What is the “hacker ethos”?

* Running code (and the “rough” consensus of the Lynch law) as
opposed to correct software: the deliberate use of inferior algorithms, anti-intellectualism and hatred of culture masquerading as a pseudo-scientific asceticism

* Treatment of artifacts such as computers and abstractions as more
important than human beings

* Autism

* A fundamental lack of decency

* A mythos in which the hacker fantasizes himself as uniquely
valuable to his company when he’s in fact a dime a dozen

* Majoritarian tyranny

* Disrespect for midlevel authorities that make safe targets

* Contempt for intellectual production masquerading as a critique of intellectual property, as in the case where almost the sole criterion of value is the servile haste of the producer

* Digital Maoism (cf Jaron Lanier‘s book You Are Not a Gadget): the cynical use of elites of what Adorno calls “domination of the dominated by the dominated” (Adorno)


8 Responses to “What is the “hacker ethos”?”

  1. * An virtual emotional pacifier used to cope with the harshness of reality.

  2. Hi,

    I published this post a while ago and it goes along yours. I am also a big fan of Jaron Lanier.

    nice post.

    Sorry, we kinda have the same theme.

  3. Actually, I don’t know how I could have read your post positively. I totally disagree with you.

    Have you looked at how governments control the information you are given. The US spy on their citizens with total impunity with their “patriot act,” corporations are given free reigns to rob poor countries of their natural resources, etc. This is the political hacker agenda. They are using the same techonological tools governments and mutlinationals use to keep you and me in check, but they want to free people from their shackles by sabotaging this process.

    Don’t you think it’s a little simplistic and patronizing to say that they are autistic and that they lack decency?

  4. spinoza1111 Says:

    Insofar as the “hacker” is a part of the corporation he shares in the corporation’s guilt even if he pretends to be sabotaging the corporation.

    Many data systems jobs are completely non-productive and constitute in my experience a welfare program for white males (a type of corporate welfare). The holders of these sinecures cannot in my opinion fantasize that they are rebels, fighting the system.

    Even outside the corporation, the hacker relies in many cases on contract work with … the wicked corporation, or one of its many feeder firms or suppliers.

    And the *reductio*? Working for free on Open Source, and donating one’s time to … the corporation.

    The “freedom”? Ooooohhh, here’s a new edition of software for you to use, and become more chained to…the corporation.

    As an observer of porn once said, seeing women subordinated and violated, “where’s the freedom here?”

  5. I guess we have a different conception of the hacker. To use the geek analogy of Star Wars (adequate for hackers don’t you think?) there are many hackers who have joined the dark side (corporations) for lucrative contracts, but that’s not what I am talking about here. If you join them, you are not a hacker anymore, you are computer programmer. The moment you cease to rebel against Microsoft and others you cease your right to be a hacker.

    Linus Torvald, Richard Stallman, and their peers have developed open source program so they would not have to be subjected to copyrights and intellectual properties. The fact that corporations have decided to use those same programs for their own ends is consequential of the technological advance. Again, I would hardly call those people autistic, lacking decency, etc.

    I loved Jaron Lanier’s book, but I failed to agree with his argumentation on digital maoism. The system we live in is corrupt to the core. I am not a communist, or a socialist (although I do have Marxist tendencies) but I do understand that the ruthless capitalist system we live in (which adamantally protects intellectual rights, “freedom” and other such concepts) is broken. it does not work. It robs people. For me, open source programs is a form of rebellion against this system: a hacker’s rebellion.

  6. spinoza1111 Says:

    How odd that the Open Source “rebelliion” should so cut costs at big corporations.

    As to “rebelling” against Microsoft, it’s a corporation, not a government, and Microsoft never forced anyone to use its software. The very existence both of the Apple and Open Source alternatives to Microsoft mean that Microsoft cannot force anyone to do anything.

    Microsoft is selected by purchasing managers to reduce real costs on the ground in the form of “network externalities” which in ordinary terms mean having to hire some arrogant and greedy hacker to adapt the technology to Microsoft, whenever it must produce formats that are expected on the Microsoft end, or produced by Microsoft.

    A classic difference would be that until recently, the distinct lines in a Microsoft format text file were two characters: “carriage return and line feed” (hex 0D and hex 10). Whereas non-Microsoft vendors make the possibly more sensible choice of hex 10 only.

