were given a crude look at it this week when Joseph Babich, a wealthy member of one of New Zealand’s most prominent winemaking families, was let off scot free by a judge on charges of importing cocaine and methamphetamine. Importation of a Class A drug carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Contrast the leniency shown in the Babich case to the harshness of the sentence handed down to Thomas Tawha for poaching 59 trout to feed his own family earlier this year. Tawha got four months in prison.

What is clear from contrasting these two cases is that a sophisticated and all-encompassing social credit system already exists in New Zealand, and it’s similar to the Chinese one. ‘Trustworthiness’ means people that the Government likes (i.e. the obedient). Anyone the Government likes gets special privileges, and anyone the Government doesn’t like gets the hammer brought down on them for the slightest indiscretion.

The purpose of a criminal trial is not really to establish guilt, but to establish trustworthiness. Joseph Babich is a man who benefits immensely from the current political order, and therefore he can be trusted by the political class to act to maintain that order. Consequently, he escapes punishment. Tawha is a man who suffers immensely under the current political order, and therefore cannot be trusted to maintain it. Therefore, his punishment is brutal.

The New Zealand social credit system is mostly based around wealth, in that wealthy people are continually being let off crimes scot free, given warnings or not being investigated, while poor people are continually being hammered. Race is also a big part of it, in that white people and Asians can be trusted to support the current political order, whereas Maoris cannot.

To be fair, some of the aspects of this social credit system are not unreasonable. Babich had had no previous contact with the Police, while Tawha had dozens of previous convictions.

In Tawha’s case, however, at least some of the severity of his punishment can be attributed to the fact that he rejected the legitimacy of the New Zealand court system, even declaring himself a sovereign citizen. This is similar to the case of Brian Borland, who received four years and nine months imprisonment for unrepentantly growing cannabis. Borland’s sentence was heavier than those many of those handed out to rapists, people who commit vehicular manslaughter and people who pimp out children.

In summary, a comprehensive social credit system already exists in New Zealand, primarily based around personal wealth. With a high enough credit score you can break the law without punishment, and with too low a score the legal system brutalises you. This credit score is little more than the Government’s estimation of how compliant, obedient and submissive you are – the more taxes you can be milked for without complaint, the higher you are.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis).

A Technoshamanic Update to the Perennial Philosophy

The perennial philosophy comes and goes, all throughout time and space, being a reflection of the mind of God in the Great Fractal. In every new age it updates itself, taking a form that makes sense to the people of the time, depending on the characteristics of that age. Because technological change has been so rapid over the last 150 years, the perennial philosophy has not been able to keep up. This essay makes an attempt to do so.

The metaphors of the former age were the crucifix, the fish and the crescent, just as they were the pyramid, the bull and the sacrificial brazier in the age before that. The age that we are now entering has its own zeitgeist – perhaps it is time for a technoshamanic update to the perennial philosophy?

The perennial philosophy is informational gold and is more fundamental than language and therefore cannot be described in words. However, we can predict what some of its teachings are going to be, by applying the axiom of “As below, so above” to the modern day.

In its earlier incarnations, through the writings of Hermes Trismegistus and others, the perennial philosophy explained the metaphysical world by analogy to the natural world. “That which is above is from that which is below, and that which is below is from that which is above, working the miracles of one,” reads the Emerald Tablet, “Its father is the Sun and its mother the Moon.”

This remained an extremely effective metaphor, until today. The world of today is so bizarre, so surreal and impossible that distinguishing it from a dreamscape is no longer easy. Moreover, modern people are almost completely out of touch with the natural world – many of us haven’t so much as looked at the Moon in years.

We need a new metaphor for a new age, and virtual reality seems like the obvious replacement.

Following this line of reasoning, one might expect that the creation myths of the new century will be based around the same binary division as always but with a modern twist; in other words not of yang and yin, fire and water or Sun and Moon but of 1 and 0. The hardware is the brain, the software is the mind, and electricity is the Holy Ghost.

Different lives could be seen as nothing more than differing sets of sensory impressions upon consciousness. As long as these impressions could be accurately recorded and reproduced, there’s no reason why they couldn’t be accessible for any conscious person to experience at any time.

My own The Verity Key twisted the ordinary perception of consciousness through a machine that could replace the consciousness of another person with that of the operator of the eponymous device. The idea was to play on the usual belief of the reader that their consciousness was directly connected to their physical body, and could never be separated.

