Social Darwinism in Cyberpunk Literature Essay

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In the 1870s, the English sociologist Herbert Spencer applied Charles Darwin's theories of biological evolution to human behavior and institutions. Spencer used the idea of survival of the fittest in biology and theorized human society had evolved the same way (Cooper 15). Social Darwinism, as Spencer's theory is called, pits everyone against each other to survive in the world where humans are soldiers in a war for survival. If a person is poor, it is their fault and no one should help that person rise above the poverty status. If a person is rich, they are worthy of the position based on their actions, even if morally wrong. So if one is poor, the person will be weeded out of society while the rich survive.

The Social Darwinism of
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Not just the strong will survive, but the one with the strongest technology will triumph. This is Cyberpunk.

For example, the story "Burning Chrome" by William Gibson illustrates the genre's theme of characters manipulating technology to survive. The protagonists of Gibson's story are Automatic Jack and Bobby Quine, a couple of hackers waiting for their big score to come through. They need the financial windfall quickly too, since Bobby is loosing his edge at the computer console and isn't getting any younger. "He was twenty-eight, Bobby, and that's old for a console cowboy," (Gibson 170). Jack's job is to simply keep up with the hottest software to give the pair a greater edge.

In general Gibson is describing two hackers losing the evolutionary battle for survival. At age twenty-eight, Bobby is already outdated. Cyberpunk is quick and dirty when it comes to survival. The evolutionary fight is hard and normally a character has one shot, like these two characters. What Jack and Bobby need is something to place them above the rest of the hacker world, and in Cyberpunk that can only be found though manipulating technology. This edge above competition comes in the form of a black object:

It was obviously some kind of plug-in military program. Out of the mailer, it looked like the magazine of a small automatic rifle, coated with nonreflected black plastic. The edges and corners showed bright metal, it had been knocked around for a while. (Gibson…