Patrice Riemens on Wed, 2 Jul 2014 19:37:49 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium Part Two,

Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium Part Two

The Hacker Spirit and the disease of Anarcho-Capitalism: long time
buddies? (continued)

The first character trait both of them share is their individualistic
tendency. There are very good reasons for that: even seen from a (purely)
technical viewpoint, sharing is only possible between individuals if they
are able to create personal projects. And besides, on a more mundane
plane, the relationship between a person and her/his PC - /personal/
computer - had become so closely ... personal from the 1980s onwards that
it bordered on solipsistic alienation (individually owned computers were a
rarity before that time).

But more remarkable similarities can be observed: the cult of excellence,
for instance: permanent improvement is a must. One other common
characteristic: 'there are no limits' as principle. Overcome obstacles,
jump barriers, enter systems, cross to the other side, those are the terms
to describe the continuous, assiduous, boundless and headlong rush into
the vast fields of knowledge about the technical space, which, with the
advent of the internet, had become a true virtual space in itself. The
tendency to set challenges, like 'whom of us will reach furthest' is the
outcome of individual excellence coupled to the will to explore the
unknown. In its crudest form this takes the shape of a duel (between two
opponents). But there are more complex configurations, all subsumed under
the competition principle, which itself is (typically) a male thing.
Hence, it is not by accident that most hackers are males, with a high
level of education, inclined towards abstract thinking, and not seldom
afflicted with the Asperger syndrome [37]. From small bands of
infotech-crazies to the build-up of powerful hierarchies, the span is
smaller than one would think. Communities of /hackers-geeks/ celebrate
meritocracy, risk-taking, (the need for) maximum commitment, and, last but
not least, the duty to wreck your brain first before annoying your pals we
stupid questions, a precept epitomized by the acronym R.T.F.M. - /Read The
F&^%$*@! Manual/ [#****]. A community consisting of people who are able to
understand and appreciate individual effort knows also how to add up to it
as a value and a pledge towards the shared cause of knowledge. The fairly
explicit references to one's attractiveness, the mainifest pride to have
come faster than everyone else to a solution elegant, powerful, and
entertaining to boot, all this expressed in terms of hard-won technical
competences are recurrent leitmotivs in hacker culture [38].

The individual engaging in hacking is surrounded by an aura of sorts,
conferring him (her) a kind of superior power. On the other side are the
non-hackers, the 'lusers', the 'sheep', who understand zilch about
machines. Manuals are written, guides (like '-xxxx- for Dummies' -transl)
published for their benefit; one can even manage to teach them certain
programs! But it remains a common sense fact that knowledge has a
pyramidal structure: there are 'exoteric' [##] levels, which are
understandable to the general public, and there are arcane, esoteric ones,
open only to the initiated. And there are many levels of initiation and
competence, referred to in the stereotype distinction between, on one
hand, those who belong to the elite in terms of being familiar with
machines (the /'truleite'/) and those who are mere apprentices (aka
/'lamers'/) [39]

>From this state of mind stem, more or less by default, two behavioral
characteristics: one is a thinly veiled despise of the physical body, and
for the real world in general and for actual contact with other human
beings [##*]; and the second is a tendency to see everything in black and
white, like a transposition of the ones and noughts in the binary code:
it's either right or wrong, good or bad (and for people too). The world is
the theatre of epic battles between the forces of good and those of evil,
the latter ones hatching their dark schemes, world-wide. The white (or
dark) knights of Knowledge, the Jedis of the machines, may chose for one
or the other, but it is clear that this is war in which we all have a
stake. And those who are the best armed cannot afford to remain mere
spectators. Maybe our discourse is a bit overdone, but many examples are
there to back it up. The atmosphere is constantly weighed down by the
threat of conflicts.

Individualism and the cult of limitless liberty are two major traits
shared by both the hacker spirit and anarcho-capitalism. We can add to
that a true believer attitude with regard to the purported redeeming power
of technology. Besides that both anarcho-capitalists and hackers share the
same ennemy: institutions, and more specifically (US)federal institutions,
which put curbs on their liberties (unrestricted access to knowledge in
one case, unrestricted freedom to get rich in the other). Yet if one is to
believe Eric S. Raymond's half-serious pronouncements, the points of
agreement go much further. And Eric Raymond himself is a high-ranking,
'historic' member of the hacker tribe, and a hard-core libertarian to
boot. In his portrayal of the imaginary personage J.Random Hacker, he
describes his political convictions as follows:

"Formerly vaguely liberal-moderate, more recently
moderate-to-neoconservative (hackers too were affected by the collapse of
socialism). There is a strong libertarian contingent which rejects
conventional left-right politics entirely. The only safe generalization is
that hackers tend to be rather anti-authoritarian; thus, both
paleoconservatism and ?hard? leftism are rare. Hackers are far more likely
than most non-hackers to either (a) be aggressively apolitical or (b)
entertain peculiar or idiosyncratic political ideas and actually try to
live by them day-to-day." [40]

(to be continued)
Next time: more about hacker politics

[37] Asperger is related to autism, and comes with socializing
difficulties and stress. It has been noted that San Francisco's Bay Area
has percentualy many more cases of Asperger than the (US) national
average. In 2011, lawyers in the United Kingdom pleaded Asperger as
extenuating condition in order to reduce the criminal liability of Ryan
Cleary, an alleged member of the (in)famous 'Lulzsec' hackers (group),
which stood accused of high-level, successful attacks. We will go more
into the 'Lulz spirit' (from LOL, Laughing out Loud) later on, suffice
here to say that it consists of breaking into secured systems, extract
private data and publish them, all 'for fun'.
 being of course my favorite illustration of this concept.
[38] FAQs (/Frequently Asked Questions/), a repository of answers to
possible questions about how to use a program, a tool, etc. makes
exceedingly manifest the conviction that an individual must really do all
he/she can (to obtain the knowledge) before even thinking of asking for
help. Of course, this approach can take various hues, some more, some less
community-based, by prioritising the necessity to develop shared
knowledge, but under no circumstance should the latter be see as some kind
of pre-digested gruel (i.e ready-to-use, turnkey solution/ knowledge),
accessible to one and sundry. The ability to find your own way out when
challenged by a novel situation, and to apply a creative solution to the
problem offers a striking resemblance to the  myth of the explorer, able
to orient him (her?)self in unknown territory by reading and interpreting
the clues he discovers around him (her? ;-)
[##] I had to look that one up too. According to the French Wikipedia
(, the exoteric is what is
public, as opposed to the esoteric. Reminded me of the two (rival)
Communist parties after the return of Greece to democracy in 1974 ...
[##*] After I had asked passers-by three times our way back to the railway
station in some forlorn Italian border town, a friend of mine, kindof
arch-nerd, observed, puzzled: "but you talk to people?!".
[39] To understand what we talking about here, and get an idea of what
motivates a hacker, it is really worth to take a look at one of the best
independent publications on hacking, Phrack, which has been active since
the mid-eighties:
[40] Eric S. Raymond, /The Jargon File/:
despite being somewhat ego-centric and a bit obsolete by now, /The Jargon
File/ remains a fundamental document.

Translated by Patrice Riemens
This translation project is supported and facilitated by:
The Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
The Antenna Foundation, Nijmegen
( - Dutch site)
( - english site under construction)
Casa Nostra, Vogogna-Ossola, Italy

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