Hacking and Philosophy: An Introduction

hacking_philosophy

This fall marks my third (and Flying Spaghetti Monster willing, final) year as a PhD student, and although I’m no longer taking courses, I often wonder how my seminars might have differed if other hacker-types were in the classroom contributing to the discussion.

Hacking and Philosophy is a new column that explores scholarly research about hacking, and does so with a community that lives the hacking experience. It’s a chance to discuss how researchers and deep thinkers handle our culture, its image, its philosophy, etc. Put simply, think of it as a weekly book club meeting. I’ll choose the text and proceed one chapter at a time, giving you my complete response to that week’s reading while engaging your replies in the comments as well as including your important or insightful contributions in future posts. Further, I promise never to venture into Ivory Tower territory: I hate being talked down to as much as the next person.

Hacking and Philosophy only works if it’s a conversation, so I encourage contributions, corrections, respectful disagreements, and as much hypertext (obviously literally, but philosophically a la Landow) that you can manage. Think of me not as an instructor but as a fellow participant who will occasionally guide us through obscure concepts and terminology.

Keep reading after the break for a tentative book list and the reading for next week!

I propose the following reading list (sorted alphabetically, by author) because I consider these texts canonical and they provide a crucial foundation for future discussions. These are works that I have read; I’ll refrain from including those on my shelf that I’ve merely skimmed or not yet opened. I also prefer to limit the texts to rigorous scholarship and exclude books targeted for popular audiences, with few exceptions. Keep in mind that the goal here is to discuss philosophy.

  • Blankenship, Loyd. “The Conscience of a Hacker.” Phrack Magazine 7, no. 3 of 10 (1986), http://www.phrack.org/issues.html?issue=7&id=3
  • Himanen, Pekka. The Hacker Ethic: A Radical Approach to the Philosophy of Business. Random House, 2010.
  • Jargon File (too many authors and versions to cite, not convinced Raymond’s print version is a better alternative, either, though I am a fan of Cathedral & Bazaar)
  • Levy, Steven. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. New York: Penguin Books, 2001.
  • Sterling, Bruce. The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.
  • Thomas, Douglas. Hacker Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
  • Wark, McKenzie. A Hacker Manifesto. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004.

I suggest these merely as a starting point, and working through each chapter one week at a time amounts to at least one month per book. That’ll keep us busy. From there we could explore a Deleuzian, high-theory route, or get lost in a sea of books about the surveillance state, but let’s worry about that later.

The reading for next week: Blankenship’s (The Mentor) “Conscience of a Hacker,” also known as “The Hacker’s Manifesto.” (Not to be confused with Wark’s). Full text on Phrack’s website.

Give it a read and scribble down some notes if you like, but save your comments about the article for next week’s post: that way they are all grouped together under the correct heading. In this week’s comments, let me know which of the above books you want to tackle next (I’m going to wait on the Jargon File for now, but you can help convince me which is the best version to use). I also welcome your suggestions for other works to include, or even arguments against any of the ones I have chosen, as long as you provide a compelling argument.


Hacking & Philosophy is an ongoing column with several sections:

Comments

  1. Kevin says:

    Awesome idea. Looking forward to some light hearted debating!

  2. frank0631 says:

    I would also add to the reading list:
    Paul Graham. Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age, 2010

  3. syntroniks says:

    Surveilance state please, highly relevant to hackers

  4. Todd Carney says:

    The tentative book list seems to be more about Hacking in it’s 1980s sense as breaking into computer systems à la “Wargames,” fooling phone systems into free long-distance calls, changing school grades, and the like, than it does Hacking as a creative pursuit that *builds* things, repurposes things, modifies things to one’s liking, and generally comes out of a fascination with computers, other electronics, and their relation to the mechanical world. It also carries much of the sense of, “if you can’t open it, you don’t own it.” The Open-Source ethic is one of the animating spirits of this kind of Hacking. Another is the intention to do for one’s self instead of relying solely (or even largely) on commercial products.

