Hackers and the Gnostic Tradition
1:55AM Jul 31, 2020
Welcome back to hackers on planet earth 2020, everyone watching around the world. If you'd like to participate. It's not too late. Visit us at hope dotnet the tickets are half price as well we're halfway through the conference as the only way you're gonna get a chance to ask questions of our next presenter the tar Quinn. Speaking about hackers and the Gnostic tradition hackers and hacker culture I'll usually per trade as being novel with even the earliest proposed dates for hackers as a cultural group only going back to the 1960s or so. The dark when a Seattle based hacker researcher. So, sorry about that. It's hard when a Seattle based hacker security researcher and most importantly a philosophy school dropout. We'll be talking about hacker culture in the light of early here cultural movements. First we're gonna have a video, and then our speaker the dark when we'll be back or Q and A.
Hi folks, my talk today is entitled hackers and the Gnostic tradition. And if I comport myself Well, it's gonna be somewhere in the middle ground between a talk, a polemic and fever dream. Basically I'm hoping I can land somewhere between sociological connecting and arcane right, we'll see how it goes. But first, about myself. I'm the Darwin, sometimes known as Aaron Brown. I'm a philosopher, like a lot of philosophers I've dropped out of academic philosophy. I'm unusual only in that I've dropped out not once, but twice. I also have a day job. I'm the principal security engineer for a healthcare research company called emanation health. I'm very lucky to work with a lot of people who are smarter than me doing stuff that actually helps make the world a better place. I should note here that I speak only for myself, and not at all for my employer. And finally, I'm a hacker. And that's really the part I want to focus on today. Now, being a philosopher, is a lot like being a four year old in the EU end up asking why a lot, and I genuinely believe that why is almost always a good, and sensible question to ask. So why am I giving this talk, well on one level, I'm giving this talk, simply because I think there's a lot of interesting correlations between historic knowledge centered cultures and modern hacker culture. In particular, I'm going to be talking about the Gnostics of the first through the third century CE II. I'll be spending most of my time talking about how I think the Gnostics in particular has an interesting similarities to hackers, before moving on to talk about the alchemists of the Renaissance, who were breakers of systems in their own way. Then, I'll finally descend into madness and talk about the occultist of the late 19th and early 20th century. Each of these cultures took the pursuit of knowledge and some of some kind, as a central tenant. And as a result, bear some passing resemblance to those of us gathered here today. Here being wherever the world you happen to be gathered on a more fundamental level though. I'm hoping to make the case that there are things that hackers can learn from these previous cultures, to help us be more true to the hacker spirit, and to actually enrich our own culture and our own lives. But finally, I'm trying to, to encourage you to reflect on and accept that hackers do in fact have a culture. And that our culture is important, a source of value and worth preserving. I don't think that I'm arguing for any kind of like class consciousness here,
but I'm definitely trying to argue for cultural awareness.
But first I'd like to open with a reading. This is just an excerpt but some of you will be familiar with it. I made a discovery today. I found a computer. Wait a second. This is cool. It does what I want to. If it makes a mistake, it's because I screwed it up, not because it doesn't like me. And then it happened, a door open to a world rushing through the phone line like heroin through attics veins in the electronic pulses sent out a refuge from the day to day and competencies is sought a board is found. This is it. This is where I belong. I know everyone here, even if I've never met them, never talk to them, may never hear from them again. I know you all. Damn kid tying up the phone line again, they're all like, you bet your ass we're all like we've been spoon fed baby food at school when we hungry for steak. The bits of meat that you did let's, let's look through we're pre chewed and tasteless. We've been dominated by status or ignore by the apathetic, the few that has something to teach us found willing pupils, but those few are like drops of water in the desert. This is our world now, the world of the electron of the switch. The beauty of the pod, we make use of a service already existing without paying for for it for what could be dirt cheap if it wasn't run by profit terian gluttons, and you call us criminals. We explore. And you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge, and you call us criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias. And you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder cheat and lie to us to try to make us believe as far as I'm good at we're the criminals. Yes, I'm a criminal. By crime is that a curiosity, my crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like, my crime is that about smartview, something that you will never forgive me for. Now, if we were in person, here's where I would ask for an Amen, the conscience of a hacker, which is a text, I think a lot of us are at least passingly familiar with. I think speaks to the Gnostic connection I want to talk about today. And in part, it's because it speaks to that connection because all cultures have a set of stories that they tell about themselves. So if we're going to be talking about hacker culture, we should understand the story that we tell ourselves about that culture, and especially we should understand the story that we tell ourselves about the history of hacker culture.
