This review of Yaris Varoufakis's speculative novel Another Now was published by PopMatters on November 8, 2021.
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Almost immediately upon Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement on October 28 that his company was adopting the new identity Meta, Greek economist and political activist Yaris Varoufakis fired off a tweet, saying: “Hands off our mέta, our Centre for Postcapitalist Civilisation https://metacpc.org/en/, Mr Zuckerberg. You, and your minions wouldn't recognise civilisation even if it hit you with a bargepole.” In Another Now (Melville House, 2021), a work of speculative fiction that is his first novel, Varoufakis offers an alternative vision to what he brands Zuckerberg’s “Technofeudalist” nightmare.
Varoufakis is the author of the best-selling economic analyses Talking to my Daughter About the Economy: or How Capitalism Works -- and How It Fails (Bodley Head, 2017), a history of capitalism, and The Global Minotaur: America, Europe, and the Future of the Global Economy (Zed, 2011), an analysis of the economic system from the 1970s to 2008 crash within which the US occupies a central role, He is also author of Adults in the Room: My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment (Random House, 2017), a memoir of his six-month crash-and-burn tenure as Greece’s Minister of Finance, attempting to resist the draconian terms being forced upon the country by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (collectively known as “The Troika”) in 2015 to resolve its public-debt crisis.
In addition to serving on mέta’s Advisory Board, Varoufakis is currently a member of the Hellenic Parliament representing greater Athens. He is also co-founder of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25), a pan-European progressive political movement, and Progressive International, an organization dedicated to uniting and mobilizing progressive activists and organizations around the world.
Another Now is a thought experiment disguised as a sci-fi narrative that ponders what a society might look like that balanced freedom and equality.
The narrator of the tale, Yango Varo, relates events that took place primarily from 2025-2035 as recorded in the diary of a woman who had recently succumbed to cancer. It concerns three friends, the diary’s author Iris, a radical contrarian living off a bequest from a hereditary peer; Eva, a former Lehman Brothers investment banker turned academic; and Costa, a computer engineer who made one fortune shorting high-tech stocks ahead of the dotcom bust in 2001 and another, even bigger fortune shorting financial services in the run-up to the mortgage-backed derivatives crash of 2008.
At his job, Costa's technological innovations were constantly being shelved by his employers in the interest of extending the life cycle—and revenue streams—of existing, less-effective technologies. Disaffected by this experience and enjoying the autonomy granted to him by his wealth, Costa sets out on a secret project to create a kind of Freedom Machine that would offer users the ability to experience an infinite horizon of pleasure, freedom not only from want but from every boundary one could imagine. The catch: the price of entering the blissful world of the Freedom Machine being that one could never leave it, a price he believed no one would be willing to pay. This refusal, Costa thinks, would be based on a recognition of the ultimate emptiness and futility of unending desire under capitalism.
To protect his project from being stolen by corporate hackers, henceforth known by its technical acronym HALPEVAM (Heuristic ALgorithmic Pleasure and Experiential VAlue Maximizer), Costa creates a security device that inadvertently opens a wormhole into an alternative reality, the “Other Now” of the book’s title. He begins communicating via batch-file messaging technology with someone in Other Now, who is in fact his Other Self, identified as Kosti. The messaging back and forth between Costa and Kosti, which soon brings in Iris and her Other Self Siris, and Eva and her Other Self Eve, provides an opportunity for Varoufakis to lay out how things might work in a world without capitalism, ideas he has put forth elsewhere outside the realm of fiction.
These include direct democracy applied to corporate governance in which each employee receives a single share of an organization’s stock and an equal vote in all decisions. Everyone also has a Personal Capital account from a central bank that has three buckets: an Accumulation fund based on their work income, a Legacy trust fund given by society to all at birth intended for retirement or extreme emergency, and a monthly Dividend from the state derived from a 5 percent tax levied on all gross corporate revenues. These policies emerged from the wreckage of the great disruptions set off by cadres of various techno-rebels in Other Now, which brought an end to capitalism in the wake of the 2008 crash and the point at which it diverged from the Our Now inhabited by Costa, Iris, and Eva, along with the rest of humanity.
The balance of the plot deals with the interactions between Costa, Iris, Eva, and their Others as they confront their existence—their aspirations and their discontents—in their divergent Nows. Other Now is not an unmitigated utopia, it turns out: corporations may have been democratized, capital markets and investment bankers may no longer exist, but patriarchy continues to hold sway. The shared prosperity of Other Now brings with it a renewed social conservatism. Shady characters continue to find ways to game the financial system even if their machinations are quickly uncovered and swiftly dealt with.
In the book’s final pages, the wormhole begins to deteriorate as corporate hackers are getting close to breaching HALPEVAM’s security device. Big Tech’s takeover of HALPEVAM would, of course, result in its total monetization, offering only short-term pleasures in pay-per-view until its customers are completely enmeshed in its experience, the very specter of the Technofeudalist nightmare Varoufakis abhors in Zuckerberg’s notion of the “metaverse.” What’s more, the ability of Our Now users to communicate with their counterparts (it goes without saying for a fee) would likely devastate Other Now, as well.
How the various characters respond to the impending doom is the denouement of Varoufakis’s narrative. In offering a glimpse of how things might be different, Another Now invites us to contemplate possibilities that are not without their challenges, but worth entertaining nonetheless.