    Which version of “hacker” will this reading group pursue? Hacker as intruder, cheat, and thief, or Hacker as maker and creator? Will it be both? Is the dichotomy as I’ve sketched it here even recognized within the Hacker universe?

    • Josh Marsh says:

      I don’t disagree (though many of these texts will specifically qualify hacking as applicable to anything, and not just a method of breaking in).

      Specifically, it will be considering a hacker as a rule-breaker, which gives room for broad context. That’s actually exactly how Paul Graham defines hacker, and it definitely encapsulates the maker movement.

      As for books, though, I havent found many examples of scholarship (that is, rigorously researched, scholarly work, not just journalism ) that address things from a more updated perspective. Wark’s Hacker Manifesto is an exception, but unless you are familiar with Deleuze, it’s pretty dense.

      Any suggestions?

    • Rich says:

      I know an old farmer who is not particularly scholarly by any means, but he can make just about anything from anything and nothing, and fix those things, not out of any curiosity or as a pastime, but because he HAS to. Stuff breaks, stuff doesn’t work right, stuff can be used for other things than the things it was designed for, and he knows how to do that with a fairly minimal set of tools — hand tools, some power tools, a welder. Not much in the way of electronics. It’s the only way to make half a living. He was hacking before anyone knew the word.

      • tcarney57 says:

        Right on! Both sides of my family were exactly that kind of “Hacker.” As a teenager, my father and a friend once converted a Model T engine from four to two cylinders so it would fit on what we would now call a go-cart (they called them “bugs” in the 1930s, apparently). He and his uncles were like this all their lives, and so was my grandfather on my mother’s side. It’s this kind of thing I usually think of a hacking, and it’s mostly of a mechanical kind rather than electronic, and it exists (or can exist) entirely outside the realm of software. It something for which one might use a “hack-saw.”

  5. Sablewolf says:

    I think this a great idea.. will see you all next week:)

  6. Going the Deluze road, in my opinion, will give greater insight to the hacker culture for the benefit of the hacker culture. Going down the already beaten pathway of “Surveillance state”, i find will give little added value to our discussion if we are to talk about hacker culture in a sociological or even anthropological/ethnological way.

    The surveillance state, while very rewarding in and of its own as a topic of discussion, I feel will have an effect of detracting from the core topic of hacker culture. Yes, the surveillance and privacy issues that it presents are important topics that shape the hacker culture, but it would be a disservice for the understanding of the hacker culture to only view it from that perspective.

    A Deluzian approach does not negate the topic of surveillance in the discussion, rather it would try to understand stand its importance to hacker culture through the exploration of the understanding of values for example.

    Any way, that is just my opinion, I might be wrong.

    • Josh Marsh says:

      These are the kind of comments that are really helpful–not to detract from any of the others. Deleuze’s work is probably the most relevant (particularly combined with Wark and, are you familiar with Stiegler?) but it will take a little while to get there.

      Part of me wants to work through all of the foundational stuff first, which I suspect I could keep entertaining. That would at least provide a point of reference for charging into other territories. I’m wary of going too a la carte with philosophers before establishing some kind of base.

      I also think the important issue concerning the surveillance state is that we should take an active part in dismantling it, and not just talk about it. That’s not to say we should go Camover style on everything. I think you nailed it: “why is it important to hacker culture?” is the question that should be explored there.

      • tcarney57 says:

        I’ll be interested in following these weekly readings for a while. It is not at all clear to me what the connection between hacker culture and the “surveillance state” is . . . unless it’s the recognition that it’s Hackers in the employ of the NSA who are bringing it to us. They are engaged in the same kind of break-and-enter activity, and they too are breaking the rules. Are they something other than Hackers because of who their employer is?

        Like some others, I’m more interested in the social and cultural aspects, and even the psychology of Hacking and it’s connections to old-time values such as independence, self reliance, and, seemingly the opposite, the sense of community that underlies the open-source movement.