I'm going to give you an abbreviated version of it before we jump,
way back in the past.
Now the story that many of us carry around about hackers looks something like this. In the mists of prehistory 70 or so years ago, there was some bored mischievous kids at MIT. Then it was the early 1970s, and some folks were whistling down phone lines for free calls. Then in the late 1980s everyone went to jail for a while. And now we all live in a William Gibson novel and all of us work in infosec. Now, of course, this is a pretty impoverished view of hacker history. Like I said, it's the one that most of us are kind of operating with, especially younger generations of hackers are walking around with roughly this level of understanding in their heads. Now that's not really, or at least not entirely their fault but unpacking why would be a completely own talk on its own.
And I'm not really here to give you a history of hackers.
What I'm here is to give you, in a sense of pre history. I'm here to see if we can look at other similar cultures throughout the history of the world and learn something from them. That might inform our world today.
But first, I want to do another reading
this reading is from my gnostic gospel, called the Apocrypha of john. The teaching of the Savior, and the revelation of the mysteries, and the things hidden in silence for the perfection as majestic. He has pure and measurable mind. He has knowledge giving knowledge. And I said, Lord, those who have not known to whom they belong. Where will those their souls be. And he said to me, in those that despicable spirit has gained strength when they went astray. And he burdens the soul and draws it to the works of evil. He casts it down into forgetfulness, they bind it with chains and cast it into prison and consort with it until it is liberated from the forgetfulness, and acquires knowledge. And if thus it becomes perfect. It is saved.
Gnosticism, the name of which comes from the Greek gnosis meaning to know, think of like agnostic. It's kind of a similar etymology. It describes a set of religious beliefs that arose in the Middle East, starting around the second century BCE, and flourishing into the early era of Christianity. As an alternative, and heretical understanding of the Judeo Christian faith
in Gnosticism, the God that created the world is not one to be worshipped, but rather a tyrannical Warden who created the earth as a prison. This God who is known as the demiurge, or by the name yalda both created the world to capture souls, and to imprison them in bodies of flesh stuck in a broken and fallen world, the Gnostics understood knowledge is the only way to escape this prison. They taught that when when done their soul would ascend toward the source of all light and wisdom, which was the souls home before being trapped on Earth. In order to make this ascent, however, they'd have to pass by seven guardians, the children of the demiurge, known as the Archons. In order to pass each arc on the soul would need to have the right knowledge in order to avoid their detection, or to pass their challenge in Nazi mythology. Knowledge is often depicted as a shining pearl or jewel. And one consistent metaphor used is of a soul being sent to steal it from the evil of the world, and carrying it back up through these are cons to the source. This model of knowledge as a source of salvation, leads to some interesting parallels with hacker culture. Here's another reading this one from the Gnostic work on the origins of the world. The Tree of Knowledge is endowed with the power of God. It is glorious as the moon shining brightly, and its branches are lovely, its leaves are like fig leaves and its fruit is like a bunch of good delicious dates. You are the tree of knowledge which is in Paradise, from which the first man ate. For the Gnostics knowledge was not only a utilitarian good, but a moral good as well. Teaching, Learning and the uncovering of hidden truth was all seen as the only way to transcend our earthly world. It was understood to prepare the soul for the arduous journey to face the art cons in the afterlife. Wisdom was also seen by some Gnostics as the root of virtue in this world. And those who are kinder, more just and more faithful were so because they possessed more of the sacred knowledge, my simple contention in this talk is that hackers, whether they realize it or not treat knowledge in a similarly more or less way knowledge for hackers is what Charles Taylor would call a hyper good. That is a thing by which other things derive their goodness. So in this case, things are good in proportion to how much they help us learn new knowledge or bad in proportion to how much they prevent learning. Every time a hacker fights against censorship, open sources their code shares their hacks far and wide. Or shall we say liberates information out of a sense of duty, they're participating in the same kind of belief of knowledge as a moral good and the restriction of knowledge. Conversely, as an evil.
Another reading this one from the secret book of john.
