We live in times that the average citizen did not dream of a dozen or so years ago. What a different story for science fiction writers. One of them – Janusz Zajdel – in one of his novels created a world that in some respects strongly resembles ours.
Janusz Zajdel – a Pole who predicted digital currencies
Yes, the digital currency theme is quite popular in the literature. Interestingly, one of the writers who presented him in the most interesting way is a Pole. It is, of course, about Janusz Zajdel.
Let’s start with the profile of this slightly forgotten artist.
Janusz Zajdel was born in Warsaw in 1938. He was a physicist by profession. For many years he worked at the Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection. He was also involved in opposition activities. Although he did not make a political career (he died before the end of the Polish People’s Republic, still in 1985), he hit the political system of the People’s Republic of Poland with his works.
As a fantasy author, he made his debut in the magazine “Młod Technik” with the story “Tau Wieloryba” in 1961. In total, he published 83 stories in various magazines. His work was dominated by the topics of modern technologies, space expeditions, contacts with foreign civilizations and, above all, dystopia.
It is worth noting that Zajdel most often wanted to depict the absurdities of life in the People’s Republic of Poland through dystopian descriptions of the future of humanity. Nowadays, however, his books can be read anew. Why? The reason is the changes that are taking place all over the world today.
Digital money and class division
Zajdel’s loudest and, in the opinion of many, the best novel is Limes Inferior.
The action takes place in Argoland, a world where nothing is as it seems.
The society of this dystopia created by Zajdel is divided into social groups. The higher the social ladder one can enjoy, the more privileges he can enjoy. This is related to a better job (or any other paid activity), higher earnings, but also – interestingly – access to other types of money. In the world of “Limes …” there are three digital currencies – yellow, red and green. You can buy the same types of products for each of these currencies, but the latter are of different quality. We already explain what’s going on.
Zajdel describes this surprising economic and social mechanism in the front pages of the novel, when one of the characters dreams of “yellow dots”:
There are no yellow points without work. There is not much you can do with the green and the red alone. Recently, even vending machines with decent beer have been switched to yellow points. For green you could only get some disgusting, bitter liquid, probably synthetic …
Further, the narrator adds that “Even aside from luxuries such as a sirloin sandwich or those lovely sailboats on Lake Tibigan, the absence of yellow made it impossible to enjoy the normal human pleasures of Argoland.” As we learn, without the “yellow” it was difficult to even arrange a date, because it was impossible to buy normal food using inferior currency.
Private key with your muzzle
Currencies of different colors, however, are only a vestibule to social and economic hell. The Argoland authorities built the system with Keys – something like a private key and an ATM card in one.
Let us give the voice to the narrator of the novel again:
Karl knew roughly the rules of point accounting. (…) So he knew that there are various types of machines: trading, cash, and settlement machines. They all operated on Keys in the hands of the citizens. The condition for starting the machines was that the fingerprints of the key holder were compatible with those encoded in it (…).
The key in the world of “Limes …” was not only a kind of wallet for digital currencies. He was also an identity card, a watch, a calculator and a certificate of the social class to which the citizen belonged. In other words, it resembled today’s smartphone. Let us add that we are talking about the book Zajdel published in 1982!
These are not all the similarities between the world of Argoland and our reality. These points, i.e. money, were awarded for the very fact of existence (red currency), depending on the social class (each class had a different green point allocation) and finally for the work done (yellow).
It is hard not to get the impression that Zajdel also foresaw a guaranteed income, which is becoming a very popular idea today.
Unfortunately, in the world of “Limes …”, social division has made the lives of many people very difficult. People from lower social groups do not have a chance to work, and therefore cannot count on yellow points. So they exist for green and red money that are actually worth nothing.
Pathologies of the world of the future
Each “paradise” must have its snake. In Argoland these tempters are lifters.
Lifters are people who help people illegally “jump” to the upper class for an appropriate fee. The process of social promotion is carried out using intelligence tests. The task of the Zajdlowski hackers is to deceive the system and help promote ambitious units that Argoland’s IT system considered less valuable.
By the way, the power of this type of system resembles the rule of an algorithm, which again brings to mind what we see today.
Interestingly, the so-called downers, i.e. people who try to reduce the client’s intellectual class.
The lifter is the main character of Zajdel’s book. Due to his profession, however, he becomes involved in a scandal, as a result of which he learns the terrible truth about the reality in which humanity lives …
Hiding the truth from society
Zajdel – understandably – was not a sympathizer of the communist authorities. With the help of his literature, he tried to persuade others to accept similar skepticism.
Another of his novels is “Paradyzyj”. Although here economic issues do not play such a big role, the theme of dystopia and the fact that the authorities hides the truth about the reality from the citizens still appears.
The title Paradisiac is a space colony that has not been in contact with Earth for decades. Its elite are downright hostile to their earthly counterparts.
Earthlings send their spy to the colony, who pretending to be a writer is to check what really happens in the cosmic “paradise”.
Przybysz quickly notices that Paradyzia is a world extremely different from what the propaganda proclaims. In order to bypass censorship, the inhabitants of the colonies invented, for example, newspeak. They are also all constantly monitored by the authorities using cameras and hidden microphones. The reader will quickly notice the inspiration of Orwell’s 1984.
The writer who foresaw the future?
So did Zajdel predict the future? Of course not entirely. We don’t YET LIVE in the kind of realities he described in his novels. However, it is hard not to feel the chills when you read his descriptions of life in “Limes …”. The theories that became the foundation of the dystopia he creates are already part of our world. More and more countries decide to make the first experiments related to guaranteed income, and the smartphone (Zajdlowski Klucz) is our inseparable gadget with which we pay, and more and more often we also present ourselves (covid passports). On the other hand, the idea of currency digitization is hard not to associate with ideas about CBDC, which we often write about on our website.