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REBLOG: We created our gods, and we can control them

This article first appeared in Standard Examiner. Reblogged here because it’s so brilliant.

By E. KENT WINWARD, special to the Standard-Examiner

“Once upon a time”… we told stories, stories that explained our world, how it works, and taught us how to behave and not behave. The ancient Greeks told stories about their gods. The almighty Zeus hurled thunderbolts, while Hera chased Zeus around, trying to catch him in the act of wooing a nymph or two. Athena protected warriors in battle, while Ares incited them.

Aphrodite, goddess of love, wreaked havoc with human lives, just as love continues to do today. Mercury was the gods’ “runner,” while Apollo drove his chariot across the sky until dusk. Schools wisely teach Greek mythology to adolescents, because the Greek gods usually end up acting like a Mount Olympus high school.

Zeus, Athena and other ancient Greek gods and deities on a building at the National University of Athens, Greece. Image by: Dimitrios.

Teaching Greek mythology is also a fantastic way to get smartphone-wielding teenagers to question how human beings could be so gullible: “Did those old Greeks really believe some cranky guy in the clouds was hurling thunderbolts, or a chariot drove the sun through its rotation?” But even as we ridicule the old beliefs, we love listening to the stories because they entertain us and carry an essence of truth within the obvious fictions. Lightning strikes are capricious. The sun’s rotation seems like a benevolent force: life-giving, light-giving, and reliable. We think about how silly those toga-wearing ancients’ beliefs were, and yet we continue to build our human societies around fictional narratives, even today.

My job as an attorney is not that far removed from being the Oracle of Delphi. I interpret the fictional story of “the law” and enlighten those who come with a query. The law is a story we have collectively created as a society. We believe in the story enough that we enforce the story with our collective force, but the fact remains that it’s a story we’ve made up and written down. The law is a story that serves a purpose — it makes sure we’re all on the same page.

The story of the law is fictional, but as with all fiction, many things are true. We have endowed our fictional legal story with godlike powers, and the law has responded in kind by giving us our very own pantheon of new and powerful gods. Instead of requesting answers from Apollo at Delphi, we consult the Oracle via our search bar, and the great god Google answers us. In the real world of concrete, tangible things, how is Google different from Apollo? “Is this mole cancerous? The Oracle told me it could be.”

We believe in our new gods so much, we allow them to sue and be sued in courts of law. The smartphone gods, Apple and Samsung, duke it out for supremacy, intellectual property, and credit from the masses, and humanity is divided into groups of believers. Are you an ardent follower of the one true Apple, or are you an Android heretic?

Have you heard the new commandment from the great god, Amazon? “True believers of Amazon shall buy Prime. Appeal at your desktop altar, or petition your prayer phone. Pay your indulgence, and with free two-day shipping, ye shall receive.” (Just a quick side note: in naming the company, Bezos even opted for a reference to a collection of powerful female Greek demigods, including the modernized comic book goddess, Wonder Woman.)

And like the Greeks, we have countless demigods running around, incorporated into our modern language and commerce, and we often don’t bother to rename them. The god Nike brings promises of victory; Ajax wasn’t a god, but a mighty warrior. The Trojans had a mighty wall that kept out the swarms, at least until the wall was covertly circumvented. And open Pandora’s box and along with musical wonders, you will almost certainly find unwanted ads.

Trademarks, intellectual property and corporations are all legal fictions. For that matter, the Constitution itself is the ultimate fiction: an agreed-upon set of rules that finds its strength in our collective commitment to believe in its underlying truths. Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and many more, are our new pantheon, and they remain just as fictional as any Greek god. Humanity created these powerful forces from nothing more than words in a law book, stories, and a collective belief in the stories. If we look at the almost miraculous gifts from our corporate gods, we believe they were created with intelligent design — our intelligent design.

But we need to remember that, just like the ancient Greeks, we created these gods to serve specific functions, and we have the ability to tell them how to behave through our collective story (our laws), including what powers we endow them with, as well as their limitations and weaknesses.

If we don’t like how our stories are ending, especially because of the behavior of our gods, we must rewrite the story so that our “once upon a time” ends with us living “happily ever after.”

E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. Twitter: @KentWinward.

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Best Time to Start Listening to Audiobooks is Now!

Normally I don’t endorse getting into a closed ecosystem of a big brand, but with audiobooks it’s different. There’s not much out there in way of alternatives, and audiobooks are bulky enough to be a pain to manage. Audible has made a great system to buy, try, gift and listen to audiobooks all day across all your devices.

Don’t drink and drive, get high on literature instead!

And now, for the corporate self-made holiday that is shoved down our throats whether we want to or not, there is Prime Day. Yay! Or not.

