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<nettime> is education slavery? (and other questions)
McKenzie Wark on Thu, 9 Dec 2004 06:17:27 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> is education slavery? (and other questions)

FM Interviews: McKenzie Wark [extract]
First Monday

McKenzie Wark teaches media and
cultural studies at the New School
University in New York City. His most
recent book is A Hacker Manifesto
(Harvard University Press, 2004). For
many years he was an active participant
in the nettime listserve, and also on
fibreculture, syndicate, and a few other
experiments in "collaborative filtering." A
Hacker Manifesto grows out of that
experience, and attempts to provide a
theory to go with the practice of
creating and sharing free knowledge in
a digital gift economy. He is the author
of a number of other books, including
Dispositions (Salt Books, 2002) and
Virtual Geography (Indiana University
Press, 1994) and was a co–editor of the
nettime anthology Readme!

This interview was conducted with First
Monday’s Chief Editor Ed Valauskas,
stimulated in part by A Hacker Manifesto.

First Monday (FM): In A Hacker Manifesto
you write "Education is slavery.
Education enchains the mind and makes
it a resource for class power." If that is
true, then as a professor at the New
School University, should I really
identify you as an "enslaver"? How do
you envision your role as an "educator"?

McKenzie Wark (MW): I draw a
distinction between education and
knowledge. Knowledge is the practice of
creating relatively stable islands of useful
or interesting information, and it’s my
belief that these should be available for
everybody, and that everybody can
work on creating and refining them.

Education is the term I use for turning
the practice of knowledge into
something that can be administered and
commodified. I argue that turning
knowledge into education by making it a
product is a bad idea. It makes a process
into a thing.

Of course, as a teacher in a private
college I’m living the contradiction.
Students are always caught between
buying school as a product and
experiencing the pleasures of the free
creation of knowledge.

The New School, where I work, was
founded by John Dewey (among
others), who were very much alive to
this tension, I think. The New School
started as adult education in New
York’s East village. Another part of its
story is the University in Exile, which
saved Hannah Arendt and many others
from the Nazis. So I’ve landed in an
institution that is all about thinking and
working in this tension between the
process of knowledge as free creation
and external powers of market and state
that distort it in their own own image.

FM: There are repeated references in A
Hacker Manifesto to "crypto–Marxists." In
one your footnotes you call Marx a
"crypto–Marxist." Can you explain
"crypto–Marxism"? Is A Hacker Manifesto
a crypto–Marxist work? If so, are true
hackers "crypto–Marxists"?

MW: I’m always very ambivalent about
the legacy of Marx, but where else can
you go to find a rich intellectual tradition
that is critical, that is wholistic, and that
is historical? So I use this term
crypto–Marxist, which I think has the
image of a kind of secret code.

One can take Marx as the source–code
for a kind of "ruthless criticism of all that
exists," as he put it. But of course you
have to turn this critical code against
Marxists as well. I think the interesting
writers who try to take on the whole
world are doing this — using Marx
against himself. Guy Debord, Felix
Guattari, or Toni Negri for example. I
use them in the book too. And of course
I try to turn them against themselves as

I wanted to find a way of writing that
took its distance from consensus reality
in a critical way, but I didn’t want it to
be about "resistance" to the emerging
neo–liberal world order, where all
information is privatized. I wanted an
affirmative book that offered a new
kind of social imagination. I think it’s
useful to be able to imagine the world
otherwise. Readers may not like my
particular alternative world, but I hope
the book can lead you toward your own
acts of speculative thought.

FM: Gisle Hannemyr wrote in First
Monday in an essay entitled "Technology
and Pleasure: Considering Hacking
Constructive" [1] the following:

"The emergence of hackers as an
identifiable group coincides closely in
time with the introduction of various
Taylorist methods in software
development. Many of the most skilled
programmers resented what was
happening to their trade. One of the
things that characterized the early
hackers, was their almost wholesale
rejection of Taylorist principles and
practices, and their continued insistence
that computer work was an art and a
craft and that quality and excellence in
computer work had to be rooted in
artistic expression and craftsmanship
and not in regulations."

Would you agree?

MW: Yes, that’s well said, I think. If you
take the long view, the commodity
economy passes through three stages.
The first commodifies land, and hence
agriculture. The second commodifies
capital, and hence manufacturing. The
third stage is the commodification of
information, and hence the so–called
"new economy." Each phase is what I
would call a development of abstraction
in the world. Each involves a new
property form — landed property,
capital, and so–called "intellectual

Each stage is an enclosure of the
commons in favor of a private property
right. Intellectual property grows out of
patent, trademark, and copyright but
changes them from a kind of social
compromise to a private property right.

Each stage produces a class who own
the means of production in the form of
private property, and a class
dispossessed of what it produces in the
first place. Thus we get farmers versus
landlords, workers versus capitalists,
and as I would put it, a new level of
class conflict, between hackers and what
I call vectoralists — those who own
intellectual property and the vectors
which are the means of realizing its

I see the formation of a hacker sensibility
and ethic as an expression of this new
level of conflict over the enclosure of the
commons and the subordination of free
productivity to the commodity form. So
I see Gisle Hannemyr’s story as part of a
bigger picture. Intellectual property
makes all kinds of creativity equivalent in
the eyes of the marketplace. So x
amount of your patents are worth y
amount of my copyrights.

So while writers, programmers,
biologists, or musicians tend to see
themselves as separate cultures with
specialized ways of thinking, I think
there is an over–arching class interest
there as well. An interest in preserving
the autonomy of the way we labor that
farmers and workers have already lost.
We are the new front line in a very long

For the rest of the interview, see:

For more on the book, see:


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