This played with the idea of the Great Fractal, which is conceptualised as an immense algorithm that calculates all of the possible combinations of senses that make up the illusion of the material world. This is a modern way of expressing how all things flow from one, i.e. “all created objects come from one thing, an undifferentiated primal matter”.

In other words, all of the contents of consciousness ultimately flow from consciousness itself, because nothing more than consciousness is needed to create them all – a fact known to all who have managed to purify their consciousness to the level of gold and thereby completed the Philosopher’s Stone.

Other ancient alchemical or hermetic beliefs can likewise be transliterated into a modern context.

The laws of karma can be expressed in terms of frequency, which no-one understood before the days of widespread radio, and which now everyone does. If one can imagine such a thing as a frequency of consciousness, a higher frequency would produce a more harmonious tone and joy among those who heard it, whereas a lower frequency would produce a discordant tone and fear among those who heard it.

A technoshaman might contend that, upon the expiration of one’s physical body, the frequency of consciousness that one had cultivated is the only thing that passes into the next world. They might even go as far as to contend that this frequency will attract those of a like frequency, and therefore that, post-death, one’s frequency dictates which part of the Great Fractal one’s consciousness becomes attuned to and the frequency of those who populate it (until, of course, one dies there as well).

One’s “frequency of consciousness” can here be likened to an analog television or radio signal. The more pleasurable frequencies are not necessarily the first ones discovered, or the most popular ones, and they certainly aren’t the easiest to tune into. In order to tune into higher frequencies one must know where to find them on the dial.

The alchemical quest of transforming lead into gold is a physicalist metaphor for the mystical quest that, in modern language, could be said to be about tuning a low frequency of consciousness into a higher one.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis).

The Political Paradox at the Heart of Cyberpunk

Science fiction has generally been considered a left-wing preoccupation. Not only is the readership of science fiction stories younger than average, but the nature of science fiction lends itself towards progressivism. Female characters such as Lieutenant Ripley of Alien had great appeal among the generation that had cast off the moral strictures of the 1950s, but a right-wing yang has always existed within the dark yin of the milieu.

The political atmosphere of science fiction reflects an old-school leftism that’s almost entirely different to the identity politics of the social justice warriors who dominate the media of today. The leftism of science fiction was always more libertarian than today’s culture would prefer, and was written without the need to shoehorn a moral lecture into the story.

Philip K Dick wrote his science fiction works, to a large extent, out of inspiration drawn from his hatred of authoritarianism and authoritarian systems. This is why his protagonists, like Bob Childan in Man in The High Castle, were usually everymen who lacked any aristocratic pretenses. Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War depicted a future world in which hedonistic homosexuality was standard practice and a kind of communism had taken over the resource distribution of the planet.

Realistically, it’s hard to imagine a high-tech society that hadn’t also managed to solve the vast majority of its social problems, for the simple reason that if a society has the resources to be high-tech it also has the resources to feed, clothe and house everyone. The essence of cyberpunk, however, is “high tech, low life”; Brave New World is not cyberpunk, and neither is 1984, for the reasons that these works deal with heroic and upstanding characters.

This essence lends itself to a conservative orientation for two reasons.

The first is that it suggests that “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” which is a deeply conservative sentiment. It’s a break with the easy utopias envisioned in atomic era works like Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man or Aldous Huxley’s The Island. These works portray future societies which, although they have their problems, have generally solved all the major survival challenges (although The Demolished Man has a cyberpunk vibe in that the protagonist is also the antagonist).

In cyberpunk, by contrast, it’s common that society has either collapsed or become dystopic. The America of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash has disintegrated into a patchwork of city states, fiefdoms, armed enclaves and chaos zones, which goes against the common narrative of an easy ascent into becoming a space-faring civilisation common to most earlier science fiction.

Likewise in William Gibson’s Bridge trilogy, where society has rotted out from the inside, meaning that people have been forced to take on a hard edge to their personality and behaviour in order to survive. In Gibson’s stories, crime exists for the same reasons it exists in our own world; greed, fear, stupidity and cruelty cast their shadows on every chapter.

This is a conservative sentiment because it directly opposes the common leftist belief that it’s possible to build a utopia. Cyberpunk works warn us of the terrible possibilities that are likely to result from attempts to build a perfect world – Akira could be considered the modern Frankenstein.