Anyway, it’s a great way to test out Audible. I have a subscription. You can have one too. At a discount, too (It’s worth it).

Prime Members get 40{3c8f4da9b128660293e5267e2f10c9f1bd8d9182b4c5f363c0a5386c1d86bb3b} off Audible Membership from June 29, 2017 through July 11, 2017

And we can give you some audiobooks for free! Really. Just get an account, head on to our Audiobooks page and ask for the title you want. We’ll gift it to you.

Go on.

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Cyberpunk Week On Tor

Tor Publishing is running a cyberpunk week on their site. The very first post, It’s Not Fiction, It’s Our Lives, really struck a chord with me.

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Artist’s rendering of the famous Ghost In The Shell opening. (Marek Okon)

A few decades ago the “cyberpunk” genre was purely fiction. Now, it is a reality that humanity struggles to navigate on a daily basis. Bodyhacking, information networks, megacorps… these concepts, borne from fiction, now shape our lives in very serious ways. And just as reality grows from forward-looking stories, so too does new fiction grow in response to the present day. What is a cyberpunk, or even “post-cyberpunk,” story when that is the world you live in?

That is prevalent in all our works, the idea that the future is now. Many of the things we do daily were considered science-fiction not so long ago. Access to information, anytime, anywhere? Real-time translation with augmented reality? Body-tracking, disposable drones, restaurant recommendations via an accurate algorithm? They’re all here, it’s not even shocking anymore.

In our exploration, three important aspects of cyberpunk become apparent:

  • Administration: Much of cyberpunk fiction drew inspiration from corporate structures that were only just beginning to solidify in the late 20th century, and what those stories extrapolated out towards isn’t too different from what we experience now in the early 21st century. Cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk fiction is uniquely suited to exploring the intricacies of the systems that govern us, whether those systems are controlled by corporations, governments, or the people themselves. Information is the currency of cyberpunk, and increasingly the currency of the present day. How can we use it to make something better? How should we use it?
  • Identity: Information technology is on the cusp of merging the biological and the mechanical into one seamless being, but what then does that being become? What is a person who can exist outside their body? Is there a purpose to gender and race classification? Especially when we are capable of creating programming that can think for itself, and does not require a gender or race? We live in an age where a person can fine-tune their appearance to a degree never before experienced, and cyberpunk fiction is at the forefront of imagining how a humanity consisting entirely of self-fashioned people works.
  • Culture and Commerce: We tell stories, regardless of form or circumstance, so what stories are told by those living in our world; a world imagined by cyberpunk fiction? What appeals to us?

Tor’s first point is really spot on (hell, fleek even). Google made it’s billion dollar empire on information alone. If you were to write that twenty years ago, you’d be called excessive. Things don’t work like that. Governments can’t be asking their citizens to vote on every little thing via their mobiles and laptops. Or maybe, in Estonia’s case, they can.

The second point is well explored in science fiction, but I don’t like the political American debate on gender classification. Excuse me, but yes there is a biological reason for gender classification, it’s silly to presume otherwise. On race I agree, we’re all one species. Regarding the appearance, yes, I believe from the data points of body modification up till now, that it will become extreme. I truly believe that there will be people addicted to modifying their bodies, not cosmetically, like they do now, but with technology, horns, extra limbs and more unimaginable things.

Commerce seems to be the king. If something sells, the people behind it are willing to bend laws to their will, ignore morals, slave children to factories, fire family-men and replace them with robots, trademark common everyday words. There is literally no limit. Culture is slowly becoming one sloshy gray goo, with Asians celebrating Christmas (just because they like the holiday), American culture invading every other one with Hollywood and (apparently) superhero movies now. India is a strong counterpoint in this, spreading it’s culture all over the world but in a different light, it’s more of the same.

Anyway, this post isn’t meant to be a manifesto. These are just observations on the current state of things, plus some wishful thinking. Cause it’s not all bad. I recently had a conversation with some people of the earlier generation, and they claim that despite the Greek crisis here, we are still living relatively nice compared to the past. People didn’t used to have employee rights, air-conditioning or even shoes to wear.

There are medicines now for diseases that used to kill thousands. My father keeps a box of the pills that could have saved my grandfather on his desk. Just a stupid, tiny silly pill that if it had existed 50 years ago, my grandfather wouldn’t have to endure a lifetime of sickness and surgeries.

People can re-educate themselves in an open university if they like or through online courses. We have access to most of the books ever written with Project Gutenberg, and for the daily stuff, we have every shop we need just a short walk away. Mostly. Our cars are reliable, our homes are comfortable and travel is becoming faster and faster.

Corporations are making things nicer, easier and cheaper for us. But just because it helps with their sales.

You can follow Tor’s articles on Cyberpunk Week here.

