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By Rachel Haywire

Postmortem Studios will try dabbling in a few other things over the next couple of years, amongst them collecting essays and stories. Rachel Haywire is a futurist, former presidential candidate and Philosopher Queen. We’ll be gathering together some of her writings in a book in the near future. If you want more Rachel, you can check out her Substack.

Outsiders are a demographic, and a very particular one at that. Foot soldiers of history who are used as crash test dummies for the future, their moves are mapped into more extensive templates that serve as blueprints for product development. The boom of Web3, now referred to as the decentralized web, is the latest example of outsider culture bleeding into the mainstream. 

Tracing the evolution of the web in its infantile state to this recent explosion, it is undeniable that there are specific patterns that have appeared in each iteration of the web, regardless of which generation holds tickets to the peep show. From text-based strategy games to low-fi social networks to alternative message board culture, the online universe has a history of gathering outsiders into communities that evolve into the fabric of mainstream technology.

Is calling the latest decentralized madness “Web3” sufficient in making sense of this new chaos and its millions of intersecting nodes? How did we get from Usenet to Discord to Bored Ape Yacht Club? Who are the users, and what are our experiences? Let’s investigate. 

A Brief History of the (Anti)social Web

Starting with Text

The Internet was initially text-based, and you would need to head over to your local library to access it unless you were some kind of government contractor. Naturally, this was how outsiders started to find each other around the world and set the stage for digital history. The Internet, first read-only (Web1), was small and secretive and profoundly uncool. With the exception of psychedelic gurus like Timothy Leary and cyberpunk authors like William Gibson, few people understood how this tool was on the way to becoming the standard operating protocol of the future. 

AOL was soon to burst onto the scene, and much like early online service Prodigy (no resemblance to the industrial-metal MTV band founded around the same time), it produced a flashy yet simple walled garden that upgraded the text-based Web1 experience into the beginning of Web2. Read/write. You’ve got mail.

Rise of the Old School Hackers

Between Web1 (read) and Web2 (read/write), there was a period that could be viewed through the lens of a director creating an action sequence that marked the transition from Web1 to Web2 as official. Think of early Nine Inch Nails playing in the background with a David Lynch cast of characters in perpetual motion. Rather than calling it Web1.5 and becoming the subject of a hate campaign, let me go ahead and call it the Rise of the Old School Hackers so everyone else who was online this early will understand what is being referenced. Here, I speak of 90’s message board culture, where many of us were exposed to the digital environment for the first time. During this era, pretty much everyone who used the Internet was a troll or a sociopath, and you’d be sure to find someone who would claim that this was the entire point of the Internet. Bug-as-feature.

During the Rise of the Old School Hackers, you could hang out on text-based forums like alt.sex and alt.drugs and alt.magic, all of which started on Usenet. There was an alt for everything, as Usenet was a decentralized conglomeration of news servers that acted as portals to information outside the mainstream narrative. Blockchain technology had yet to become official, yet decentralization was already taking shape. This was the beginning of the web transforming into an interactive medium. 

What if decentralization was the friends we made back in the day?

It wasn’t just that everyone was a troll or sociopath during this era. Everyone was an influencer because, during the Rise of the Old School Hackers, so few people were online, to begin with. Most users resembled video game characters that would only pop up during the final boss levels. All users were participating in some way another, as you had to be nerdy and weird enough to understand how this iteration of the social web even worked. Either you owned a domain (this was not as easy as registering one on GoDaddy) or hosted a BBS. Everyone was on stage.

A Bulletin Board System was a hub of online activity, in which people would chat about their specialized interests in ASCII text. Many refer to this period as “the BBS days” with a fair amount of nostalgia, speaking about it much like they talk about the “old days” of IRL hacker conference Defcon. Mirroring these Usenet servers that attracted outsiders from across the world to congregate, BBSes had the same sort of ‘flock-of-outsiders’ dynamic. They later evolved into colourful forums called Ultimate Bulletin Boards, coded in notepad HTML with a tiny drop of CSS. Despite UBBs getting a low-fi high-af style upgrade from BBSes, the scene of these forums remained one of rebels and loners. Literal cyberpunks.

With this action sequence film bit in motion, social architects set the stage for MUDs. Multi-User Domains, where game developers produced and played text-based strategy games that moonlighted as alternative universes hidden in far-out corners of the web. As digitally immersive RPGs, they carried the torch for gamers who followed in their footsteps, both online and off. The social web was beginning to onboard new users, and most of them had nobody to socialize with IRL.

