Hackers and Politics


It’s always important to have context. And the why I wrote things is probably more important than what I wrote. So, here is the context. Frédéric Bardeau, founder of an ethic communication agency directed to NGO (Agence Limite) is gravitating around the problematics of collaboration between Hackers and NGO and he gave an interview to Reflets.info: Hacktivists must change their stance [FR] which started a sort of flame war inside the so-called hacker scene.

Basically, he’s stating that the hackers are wrapped around their ego claiming that they don’t care about people issues. He also pretend that hackers must go further along the political process and grow a political consciousness.

I won’t answer point by point to his interview. You should read it (and goes beyond the sometime aggressive tone he uses), the comments and grow yourself an idea. I will try to put what Politics and Hacking means to me and, frankly, at this time, I do not know where I’ll land.

Politics and motivations

You do politics when you’re working on things that will impact life of the others. So you’re doing politics when people are saying it. So, when media asks the hackers if hacking is a political act the answer is necessarily yes. Even if you’re not conscious of this fact and especially if you’re not doing it for a political motivation. And yes hacking is politics (since you subvert things to do other thing with it than their initial purposes).

The question is not if hacking is a political act in fact. The question is the motivation of this act. And this is, I think, where hackers differs from activists. Activists act for a cause, hackers hack for their personal interest.

Yeah, it hurt. But this is the truth. The only reason I’m hacking things is because I want to either understand how they work, because I need to achieve something and I have nothing ready at hand and I will twist something to achieve my goal or because it’s fun. I’m not hacking things for the only purpose of helping people and help them to change their life.

Frack, who the hell I am for that? It would be insanely pretentious to tell you how you must change your life.

Activists, on the other hand, acts following a political agenda on purpose. If an activist is doing something it is because they think it will help them to achieve their political motivations. NGO are, by essence, groups of activists. They have a political agenda and all the things they’re doing is related to this agenda.

And for this reasons, NGO are quite effective in their field of specialisation. But you cannot asks Green Peace to send medical supplies to Syrians. This is the main problem with entities and people who have an agenda. They can’t spend a lot of resources on non related things.

While hackers, and the doocratic system, can. It is the cathedral versus the bazaar. One reason I do like working in clusters of hackers is that I can do just that: What I want, what interests me.

Politics unconsciousness

People, and Frédéric Bardeau among them, says that hackers lacks of politic consciousness. I second that. But I do not think it’s important. Most of the people who says that you do not have politics consciousness generally means that they do not share your ethics.

Politics consciousness means that you are aware (or you try to) of the impact of your actions on other people. Not that you have a political minded message nor that you fully understand two hundred years of political history. It means that you’ve think about the impact on the society of your actions.

Hackers, as weird social animals, tends to dodge discussion they think are unnecessary.Mainly because you can talk or do, but not both at the same time.And if you want to hack, you can’t talk about it while you’re hacking, mainly because it is like trying to solve a puzzle in the dark. You know what you want to achieve (more or less), but you do not know how you’ll get there and you have to think about it, not to speak about it.

So yeah, sometimes (who said most of the time?) hackers looks like freaky monster that will eat your soul because they haven’t slept for two days and are dosed with caffeine (may the Spaghetti Monster be blessed for the caffeine) because they are doing things that matters to them.

They do not care if it’s a democratic or republican issue, or if it’s a left or right one. What hackers tend to care about is how. You can blame us for being political unconscious. But you know what? Maybe it’s the basic principle of political consciousness which need to be changed. I mean, politics should be done by people. Not by a political cast or system that place itself above the others.

Political consciousness haven’t change much things those thirty years. At least in France. Not in the same order of magnitude that internet and counter-culture have changed. And I’m not sure the beatniks had a political agenda when they build internet. They needed it, so they built it it’s quite simple.

Thinking about how your actions will change the world instead of doing them will result in a lot of text, but not that mush things done. I do not care hackers should acts without thinking, but that’s why ethics is for.