The second reason is that “high tech, low life” reflects a cynical interpretation of human nature. The protagonist of the Altered Carbon series, Lieutenant Kovacs, never gets fooled or manipulated on account of automatically assuming the worst of everyone he encounters. He is particularly cynical, verging on paranoid, and this quality serves him well as it keeps him one step ahead of the criminals trying to kill him. Cyberpunk heroes are often like this – more antihero than good old boy.

Much like the first reason, this low-life element of cyberpunk reminds us that ideas of utopias are just dreams. Life finds a way, and so does crime. This is essentially conservative because it asserts that human nature cannot fundamentally be changed.

Humans have not been intrinsically good at any point in the past, and so there’s no reason to think they should be in the future. Therefore, we can assume that humans (especially young men) will aggressively push the boundaries just as much in times to come. As is the case today, these people will often go too far in asserting their wills, and this can lead to reprisals, and thereby the whole dark side of the human drama that cyberpunk is known for.

It is not the contention of this essay that this paradox detracts from the power of cyberpunk media. To the contrary, cyberpunk draws its power from the tension inherent in the juxtaposition between the desire for order and the desire for freedom.

Many of the protagonists in cyberpunk stories just want to be left alone to enjoy their lives, but violence and trouble finds them anyway, and they have to learn to become hard in order to cope. The protagonist of Metrophage is an everyman who could have been a protagonist in a Philip K Dick story, but instead of the mind-bending confusion of a PKD story he gets dragged into the noir of a cyberpunk one.

This sentiment of escaping an oppressive, totalitarian force is also a common sentiment for many intelligent, free-thinking people nowadays, who just want to be left alone to experiment with consciousness in the form of psychoactive substances without being attacked by law enforcement officers.

In this balance, cyberpunk appeals to a more intelligent kind of reader. The resolution of the cyberpunk paradox might be found in that punk is an expression of rebellion against those same human forces that create political dystopias and faceless corporate juggernauts. In this rebellion it is an affirmation of the human spirit, more libertarian than either left of right, and this is perhaps where cyberpunk gets most of its appeal.

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Vince McLeod is the author of ANZAC cyberpunk work The Verity Key. If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of his and other VJMP essays in the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis).

FaceBook Contains The Seeds For Its Own Destruction In Its “Community Standards”

As the yang contains the seeds of the yin that will eventually grow to overwhelm it, so does FaceBook contain the seeds for its own destruction in its totalitarian “Community Standards”

Social media is becoming an ever more difficult place to express oneself, with the list of things that you’re not allowed to say growing by the week. FaceBook (otherwise known as FaecesBook) is arguably the worst offender, and is getting worse all the time. Unfortunately for them, the seeds of their own destruction are sown by their aggression against free expression.

More and more people are finding themselves “zucked”. This means they are banned from FaceBook for a set length of time because of transgressions against the mysterious “Community Standards”: an ephemeral set of ever-shifting laws against saying certain things, on the grounds (presumably) that some might find the speech offensive.

In doing so, FaceBook has forgotten who made it popular in the first place. It wasn’t people who were worried about community standards – to the contrary, it was the sort of person who flocked to the Internet as a place to speak freely. It was the cool people who made FaceBook a fun place to talk about things that were hard to talk about in real life, for whatever reason.

These people are not going to tolerate being banned for 30 days for using words like ‘faggot’ or ‘nigger’: two things which ought to be punished by no more than mild social disapproval, without need for recourse to a higher authority. Cool people don’t put up with that sort of crap; cool people will simply find another platform (such as www.minds.com), upon which they can still express themselves freely, and without being encumbered by arbitrary restrictions imposed by some moralising, prudish control freaks.

The author was recently banned from FaecesBook for three days for writing the word ‘fags’. It wasn’t written as a slur, but as the opposite. It was part of the phrase “God Hates Fags”, in the context of mocking religious fundamentalists who hate homosexuals and who are boneheaded enough to protest homosexuality by holding up signs that presume to speak for God.

So it doesn’t even matter if you make a comment in support of homosexuals by mocking those who only are homophobic because they think God told them to be. Use of the word ‘fag’ or ‘fags’ is verboten, so utterly verboten that it is a crime for which there is no defence.

On another occasion I was zucked when a troll in a group I was in accused the group of being full of people who believed that Hitler did nothing wrong. I responded with “But Hitler didn’t do anything wrong” – a comment so clearly a joke that no-one except for the most socially retarded idiot sperglord could have thought otherwise. That’s no defence in the eyes of FaceBook, though, for who all thoughtcrime must be ruthlessly punished.

