A Cyberpunk Manifesto: 20 Years Later

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cyberpunk manifesto
(Source: Cyberpunk Mag 2004, Artist- de4m)

It was Valentine’s Day in 1997. Many of us were already cemented in our love of cyberpunk and cyber-culture was in full swing. Then came A Cyberpunk Manifesto by Kristiyan Kirchev. I was only just discovering the genre at this time and reading this document during my formative years has transformed my world view, just as The Hacker Manifesto aka The Conscience of a Hacker (1986) did for the generation that came before. A Cyberpunk Manifesto (1997) also entered the cyberpunk consciousness in the wake of John Perry Barlow’s A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (1996), only reinforcing the importance of cyber-rights and the need to fight for them. Since these manifestos and calls-to-action were made in the mid-80s and 90s, our digital rights have been slowly eroded away, and now nearly 20 years since A Cyberpunk Manifesto made its impact on the youth of a generation, it seems like a good time to re-examine A Cyberpunk Manifesto in the shadow of our post-9/11 world.

A Cyberpunk Manifesto

By Christian A. Kirtchev

We are the Electronic Minds, a group of free-minded rebels. Cyberpunks. We live in Cyberspace, we are everywhere, we know no boundaries. This is our manifest. The Cyberpunks’ manifest.

I. Cyberpunk

1. We are those, the Different. Technological rats, swimming in the ocean of information.

2. We are the retiring, little kid at school, sitting at the last desk, in the corner of the class room.

3. We are the teenager everybody considers strange.

4. We are the student hacking computer systems, exploring the depth of his reach.

5. We are the grown-up in the park, sitting on a bench, laptop on his knees, programming the last virtual reality.

6. Ours is the garage, stuffed with electronics. The soldering iron in the corner of the desk and the nearby disassembled radio – they are also ours. Ours is the cellar with computers, buzzing printers and beeping modems.

7. We are those that see reality in a different way. Our point of view shows more than ordinary people can see. They see only what is outside, but we see what is inside. That’s what we are – realists with the glasses of dreamers.

8. We are those strange people, almost unknown to the neighborhood. People, indulged in their own thoughts, sitting day after day before the computer, ransacking the net for something. We are not often out of home, just from time to time, only to go to the nearby radio shack, or to the usual bar to meet some of the few friends we have, or to meet a client, or to the backstreet druggist… or just for a little walk.

9. We do not have many friends, only a few with whom we go to parties. Everybody else we know we know on the net. Our real friends are there, on the other side of the line. We know them from our favorite IRC channel, from the News-Groups, from the systems we hang-around.

10. We are those who don’t give a shit about what people think about us, we don’t care what we look like or what people talk about us in our absence.

11. The majority of us likes to live in hiding, being unknown to everybody except those few we must inevitably contact with.

12. Others love publicity, they love fame. They are all known in the underground world. Their names are often heard there.
But we are all united by one thing – we are Cyberpunks.

13. Society does not understand us, we are “weird” and “crazy” people in the eyes of the ordinary people who live far from information and free ideas. Society denies our way of thinking – a society, living, thinking and breathing in one and only one way – a cliche.

14. They deny us for we think like free people, and free thinking is forbidden.

15. The Cyberpunk has outer appearance, he is no motion. Cyberpunks are people, starting from the ordinary and known to nobody person, to the artist-technomaniac, to the musician, playing electronic music, to the superficial scholar.

16. The Cyberpunk is no literature genre anymore, not even an ordinary subculture. The Cyberpunk is a stand-alone new culture, offspring of the new age. A culture that unites our common interests and views. We are a unit. We are Cyberpunks.

Section I Commentary

In the first section of A Cyberpunk Manifesto, Kirchev asserts who is “cyberpunk.” A cyberpunk is anyone, according to Kirchev, who is a free thinker, technologically inclined, and identifies as cyberpunk. This kind of free-thinking and nerdy-technological endeavor can leave us on the fringes of society. But it is all of us – hackers, coders, makers, artists, authors, musicians, scholars, and philosophers – who make up the cyberpunk culture. We are united by shared love of media, shared heroes, shared interests, and even fashion. It is hard to dispute that the cyberpunk subculture has only grown in the 20 years since the inception of A Cyberpunk Manifesto.

II. Society

1. The Society which surrounds us is clogged with concervacy pulling everything and everybody to itself, while it sinks slowly in the quicksands of time.

2. However doggedly some refuse to believe it, it is obvious that we live in a sick society. The so called reforms which our governments so adeptly use to boast, are nothing else but a little step forward, when a whole jump can be done.