I claim the freedom of acting without being questioned on my politics agenda for I have none. You can question my ethics (after all ethics exist to be discussed and confronted) or the way I’m doing things, in fact,you must question ethics and the actions of people.

Hackers are closed on themselves

People blame hackers for not helping them on various topics. Let’s get some things sorted first. Imagine you’re a mechanics. You like fixing and improving engines of famous cars and you do that on your spare time. And people came at you asking you to change their tires, check their oil level, or change a light bulb. All of them being trivial operation that can be achieved by simply reading the manual and actually trying to understand how things works.

Imagine that those annoying people came to see you several times a day. Asking for your time for no compensation while this engines is just waiting for you to take care of it. And those non-skilled operations, operation you’re already doing for a leaving, takes you time.

You can be the good guy. And losing your time hour after hour. Or you can, after having patiently helped three people who do not understand anything about mechanics, send the other to hell.

And yeah, the guy will looks like a bastard who do not want to help people. It is the same thing with hackers. Someone saying me they do not know how to use the mail system without a webmail is someone that did not even tried. I can do it for my pay-job, but I’m paid for it. I won’t do it on my free time.

If you want help, then you need to invest yourself and you need to understand how things works. The fact that you’re a computer illiterate is your fault, not mine. However it’s not a fatality. I mean, I know Syrians that had a computer culture of almost nothing a year ago and who are now able to teach to other how GNU/Linux works, how to set-up a VPN, to understand some weird network problematics and to work around the censorship issue they have there.

And they do not even speaks a good english. So if they can, you can understand how it works. You just need to accept that computer tech is not black magic. You must helps me to helps you. And you must abandon the idea that fail is something bad. Fail harder fail better as we say.

So, if you come to see us without this in mind, yeah, you will be called a fucktards, a noob, an asshole. It’s not because we are closed on ourselves or imbued by our ego (ok, it might be),it’s because you do not make the necessary effort of trying to understand.

But I’m moving out of my original topic. We are not building a hacker world, if we are building a world at all, we are building a free and open world. Most of the hackers are adept of the sharing of knowledge across the world. We need to access the knowledge we’re going to need to do things. People tends to think that internet is our private playground. It is not. Internet is not a place, it does not belong to anyone.

Cats, tubes, computers

Internet is now a part of the society. It’s a fantastic multi directional read/write media available to anyone. Internet is used by activists to carry on their message, and by government to spy on their people. Internet is a political act by essence. And a lot of hackers will stand and fight for it as it was when Osni Moubarak shat down the tubes in Egypt.

And the internet is the media of datalove. It has been built for exchanging data across long distance at a reasonable rate. If you want to restrict the sharing of data, you’re then interfering with the internet. The fact that some might be shocked by the fact that their personal data are found online must not blame the datalove and the hackers for that, but rather the entities that have built those files, collecting their personal data.


Yeah, I think it’s time. I’m getting lost. Hackers are – mainly – humans. They are far from perfect and some of them do not care about politics. But I think that most of the things people blamed hackers for are the same you can blame most of the people.

Do not forget we have the doocracy. We have caffeine. But most important of

The pirate Part and I

Once upon a time in the web

I was gonna write a disclaimer about me not being objective about the Pirate Party, and them who will probably jump on me because I’m saying shit. But, well, fuck objectivity. I am nothing like objective and you probably know that. And if you take this too seriously,then, it’s not really my problem.

So, why this. Some will say it’s a free shot at the Pirate Party and, well, it is. More or less. But the point of having a blog is to express personal opinions, right? Also, a lot of people ask me on a regular basis what do I think of it and, since I do not want to rant endlessly I just avoid the subject.

And I’ll continue. What will follow are my personal views of what I perceive what is the Pirate Party and why I think they’re wrong and why they’re going in the wrong direction.