Perhaps I should have been banned for making such an obvious joke? It would have been much fairer.

It makes one wonder – has Zuckerberg ever been to a pub? Has he ever been out in public, and heard how people speak in real life when they’re trying to relax and make some light humour? ‘Fags’ is hardly a problem. What is a problem is the ever-increasing creep of intrusive advertisements on FaceBook, a platform where the vast majority of the content is created by users who could go anywhere else.

Or is the plan to make FaceBook a gigantic safe space, much in the same way that television currently is? Because the obvious problem with this approach is that FaceBook got its initial momentum from being the precise opposite to a safe space, and if it tries to be the United Nations of Internet forums it will end up just as despised and derided as the UN is.

FaceBook is already dying, but it might take several years for the obvious signs of its irreversible decline to become undeniable. It is, in effect, going through the inevitable life cycle of Internet forums, in which the fourth stage – Destruction – is marked by the controllers of the forum bringing in more and more and more rules in an attempt to recapture the glory days, without them being aware that it is the very application of all these rules which has driven the glory away.

The application of ridiculous Community Standards that not even the average grandmother can abide by without getting banned will be the death of FaceBook.

The Future of Empathy

Empathy has probably evolved to facilitate social interaction in the human species, which is why an absence of it tends to have antisocial consequences

By most measures, the world seems to have become a more empathetic place since the Stone Age. The average person’s chances of meeting a violent end are far lower today than back then, and one’s exposure to grossly traumatic events are also far lower. This has had some interesting effects for a species that may have adapted to a certain level of environmental violence.

In many ways, this increasing empathy is becoming standardised and expected. We are more empathetic than ever before by a number of measures: we share more of our wealth than ever, we commit fewer crimes against each other than ever, we have a much better understanding of mental illness than ever. We debate social issues – like bringing refugees into the country to be supported out of general taxation – that would have been unthinkable even a century ago.

The question arises: where does this process end? In my upcoming cyberpunk novel, The Man With A Thousand Fathers, I explore this point in some detail. It is set in the 2080s, when the science of psychology is much more advanced than what it is today and when the confluence of virtual reality and psychoactive research chemicals has meant that the world on the flipside is often realer than this one.

In the Thailand of the story world, children who are discovered to have defective levels of empathy are put into a virtual reality environment instead of being allowed to go into real life, and then raised with exposure to a set of stimuli specifically calculated to condition them to be more civil. One of the story’s characters, an orphan named Suwat, spends over a decade in such a virtual environment before being released.

It’s entirely possible that such a thing may eventuate, for utilitarian reasons. It’s not difficult to predict the kinds of children who are going to grow up to be criminals. They’re simply the kids that lack empathy for other kids. Any schoolteacher could tell you with high accuracy which children in their class are likely to grow up to cause problems and which children are not.

It’s also not difficult to predict why these kids lack empathy. The vast majority of the time it’s because they themselves aren’t shown empathy at home. Children are not born knowing what’s what; they learn to base their behaviour and moral values on what is demonstrated to them as normal. If a child’s parents don’t show empathy to each other or to that child, that child might well grow up to learn that not showing empathy is normal.

A child who has been exposed to really bad things might even come to learn that empathy is weakness that makes a person vulnerable. They might learn that showing empathy is a signal that one is soft, and that one dare not show it in case it invites aggression and exploitation.

With advancing virtual reality technology, we’re almost at the point where using a virtual environment for therapeutic purposes becomes mainstream. Virtual reality therapy has already shown promise in treating soldiers suffering from PTSD.

Extrapolating from this, it might become possible, if a virtual environment was engineered accurately enough, to use VR therapy to cure a wide range of psychiatric illnesses and disorders.

On the darker side, advancing technology might also make it possible for psychotechnicians to use machines to measure aspects of brain activity that the owner of the brain might not themselves be aware of. It has been possible to detect homosexuality in a subject for decades by exposing them to graphic homosexual images and measuring whether certain parts of the brain spark into life or not, and who knows where this sort of technology might lead.

It might happen that young children are exposed, en masse, to virtual reality examinations in which their brains are tricked into thinking that they’re in situations where empathy is required, and then their levels of empathy are measured. Anyone with too low a level is shipped off to VR therapy in the hope that they can learn to become more co-operative.