4Chan/Trolling/Chilling IRL

A few years later, a wild 4chan appeared, becoming the designated seat at the opposition table. Founded by Christopher Poole in 2003 and taking much of its ideas from Usenet/the BBS days/MUDs, 4chan was an anything-goes platform that resembled the Wild West before digital black market Silk Road came into being. It marked the dawn of a new turning, in which old school hackers were beginning to notice a crude migration onto their territory.

4chan was additionally an imageboard that acted strictly as a home to user-generated content, which included crass and vulgar explorations of everything from far-right ideologies to anime porn. This policy of total user freedom was also what made 4chan a vehicle for far-left activism and raids against the power elite of its time. Anti-Scientology protests that originated on 4chan began making their way onto major news networks like CNN.

Transforming into an IRL subculture in which people could match faces to (fake) names, 4chan marked a distinct point in time where the digital and physical were merging into a hybrid prototype. The online world and “real life” were mixed like songs on a pirated MP3 player, and DJs were everywhere.

There were now hackers meeting up at the Defcon conference in Las Vegas while 4chan raids were hitting the streets of major cities. You could go to a 4chan protest IRL and protest the incarceration of rockstar whistleblowers or simply smoke a joint and talk shit with a schizophrenic moderator. People would wear Guy Fawkes masks and hold up signs that read “I am from the Internet.” It was a theatre of the absurd and the surreal, beckoning to Antonin Artaud. Nerds were taking over the streets of hip urban centres.

4chan was, in all its grotesque self-expression, the zeitgeist in action. The outsider was becoming a little more popular by the day, which compelled the founders of Web2 to start corporations that served as safe spaces for outsiders seeking to get inside the gates. You are the product. Giving birth to early social networking outfits such as LiveJournal and Myspace, this phenomenon would herald in the centralized monoliths today known as FaceBook/Meta and Twitter. Silk Road would lead to IRL events such as Blockchain Expo and Crypto Base following this same trajectory.

The Future of the Digital Outside

Hubs and Squads and Cults and Private Access 

Let us now flash forward to the modern-day in which Discord has become a popular communication tool. Online culture has shifted onto this anarchic piece of gaming software, which has been recently adopted by the finance community. While Discord started out with a small group of gamers just doing their thing, it is also a playground for budding investors and venture capitalists. VC firm a16z invested billions into crypto and started their own DAO Initiative. Digital Autonomous Organizations are what’s hot and propose to be the evolution of communities themselves; democratic forms of governance based on digital ownership, social tokens, and voting. Discord is the primary hub in which DAOs are formed. It is also a centre point for squads to congregate, collaborate, and conspire.

The IRL to online pipeline is strong here. Anyone who attended the tech-influenced/tech-influencer Burning Man festival remembers how tokens and pendants were awarded to members of theme camps. You could participate in numerous theme camps while holding all of their tokens simultaneously, symbolizing your membership in these fun little fringe groups. You could create tokens for your theme camp and hand them out to your curated friends list, giving them a social stake in your fantasy-come-to-life. While the technology of communities may have changed, the underlying structure in which they have evolved remains. Access is the key to the castle, and access is everything. 

You are Here

With record numbers of people currently heading over Discord to participate in the DAO rush or simply to keep up with their friends across the world, we are witnessing the popularization of the outsider yet again. This concept initially seems oxymoronic, like Zarathustra going to the marketplace to seek approval, yet the happening is nothing more than the way things work on a cultural level. Every small group on the Internet becomes populated with a new force that completely takes it over, catapulting it into the mainstream. The masses are coming! The masses are coming! Politics are not only downstream from culture but are calling from inside the house. “The culture industry,” a term popularized by critical theorists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, is not just postmodern hyperbole. You’re living in it, Neo. 

We are experiencing a moment of mass decentralization, mirroring the 90’s Internet in its chaotic infinitude, with its very own invasion-of-the-normies subplot. We went from Revenge of the Nerds to Napoleon Dynamite to Big Bang Theory. History has always been written this way. The popularization of the outsider has existed since the beginning of time. Jesus was just some hippie philosopher who got famous. Many would call Revenge of the Nerds a type of “nerdsploitation”, while Napoleon Dynamite could be viewed as the Sundance version of Revenge of the Nerds. Yet compared to Big Bang Theory, wasn’t Revenge of the Nerds authentic? Is Discord Napoleon Dynamite? What software will be the next Silicon Valley?

Ethereum, the cryptocurrency powering many Digital Autonomous Organizations, evolved from the “build your own nation” culture of Burning Man and Ephemerisle. The Seasteading Institute, seeking to create floating ocean cities away from centralized society, was founded by Burning Man and Ephemerisle veteran Patri Friedman. Now what we have = a thousand DAOs blooming. A thousand nations forming. Virtual real estate. Digital assets. Web3. Vitalik Buterin, the founder of Ethereum, has been talking a lot about crypto cities. Can this all be traced back to one time at Burning Man? One time on 4chan? One party at Defcon? One conversation on Usenet?

