Secrets of the Shibes


YS and Teacher, Lina Theodorou.

“Bad Shibe” was a response to the question of what an anarcho-capitalist cryptocurrency-based society might look like, a world with the Internet but no government, with money and property but no robber-barons. Its immediate literary forebears are “Down and Out In The Magic Kingdom”, which is also about an economic utopia, and Michael Moorcock’s foreword to one of their “Jerry Cornelius” collections, which talks about those stories’ impressionistic technique. YS, the protagonist, is a naive tween because there are only so many times your viewpoint character’s need to have their world explained to them can be stolen from “Day of The Triffids”. They are bad at providing details about their world because they are oblivious, and to avoid getting bogged down in details of how the world works rather than the impression that it works. The other characters are essentially expositional – a parent to provide a longer historical view, an older sibling to provide information about the current society, a teacher to defend some of the wider trends, and a shopkeeper to provide swords and potions props for discussion.

I wrote Bad Shibe at the end of 2014 while I was walking around a gentrifying area of Vancouver and listening to Bitcoin true believers in a basement. It was revised for publication with support from Furtherfield and Torque in 2016, then published in 2017 first as a stand-alone zine and later in the book “Artists Re:thinking the Blockchain”. During the editorial process I was surprised to discover that the story has a plot. Originally it was over 7,000 words, it was cut to 4,000 for publication. YS lost interactions with their schoolmates and a possible romantic interest (to which they are utterly oblivious) all of which brought their character into sharper relief and made the world richer but hid the off-screen action even more.

In addition to the leaner version of the story I produced a document called “The Ruinously over-explained Bad Shibe”, which is an almost line-by-line commentary. Here’s a sample:

* YS goes to school despite working during the day. The system works!!1
* The historical figure in question is the Doge of Venice. When I wrote this, doge was pronounced “dohgg”. It’s now pronounced the same as the Doge.
Teacher has much to say. They plot a U-shaped graph of occurrences of the word “shibe” over time. Then they show us a clip from a pre film about two bros in a time-travelling phone box. Next teacher explains what a phone box is. Then they talk about an old cereal that was designed for TV. Then they talk about what TV was. Much history.
* The film is “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, which features two Californian teenagers who speak a curiously retro dialect of English that becomes the basis for a future civilization… This and the “U-shaped graph” are an excuse for a culture in the future talking vaguely like an Internet subculture in 2014.
* The cereal is “Cap’n Crunch”, a product that was created to be sold by television advertising. YS knows what cereal is. I’m not sure why.
Another new poster says “Tip your teacher!” and we do because we’re shibes. I remember teacher’s tippage and my earlier slippage (which rhymes) so I tip some more. Teachers gotta eat. Which reminds me, I’m hungry. As I leave class my phone pings above the hubbub of detarping shibes. Tipped for good homework. Wow.
* At this point, what YS is doing does look like straightforward tipping.
Back on the street, night is ramping up. Eggers are packing up for the evening leaving the sidewalk greasy. The swapmeet is starting under glaring LEDs. Such service to the community. Zero walking from school. Many shibes. Such goods to browse.
* Eggers fry eggs with sheets of metal in the anthropocene sun.
My fellow schoolshibes are gathered around cartwheel vendors mobbing for apples and wraps. Wow. Much noms. Is “noms” kitteh? I look around. Nobody heard me say it. I get thrown a maximally amaze apple and tip large for it when it also tastes good. What was that story with a big red apple in it? And a snake? I’m thrown a wrap. I kerbnom. Wrap is meh. I show its corpse to my schoolshibe sat next to me.
* YS is confusing Snow White and the Book of Genesis.
* Also YS is now buying fruit after spending the day picking it…
“Do I tip for this?” I ask them.
* Tipping starts to look like payment. šŸ™

The story is stuffed with references like these, all of which are part of its meditation on its theme.

As the notes say, in the story “doge” is pronounced with a hard rather than a soft “g” – like “goat” rather than “wage”. Likewise, most people now pronounce “shibe” as if it begins with “she” rather than “shy” This means that Post society is not called Shiberia. YS’s name is pronounced “why is” and was chosen after @coin_artist’s Snow Crash-derived handle at the time. The language of the story was an exercise in instant obsolescence that was less instant than I expected – you can still find Doge memes online and Dogecoin recently touched a market cap of a billion dollars – it is a combination of Doge and Reddit argot. If it works it’s like Nadsat (thank you to Juliet Evans-Lee for that observation), if it fails it’s like the language in a youth culture exploitation movie of the 1960s. Writing it is exhausting.

Bad Shibe was written before “The DAO Hack”, but the big off-screen threat in it is quite similar to it. If we assume that what YS is doing with “tipping” is actually transferring Dogecoin, we can date the hard fork that is intended to address the threat fairly accurately. A prize awaits the first person to do so (probably a copy of the zine).

There are two follow up stories to Bad Shibe which I doubt I will have the time to write. “Rise of the Shitlords” follows on immediately from the end of Bad Shibe and looks at the important question of who cleans the sewers (it is about economic failure in the same way that Bad Shibe is about technological failure). “To the Moon” is about what happens when the clocks stop and features the largest tip the world has ever seen (it is about social failure). At the end of it all someone sits at a table in the sun, waiting expectantly.