by Roland Michel Tremblay
February 21, 2013
Culpa Innata is a well written, imaginative and realistic dystopian novel set in the future and taking place in Eastern Europe. It paints a picture of what a New World Order might look like following a great economic meltdown, worldwide riots, globalisation and some affluent trillionaires buying the worldwide debt to introduce a new system in their own vision, a vision where mega-corporations control the world.
In Culpa Innata the world is separated into two: the mighty World Union, a free trade area encompassing all the Western World including South America, Japan and Eastern Europe, and the independent Rogue Nation States like Russia, China and India. From the Culpa Innata website, the story reads:
“A World Union citizen is murdered in Russia, one of the few remaining Rogue States. This murder oddly coincides with the accidental death of a prominent professor in Adrianopolis, an important border town between the World Union and Russia. Senior Peace Agent Phoenix Wallis is assigned to lead the investigation of the murder. Newly promoted to senior rank after a stagnating career for more than a decade, she will soon make discoveries beyond her wildest imagination, as skilled hackers and subversive characters begin taking an inexplicable interest in Phoenix. Her investigation reveals enigmatic clues that lead her deeper and deeper into a mystery that challenges not only her case, but her very beliefs in the worldview she is fiercely loyal and has sworn to protect.”
The interest of the story resides however in the brilliant conversations Phoenix has with different characters across the city, each one showing us how the attitudes and lifestyles have changed in the New World Order. She is also responsible for the security interviews of new immigrants at the Immigration Academy, where it is revealed how people live in the Rogue States and what it represents for them to be welcomed in the World Union.
Memorable characters are Phoenix’s colleagues like the backstabber and ambitious Julio Dominguez, Phoenix’s boss Dagmar Morssen who can sympathise only to a certain extent, and Phoenix’s best friend Sandra Pescara, who is the embodiment of selfishness. A real treat is the Attorney Douglas Anderson and his boyfriend image-maker Roger Arnett. The latter being most revealing in how the elite citizens of Adrianopolis really think compared with what is taught in the Child Development Centres.
At first the book Culpa Innata seems to present a utopia. There are no more murders in the new World Union, no more organised governments or religions, no more traumatic biological births or marriages. The rights of citizens are respected and it could appear as if you had all the freedom in the world to accomplish whatever you wish to achieve. This is not a system that forces you into submission by dictation, nobody obliges you to do anything. However just like today in our society the social pressure around you indirectly conditions your mind to conform to the norms.
Huge compensations are paid by the commercial companies that have taken over the work of the police force if they intrude too much on your personal life. 100% of the population works. You still have the dream to become a Devotee or an Arrivee at the top of the social pyramid, if you have enough greed and selfishness in this predatory capitalism pushed to its logical conclusion. So why is the New World Order depicted in Culpa Innata instead a dystopian novel?
The difference between Culpa Innata and other dystopian novels like Brave New World of Aldous Huxley, 1984 of George Orwell and Men Like Gods of H. G. Wells, is that it is the closest to describing where we are as a society today and where we are going. None of the great classical authors could have predicted where capitalism and socialism pushed to their extreme limits could lead in time and what measures could have been put in place to build over such disasters.
If there is already any such thing as a New World Order, and for any population to accept such a state of affair no matter how desperate they are, such a world would need to provide the illusion of freedom. On the surface at least, it would first appear ideal and to be the solution to all our worldwide problems. This is where Culpa Innata differs from the other authors who presented us a bleak future from the start, readers knew right away they would not want to live in these societies. Some people today who don’t know better might actually enjoy living in the World Union; this is why it is powerful.
You don’t have to be fit in the World Union, but if you are not you will be an outcast. Your health-insurance premium will skyrocket. You don’t have to be greedy, but the system interferes when you step on someone else’s toes, and that is so easy to happen. Everyone is a corporation and a country. You are the only citizen of your country and you can live by the rules you set, as long as it doesn’t interfere with any other country’s rights.
In the Rogue States their style of capitalism, socialism and communism appear to have led to constant riots and chaos, pushed by the constant poverty and corrupted government officials linked with the mafia still espousing some form of capitalism whilst pretending to socialism for the rest of the population.
