Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking by E. Gabriella Coleman is an ethnographic study of hackers and the ways they challenges neoliberalism, specifically the privatization of intellectual property law. Coleman argues that free software hackers practice a liberal form of “freedom”, but in doing so provide a critique of neoliberalism and meritocracy. She says,
…F/OSS represents a liberal critique from within liberalism. Hackers sit simultaneously at the center and margins of the liberal tradition. The expansion of intellectual property law, as noted by some authors is part and parcel of a broader neoliberal trend to privatize what was once public or under the state’s aegis, such as health provisions, water delivery, and military services…As such, free software hackers not only reveal a long-standing tension within liberal legal rights but also offer a targeted critique of the neoliberal drive to make property out of almost anything, including software. (pgs. 3-4)
In order for me to understand the complex relationship between liberalism, neoliberalism, meritocracy within Coleman’s particular framework, I had to conceptualize free software hackers as a subculture that although challenges ideology is never participating outside of it. For that reason, hackers are very much influenced by the cultural and social context of their time, but that does not mean that they cannot influence social, political and legal change. Take for example F/OSS license, the GPL or also known as copyleft, the counterpart of copyright license. Coleman describes, “using copyright as its vehicle, the copyleft turns copyright on its head and in the process demystifies copyright’s “absolute” theory of economic incentive” (201). This is an excellent example of counter-hegemonic resistance, which is what Coombe also speaks to, because copyleft uses the language of hegemony to subvert and transform the law. Reminding us that the law itself is not static, rather a production of its cultural, social, and political time. Copyleft therefore represents a desire for a political freedom not just for the hackers, but also for the ones consuming this free software.
Which brings me back to my earlier point, hackers are able to critique and often re-code neoliberal discourses of intellectual property law through counter-hegemonic resistance, but in doing so they practice their own liberalism and meritocracy. We see that with the exclusivity of the hacker subculture (you must prove yourself type of thing) and their politics of humor, which is also coded.
1. Copyleft was strategically using language to subvert the privatization of intellectual property. However, can copyleft become vulnerable to monopolization by corporations who wish to commodify it? If so, is counter-hegemonic resistance not only challenging hegemony, but also fighting to not become hegemonic?
2. Why do hackers hold on to meritocracy even if they are suspicious of it? Is it only a result of culture? Or is there something else influencing that relationship?
like we discussed in class, I wanted to throw up a few 1491s
videos so everyone can check em out and see the kind of humor at work we were discussing...I tried to pick videos that non-Natives unacquainted with cultural context would still (mostly) understand/enjoy :)
also this last video is the film Babakiueria (also mentioned in class, NOT created by the 1491s)--a hilarious satire on colonial occupation in Australia (the video is only like 30min long, so I would definitely recommend watching the whole thing)
Glad to see all of your thoughts on and engagements with Coleman up on the blog. If you haven't you should take some time to check out her website with more links to her recent discussions of the book and of the Anonymous
movement. We can watch one or two of the short clips at the beginning of class to get another angle from Coleman. This
is one that covers a broad swath. You can also check out here Twitter feed @BiellaColeman for up-to-date materials on hackers/hacking/Anonymous etc. Key terms from Coleman to think about:
liberalismmeritocracy (and implementation of...)hackers/hackingfree speechcode is speechliberal individualism vs collective (tensions)hackers legal/political consciousnessethical processes & practices & moral registersethical labornomosmaterial politics of cultural action
29 January 2013:
- Review Coombe: especially last two chapters on Dialogic Democracy
- Coleman intro: watch video on PBS
- Discussion--lead by Rachel and Jen
- Guidelines for Final Project Proposal and work for next week
- Wrap up
Coleman’s Coding Freedom
provides a detailed inlook into the lives of turn of the millennium white upper-middle class male hackers, and the not-so-vibrant social landscapes they comprise. It might be said that the vast majority of hackers fall into this rather predictable demographic, as Coleman does herself, and while this may be true, this narrow focus and generalization misses a lot of what the inter/transnational ‘hacking scene’ looks like, not to mention the Silicon Valley itself. Surprisingly, for example, there was no mention that much of the software being produced in the Silicon Valley (and to some degree, hacked), is created by Iranian engineers; where do they fit in this landscape?