    • jwm says:

      Yeah, I agree– I think this particular discussion would be most interesting if it were to focus on “hacker culture.” If that includes a discussion of the “surveillance state,” then (I think) it would be most interesting purely from the perspective of the hacker; I can get my daily fill of rants about anonymous from any number of sources – personally I think it would be cool if these discussions here were more niche-oriented.

      Anyway, just an opinion! Regardless of the direction this takes, I think it’s a pretty cool idea (and seeing Deleuze’s name on Hackaday brought a smile to my face).

    • Agree with not going to over the top with all you can read buffets of philosophers, especially since the background here on hackaday is very varied (which is very good) and one can not assume knowledge, intimate or fleeting, with all of western philosophy.

      For example: I have not read anything by Stiegler, after quick wikipedia looksie, he seems to be in the deconstructionist camp and now on my immediate reading list. Thanks for pointing me in his direction.

      I think the best thing would be to start with a predefined set of articles/books on hacker culture as you have done, and also set a set of primary books as source for theoretical methods as the basis for discussion.

      Deluze has already been mentioned, and he with Wark and possibly Derrida/Stiegler would be good basic starting point?

  7. DougR says:

    I think taking a deeper look at the hacker culture is more productive. Not many people would disagree that being the subject of surveillance sucks, but I don’t think there is a clear consensus on what Hacker culture really is. The conflict of ideas should lead to a better discussion.

    • John U says:

      The rise of the IP webcam means soon we’ll all be running our own surveillance – IP cameras with face/object recognition are cheap now.

      So, when every person, every household, every company can recognise faces, track people, stream, store, analyse for their own interest… at that point, do we care very much what the government are doing? They at least have some accountability, some rules to guide them, and some good reasons for looking in the first place.

      • DougR says:

        I think it always comes down to an imbalance or concentration of power. Human nature basically says that someone will exploit this imbalance to control or take advantage of other people. If democratization of surveillance technology can reduce the imbalance then that may be a solution.

        Regrettably it isn’t just the dissemination of the technology. It is also the ability to use the information gathered effectively. This can be done to level the playing field (good) or give a small group of people more power (bad). At this point the NSA has a HUGE advantage over all us geeks in this area. That has me worried.

  8. Macon says:

    I love the idea of a public discussion of the philosophy behind hacking of all kinds, but I feel like the format could be tweaked. I, for one, am much more likely to contribute to the discussion if I don’t have to wait up to a week to add my two cents. Maybe this is already your intent, but I don’t want to see a much-needed discussion get off on the wrong foot by fighting human nature instead of working with it. :)
    Secondly, I feel like the book club analogy could be fine-tuned. My vision would be a post each week introducing a topic, with links to recommended readings and the name of relevant book(s) and page or chapter numbers. It’d be a shame to exclude those who have not read the book. They may have a different way of looking at things than the books. Every time we learn, we trade creativity for knowledge. Most big changes come from everyone but the innovator knowing that it couldn’t be done. There is some value to having everyone on the same page, but that’s what academia is for. We are makers; our diversity is the source of our power. It’s a tradeoff, but I’d set the dial more toward inclusion than cohesiveness.
    Anyone else have ideas of what this column could become? These are just my musings, and I’m sure the column will evolve over time.

    • I think that the idea is to have a set of foundational works on which we can build the discourse, while it is not necessary to read these to be active in the discussion, it helps to have a starting ground.

      Look at it as giving those who have a penchant for academic geekery, the option of playing “university seminar” if they desire.

      Scope limitation is not to stop you from exploring tangents of your interest, rather it is there to give the discussion a starting point to focus at and then branch out from.

      But that is just my view and understanding of the format, again I might be wrong.

    • Josh Marsh says:

      The format could definitely use a second glance. It may work better to take it to the forums. Let’s stick to the comments for this reading and I’ll work out a solution for next Monday. I’m still definitely open to suggestions, though.

  9. jamdis says:

    May I suggest Christopher Kelty’s Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software? It isn’t about hacking per se, but there’s obviously a lot of overlap, and his concept of “recursive publics” seems to apply equally well to hacker communities.

