Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hactivism: The Nonviolent Revolution

It’s hard to be a cynic. I do appreciate the fact that it prevents me from occupying myself with ultimately futile activities. However, cynicism can too easily turn into hopelessness, which begets apathy. I don’t want to be apathetic. How do I reconcile my ideals and my desire for social change with the reality that the ideologies and relationships that constitute power permeate every single aspect of life, including institutionalized movements for change? Including revolutions?

I am opposed to violence. Violence is a function of structures of inequality. It is the basis of patriarchy and slavery and capitalism. Yet, is it possible to transform our world without violence? How?

I don’t believe in the “political process” – whatever that means in reality. There is no boundary separating corporate and financial interests from the institutional apparatus of sanctioned violence and social coercion that is the state. Trying to re-shape the system from within the system is like trying to dry yourself off in the shower. When is the last time that a boycott or a petition created lasting, meaningful social change? Even the protests that constituted the so-called “Arab Spring.” What is fundamentally different in Egypt or Tunisia or Libya, aside from greater poverty and more weapons floating around? Yet, if I take violence and politics off of the table, what is left?

I have long held that technology would be the “creation of the system that ultimately destroys the system.” I have talked a bit about the potential of the internet, in particular, to subvert and escape global capitalism. Yet, I have never given too much thought to hacking, as an aggressive action against the system. It’s getting hard to ignore these days. For one thing, we now live in a world where cyber attacks and cyber security are a solid reality. We have WikiLeaks providing us with classified documents. And we have groups like Anonymous, who hack corporations, governments, and other groups to make social/political statements.

We don’t need weapons to dismantle capitalism. Its entire infrastructure is digitally based, and totally vulnerable to cyber attack. We don’t need to engage in endless debates about the nature of power and the government, trying in vain to convince people that democracy is a sham. Hackers can pull away the curtain and show us who’s really back there and what they are doing.

The only problem is that, currently, hactivists tend to be stuck in the old mindset. They employ a “rights” framework and fight for isolated “freedoms.” They protest against particular governments – governments that are under the thumb of industrial powers, no less – without seeing the larger forces that are responsible for the actions of these governments. Overall, they retain a very reformist attitude, and they are not able to keep sight of the larger picture: the particular articulation of capitalist relations, liberal discourses, bureaucracy, and governmental power that orders global and local social structures.

Hactivism could be a very effective nonviolent form of resistance. It just requires a very clear definition of the enemy, and a will to complete transform society.

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