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What Is Cyberpunk Anyway?

I’ve happily stumbled upon this article on what Cyberpunk is and what will be. Which I will happily cannibalize for a few quotes on this post.

Cyberpunk does allow you to say a story of, perhaps Celebrity Singers and Biker Amazons 🙂 (credit Petri Rahkola)

It gets a bit academic, and I think the subject doesn’t need that much analysis but I like some of the points. I’ve even had a realization:

A kitsch self-parody

For all its outward cynicism, cyberpunk is often wilfully naive; conspiracies are unravelled, the lone maverick is redeemed, the lone aberration at the head of the system is taken out and all is well again. For all its gritty imagery, this dissonantly contradicts reality. Indeed it is questionable whether cyberpunk is an entirely dystopian genre. For the oligarch-villains occupying the luxury penthouses and boardrooms in which boss battles occur, this is utopia. The ubiquity of scaffolding in the genre’s platform games suggests there is even a building boom. It is a great time to be an engineer. Even for the average citizen, perhaps things aren’t that bad; there are plenty of exotic street-food outlets and sports to enjoy (you can follow the blood and chrome progress of Brutal Deluxe in the Bitmap Brothers’ 2007 Speedball series). Escape to off-world colonies, as we are told repeatedly by advertising neo-blimps, is an option for the rich and genetically sound. Some of the tyrannies are fairly relative. In X-Kaliber 2097 (1994), the reign of the warlord Raptor means “there are no more jobs to go to,” echoing the current fear that automation might render us all unemployable. “Well,” we might say, “thank god for that.” Even when the apocalypse beckons or has already happened (the release of the planet-decimating biochemical Lucifer-Alpha in 1988’s Snatcher, for example), it is survivable.

I like that. Yes, deep down cyberpunk is wish fulfillment, does have a happy ending, the corporations do lose. Vices are plentiful, humanity has far-out options for life extension and survival, heroes are cool and larger-than-life.

My kind of cyberpunk is rather light. All the tropes are there, but they are a backdrop to character and plot. Mega corporations crush people and effectively become worshiped, but we see the casual interactions and the family issues. Not the sweeping socio-economic ones, which frankly, would make a boring read.

 

Following the maxim of its baptist William Gibson that “the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed,” cyberpunk has always been a scrapyard, with pieces of what is to come scattered through the past and present. Indeed, its saving grace is that it recognizes, as other futurology often fails to, that the future will be a collage and it will be considerably older than the present.

That scrapyard is what I try to put in my own stories. A bit of Greek mythology, a bit of plausible technology, a narrative that draws you in, and some action to keep it exciting. Because, make no mistake, violence is at the cybernetic heart of cyberpunk.

 

The fear and power of plugging in and losing our humanity in the process, continually evident in cyberpunk, is again not new; we find precedents in Descartes’ Demon and Plato’s Cave. There is also a certain guilty pleasure in immersing yourself in a videogame world that warns you of the dangers of immersing yourself in videogame worlds. The early game Interphase (1989), by The Assembly Line, deftly equates virtual reality with dream-space, a crossover we will no doubt increasingly see with advances in VR, AI and augmented reality. At that time such developments seemed the stuff of dreams, but they are incrementally becoming more real. In Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs (2014), the hacking abilities of the lead character Aiden Pearce suggest that the human brain, the city and cyberspace are now interwoven networks. To accumulate great power in the latter two is to potentially wield power over the first.

My main issue with VR is that one. I too have been brought up with Neuromancer, and Matrix more recently (yes I said recently, shuddup), but I don’t think VR is what we thought it would become in those days. I firmly believe, that instead of diving inside the computer world, we will superimpose the digital word over the physical one. A Shared Augmented Reality, giving us information and allowing us to interact with the digital equivalent of the physical objects. In my works, I call it the veil, a shared overlay of public data. For example, when people look at you with SAR glasses or maybe someday contact lenses, they’ll see your public facebook and twitter profile, all available for interaction.

Anyway, the God Complex takes place in a cyberpunk world, with a few metaphysical elements and a lot of Greek lore. The latest work and the first published novel is “The Girl Who Twisted Fate’s Arm,” and you can find it on Amazon:

 

When the daughter of Greece’s premier singer fails to sing as expected, she finds out about a biker group of women. But will she manage to find the elusive Orosa, the bikers’ motovlogger, when all she has to go on are random street-sightings of criminal behaviour, when her family is opposed to her following this path and when her dad’s employer wants to keep her as she was for marketing purposes?

Do you want to know what’s next for the voiceless Aura? Do you wanna meet the Amazons? Then read this coming of age story in a world where fate is quite literal.

Read through the page on our site for descriptions and other places where it’s available.