Hackers are not, in my mind, people that fix things. Hackers are the ones who divert a system to do something else with it than its intentional purposes. So, when people says they’re hacking politics it is with the intent to divert the political system to do something else than it’s initial purpose – managing the city. Hacking politics could be, for instance, have the political system serving your own personal agendas, or discussing laws about the lolcats or whatever.

Hacking politics is not trying to have it working on its initial purposes. This is fixing politics. Make it working the way it should work – should being personal but it could be working along the rules the political system choose to follow.

Also, it is extremely hard to divert the system when you’re only a user of it. This is why hackers seeks for privileged access when they want to hack their way into a system, and this can be done using software, a solder iron, a set of tools or whatever. It can be accomplished only from the outside of the system, you need to analyse and measure the output of the system when it receives some input or some constraint. Even better, you need the DNA, the source code, the schematics, all relevant documentation about the system, it will ease your way in.

The Pirate Party

People all around th world thought that the issues around copyright, sharing and mass surveillance deserved to be fought by a dedicated Party. Don’t get me wrong here I do think they’re critical issues and that the answers provided by the traditional system aren’t good for anything (including business).

However, it is for the citizens to stand up and fight. Not some self proclaimed representative authority who, by design, must follow an insane number of rules, including the ones which asks for the structure to have a leader.

I believe in doocracy and autonomy. I can accept temporary delegation of my voice to a person I think share the same views than I on a specific topic. Even if liquid democracy is a problem (will discuss that later). I do not believe in pyramidal structures whim only goal is to gather more power to have a chance to be heard by the others.

Beside, I think the problematics raised by the Pirate Party – privacy, sharing, mass surveillance – are cross partisan ones, each political party should defends them because they are linked to basic human rights. A bit like every political party opposes torture, for instance, all of them should opposes mass surveillance.

It is a bit like ecology in fact. It’s a group of public interests and each part of the democratic process should have it’s opinion on it. I cannot imagine today a politician blatantly saying that ecology sucks, we need moar pollution. They can have different views and solution to the problematics, but it is now something beyond the classic right/left paradigm.

Civil liberties, the right to intimacy, the accountability of the society, the right to copy and share are problematics that are tied to society management – which is, by essence, politics – and every political groups have a stance about those issue. It’s not a defining paradigm (like liberalism, socialism, communism, fascism, whateverism) of a political group.

And by being a political party, and so a political group, the Party Pirate claims that they are the only one to defend those issue, and that all other groups are, de facto, against those issue.

To make things worse, being a political party, besides the amount of paperwork needed and the fact that you need to have a chain of command, if you want to have some weight and to have representative you must make alliance with other groups. Since you fight for specific issues, they’ll stand for them also. But then, their foes will oppose your ideas (friends of my foes are my foes) instead of fighting for them.

You’ll end up with almost half of the people opposing your ideas because they oppose your allies. And you will be stuck with promises you’ve done and concession you’ve made to get those allies.

And you’ll end up either disappearing (you made no concession, so you have no representative, and you’re not existing) or by compromise yourself (defending ideas that aren’t yours).

Just because the representative system is bugged by design and is maintaining itself.

Hacking politics, ORLY?

However, I must admit that, being a national or cross-national party can be useful. Political party usually consider other party as being like them and it can be a handy way to have them talking about some issue.

But, it is the wrong way to do it. First, it enforces them in the position of an elite of people that can make laws and regulations without having to be accountable of what they’ve done. Some might think that a vote can change that, but, since you can vote only for a person who present itself and who – if you really want things to change – must be backed up by an already existing entity, things won’t change much with only a vote. Also, I tend to think that the people in charge want us to just vote and not speak our mind.

Second, citizens must speak out. I do not need a political party to speak for myself. I need my representative to do what he’s supposed to do: represent me, speak for me, and be accountable before me for that. This is what civil liberties groups are. And La Quadrature du Net is one of them, EFF is another. The Party Pirate could be if they weren’t so eager to have representative elected among them. Those civil liberties groups are good to deploy memes in the public space. We won’t have heard about ACTA for them leaking it and fighting it (for four years in a row).