  10. garym53 says:

    Certainly not specifically about hacking, however definitely relevant to how a hacker understands and deals with a sometimes hostile environment.

    “The Two Cultures” is the title of the first part of an influential 1959 Rede Lecture by British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow. Its thesis was that “the intellectual life of the whole of western society” was split into the titular two cultures — namely the sciences and the humanities — and that this was a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems.

    As relevant today as when it was first written.

    • garym53 says:

      Hmmm – having had a quick “squizz” at the references the term “hacking” in the context of this article seems to be more about the old meaning of the word (hacking into the phone system, computers, etc) and not about what this site sees as hacking.

      Am I wrong?

      • Johan G says:

        Unfortunately(?) you seem to be correct. I tend to stick to open source and dreaming of building stuff (which I unfortunately tend to not build).

        I like to keep within legal bounds as much as possible, and hope I can stick to that without seeing my possibilities to be creative being reduced in a similar way to having to pay legally regulated fees to the music industry for music I do not even like when I by storage for archiving my own photographs (so go guess what I feel about pirates).

      • Josh Marsh says:

        I’m actually a bit confused; maybe I’m misreading your reply when you say “the term ‘hacking’ in the context of this article” — by “this article” do you mean my post?

        If so:

        Hacker Ethic

        Himanen specifically defines “hackers” in terms of freedom of information and draws a contrast with illegal, destructive practices by calling those types “crackers” (viii) and Linus Torvalds broadly defines hackers as someone who finds entertainment (read:pleasure) from working on a computer (xvii).

        Hacker Culture

        Thomas immediately establishes the same distinction between “hacker” and “cracker” (ix) and specifically frames the goal of his book as “an effort to understand and at some level rethink the meaning of subculture in an electronic age, both through the means by which that subculture disputes meaning and makes meaning and through mass-mediated and cultural representations” (xi). His point being that films have simultaneously distorted and influenced the cultural concept of what constitutes a hacker, but he’s hardly limiting the term to the concept of “breaking into something.” In fact, he clearly establishes the opposite, that “tools such as telephones, modems, and even computers are incidental to the actual technology of hacking…Hacking, first and foremost, is about understanding (and exploiting) [relationships]” (xxi).

        A Hacker Manifesto

        As I’ve mentioned earlier, Wark is a bit more dense, but his understanding of hacking is the ability to abstract an idea (or, rather, redirect/abstract the flow of information) and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any mention of “breaking in” here.

        I’d write more examples but I’m also not entirely sure whether I’ve misinterpreted your (and Johan’s, below) response(s). I don’t think a discussion of hacker culture would be complete without the inclusion of some “breaking in” related materials (Sterling and the Phrack article certainly cover that), but I feel like these choices fully embrace the open source / maker / inventor / etc mentality.

        • garym53 says:

          Yes I think you interpreted me correctly – I refer to your “post”, but more specifically to the link to the phrack site – and yes, I am aware of the “modern day” definition of the term “hacker” which I fully approve of. You’ll forgive me but I started my engineering training in the 60s and the term has definitely gone through some changes over the years (at least in my country). The first time I heard the term was in relation to what I think is more correctly termed phone phreaking. Later on as my professional career slowly moved from hardware to software the term “hacker” was used in terms of a software developer who “hacked” code together in violation of “best practices”. A “cracker” has always been, to me, someone who “cracks” the licensing security of a piece of commercially sold software.

          None-the-less my comment was really as a result of following your link to the “Hacker’s Manifesto” and reading:

          “he following was written shortly after my arrest…”

          and

          “Another one got caught today, it’s all over the papers. “Teenager
          Arrested in Computer Crime Scandal”, “Hacker Arrested after Bank Tampering”…”

          Now, as I said, I have only had a “squizz” (i.e. a quick look) at the material and perhaps I just got off to a bad start. OTOH I can’t agree that bad (read illegal) behaviour can be excused by “curiosity”. Of course, a history of “hacking” couldn’t exclude a reference to that type of behaviour.

