Hackers on Steroids

August 25, 2011 § 4 Comments

McKenzie Wark, A Hacker Manifesto (2004)

Oh my god WORDS. Abstraction (n.) Boundless possibility exploited by an abstract class of abstract hackers abstracted via abstraction. Class (n.) That which drives the world towards further abstraction; divided into pastorialist class, capitalist class, vectoralist class. Classes of production vs expropriation. Hacker class critical to development of latter, due to abstraction. Question mark, sure. Education (n.) See hegemony. Battleground in whatever current class war. Biopower etc. Hackers ambivalent to education; desire knowledge instead, unless dicks. Hacking (n./v. sing.) Elegant and beautiful. The revolution will not be commoditized. Either vilified or minimized, due to FEAR AND LOATHING. Lightning round: History is an abstraction begging to be hacked. Information wants to be free. Nature is a thing, except not really. Production is produced via hacking. Property is theft abstracted. All representation is false because news flash it’s called REPRESENTATION not TRUTH. Revolt happens, sometimes. The state is a lie (/abstraction). Subjectivity is a lie (/abstraction). Surplus is a lie (/abstraction). Vectors are real you guys. The world is a vampire.

tl;dr we’re the greatest people to ever live.

Gabriella Coleman, “Old and New Net Wars Over Free Speech, Freedom and Secrecy; or How to Understand the Hacker and Lulz Battle against the Church of Scientology” (2010)

Two disclaimers: trolls are offensive so gird yr loins, also it might be helpful to think of trolls as tricksters. I’ll get to trolls later, but first hackers. Divergent origins in phone phreaking communities (also possible forerunners to trolling?), plus battles over open-source software. Distinctions when dealing with Scientology even trickier, because hackers? Trolls? Both? Oh lord, it’s a mess. Anyway, the story. Scientology + hacker foes = the ultimate in hate-fucking nemeses, due to near perfect ideological inversion. Have been mortal enemies locked in CYBERBATTLE since early 90s, origins on Usenet group alt.religion.scientology, and hitherto unprecedented legal battles the result of unauthorized postings of church documents (THETAN DUMP LOL). Welcome to Mortal Combat, per 1995 Wired article. Basic idea, Scientology super litigious censorship-mongers while hackers all about transparency & unlocking locked doors, because why not, anyway the more padlocks you instal the more alluring the door becomes. Bizarre-o world versions of each other: freedom vs. repression, plurality vs. monopoly, science vs. comical science fiction, openness vs. proprietary, etc. Hackers –> Anonymous –> Project Chanology. Connexion to 4change, background there. Encyclopedia Dramatia, Version 1.0. LULZ, the only reason to do anything. Earlier protests mostly political while Chanology primarily characterized by good old fashioned internet motherfuckery, at least at first. “Perhaps the first accidental protest movement in the world.” That picture in place, three brief points: Scientology metaphorical. Trolling tactics hugely effective. Trolls as tricksters? Potential for ethical dimension. With serious reservations, due to is it ever possible to do something “just” for the lulz?

Part one, two, three, four, five, six of Coleman’s talk.

Douglas Thomas, Hacker Culture (2002)

Jesus, what does the term “hacker” even mean? It’s not nearly as simple as the Mainstream Media would have you believe! There’s even controversy (perhaps more vitriolic controversy) within the ranks of those who would classify themselves as hackers, oh boy! This seems sort of appropriate, though, given the scope of this book, which considers the intersections between mainstream culture, the legal system, and hacking subculture (both defined from within and without), and which posits that hacking is more about ethos (approach) than tools (specific machines). Meaning that. Hacking ain’t just for programmers anymore, though I pretty much confine my research to “proper” hackers, whatever that means? Something about boy culture, something about historically contingent iterations of notions of secrecy.

Whatever! Hacking! Although as a set of behavioral practices it spans nearly 5 decades, there’s a pretty clear split within the ranks, namely between the old and new schools — the former encompassing proto- and golden-age hackers from the 50s, 60s and 70s and the latter referring to the much more maligned CYBERTERRORISTS of the 80s and 90s. The old school is characterized by a utopian sense of Possibility. They believed that information wanted to be free, and that the world would be a better and more open place thanks to Technology. Recall Levy’s Hacker Ethic! These brave virgins were almost always affiliated with universities or with the government, and were motivated by discovery. They may have been somewhat solipsistic, but the hackers of yore sure did…stuff, like make the internet a thing. The new school i.e. CYBERPUNKS are much more dystopian and, to overly simplify, stand on the shoulders of their hacking progenitors in order to undo the damage said progenitors have done since selling out and enacting the same indignities which in their younger years they would have –should have– fought against. Verily it is the circle of life! The important thing is, hackers occupy a hugely prominent role in contemporary popular culture; how the mainstream media reacts to hackers is less about hackers themselves and more about prevailing cultural attitudes towards technology, the end.

What I learned from these fine scholars

Dear god, definitions are just impossible aren’t they? Slippage in every single direction. In itself this isn’t a bad thing — as Biella Coleman explains, sometimes it’s just not possible to define these sorts of nominatives, sometimes the most accurate definitions consist of one slippage piled atop another. Between hacker and troll, between troll and anon, between 4chan and Anonymous, between abstraction and…every other goddamn noun in the dictionary, the beat goes on. Problem is, when there’s not a lot written about a given subject, there’s greater pressure, not to mention a very strong impulse (at least for horrifying A-types like myself), to carefully define whatever thing, if for no other reason than to make crystal clear what the hell it is I’m talking about (i.e. this not that).

Trollshit really is the worst, in part because a series of unofficial definitions –which cropped up due to there not being an official definition, and/or like 50 makeshift definitions to choose from– have obscured the most basic meaning(s) of the term. What ends up happening is, you find yourself rolling uphill to the drumbeat of CYBERBULLYING, and have to spend half your argument explaining what your argument is not before you can make any major claims. That can be a little frustrating, but I suppose it would be worse if a specific definition had been fully top-down and bottom-up codified. In part because I’m sure after a year (let alone an academic lifecycle) the definition would already be wrong, and probably laughably so, consisting primarily of exceptions. I would reference a few contention-bones with Judith Donath, here, but I can’t even remember what all I’ve written in the last few weeks, and would like to leave this terrible place as soon as possible — after her summer-long absence Mother had forgotten that PLC smells like the ghost of a thousand asses. The ass of a thousand ghosts? I wouldn’t doubt it. In conclusion, a) who cares how we define our words, it’s the behaviors that matter and b) it’s critical we use the right words because the right words make all the difference.

p.s. Trolls are third-gen hackers (“hackers” used in the metaphorical sense), standing on the aforementioned shoulders of those who stood on the shoulders of the people who built and subsequently ruined the system hackertrolls are now fighting against, for freedom. This however is a topic for another post.

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