Posts Tagged ‘Anonymous’

Fans, Hackers, and Invisibles

on January 1, 2014 in Emerging Visions | Comments Off on Fans, Hackers, and Invisibles

After posting the previous entry, I kept thinking about the association between horizontalism and creative imagination, and it struck me that the roots of this association can be found in the subculture that grew up around science fiction in the 1930s and early 40s.

When the horizontalism vision was taking shape in the 1930s, science fiction fandom was one of its earliest manifestations. In an era dominated by top-down mass media, fandom was bottom-up, peer-to-peer, and free of any kind of centralized leadership. It was a functioning anarchy in everything but name, being carried on by amateurs who were held together solely by a commonality of interests.

As summarized by Wikipedia, “Science fiction fandom started through the letter column of Hugo Gernsback’s fiction magazines. Not only did fans write comments about the stories — they sent their addresses, and Gernsback published them. Soon, fans were writing letters directly to each other, and meeting in person when they lived close together, or when one of them could manage a trip. In New York City. David Lasser, Gernsback’s managing editor, nurtured the birth of a small local club called the Scienceers, which held its first meeting in a Harlem apartment on December 11, 1929.”

These early relationships flowered over the next decade into an extensive network of clubs, fanzines, and conventions, climaxing with the grandly-named First World Science Fiction Convention in 1939.

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At the end of the previous entry, I promised that this one would carry the story along by discussing the flowering of holism in the early 20th century. I soon realized, however, that I’d missed an important step in the development of the association between horizontalism and creative imagination — so I need to backtrack and deal with that before I move on.

When creative imagination started hanging out with horizontalism in the 1970’s, the relationship initially took shape within the terms of multiculturalism, and its chief exponents were neo-pagans and chaos magicians. But in recent years, the same association has been most apparent in the context of direct democracy, and its leading devotees are now computer hackers and self-professed pirates.

That may seem like a natural progression when viewed from the perspective of creative imagination — especially since there has always been a significant overlap between magicians and hackers — but from the viewpoint of horizontalism, the underlying dynamic is far more complex.

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Trying to make sense out of the stream of statements and press releases from Anonymous can drive you nuts. One moment they’re waxing all idealistic about North African revolutionaries or Bradley Manning, and the next they’re saying things like “Anonymous is not your friend” or “One thing you must know about Anonymous is, we only do it for teh lulz. We don’t care about your miserable life.”

Because of the hivemind nature of the group, in which everyone and no one speaks in its name, a certain amount of cognitive dissonance is probably inevitable. And yet I’m starting to suspect that what we’re seeing may not be simply a matter of competing agendas — that calling evil-doers to account on a global level and displaying a studied contempt for individual angst may be two sides of the same coin.

If there’s a paradox here, it’s much the same as the paradox inherent in the trickster figures who inhabit our most ancient myths. The trickster’s antics can be crude, outrageous, and even actively hurtful — yet they frequently have important and creative results.

In fact, mythic heroes of every kind are given to transgressive behaviors that would never be tolerated from any ordinary member of their society. They have sex with their sisters, insult their grandmothers, and are regularly lewd, vulgar, and obnoxious.

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I found the previous entry hard to pull together but I couldn’t put my finger on why, so I went ahead and posted it, even though it felt somehow incomplete. But over the new few days, I realized the problem was that I’d been laying out two separate dichotomies — higher knowledge vs. institutionalized knowledge and liberal vs. conservative values — without quite realizing they weren’t the same thing.

At that point, I decided to clarify my own understanding by listing current political factions and the relationships among them. To my surprise, the rough framework that resulted looked like nothing so much as a simplified version of the alignments system of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

In its classic form, the AD&D system is based on two intersecting polarities — good vs. evil and lawful vs. chaotic — with various shades of neutral in between. Liberals, for example, might be defined as lawful good. They’re “good” because they care deeply about altruism and justice and “lawful” because they see government as the most effective means of implementing those values.

Anarchists, on the other hand, could appropriately be described as chaotic good. They’re dedicated to much the same values as liberals, but they regard the institutions of government as an impediment to achieving them. As a result, even though liberals and anarchists have many issues in common, they differ substantially in methods, ultimate goals, and personal style.

