This gist of the article is that the hacker impulse or ‘hacker ethic’ is a natural human response to large alienating infrastructures that allow little agency on the part of individuals. Hackers take different forms, but are identified by 1) a tendency towards creative rebellion that seeks to increase the agency of underdogs in the face of systems that are otherwise complex or oppressive or that limit access to experts 2) a tendency to acting out that rebellion by bending the rules of those who currently dominate such infrastructures (this is in contrast to the open rebellion of liberation leaders who stand in direct defiance of such rules). They thus are figures of deviance, seeking to ‘queer’ boundaries that are otherwise viewed as concrete and static.
Having set up a definition of what the hacker ethic is, the article goes on to argue that the ethic has been corrupted due to its association with computer culture in the public eye.
On the one hand, in a world where people increasingly rely on computers for subsistence, the bogeyman figure of the criminal computer ‘hacker’ has emerged, a figure of media sensationalism and moral panic.
On the other hand, the increasingly powerful technology industry has honed in on the desirable, unthreatening elements of the hacker ethic to present a friendly form of hacking as ‘on-the-fly problem-solving for profit’.
This is described a process of ‘gentrification’: In most gentrification you have twin processes: On the one hand, a source culture is demonised as something scary to be avoided. On the other hand, it is simultaneously pacified, scrubbed of subversive content, and made to fit mainstream tastes. This has happened to rap culture, street culture, and even pagan rituals. And the article argues, it is now happening to hacker culture: “The countercultural trickster has been pressed into the service of the preppy tech entrepreneur class.”
The article concludes with a reflection on whether you abandon the gentrified form, or whether you fight for it. There is reflection on whether the hacker impulse perhaps has always been an element of capitalist commodification processes, but argues that it is an ethos that needs to be protected: “In a world with increasingly large and unaccountable economic institutions, we need these everyday forms of resistance. Hacking, in my world, is a route to escaping the shackles of the profit-fetish, not a route to profit.”
Let's consult the Jargon File. It was written by old-school hackers, and it hasn't been updated in years. It should have a handle on what it means to be a hacker. Let their definition of "hacker": http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/H/hacker.html
The first seven senses all give the same impression: a hacker is somebody who likes to tinker with stuff out of intellectual curiosity and for the sheer fun of it.
And here's "hacker ethic" while we're at it: http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/H/hacker-ethic.html
There's nothing in there about "fighting the man".
Now, yes, a lot of the more traditional aspects of hacker culture would recoil at the idea of "on-the-fly problem solving for profit" (in fact, the entry on "wannabee" appears to hold "professional programmers" in disdain). But that's because the old-school hackers did what they did for fun. No, they weren't interested in profit, but they weren't interested fighting "the man" either.
And while we're talking about "large alienating infrastructures", that probably applies now more than ever, what with the rise of walled gardens, proprietary APIs, and the resurgence of closed-source software thanks to mobile and web apps replacing desktop apps. If the hacker ethic was a response to "large alienating infrastructures", it would be stronger than ever right now.
Actually, I'd argue that hacker culture flourishes more in the absence of "large alienating infrastructures" than anything else. Hacker culture started at universities where students all had access to powerful timesharing machines (or, hell, even access to the batch-job machines that preceded timesharing). Then, it underwent a resurgence in the '90s with the open-source revolution... because suddenly the entire world was connected through the Internet, so anybody could download, run, and hack on an entire open-source operating system, and they could submit their patches or host a server in their living room and post new software up for the whole world to see.
Not that I have much of an affinity for ESR, but he is a spokesman.
First, it's #4 on the list. On the other hand, #1 is "The world is full of fascinating problems waiting to be solved".
Second, it sounds less like "the hacker ethic was created as a response to authoritarianism" (which is what OP asserts) and more like "authoritarianism is incompatible with the hacker ethic, so don't support it", which is a very different proposition.
That's not the real jargon file. This is:
While I personally do lean more toward the Lisper realm than the Unix-weenie realm in most of my beliefs, I also happen to have an appreciation for the Jargon File as maintained by ESR and others for actually trying to document evolution in the broader hacker culture. The whole "well ESR's jargon.txt ain't the real jargon.txt" seems closed-minded and ignorant to me.
My summary: the article is a cultural-marxist parable. The victim is the hacker. The oppressor is the yuppie. In olden days the hacker lived in a sort of eden, but now the oppressor has trapped the hacker in webs of capitalist bondage.
You may not need freeing, but I certainly do.