I can appreciate Coleman’s work for its somewhat critical study of hacker identity, pleasure, & liberalism—particularly her assertion that the hackers of study evade a kind of base-level self-awareness, perhaps due to their at times problematic interpretations of liberal ideals—but it honestly seemed to me that Coleman lacked a pretty critical self-awareness as well. She writes of baby hackers ‘colonizing’ a family computer, the ‘whitewashing’ of differentiation among hackers (used to mean the difference between hackers and “crackers”—a pretty offensive appropriation of a term originally used to describe white men who cracked the whip on slaves and now used as a form of discursive resistance by people of color in the US), and even in her introduction acknowledges it’s “difficult” to announce oneself in a strange community with intentions to stay and study at length (but not that it’s problematic or entitled in any way?). This kind of language is totally avoidable and, albeit not central to her arguments, was disappointing to say the least.
I wonder what an ethnography of global networks of hackers would look like now, 10 years after Coleman’s work? It seemed to me that Coleman’s text quite literally privileged upper-middle class, predominately white and male, hackers—what would the landscape of study look like if we were to recenter this narrative on postcolonial cyberspaces? Or even to bring a more critical gaze to the (predominately wealthy white male) anarchist-hacker groups who are increasingly speaking for marginalized communities through their communiqués and hacking activities (Anonymous’ recent #OpThunderbird project
, for example)?
I am also interested in alternative discourses on hacking, particularly those presented by someone other than a white academic. I am reminded of Sri Lankan rapper MIA’s relatively recent mixtape, Vicki Leekx—obviously named after Wiki Leaks (which in itself can be seen as a kind of appropriation of a white male movement to expose US imperial violence).
The video released accompanying an excerpt of the mixtape (released on MIA’s secondary YouTube account, worldtown) indeed utilized video footage of surveillance in Iraq recorded by the US military, leaked by Wiki Leaks. MIA also bought the domain 4thepeopleontheboat.com
, where she uploaded a track off the mixtape and a self-designed .GIF as album artwork—the track itself is dedicated to the refugees who attempt to immigrate to Australia via boat, many of whom are imprisoned at Christmas Island’s detention center.
Finally, the mixtape itself begins includes the lyrics, “We choose the right format/We leak the information to the public/and we defend ourselves against inevitable legal and political attacks…Who says all them rules are made by rulers? We break ‘em and break all their computers/I ain’t buying no more from them looters, who try to out-school us/so we jump on our scooters/I hope you understood us when we say/We don’t make that money on the violence/That’s why we don’t do the silence.” MIA is well-known for both her critiques of the US government (particularly the War on Terror), and has advocated a kind of Third World anticolonial cyberspace feminist activism (XXXO
is yet another track in this vein, meant to interrogate Orientalism, gender roles, and subversive power in social networking sites, harkening to Mona Awana's Palestinian liberation activism
). Obviously all of this happened after Coleman published her book, but MIA is building on a landscape that was already in place for years--how could Coleman's conclusions on hacking reflect the multitude of experiences and political mobilizations in a much more diverse scope of study (could they at all?)?
Questions (I kind of wrote a few in my response but I'll re-enter them here):
- I wonder what an ethnography of global networks of hackers would look like now, 10 years after Coleman’s work? It seemed to me that Coleman’s text quite literally privileged upper-middle class, predominately white and male, hackers—what would the landscape of study look like if we were to recenter this narrative on postcolonial cyberspaces?
- Can Coleman's work on hackers bring a more critical gaze to the (predominately wealthy white male) anarchist-hacker groups who are increasingly speaking for marginalized communities through their communiqués and hacking activities (Anonymous’ recent #OpThunderbird project, for example)?
- How do artists like MIA, well outside the realm of Coleman's study, complicate the narrative presented by the text? Both aesthetically and politically, MIA's work (as presented above) draws on countercultural experiences (none the least of which is her own father's experiences utilizing the internet as a Tamil freedom fighter) that present alternative cartographies of hacking which Coleman's text does not address; what would a re-drawn map look like?
