I am republishing an article I put on medium this Morning. I am also putting it up here because I haven't been working on anything else and I'm proud of it:
Cyberpunk with Boomer Characteristics
With only a few more days until the inauguration of Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., therе seems to be no more room for QAnon, no more cracks in the future of the consensus model of reality of the future for its ecstatic mental paroxysms to slip through, to feed off. A lot of people have consigned QAnon to the dustbin of history. I would love to join them. I also think QAnon is dying, but in the same way that Pizzagate died. There will be a reconstitution and a reformation. QAnon is an aesthetic practice, and a ritualistic information processing methodology that can be easily transformed and reapplied. As others have pointed QAnon is also a LARP or some sort of augmented reality game. The purpose of this article is to nail down exactly what kind of LARP it is and to discuss what aspects are transferable. I can state categorically that QAnon is a Christian millennialist Shadowrun LARP. There, you can stop reading. Although, I will spend the rest of this screed explaining what that means and how it came about.
Millennialist Boomerism and Cyberpunk
I am not going to trace the history of Qanon from Clancyesque surrealism to apocalyptic millennialist prophecy in any detail. Other people are much more coherent at that and have done masterful jobs showing the way that Anons imagine themselves to be playing spymaster. Those narratives and aesthetics gave birth to the movement and are responsible for some of its key plot points (i.e., Q is a government intelligence officer; the military is inherently good and the potential savior of the American people, and so on). I have a lot of nostalgia for this era and the almost baroque level of ornamentation heaped on to their bizarre extrapolations from the minutiae of Hillary Clinton’s life. This era focused on pictures of politicians who may or may not (but definitely are) wearing ankle monitors, strings of numbers that might be GPS data. The explanations and exegeses have ornate winding conspiratorial lyricism almost like an art nouveau vine (perhaps I was wrong to refer to the baroque; I think art nouveau is a better metaphor for their ramblings). These reveries were clearly in the security state thriller genre. With the Cold War gone and the War on Terror (somehow lacks the same appeal) however the paranoia was directed solely at domestic targets and internal political enemies.
At this point in early QAnon the explicit narrative is pure security state thriller tropes. Q’s posts are descriptions of future covert state actions against Donald Trump’s political enemies. The difference is anonymous 4chan users and later 8chan users have taken the role of the security analysts. It is this democratization of security work that begins to incorporate elements of Cyberpunk. Cyberpunk can be traces at least as far back as Bruce Bethke’s story, Cyberpunk. Cyberpunk constructs a dialectically opposed reality to the one found in Tom Clancy novels and Cold War saber rattling. The world of Cyberpunk is one where the old guard is out of touch and not highly competent operatives. The protagonists are teenagers who enjoy sowing chaos through computer hacking with no aim or ideology. They are seemingly motivated by a motiveless malignancy or a compulsion to delinquency. However, the idea of the renegade hacker has entered into the trope blender that is QAnon. The result is QAnon’s merger of the Right's fetishization of the strong father figure found in the statist fantasies of Tom Clancy with the Cyberpunk tropes of the 1980’s.
Of course, QAnon is not the first movement to integrate the fantasy of the rogue computer hacker into the fantasy of the uber-competent undercover government operative. QAnon’s innovation is the refusal to integrate these two things into a coherent narrative. The Government is at once a bastion of good and a satanic pedophile ring. Anons are simultaneously anti-government hackers and loyal patriots. We can listen to an individual Anon’s justifications for how these contradictions are resolved, but any individual Anon’s explanation or ‘head canon’ cannot be understood to be the official narrative. The resolutions to the contradiction are individual; it is only the contradictions that are universal. It is here that QAnon pushes itself into Phillip K. Dick territory. However, we cannot follow them there yet. First we must discuss how the praxis of QAnon is informed by their non-synthesis of statist spycraft fiction and libertarian cyberpunk fiction.
Ironically the plot of the short story, Cyberpunk, is of little use here. It is more instructive on the reality of the Qanon arc than its internal symbolism and praxis. It tells the story of a protagonist, who has contempt for adults seemingly unable understand all the sophisticated stuff that he can do on a computer, and ends when his dalliances on the computer are shown to be incapable of keeping him from being sent to military school. In the end the virtual world of cyberspace is no match for the coercive power of meat-space.