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Vince McLeod is the author of ANZAC cyberpunk novel The Verity Key.

Blade Runner 2049 Shows That Cyberpunk Will Live Forever

A Blade Runner for a new generation poses a set of moral dilemmas for a new generation – as cyberpunk always will

Film pundits are divided over whether or not Blade Runner 2049 can be counted as a successful film. On the one hand, it lost $80,000,000 at the box office; on the other, it has an 8.4/10 rating on the IMDB. This essay argues that not only is Blade Runner 2049 a great film, but it is evidence that the cyberpunk genre will live forever.

Cyberpunk, like Satanism and Test match cricket, is never going to find mass appeal among a Western population that hates thinking. All of these genres are acquired tastes that only a particular sort of person finds interesting – and then, they usually find it fascinating. So it’s entirely appropriate that Blade Runner 2049 did poorly at the box office but extremely well among cyberpunk fans who have a sophisticated appreciation for the genre.

Cyberpunk will always have a place in popular culture, as long as advancing technology continues to pose us moral dilemmas that bring with them the possibility of horror. New technologies will keep putting people in novel and unique situations without any previous example of how to conduct oneself, and they will continue to provide new methods to control, exploit, dominate and destroy.

Even though most new technological advances will be for peaceful and wholesome purposes, we can predict, to paraphrase William Gibson, that the street will continue to find its own uses for things, and therefore there will always be expression for people using technology to get any edge on each other.

Which means that advancing technology will continue to produce moral dilemmas that make for fascinating fiction.

The moral dilemma at the heart of Blade Runner was whether or not artificial humans could ever be considered real people, and so whether or not there was ever a moral obligation to treat them as equals, in the way that most people feel a moral obligation to treat other people as equals. Roy Batty was outraged that humans might have engineered him to have such an artificially short life span, and viewers were likely to concede that he had a point.

For whatever reason, the collective consciousness appears to have concluded that replicants are not, and can never be, conscious. Fair enough, but the moral dilemma at the heart of Blade Runner 2049 is whether or not the offspring of replicants that can breed are conscious. The characters in the film seem to glibly assume that any creature that is born must have a soul, but the question is never discussed at length by them, leaving such ruminations for the viewer.

Blade Runner 2049 poses this question in a believable and terrifying manner, and forces the reader to consider Philip K Dick’s fundamental question of science fiction: not “What if…”, but “My God, what if…” My God, what if artificial creatures that managed to replicate were actually conscious in the same way that we are conscious? What if acting to reduce the suffering of all sentient beings in the universe meant that we had to consider the offspring of replicants?

Cyberpunk is always going to raise questions like this, because it will always be true that somewhere there is a megacorporation with pockets deep enough to finance bleeding-edge technological research and application away from the watchful eyes of the government or the public, for whatever dark and twisted motives the world can surmise.

Because it did such an excellent job of posing such deep questions in a way that chills the spine of the viewer, it can be argued that Blade Runner 2049 is an excellent piece of cinema for the sort of viewer who appreciates a subtler and more cerebral tale than the usual Hollywood fare, even if it did not find mass market appeal.

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Vince McLeod is the author of the cyberpunk novel The Verity Key, a story of ANZAC mateship in a dystopic future world where it’s possible for devices to control people’s thoughts and actions by satellite.

How Cyberpunk Did The World Become?

It’s now 33 years since Neuromancer was published – establishing the cyberpunk timeframe as near-future – and that’s as long as either Alexander the Great or Jesus had in this world. It’s long enough for this essay to look back from the vantage point of 2017 and see how cyberpunk Planet Earth ended up becoming in this timeline.

Where Neuromancer and Snow Crash were half right was in their prediction of a matrix within cyberspace that filled the human need for societal interaction. FaceBook and the other giants of social media certainly led the ordinary citizens of meatspace to spend a lot more time in cyberspace, but we are still limited to the bulletin board model.

Advancements in virtual reality technology have been limited, to a large part, by the need for extreme amounts of processing power. A VR setup must be capable of generating a sufficient rate of frames per second to avoid latency from the perspective of the user, because this leads to simulator sickness, which decreases the level of telepresence.

So nothing really like the eponymous all-encompassing virtual environment in The Matrix, or the metaverse, has yet arisen.

Where all of the cyberpunk classics got it right was in the widespread adoption of novel classes of synthetic drugs.