          • Josh Marsh says:

            No problem! Hah, I did see the ‘squizz’ comment but I couldn’t be sure which ones you’d squizzed over. Your initial impression makes total sense given the two you glanced at.

            Hope to see more of your comments; yours is definitely a perspective that would be great to have here.

          • Johan G says:

            I skimmed over pretty much the same resource, i.e:
            “the following was written shortly after my arrest…”

            Seeing your (John Marsh) responses I think I might have overreacted a bit. ;-)

            Another question is if the phreaker culture is relevant to the hacker culture.

          • DougR says:

            In regards to your comments on “bad (read illegal) behaviour”. I think there is actually a need for some people to cross the line into illegal activity. Please understand that I am NOT advocating theft, murder, etc.., but more civil disobedience style of crimes. In general I think reactionary laws come into being without much thought or understanding of their repercussions. Some of the possible laws relating to 3d printers and guns spring to mind.

            I am not advocating for or against gun control, but some of the laws to protect us from weak plastic printed guns could have wide effects across a newly forming industry.

            Individuals who push the limits into what we call illegal activity force us to consider whether what they are doing should be considered illegal or not. If there isn’t someone pushing back against those laws they will just build up until no one has any rights at all.

            The Hackers and Crackers of our recent history have really contributed to the discussion of digital rights. In some ways I don’t think the open source software movement would have happened without the inspiration some of these “criminals” provided.

            We do need laws to have a civil society, but those laws always need to be challenged if we hope to maintain our freedoms to enjoy that same civil society.

          • garym53 says:

            Well I think it is good to oppose, and have repealed, bad laws, however it can and should be done via legal means (such as voting, objection, polls, letters, email, FOI, etc) and by a significant number of people not by a few surreptitious individuals.

            The problem with advocating illegal activity is where do you draw the line? sooner or later someone will step across it, and who is to say what is in the general population’s interest and what is not? Surely that’s what we vote in our legislators to do.

          • Josh Marsh says:

            RE: Johan G (Looks like we’ve reached the reply limit..)

            I try to assume that everyone has the best intentions, so no worries (Josh not John, though!)

            I’d argue phreaking is inseparable, and that rule-breaking–illegal or not–is what it’s all about. (Though I’m obviously not advocating illegal activity).

  11. Tom the Brat says:

    So your PHD is in hacking?

  12. bigbob says:

    One thing that I believe is often misunderstood is the connection between engineers and hackers. Quite often, one is the other, and a lot of things that make a great hacker are the same that make a great engineer. One of the primary things that I believe make a good engineer is having the right mindset, which shares a ton of characteristics to the hacker mindset. One of the major reasons that so many engineers start as hackers, and viceversa…

    This may provide an interesting avenue from a philosophical viewpoint…

  13. static says:

    Interesting to see where this goes, consider the ivory towers that do exist in the hardware hacking community. By default such hackers are makers, but those residing in the towers dismiss projects that don’t fit their definition of hack.

  14. grady says:

    Who the eff gets out in three years?

  15. Smonson says:

    Having an editor who is literate and can put a sentence together without falling flat on his own face feels weird and unnatural to me… I’m going to need a nice cup of tea and a sit-down.

  16. pcf11 says:

    I’m not sure if I’m ready for any philosophy on this site. I just come here to check out cool stuff people make.

  17. morganism says:

    Actually, a direct discussion of engineers and hackers going to work with surveillance companies is of considerable discussion value.

    A recent story about Palantir and the recruiting it does at Stanford and Berkley was pretty slight , but interesting.
    (comment discussion)

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2013/06/07/startup-palantir-denies-its-prism-software-is-the-nsas-prism-surveillance-system/

    As this the only work outside NASA and DARPA that gets any funding, it is usually discussed at black hat conf. I would like to see what we can come up with beyond hackerspaces to give our kids somewhere to dream to work at ?
    At university, you are basically an unpaid researcher for corporations , advertising/database/surveillance or defense interests.
    It appears that a significant direction of the copyright monopoly is actually aiming at controlling 3D printing in the future. By the terrorism label if necessarily. So it will likely be corporate controlled, again stifling innovation.

