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I've been thinking about developing a loosely cyberpunk style world that is mostly the sort of standard corporate dominated dystopias we're used to.

How could a more positive mostly heroic faction emerge within this sort of world? What would be the factors that allowed them to form?

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    $\begingroup$ What kind of optimistic faction? Are they a tiny resistance movement or as large as one of the megacorps? Do they stand a chance of accomplishing their aims or are they delusional? For that matter, what are their aims - do they have an ideal they want to push on the broader scale or are they just trying to survive? $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Jan 17 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ It's an interesting question touching on society's interaction with personal psychology, but I'd say we could do with a few more details of the conditions that prevail and the nature of this person/group/movement. Scale is something that can vary quite a bit over time, so the seeds, the germ of the idea/social-condition might be more important than the numbers at first. Just how rigidly authoritarian is the society, what controls are in place, surveillance etc.. What's the prevailing ideology that the faction is differing from.... Can you clarify a bit? $\endgroup$ Jan 17 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ Most cyberpunk corporations seem to be relentlessly optimistic -- making the world a better place with nanotechnology, or uploading consciousnesses... , much like megacorps today. I feel as if "heroic" and "optimistic" are different. $\endgroup$ Jan 18 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ Bonus points if you can make your positive faction a corp. The central point of cyberpunk is that the profit motive is inherently amoral: a large enough, faceless enough, powerful enough organization operating under the primary motive of "create profit" will do absolutely evil things. BUT it is possible to be the primary shareholder of a corp - and it is possible for the majority shareholders to create motives other than profit. You could do a whole story on the clash between those who like the corp as it is, and those who want to "improve" its profitability. $\endgroup$
    – codeMonkey
    Jan 18 at 21:38

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Anything natural is a cause for optimism because it is a gritty genre

Any small bubble that manages to cultivate green things:that has a green house, a living plant, a living animal or even just natural light poking through, that is a sign for hopefulness in a Cyber punk world. Bear in mind that usually in the cyber punk genre, a green space tends to be an artificially generated mirage. Even Beautiful natural things tend to have some underlying fragility, or worse... totally sinister artificial corruption. Find a beautiful girl? Go visit a life long friend in the country? Look at a beautiful iridescent butterfly in a clearing in the forest? Not likely.

The girl might be a robot trying to kill you. The long lost friend already has traded you over to the predictive crime police. The iridescent butterfly is a drone spy with camera eyes. Generally speaking the hero is talking through a slot, under neon lighting, after overdosing, intending to buy a black market body mod. Living in over populated, dense metropolises occupied by seedy modded biohackers with no scruples is not a cause for optimism. The denizens of these worlds tend to be losers, perverts, hackers, hucksters, hustlers, cutthroats, hookers, gangsters, reluctant cops, assassins, scavengers and rogues. A debatable hope for humanity is usually an AI, which sits in a grey area. They may be evolving as finer versions of humans, closer to a race of gods and goddesses, with more attuned intelligence and emotions than we can dream of.

The fact is, in Cyber punk, nobody can leave the density of their world, raise children, lie down in a grassy field, or look at the stars contemplatively.

A minor break from what is canonical would be a easy to achieve in this setting. It is like a scale from artificial (consistent with the genre) to natural (sticks out like a sore thumb).
An extreme break from the general cyber punk genre would be to build an unselfish faction that wants to encourage themselves and others to return to an uncluttered, contemplative way of life. They could be community builders, honest crafts people, farmers, or conservationists.

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    $\begingroup$ You answer reminds me of a little genre called solar punk which is, to be blunt, cyberpunk meets environmentalism/cottage core. Frankly, I think this could make for a good story. $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Jan 18 at 21:08
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    $\begingroup$ @PipperChip Not aware of Cottage Core, thanks for that. William Gibson and Wendell Berry. $\endgroup$ Jan 19 at 3:15
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Open source hackers

These people make open source drugs, prosthetics, and bootleg products of all sorts. Real word examples of this exist, for things like insulin and 3D printed prosthetics, but this could expand when corporate control starts to infringe on these enterprises. These people would be decentralized without a central command. They instead set up independent pirate stations that distribute the hacked items and collect contributions. A few people work with them full time, some work part time, and most people only interact with them occasionally for free movies or one off services. They are anti-corporate, individualistic, and not prone to violence due to the low level of involvement most people have. They can get things done when things get bad enough that most people know about a problem. But mostly they don’t mess around too much. The people who do work full time can be heroes, with a diverse background, but for the most the group doesn’t get up to much that effects other factions.