The human being Adam was revealed through the bright shadow within and Adams ability to think was greater than that of all the creators. When they looked up, they saw that Adams ability to think was greater, and they devise a plan with the whole throwing of Archons and angels. They took fire, earth, and water, and combine them with the four fiery wins. They brought them together and made a great commotion. Unfortunately for the Gnostics their pursuit of knowledge was contested by adversaries. In both this world and the next who wanted to keep humanity in the dark in the afterlife as I've mentioned the Gnostics had to contend with the Archons, and the demiurge, who wanted to keep them ignorant and so imprisoned in this world, the Gnostics had to contend with the religious establishment, who decried as heretical the belief that God of the god of this world was an evil to be transcended, and the belief that knowledge was more important than the grace bestowed by priests. I want to emphasize here that the Gnostics were right to be afraid of the forces that wanted to erase their knowledge gnostic scriptures and teachings were almost entirely wiped out by the end of the fourth century AD. In fact, a huge amount of what we know about Gnosticism comes from a single archaeological find at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. The courtesies found there were probably buried by one of them more by one or more devoted Gnostics the end of the fourth century, and they contained 52 books, that would have been considered heretical under the Christian reforms of that era. They were uncovered by grave robbers in 1940s, and translated and published throughout the following few decades, a full English translation was not available until the late 1970s. So that's 1500 years during which there was only scarce fragments of gnostic knowledge leftover. And while hackers adversaries today are purely secular, there are still those that would rather than knowledge hackers discover be suppressed. We see this every time a hacker gets a cease and desist for telling you how to repair modify your devices. We see it every time a hacker gets threatened with a cfaa violation for reporting security for vulnerability. We see with legislation that threatens our freedom for building systems that offer end to end encryption. So while you may not believe in our cons guarding the way to the source of all life, hoping to trap ignorant souls after death. There are most certainly outcomes in this world that seek to prevent us from learning and sharing our knowledge. And while technology makes it harder for us to end up like the Gnostics, we should take seriously the idea that someday Tor, and Internet. The Internet Archive might be something like our non commodity.
Final gnostic reading this one from the book of Thomas.
The Savior said,
All bodies have come into being in the same irrational way that animals are produced. Those that are above, however, do not exist like us. Rather, they live from their own route and their crops nourish them. But we feed on creatures that are like us. So our bodies are subject to change. Whatever is subject to change will perish, and be lost. Another interesting corollary between Gnostics and hackers is a devaluation of the physical world. Hackers will sometimes refer to the physical world as meatspace. We tend to invest a lot more time and energy to our digital lives and work image work corporeal equivalence. A whole branch of our humor revolves around the fact that we don't take the best care of our bodies, and we need to be regularly reminded of the three to one rule. Even the reading from the conscience of a hacker that I opened this talk with created a clear delineation between the boring oppressive physical world, and a liberatory Digital one. Many of us, myself included, identify as transhumanists, and at best we see our physical form as something to be tinkered with and improved. The same way we would any other system. Our biohacking siblings are in a strange way both the epitome of this,
and also kind of the exception
to it. Only by treating the body as just another system as raw material, not at all sacred anyway. Does it make sense to engage in biohacking. Now, I fully admit that I myself am running completely stock on hacked closed source human biology 1.0. So perhaps some of the grinders in the audience can have a better perspective on this. If you do please get in touch, I'd love to hear more about your views and talk about this in depth.
So, the Gnostics were one of the first knowledge seeking cults but they're far from the only ones. I want to touch on two other ones to draw at least a hint of a historical throughline fast forwarding 1000 years, we end up with the alchemists. Today, we mostly think of alchemy as a kind of proto chemistry, but that's really doing a disservice to it and downplaying how weird and cool it actually was the alchemists like the Gnostics some knowledge, not only as utilitarian good, but as something akin to a means of salvation. Well the chemical connection to morality was, I think, more muddied than in the Gnostics. The one piece of the puzzle that the alchemist gave us was in thinking of things in terms of systems. One reason the alchemists were seen as proto scientists, is that they sought to build a grand unified understanding of the system of the universe. And well alchemy started in the Arabic world. The term comes almost directly from the Arabic alchimia, meaning the transmutation of metals. This systematization really became the central focus during the late Middle Ages and the renaissance in Europe alchemists developed their own elemental table of sorts. Hackers will be happy to hear that. Ethanol was considered a primary element. They also created elaborate charts of the motion of the heavens, detailed inaccurate models of working with the human body, and much more. They thought of it all as one integrated system with elaborate interconnections. And of course, they sought to cheat that system Alchemist spent years trying to find hacks that will allow them to turn one kind of element into another waste rewire the unmaintainable and hard to upgrade system of human biology to remove that annoying planned obsolescence called aging, and even sought ways to glitch out of reality entirely. They're basically trying to find a speed run cheat to get to heaven quicker, their view of the world was as bad of an integrated system, which led them to seek ways to bend that system to their will. These range from the abstract legalistic pseudo magical Faust who you know sought to write contracts with demons to more practical experimentation the Egyptian Alchemist a gafa devaughn, who mostly spent his time, mucking around with arsenic, and probably got more than a few people killed because of it. Along the way, they managed to invent gunpowder in China, advanced alcohol distillation and purification in Europe, and more importantly, to fix the human psyche that there was a comprehensible all encompassing system to reality. And that that system can be hacked.