One Time at Burning Man

When contrasting 4chan culture with Burning Man culture, observing how nerds and outsiders meet IRL and start going popular, we witness how the early foundation of the decentralized web turned into what is now being referred to as Web3. Every town has its alienated group of rebels that can only relate to each other online, and their greatest will meet in person and build new institutions in urban hubs. Well, at least they did before COVID. Now I guess they are moving to farms and popping out fertility influencers? Anyway, these clusters of misfits that started on Usenet resemble the users of Discord crypto communities who signal their affiliations with NFT avatars. Has something been lost in translation? Ask every generation this question. 

We are witnessing an underworld of very online people becoming the overworld. Some of them are hedge fund managers, while others are electronic musicians in their mom’s basement holding millions in ETH. Get that bag. WAGMI. The old school hackers are mostly dead now, and that is just what it means to be hardcore. Christopher Poole, the founder of anti-woke 4chan, eventually became what The Right (TM) dubbed a “social justice warrior.” The irony here is tasty, especially when you observe how most social justice warriors of the Obama era are now cosplaying as reactionary trad wives after getting exiled from The Left. (TM)

Yet enough about politics. Let’s talk about science! (enthusiastic voice) People are basically just animals searching for communities where they can find people who think like they do. Where are all the people who think like us? The answer is simple: everywhere. A digital anthropologist might even point out how some of the early incels had a lot in common with 90’s teenage girls who were posted about committing suicide online, but that is just Usenet evolving into LiveJournal. Most of us aren’t ready to have this conversation.

It’s a Crazy World Out There 

Despite this somewhat-but-not-really insider take, Discord is currently ripe for evolution and not entirely user-friendly. It is still the unpolished Internet, and not everyone can navigate it. We are assigning moderator privileges to one another like governments in their infancy. If everybody is just forming their own community and doing their own thing, will future numerical iterations of the web be any different from one another at their core? Any subculture will become an institutional organization on a long enough timeline.

As for the people, they will literally just sit around building the infrastructure for the next generation. Maybe it’s trolls all the way down who have matured into crypto investors.

The feeling of being on the outside remains unless you are at some yacht party holding a Bored Ape. Nevertheless, the outsider feeling comes back when you notice the music on the yacht is really bad. Naked emperors are both over and under-sexualized. The outsider is the worlds most popular demographic, and the Internet magnifies this fact.

Read/Write/Own/Party

The theatre of outsiders becoming the starting point for a new era is captured throughout time. By engineering the groundwork for independent weirdos to come together via intersecting nodes, the platforms of tomorrow are built. We live in a society composed of a million micro-societies competing for your attention, all waiting for the next user to join their religion/community/blockchain/cult/channel. Whether Web3 will bring ownership to creators or a new group of uncreative elites is a topic up for debate, and the answer to these sorts of questions is always why not both. The outsider drifts further and further from the outside until a new exterior is formed. The inside of the moment then becomes the Schelling Point of a generation. 

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Spot the difference (?)

There’s three articles from 2011 in Psychology Today that hit a chord given past drama and involvement in movements against corporate/community censorship. I’ll quote from them as some people can’t seem to get to the articles, but they’re here for those who can access them:

Why Gender Equality Does Not Always Work in the Bedroom

Do Men Want to Rape? Do Women Want to be Raped?

We Are All Sexually Intolerant

The majority of women have submission fantasies. From classic romanceThe Flame and The Flower to classic erotica The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty to Twilight BDSM fan fiction, submission themes are immensely popular in cross-cultural female erotica. The fact of the matter is that most heterosexual women are wired to find sexual submission arousing–and so are most female mammals.

Even with the qualifier ‘most’ that is going to outrage some people. The idea that behaviours and preferences can have an instinctual or even biological basis seems abhorrent to some. We would not make the same argument about animals but humans are animals which places the rejection of (a degree of) biological determinism and evolutionary psychology within the same ballpark as the Creationist rejection of science on the grounds of ‘I didn’t come from no monkey!’

“I think this is one of the problems we’re having in romance in general right now: our heroes have gotten a little too PC. We’re portraying men the way feminist ideals say they should be—respectful and consensus-building,” muses erotic romance (EroRom) author Angela Knight. “Yet women like bad boys. I suspect that’s because our inner cavewoman knows Doormat Man would become Sabertooth Tiger Lunch in short order. In fact, this may be one reason why EroRom is gaining popularity so fast–writers feel free to write dominant heroes with more of an edge.”