You're wanting "freedom to pursue "hobbies" and free "perks" without having to work for it" for yourself, at the expense of the general society. And by expense of general society, what that really means is that someone with the means to production/capital/etc has to part ways with some of his (labor, gasp he's no longer free), in order to fund your "free" lifestyle.
Regardless, we'll agree to say fuck basic income. I like this even more radical idea: There must be <= 10x total income spread within any company. (I have no idea how to handle the obvious loopholes)
No, it's purely a governmental accountability problem. The money, the will and the goods are all there. The only problem is we're all dilly-dallying when it comes to holding the government accountable to provide basic life necessities to the needy. We all talk noble, but don't throw eggs at politicians for lying to us, or stick them in jail for causing (or allowing) the homeless die of starvation on their watch. I exaggerate a little, but really, as you say it's 2015. These should be solved problems using existing structures in place, without even discussing such things as universal basic income, or anything remotely that radical.
>"Regardless, we'll agree to say fuck basic income. I like this even more radical idea: There must be <= 10x total income spread within any company. (I have no idea how to handle the obvious loopholes)"
I understand that you mean this in a noble and well-meaning way. As a libertarian I don't deny that government programs, and the societal-backing behind them are not motivated by noble intentions. But you also have to understand that implementing such a suggestion fundamentally means that you don't believe an individual deserves (or is allowed to keep) all the products of his/her own labor and knowledge. Do you not see anything at fault with that?
Perhaps, rather address the existing issues that plague our society (if you agree that it's a problem). Almost all government regulatory laws have the unintended consequence of promoting larger institutions in the market, rewarding individuals with large accumulated pots of capital, and increase the barrier to entry for small-competitors.
This assumes that automation is not possible.
There is no in-between. Either we live in a dystopian society where all labor (or means to production) is collectively owned and the fruits of it are portioned-out. Or we live in a society where only a portion/percentage of said labor is redistributed, thus invalidating the OP's suggestion that such a society would mean freedom for all "...to pursue hobbies and live without careerism (I paraphrase there)".
I can only assume that "careerism" in that sense is in reference to a job, and/or participating in a labor market of sorts.
No. Why would I? That's silly.
> Or we live in a society where only a portion/percentage of said labor
Not only is this a false dichotomy, but it's also missing my point: that the purpose of automation is to eliminate the need for labor, and that by pursuing automation of tasks that few (if any) people actually want to do as hobbies or "labors of love", OP's suggestion is actually feasible.
It sounds like you're trying to pin me to some communal Marxist philosphy (never mind that I personally subscribe to philosophies that can power most of Europe by wiring the corpse of Karl Marx to a dynamo in his grave). The idea of a post-labor society is actually quite compatible with capitalism; if you have a machine that makes chairs and I have a machine that makes tables, there's nothing stopping us from trading, say, a table for four chairs, or a chair-making machine for a table-making machine, or selling our tables and chairs for money and using that money to buy, say, couches.
Whether this characterization of the article is fair or those beliefs about the world are true are both reasonable questions worthy of consideration.
Anyone looking for a little information on the origins of the term "Cultural Marxism" should take a look at the wiki entry for the Frankfurt School, under the subheading "Conspiracy Theory".
A funny thing about the more general critique of oppressor/victim narratives is that Nietzsche had a very similar critique, alleging that the pervasiveness of such narratives (which he called "slave morality") had weakened society. But he didn't blame Marxism for it— he blamed Christianity.
Class is not a minor outcome of a social moment. It is not a mere symbol that can be quickly turned on or off by a culture, the way a culture might shift from enjoying boxing to preferring mixed martial arts.
Class has arisen as an essential structure in the reproduction of society since the dissolution of European fuedalism. The same business logic that produces all our material wants, from coats to bushels, comes hand in hand with the logic that every business must give the profit (surplus labor) back to capital. Culture is a material basis, but class is the overdetermining superstructure.
Shifting from a class based society to a classless one would require a fundamental shift in the economic relations where workers would own the means of production. This shift would tear apart the material basis of our culture. MTV/Viacom, MSNBC/Fox/CNN, RCA/TicketMaster/C3, WaPo/NYT/WSJ, TWTR/Facebook/Google: all of these cultural production centers would shatter into cultural microcosms if the workers at these firms weren't bound to profit maximization.
On the other hand, it is trivial to manufacture new cultures without a whiff of change to class.
Without knowing anything else about the author, this byline does give a bit of a left-wing impression.
First world nations become that way by government-led expansion. The private sector comes along later to make a profit after the fact in almost every case.