    The lawyers already are the ones designing video cards for computers. Do we even know how amazing vid we could have if we weren’t forced into pipelining, and instead had multiple streams in ?

    Grey Hat Python is interesting as a statement by a researcher in the field too.

  18. MrX says:
  19. MagicLantern says:

    The Wikipedia entry for FSM says it “promotes a light-hearted view of religion.” I would say mock, but that is my opinion. I do not want to see Hack A Day stray from the great site that it is and devolve into a bunch of rants and trolling. I hope you would consider that there is great diversity in the Hack A Day readership and strive to not let personal biases creep into otherwise great technical articles

    Don’t even get me started about the Arduino! Kidding!

    • Josh Marsh says:

      Ah ha. I was actually curious if anyone would mention that. My intention here was quite the opposite, to be honest. I tend to overanalyze sometimes, and thought writing “God willing” might give the wrong impression.

      So, apologies, especially for implying any association to negative connotation. I’m actually unsure how to re-write the phrase I chose “and, FSM willing…” to instead reflect my tendency favor/subscribe to Possibilianism, which I prefer specifically because of it’s willingness to embrace diversity.

      • dynamodan says:

        Thanks Josh, for your willingness to embrace diversity. I mentioned the forbidden G word on the sequel to this page, and see how I’m being over-analyzed. ;)

      • static says:

        “Possibilianism” Thee really is no telling what one is going to learn, along with where they are going to learn it . Respectfully it look to be position that isn’t going to satisfy zealots, not that I’m saying that there’s any decomposability to satisfy zealots of any color.

        in place of any deity willing, mere writing hopefully should suffice.BTW; just backtracking the subject, if anyone wonders about any time shifting

  20. gadfly6 says:

    My inclination is to conflate “hacker” and “maker.” Both engage their world in a creative and innovative manner. One of my colleagues, who is not a “maker,” commented that I simply exist in a different world than she does. I see something broken and instantly see a repair or repurposing opportunity. She reports only seeing it as a time to call someone or as a time to go to the store. I am not all that familiar with Heidegger, but i suspect that his framework might be helpful in capturing or shedding insight into these distinct “lifeworlds.” I’d be interested in exploring ideas along these lines.

    • Josh Marsh says:

      Ah ha, I hadn’t considered Heidegger; that’s a good idea.

      As for “hacker” vs “maker,” when I was interviewing Steven and Alan at Freeside for the Hackerspacing columns, they had the following to say about navigating the use of both terms to appeal to different audiences:

      Alan:
      We tossed around the idea of calling it [Freeside] “dev space” like personal development space, but I kind of like “hackerspace” because there is an edginess to it. It seems like the “maker” brand is more oriented towards youth and we can make the distinction that way.

      Steven:
      I agree, though I typically fall back to “makerspace” in the stuff that I write up or descriptions I give. Because it avoids the confusion with the word hacker. I know we want to reclaim that word, but it’s easier to do when you’re actually talking to someone.

  21. tcarney57 says:

    Regarding the issue of civil disobedience, it has worked a few times in history, but each time it was organized and involved tens of thousands–millions, in fact–willing to be beat with clubs, firehosed, arrested, etc. It’s leaders (Gandhi, MLK, etc.) recognized its ambiguous and problematic nature, and sanctioned it only in extremis.

    Civil disobedience on an individual basis is worthless and destructive. It allows one to strike noble poses, but it has nothing to do with changing things for the better. This is particularly true when the so-called protester remains, shall we say, Anonymous. Want to make your point? Man up and put your name on it. If you’re not willing to be arrested, it’s not civil disobedience.