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It’s always pleasant when people show a proper sense of historical precedent. So I was gratified to find that the latest video from Anonymous, which announces an all-out attack on the current corrupt financial system, concludes with the classic call for civil disobedience issued by Mario Savio during the Sproul Hall sit-in at Berkeley on December 2, 1964:

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus — and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it — that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all!!”

I quoted that speech a year ago in the course of an entry on the rejection of machine society by the 1960’s counterculture. And in another entry a few weeks later, I identified its inspiration as a passage from Henry David Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government” (1849), which first set forth the principles of civil disobedience:

“If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth — certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”

Thoreau, like Savio and now Anonymous, was issuing his call for civil disobedience at the very onset of a countercultural period. All three are kindred spirits, speaking to one another across the years from identical moments in the cultural cycle.

And though it’s the 21st century now, and the old imagery of inexorably grinding machines may no longer be as relevant as it once was, that call still resonates as strongly as ever. “Until our demands are met,” Anonymous warns, “and a rule of law is restored, we will engage in a relentless campaign of non-violent, peaceful, civil disobedience.”

Just what Anonymous may be planning, and how effective it will be, are yet to be seen. But as a sign of the times, the attempt itself appears both appropriate and inevitable.


A listing of all my posts on the emerging counterculture can be found here.

A general overview of the areas of interest covered at this blog can be found here.

A chronological listing of all entries at this blog, with brief descriptions, can be found here.

A few weeks back, I commented in passing on the devastating attack recently directed by hivemind group Anonymous against internet security firm HBGary.

Despite that stinging humiliation, HBGary planned to go ahead with a presentation it was scheduled to deliver at a major security conference — until the presentation team arrived to find a sign in their booth reading, “Anon . . . In it 4 The Lulz.”

At that point, the team packed up and left, complaining, “They decided to follow us to a public place where we were to do business and make a public mockery of our company.”

Mission accomplished, at least as far as Anonymous was concerned. But I’ve been wondering ever since about that mocking sign and the strangely cryptic word “Lulz.”

For those who are just coming in on the story, Lulz is a noun derived from the exclamation LOL — as in lolcat — which is, in turn, an internet acronym for Laughing Out Loud. If you look it up in online dictionaries, you’ll find doing something “for the lulz” defined at doing it for laughs, often at someone else’s expense.

But although saying “I did it for the lulz” can certainly be used to justify bad behavior, its application to the HBGary situation suggests something deeper.

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Years ago, before I had a blog or even a website, I used to collect my stray thoughts and possible story ideas in an old-fashioned school notebook. One day it struck me that if sexism means discrimination based on sex, and ageism means discrimination based on age, then real-ism ought to mean discrimination based on degree of reality.

So I jotted down a few sentences about a world in which mythological creatures are the targets of prejudice and segregation — although some that are less fantastic in appearance might manage to “pass” as real. The politically correct, of course, would insist that all such beings were merely “differently realized.” And the excluded themselves would finally stand up for their rights and insist, “I’m exactly as real as I need to be!”

It never seemed to be more than a whimsy, though, so I left it at that and moved on. But recently, I’ve been getting a sense that other people have had the same thought — and perhaps took it more seriously than I did.

A few weeks ago, one of my favorite websites, The Daily Grail, commemorated the recent death of venerable British occultist Kenneth Grant by linking to a review of one of his books written in 2002 by graphic novelist and chaos magician Alan Moore.

Moore begins the review cautiously enough, with a general discussion of Grant’s life and the “onslaught of compulsive weirdness” in his work, before tackling the vexing question of whether Against the Light should be taken as a novel masquerading as autobiography or a particularly deranged piece of non-fiction:

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I’ve got the midwinter doldrums and heavy-duty posts are coming hard. So I’m going to take a break by doing a simple round-up of some of the trends and movements that I see as about to coalesce into a holism-based counterculture.

Trends alone are not sufficient, of course. A counterculture explodes only when there is both a volatile mixture of elements and a spark to ignite that mixture. But these trends are what will fuel the fire — and each of them is already displaying the distinctive pattern of thought that will shape the next decade.

