Monday Night 05.23.05 — McKenzie Wark — Talk/Discussion — "The Hacker Manifesto"

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Monday Night 05.23.05 — McKenzie Wark — Talk/Discussion — “The Hacker Manifesto”
1. About this Monday Night
2. About McKenzie Wark
3. Excerpt from “A Hacker Manifesto”
4. An Interview with Adriana Amaral
5. Useful Links
1. About this Monday Night
What: presentation / discussion
Where: 16 Beaver Street, 4th floor (directions below)
When: Monday Night 05.23.05 @ 7:30 pm
Who: Open To All
Both the words “hacker” and “manifesto” are extremely loaded, encouraging a whole host of associations for people. Arguably, the most predominant image of the hacker is the apparently apolitical pimple-faced suburban teenagers navigating through and disrupting the most secure worldwide networks. The manifesto, is an “old trick” so to speak, a tool for agitation, a genre of questioning the present, positing instead hyper-politicized protagonists, revolutionaries who plot out a course for change through a declaration of demands, principles, or intentions released to a public. In his most recent book, ” A Hacker Manifesto”, Mckenzie Wark attempts to navigate through the reader’s expectations of each of these terms, while also unlocking new ways of relating to them and in turn plots out a course for change. Rather than propose to discuss what may remain unspoken in the lived moment, we will instead just encourage you to attend what should be a very interesting talk/discussion.
Wark will begin the night with a introduction of some of the key concepts he is working with and we will follow that up with a discussion with him. Below, you will find a whole host of materials ranging from excerpts from the book, to reviews, to interviews. Just reading one of them will provide you with some orientation for the discussion.
2. About McKenzie Wark
McKenzie Wark is the author of A Hacker Manifesto, published in English by Harvard UP, in Italian by Feltrinelli and in German by C H Beck. His other books include Dispositions (Salt books) and the award winning Virtual Geography (Indiana UP). He was a co-editor of the nettime anthology Readme! (Autonomedia) He teaches media and cultural studies at Lang College and the Graduate Faculty at New School University.
3. Extract
001. A double spooks the world, the double of abstraction. The fortunes of states and armies, companies and communities depend on it. All contending classes, be they ruling or ruled, revere it — yet fear it. Ours is a world that ventures blindly into the new with its fingers crossed.
002. All classes fear this relentless abstraction of the world, on which their fortunes yet depend. All classes but one: the hacker class. We are the hackers of abstraction. We produce new concepts, new perceptions, new sensations, hacked out of raw data. Whatever code we hack, be it programming language, poetic language, math or music, curves or colourings, we are the abstracters of new worlds. Whether we come to represent ourselves as researchers or authors, artists or biologists, chemists or musicians, philosophers or programmers, each of these subjectivities is but a fragment of a class still becoming, bit by bit, aware of itself as such.
003. And yet we don’t quite know who we are. That is why this text seeks to make manifest our origins, our purpose and our interests. A hacker manifesto: Not the only manifesto, as it is in the nature of the hacker to differ from others, to differ even from oneself, over time. To hack is to differ. A hacker manifesto cannot claim to represent what refuses representation.
004. Hackers create the possibility of new things entering the world. Not always great things, or even good things, but new things. In art, in science, in philosophy and culture, in any production of knowledge where data can be gathered, where information can be extracted from it, and where in that information new possibilities for the world produced, there are hackers hacking the new out of the old. Hackers create these new worlds, yet we do not possess them. That which we create is mortgaged to others, and to the interests of others, to states and corporations who monopolise the means for making worlds we alone discover. We do not own what we produce — it owns us.
005. Hackers use their knowledge and their wits to maintain their autonomy. Some take the money and run. (But one cannot run far.) We must live with our compromises. (Some refuse to compromise.) We live as best we can. All too often those of us who take one of these paths resent those who take the other. One lot resents the prosperity it lacks, the other resents the liberty it lacks to hack away at the world freely. What eludes the hacker class is a more abstract expression of our interests as a class, and of how this interest may meet those of others in the world.