In the Western World however we witness what happens when we reach the end of capitalism, where only a handful of people in the world own all the money and assets of the rest of the population and capitalism only works for those trillionaires. An economic meltdown followed by riots also erupted everywhere due to poverty and the end of the American dream, prompting those trillionaires to pay the entire debt of all these countries for a price: the instauration of a New World Order.
In this New World Order everything has been privatised. The Global Peace and Security Network (GPSN), a private company, is in charge of the police and the military for which every citizen must pay for their security or be thrown out of the World Union and unleashed into the Rogue States. Banks are no longer working as they used to. The corporate-personhood argument has been twisted to include every citizen being now a small corporation in their own right. Investors can sponsor and invest in people’s ego shares based on their future potential in accumulating wealth. Citizens who cannot work and pay for their insurance and security are also thrown out of the World Union.
Culpa Innata means innate culpability for being born, and every citizen must pay for that original sin of being born by paying their debt to society and to the investors who brought them into the world. There is an elaborate pyramidal system called Human Development Index which classifies every citizen into the class they belong to. Over 90% of the population is at the bottom of the pyramid and cannot aspire to much in life. All Rogue States inhabitants are under the 70% HDI while in the World Union you work your way up from a disciple starting at 70% up to a Supreme Self at 98% to 100%. When you reach a 90% HDI you get an Arrivee tattoo on your forehead.
Children no longer have parents; natural birth is deemed too traumatic an experience for any new born. All children are brought up in Child Development Centres where some sort of early conditioning to the ways of the World Union can be achieved. You will meet an 8th grader (an eight year old) in the novel who speaks just like you would expect a banker or politician today to speak like in private. Emotions like altruism and love are considered archaic instincts. And physical training is important since everyone aspires to be healthy, wealthy, with perfect genes.
There does not seem to be any censorship since any threatening idea seems to have been eliminated from everyone’s mind a long time ago. However there is still a censorship of the press; they are prevented from talking about the first murder of a World Union citizen in 14 years, from fears they will never get any other scoop from the GPSN in the future.
Culpa Innata is perhaps the closest dystopian novel to our situation; it shows where we might end up if we are not careful and if we fail to operate a radical change in our ways as a society. And now here is the interview with the author B. Barmanbek in order to clarify certain key concepts of the novel.
Roland Michel Tremblay: 1) B. Barmanbek, you have a new recently published book called Culpa Innata which is the extension of a bestselling PC adventure game of the same name published in 2007. How would you describe the story, the intrigue and the characters of Culpa Innata? Could you discuss the differences between the book and the game?
B. Barmanbek: In a nutshell, Culpa Innata is the story of a woman’s self-discovery through a murder mystery that takes place just a few decades into the future. She is not aware of it, but her process of self-discovery will create devastating hurricanes in her liberal, yet ruthless society.
It all starts with Phoenix’s assignment with a new position as a Senior Peace Agent (similar to a federal agent) at her place of birth Adrianopolis. She is an underachiever who constantly blames herself for her own shortcomings. She is already in her mid-thirties, desperately trying to overcome her chronic social awkwardness, and with no good prospect of future. She is very smart and skilled but her buried traumatic childhood past haunts her and she will have to face that past to solve her murder case and complete a painful process of self-discovery.
She has lived quietly in social isolation all her life, but all of a sudden, she begins to bring chaos and devastation to her periphery, including to herself. The people around her get stronger or weaker through the special energy that surrounds her. She struggles to understand why but the reason is hidden in her past. She has to face that past in order to find out who she really is. And in the process, she will need to go through the hardest few days of her life, surviving backstabbing colleagues, executive level intra-corporate schemes, mind control attempts, insomnia, murderous psychopaths, and even an utterly selfish best friend.
The book and the game essentially share the same story. However, I consider the game as a subset of the book, simply because I wasn’t able to convey the story the way I imagined it in the game for so many different reasons, rendering the game incomplete in my mind. For example, we were able to reveal so little about Phoenix’s personality in the game. Unknowns surrounded many scenes. Gamers had so many questions in their heads after finishing. I hope that the book fills in all the blanks and allows the reader to complete the story.
RMT: 2) You have previously mentioned that Culpa Innata was loosely based on the Turkish book Schroedinger’s Cat by bestselling Turkish author Alev Alatli, a book that has not been translated into English. Could you tell us what the novel Schroedinger’s Cat is about and how it influenced Culpa Innata?