This would explain the sudden, explosive popularity of the excreble Fifty Shades of Grey. Romance doesn’t transgress but erotica does. Bridge the gap and you can have a story that has the freedom to break these taboos and provide something to scratch the itch that some people want. If you’re breaking one taboo then it’s safe to break another. Combine that with the environment we find ourselves in, changed by the anonymity of the internet and the nature of exploding e-reader popularity and we have a way people can be ‘naughty’ without tipping their hand.

In humans, the hormonal vagaries of prenatal development appear to cause a substantial portion of men to be born with active submissive circuitry. These men find sexual submission as arousing—or, quite often, far more arousing—than sexual dominance.

Essentially, according to the article, in humans we are all wired for both dominance and submission. Our sexuality in regards to dom/sub exists along a spectrum. Women tend to get off on submission, men tend to get off on dominance but the neural circuitry for either predilection can occur in either sex. This is, according to the article/book largely down to prenatal development and hormonal exposure which is also linked, in some studies, to the chances of being hetero or homosexual. Again, the idea of these things not being entirely a matter of our choice outrages some people.

We’re all figuring out how to live in the first society in human history where women have such power, independence, and clout. But just as democracy has no effect on our basic taste preferences for sugar and fat, democracy doesn’t affect our basic sexual preferences for domination and submission.

And this cuts, I think, to a lot of the problems we’re having with the interface between feminism (at least the part that isn’t sex positive) and ‘geek culture’, New Atheism an other issues such as erotica publishing. Our desires and instincts change much more slowly than technology and culture and, perhaps, don’t need to change. Rather we need to understand and accept ourselves for what we are and be concious of it. Not to deny it.

The usual position of academic researchers is that female coercion fantasies involve handsome, attractive strangers who aggressively seduce women in a non-violent way, rather than rape them. Some women certainly have these fantasies. But you don’t have to look far on the Internet to find much darker and more violent female fantasies, involving ugly truckers, brutal sex, gang rape, even mutilation. In the Harry Potter fan fiction I read, Draco in particular always seemed to be raping girls. Tracie Egan, who we used in our epigraph, narrates how she paid a male gigalo to enact a forceful rape. During our research, we also encountered women who said they enjoyed role-playing rape—not aggressive seduction. So far, academic politics have prevented sexologists from taking an honest look at the true variety of women’s fantasies.

This is what worries me. How can we pursue a genuine understanding of human nature and sexuality if gender politics, emotion and denialism keep getting in the way? If shame and the fretting about ‘what people will think’ controls us then we have no chance. The media blitz around the suicides of two teenage girls, shamed over their sexual experimentation, also makes me think this isn’t a healthy way to go about things. We shouldn’t be ashamed, again, rather we should be aware.

But here’s something else worth considering—an interesting double standard in sex research. Researchers are in emphatic agreement that female sexual fantasies of rape do not under any circumstances imply that they actually want to be raped. (No argument from us.) On the other hand, what about male sexual fantasies of raping women? In the literature these have long been treated as signs of pathology and as leading indicators of criminal intent. There’s even research on how to eliminate male sexual fantasies of rape (not much effective research, however).

Ah now, this cuts to the quick of it. There is a double standard going on here. Of course we understand that submission or rape fantasies don’t mean the woman genuinely wants to be raped (outlying fringers notwithstanding). So why can that not also be understood when it comes to men? Is it because of this interpretation of men as dominant initiators that makes men’s fantasies seem more threatening? Is it because we see men as instigators that we regard their fantasies as dangerous? Why the double standard?

I don’t know the details of the case but to take an extreme example a New York policeman was taken into custody regarding a plot to kidnap and eat women. When I was working up the idea for Smithfield I did some research and there is a whole subset of fetishists into ‘vore’, cannibalism and so forth, most particularly ‘Dolcett’, a set of rather disturbing cartoons depicting such acts. We even had the case where a donor offered themselves up willingly to be eaten (Germany I believe). I’d argue that they were too unhinged to give meaningful consent, but it’s a good case in point to put before extreme libertarians!

Humans are WEIRD. Gloriously so!

We do think we should allow the maximum possible latitude for others’ private enjoyment of their fantasies through erotica–unless you want someone policing your own.

I’ll just electronically sign my name to that statement right now!

The academic landscape of sexual psychology is charred from ideological warfare, one of the primary reasons the field has progressed so embarrassingly slow. It’s also one reason we believed we could make a contribution: we don’t have any dog in this fight.