006. Hackers are not joiners. We’re not often willing to submerge our singularity in any collective. What the times call for is a collective hack that realises a class interest based on an alignment of differences rather than a coercive unity. Hackers are a class, but an abstract class. A class that makes abstractions, and a class made abstract. To abstract hackers as a class is to abstract the very concept of class itself. The slogan of the hacker class is not the workers of the world united, but the workings of the world untied.
007. Everywhere abstraction reigns, abstraction made concrete. Everywhere abstraction’s straight lines and pure curves order matters along complex but efficient vectors. But where education teaches what one may produce with an abstraction, the knowledge most useful for the hacker class is of how abstractions are themselves produced. Deleuze: “Abstractions explain nothing, they themselves have to be explained.”i
008. Abstraction may be discovered or produced, may be material or immaterial, but abstraction is what every hack produces and affirms. To abstract is to construct a plane upon which otherwise different and unrelated matters may be brought into many possible relations. To abstract is to express the virtuality of nature, to make known some instance of its manifold possibilities, to actualise a relation out of infinite relationality, to manifest the manifold.
009. History is the production of abstraction and the abstraction of production. What makes life differ in one age after the next is the application of new modes of abstraction to the task of wresting freedom from necessity. History is the virtual made actual, one hack after another. History is the cumulative qualitative differentiation of nature as it is hacked.
010. Out of the abstraction of nature comes its productivity, and the production of a surplus over and above the necessities of survival. Out of this expanding surplus over necessity comes an expanding capacity to hack, again and again, producing further abstractions, further productivity, further release from necessity — at least in potential. But in actuality the hacking of nature, the production of surplus, does not make us free. Again and again, a ruling class arises that controls the surplus over bare necessity and enforces new necessities on those peoples who produce this very means of escaping necessity.
011. What makes our times different is the appearance of the horizon of possibility of a new world, long imagined — a world free from necessity. The production of abstraction has reached the threshold where it can break the shackles holding hacking fast to outdated and regressive class interests, once and for all. Debord: “The world already possesses the dream of a time whose consciousness it must now possess in order to actually live it.”ii
012. Invention is the mother of necessity. While all states depend on abstraction for the production of their wealth and power, the ruling class of any given state has an uneasy relationship to the production of abstraction in new forms. The ruling class seeks always to control innovation and turn it to its own ends, depriving the hacker of control of her or his creation, and thereby denying the world as a whole the right to manage its own development.
013. The production of new abstraction always takes place among those set apart by the act of hacking. We others who have hacked new worlds out of old, in the process become not merely strangers apart but a class apart. While we recognise our distinctive existence as a group, as programmers or artists or writers or scientists or musicians, we rarely see these ways of representing ourselves as mere fragments of a class experience. Geeks and freaks become what they are negatively, through the exclusion by others. Together we form a class, a class as yet to hack itself into existence as itself — and for itself.
014. It is through the abstract that the virtual is identified, produced and released. The virtual is not just the potential latent in matter, it is the potential of potential. To hack is to produce or apply the abstract to information and express the possibility of new worlds, beyond necessity.
015. All abstractions are abstractions of nature. Abstractions release the potential of the material world. And yet abstraction relies on the material world’s most curious quality — information. Information can exist independently of a given material form, but cannot exist without any material form. It is at once material and immaterial. The hack depends on the material qualities of nature, and yet discovers something independent of a given material form. It is at once material and immaterial. It discovers the immaterial virtuality of the material, its qualities of information.
016. Abstraction is always an abstraction of nature, a process that creates nature’s double, a second nature, a collective space of human existence in which collective life dwells among its own products and comes to take the environment it produces to be natural.
017. Land is the detachment of a resource from nature, an aspect of the productive potential of nature rendered abstract, in the form of property. Capital is the detachment of a resource from land, an aspect of the productive potential of land rendered abstract, in the form of property. Information is the detachment of a resource from capital already detached from land. It is the double of a double. It is a further process of abstraction beyond capital, but one that yet again produces its separate existence in the form of property.
018. Just as the development of land as a productive resource creates the historical advances for its abstraction in the form of capital, so too does the development of capital provide the historical advances for the further abstraction of information, in the form of ‘intellectual property’. In traditional societies, land, capital and information were bound to particular social or regional powers by customary or hereditary ties. What abstraction hacked out of the old feudal carcass was a liberation of these resources based on a more productive form of property, a universal right to private property. This universal abstract form encompassed first land, then capital, now information.
