“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.”
There is no place with more personal debt and heavier patterns of obligation than the Land of the Free. We are free to try to get expensive degrees to get jobs that barely exist, we are free to spend most of our lives paying student loans, we are free to lose everything we may have gained the moment we get sick
I really like dirty sci-fi. I like the idea of a future where we have advanced technologically, but realised that it’s human nature to trash the world, so we just sort of developed technology to live with pollution. A world where toxic smogs roll in and out like the tide, and acid rain falls every day, so people walk around in fashionable designer gasmasks and neon plastic raincoats so they don’t get chemical burns from being outside, but that’s all okay because it’s just part of daily life.
the one thing that stands in the way of a future like that is the ghost of east coast old money anglo-saxon preppyness. If you go to some of the wealthiest places in the world like Nantucket Island, West Village of Manhattan, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, they’re squeaky clean, bright, numbingly perfect and oh so daintily preserved and they’re never going to change, they stand still in time, despite their self-image as liberal and progressive, they haven’t the faintest forward leaning bone in their collective bodies because their aesthetic core is stuck in a state of endlessly meeting the perfection demanded by deeply pocketed customers. The eventual goal is to disinfect, sanitize, white-wash and disneyland-ize popular areas of America so that it is ripe and ready for tourists from China and oil rich Arabian peninsula nations when all our other industries collapse and that way at least those bubbles sustain themselves. Hell, it worked for Manhattan, the center of American financial greed, when it bounced right back after the crash while middle class suburbs went into foreclosure for blocks and poorer areas were decimated.
It’s interesting that this is precisely the future cyberpunk dystopia has promised or depicted even only as window-dressing, slum-living metastasising into a self-contained slumverse such that we buy two ratburgers with a billion deutschmark note or spend the day trading at fleamarkets picking over the detritus of the ‘higher’ civilization, junk which is not broken or even ‘junk’ but which is ejected from that realm at regular intervals by forced obsolescence “like manna from heaven”.
The latter example is visible in, to western eyes still-distant, depictions of children picking over e-waste landfills in central african nations whose names we forget the moment we close the browser tab, and now we’ve had our empathic moment over morning cereal on our appified version of a broadsheet newspaper, we emotionally shut down and go to work.
So there are two distinct categories of slumverse produce, ratburgers (produced internally) and manna (produced externally / cast-offs). So even though we’re decoupled from the manna economy, we’re still inextricably linked to it via the secondary market, which forms an integral part of the slumverse structure — because given that manna represents elements which cannot be produced inexpensively or en masse, we’re still dependent on the cycle of obsolescence to build and maintain social and technical structures.
It goes without saying that slumverse workers will be cheaper to employ and use in industry than automated solutions, and they’re easily replaced (cf recent big budget examples in Elysium and the remake of Total Recall both of which feature men aiding in the construction of robots which will be used to subjugate them).
The two economies are not separate; they’re perpetually-sickly conjoined twins.