The Hackers museum is a guest post series by @the_Psychobilly
Following the previous “Short Internet History” blog post, we continue reviewing the roots of the hacker culture.
The hacker community also has its own origin myths. This mythology is deeply rooted in the 70s literature and anarchist movements. Remember that in the 80s, very few had access to the internet, the alt.cultures were spreading on Zines, books, flyers, mostly analogical mediums.
Post World War II science had accomplished huge steps forward and introduced inside the social bubble a new space pioneer mythology.
It was all about winners, power and the bright side of technology.
Isaac Asimov was predicting robots would always obey humans and be useful slaves.
It was all the colonialist and dominant mindset of the previous era, but it was fading as a new existentialist generation was rising.
HERE CAME CYBERPUNKS
They were science fiction writers, but their view on the future of technology wasn’t utopia. They considered Orwell and Aldous Huxley’s dystopias much more realistic. They gave to the hacker culture a whole set of myths and memes: 23, 42, The Illuminati conspiracy, TAZ, “I see fnords“,… They also gave pop.culture a whole batch of films that shaped the vision of our technological future: “TRON”, “War Games”, “Minority Report”, “Blade Runner”, “A Scanner Darkly”, “Johnny Mnemonic”, “Matrix”,…
Cybernetics is the study of the structure of command and feedback inside a technological system. Cyber- soon became the most misused prefix for everything technological, but it sounded cool. Punks are a nihilist subculture that appeared in England around that same time. Punks are aggressive and loud. That is exactly how that new generation of science fiction writers appeared to the literary intelligentsia. They were called CyberPunks as a defamatory neologism, but those writers were clever enough to claim this medal. They were freaks, outsiders, anarchists and disillusioned utopists who built new symbology on the hashes of the Beat Generation: William Burrough, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
Here are some of the key figures of this movement:
PHILIP K. DICK
Philip Kindred Dick incontestably is the most prolific and prominent CyberPunk. He sold very few books and died a poor man like the true prophet he was.
Nevertheless, his inheritance is ubiquitous and lives up inside today’s culture. Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner film is an adaptation of his book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?“, written 14 years prior. Minority Report also is an adaptation of his book written in 1956. Perhaps his most striking yet unknown book is his 1977 “A scanner darkly“, which had been adapted to cinema in 2006, featuring “our king” Keanu Reeves.
THE CHURCH OF PRINCIPIA DISCORDIA (1963)
“How The West Was Lost“
Greg Hill with Kerry Wendell Thornley under the pseudonyms Malaclypse the Younger and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst founded a mock religion and church.
Creating a new church could deem a strange idea for anarchists, but we have to think again inside the 60s U.S. neo-puritan society stifling strictures. This idea may have emerged following U.S. Supreme Court Free Exercise Clause. In 1963, following the Sherbert v. Verner case, the Supreme Court gave churches an absolute, inalienable, freedom of speech and tax exemption. Religious communities had the right to say and live accordingly to their beliefs, rendering parts of common law enforcement irrelevant. Sheltering your community under the religious umbrella was a tempting idea for people willing to live on the verge of society. It was like hacking the legal system.
The Principia Discordia Manifesto affirms that everything is chaos, and even order is just another face of it. It also says that what we consider to be reality is just a cultural construction, that we have to see beyond, that nothing is true intrinsically. Quite some mind-boggling concepts rooted in the hippie sub-culture.
This manifesto had been widely shared amongst early hackers communities, because of the seducing complexity of its concepts and for its unconventionality, all things an early hacker would vindicate.
Their project was to create a “Cosmic Giggle Factor“, and as Robert Anton Wilson later explained, they had the desire to create “so many alternative paranoias that everybody could pick a favorite, if they were inclined that way.” — that sounds astonishingly contemporary.
This gave us some super interesting early memes:
An element of disinformation, or a trigger hidden in plain sight, that no one can see without being able to focus enough but can cause great damage to personal ability to resist manipulation.
Why “Fnord”, would you ask?
“I bought a brand new shiny Fnord Shelby Mustang, it has a 271Hp V8 engine!”
You had to concentrate on each moment, and when that “awakening state” is reached, it’s said to be a life-changing event, shortened as a motto:
“Now I can see FNORDS!“
You can think of Neo perceiving the Matrix for the first time.
The 23 enigma:
You would see references to this number everywhere in the hacker scene. Here is what the Discordian manifesto tells us:
“All things happen in fives, or are divisible by or are multiples of five, or are somehow directly or indirectly appropriate to 5”
More on that in a next edition of the Hackers Museum series, namely the “Karl Koch case”…
Let’s end this paragraph with a sentence from the Principia Discordia Manifesto:
THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (1981)
Everybody knows how to answer this question:
“What is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything”
Much conjectures and debates spawned on the origin of the answer: “42”, but Douglas Adams, the creator of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” BBC Radio sci-fi series had answered the question:
“The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought ’42 will do’ I typed it out. End of story.”
That’s how you launch an interstellar meme, get with it.
THE ILLUMINATUS TRILOGY (1983)
The Illuminatus trilogy are a series of three novels by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, two editors working for PlayBoy magazine. The Illuminati conspiracy meme has spread across the world from those. The first book is entitled “The Eye in the Pyramid”, where they switched the Freemason’s “Eye of Providence” for a symbol of the Illuminati you could find on every U.S. dollar bill, implying they control the money. Nothing is true, but the purpose is to disseminate ideas encapsulated inside trojans, just like a computer virus.
This trilogy is in direct link with the Discordians, and can be seen as a practical demonstration of its concepts – just read the plot from Wikipedia:
“The prison is bombed and he is rescued by the Discordians, led by the enigmatic Hagbard Celine, captain of a golden submarine. Hagbard represents the Discordians in their eternal battle against the Illuminati, the conspiratorial organization that secretly controls the world. He finances his operations by smuggling illicit substances.”
The purpose of the trilogy is to display a whole bunch of wild conspiracy theories, always retaining a partial coherence with reality to force the reader to question his own perception of reality.
William Gibson wrote Neuromancer in 1984, he was the first writer to use a computer hacker as the main protagonist for his novel.
TEMPORARY AUTONOMOUS ZONE – TAZ (1991)
Peter Lamborn Wilson Aka Hakim Bey is a strange guy, even his life looks like a novel, nonetheless, his “Temporary Autonomous Zone” concept and book had quite some traction in the hacker community. A TAZ basically is a community where rules, social construct and morality don’t exist, and as such, their survival is inherently limited in time and space.
They can’t last because they are fighting every structure of control rooted inside every society. This fight has to end at some point, or reignite somewhere else.
This idea of anarchist bubbles fitted perfectly with the early hackers mindset.
These are some hints, cultural clues you can dig up, this list is obviously partial and incomplete, hope you enjoyed.
Here are some more resources you can consider:
- The Death of Philip K. Dick and the Birth of Cyberpunk
- The Greatest Fake Religion of All Time
- What is the Beat Generation?
- Interview with Peter Lamborn Wilson
- Best cyberpunk books
To be continued…