019. While the abstraction of property unleashed productive resources, it did so at the same time as it instituted class division. Private property established a pastoralist class that owns the land, and a farmer class dispossessed of it. Out of the people the abstraction of private property expelled from its traditional communal right to land, it created a dispossessed class who became the working class, as they were set to work by a rising class of owners of the material means of manufacturing, the capitalist class. This working class became the first class to seriously entertain the notion of overthrowing class rule, but failed in this historic task. The property form was not yet abstract enough to release the virtuality of classlessness that is latent in the productive energies of abstraction itself.
020. It is always the hack that creates a new abstraction. With the emergence of a hacker class, the rate at which new abstractions are produced accelerates. The recognition of intellectual property as a form of property — itself an abstraction, a legal hack — creates a class of intellectual property creators. But this class still labours for the benefit of another class, to whose interests its own interests are subordinated. As the abstraction of private property was extended to information, it produced the hacker class as a class, as a class able to make of its innovations in abstraction a form of property. Unlike farmers and workers, hackers have not — yet — been dispossessed of their property rights entirely, but still must sell their capacity for abstraction to a class that owns the means of production, the vectoralist class — the emergent ruling class of our time.
021. The vectoralist class wages an intensive struggle to dispossess hackers of their intellectual property. Patents and copyrights all end up in the hands, not of their creators, but of a vectoralist class that owns the means of realising the value of these abstractions. The vectoralist class struggles to monopolise abstraction. For the vectoral class, “politics is about absolute control over intellectual property by means of war-like strategies of communication, control, and command.”iii Hackers find themselves dispossessed both individually, and as a class.
022. As the vectoralist class consolidates its monopoly on the means of realising the value of intellectual property, it confronts the hacker class more and more as a class antagonist. Hackers come to struggle against the usurious charges the vectoralists extort for access to the information that hackers collectively produce, but that vectoralists come to own. Hackers come to struggle against the particular forms in which abstraction is commodified and turned into the private property of the vectoralist class. Hackers come as a class to recognise their class interest is best expressed through the struggle to free the production of abstraction, not just from the particular fetters of this or that form of property, but to abstract the form of property itself.
023. The time is past due when hackers must come together with workers and farmers — with all of the producing classes of the world — to liberate productive and inventive resources from the myth of scarcity. The time is past due for new forms of association to be created that can steer the world away from its destruction through commodified exploitation. The greatest hacks of our time may turn out to be forms of organising free collective expression, so that from this time on, abstraction serves the people, rather than the people serving the ruling class.
i Deleuze, Gilles. Negotiations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995, p145. Throughout A Hacker Manifesto, certain protocols of reading are applied to the various textual archives on which it draws, and which call for some explanation. It is not so much a ‘symptomatic’ reading as a homeopathic one, turning texts against their own limitations, imposed on them by their conditions of production. For instance, there is an industry is in the makings, within the education business, around the name of Deleuze, from which he may have to be rescued. His is a philosophy not restricted to what is, but open to what could be. In Negotiations, he can be found producing concepts to open up the political and cultural terrain, and providing lines along which to escape from state, market, party and other traps of identity and representation. His tastes were aristocratic – limited to the educational culture of his place and time – and his work lends itself to the trap of purely formal elaboration of the kind desired by the Anglo-American educational market particularly. One does better to take Deleuze from behind – with his consent — and give him mutant offspring by immaculate conception. Which was, after all, Deleuze’s own procedure. He can be turned away from his own sedentary habits.
ii Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Detroit: Black and Red, 1983, 164. This classic work in the crypto-Marxist tradition sets the standard for a critical thought in action. Debord’s text is so designed that attempts to modify its theses inevitably moderate them, and thus reveal the modifier’s complicity with the ‘spectacular society’ that Debord so (anti)spectacularly condemns. It is a work that can only be honoured by a complete reimagining of its theses on a more abstract basis, a procedure Debord himself applied to Marx, and which forms the basis of the crypto-Marxist procedure.
iii Kroker, Arthur and Michael A Weinstein. Data Trash: The Theory of the Virtual Class. New York: St Martins, 1994, p6. The great merit of this book is to have grasped the class dimension to the rise of intellectual property. It remains only to examine intellectual property as property to arrive at what K+W leave uncharted – the class composition of the new radical forces that might oppose it. Data Trash identifies the new ruling class formation as the ‘virtual class’, whereas A Hacker Manifesto prefers not to offer the virtual up as semantic hostage to the enemy.