The movements that have been catching my eye are primarily offshoots of the environmental activists and computer hackers that I previously described as heretics of the 1980’s. Their roots go back to the potent blend of holism, multiculturalism, and do-it-yourself-ism nurtured by Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog in the late 60’s and early 70’s. But what I’m seeing now suggests a new degree of assertiveness and philosophical self-awareness, along with a dedication to the nitty-gritty of everyday life that is very different from the ecotopian romanticism of the 80’s.

These movements fall into three broad groups, which intermingle at many points. The first is typified by WikiLeaks and Anonymous. It is rooted in the hacker ethic and in the belief that access to tools and information should be considered a fundamental human right.

The second, which I’ve only become aware of recently, involves a new wave of environmentalism that over the last two or three years appears to have moved away from any expectation of government-based solutions and applied itself instead to direct action.

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The current WikiLeaks hysteria has gotten me looking back at the very first post I did about the “dance of the visions” in September of last year. There I wrote:

When a new vision first emerges from the ruins of its predecessor, it remains for a time on the borders of society, inspiring artists and philosophers but having relatively little impact upon daily life. Only when it has matured sufficiently in both theoretical and practical terms does it step forward to claim a leading role in the culture.

When that happens, everything changes. In a relatively brief but hectic interlude of cascading breakdowns and transformations, the entire society is shaken apart and remade in new terms.

First, the emergent vision challenges the claim to authority of the senior vision in the dominant partnership. That vision is already nearing the end of its useful life and showing increasing signs of rigidity and inability to cope with crisis, so it doesn’t take much to delegitimize it.

I’ve been counting down to lift-off since I did that entry — and I’d say we’ve finally arrived at the “everything changes” point and are about to embark on the “cascading breakdowns and transformations.”

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

There can be no doubt that at this moment Julian Assange is the living embodiment of the holism vision in its computer-and-internet aspect. The various Pirate Parties have his back. Anonymous vows to avenge him. And no less an authority than John Perry Barlow has tweeted, “The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops.”

There can similarly be no doubt that the democracy vision is already in a state of accelerated collapse. Corporations sneer at its feeble attempts to put limits on their greed. Tea Partiers seriously propose undoing the great democratic achievements of the last 150 years. And even earnest liberals wring their hands and bemoan the breakdown of the social contract.

The utter panic of the world’s nations over the WikiLeaks info-dumps is a measure of their desperation and a sign that the era of democracy-and-chaos is drawing to an end.

But if what I wrote in the more placid times of a year ago is to be taken seriously, this is only the starting-point.

It should get interesting.


A listing of all my posts on the emerging counterculture can be found here.

A general overview of the areas of interest covered at this blog can be found here.

A chronological listing of all entries at this blog, with brief descriptions, can be found here.

It often appears that once your attention is drawn to something, you start to see it everywhere. No sooner had I finished writing about the rat brain story earlier today than I found myself reading a Washington Post story about the notorious message board 4chan — which turns out to reflect many of the same organizational principles.

Created seven years ago by a 15-year-old, 4chan is a vast web of anonymous, uncensored message boards. No one’s in charge, but the site’s users have managed to pull off some of the highest-profile collective actions in the history of the Internet. …

The 4chan “hive mind” has been credited with — or blamed for, depending on your perspective — urging tween idol Justin Bieber to head for North Korea as part of his upcoming world tour (as part of an online poll allowing fans to select which country he should visit), spreading a story that Steve Jobs had a heart attack (which caused Apple’s stock to fall precipitously) and starting a rumor that there was a bomb at New York’s JFK airport (triggering an evacuation). …

How 4chan — a site built for fun by a teenager that barely ekes out a profit from online ads — manages over and over again to outwit the systems that multibillion-dollar corporations use to make money on the Internet is one of the great mysteries of the capricious online world.

“The community self-organizes, decides on goals and achieves them in an ad hoc, undirected manner,” said [Joshua] Schachter, who invented the social bookmarking tool called Delicious. “I see it like the financial markets — sort of chaotic. It’s hard to understand, but incredibly vital to understanding out how people operate together on very, very large scales.” …

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