    Neither choice matters much, but the difference is completely opaque and incomprehensible to managers as well as non-programming users. Microsoft’s choice is arguably more sensible although less compact because the sequence is even less probable as part of the data in a text file.

    The point is that Microsoft never “forced” anyone to use a “stupid” format in the overheated hacker rhetoric.

    The point is that Bill Gates was right in 1976 when he called hackers thieves, because they thought that it was cool to ruin a small business by stealing Paul Allen’s Basic compiler.

    The point is that the unconscionable conduct of the 1970s hackers made Gates cowboy up and proceed to use sharp but legal business practices such as paying “only” about 50K for DOS.

    The point is that because Gates cowboyed up but stayed within the law, he was able to make ordinary programmers (not “hackers”) with shit-ass degrees into millionaires.

    The point is also that Gates then turned around and started giving his legally acquired money to the wretched of the earth through his foundation. I don’t see many “hackers” doing this.

    Computer “hacking” means literally doing an inferior “hack” job, usually in order to meet some deadline imposed autocratically by a corporate manager who knows dick. Computer “hacking” is programming for passive-aggressive slaves.

    Open Source coding is not a rebellion against the system. That would be moving to India or the mainland of China, and, at local wages, living “la vida loca” and teaching your skills, assuming you have them. Teaching them to programmers who cannot afford computer books printed in the West.

    Rebellion against the system would be indeed wikileaks, or exposing the way oil companies use legacy (IBM mainframe) formats to secure environmental data that they seek to use for profit when this data is needed by scientists. But most “hackers” I know don’t do this. Instead, they hasten to claim that the corporation or startup that’s paying them is somehow gonna be different.

    Furthermore, are you aware that Linus Torvaldys essentially swiped Linux from a compsci prof and then flamed him? Look it up.

  7. “How odd” you say? … It’s F’ed up that they do, but it isn’t odd at all. Corporations are harvesting the labors of hundreds of programmers who created a free tool for other programmers. Richard Stallman, who argued against proprietary knowledge and invented a computer language that could be used by everybody on the basis that all knowledge should be shared, invented open source code. That is part of the Hacker’s ethos. It’s the GNU standard on which Linux is based.
    I don’t know enough on the origins of Linux, whether he stole it or not, BUT what I do know is that Linux was created by a community of computer programmers (hackers) who wanted to help each other, and give an alternative to the world’s biggest thief: Bill Gates. Because he did do a bit of stealing when he started: from the Xerox lab. Check it out.
    By the way, Gates have been sued countless times in Europe for trust practices by installing and imposing the IE browser among other things. So yes, they DO FORCE you to use their products.
    I won’t deny the good work that Gates is doing through his foundation, but the man is far from being a saint. Let’s wake up.
    And yes, Stallman created the GNU standard in a rebellious act against the system who wants to own everything there is to own, an idea so dear to rampant capitalism: the system that benefits only the 1% at the top. Stallman used a Marxist approach in his “rebellion” when he decided to create the GNU standard. He created something available to everybody, not only to the few that could afford proprietary software.
    By the way, the word Hacker was a term coined by the programmers themselves. It does mean what you say it means, BUT it was in derision. And I quote Steven Levy: “…, implying that hackers were either nerdy social outcasts or ‘unprofessional’ programmers who wrote dirty, ‘nonstandard’ computer code, I found them to be quite different.” And he goes on, but I won’t bore you with that.
    And yes, I agree, Wikileaks is part of a rebellious act against the current dominant system who would have us enslaved to our desks and machines so we can collect a paycheck small enough to keep us coming back. I am currently writing a paper on hackers… I’ll post it on my blog within a month. I’ll send you a copy. 🙂

  8. There’s White hat, Black Hat, and sometimes Grey Hat hacking. Ubuntu is good. Microsoft is simply another Campbells Soup. Exploitation of information, cracking of software, and vulnerability announced on a megaphone leads to a herd-driven necessity of technological advancement, not liberty, rebellion, or “freedom”. Let’s not hate our luxuries such as Oracle’s MySql, or Oracle’s Java…….yet. Defamation of stable open source software leading to necessity of commercial grade garbage…. now who’d wanna do that?

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