For another excerpt from book, please visit:
4. An Interview with Adriana Amaral
Adriana Amaral Blog: www.terminalidentity.blogspot.com
1. Where does the idea of writing the manifesto came from? Why did you choose the concept of hacking?
A manifesto is a way of writing that cuts through a complicated reality and reveals it by asking the reader to position themselves as either for or against. I thought that would be a good way to keep a book that wanted to look at the whole system of the new information commodity society fairly short! It seemed to me, as a writer signing contracts, who knows musicians and programmers and film makers who all have to sign contracts, that we had a common problem and a common interest. So-called ‘intellectual property’ is not like the old patent and copyright regimes of the past, which were short lived and left a lot of work in the public domian. Now intellectual property is an absolute and permanent private property right. But far from being in the interests of creative people, it really serves to consolidate the interests of those who own the means of communication. My friends and I end up signing away out creations to those who own the means of realizing its value. This seems to me to be a whole new kind of class relation. And so I call those of us who create things a ‘hacker class’, even if we are not all programmers, we are all hackers.
2. Through all the text you emphasize and stress the crypto-marxism behind some structures and theories. In your opinion, in which way a crypto-marxist theory could help us understand cyberculture? Do you consider yourself a crypto-marxist?
Marx says in his manifesto that the communists are the ones, in every progressive movement, who ask the ‘property question’: Who owns this? I think he was right about the question but wrong about the answer. Putting all property in the hands of the state is the wrong answer. And so I use this term crpto-Marxist, which is really a bit of a joke terms. Let’s use Marx where he’s useful but not too seriously. Let’s no t turn him into a dogma. He said himself that he was not a ‘Marxist’, so perhaps Marx was the first crypto-Marxist!
3. We watch everyday these social movements like the free software, or even smart mobs, the works from Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, Hakim Bey and so on. They all have, in a certain level, this political engagement behind its surface. How do you see this merge of technology and politics and in which way this social movements can be or not political narratives in the postmodern society? Do you think that it has any relation with the 60s countercultures and movements?
Hardt and Negri are very useful because they are optimists about social change, because they think history from the bottom up, as made by people, and because they think historically and systematically. Where I depart from them is that I think that capitalism is giving way to a whole new kind of commodity economy. I think there is a whole new class struggle, between hackers , who create new information, and what i call a vectoralist class, who monopolise the means of realizing its value. In America, we see the big corporations being hollowed out. Production is exiled to the ‘developing’ world, while head office maintains control of the patents, trademarks and brands. I think that the term ‘multitude’ that Hardt and Negri use obscures this new dimension of class conflict, and misses the key changes in the form of property through which the commodity eocnomy is expanding into a new phase. What is significant about this attempt to transform information into private property is that it can fail. As I say in A Hacker Manifesto: “information wants to be free but is everywhere in chains.” Information can escape from scarcity. It can only be squeezed into the private property form with an intense amount of legal coercion. So perhaps the moment finally arrives when a “political narrative” for “postmodern society” can make sense. The 60s social mo vements were too late and too early. Too late for the worker’s movement; too early for the appearance of the figure of the hacker, and the real possibility of a realm without scarcity, the realm of information.
4. Your text is critique and optimist at the same time. How do you deal with this contradiction?
It’s not a contradiction at all. I’m saying that the commodity economy is producing the means by which it can be superceded. This was the classic argument of critical theory before it got mired in the pessimism of the 40s. The commodity economy is becoming so abstract that it treats things as entirely secondary to the commodification of information. But information has no necessary relation to scarcity. Anyone can copy anything in the information realm without depriving anyone of it. That’s the point where the commodity economy produces the conditions for its own overcoming.
5. I would like you to talk more about intelectual property. How do you see its role and its use in the struggle between the hacker class and the vectorial class?