Moving ahead a little bit more is where we get to really just kick this whole knowledge cult thing straight off the rails. Starting in the late 18th century and progressing right up until the present gnostic mysticism alchemical systematizing Catholic mysteries, a mixture of mythologies coalesced into the fevered brains of the luminaries, who then created a collection of esoteric beliefs that all get broadly lumped together as the occult. They basically took the knowledge of salvation model of the Gnostics, the systematizing of the hermetic alchemists, and the understanding that you can get people to believe just about anything if you really nail the aesthetics, and they created a dizzying array of cults all centered around the notion of being the heirs to secret magical knowledge. One of the most influential of these groups was the rosicrucians. Now, I like to think of them as Christians, a bit like anonymous. In that years after they did their best work. Everyone started claiming to have been a member and a bunch of subgroups splintered off all claiming to be true heirs to the original. What these groups have in common is that they all claim to possess hidden knowledge, they have a heavy focus on symbolism and aesthetics and at least the best of them seem like they're having a wild time puzzles and ciphers are a common feature as are well parties which they initiate one another into secrets and perform magical writes. Many of the books they produce, are these extremely beautifully over the top decorated tomes that are essentially one long crypto CTF with probably no answer. They're pretty great. One common theme that runs through all the groups I've spoken about, including the Gnostics, the alchemists and other Eucalyptus is the taking of new names. As one example. The hermetic branch of occultism takes its name from Hermes trismegistus, or Hermes the thrice great Hermes trismegistus wrote some of the founding texts that were revived in modern times to form the basis of some of these occult groups. Now, that of course was almost certainly not his real name, many of the other occult writers and practitioners followed suit, taking on grandiose or important sending handles themselves. And well hacker handles came about more as a way to ensure anonymity than to impress cult followers. It's not by accident that most hackers chosen. Choose names that are either aesthetically significant to them, or aspirational in some way. occult groups usually organized elaborate rates of induction, and tests of knowledge their adherence. Most has strict levels that can only be attained after demonstrating proper knowledge of the hidden teachings magical techniques taught by the cult. And while the rites of passage or induction for hackers are significantly looser, which is a good thing. Fuck gatekeeping that in some way makes them more significant. The black badge competitions at DEF CON might be considered something like a hacker right there, demonstrations of applied knowledge that only intellect few can accomplish, which are then recognized by the community with honors and accolades CTS might be another example of testing the skills and knowledge that don't exist only in hacker circles and not in the rest of the world. These tests then are used for bragging rights or for other kinds of community accolades. And while it's true that we don't bestow rank a title on the hackers who pass these tests. I do think there's some real similarities between declaring someone adeptus exempt as of a society as Rosa Christiana and saying something like, yeah, that person won the demo competition and assembly. Also, like hackers, the occultus, as well as many modern witches Neo pagans and their cultic groups, often operate in small close knit circles. And this makes a lot of sense. If you're a group of like minded individuals whose pursuit of the truth is out of step with the broader culture around you. And if you're learning from and teaching one another. I genuinely believe that some of the social and intellectual forces behind groups like locked Heavy Industries, or the Legion of Doom, are the same as those that have animated the Ordo templi orientis, or the hermetic order of the Golden Dawn. Both sets were groups of people seeking knowledge together in a way that wasn't accepted or understood by those around them. I guess what I'm saying is, it's not by accident that it's the cult of the dead cow.
But most of all, the thing I think is the most similar between hackers and a cult is the sense of play involved in both like the Gnostics were trying to get to heaven, that I understand the alchemists were trying to change the world. That's Noble. The occultist and witches and various modern Mattei are just trying to do some fucking magic. And they seem to instantly enjoy the chaos and the fun that goes along with it. And that to me is my favorite part of hacking the intoxicating sense of mischief and chaos that goes along with it. It's honestly the reason why I'm desperately missing the in person hope this year. I'm missing all of my fellow hackers and making weird techno magic with all of you. And if I can say, I'm hoping you're all having a wonderful time, and a wonderful conference, wherever you are in the world. And I hope in two years time we need to do this in person again. And so I want to close out this kind of historical wander through knowledge cults and cultures, with a quote from my favorite which Pixie Coleman Smith,
that picture over
there pixelmon Smith was
a witch, and
a theatrical artist and a visual artist. And just a really all around interesting character who had a fascinating life. And this is a quote from her writings on art that I think can actually serve hackers as well as it does artists are which is banish fear. Brace your courage. Place your ideal high up with the sun, away from the dirt and squalor, and ugliness around you, and let that power that makes the roar of the high power presses, enter into your work, energy, courage, life, love. Use your wits, use your eyes. Perhaps you use your physical eyes too much, and see only the mask. Find eyes within. Look for the door into the unknown country.
