This was actually written LAST FUCKING YEAR but was not published with the site I wrote it for (Cyberpunks.com) unfortunately. It was around the time the Cyberpunk 2077 video game came out and is my thoughts on fostering a culture of cyberpunk that includes people who come to the genre as beginners and those who have been into the books, movies, and art for a long while. Enjoy!
It is Halloween and we are facing a dispiritingly online party this year. The streets uncharacteristically will not be alight with ghosts and revelry of the damned and undead. The yearly righteous supernatural quest for midnight glory is a bust. In the world of cyberpunk (too much of a jump-cut? When I said earlier that occultists are cyberpunks in the making, this is why – Reddit) , our cultural woodstock is coming up though, with the release of Cyberpunk 2077. I’ve even seen memes and reddit threads saying the genre is the next big fad and the people who have been into it for years will soon be seeing an influx of first blood taking their cuts on this gnarly machine’s teeth.
So I thought I’d give you my thoughts on Cyberpunk, in regards to Orthodoxy, Old Guardism, and how to properly deal with HERESY.
CYBERPUNK ITSELF IS HERESY, YOU OUGHTTA KNOW BY KNOW
‘Heretic Pride’ – the title of the recent album of one of my favorite musical groups ‘The Mountain Goats’. also a track on the album by that name which you should listen to.
“But that song, [Heretic Pride], that’s about a guy really getting into how he’s about to suffer a really painful death. When people talk about ‘living life to the fullest’ they often mean they’re gonna have a bitchin’ weekend or whatever, or an intense relationship, but to me, you know who lived life to the fullest? Martyrs. People who got thrown to lions and had to listen to tens of thousand of people applauding while the lions ate them alive. Those are guys who are really drinking life to the lees, right? So that’s what heretic pride is – really enthusiastic role acceptance.” – Sam Means Interviews John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats February 19, 2008
‘It is an heretic that makes the fire, Not she which burns in’t.’
The Theme Today is HERETIC FIRE:
The companion article is
‘A Modern Instance: Magic, Imagination, and Power’
By John Crowley from the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts
Which you can read here: http://www.jstor.org/stable/43308511
I have never been clear on the stern difference between a culture and a cult. I imagine it’s the something in the nature of who has the power to designate whether one’s way has legitimacy or making a convention seem innoxious, perhaps for the secret purpose of indoctrination. Either way, I do know everyone wants to both belong and… at least some want to stand out.
John Crowley in his article ‘A Modern Instance: Magic, Imagination, and Power’ talks about organizations that make claims to controlling certain secret powers, like churches who once claimed power over stopping death, raising the dead, and other worlds. Which now more often in these latter days promise simply a good place in the afterworld with one’s fellows. But there are other organizations and other- other worlds. And for John Crowley the force and turn of these ‘intelligences around us who do not share our natures’ haunt the realm of technology.
A CYBERPUNK is, TO ME,
a kind of ghost-hunter or shaman of technology. Knowing that there is a ghost in the machine, and seeking the means to manipulate it.
For John Crowley, the saying ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ works backwards as well. “Any bypassed magic that was practiced for a long time by large numbers of people can be understood as an effective technology if we become familiar enough with it.”
I don’t take up with the reductionists who view the world as spiritless today. But I can argue this easily without appealing to any higher power by saying I believe language and the nature of reality is mysterious and brings into life consciousness and being in a way that is mysterious and even expressly mis-understood when examined in a reductionist mode. I also feel the trend to view things in this way is a by-product of technological ubiquity on culture. And that’s not what MY cult of Cyberpunk is about.
And thus I want to talk about Cyberpunk, the mainstream, and how to be a good heretic. How to have HERETIC PRIDE.
The etymology of the word Heretic is especially revealing, as the word literally means ‘Able to Choose’, and that’s what I’d like to focus on.
More and more I’m thinking that subscribing to a belief system or calling oneself a member of a collective, if there is submission to authority involved, leads to an abdication of one’s personal reasoning, responsibility, and freedom to choose what is right.
If a cyberpunk is a steersman on the vast cyberspace sea, (for cybernetic comes from the Greek word ‘kybernetes’ for steersman, guide, or governor), then we need to have skills of navigation in order to be a proper cyberpunk. And I instantly need to clarify that there is a difference between proper- and orthodox. A cyberpunk steersman is a self-ordained pilot, born into it, and thus has no school but their own, and that of the fish they accrue to, to destroy the metaphor and send it into the tubes.