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    $\begingroup$ +1: The idealistic anarchist hacker collective who disrupt the nefarious plans of EvilCorp by exposing their secrets and violating their intellectual property monopolies is a standard trope in cyberpunk. Cyberpunk inspired real-world hacker culture just as much as the hacker culture influenced the modern cyberpunk genre. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Jan 18 at 10:46
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The oppressed

The cyberpunk story hero is the poor, angry youth, who has powerful enemies. It is a dystopic world, left to them by the old ones. They have to survive and regain their freedom. The enemies are the Central AI, agents of the state.. thought police.. employers.. and of course parents.

Really very sad, little room for optimism, plenty room for anger.

The privileged

The cynical part of the population would contain the lucky few, the ones that enjoy real freedom and keep their oligarch tyranny in place, by faking the parliament and repressing the population. The members of that faction will enjoy all positive prospects that come with the honor of membership. The faction will be populated by the rich, the rich kids, the military, the police. There is little optimism in these circles, it's mainly fear and greed, which drives them.

The pink glasses

Your faction members, being proud of their optimism (they call it "positiveness") are mainly politicians and managers, the so-called representative and accountable people. They don't have any incentive to admit errors done in previous terms. The current dystopic world is not their fault, "someone 100 years ago messed up",they have a blind spot for the corrupt top. Although they don't really solve problems and don't protect the population, they insist they do.. and they regard their work of major importance, because it will provide a better future for everyone.

Some day..

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    $\begingroup$ Sounds as if that is only couple steps away ... $\endgroup$ Jan 19 at 8:19
  • $\begingroup$ @PatrickArtner I tried to describe the typical Cyberpunk society especially, but as any other cultural expression, it reflects the world we live in. Of course, one could have another view.. Cyberpunk is rather pessimistic.. Not surprising this question popped up ! $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Jan 19 at 14:08
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There's a reason why cyberpunk concentrates in cities. Wide open spaces are hard to control.

Your optimist faction has a lot of countryside enclaves. The cost of hunting them down is enormous, and they have learned to leverage their position into advantages. Highly concentrated attacks aren't much good against the dispersed.

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Online trolls and hackers.

Consider a smallish movement that has learned to adapt to ways of the new world and, more importantly, learned to have a lot of fun trolling and hacking it, causing embarrassment and chaos. When companies, politicians, media, or other organizations get too big for their britches, the trolls have a blast taking them down a knot. This could be for a deeper social responsibility reasons, or maybe they just like having fun and they're not going to let the corporations ruin their vibe.

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Mormons (or some other religious sect)

In real life there are groups of people who are optimistic, friendly, welcoming to strangers, good neighbors, etc - even when they themselves are not particularly prosperous (though people with strong social networks do often prosper). Very commonly, these are religious people (because group cohesion and friendliness often come from a view of being part of something larger and more lasting than their individual lives). A politely but firmly evangelical sect will be most motivated to be friendly; they're out to convert you, so of course they'll be nice.

In a cyberpunk story, it doesn't have to be a real-world religion. And just like real life, not all members of a given denomination will be equally stellar individuals. But if most of the "members" really are friendly and sincere (though not necessarily without biases and faults)... Well, such a group is likely to be a unique inclusion in the cyberpunk genre, in any case.

Also, if it's an underground(ish) movement, you don't have to be terribly specific about whether there are only a few of them, or whether they actually have significant numbers and/or power.

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Friendship and Positive Thinking!

(with a helping of wealth and genetics)

Dystopian fiction can fall into the trap of portraying everyone as pessimistic, malcontent, and selfish. This is unrealistic, though, as many in real life manage to be optimistic, happy, and altruistic in even the most dire of situations. It would not be surprising at all that a faction of "heroes" would form to address the many problems in your Cyberpunk world.

In his book, "The Happiness Hypothesis," Jonathan Haidt identifies three factors that contribute to happiness:

  1. Healthy Life Circumstances -- Adequate wealth, social support, etc.
  2. Healthy Attitude -- An appreciation for what one has instead of obsession on what one lacks
  3. Healthy Mental State -- The ability to focus on positive things instead of ruminating on the negative things

Your heroes could come from all walks of life. Your plucky and unfailingly chipper street urchin might team up with a wealthy but disillusioned elite and a religious ascetic whose risen above it all. Conservationists might offer green spaces as a respite from the world with the logistical support of ethical hackers and the financial backing of professionals with modest means.

Of course, this all assumes your dystopia isn't too dystopian...

  • People's emotions aren't manipulated or their information too tightly controlled to prevent independent thought
  • People are able to establish healthy relationships; they aren't completely isolated or alienated
  • It's possible for people outside the establishment to earn an income and accumulate some wealth
  • People aren't all severely deprived or manipulated in some other fashion

In short, if there are people with enough autonomy and resources in your fictional world, then it'd be completely realistic for there to be some optimistic go-getters working to make a better world.

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Well, that kind of depends on your definition of "hero" doesn't it.