Have you have questioned whether or not computer hackers really spend their whole day staring at their computer screens in a dark basement eating nothing but potato chips? Well, in her 2013 Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking E. Gabriella Coleman certainly does. Encouraged to examine the “sociocultural mechanisms by which technoscience can act as the basis for broader societal transformation” (x), Coleman’s book’s challenges readers to dismiss preconceived notions between software sharing, copyright/copyleft laws, (neo) liberal philosophy, and most significantly, hackers, or rather, computer aficionados. According to Coleman’s critical ethnographic study, all hackers, in one way or another, are committed to “productive freedom,” and that in their “inquisitive passion for tinkering and learning technical systems, [they’re] frequently committed to an ethical version of information freedom” (3). She is interested in documenting the ethical and technical practice of hackers in expanding free software and technical practicality. As a result, Coleman’s work humanizes computer hackers, by ethnographically documenting the social characteristics of hackers, and with it, their cultural politics by examining the “practices of programming, joking, and norms of socialization through which they produce software and their hacker selves” (21).
By grounding her study with the individual experiences, communal networks, and shared committing in making accessible source codes and software, Coding Freedom recounts the historical narrative regarding the origins of Free and Open-Source Software F/OSS, its contentious adolescence between computer hobbyists and corporate employees, and the proliferation/absorption of open software into the global and commercial economy. The bulk of Coleman’s study concerns the philosophical focus of F/OSS hackers, arguing that “the importance of knowledge, self-cultivation, and self-expression” are a vital locus of how they understand freedom (3). In doing so, this book provides a richer understanding as to how discourse of classic liberal philosophy (free speech, free market) does not hold sway when analyzed through the world of computer hackers.
One of the more gravitating aspects of Coleman’s study is the misalignment between claims that liberalism and its material-driven practices secure individual freedom. Accordingly, Coleman study finds this to be of major significance regarding the blossoming possibilities between F/OSS hackers and the limitations offered by a dominant neoliberal global agenda. By offering a critique of (neo) liberalism, “but rarely using the language of neoliberalism” (4), Coleman reveals that hacking provides a legitimate and vital political space for the advancement of alternative ways in theorizing on free access and shared opportunities for information, cyber-activism, and copyleft laws. As she observes in her brief historical account regarding the parallel rise of global policies/institutions and the reformulation of copyright and intellectual property rights:
Neoliberalism champions the rights of individuals, deems monopolies regressive, and relishes establishing a world free of government regulation…however, the actual instantiation of neoliberal free trade requires active state intervention, regulation, and [as such] monopolies…and the global regulation of intellectual property law is perhaps one of the clearest instances of the contradictory underpinnings of neoliberal practice (73).
Highlighting this incongruous, Coleman provides readers an insightful example to the duplicity of US entrepreneurs and global elites in (re) fashioning international laws through the protection of classic western liberal rhetoric. Her analysis reveals a timely analysis to why intellectual property rights were reconfigured, and the role that F/OSS hacker, (un) willingly, had in it. In all, I really found Coding Freedom to be a fascinating account to what Boyle and Coombe have argued to be a dire, unequivocal issue for people, ideas, and freedom.
1) As any historical-ethnographic study should, Coleman humanizes the world of hacking. Specifically, she does this through numerous ways such as joining IRC and attending cons. This question regards how Coleman incorporates name-dropping as a potential for political resistance. Citing the historical trajectories of (now) important names, such as Bill Gates and Richard Stallman, do you think this is helpful in her larger critique of neoliberal intellectual property regulations?
2) In “A Tale of Two Legal Regimes” Coleman traces the mid eighties/early nineties period to have seen the consolidation of new trade associations as well as the moment whereby the creation of Free Software (FSF) was created. She goes on to write that it was during this time that “many hackers also spoke a sophisticated legal language about the workings of intellectual property” (89). Returning to Kim’s question post to us last week, can we ascribe the example of “amateur legal scholars” (think Stallman, FSF, and the GNU project with Linux (p. 74) as an ethics of contingency? Or am I still thinking on institutional application vs. theoretical positioning?
(working through a massive headache this morning, so apologies for any weirdness)
E. Gabriella Coleman's Coding Freedom (2013) provides an ethnography of hacker life that details the intricacies of hackers' relationship to various components of (neo)liberalism. She argues that in order to work against the expansion of intellectual property law, F/OSS programmers use the liberal notion of free speech, thus revealing the tensions in our own political/ethical institutions and supposedly cherished values of the right to protection of private property and thee free expression of ideas.
