Rebecca Onion wrote an interesting essay about immersing herself in survivalist “prepper” fiction. (The gateway drug was apocalyptic fiction, so, uh, I might be at risk.) Here’s an illustrative sample:

In more than one of these books, the prepper encounters people who expect him to share the resources he’s planned ahead to store. […] In Steven Konkoly’s The Jakarta Pandemic, the prepper character lives on a cul-de-sac with many unprepared neighbors who demand that each household reveal the amount of food it holds, to be put into a stockpile and shared. […] The group’s other plan, to put together a shared day care, strikes even more notes of Soviet Russia. This kind of sharing, in the book’s logic, puts everyone in danger; the mothers who don’t want to take care of their own kids will end up sick and, finally, dead.

This strongly reminds me of an essay on Slate Star Codex, in which Scott Alexander writes, “My hypothesis is that rightism is what happens when you’re optimizing for surviving an unsafe environment, [whereas] leftism is what happens when you’re optimized for thriving in a safe environment.”

In a reply to one of the comments, he explains:

If you’re in a stable society without zombies, optimizing your life for zombie defense is a waste of time; working towards not-immediately-survival-related but nice and beautiful and enjoyable things like the environment and equality and knowledge-for-knowledge’s sake may be an excellent choice.

This strikes me as broadly true.

The logic and priorities of preppers are sensible in a kill-or-be-killed world without infrastructure. But those of us in rich countries don’t live in that world, so preppers end up being weirdos on the political margins.

I wonder, where does cyberpunk fall in this scheme? What do our ideals and suspicions optimize for? To be honest, I don’t think cyberpunk is an optimal paradigm at all — blithely working the system is the best strategy for actual success. Cheerful cynicism, I guess? Cyberpunk is uncheerful cynicism in a world of capitalism and computers.


Header photo by Cathy T.

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