Life is not as simple as it seems. When an individual reaches a certain stage of proficiency, he or she either gets sidetracked by quick gratification, such as theft, or rises to a higher proficiency because the love of learning and joy in the powers granted by it drives them forward. Such is the case with hacking, where those who have learned a few trivial skills become destructive, but those who are constantly reverent toward their task become constructive, even if they must use some destruction toward that end.
Some try to divide the hacking community by ethics, as in "white hat" (ethical) and "black hat" (criminal) hackers, but the reality is that there is another category for those who hack because they appreciate technology and like pushing it to do things that otherwise could not be done. They do not get sidetracked by appearance such as theft or vandalism, but use technology toward the end of making technology better.
This is comparable to the state of a knight in ancient cultures. The knight was above all laws made for normal people, as he was trusted to do what was right according to the whole of civilization and nature, even if it meant that some unfortunate would be deprived of life, liberty or happiness. The knight did what was necessary to push his surroundings toward a higher state of order, avoiding the entropy caused by those who were doomed to the world of appearance and could thus see only binaries: living/dying, money/poverty, right/wrong. The knight transcended these boundaries and "hacked" his surroundings by pushing them to do things that otherwise could not be done, replacing previous designs with better ones.
Design and logical structure are the "hidden world" in which hackers, philosophers, artists and knights operate. The world of appearance deals with physical objects, but not the underlying structure which connects them. Similarly, users see the appearance which computers are programmed to show them, but have no idea of the workings of networks and operating systems. A knight must know how to manipulate this hidden world, and must have the moral strength to be destructive only when it is constructive to do so.
Hacking in 2005 is far different from hacking in 1985. During the formative days of hacker culture, computing resources were scarce. Most people used 1-10mhz machines and could not get access to the instructive operating systems like UNIX and VMS unless they hacked into larger machines for that access. Today, desktop UNIX-like operating systems are plentiful, and network access is a nominal monthly fee. One reason that hacking has appeared to stagnate is that it has not re-invented itself to address this new reality.
When most people think of "hackers," they imagine the black hat criminal element that steals credit cards and identities. White hat hackers have become like adult chaperones at a teenage sex party, wagging disapproving fingers but having little overall effect. Since it is no longer necessary to hack machines for access, hacking must redefine itself according to its core principle: understanding the structure behind the appearances of computing, and to like a good knight, always reinvent the design of the underlying layers so that technology and society move toward higher degrees of organization.
In this capacity hackers are a hedge against entropy, or the state of disorder that occurs over time and is exacerbated by people acting on appearance as if it were structure, causing them to manipulate form but not function. Most human technologies are flawed and operate poorly, subjecting the user to untold problems, much as governments and ideas are flawed and cause similar confusions. The hacker of today must unite philosophy, computing and politics in a quest to find better orders and to defeat entropy by understanding how things work, and not what pleasing appearances will sell to a credulous consumer base.
Hackers as knights represent a potential force of change in our society. We can see where technology could be organized better, so that without inventing a new type of computer we can make older computers better; hackers can prank society to point out its illusions and contradictions. Because we have the skills to do this, we are necessarily above the law, and must use that status to achieve the kind of re-ordering of civilization that normal people cannot. Should we choose to accept the role with all of its responsibilities, we are the knights who can redesign industrial society into something that serves humans instead of imprisoning them in a world of appearances.
Notes from 12-05-05 meeting:
- egolessness/as derived from zen
- hackers vs crackers, hacker-mentality vs criminal-mentality
- white hats = totally inconsequential pretenders