I find it desperately-useful to think of myself as a cyberpunk; it's increasingly the identifier under which I house much of my aesthetics and a portion of my worldview otherwise. I used to think of myself as a goth, and I still find that descriptor useful, but as something I once aspired to more than that I am. Gothic is perhaps most meaningful to me in the sense of gothic literature, and that is not entirely unlike how I suppose I see the world, in its romantic darkness, its magical complexity. That, too, finds rest in my naming of cyberpunk.
It begins in the Rust Belt, and so do I.
I was born and grew into a world full of grey: moral ambiguity; bleakness; depression; concrete. It's tempting here before getting into the more interesting things and more poetical things to talk about concrete.
Concrete is to me the stuff not of sidewalks but of Brutalism. Government buildings with imposing walls, uniform and powerful pieces of glass merely representing windows, oversight from on high. Concrete is abundant in and around the Rust Belt, and in the cities which made their impression on me most especially-so.
I love that kind of grey, and I loathe it, too. I absolutely understand the aesthetics of Brutalism: the messaging, the structure; those who adopted it; the places which bear its lasting imprint.
It is that grey that I see shining through in so much of the Seventh Doctor's episodes of Doctor Who, bleak British towerblocks. So it goes in so much Cold War Science Fiction, or at least the stuff that speaks to me; it is hopeful, but the hope is shaded by the terror and fear of what lurks in windowless buildings.
As far as housing, civilization and structure, I suppose cyberpunk assumes that with time enough the towerblock will become a walled city. Perhaps that is a statement about what happens when people are isolated from society and one another by instruments of society which place them densely alongside one-another. Perhaps it is a simple fear of central planning and centralized power exerted over a centralized people. Perhaps it is about the romantic anarchy of Kowloon Walled City.
Something about that image resonates with me, although why only gradually becomes clear. Front 242's "Circling Overland" makes more sense as drone warfare gives rise to drone peacefare, and the world begins to forget that people pilot drones, people build them, people consent to be governed by the State that claims the right to impose them. As things move from intellect to reality, it becomes easier to see their connections to aesthetics and human expression.
Cybperunk is essentially a human expression, and must be understood as such because it deals so extensively with the destruction of constructions of humanity, and the rise of machines, technology, and mechanistic society. That there can be a song from the perspective of a drone sung by a human is itself a visible (well, audible) sign of resistance, of hope for humanity to be self-aware.
Cyberpunk is endlessly self-aware, or should be. It does not merely embrace technology for its own sake whether dystopia comes or not: it eagerly consumes technology even as it recognizes its shortcomings, and the need for human beings for technology to have a purpose, and that dystopias aren't actually very pleasant places to live. There are people who want to live in a cyberpunk dystopia, but I have to imagine they're something like the counterpart of the person who is infatuated with the Jazz Age and so unironically admires Jay Gatsby as a heroic, not comic or tragic, character. Or so I hope.
And I am full of hope. But I am also aware of the world I live in, and the world that awaits me some 20 Minutes into the Future.
I think that the better part of being a cyberpunk is wanting to resist the overwhelming power and brutality that comes with a bleak life in the Rust Belt or Thatcher's Britain, or any world where we are expected to sacrifice our humanity for the economy or the good of the State. As a Christian and a cyberpunk, I think of myself as having one eye turned ever to light and one eye to the dark. Embrace the wonders of humanity, and let technology unite us, but fight against the ways it divides us, too. Stare into the neon lights of your Neo-Tokyo, and do not turn away from what happens in its dark alleys so far from their glow.