Humans have always loved to experiment with consciousness – use of magic mushrooms, cannabis and alcohol all predate the use of writing. So it was fairly predictable that new advances in chemistry would lead to new frontiers in the exploration of mental space.

Although most of the chemical enhancement in cyberpunk literature has been for the purposes of increasing martial aptitude, as in Lucifer’s Dragon, most of its use in consensual reality has been psychonautic. In other words, here on Earth people mostly use the new waves of drugs to get high – but that doesn’t make for very good fiction.

Blade Runner didn’t foresee much different in the way of human drug consumption, but it did anticipate how close artificial intelligence came to passing the Turing Test. Many people chat with bots on social media without even knowing it – especially in online poker rooms and on large politics pages.

Certainly this film, based on Philip D Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, accurately captured the uneasiness of being a human and dealing with something that appears entirely human but for subtle differences.

Where the classics tended to get it wrong was politically, especially the diminished role of territorial governments. There seemed to be a glib assumption, perhaps expressed in extremis in Snow Crash, that corporations and the influence of corporations would expand to the point where 20th century-style governments no longer held any power.

In reality, hard iron laws like “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” continue to hold true, and any government capable of raising sufficient taxation to raise an army or secret police will still be a force on the world stage.

In the world of soft power, Transmetropolitan correctly predicted that the political landscape would be as shallow and insane as ever. The absurdity of the various political candidates in Spider Jerusalem’s life are an eerily accurate foretelling of the rise of the Donald Trump/Hillary Clinton circus.

Corporations have started implanting microchips in their employees, which has been a staple of cyberpunk horror for a long time. My own The Verity Key, however, predicted a different path of adoption for microchips under the skin: I figured that people, especially the technophilic, would adopt it themselves for increased access to private space.

It remains to be seen if this will happen – the expense involved in reaching a sustainable critical mass might make private adoption of RFID networks unworkable.

Things didn’t really get as dark and dystopic as cyberpunk predicted. This was always the probable outcome for a literary genre that consciously adopted elements of horror from other genres and from film noir. Things really just became weird. Perhaps the most accurate of all – predicting the current obsession with transgenderism – was Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War.

If there are new avenues of cyberpunk still to be explored, it’s possible that they will feature characters who are unrepentant rebels with regard to questions of cognitive freedom, in particular characters pushed underground by new technologies that make intrusion into the mind possible.

That’s one way in which the brilliant anime series Psycho-Pass blazes a new path: from the harder, engineering and physics based sciences towards the biological ones. Much like The Verity Key, the Psycho-Pass series raises the question of what life will look like when neuropsychological technology advances to the point where the private thoughts of every individual have become a public matter.

The controllers of the mindreading technology in Psycho-Pass are public entities (or at least government ones), which makes for an oppressive totalitarian atmosphere, as opposed to the nihilistic anarchy of The Verity Key. Probably this timeline became more nihilistic than totalitarian, but who knows what might still happen?

With news that remote-controlled drones and tank-like war machines running off AI might soon become cheap enough for terrorists or rogue states to use every day against enemy targets, the most cyberpunk elements of human history, fictional or otherwise, may be still to come.

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Vince McLeod is the author of cyberpunk novel The Verity Key and of the upcoming cyberpunk novel The Man With A Thousand Fathers, to be serialised here starting from the summer of 2018.

VJM Publishing Launches Range of Premium Trolling Services

International demand for trolling services is one of the Internet’s fastest growing industries, alongside meme construction and paid political shilling. Nothing grows interest and enthusiasm for an internet channel or forum faster than a skilled professional troll. Particularly good ones are guaranteed to get the viewers coming back time and time again.

Alfred Hitchcock once asked “What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out?” Indeed, once it is understood that one of the major reasons people use the Internet is for entertainment, and that drama is prime entertainment, and that trolls cause drama, it follows that trolls attract people to the Internet, and by implication to any forum that has trolls.

This means traffic, which, of course, means money. So trolls = money.

All of our trolls are effective in the four major trolling areas of causing consternation, bafflement, rage and despair, while avoiding the common troll error of descending into the non-entertaining abuse that lowers the tone of the forum and drives paying customers away.

At 50c/post is the standard ‘Plebian’ package. This will get you a poster who has been hand-selected for their aptitude as a troll but who is not particularly knowledgeable in subjects outside the general forum subject, and there is no guarantee of even this if the forum is niche.

