The word "benzopunk" is a fusion of "benzo" from the benzodiazepine class of sedatives with "punk" from cyberpunk and its derivatives. It describes a form of writing that is essentially an experiment in combining socially liberal (or even outright libertarian) views on race, gender, sexuality, and drug use with a moderate amount of contempt for all forms of group pride and nationalism, including those of minorities. It takes place in the modern West, which it portrays as a messy, ideologically inconsistent web of overlapping prejudice and power.
The "benzo" in its name is both a statement of opposition to the Drug War and a symbol of human society's ultimately mechanical nature. Actual benzodiazepines need not appear, though it would not be surprising if they did, and other drugs are likely to materialize as well. Alcohol and tobacco are narratively and thematically lumped in with the rest of them, despite their protected cultural roles.
It takes some measure of inspiration from cyberpunk, which almost exists in reality at this point. The cyborgs of that genre are largely confined to fiction, but we have computers, data theft, recreational drug use, smartphones that people cling to as dearly as cybernetic implants, and an Internet that can maintain connections and send messages between entire continents at speeds that are nearly instantaneous. Human-machine integration exists. Its mechanisms are merely more subtle than the hybrids of science fiction.
Benzopunk treats social systems as enemies of individual liberty, despite the necessity of their presence. Its approach to them operates on six basic principles:
All Social Groups Are Inherently Similar
All races, ethnicities, nationalities, genders, sexualities, social classes, and religions contain the same basic sorts of people. Their average opinions and psychologies vary, but they display the same basic range of emotions, and they all have the capacity to band together and beat other groups down. Which tribe holds power is therefore entirely malleable, a matter of size and cultural setup. For example, every racial group in America routinely displays some measure of prejudice against the others, but whites sit on top from a combination of social force, large numbers, and historical imperialism that worked to their benefit.
Any Group Can Attack Any Other
Bigotry is not limited to the powerholders. Black men can be sexist, women can be racist, homosexuals can be both, and any of the letters in LGBTQ may at any time feud with one or more of the others.
Any Group Can Turn on Itself
Similarily, any group can turn on itself, whether from internalized oppression, selfishness, or some twisted sense of pride. Men call male rape victims faggots, women spread rumors and use misogynistic language to beat each other down, gay men sneer at the more effeminate among their ranks, black people call black college students race traitors, guilt-ridden whites show condescending favoritism to minorities, and fundamentalist Christians torment each other with warnings of eternal damnation.
Social Norms Are Inconsistent
Many social norms severely contradict each other. Drug use is demonized and branded a felony, but it remains legal and accepted in the form of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco, as well as in prescriptions for methylphenidate and amphetamine that are handed out with wild abandon. Injuring a domestic cat or dog is considered wrong, but killing livestock is condoned and often glorified. Consensual sex is censored more heavily in entertainment than murder, despite where most people would place the two morally. Atheists are called arrogant if they express their beliefs even a fraction as loudly as many Christians trumpet theirs, and rape victims are shamed along with their rapists. Some of these norms result from a divide in public opinion, but some are outright hypocrisy that we proudly entertain for the sake of conformity. Benzopunk exists to point out such things without necessarily proposing a definite solution.
Our Culture Falls Short of Its Own Ideals
American society is full of sexism, classism, racial slurs, homophobia, gun violence, armed robberies, alcoholics, adolescent drug users, animal cruelty, political tribalism, rape, murder, nationalistic war-mongering, self-righteous Internet WARRIERZZZZ, White Guilt (TM), and people who don't put their empty soda cans where they're supposed to.
No One Knows Everything
Humanity as whole is ignorant of many things, and each individual member can only hope to absorb a fraction of the species' already limited knowledge. No one has all of the answers, including me. I do not know the precise solution for any of the problems I just mentioned, legal or otherwise. I can only read, write, and talk about them in the hope of finding something better than what we have now.
Benzopunk was conceived as a way to challenge traditional forms of bigotry without being hamstrung by the language-policing, identity-based double standards, and inability to place the truth over appearances that characterize conservatism and liberalism alike. Its abrasive tone and drug references came from hardcore hip-hop, its subject matter sprung from the realization that our unconscious minds and common speech patterns are tinged with prejudice in a way that renders outrage against racial slurs and other hated words deeply hypocritical, and its ultimate methods are an attempt to respond to such corruption by burning the ideas behind it down instead of sinking into the humorless, nihilistic pit of group shame that I saw as the only logical alternative.
Writing of this nature runs the risk of sounding rather like a sermon, and I will have to remember that, but it serves no political or cultural master, and the point it will ideally hammer in is something along the lines of "people are complicated" or "appearances don't mean much". I don't think that I could ever in good conscience write without touching on these themes in some manner.
Of course, I'm an amateur, and, aside from essays, unfinished drafts, and short snippets, there is currently a total of two pieces of writing that serve as an example of this prototypical genre: a semi-autobiographical prose poem called The Alphabet of Adolescence, and a fictional short story called Somnolence. I'm not a master writer, and naming my own style may come across as rather arrogant at this point.
Nonetheless, the label gives me something to work towards, and it helps me focus my efforts. Ultimately, that's what matters, however much recognition or however little recognition it may eventually obtain.
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