The fact that ACTA has been rejected in the EU parl is the proof that, when citizens are doing their job – asking their representative to represent them, not to represent private interests – the representative have no choice but to do what they should, not what they want (and yes, it’s harsh, but they have a lots of benefits from this job, they should do the part they don’t like or quit it).

And yes, the two representative (for all the Europe) in the EU Parl have done some good job about raising those issue, but it’s not because they were a party they were effective, it’s because they were doing their citizen job.

So, what?

In the end, my main problem with the Pirate Party is that, instead of changing the system, they validate it, makes it stronger. And they want to have representative elected, instead of just using the mediaspace to deliver a message and to try to convince everyone that they’re speaking the truth and that some things might end (and other starts). It could have been an amazing tool, but it has been shaped by politicians that were already well established.

It is maintaining the illusion that the actual implementations of a democratic system we have is valid and can work.

Liquid democracy

To finish that, let’s talk about liquid democracy.

Liquid Democracy is based on the simple fact that any citizen have a equal voice and uses it on each issues that is debated. They can choose to delegate this voice to someone who they think is an expert in a given field. And they can cancel or change this mandate at any moment and for no reason. They can also gives their voice for a specific issue to a different expert.

For instance, I can perfectly choose to give my voice to a person that I (and only I) judge as competent for all the issues relating to urbanism for I suck at urbanism, while I’ll keep my voice for myself for all the issue about computers and intertubes.

And you can delegate all the voice you received the same way. It means if someone gave me their voice for urbanism problematics, I will delegate it to my urbanism expert.

It sounds like a good idea but there’s two problems.

The consensus issue

First it is based on democracy. It means that, to do something, you call for a vote and you’ll wait until you have a consensus about what you’re going to do.

From my perspective, you do not need a consensus to do what you want. You just need to do it. If people dislike sit, thy will tell you, if they’re outraged by it they’ll try to destroy it, if they want to change it, they’ll change it.

And it will be this way until one part abandon it because they judge it does not worth the effort.

Also, I do think that a majority of people can be wrong (else, Skype or Facebook won’t be used that much). So having a consensus is not a sane objective (and it’s the best way of doing nothing).

The reputation of expert

The other problems is the one about the reputation of the experts. If someone have twenty voice for problems related to intertubes, you’ll think they are competent (or they won’t have twenty voices). And you’ll gave them your voice.

And, since you judge them being competent, they will keep your voice until your proven they’re not. And they can only be proven incompetent by another expert of the same domain, with a better reputation.

Where it became weird is that, if this second expert is better than the previous one, why didn’t you gave him your voice from the beginning? The system will end up with one, maybe two, experts competent on a domain, and probably a lot of independent citizens with one or two voices who cannot do anything since the expert have the majority of the voices (else they won’t be expert and people won’t gave them their voices). And the expert won’t change.

Also they can create expert. If I’ve got quite a good reputation on a particular field and I give my voice to someone else in another field, a lot of people whom I already possess voices for my field of expertise, will gave their voices to them.

This is how you end with a tyranny of so-called experts.

It’s easy to fix however. You must keep the number of voice you have secret. And I’ll assume there’s a technical way of not juking the system. So, you know nothing about intertubes and you want an expert. And you can’t find one, because no one can. So you’re going to make a choice based on what you can read. It means each expert have to expose their view and explains the issue.

And then, something magic will appear, you’re going to learn some basic skills about the experts’ domain. And you won’t need an expert anymore, for they’re more or less forced to publish everything, so you can learn. And votes for yourself.

If the experts refuses to publish, then they’ll have to convince you differently, and we end up with the current system.

So, liquid democracy can’t work. As a citizen you should never delegate your voice to anyone. And you should slaps anyone who asks you that with a large trout.

And this is why I cannot stand that someone describing themselves as a pirate asks me just that.