3. People fear the new and unknown. They prefer the old, the known and checked truths. They are afraid of what the new can bring to them. They are afraid that they can lose what they have.

4. Their fear is so strong that it has proclaimed the revolutional a foe and the free idea – its weapon. That’s their fault.

5. People must leave this fear behind and go ahead. What’s the sense to stick to the little you have now when you can have more tomorrow. Everything they must do is stretch their hands and feel for the new; give freedom to thoughts, ideas, to words:

6. For centuries each generation has been brought up is a same pattern. Ideals is what everybody follows. Individuality is forgotten. People think in a same way, following the cliche drilled in them in childhood, the clichc-education for all children: And, when someone dares defy authority, he is punished and given as a bad example. “Here is what happens to you when you express your own opinion and deny your teacher’s one”.

7. Our society is sick and need to be healed. The cure is a change in the system….

Section II Commentary

In the second section of A Cyberpunk Manifesto, Kirchev asserts the problems that our society faces. First,”conservancy,” in a political sense, is the tendency towards stasis and tradition or evening moving back in time to a more traditional set of values. This conservancy, then, is an obstacle to the change that Kirchev, and many cyberpunks, want to see.

Second, oppressive governments and institutions use fear to dissuade the kind of critical, radical, revolutionary action that is necessary to bring change to a strongly rooted system. It is the duty, then, of any free-thinking individual to challenge authority in all spheres to ensure that the authorities power is not being abused and to push society in the direction of positive change that benefits all, rather than a small, powerful minority.

This part of A Cyberpunk Manifesto is more relevant today, than the day it was written. In the wake of 2011’s Occupy Protests worldwide, there is no denying that there is a global disenfranchised population that is being ruled by an oligarchical class, many of which are unelected and have no responsibility to represent the majority. The rise of Anonymous in the image of Alan Moore’s V, from V for Vendetta, is indicative of the growing awareness of collective action, which has been empowered by cyberspace.

III. The System

1. The System. Centuries-old, existing on principles that hang no more today. A System that has not changed much since the day of its birth.

2. The System is wrong.

3. The System must impose its truth upon us so that it can rule. The government needs us follow it blindly. For this reason we live in an informational eclipse. When people acquire information other that that from the government, they cannot distinguish the right from the wrong. So the lie becomes a truth – a truth, fundamental to everything else. Thus the leaders control with lies and the ordinary people have no notion of what is true and follow the government blindly, trusting it.

4. We fight for freedom of information. We fight for freedom of speech and press. For the freedom to express our thoughts freely, without being persecuted by the system.

5. Even in the most-developed and ‘democratic’ countries, the system imposes misinformation. Even in the countries that pretend to be the cradle of free speech. Misinformation is one of the system’s main weapon. A weapon, they use very well.

6. It is the Net that helps us spread the information freely. The Net, with no boundaries and information limit.

7. Ours is yours; yours is ours.

8. Everyone can share information; no restrictions.

9. Encrypting of information is our weapon. Thus the words of revolution can spread uninterrupted, and the government can only guess.

10. The Net is our realm. In the Net we are Kings.

11. Laws. The world is changing, but the laws remain the same. The System is not changing, only a few details get redressed for the new time, but everything in the concept remains the same.

12. We need new laws. Laws, fitting the times we live in, with the world that surrounds us. Not laws build on the basis of the past. Laws, build for today, laws that will fit tomorrow.

13. The laws that only refrain us. Laws that badly need revision.

Section III Commentary

In the third section of A Cyberpunk Manifesto, Kirchev asserts that information is the key to the control of “The System.” This is really a post-modern argument and fits nicely with a genre, cyberpunk, that is considered post-modern as well. By controlling the information available to people, an entity can construct a version of reality that reinforces the status quo. When information, read factual information, is available to the public, then they can construct their own subjective realities that are closer to objective truth. Access to this kind of information acts as a foil to the misinformation and propaganda perpetuated by governments and other powerful institutions that have agendas. This remains true today, as it did 20 years ago, but especially in the last year, we have seen the power of competing fictional narratives alongside factual information. It is a cyberpunk’s duty more so today to be discerning of information.

Encryption, our weapon, has come under attack in recent years as well. Anonymity and encryption are weapons that we all need to learn to use and teach others to use in a society that is under constant surveillance. In the 90s we “knew” we were being watched, but post-Snowden we know we are being watched.

Laws are unfortunatly how change is achieved within any governmental system. We need laws that punish cyber-crimes fairly. We need laws that do not criminalize curiosity. We need laws that do not stifle innovation. These laws can only be brought into existence if we by collective action, make them materialize. This section of A Cyberpunk Manifesto feels prescient.

