Editor’s note: Richard Thieme’s new book, “Islands in the Clickstream” is a collection of over 150 reflections on the digital world. WTN will be reprinting excerpts from selected chapters of “Islands in the Clickstream” until the end of the month. This week features an excerpt from chapter four, “Hacking and the Passion for Knowledge.” We hope you will enjoy these samples of Thieme’s writings.
Hactivism and Soul Power
The danger with taking the moral high ground is that, once you take it, you no longer have it.
Saul Alinksy, a great community organizer, was committed to delivering power into the hands of the powerless. He worked to create structures that would shift the flow toward the dispossessed. He was an engineer of the Tao, or “Way,” which is often likened to a waterflow seeking its own level. The Tao is impossible to resist because it’s how energy in the universe flows, it’s the flow, and it’s the energy, all at the same time. So when we align our energies with the Tao, our actions are boosted beyond anything we might achieve on our own. Alinsky focused on the flow, not the organizational structures. The structures were necessary but temporary, like irrigation ditches designed to channel the waters of a river. He helped organize the Back of the Yards Council in Chicago, for example, to give power to neighborhood people but when, a decade or so later, the Council has become reactionary, he organized others against it.
Once we seize the moral high ground, we lose it if we try to hold it. We become what we are fighting. Organizational structures become constraints instead of means of liberation. When we identify the right with organizational structures and then act on behalf of those structures, we can justify anything. Once we think we’re right because we belong to the organization instead of determining right action by the context, we turn the Tao into a river of blood.
We hear a lot these days about hacktivism. One form of hacktivism is the use of hacking skills to crack web sites and deface them or replace them with political messages.
During recent Israeli-Palestinian battles, criminal hackers or “crackers” affiliated with both sides attacked one another’s Web sites. In one incident, a Pakistani stole the credit card numbers of members of a pro-Israel lobbying group and posted them on the Web.
A single computer in the hands of a child has more leverage in the digital era than a rock in the hands of a rioter. Destroy one node in the network and another node becomes the center.
Hactivism is celebrated by some as a sign that young technophiles are growing up and using their skills to a purpose. Instead of leaving graffiti, they are “hacking with a higher purpose.”
If we mean that technophiles are creating software like “Hactivismo,” a program that enables oppressed people to access human rights information or news reports blocked by their governments, that might be true.
But the use of cracking skills to defame and deface, regardless of one’s side, always defeats the higher purpose. Whatever sense of righteousness motivated the act in the first place is lost in the act itself.
Such hactivism is “hacking-and-hiding,” throwing stones, then ducking for cover, which merely escalates the level of virtual violence. It’s a power play on behalf of a power rush.
Action on behalf of the Tao, that is, action on behalf of the powerless, the dispossessed, the genuinely victimized, always transforms the battlefield by revealing injustice in the bright light of undeniable revelation. Such action manifests what Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. called “soul power,” which is the power of a human being with integrity, focus, and high intentionality to expose an unjust law by confronting it … and accepting the consequences.King’s letter from a Birmingham jail sounds like it was written on the Internet.
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, ” he wrote, “tied in a single garment of destiny.”
This “systems approach” to human consciousness ought to resonate with people who live on the Web. But for that to happen, we have to not just live in a web—we all do, online and off—we have to SEE the web in which we live, we have to see the luminous threads connecting us indissolubly into a single field of consciousness. We have to see that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” because life in our quantum world is non-local.
“Whatever affects one directly,” said King, “affects all indirectly.”
A hacker once suggested to me that the chat rooms in which he once hung out resembled an island of lost boys, bootstrapping themselves into adulthood without benefit of counsel. They needed an image or icon of higher possibility, he said, which could disclose, illuminate and called forth their hidden possibilities into the light of day.
He too was talking about “soul power.”
First, said King, collect the facts to determine whether injustices are alive. Then negotiate. Then comes self-purification, and only then, direct action.
Self-purification has a quaint ring to it, doesn’t it, after decades in which we extolled greed and self-indulgence?
But listen to the words of a man who spent his life as a spy.
“We need something like a ‘holy knight,’ he said. “We need people trained in the deepest spiritual truths. In some of the situations in which we put our agents, the only thing preventing a horrible death is their capacity to tune into multiple levels of awareness.
“We looked to the east, to martial arts and generic spiritual disciplines back-engineered from other cultures, to train them in those spiritual arts. But I think we have models in our own traditions, we just don’t know how to use them.”
He was talking about the will and discipline to act on behalf of what we see in the depths of our souls. The structures we build on behalf of liberation may constrain us or set us free, but ultimately, it is right action that creates freedom: Right action on behalf of real victims of injustice, after which we have the courage not to mistake the means for the end, the tools for the task, or the people now set free for the freedom they sought.
Richard Thieme wrote this piece on Jan. 1, 1997. Reprinted by permission of Syngress Publishing. Thieme can be reached at email@example.com.