"Hate," Case said. "Who do I hate? You tell me."
"Who do you love?" the Finn's voice asked.
And one October night, punching himself past the scarlet tiers of the
Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority, he saw three figures, tiny, impossible,
who stood at the very edge of one out the vast steps of data. Small as they
were, he could make out the boy's grin, his pink gums, the glitter of
the long gray eyes that had been Riviera's. Linda still wore his
jacket; she waved, as he passed. But the third figure, close behind her, arm
across her shoulders, was himself.
Somewhere, very close, the laugh that wasn't laughter.
He never saw Molly again.
It's always in the middle of the night that I end up re-reading Neuromancer. The last twenty pages of the book - the end of the Straylight Run - they first captured me as a teenager. One lobe of my brain permanently painted with printed circuitry, Zeerust and '80s cyberpunk mixed with techno and lost longing for a future that never happened.
I can see echoes of it today. Pale blue dots, each one holding all of humanity in its distant cradle, each one a future we might like to see.
I can't explain how even though I am sitting in front of a computer chasing that ultimate cliche of our current system, the American Dream, while the girl I love sleeps behind me, a part of me still feels fifteen years old.
The past eight months have been one massive happy blur.
Two weeks after I came clean, she moved, I went to help, and we started dating. Two months after that, she moved out of her new apartment and we moved in together.
So she's hot, and she's smart, and the first time she visited, she cooked steamed fish...
...I just hope this is normal for her. Because I'm wrapped around her finger, and I've forgotten how to untie the thread.
Oh, and we still talk about workflow engines and love triangles in TV series all the time.
Shifting gears a bit, I think it's time to note that though we currently live in a Belle Epoque, the lug nuts are coming loose on this bus we'll call the System, the largest of the current systems of power. When the wheels come off, we will need to survive.
Today, the System is an entity organized around four institutional pillars:
1. The Security Apparatus - the military, intelligence, police, and legal systems
2. The Capital Markets - end users (corporates, startups, and everything in between) and resellers (banks, VCs, everything in between) of capital
3. The Fourth Estate - creators, aggregators, and distributors of information (including TeamLiquid)
4. Human Resources - rankers of people; everything from shitty public schools and state schools to the Ivy League to various Forbes Lists and the Nobel Prizes
Systems just like it have existed in every era of history. To help understand this fact, it is helpful to interpret each of these pillars as institutions that answer the questions of power:
1. Who lives? And how freely? And who must die?
2. Who eats? And how much? And who must starve?
3. Who speaks? And how loudly? And who must be silent?
4. Who matters? And to how many? And who must be forgotten?
Because we are human, you and I ask these questions every day. Even if we try not to, our mere interaction with other human beings presupposes these questions. And when the System can answer your 4 questions in a way that you accept, you will perceive that it provides that most desired of public goods - Order.
Why did I call this a Belle Epoque, then? Because today, the number of people who choose to accept the System's answers has reached an apogee, a zenith; and that was the characteristic of the last Belle Epoque. Other systems of power - well, they were either wiped in such momentous dates such as September 2, 1945 and December 25, 1991, or blanched into irrelevance on lesser-known dates such as November 2, 1956 or the long string of RICO investigations and junk bond issuances that saw Middle America exchange the American Mob for Private Equity as its rent-seeking overseers of choice.
But now, this is coming undone in a special way - a way only (unitary) Systems and not groups of systems fall apart. The winds of rebellion blow. Surely you can sense it - Both Trump and #metoo were rebellions against the answers to #4 and #3; ISIS, #4 and #1; the trade wars, #2. Seemingly organized rejections of the System's answers in eruptions that appear to come from nowhere.
But they do come from somewhere - they come because a) most people merely accept and acquiesce as opposed to truly believe in the answers any one system of power provides; and b) in a world with many systems, there are safety valves for such people to escape into; but c) in a Belle Epoque, there are no alternatives. Instead, the pressure builds and builds, until (depending on the relative ratio of the nominal selectorate, the real selectorate, and the winning coalition) a rebellion erupts. And erupts again. And again.
The funny thing about Systems is that, though they tend to crush rebellions, they are intrinsically unstable. Because their punishments, to be maximally effective, all involve a sudden, exogenous reversal of answers #1-4 from a subset of (previously) endogenous participants, their very act of crushing rebellion diminishes the amount of Order the System can provide. Rebellions, then, become more frequent. And larger. And more violent. As such, a Belle Epoque can be thought of as the point where a System goes from being a stable equilibrium to an unstable one.
Based on how the last Belle Epoque began to spin out of control, eventually the System begins fragmenting into mirror image shards - each broken piece attempting to answer questions #1-4 using the same pillars as the other shards, but claiming (often falsely) that they are more effective than the other. Because each shard has inherited an institutional framework that is universalist, then the shards will naturally consume each other.
And so, we know why the last Belle Epoque ended the way it did: armies of national conscription dying in the millions; parliaments bankrupting themselves with the first international system of national debt; home fronts blinded by the first systems of mass media control and postal censorship; the White Feather movement. And it all felt so meaningless - especially compared to its sequel twenty years later. Why?
Because in that war, each side started with the same stale institutions generating the same stale answers, and it was unclear which of the new institutions that arose were the right ones.
When Belle Epoques end, there is usually a second war after the first; a 1618 to the 1548, a 1939-1991 to the 1914-1918. The second war usually feels more "satisfying" than the first one, because it is usually a struggle between the alternate systems that have arisen and usually results in the birth of a new System.
The choice I struggle with daily is whether I should take a gamble and participate in getting us to a new System, or simply trying to survive - twice.
Maybe I'll write part 3 when she's trying on a dress made of white.