GABBLER RECOMMENDS: ‘We’re on the Brink of Cyberpunk’ by KELSEY D. ATHERTON

The 2020s are, in a real, tangible sense, the conclusion of The Long 1980s. Writing in the 1980s, foundational cyberpunk authors were watching as leaders on both sides of the Atlantic pursued a set of political reforms collectively known as neoliberalism. Prioritizing competition in the market above all else, these reforms were fundamentally a political project, aimed at shrinking the public sphere and undoing many of the commitments to social welfare that had been made in the wake of the chaos, upheaval, and deprivation of the first half of the 20th century. The neoliberal turn was a project of unmaking the state for individuals and communities and remaking it for capital.

Cyberpunk conjured a world at this end state of neoliberal reorganization. Islands in the Net features drone warfare launched against data havens at the behest of corporations. In Blade Runner, the profit considerations of multinational companies determine worker personhood. There is more than a little of the Tyrell Corporation’s prudent life expectancy design in how Amazon responds to worker protest over a lack of personal protective equipment. Today, cyberpunk’s anticipated neoliberal end state is nothing more fanciful than life as we know it.

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