There are a few such entities in SF, mostly from the golden age works, which operate on the principle of Enlightened Self Interest. This principle is stated in varied ways, but the phrase "a rising tide lifts all boats" is a reasonably good starting point. Rather than attempting to dominate the economic or political power of the world these organisations work, sometimes secretly, to ensure that advances that would benefit all are made available to as many people as possible. A few such can be found in the CP genre, if you look hard enough.

They're not utterly selfless of course, in fact they're more selfish than the average. They just believe in the principle that more power/money/whatever can be gained if more is available in total. That the more money people have, the more they can sell to them. Of course their public image may not be particularly heroic, but at least they'll generally appear less bad than many of the others.

Then again there are those organisations that very carefully curate their public image to ensure that they are perceived to be The Good Guys, but hiding in the depths of their shell companies, contractors and other corporate skulduggery there are all sorts of rotten, despicable hidden things. Books and covers, I guess.

And then there are the Idealists. Without some serious backing these guys usually end up being eviscerated - hopefully in a corporate rather than corporal sense - by their less scrupulous competitors. Idealists try really, really hard to be above board, honest and honorable in all of their dealings, but they soon find that the game is rigged against them. Without a core of steel they're marshmallows in a fire... tasty if carefully done, but doomed nonetheless.

Other than that, you're essentially looking for a group that operates outside of a broken system. Hiro Protagonist. The Lo-Teks. Even Johnny Silverhand, although more so in his original back-story than the (quite entertaining) Keanu Reeves version from CP2077. There are plenty of edgerunners (hackers, street samurai and even a few fixers) who are out to fix the world, one corp-hack at a time.

Of course you have the occasional kind-of-good-guy powerful figure whose massive wealth and power have allowed them to make the choice to do good in the world. William Shatner's character Walter Bascom from TekWar springs to mind. It could be argued that Uncle Enzo qualifies here too... although it's kind of difficult to view Cosa Nostra Pizza as a heroic organization.

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I got your steampunk hero right here!

Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages - Thomas Edison. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/thomas_a_edison_104088

young edison

source

You want a steampunk hero? Thomas Edison will do. He was a full on genius and invented lots of things that people used, and got rich, and then invented more things. He wanted to invent things people would buy, because that meant those things were useful and good. He refused to use his genius to work on weapons and was an outspoken pacifist. He advocated for women's rights and financial reform to help poor people.

Plus he was a pretty sharp looking guy.

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    $\begingroup$ <cynic>What he's rumoured to have done to Tesla makes me think he was less than genuine in his avowed ethics (or he knew something about Tesla we don't).</cynic>. $\endgroup$ Jan 17 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ Not only Tesla. There are suggestions Edison was just a genius salesperson who didn't invent much by himself, just profiting on the inventions of others... now mostly forgotten people. $\endgroup$
    – Archelaos
    Jan 17 at 23:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Archelaos - do you need to be an angel to head up a heroic faction? I think a hero can be competitive with his peers like Tesla. A hero can be an ass. A hero just can't punch down and hurt people weaker than him. The hero has to look out for those people. If at the same time he sells stuff to them and makes their lives better, so be it. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jan 18 at 0:04
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    $\begingroup$ It's all tribal. Tesla & the minions Edison appropriated from were not part of his tribe; but to his tribe, Edison was a hero & an angel, etc., etc., etc. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Jan 18 at 0:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Archelaos Ah, so Edison was the Jobs of his generation? I'd buy that. $\endgroup$
    – Corey
    Jan 18 at 12:22
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If the world around them is over-saturated with technology, corruption and oppression, then maybe a way of elevating oneself above that would be to live apart from those restrictions and place more of a focus on spirituality. Something like Buddhism which, while not rejecting the material world, seeks to not be overly tied to nor held down by it.

Or some other kind of religion that puts spirituality ahead of materialism. They could even go full-on rejection of modern technology and live Amish-style.

Maybe they could also be a charitable organisation that seeks to alleviate poverty in this world.

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really, just any hardened leftist revolutionary group

hope son't die because consequences are dire. if anything, it would be those dire consequence that are more likely to cause a faction about to do uprising. i can insure you that people who take risk for their future are if not optimistic about their future, at least hopefull that if they fight for it, it might be better.

Super rich who want to feel good

for a more different aproach... make it the sons and daughter of the uber rich. they are convinced that the system work mostly work, they are happy with it, but want it to go further and of course they would have a positive outlook on thing: they are already strating from the winning position.

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You might take a look at a group Bruce Sterling invented for Heavy Weather. IIRC, they were called the "Regulators", a nomadic bunch that crossed back and forth between Texas and Louisiana in green-fueled RVs. They had managed to develop a "parallel economy" so that, though they weren't rich, they weren't dependent on the favor of the traditionally wealthy.

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