Two elements of this argument in particular allowed me to have something of a cohesive understanding of how hackers are able to maintain this kind of ethical standard. The first element is the breakdown of hackers' understanding of code as speech. Coleman demonstrates how hackers define "free" in various ways -- from the "free to consume" sort of free (free beer) to "free to edit and share" (free speech). According to Coleman, hackers consider code to be speech because of the "difficulty of drawing a sharp line between functionality and expression in software” (174). She quotes extensively from Seth Schoen's decryption poem (which serves as a translation or "re-creation of the original DeCSS decryption software programmed by Johansen) to show his understanding of exactly how code is speech:
some day by shuffling
those numbers: Pythagoras
said "All is number"…
It changed the world, it
Changed our consciousness and lives
To have such fast math
us and anyone who cared
to learn programming…
that they alone should
know or have the right to teach
these skills and these rules…
And all mathematics
is full of stories…
and CSS is
no exception to this rule.
Sing, Muse, decryption”
Asserting both that "all is number" and that "mathematics is full of stories," Schoen asserts through this work that code, while functional as mathematical formulae, also works to form an expressive narrative, though laypeople often don't visualize it that way. Schoen and other hackers logically argue that if code is expressive, and speech is expressive, then code is speech and should be protected under the law. Further, this protection should take precedence over intellectual property law.
Another element that I found intriguing is how hackers attempt on some level to circumvent the notion of the romantic author. Coleman argues that hackers, in addition to experiencing the daily frustrations of programming code, often experience what she labels the jouissance of "Deep Hack Mode" (13). Hackers experience a pleasure in hacking so intense that they tend to lose any sense of self. This loss of self then seems to allow the hacker to let go of the notion of individual ownership of the idea and thus ensuring that hackers as a group do not feel the need to insist on economic incentives to create/share knowledge nor possibly even credit for their code. I am not sure whether I am interpreting this process correctly, which is something we could discuss. But Coleman says,
If court case after court case, economist after economist, and all sorts of trade associations stipulate that economic incentives are absolutely (or self-evidently) necessary to induce labor and secure creativity, hackers counterstipulate such views, not simply through the power of rhetoric, but also through a form of collective labor [that results in part from hacker jouissance?] that yields high-quality software (software that happens to power much of the Internet). 186.
In particular, how does this notion of hacker jouissance and the loss of autonomy square with hackers' apparent commitment to "the organizational ideal of meritocracy, a performance-based system that applauds individual skill, encourages respectful competition between peers, and sanctions hierarchies between developers” (120-1)?
With thanks to Kim's helpful links, I also wanted to consider the notion of Creative Commons licensing and how that might be thought of from a hacker point of view. From the Creative Commons website:
Every license helps creators — we call them licensors if they use our tools — retain copyright while allowing others to copy, distribute, and make some uses of their work — at least non-commercially. Every Creative Commons license also ensures licensors get the credit for their work they deserve.
So, two things here. First, authorship is preserved through credit of the work. Second, the license cannot be used to make money from an expressive endeavor that uses this licensed work. One can create works with other people’s work and distribute that work for free, but only the “author” has the right to make money from the original product (if I understand this correctly). Where would hackers stand on this?
Finally, with regard to traditional knowledge circulation: if hackers value the free exchange and expansion of knowledge, would they then support a system of traditional knowledge circulation that places protections (i.e. exclusions) on how that knowledge circulates online, even if such protections are for the benefit of indigenous communities who have little protection otherwise?
E. Gabriella Coleman's book Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking (2013) is an ethnography of Free and Open Source Software hackers working on the Debian Linux Operating System. Coleman through her ethnography explores the rise and political significance of the free and open source software (F/OSS) movement in the United States and Europe. She tracks the ways in which hackers collaborate and examine passionate manifestos, hacker humor, free software project governance, and festive hacker conferences. Coding Freedom details the ethics behind hackers' devotion to F/OSS, the social
codes that guide its production and the political struggles through which hackers question the scope and direction of copyright and patent law. Through the narrative of the F/OSS movement, the book unfolds a broader discursive mechanism involving computing, the politics of access, and intellectual property. Coleman begins with the statement that concurrently claiming absolute political neutrality and organizing work in radical ways the F/OSS "Hackers sit simultaneously at the center and margins of the liberal tradition"
(p. 3). Coleman opens with a composite life story of the "typical" hacker, composed from 70 interviews both in person and over email and IRC. Hackers, despite their monolithic media portrayal as vaguely anarchist loners, are a politically and socially diverse community. In fact, Coleman identifies that their only shared
commitment was a commitment to what she calls productive freedom. She explains,
"This term designates the institutions, legal devices, and moral codes that hackers have built in order to
autonomously improve on their peers’ work, refine their technical skills, and extend craftlike engineering traditions" (p.3).