BB: Alev’s books are very difficult to translate into another language. Her works (even the ones about Russia) are predominantly deep explorations of the Turkish soul and have so many references to the recent history, in English I think the footnotes would be longer than the novels themselves. In Schroedinger’s Cat (Schroedinger’in Kedisi) book, she portrays the early chaos years following a global meltdown and a totally dismembered Turkey. The novel starts at this setting and a woman is being tried for her crimes, for letting (or failing to save) her niece from falling to the grip of nihilism.
She defends herself and in her words, Alatli explores the 80s and 90s of Turkey and its social transformation. It focuses on a family that moves to the big city from a deeply conservative rural village in the east, and how the members of the family drift away from each other through nihilism, religious fundamentalism, emigration. It includes concepts like induced aphasia, fuzzy logic vs. binary logic, quantum physics (thus the name Schroedinger’s Cat). It made a huge impact on the society when it first came out.
When I got my hands on the book, I was looking for a good futuristic theme for an Adventure. The concept was unique, but the setting was too local. I’ve been friends with her and her family for a very long time and I asked her permission to borrow her universe for a video game, with a completely different story line. She said I could do whatever I wish, as long as I don’t betray to her story’s soul. So we brainstormed to see what kind of story we could create from it.
My role was being the producer of the project. But after parting ways with several writers and under time pressure, I started writing the background of what I called as the Great Meltdown (Schroedinger’s Cat makes no mention or reference to it), how it happened (the posters on the first floor of the GPSN in the game), then developed the characters and write background stories for them (for some it’s just a paragraph, for others 7-8 pages long). Then suddenly I found myself writing the dialogues, doing voice casting and directing it. Culpa Innata became a completely independent story taking place about 30 years after the Cat story. Some characters are borrowed from the Cat: The Man with the Black Hat and Crazy Ray/Julius (in the Cat he appears as the Crazy General).
RMT: 3) In Culpa Innata you paint in detail a whole dystopian society of the future first presented as a utopia until Phoenix Wallis, a Senior Peace Agent with the GPSN, uncovers that perhaps life in such a greedy and selfish society is not ideal. How strongly do you feel about such issues as depicted in the book and how closely do you feel it reflects our own society? Are we heading towards such a dystopian future, have we already arrived?
BB: Phoenix is a product of the Great Meltdown and the Eastern Bloodbath. She has such horrific memories of the incidents carved into her three year old mind, no drug or no treatment can erase it, but only suppress it. When she moves to her birthplace, the lid shatters under pressure and her subconscious resurfaces at full strength. Her instincts suddenly emerge and begin working seamlessly with her mind, on the other hand nightmares bring her to the brink of insanity. Only then, she begins to question her place in the system. We all complain and gripe about the world or system we live and put up with, but very few of us try to fit in as hard as she does. And she just cannot. She is a system reject. Then she realizes that her only option is to do things her way.
In Culpa, I took contemporary issues and tried to push the boundaries of them in order to see where they would lead. Regardless of its doctrines, this new world order is completely pragmatic and tries to fix everything, no matter how radical the outcome is. Post-apocalyptic moments in time are the best times to introduce and spread radical ideas and policies. Just think of how much societies change after every major war. The Great Meltdown is worse than anything the world has ever seen, simply because people turn against each other en-masse. The enemy is within. And if someone promises peace, food, and tranquillity, they accept any measure no matter how insane it may sound, such as the end of altruism and tribal family structure.
The common aim of every civilization to have ever faced the earth has been to eradicate the tribal family structure of the hunter-gatherer collectives. Every society/system aims for its members’ full loyalty and the biggest obstacle is always biological. The founders of the World Union manage to make the ultimate stroke here, by declaring any form of altruism as a destabilizing factor. Take note that this isn’t just economical. Even a foetus has rights to mature in a neurosis free environment. But the backbone of this stroke is the Universal Suffrage of Women, ensuring a pregnancy (and menstruation) free life in the name of equal rights and better competing with men. You completely alienate the individuals from each other and create members who can only rely on the system.
How far are we from all this post-modern utopia/dystopia? Not very far, if you ask me, considering the progress each civilization contributed in curbing the primal instincts of humanity. So, taking the last 10,000 years into consideration, since the first settled communities, this relentless assault on human psyche and nature escalated after every invasion, every war, every revolution, erasing and eradicating those who don’t fit (whatever happened to those Celts), making us today, in my humble opinion, just a whisker away from it from a historical perspective. In other words, one major catastrophe away from it.