Now, one wants to believe that we are each, individual, bastions of righteousness, and monads of perfect reasoning. Or that our culture is a current we are safe in going along with, perhaps. As tradition has the power to give our lives meaning, and warm us with familiar experiences and positive associations amplified, the motions of ritual and cultural adherence also serve to rob us of our dubiety and plausibly lead us sleepwalking to mindlessly assent to things that seem otherwise nonsensical. The same factor that gives strength in cultic resonance, acts to calm the voice that asks for personal verification of the reason for why things are done. And applied properly, manipulation by bad magicians can scope down our awareness and restrict the realm which we feel the need to question.
Those who break free of the commonplace are threatened with ostracism.
GHOSTING THE FLAMERS
If we want to have a good subculture, we need to bring the right spirit to the party.
I think I am interpreting Paulina’s response in the Shakespeare quote, correctly, from ‘The Winter’s Tale’, when Leontes threatens her:
I’ll ha’ thee burnt.
I care not:
It is an heretic that makes the fire,
Not she which burns in’t.
Meaning, a governing body can carry out a sentence on a soul, but this does not prove that justice is on its side.
The pride and rebellion in this voice, from one facing being burned for their sins, is righteous and pure.
It is the word of an artist, who wants to be brave enough in the flesh to say, you can do what you want to one’s body, but it shant move one’s mind, or spirit. This is how we should ideally behave, in the world, and especially on the internet. I believe that’s what it is good for.
Leaving aside the question of one’s ability to stay sane as one explores life’s many fringes and freewheels, though, this gap between what one wants to believe about the soul, and the realities of our inevitable failure to be an island, portends that there is an immeasurable abyss of ‘other’ consciousness to fall into when one lowers one’s walls of protection, a potential complete abdication of self-respect and personhood to give up in order to feel the oneness with the collective. That collective feeling, the province of religious gatherings and sports stadiums, philosopher/sociologist Erich Fromm describes as a primal, thrumming oneness, as something that each of us evolved out of, from the womb as we grow into adults, just as our species as a whole grew out of as we developed language and technologies. From oneness with nature, to the isolated individual seeking to reconnect, as the experience in the story of the ‘Fall From Eden’ makes explicit, and which leads to an uncertain trajectory for our societies and every individual, who must find a way to stand alone and find love, without disappearing into the mix for the sake of hearing that song again.
But to me, Punk is about sister and brotherhood. About being human to each other. And as we lose more ground to the machines every day, I feel I have to agree with cyberpunk-godfather William S. Burroughs. “Human, Allen, is an adjective, and its use as a noun is in itself regrettable.” Which means that what we do is spiritually active.
Interestingly, our present-day word traitor and treason both come from the ancient word traditores (Latin), a term meaning “the one(s) who had handed over”, and defined by Merriam-Webster as “one of the Christians giving up to the officers of the law the Scriptures, the sacred vessels, or the names of their brethren during the Roman persecutions.
To extend the metaphor, those who are unable to hold on to their own beliefs in the face of persecution are therefore traitors to themselves, handing over part of themselves in exchange for belonging, or freedom from pain.
This may all seem like an extreme, isolationist, sounding position. Instead, I think it a necessary one. In the face of a world where the ground can fall out from under our feet, shifting into complete irrational, uncompromising measures, where dictatorship comes as easy as forgetting that NO, this is not normal, it’s necessary to harden a part of oneself in the name of serenity. Mass fascistic movements are possible because long-beleaguered societies fall for blaming scapegoats and lend their tired hearts to militaristic solutions because it is any-port-in-a-storm. But if one can cultivate a self-possession, however heretical it may seem to stand still in the face of the tide and simply say, like Bartleby the Scrivener in Herman Melville’s admittedly absurdist story, No! Or, as he simply says, “I would prefer not to.”
If it makes one a heretic to not participate in madness, then sign me up. If I makes me a good Cyberpunk to be a good exemplar for a literary genre that I hold out is based on a music genre that I hold out is based in an ethical standpoint, which is now gaining popularity due to a AAA Video game title and may become a fad, then yes, burn me, but I’ll never give up the ghost. The Ghost in the Shell, that is. I even volunteer to attempt to write a scripture for these strong believers. In fact, art is the most valuable tool in the fight to breach those walls of isolation and bring us together. To give us the feeling of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. Besides the connections we share one on one with other people in our lives, the connections we share with art are the most sacred. And definitely worth braving the fire for.
Mercy, pick up your guitar
We’ll need a lot of heroes for this war
(Pick up your guitar)
Will the last band please bring the flag?
‘Cause no one’s rocking the boat and some kids here say they want to dance