Coleman states that while primarily interested in coding for computers, hackers invariably and unavoidably develop a passable knowledge of intellectual property law. More prolific and successful hackers typically
find themselves dealing with law as much as code. Many begin to recognize the two as intimately intertwined. Further, she states that the importance of understanding, or even altering, IP law is a prerequisite for innovative F/OSS development. Coleman's greatest achievement is her contribution to
political theory. She argues that F/OSS hackers, by effectively arguing that code is speech, were able to marshal the rhetorical (and legal) power of classical liberal ideals. She points out that this seemingly cryptic debate was actually a powerful critique of the fundamental principle of liberal democracy; particularly that the rights of private property and free speech were in opposition and must be reconciled. In defending the "hacker lifeworld" hackers and their legal compatriots (i.e. Stallman and Lessig), showed how free speech/software could exist alongside a new kind of property ownership regime. Coleman states that hackers engage in "a material politics of cultural action" (p. 185). Further, she argues that while F/OSS,
"is foremost a technical movement based on the principles of free speech, its historical role in transforming other arenas of life is not primarily rooted in the power of language or the discursive articulation of a broad political vision. Instead, it effectively works as a politics of critique by providing a living counterexample…" (p. 185)
The very act of producing free software is "an embedded critique of the assumptions that dominate the moral geography of intellectual property law" (p.186). By performing and living their politics, hackers
demonstrated that their critique of liberal politics was the correct one. The result was a massive transformation of intellectual property law that, while not complete, has made remarkably large and quick changes. Coding Freedom concludes with a measured and very precise description of the limits of these tactics and the questions it raises about radical and reformist politics.
My primary concern about this book was Coleman's gendered writing. Even though she begins with disclaimers that she would use the male pronoun (throughout the chapter) who, at an early age, was intrigued by the inner-workings of engineered objects, I found it disturbing. Though her arguments about liberalism were insightful, I am skeptic to her dominant male perspective of the issue. However, saying this, I feel throughout the book, Coleman did a very good job of providing incredibly concise, easily understandable definitions or explanations of key concepts. For example her explanation of neoliberalism instantiation of free trade, which she explains as,
"Neoliberalism champions the rights of individuals, deems monopolies regressive, and relishes establishing a world free of national boundaries with little or no friction (Ong, 2006). In practice,
however, the actual instantiation of neoliberal free trade requires active state intervention, regulation, and monopolies (Harvey, 2005; Klein, 2008). And the global regulation of intellectual property law is perhaps one of the clearest instances of the contradictory underpinnings of neoliberal practice- a monopoly mandated by trade associations as a globa; precondition for so- called free
trade" (p. 73).
These small definitions keep her analysis coherent, and her audience engaged. I am making an extended note of it because it is such an important skill, which is woefully absent from most writing (for example, in
last week's readings as I had mentioned earlier, it would have been better if Coombe had explained what she intended to imply by the term ethics of contingency). Last but not the least, Coleman makes excellent and quick use of a wide variety of concepts including but not limited to, Latour and Woolgar's inscription device (p. 57), Heidegger's things and objects (p. 99), and Marcuse's pure tolerance (p. 195).
1. Coleman's Coding Freedom describes the emergence of a community dedicated to the production of free and open source software--and to hacking as a technical, aesthetic, and moral project--What does it reveal about the values of contemporary liberalism? Can this be perceived as an alternate way to think outside legal frameworks in our attempt to engage with the cultural and social spaces of IP are the
2. Coding Freedom reminded me of the online activist group Anonymous
. Coleman also talks about them in her epilogue (p. 210). I not sure how many of you remember the WSU hacking case in November 2011 (check out the Youtube video). What do you all think of the WSU hacker? It became national news
as it fundamentally challenged the economic and social structures of an academic institute, but do you think that such an attempt would create a social commonwealth, where the hard work of freedom can be practiced.