RMT: 4) In the book every citizen of Adrianopolis has received a Human Development Index. Depending on this credit score if you wish, they are categorised lower class, middle class or high society, and have access or not to certain society perks. Over 90% of the population are disciples with a low HDI and are therefore nearly at the bottom of the economic pyramid. To what would you compare this HDI exactly and how accurately do you think this reflects reality?
BB: Human Development Index is based on the real thing created by some people for the UN: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Development_Index
But there are changes for the book, of course. Every citizen of the Union of the New World Order (official name of the World Union) is considered an individual, a personal trade entity (a corporation), and a country (a country with just one citizen). This new, improved and updated HDI index takes into account the person’s health, education, training, wealth, and the present value of prospective future earnings (based on health and other factors), as well as already accumulated wealth and credit rating. That’s one reason everyone is a fitness freak. All in all, HDI equals the individual’s ability to raise credit and capital (not necessarily the wealth they accumulated) at a given time. They are calculated quarterly just like in a company. Individuals can sell their own (ego) shares and buyers would have the same rights they would have in a company.
Minimum HDI to be a citizen of the World Union is 70. Any person in the world who possesses an HDI of 70 and higher automatically has a right to live in WU territories. I’m not sure if you are aware, but your own Canada already implements a similar index number for selecting immigrants. I’m thinking the U.S. also has a similar system for immigrants or visitors but they don’t publicly declare it.
Phoenix’s HDI is 73 and she is in the top 10 percentile (actually top 12.5 percentile). I didn’t want to get into detail of such calculations in the book. HDI calculations categorize the population based on a logarithmic (binary logarithm with base 2) pyramid. There is only one person with the maximum HDI of 100, two with HDIs of 99, 4 with 98, and so on. The number of people at that level doubles as the HDI number drops by one. This brings the potential population of the World Union to be around 2 billion people. And the people with HDI of 70 is about 50% of the population. Disciples (citizens with HDIs 70-73) are the middle class in the World Union and they are about 90% of the population. The Devotees (HDIs 74-89) are the high society, and the Arrivees (HDIs 90-96) are the billionaires. Nobody is under the poverty line.
The seven Supreme Selfs have HDIs 100, 99, and 98. They control about 12% of the global wealth and that is enough for controlling it all. Some might argue that there are several of these ultra-rich out there already, controlling far more than what we see as the tip of an iceberg. I don’t know…
RMT: 5) Would you agree that you have presented the indictment of greedy and power hungry people, but also perhaps of the dangers of an extreme form of capitalism as it is practiced today, showing where this globalisation is leading humanity?
BB: The problem of today (and yester 2k years) is of hunger for power and control. It’s not a problem of capitalism or communism. Those are just contemporary tools, whereas power plays are older than the beginning of history. The real issue is the never-ending lust of some people to control things. Beginning from Hunter-Gatherer times, in every form of system and government, this is the only constant. The need to control is boundless like the greed described in Culpa Innata. It’s also deeply paranoid. The cycle begins with struggling to control a certain domain. Once the control over that domain is established, anything in the immediate periphery is considered a threat, and the cycle starts again… Until, the whole world, the whole universe is under control.
Now try to see globalization from this perspective. I’m not talking about a contemporary competition between capitalism and socialism. To me, that is an irrelevant smokescreen. And I don’t have all the answers. But I feel like I’m asking the right questions.
RMT: 6) The world of Culpa Innata is essentially divided into the scientific and capitalist mighty World Union on one side and the chaotic Rogue States on the other. Would you describe those Rogue States like Russia, China and India as representing socialism, and even maybe the failure of socialism and communism? Is Culpa Innata a critic of such systems?
BB: The World Union appears (and brags) as a pinnacle of capitalism, but is it really? The book characters believe it is. Yet there are many indicators that it isn’t. First and foremost, there is 0% unemployment. Under such circumstances, the wages in a free market should skyrocket. But they don’t. There can be just one explanation to this: Labor price fixing at a global scale, something more appropriate for some form of socialism or communism.