    • DougR says:

      I would completely disagree that individual acts of civil disobedience have no effect, especially in the highly connected world we live in. The recent instances of Wikileaks or the NSA spying issues related to Edward Snowden are two very high profile situations that have had a direct effect on the way governments act. Both situations involved information releases that were extremely embarrassing to the US government. They resulted in the exposure of numerous and specific acts of rights getting violated.

      Both of these cases involved illegal acts and I can’t see any legal path that would have resulted in the same information being released to the public. That public exposure has resulted in at least some changes in the way our government works. Above all the government is aware that if it does something unsavory there is a strong possibility they may get exposed. Hopefully this has imposed at least a limited amount of restraint on the agencies involved.

      I am not advocating anarchy, but in the range of actions that happen in the world, there is a place for all kinds of civil disobedience and it can be effective.

      • tcarney57 says:

        It’s entirely possible you are right, but it is not clear to me that Wikileaks and Snowden have accomplished anything positive. I think it’s far too early to tell. They may have made matters worse by forcing things even deeper into the shadows. That said, I think the assumption that “leaks” are, prima facia, good things, and that secrets are, prima facia, bad things, won’t stand up to careful scrutiny.

        Since Assange took up his crusade to leak everything–consequences notwithstanding–it’s a safe bet that no American diplomat is going to use electronic means to report accurately and honestly to the State Department and President about what’s it’s really like in the country he was posted to. His reports will now go by hand-delivered documents–you know, those briefcases handcuffed to couriers–and now it’s certain to be read by even fewer eyes to minimize the risk of a leak, and then it’ll be shredded and put in a burn bag.

        Snowden’s revelations were apparently not news to key members of Congress, including those such as Feinstein who now have to be outraged. Dumping what Snowden has so far into media outlets–without explaining or maybe even understanding what the data actually is–has not led (so far) to any clarity.

        There’s a widespread belief among the public that phone conversations were recorded and analyzed–several billions of them by some feat of technology–instead of being merely the gathering of metadata without specific content. It remains to be seen, frankly, whether or not that was a good idea. NSA officials claim it’s helped to find and forestall terrorist activities. What if they’re right, but now will have to curtail at least some this data collection because Snowden threw a turd into the punch bowl? Frankly, it wasn’t his place. The question was not rightfully (never mind legally) up to him.

        We’ll have to wait to find out what comes of all this, and though Assange and Snowden no doubt see themselves as heros (since there’s millions who are telling them so), they’re not going onto my list anytime soon. Egotism, vanity, delusions of grandeur, along with other pathologies of the personality, can explain their actions every bit as logically as the high motives they are claiming for themselves.

        • DougR says:

          Honestly my point wasn’t to promote what they have done, but more to point out that individual acts can be more potent today than they ever have been in the past. The speed at which we communicate can amplify these individual acts into something far more powerful than ever possible before.

          Whether those acts result in good outcomes or bad is very hard to determine. I am sure that some historian far in the future will have a thesis paper on it. At the time of the civil rights movement many people considered Dr King to essentially be a terrorist, the same with Ghandi. Perspectives can radically change over time.

          One point I would like to stress is that overly stable systems tend to get more restrictive as time passes. Governments add laws but remove few. There is a place in healthy societies for radical ideas. In fact, I think the way we deal with radical ideas gives us an indication of the health of a society. In a health environment radical ideas (from whatever source) are considered and added to the range of possible changes, in an unhealthy society these same ideas are suppressed.

          We can’t have a healthy society without accepting that some people are going to have some radical ideas and express them in radical ways. If they break laws then they should get appropriate levels of punishment for what they have done. If you try to clamp down on that too much then the radical acts need to get bigger to create an impact. That leads to a very bad situation.

          Just my 2 cents.

          • Frohe says:

            The philosophy is inherently a matter of hacking, ie, hacking the interpretation of the reality and so was understood by the first presocratics, and what is ideology if not an obfuscation of the player-reality? So the marxism for example is another form of hacking, same as for extension the complete enlightenment as a movement. Great idea,

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