Coleman, E. G. (2013). Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking. Princeton University Press.
All three books we have read thus far push us past the obvious, entrenched and dogmatic notions of freedom, openness and public (s). Coleman gives us a critical ethnographic eye helping us see what this type of methodology offers alongside Boyle's legal realism and Coombe's critical legal anthropological approach. Coleman gives us a look at how language circulates, grow, changes and is MOBILIZED to foster new actions, practices, legal regimes and labor. Freedom circulates within the hacker vocabulary in various ways historically and of course we can see it now in this particular technical-cultural-legal moment.
Coleman shines a light on the tensions and the historical groundedness of this free-dom talk within classic liberalism, neo-liberalism, a growing globalism all attached to and in a recursive relationship with legal regimes and doctrines as well as very material artifacts like computers and more ephemeral ones like software. Coleman's title should give away some key touchpoints in here argument: Coding Freedom: the Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking
. Let's pay attention to: ethics and aesthetics within not just the hacking community, but also let's examine, via Coleman, how these are inserted into larger public, corporate and legal debates about information, technology and the social life of knowledge.
As we move to discussion let's engage with Coleman's argument about the tensions born at the intersections of liberalism, F/OSS and a rising US-centric, expansive IP legal regime. There are many signposts along the way we can read to decipher the changing register of freedom--legal, ethical, social, material-- let's not forget the: Open Source Initiative, Debian Social Contract, GNU Manifesto, Creative Commons licenses, traditional knowledge circulation, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
As Jen mentioned, she and I are the facilitators of this week’s reading of Coleman (2013). While I will give a general overview of the book in the first part of this, I will be focusing more on the second part of the text.
In Coding Freedom: the Media and Aesthetics of Hacking, Coleman (2013) used a critical ethnographic approach to examine the ways in which the computer hacker culture challenge, re-conceptualize and expand upon the notions of freedom and liberalism. Specifically, focusing on the efforts of hackers that create free/open sourced software (F/OSS), Coleman (2013) explores not only how “…free software hacking critiques neoliberal trends and reinvents liberal ideals by asserting a strong conception of productive freedom in the face of intellectual property restrictions, it also addresses the material, affective, and aesthetic dimensions of hacking” (p. 4). She does this through the examination of the use of humor as a way to negotiate the tensions of hacker interactions within a world that is marked by the dynamic tensions of issues like individualism versus collectivism and populism versus elitism; how the inherent nature of F/OSS hacking has made these kind of hackers nascent legal experts who can critique and challenge modern intellectual property ideas, and; in the end, Coleman (2013) examined how the tenets of alternative liberalism and freedom born within F/OSS projects are transcending the hacker world to inform and complicate other realms of public discourse.
Anita Bryant, post-pieing.
While I plan on talking about all of parts II and III in depth while leading class discussion this week, there was one aspect of Coleman’s (2013) argument that I found relatively interesting in relation to the rest of the book and that was how hackers use humor within interactions. As tensions and frictions arose during interactions in and amongst hackers, humor was used to resolve them. Specifically, Coleman (2013) stated that: “Taking a close look at these frictions takes us a long way toward understanding the social context under which these hackers labor and why free speech ideals—in contrast to those of intellectual property instruments—resonate with their experiences” (p. 94-95). Initially, I was skeptical about Coleman’s (2013) connection between free speech ideals and humor, craftiness, cleverness and ingenuity (p. 95), the use of humor as a form of political speech is something that has been well documented in the past. From satire, to pranking to the contentious issue of pieing (Harold, 2004), humor as a political weapon for social commentary and political change has gained attention in the past several years. What was especially interesting was how humor amongst hackers was not only a sign of ingenuity and craftiness, but it was also a tool for enculturation, through the use of inside jokes, and a way negotiate tensions caused by simultaneously living in both an individualistic culture and a collectivistic culture. The latter was proven through the use of snarky comments like “read the fucking manual” (RTFM) when dealing with people asking obvious questions of fellow hackers (Coleman, 2013). Interestingly, Coleman’s (2013) anthropolgical background comes through in her analysis of humor as a tool of culture, because she frames her argument of humor as a tool of enculturation and political change as an “already given” understanding. However, there is a growing body of literature that is skeptical to whether or not humor can be a vehicle for political or social change, or whether it is actually a symptom of an underlying cause for the above mentioned changes. While this one critique of Coleman’s (2013) book is not nearly complete, it does act as a starting point for several discussion questions I have about Coding Freedom, a couple of which I have listed below:
1. What is your opinion of humor being regarded as a political, social and/or cultural agent for change (or maintaining the status quo)? While Coleman (2013) does acknowledge that humor is often a sign of craftiness and/or ingenuity, she also frames her argument as if humor itself is what is maintaining and/or changing the culture amongst F/OSS hackers. Is this something that is unique to the hacker culture, or can this be translated to society at large?