As I said in the beginning, this overview is just given, I've just given us mostly to draw some parallels, and hopefully get you thinking about what aspects of these previous cultures. We hackers might share. But I also want to take seriously the idea that, in learning from them. We can inform and strengthen our own culture. Because first and foremost hackers do have a culture. And that culture matters. Now I fully acknowledge that giving this talk at hope I'm probably somewhat preaching to the converted.
But there are many hackers
out there for whom the idea of a hacker culture is just kind of like mind noise. And I think that's a real shame. And if you've been to like a DEF CON recently where there's other large hacker conventions. I'm sure you've met some of these people that don't understand there's a hacker culture out there that could be participating in and contributing to. It's important I think that we make the case for it because a healthy hacker culture can inform our work, or our, in our lives. It can help us all survive in a world where there are cons that scare curiosity and our tinkering as a threat. They can help us understand the systems around us and how they can be broken. And maybe most importantly they can help us have a hell of a lot more fun doing it. Like I said at the start, I don't think I'm advocating for any kind of like hacker class consciousness here, but I am advocating for us all to take seriously the idea that that we are part of something like a knowledge cult. And it behooves us to take care of our culture, and to stand up for it. Because as a culture, we have art, that's worth making and experiencing. And it's art that only hackers can make right radio Wonderland, and a grip of the Book of the Dead, are things that only hackers could create. And it's in part because of that fact that only hackers can make this art that makes it significant and important and worth sharing
with the world.
We have myths that give us common stories and points of reference. and for hackers those stories, those myths usually result revolve around the discovery of hidden knowledge and the use of that knowledge to change society, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the different more complicated. We have heroes who have made not only our culture, but the whole world a better place because their belief in the value of knowledge and their courage to stand up against our cons.
And finally we have martyrs.
We have hackers who have lost their lives, who have been destroyed because they sought to bring knowledge to the world. Because like all of us they were in some sense animated by that gnostic spirit, and that belief that knowledge is not just about what empowers us to do. But who it empowers us to be there animated by a belief that knowledge was morally important. And if you accept my premise, the hackers understand knowledge is having moral value, then there are, of course, ethical implications as well. If you take seriously the notion that, like I said, knowledge is important not just for what it allows us to do, but for who it allows us to be. And that points us towards an ethic and ethic of openness and education. One of mentoring and sharing of our knowledge. It points towards an ethic that is inclusive of all people, regardless of their race, sex, sexuality, gender identity or disability, it points to is an ethic that transcends the borders drawn by Archons, and recognizes them for the arbitrary lines that they are. It points towards an ethic that is at the very least skeptical of power structures, no in any nation, church or corporation, no matter how fun we might be today. Maybe the ark on trying to stamp us out tomorrow.
If I'm right and hacker culture is one in which knowledge is elevated to the world
good, then we must welcome anyone who wants to learn, it must do our best to teach them You must reject a stand against any force
that prevent us from doing so.
I've covered a lot of ground in this talk, and I can only hope that some of it was at least of interest. I certainly hope I made the case that the Gnostics Knowledge Center morality, the alchemists systematizing, and the occult a sense of fun and chaos, all have some kind of echoes in agriculture today. So I do hope that I participate in that and that
I taught and helped you to learn,
but failing that I hope I at least got you to think about the role that knowledge and learning play for hackers and entertain the notion that they might be central to a culture that's worth fostering and preserving. Because if we don't take our culture seriously. Someday all the knowledge that we gather may end up having to be squirreled away in a digital Naga Hamadi to be rediscovered by some far future generation
rediscovered That is, if we're lucky.
