We live in an age of illusionary freedom — where choice is reduced to the brand name; where the Corporation has taken the place of the Feudal Lord; where the wage has replaced indentured servitude in nothing but name.
The fate of Technology — the greatest capacity for individual empowerment, or for collective enslavement — perpetually redefines itself between these two extremities. This Age of Information still is yet to prove itself: is this an age of grassroots emancipation, or one big experiment in mass surveillance and control? It will be us, through both our action and inaction, on who this historical experiment takes place; it will be us who are the ones that will be doing the proving.
The State is the strongest it has ever been in human history — yet, also the subtlest. Its reach has conquered the entire world: every territory, every society, every venture, every single human being. We are the conquered, the occupied — we have been branded Citizens, subjects of this faceless, nameless entity — yet, many of us have learned to imitate and to love our conquerors; others have been trampled under the boot; even fewer of us have become powerful shareholders in the State. And the State continues to grow — sinking its mechanical tendrils into cyberspace, the gene code, and into the very fabric of space-time itself.
How shall we survive the suffocating weight of the State, and guard against the abuse of its mechanisms? To what is your dissent, against the corporate dynasties that oil the State’s cogs? To what is the maxim “well-armed populace is the best defense against tyranny”, against the Standing Army? To what is the firearm against the UAV-Drone?
If and only if the pen is mightier than the sword, then the keyboard is mightier than the combined nuclear force of the ICBM.
By the tragic consequence of Technology’s fate, we shall finally learn this: that Freedom is not about entitlement — to beseech the mercy, and ask for permission from the State to give you what Nature has already imbued in you. That Freedom is about empowerment — that Freedom is about doing it.
– Madame Einzige, The Aufhebung Manifesto
Madame Einzige is an upcoming novel series inspired by my studies in history, politics, social science, technology, psychology, philosophy, and religion, in which I have allowed my obsession with historical pattern and speculative imagination run wild.
It is a novel series, where religious theocracies weave the technologies of virtual-reality, cyberspace, and mass surveillance into their state-wide system of totalitarianism, in order to magnify the holy and majestic feelings with God and clergy; where disenfranchised, disillusioned, cyber-prosthetic U.S. veterans violently take up arms against a government that failed to re-integrate them into society and failed to uphold the values they risked their lives for; where socially neglected computer nerds and failed upstarts realize themselves as the medium through which democracy may defend itself — through hacktivism, and going beyond mere website vandalism to do it— and discover the political empowerment of the personal computer.
It is a novel series where occult-obsessed mathematicians and computer scientists crunch combinatorial sets and sacred permutations in order to develop algorithms for self-aware, disembodied Artificial Intelligences that instantly prophecize the future from petabytes of data; where Western war vets and ideologues form Private Military Companies offering their services to warlords and dictators, and are paid in land, market-monopolies, drugs, and an exploitable labor force; where certain corporations, under the guise of anti-piracy (and knowing that most piracy actually takes place outside of Western nations) and faux-humanitarianism, attempt to wholly replace the personal computer in developing countries, by selling mass, nationwide Cloud-computing networks to these countries, enabling their governments to scan the Cloud for anyone deemed a dissident, criminal, revolutionary, or spy.
Madame Einzige is storytelling in which reality and art, analysis and imagination, science and mythopoesis, narrative and reporting, blend seamlessly together. Art imitates life: life imitates art.
The Metamorphosis: From Marxist-Leninist Camel to Nietzschean Lion
The series follows the titular protagonist, Madame Einzige, who is a former Communist East German Nationale Volksarmee specialist. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and dissolution of Soviet-Communism, she has struggled and failed to find a way in the new post-Socialist world. She, like other East Germans, were ‘liberated’ (or annexed by the West, others have argued) from the DDR’s confines of Marxism-Leninism, Freie Deutsche Jugend, Cold War intrigue, STASI secret police, smuggled British rock records, Ampelmännchen pedestrian crossing lights, and Trabant cars–
–into this charmingly decadent world of capitalism, personal automobiles, personal computers, shopping malls, MTV, Americanization, fast food, Hollywood, credit cards, “globalization” (or: corporate imperialism)–
Surviving both the collapse of Soviet-Socialism, and the dramatic decline of Anglo-American Capitalism (both which curiously occurred during their respective invasions of Afghanistan), Madame Einzige moved from one failing system to another. Attempting to atone for her allegiance to the oppressive ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat‘ that existed in her native Communist East Germany, she gave the new Western system of democracy and Capitalism the benefit of the doubt, and embraced it at first.