IV. The Vision

1. Some people do not care much about what happens globally. They care about what happens around them, in their micro-universe.

2. These people can only see a dark future, for they can only see the life they live now.

3. Others show some concern about the global affairs. They are interested in everything, in the future in perspective, in what is going to happen globally.

4. They have a more optimistic view. To them the future is cleaner and more beautiful, for they can see into it and they see a more mature man, a wiser world.

5. We are in the middle. We are interested in what happens now, but what in what’s gonna happen tomorow as well.

6. We look in the net, and the net is growing wide and wider.

7. Soon everything in this world will be swallowed by the net: from the military systems to the PC at home.

8. But the net is a house of anarchy.

9. It cannot be controlled and in this is its power.

10. Every man will be dependent on the net.

11. The whole information will be there, locked in the abysses of zeros and ones.

12. Who controls the net, controls the information.

13. We will live in a mixture of past and present.

14. The bad come from the man, and the good comes from technology.

15. The net will control the little man, and we will control the net.

16. For is you do not control, you will be controlled.

17. The Information is POWER!

Section IV Commentary

In the fourth section of A Cyberpunk Manifesto, Kirchev asserts an optimistic vision of the future of the internet and society. It asserts that there are three groups – controllers, free-thinkers, and the controlled. It asserts that control will be wrested from the hands of the controllers into the hands of the free thinkers and that the controlled will then be better off for it.

The battle is still raging, corporations and governments have more power over the internet now than they have ever had, and there seems no end in sight. But it also true that the internet can never really be controlled, as a population can never really be controlled. Through collective action, we stopped SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, and possibly even the TPP. It is important to remember that this war will never be over. Governments and institutions will always be grappling for more power to subvert the will of the people (assuredly for their own good). It is a cyberpunk’s responsibility to subvert them right back and to be ever vigilant.

V. Where are we?

1. Where are we?

2. We all live in a sick world, where hatred is a weapon, and freedom – a dream.

3. The world grows so slowly. It is hard for a Cyberpunk to live in an underdeveloped world, looking the people around him, seeing how wrongly they develop.

4. We go ahead, they pull us back again. Society suppressses us. Yes, it suppresses the freedom of thought. With its cruel education programs in schools and universities. They drill in the children their view of things and every attempt to express a different opinion is denied and punished.

5. Our kids grow educated in this old and still unchanged system. A system that tolerates no freedom of thought and demands a strict obeyance to the reules…

6. In what a worlds, how different from this, could we live now, if people were making jumps and not creeps.

7. It is so hard to live in this world, Cyberpunk.

8. It is as if time has stopped.

9. We live on the right spot, but not in the right time.

10. Everything is so ordinary, people are all the same, their deeds toos. As if society feels an urgent need to live back in time.

11. Some, trying to find their own world, the world of a Cyberpunk, and finding it, build their own world. Build in their thoughts, it changes reality, lays over it and thus they live in a virtual world. The thought-up, build upon reality.

12. Others simply get accustomed to the world as it is. They continue to live in it, although they dislike it. They have no other choice but the bare hope that the world will go out of its hollow and will go ahead.

13. What we are trying to do is change the situation. We are trying to adjust the present world to our needs and views. To use maximally what is fit and to ignore the trash. Where we can’t, we just live in this world, like Cyberpunks, no matter how hard, when society fights us we fight back.

14. We build our worlds in Cyberspace.

15. Among the zeros and ones, among the bits of information.

16. We build our community. The community of Cyberpunks.

Unite! Fight for your rights!

We are the Electronic Minds, a group of free-minded rebels. Cyberpunks. We live in Cyberspace, we are everywhere, we know no boundaries. This is our manifest. The Cyberpunks’ Manifest.

February 14, 1997

Christian A. Kirtchev

Section V Commentary

Oh, how little things have changed since 1997. Our world has only gotten sicker. Income inequality has steadily increased pushing more and more people into low paying service positions, while more and more jobs are assumed by machines. In addition, we are under increased surveillance every day. The digital freedoms that we have enjoyed since the inception of the Internet are under constant assault. In cyberspace, among the zeroes and ones, we have built our community. We have built our own world. We will continue to unite and to fight for our rights. We are cyberpunks.

In 2017, so little has changed from a political perspective. The same problems that Kirchev identified remain problems today. The biggest difference between 2017 and 1997 seems to be the public consciousness of the issues that we face, and this explains the resurgence of cyberpunk in the popular consciousness. Technology has become more ubiquitous, and the Internet of Things has begun to blur the lines between cyberspace and reality, as has Augmented Reality. We live in a more cyberpunk world every day, perhaps we can still steer this ship in the right direction.

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