The ideology of intellectual property is that it protects the creator, but in reality it protects the interests of the owners of the means of realizing its value — the media companies, the tech companies, the drug companies, and so on. A Hacker Manifesto tries to split the creator’s interests off from the owner’s, and show how they are different. The creator’s interests may be closer to that of the consumer — the interests of the people. Freed from intellectual property, creativity finds its own form. When it is constrained by property, it serves merely to reproduce property in its existing form. We need to create new kinds of property relation so that creative activity can be opened up in new ways. There’s an enormous range of struggles where you see this happening all the time. The Free Software Movement and to some extent Open Source. The Creative Commons licence as an alternative to copyright. The struggle over generic drugs, particularly in the deveoping world. Not to mention the whole popular movement in which people copy and share music, movies, texts as a kind of giant gift economy. These are all attempts to hack the property system and expand it for the era of digital creativity.
6. How do you place corporativism in all this context of hacking and information? And when I talk about corporativism I’m not only speaking about the great corporations or the music industry, but also the struggle of some professions to retrieve information or knowledge to their own field, like scientists, etc. How do you see this relationship?
I think there’s a struggle within the sciences between a corporate model and a public interest model. The two competing human genome projects would be an example. generally, most ‘real’ science is created in the public system — corporate science is really just development. But this is a problem because a lot of publicly funded work is being quietly appropriated and privatised. This tension runs right through everything that what I call the hacker class is involved in, whether it be science, the culture industries, or programming. Creativity is always a collaborative act. Nobody can claim to have created the Portugese language, for example, or mathematical notation. We are all standing on somebody’s shoulders. But what you might call the romantic ideology of the author insists that there is a unique creator for every creation. The point of which of course is to secure the creation as the private property of the creator — at least until she or he has to sell it to a corporation. So I think we have to emphasise the collaborative, social aspect of creation, and hence the need for an expansive commons wherein as much of creation can be freely shared. The more you privatise it, the less creativity you end up getting, because its from the sharing and collaborating on common things that new things really emerge.
7. I’ve just mentioned music and I was thinking about the changes in the music industry after the Napster case and also all the exchanges of mp3 files. How do you think this situation between the artists (hackers) and the music industry and majors (vectorialists) will be settled down? And how do you analyze the role of the independent labels in it? And, besides that I was also thinking about the role of electronic music and the act of sampling in these context. Do you think electronic music has increased the interest of people in becoming a hacker?
Music was always a gift economy. Tunes and stories and choruses were passed around and modified as if they were something held in common. The anomaly is the world of private ownership of a tune or a performance. What the new technologies open up is a return to the gift economy of music, where you borrow freely from what’s around and make your mark by just doing it better. H ip Hop does this spontaneously in the 70s, and now its everywhere — sampling, mixing, appropriating, mash ups, and so on. And you notice people making a living without the protection of the property system. You download the song for free and it makes you want to see the band perform.
8. In a certain degree your book has reminded me of the Preface of the Mirrorshades, by Bruce Sterling. Do you think that, in a sort of sense or level, there’s a connection between cyberpunk fiction and the movement that took place on the 80s and all this changes in “real” life that we’ve been experiencing through technology?
I loved that book. William Gibson was a big influence. He was the first realist novelist for the digital age. It’s not science fiction at all. He was just describing reality — but it took a genius to figure out how to do it. I wanted with A Hacker Manifesto to write the book some of those characters might be hiding in an encrypted file somewhere…
9. One last question, you talked about Nietzsche being the originator of critical media theory. How do you see his legacy in the field of communication theories post-humanism and cyberculture?
The Birth of Tragedy is a great bit of media studies. He points us towards trying to imagine how the regime of communication within which we find ourselves might be an artefact of power, a particular network of relations. I would argue that its important not to lose sight of the extent to which class relations in particular are alive and well in our time. That’s why we have to keep asking ‘the property question’, as Marx called it — even if we come up with different answers.
5. Useful Links
The book:
Short version of the text:
Short Reviews:
http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue9_12/wark/index.html http://ludiccrew.org/wark/hackfest/chronicle_interview.htm
A short text on hacking from fiberculture that may or may not open up another relation to McKenzie’s text.
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