But Capitalism quickly felt meaningless and alienating with its frenzied obsession with consumerism, fake promises of personal empowerment, and the mind-controllingly annoying advertisements. Capitalism was almost exactly what she imagined it was, having learned about it in her East Berlin school, only worse. Was she better off as a slave to the moralizing, collectivist ideology of the Marxist-Leninist State, or as a slave to vapid the materialism and time-wasted wage-earning of the Corporation?
Embittered, cynical, and barred from taking up any meaningful work in this new capitalist society of Europe because of her past involvement in the East German Dictatorship, she radically uprooted everything she had previously thought and felt about society and civilization. She saw things. Politicians hiding behind ideologies to garner support — the co-opting of popular protest by new ambitious elites — the bureaucratic kakistocracy and corruption that is fated to degenerate within barely a generation — “merit” that rewards the Noticeable, and not the Skilled — economies based off scarcity, its illusions, and unnecessary wants. As far as she was concerned, there was only one maxim any and all kinds of human social organization: the survival of self-interest. And how myopic, decadent, destructive, ignorant, ill-intended, base, and petty, the rabble’s self-interest is…
But self-interest it always was for humanity, self-interest it will always be. And what about those with more progressive, universal, benevolent, ‘altruistic’, enlightening interests? Yes, even those are self-interests — by what else could those interests even survive, if humans didn’t invest their lives into them?
After trying her hand at so many post-Communist career paths, she realized that she only excelled at one thing — maybe the only thing she had the taste for — and one thing only: carrying out the State’s Monopoly on Violence. But now far be it for her to embrace the State or the Corporation as an enforcer (or “security contracts” they call them now), with what she had realized. On behalf of who or what would she be carrying out violence, now…?
“Durch die Worten des unsere Amerikaner Eroberern:
Jetzt gibst mir die Freiheit oder gibst mir Tod!!“
The Child — Narration as Hyper-Reality: The Breaking the Forth Wall
Madame Einzige is speculative fiction — with firm grounding in history and social science, and not without disturbing plausibility. I wanted to create a novel series that portrays real social and political phenomena — exploring the diversity and multifacetedness of their deeper roots and causes, rather than haphazardly panning over these for a romanticized oversimplification, as is so often the case in fiction. Every character, no matter how obscure or commonplace, is a consequence of a greater historical and social context. No character exists in a void. No character is ex nihilo.
Technology, both the future of technology, and its history (expect to find a lot of retrocomputing in Madame E.!), is a major focus of the books. My focus is not on providing detailed descriptions of the gaudiness of new technology — it is on providing a stimulating, plausible, thought-provoking scenarios of Technology’s interfacing with its consequences on society, politics, economics, culture, biology, and psychology: and how it does so in unintended and unexpected ways. A specific technology’s deployment, appropriation, dissemination, and consequences, are also my concern. Having also worked in the tech sector myself, I am familiar with the cultures of technologists, the economics behind Information Technology, as well as the science and limitation of these technologies.
In approaching social and political conflict, Madame Einzige does not repeat the failures of humanitarian aid, foreign intervention, sanctions, incentives, as is also often the case in fiction — she is perfectly aware of them, calls them on their inefficiencies and destructiveness, and is often the one fighting them. Politics is about competing interests, and often about survival, not merely dogmatic-ideological adherence — and this is something that I have written carefully into my books.
The Heroine: A Knight-Errant for the 3rd Millennium?
Philosophers talk big. So much so, that often are they the biggest mother fucking badasses of the literary world. But seldom do they have the opportunity carry out their ideals. Even rarer, do they actually hold influence on leaders, policymakers, and enforcers, with which their philosophy is concerned. I’ve always wanted a character with that same intellectual cunning, biting sarcasm, boldness, and badassry of the philosopher, mixed with those very same traits of the epic hero.