The Plebian does not generally make long posts (average post length c. 30-40 words), but they are crafted to provide particularly infuriating counterpoints to what might otherwise have been a cozy consensus.

If your forum suffers from the kind of groupthink that drives new and interesting posters away, The Plebian is the right sort of package to set the cat among the pigeons.

At $1/post is the choice ‘Shitfighter’ package. This entails a poster who prefers to slug it out in the cybertrenches rather than snipe from a distance. Often they will go into a shitfight with the attitude of a pitbull, and simply won’t ever let go.

They also make slightly longer posts, with an average of 50-60 words.

The major advantage The Shitfighter package affords over the entry-tier one is that The Shitfighter will have a higher level of knowledge about the forum subject matter and of the various forum personalities. They will also be capable of a higher posting volume, as any troll assigned to this package will have fewer other channels in their portfolio to compete for time.

This allows The Shitfighter to focus on the sort of flame war that refuses to die down, often creating drama that the other posters remember for a long time.

At $2/post is the exclusive ‘Psychologist’ package. This entails a hand-selected psychology graduate making posts specifically tailored to wind up the maximum number of your forummers.

Because every troll assigned to this package is a qualified psychology graduate it affords opportunity for truly professional trolling. The average length of a Psychologist post will be 80+ words.

If a poster is a closest homosexual, The Psychologist will figure it out with subtle jibes. If they are insecure about their penis size, The Psychologist will be the first to detect compensatory behaviour. If they are any kind of political or religious fanatic, The Psychologist will troll them about fears they never knew they had.

The Psychologist is the kind of troll who will make posters of your forum lie awake at night ruminating upon existential questions that they are in no way equipped to solve. This package is only for those who wish to craft a genuinely gripping forum experience.

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The Life Cycle of Internet Forums

As any long-term reader of this magazine can recite by heart: as below, so above. The life-cycles of men and women are well known; those of empires somewhat less so. This essay will examine how the life cycle of Internet forums follows a pattern similar to what can already be observed in Nature.

If one follows the series of 19th century Thomas Cole paintings known as The Course of Empire, one can surmise that, on a much smaller scale, Internet forums follow the same pattern.

The first stage is known as The Savage State. With regard to empires this refers to the state of nature that existed before human civilisation arose. It is therefore an especially feminine time, full of raw potential and untrammelled chaos.

Internet forums begin in a similar state before anyone starts regularly posting. Often there is nothing but forum software to start the process. At this stage the forum has the full potential to go in many directions, as the people running it are yet to make any firm decisions regarding subforums or posting etiquette.

The second stage of an empire is known as the The Arcadian State. This is functionally almost identical to a world run by philosopher-kings. In the Arcadian state, humanity lives at peace with Nature. We might have learned to alter our environment in order to not die as easily, but nothing major has happened.

An Arcadian state exists in Internet forums when the people who have the greatest personal interest in the subject matter naturally find the forum and start to populate it with quality threads. This usually occurs when the name of the forum is spread around by whoever started it and they attract a small, hard-core of highly interested experts.

The third stage of empire is known as The Consummation of Empire. This is represented by glorious buildings at noon on a summer’s day. Everywhere there are marble steps; one can observe a triumphant general crossing the bridge that spans the central river, and all of this in the shadow of the great domed temple.

This is also the best stage of an Internet forum. In this third stage, the excellence established in the second has attracted a huge number of other people. They all want to take part in the glory, and so they flood in and tell their friends. The forum expands, and develops. More rules become necessary to deal with the friction naturally caused by such heavy interaction.

However, in the same way that the seed of decadence present at the height of the glory of empire is also the seed of its destruction, so are the abundance of rules and restrictions that come with the greatest extent of traffic the downfall of Internet forums.

The fourth stage of empire is known as Destruction. In this stage, the empire is collapsing. The painting represents the fall of the Roman Empire as it was sacked by Vandals and Goths, but it could serve as metaphor for the fall of any empire into destruction and ruin. It is hinted that the cause of the destruction may have been a civil war.

Again, the pattern is replicated perfectly in the life of Internet forums. The barbarian invaders are the people who recently joined the forum at its height but who would clearly have not have belonged back in the Arcadian stage. In other words, plebs.

These plebs have the effect of dragging the forum back down, firstly by reducing how willing other posters are to be open and creative, and secondly by provoking whoever is running the forum to bring in more and more rules to crack down on the plebs and to try and restore the glory days.

