May Contain Hackers
"Shoot a web3 developer" – the speaker, my acquaintance Ella, is being provocative, but it touches a nerve. It's day 3 of MCH2022, one of the northwestern european hacker camps (along with Chaos Camp, Electromagnetic Field, BornHack) which used to be in a four-year rotation, but are now all trying to make up for lost time, pretty much all at once.
It's been a few years since we were all together. There have been some remote conferences like RC3, but there is something about the blinkenlights themselves that adds to the gravity of a camp like this. Not to mention the ice-cold Club Mate (florapower hit da bricks). In much the same way that not seeing your kid cousin for a few years will lead you to believe they've hit a growth spurt, the shifts in the various threads of conversation are extremely palpable.
On climate change: we are no longer talking about how to avert catastrophe. We are no longer talking about methods of resistance, hacktivism, cyberdisobedience. We are talking about how to survive. We are talking about how to augment and instrumentalize our skills as makers and doers, in order to build resilience in the face of ecological and social collapse.
On security: we are no longer talking about cybersecurity. We are talking about the security of globally organized civilization. The network is transitioning into its role as critical infrastructure in much the same way that electricity did – slowly, slowly, then all at once.
On blockchains: we are no longer hopeful that this novel datastructure might meaningfully move the needle on concentration of wealth and power. The rapid and thoroughgoing capitulation of 'cryptoanarchist' hackers to capital (i.e web3) paints our technoutopian past as prologue. 'Escaped from the lab' is our once-and-future sin, and we had better not talk about it - we seem unable to recognize that hackerdom keeps repeating the same mistakes.
We are in a dance with the devil, gazing at our shoes, refusing to look our partner in their glowing eyes.
Tor: largely funded and used by the 'defense' and 'intelligence' apparatus. Blockchains: mostly used by financiers. We act as toolmakers for a class of oligarchs that can take virtually any technological invention, as long as it exists within the cybernetic paradigm, and turn it into a weapon for repression.
Enlightenment values and the Westphalian state give us erstwhile serfs just enough freedom that we stay inside the box. We could be radically more free. We could have radically more agency. We could live in symbiosis with earth's systems. No one would have to work to survive. All of this is possible, and it's a failure of imagination to think otherwise.
It is easy and convenient to believe that we'll get free by cultivating 'network states' or diasporic network nations, but it is delusional. It ignores the fundamental nature of 'tokens' as instruments of finance, the value chains and protocols that undergird the internet, and the materialist forces that move history. In theory, yes: a world-brain with no central authority might reshape trust, and thereby reshape power. But that is not not what the armies of web3 are building – and that's not what the internet is, either.
I don't have any answers. But it's clearer to me now than it has ever been: hackerdom as a political philosophy is dead. Makerdom, too, if it ever even lived. What is left, perhaps, are invention, imagination, ingenuity, and the raw forces that always seemed to animate the scene. What happens when we stop identifying with computing machinery as a subculture, and instead start identifying with life?
I am no longer a hacker. I'm an earthling trying to survive.