Madame Einzige is exactly that. But she herself isn’t a mere mouthpiece of philosophy. She is an astute, active observer; a kind of pawn/knight of circumstance, convenience, and context. She is inclined toward DIY-libertarianism, virtue ethics, and the will to power, but she is not removed of her spontaneous, biological human nature to err, miscalculate, overextend, second-guess, biases, and failures. She is weary of dogmatism and the intellectual narrow-mindedness it brings (including dogma of science, atheism, and political ideology). She does not swear by anything but her own jugular vein.
Madame E is a mix of a kind of independent investigative journalist, private-eye, and when required, a paramilitary. You will see her blog-report on war veterans’ poverty and discontent over secured underground networks for hacktivists to chase, gather evidence to indict Western IT corporations for setting up surveillance systems in the post-Spring Middle-East, and participate first-hand in a rebellion in the oil-rich backwaters of Central Asia.
Warum ein Deutscher? (Why a German?)
The Germans occupy a very special path in modern history (no pun intended). Two World Wars, Nazism, supremacy in industry, economy, science, and technology, a history of militarism, nationalism, key contributions to philosophy, psychology, the arts. The last of the great Anglo-American “hot” wars for global supremacy. Ground-zero of the Cold War between East vs. West and Communism vs. Capitalism. And now the weight Germany is feeling from the expansion of the Eurozone.
To our modern narratives, the Germans represent the pinnacle of a modernity, Western, civilization, industrialism, and science, all gone horribly wrong — a big part of our Reductio ad Nazium creation-myth of defining what a democracy is and isn’t. Of course, what disturbs us is that the same country that gave us Bach, Goethe, and the Volkswagen also gave us two World Wars and the Holocaust.
Germans in real life are well aware of their dark legacy. Because of the collective guilt Germans are constantly bombarded with (the peak of the white-man’s guilt), they ironically have blossomed into some of the fiercest proponents of democracy, liberty, rights to privacy, protecting individual freedoms, political non-intervention, welfare, social justice, and other such things. (On the other hand, the Germans also seem to have some of the highest levels of political antipathy in the world — please note that what this video calls “apathy” (not caring) is actually “antipathy” (realistic approach to government bullshit and refusing to participate in it))
…But a woman?
My choice of Madame Einzige’s gender is conscious decision, situated right at heart of feminism, gender questions, and women’s liberation. (Although Mannzige may make a cameo in a future novel.)
This choice goes deeper than merely providing a female presence or perspective — as if to fill some sort of women’s quota in order to wishfully validate the perception of gender equality and women’s issues. Madame Einzige goes much, much deeper.
Madame Einzige is born out of the programme of female empowerment, especially with regard to Woman, State, and Civilization. To what extent must women rely on the benevolence of the State — the institutions of policy-making, laws, enforcement, bursaries, and punishment — to safeguard her place and interests? Are women vulnerable without the existence of the State? What about the Family, and lovers? How has the State co-opted the political support of women to strengthen its own position? Have women’s interests inadvertently been hijacked into becoming agents and enforcers of State power?
For Madame Einzige, if feminism is about female empowerment, then, like all great powers (to quote a familiar cliche I’m rather fond of), comes great responsibility, and owning up to one’s actions. If that responsibility — just like that empowerment — merely falls on the State, then what kind of position does that leave women in, but perpetuating State-dependency, State-intervention, and seeking State-validation? Must women’s self-interests and empowerment continually refer itself up to a higher authority, as it was under Patriarchy? Madame E is the embodiment of “No” to that question — woman, like man, can be the end in herself.
“To Spring from the Mind”: Influences and Origins
(Section to be expanded in the future)
I love science, history, philosophy, technology, and a plethora of other subjects, sure, but when it comes to bringing these serious subjects to fiction, there tend to be an oversimplification for the sake of getting on with the story, rather than truly being written for the sake of there being a story to begin with. (*Not always though, there are some excellent philosophical-fiction writers.) I understand that this is the case for mass appeal, but it isn’t to my taste.
It is time to bring these subjects out of the lecture hall, out of overly expensive academic publications, and out of the memories of “oh, I remember learning that in college! Now I forgot it all!”, into the public aesthetic-cultural matrix. And with the increased exposure and widespread mass availability of such ideas (cf. the success of TED and Khan Academy), this certainly seems to be trend already. We’re adapting on a mass scale to be more receptive and curious of cosmopolitan, universal, big ideas, and Madame Einzige will play its role in this.