From a moral perspective, we have no stake in how the brains of men, women, homosexuals, bisexuals, and transsexuals actually turn out to operate. Whether male homosexuality is caused by genes or by Martian fairy dust makes no difference to their right to same-sex marriage. Whether Mother Nature bestowed men and women with identical brains or the evil demon Kracklefax fashioned female brains from sawdust and male brains from popcorn makes no difference to women’s right to equal opportunity. Whatever our neural wiring, we all have the right to equal justice under law.

OK, that’s a HUGE quote to shove in here, but it is – I feel – an important one. It pretty much describes my position on everything. I don’t care about and don’t believe it makes much of a difference, if any, to political and social issues why or how something is as it is, but I want to know. Just for the sake of knowing.

Several women have written to us insisting that the varieties of dominance porn found on the Internet–drunk porn, hypno porn, sleep porn, spanking porn, exploitation porn, teachers seducing students, coaches seducing cheerleaders (along with the erotica that self-identifies as rape porn)—are “actually rape, by definition. It’s a legal fact.” Ignoring the difficulties in applying legal definitions to works of fiction (“Hamlet, Batman, and Simba the Lion King are murderers, by definition. It’s a legal fact.”), it’s certainly unhelpful to use such a moralizing, ideological label when trying to figure out the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms of sexuality.

In short, this is the same sort of debate territory as ‘God Hates Fags’. You can’t have a useful or productive discussion with people who are operating on a faith belief. Whether it be religious or ideological. Some people can’t get past ‘Porn is wrong!’ or ‘Homosexuality is of the devil!’ and it should be a wake up call for both ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ that their cognitive bias leads their thinking.

Both “definitions” are rooted in fear—an authentic, instinctive, deep-seated fear. Conservatives fear that homosexuals are going to do terrible things to children. Liberals fear that male viewers of dominance porn are going to do terrible things to women. Fortunately, both of these fears can be tested empirically, and the jury is very much in. Gay men are no more likely to be pedophiles than straight men, being exposed to gay people doesn’t make you more likely to be gay, and kids raised by gay couples don’t turn out much different than kids raised by straight couples. And despite intense research efforts—including presidential commissions—studies have failed to demonstrate any link between viewing dominance porn (or porn in general) and the motivation to harm women.

Yet, like the supposed link between violence and videogames, people don’t want to hear it. They ignore meta-studies, cherry pick things that support their position and when the don’t get the results they want, commission more studies until they DO get the answer they want. That simply isn’t science.

If hardcore pretend-rape porn videos or extreme BDSM aren’t making men do bad deeds or treat women worse then the arguments against, say, sexy fantasy art or erotica writing melt away. The problem never seems to be the transgressive fantasy or sexuality itself but rather people’s attitudes to it and I would argue that it is the attitudes we need to change. Not the erotica.

There’s an awful lot of labelling in the academic study of sex. These days, liberal sexologists are worse culprits than the rare conservative ones. Perhaps because it’s easy for them to see the sexual intolerance in labelling homosexuality as “biological error” but difficult to see it in labeling male dominance-themed erotica as “rape porn” or labeling the investigation of differences in male and female desire as “heteronormative.”

I’m a hard-left, egalitarian and I can see this is a problem for the left/liberal bloc. In so many ways they have become what they hate. Judgemental, ideologically driven pricks who will brook no argument or dissent. This is how we end up with a situation where you can both be condemned for even suggesting some people like dominance/rape fantasies (and this isn’t a problem) and meanwhile EL James makes a fucking fortune selling borderline rape and dodgy BDSM to middle class mums around the globe.

It’s a conversation we need to have, a change in attitude. We don’t need vilification. We don’t need witch burnings. It’s shame that’s killing people, not sex or nudity or porn.

People want this kind of stuff and those bold (or naive) enough to provide it for them are going to do well.

There’s a lot of food for thought for Erotica/Romance writers and artists in these articles and if you can read them, I strongly suggest that you do.

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The more I write – and it’s mostly short pieces for the time being – the more I realise I enjoy it and the more I realise that no single genre particularly grabs me and calls me its own. Much as I read SF, Fantasy, Horror, Weird fiction that’s also what I like to write, as well as erotica and comedy pieces and fusions of all these things.

If I’m going to shift my career across more to writing this seems like it might eventually prove to be a problem. People like to shove authors into categories. If I enjoy writing about space and lasers I’ll be judged for writing porn. If I enjoy writing porn I’ll be judged for writing about elves – and so it goes.

The adult stuff I’ve already written may well come back to haunt me but it has been fun to write. I suppose we’ll see but the main thing, at least, is that I don’t give a monkey’s about literary fiction and they’re the most judgemental.

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