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Cyberpunk 2021

by Jochen Becker

Just a quick reminder, that even with the autocratic buffoon Trump out of office, all is not well in the USA. The Democratic Governor of Nevada, Steve Sisolak, just announced the launch of so-called Innovation Zones. The zones would permit companies with large areas of land to form governments carrying the same authority as counties, including the ability to impose taxes, form school districts and courts and provide government services.“ (AP 2021)

While the official goal of this project is to attract high-tech development, two comparisons jump to mind. The first are so called ‚company towns‘ from the 19th century. These were known for their horrific living conditions. Workers often were driven into perpetual debt, as they were not paid in ‚real currency, but company money, with which they only could rent and shop from the company itself, which set arbitrary prices. If the workers went on strike, the company ‚police‘ were not squeamish, and often committed atrocities like the infamous Ludlow Massacre.

The second comparison is to dystopian cyberpunk fiction. In the cyberpunk RPG Shadowrun for example, an important part of the lore is that megacorporations enjoy extraterritoriality like foreign embassies in the real world. Let‘s just say, that this fictional world is not a nice one. And even if Governor Sisolak would be a great fan of cyberpunk, he should not try to emulate it.

As Nevadas DSA pointed out, despite several clarifications about how the new company towns would work (for example, there is a minimum for invested capital and bought land), there were no mentions at all, about how democracy would work in these local corporation governments (DSA 2020).

What do the cyberpunk-policies of Nevada show as a possible future? A dystopian scene opens up, somewhere between the splendor of the robber barons and captains of industry of the gilded age, bygone for a hundred years, the hyper-exploitation and coal-stained filth that they erected their empires on, and new high-tech aesthetics. This future is the revenant of feudalism, but the knights (in Shadowrun a private rent-a-cop agency is called Knight Errant) wield automatic rifles, firing futuristic gel-ammunition, the bards play Synthwave (listen to Melodicka Bros 2020 for example), the wenches and catamites wield surgically implanted sex toys, and the priests chant the sermon of saint Ayn Rand.

The private fiefdoms of the cyber-lords will rip national unity into shreds, instead of expanding societal unification beyond the limitations of the nation-state. Already the corporate governments are supposed to judge and educate their employees/inhabitants/serfs. How long until they would be allowed to issue corporate citizenship (just like in Shadowrun)?

I do not know how the next class war will be waged. But if the serfs will not win it, the next war will be waged between Lord Musk of the Duchy of Tesla, Mandarin Zhengfei of the Realm of Huawei, Baron Bezos of Amazonia and Freiherr Diess von Volks und Wagen.

Literature

Associated Press (AP) (February the 4th 2021): Nevada bill would allow tech companies to create governments (https://apnews.com/article/legislature-legislation-local-governments-nevada-economy-2fa79128a7bf41073c1e9102e8a0e5f0)

Las Vegas DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) (2020): Twitter Thread from February the 5th 2021: https://twitter.com/LasVegasDSA/status/1357758256257458176 

Melodicka Bros (2020): GHOST – Square Hammer but it’s CYBERPUNK/SYNTHWAVE/SCI-FI please stop (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPu1UDjOu1I&t=295s)

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