Surrealism in Rebellion and Bootlicking
The QAnon aesthetic is much more in line with the early work of William Gibson. A Q drop has similar narrative contrivances to Neuromancer. The narrator has a way of making the read feel like an insider being addressed by another insider. It creates an intimacy based on the illusion of a shared lexicon and knowledge base, while teaching that lexicon and knowledge to the reader. It makes the reader feel smart and cool:
Case was twenty-four. At twenty-two, he’d been a cowboy a rustler, one of the best in the Sprawl. He’d been trained by the best, by McCoy Pauley and Bobby Quine, legends in the biz. He’d operated on an almost permanent adrenaline high, a byproduct of youth and proficiency, jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix. A thief he’d worked for other, wealthier thieves, employers who provided the exotic software required to penetrate the bright walls of corporate systems, opening windows into rich fields of data (William Gibson, Neuromancer).See, very cool. You feel like a hip insider being informed by another hip insider of the doings of third hip insider. Neuromancer creates a conceptual framework for playing around on the internet while pretending you are doing something important. It also establishes the main plot outline of QAnon. There are people, Anons, sometimes known as “bakers,” who take posts/“drops”/“crumbs” on 8chan, or earlier on 4chan, and interpret them in a way that tells the story of a secret government operation.
This process is analogous to what a ‘decker’ does in Neuromancer. There is a mission from a shadowy employer. The protagonist goes on a computer and does things on the internet that allow them to extract secret information. The secret information slowly paints a bigger picture of a reality that is only discoverable through further interaction with internet. The nature of the secret becomes increasingly bizarre until it is revealed that there is a highly sophisticated artificial intelligence pulling the strings and suggestions of extra-terrestrial involvement.
The QAnon ‘consensual hallucination’ is that they are also engaged in this process of discovery at the behest of actors in the U.S. government. This is The LARP; it feels like an ‘almost permanent adrenaline high.’ There is the ecstasy of decoding a post. There is the fear response from obsessing over cannibal pedophiles. There is the reassurance that there are good guys in control that comes from the more boomer-oriented, Clancyesque roots of the conspiracy theory. There is the feeling of superiority that comes from having secret knowledge, which is perhaps the uniting thread between QAnon's literary antecedents. I am sure I could go on, but the point is that these feelings coalesce into a kind of ecstasy.
I said the LARP was a Shadowrun LARP because it does not just incorporate aspects of spycraft and cyberpunk; it is also fundamentally relies on a belief in the supernatural. Shadowrun is the roleplaying game that united these two things. In Shadowrun you could be a shaman or a hacker. People pretending to be Shaman’s and hackers had to work together to complete missions. QAnon is a movement that has room for a guy named Praying Medic and a guy that claims to be communicating with himself from the future via a quantum computer. Shadowrun pioneered that integration. QAnon has replaced the Shamanistic magic of Shadowrun with the divine magic of prayer. Other than that (and the absence of other races of humanoid from the core canon) the praxis of Anons follows a Shadowrun adventure: a the mysterious patron gives you a mission. Then you move to a location while shooting stuff. At the location, you log onto a computer and do computer hacker stuff. As you repeat this process, you uncover a larger conspiracy plot.
Qanon has adopted and adapted this process with one notable exception. Until recently, the part about going outside and committing crimes was downplayed. Anons were never told to do anything in the real world except perhaps buy merchandise and contribute to crowdfunding campaigns. In fact, they were encouraged to simply ”enjoy the show.” The job of the Anon was to bear witness to a secret war using investigative acumen and a computer. Anons are actually engaged in a mixture of a mixture of googling and free association. As the predictions of the Q and the Anons started to fail tension developed between Anon’s image of themselves as ‘independent researchers’ and the continued failure of their research to produce any results that coincided with objective reality. This tension resolved itself by incorporating spiritualism. Once QAnon incorporated fantasy tropes, it became too compelling and fun to collapse. Like Shadowrun, it was a place where incongruous fantasies could coexist in a sort of mélange or potpourri. Anon’s were now engaged in spiritual warfare. Anons conclusions, like, “Hillary Clinton will be executed” or, “their will be mass arrests” began to take on the qualities of prophesies or supplications to a higher power. More and more you would see Anons say things like, “God is in control.” QAnon began to resemble a priesthood. The LARP became one were cyber priests prayed and spoke prophecy into being over Facebook and Twitter.