Is the WU communist? The interest is outlawed, as it is called an unreasonable commitment on the borrower’s side. Now, what can this have anything to do with a free market? If people are willing to borrow at a predetermined rate, who cares? The system cares, because you might be stepping on someone else’s right to reach out for a fair credit. Now, doesn’t this sound socialist? The Rogue States are in many ways as capitalist as the World Union, but their problem is marketing and PR.
The point here is this: I don’t believe capitalism and communism are that far from each other, no matter how far we are told they are. Look at China today. Are they capitalist or communist? If you ask me, they are both. In its own way, so is the World Union.
RMT: 7) Culpa Innata depicts a world without governments, taxes and banks as we used to know them, where each citizen is now considered a corporation that others can own by buying ego shares. Everything is being outsourced to self-regulating mega-corporations. The Global Peace and Security Network in charge of the police and the military is such an example. Do you foresee a future where everything and every domain of society have been outsourced to self-regulating corporations and where governments might no longer be required?
BB: I see it as one of our possible futures. In the last 2 millennia, every superpower ended up having a Roman complex. It’s as if the curse of the ancient Rome shadows every single one, and they all strive to be like the Romans or claim the legacy of the same for some unknown reason. There are already scholarly discussions whether the U.S. is still a republic or a functioning empire. Even if the U.S. is still a republic, it’s far from the Roman example with its giant bureaucracy, nearly as big as the Chinese. In ancient Roman Republic powerful and rich aristocratic families were natural members of the senate and funded the army. The famous generals we read in history like Crassus (who crushed the Spartacus rebellion), Pompey and Julius Caesar were all from super rich families and they personally funded the senate sanctioned wars. In return, they were the prime recipients of the spoils. There were virtually no or very little income tax during the Republic for most of its existence. Public service was entirely voluntary with no salary, and important trials were held before the public, the decision was made based on the public jeering or hailing. Sound familiar?
I believe that there is a very good chance the next superpower will try to return to the original formula.
RMT: 8) You have not presented us with any real solution to such a dystopian future, even suggesting in the game at least that such a surveillance society or Big Brother state could even be perceived as a utopia by its well-conditioned inhabitants. Have you thought of solutions or ways to prevent such a state of affair from becoming reality? What would it take?
BB: First of all, there is no such thing as absolute privacy in this world. There never was and there never will be (unless one decides to live like a hermit). We are social creatures. We interact with people around us due to our very nature and as a consequence those people observe us, provide us feedback, and help develop our personality. Our social relationships are so complex and so intertwined, I don’t think it’s possible to even imagine someone’s personality in absence of others. And throughout history (and prehistory) we lived with no privacy. It’s a relatively new concept, but nowadays we witness it to become one of those words synonymous with freedom. By their very nature, every organization wants to control its members and there is no escape from it. It’s a part of that survival instinct in all of us, penetrating even in the organizations we found. We are yet to define and create an organization or entity which doesn’t come with any self-preserving qualities. And the best way of self-preserving is control: Now, we are back to square one. See the answer to 5 above.
On the other hand, it is impossible for us to have a fair picture of how we live, while we live it. We can only compare it to how it was before and how we wish it could be. But both of these are mere biased perceptions and speculations. We have no idea how some society 100 years from now will perceive how we live now, just like the slaves in ancient Rome couldn’t even have words to comprehend our lifestyle today. I watch movies about ancient times where heroes chant “freedom” for everyone with a smirk.
RMT: 9) Your website www.culpainnata.com mentions that you are already working on a second book called Chaos Rising. A trailer from 2009 concerning the game Culpa Innata 2 also refers to it as Chaos Rising. However the significant difference between the final of the first book compared with the final of the first game has puzzled many of your numerous fans. How do you intend to marry all this together, or how do you intend to develop the story in both the second book and the second game? Will the second instalment take place in the Rogue States, are they about to rise from their ashes as some sort of solution to the New World Order?
BB: They are called the Rogue States, not Phoenix 🙂 So, no, they are not about to rise from their ashes. As the trailer of Culpa 2 (the game) implies, part of the second instalment takes place in Russia. And about marrying the book and the game… Right now I’m working on book 2 and after that will come book 3 (a really dark book). Game projects are possible, and depending on circumstances, I can even remake game 1. Everything is possible, depending on fan reaction… As Phoenix would say: “We shall see!”