In this fourth stage of forums, it becomes harder and harder to post anything unorthodox or interesting as true creativity becomes ever more likely to fall foul of censure. Consequently, many of the threads, instead of discussing current events like in the glory times, are just wistful ramblings about old posters and old arguments.

New posters, instead of finding a niche they can feel happy in, are persecuted by older ones, frequently in the manner of high school girls psychologically abusing a victim. This henpecking has the effect of making the forum into a troll’s paradise, which attracts an ever nastier grade of poster, until the stream of new blood dries up completely.

The fifth stage of empire is known as Desolation. This is similar to the first stage, with the exception that the potential of nature, instead of bursting forth with vitality, is exhausted. There are no more human beings – Nature has entirely reclaimed the space on which a glorious capital once stood; weeds and flowers grow from the cracks in the shattered marble.

This is also the natural end stage of all Internet forums. Indeed, 99.9999% of them are already at this stage. Here, there are no more truly human posters, just ghosts of people who used to be funny, back when they were younger and cooler, and before they sold out for a job or became bitter because of a family or or extended period of time without getting laid.

In this stage, there are as many banned users are there are regular ones. Here, no new posters even want to join the forum, because there is no joy in listening to middle-aged washouts droning out about how everything was cooler a decade or more ago. Especially not when these same washouts feel obliged to pack bully anyone who threatens the morgue-like atmosphere.

Because computer software does not need to eat and is therefore cheap to maintain, some forums are capable of lurching along in zombie mode for many years.

And History, with all her volumes vast,
Hath but one page…

Are Establishment Forces About to Collapse Into One Party?

donald-trump-bernie-sanders-debate

In the world of the cyberpunk novel The Verity Key, politics has sunk to such a degenerate level that no-one has any confidence in politicians, no matter who they are or what they promise. In response to this, there is no longer any room for shame in politics. The left and the right have collapsed into the Establishment Party, which doesn’t even pretend to stand for anything other than the naked self-interest of the powerful.

Francis Fukuyama wrote about a ‘Great Pendulum’ that swung back and forth throughout history every half century or so and whose oscillations heralded new ages and epochs. A Taoist might understand this as the dynamic between masculine and feminine, in which the excesses of one kind of energy lead naturally to the rise of the other.

The Great Pendulum may have swung the furthest to the right in the 1940s and 1950s, which were characterised by nationalist wars and widespread acceptance of eugenics and the physical elimination of those considered unworthy of life. The revolution against this way of thinking occurred in 1968, and was marked by student protests, LSD and Woodstock, culminating in the ‘Summer of Love’.

If the pendulum has swung left since then, and if this swinging left has been characterised by gay marriage, liberal immigration laws for people from impoverished countries, and the obesity epidemic, then perhaps it has been half a century since 1968 and the pendulum is about to swing back. The mass sexual assaults and terrorism so far in Europe this year might see 2016 remembered as the ‘Summer of Hate’.

If it does, we may see a revaluation of values that indicates the pendulum will swing to the masculine side once again, as it last did in the Victorian Age that marked the height of the British Empire, one of the most audacious attempts to impose order upon chaos ever devised.

Donald Trump may be a harbinger of this revolution. Then again, the real opposition for Trump may come from within his own party, in the form of the Establishment favourite Ted Cruz. Certainly Donald Trump destroyed his opponents in the Republican primaries by appearing as more of an alpha male, which might suggest a shift away from the consensus politics of the last 50 or so years.

Bernie Sanders might not represent a swing to the right, but his rise in influence could nonetheless reflect a switch to a more rational way of trying to improve the lives of the citizenry, as opposed to the trend-based, emotion-driven, suffocating maternalism represented by Hillary Clinton.

Seen in this way, Clinton and Cruz have more in common with each other than either does with their opponent in their party primary. This might turn out to be the embryo of what will one day become the Establishment Party.

In Europe, a different process might lead to a similar result. Already in some European countries, France and Sweden the foremost, there is an open conspiracy to deny all media time to the growing far-right parties. This conspiracy might turn out to be the last stand of the regressive left as the momentum of the great pendulum proves unstoppable.

If the far-right parties continue to grow, all other parties might come together in some countries to resist them. These new parties will be grand coalitions of conservatives, social democrats and perhaps even Greens, and will be Establishment Parties in all but name.