WWG1WGA and Mercerism
I am skipping over a lot of the whackier aspects of QAnon. The whackier parts-the clones and stuff- have roots in mental illness and Philip K. Dick. I know, the whole thing has its roots in mental illness. It’s a “schizoid embolism”, a “consensual hallucination.” I would never call it a cult; it’s not that organized. It is more of a gnostic Christian practice. It is a real-world analog to Mercerism from, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but dumber. Just read this; let it wash over your mind:
The man, Wilbur Mercer, plodded ahead, and, as he clutched the handles, John Isidore gradually experienced a waning of the living room in which he stood; the dilapidated furniture and walls ebbed out and he ceased to experience them at all. He found himself, instead, as always before, entering into the landscape of drab hill, drab sky. And at the same time he no longer witnessed the climb of the elderly man. His own feet now scraped, sought purchase, among the familiar loose stones; he felt the same old painful, irregular roughness beneath his feet and once again smelled the acrid haze of the sky - not Earth's sky but that of some place alien, distant, and yet, by means of the empathy box, instantly available. He had crossed over in the usual perplexing fashion; physical merging - accompanied by mental and spiritual identification - with Wilbur Mercer had reoccurred. As it did for everyone who at this moment clutched the handles, either here on Earth or on one of the colony planets. He experienced them, the others, incorporated the babble of their thoughts, heard in his own brain the noise of their many individual existences. They - and he - cared about one thing; this fusion of their mentalities oriented their attention on the hill, the climb, the need to ascend. Step by step it evolved, so slowly as to be nearly imperceptible. But it was there. Higher, he thought as stones rattled downward under his feet. Today we are higher than yesterday, and tomorrow - he, the compound figure of Wilbur Mercer, glanced up to view the ascent ahead. Impossible to make out the end. Too far. But it would come (William K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep).There, that’s QAnon. “Where We Go One We Go All” is their motto. The purpose of the gematria, the praying, all of it is to achieve unity with a higher purpose. Not to win. Not to actually get the pedophiles. It is to join with people through this entity known as Q and bear witness to his deed through this arcane process of decoding these cryptic missives. Once you understand them you have in a way made yourself one with his consciousness and joined with him. There is a larger war, a nebulous spiritual war that occurs secretly behind the scenes. Only traces of it appear in our reality as codes in music videos or popular movies. Our reality is a veil, and behind that veil is Q and Trump and the white hats. Your job as an Anon is to bear witness and in bearing witness you meld with Q and Trump and all of the white hats. You also join with your fellow Anons into this one entity that exists to fight spiritual evil.
This profoundly religious experience is not going to be debunked. It must be robbed of its transformative power. Once QAnon can no longer provide spiritual ecstasy, it will be replaced or reformed into something that can continue to provide that experience. Falling into QAnon belief is a process that begins with feeling alienated by where your country is headed, and then it provides you with comfort, excitement and intrigue. Finally, once you are hooked, it provides you with ecstatic religious experience. It is as intoxicating and nourishing as Mercerism is. It acknowledges the evil of the world without asking Anons to understand or truly confront it. Or as in, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, “A Mercerite sensed evil without understanding it. Put another way, a Mercerite was free to locate the nebulous presence of The Killers wherever he saw fit.” This is what makes Mercerism and QAnon so resilient. The evil is nebulous. The shared reality is the reality of the experience of believing in QAnon. It is a form of Gnosticism.
QAnon is world of intrigue and divinity that invites participation and shared world-building. It purports to give people, through prayer, the power to purge evil from the U.S. Government. This formula is compelling and not going anywhere. The new version of QAnon may take some time to constitute itself after Biden’s inauguration but it will be back if it ever even goes away.