2. In her argument that intellectual property laws need to be revamped because “code is speech,” Coleman (2013) quoted Schoen’s DeCSS haiku: “(Do they understand/ the content, or is it just/ the effects they see?)” (p. 177). If the juridical system were to eventually agree that code acts exactly as speech does and is therefore protected under the First Amendment, how would the precedence effect other forms of media like film, television, music and web content?
Coleman, E. G. (2013). Coding freedom: The ethics and aesthetics of hacking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Harold, C. (2004). Pranking rhetoric: "Culture jamming" as media activism. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 21(3), 189-211. doi: 10.1080/0739318042000212693.
Sign on Fairchild AFB: "OBEDIENCE IS FREEDOM"
Taken at face value this sign represents the conundrum of American Liberty. Coleman's hackers would be the first to rebel against its Orwellian doublespeak. But on the other hand, knowing that open source free code can be exacting and that obedience to the code is necessary to produce meaning with it, a second thought epiphany may come. I would argue that the work of Freedom cannot proceed without some restrictions to liberty. Coleman's free beer-free speech comparison revealed the doublespeak of "Free". If "meaning is use" (i think it was Wittgenstein?) then the utility of F/OSSoftware wins the day. Where would I be without Google? I am old enough to remember the days of MS DOS and I do not wish to return to them. The myriad programs that have come and gone since 1952 when WSU's mainframe filled a large room are testament to the fact that today's "free" internet depended on "geeks" and the pursuit of problem solution for the sake of problem solved thinking. As big blue IBM softened its hardline towards F/OSS in recognition that they can make more in the long run with a Free interface with open source code, the encouragement of other capitalists to enter the fray may reflect a new sense of Corporate Social Responsibility toward the intellectual commons. To make it so, the corpses must be brought to their knees by the "people". The 99% need to make their voices heard in this contest, demanding free speech-free code. The time for political ambiguity is past and gone. Now it is necessary to politicize in order to make the corpses "obey"! How to produce freedom of speech? Speak! More on this later... See Glenn Greenwald's latest blurb; "The Pentagon's New Massive Expansion of "Cyber-Security" Unit is About Everything Except Defense: Cyber-threats are the new pretext to justify expansion of power and profit for the public-private National Security State." Is the war on terror shifting gears to go after hackers? The pentagon is law enforcement wrote LARGE. Get this quote from Adm. Michael McConnell: "we need to reengineer the Internet to make attribution, geolocation, intelligence analysis and impact assessment-who did it, from where, why and what was the result- more manageable." (Washington Post)
WIRED's Ryan Singel wrote: "He's talking about changing the Internet to make everything anyone does on the net traceable and geo-located so the National Security Agency can pinpoint users and their computers for retaliation." !!! Complete control of the Internet, the ability to crash the entire thing, is the goal. The CIA and NSA are hiring hackers to mine data. They'll train you and pay you well to destroy the FREE INTERNET. Wildly exaggerated claims of cyber-threats justify this huge invasion of privacy and freedom. WIRED's Singel wrote: "Make no mistake, the military industrial complex now has its eye on the Internet. Generals want to train crack squads of hackers and have wet dreams of cyberwarfare." Pentagon power over the Internet will end the F/OSS freedom to create. The big intelligence contractors, like Booz-Allen, will be the big winners when, not if, this happens. Hackers must speak out or forever hold their peace.
How can hackers and their supporters prevent this loss of freedom?
Can we take Boyle, Coombe, and Coleman for ammunition in this fight, or will the Internet simply lay down before the power of the Pentagon?
What would Lessig say about this cyber-warfare propaganda? Orwell?