So I'd like to take a moment to send some greetings to the people who've taught me, from whom I've learned a great deal. First of all, my crew thenational payphones direct delta cyber cowbells turbo Giscard and forget. They always have my back and I cannot begin to tell you how much I've learned from all of them. I'd like to thank my friend and mentor father Tim Clancy who helped me kind of sharpen my understanding and ideas about the Gnostics and who kind of gave me a lot of advice when I was putting this talk together. Back in the early days, kind of like formalizing the thoughts. And then finally, I'd like to thank Dr. Kirk Bessemer my grad school advisor. sorry for bailing but thank you for teaching.
And thank you all so much for listening.
I'm very reachable on all the normal channels that folks use. Please do reach out to me if you have, if you want to talk with us more. But for now, we'll just turn it over to questions. Thank you all so very much.
We are back with the tar Quinn, that was great video. Thank you for preparing a presentation for us.
A lot of conversation has been going on in the chat, it's been very active. So, obviously we do have a few questions. Again, the best way to ask questions, is to put them in the q&a livestream channel. On our matrix instance. So, one noticed one comment that I had highlighted was that what you were talking about is the future was the future once upon a time.
Yes. It's funny how the future has a way of changing out from under you. And I think it's interesting you know especially given with, with COVID. I think that this this arc that we kind of see ourselves on has has changed and one of things I've been really impressed with is the extent to which hackers have risen to the challenge presented. I have a very good friend in Portland, who he went from working on side projects and kind of just doing his own thing to all of a sudden he and his maker buddies. They were getting, like, Oregon State Health approved. Like PBE into field hospitals and into hospitals to treat folks. I think within, within a couple of weeks of starting the project. Right. We've seen I mean, hell not to blow too much smoke but the people who put on hope this year have done an incredible, incredible logistical miracle, getting us all together. So I think, in some sense, it's been interesting to see how quickly the future can change. But really, I think what we can learn from it is, if you get a bunch of people together who spent a lot of time thinking about creative ways to subvert systems and and solve problems. In a way, we're highly resilient to things like plagues, or, you know, you know, any kind of crisis that might deviate our path to the future. So,
yeah, there's a good metaphysical question in the chat that I just popped up. Should we try to ignore and evade the Archons of this world or disclose the truth and possibly end up in prison or outcast to some remote land.
That's a fantastic question and it's one that I don't think there is a clear answer to. I mean, the Gnostics had the same question back in their day, right, there were Gnostics who were, you know, persecuted by by the church. And they were Gnostics like the the priesthood not kamati, who their response was not to stand up, necessarily, but to realize that they could not win and to squirrel away that knowledge of the future. I'm not going to stand up here and demand that everyone that everyone be a warrior against the Archons. I'm not going to stand up here and say that everyone should should be, you know, Edward Snowden or god forbid Aaron Schwartz. What I'm going to do is say that you should take seriously the idea that there are cons out there. And I use that metaphor. I use it in a pretty broad sense, and I think that, you know, I have I have constraints in my own life to prevent me from being, you know, quite the ideological firebrand I would like to sometimes but I think it's a question we often ask for ourselves, but one of the questions of philosophy, you know, is what should we What are we to do. And the way you start that is to have an ethic. And I think that a great way to start building an ethic and to understand what you want to do in a situation is to take seriously the idea that your life as a hacker can inform that and that there are certain ethical components to being a hacker that we don't get to ignore. And that might help you answer that question for yourself.
Speaking of ethics, do you see a single quote unquote hacker ethic. Are there many different hacker ethics or perhaps it's down to individual hackers ethical ethical codes.
Yeah, that's a good question. I can think of a little bit like a tree with a common trunk. There are roots of a hacker ethic, right, and I think that one of the things that helps us come together. Is that fact. Now there are people who might disagree at the at the margins, but I think that core of, like I said, anyone who wants to come and participate should be welcomed like it must be a welcoming environment, right, that skepticism of power structures that might tell us to think in a certain way, right or, or that certain kinds of exploration and thought are off, or off are out of bounds. Right. So for me I think that there is a strong central core of a hacker ethic, and that people can disagree at the margins, but I do think there's a lot of commonality. So not to not to try and, you know, thread the eye of the needle too much in this question. I think there is a common hacker ethic that we all share. And from that route. 1000 individual understandings of how to implement that ethic might grow. But I think there is a lot of commonality and it all comes down to that freedom of information, teaching sharing, and that we're all in this same kind of pursuit together.
And just feeding back into a couple of the themes that I that I noticed. Now you mentioned for instance that you believe that the hacker ethic has a common root, you mentioned for example that alchemy has its roots in the Arab world. Similarly, a lot of modern hacking has roots in the US and Western contexts. alchemy shifted. When it's spread beyond its roots in the Maghreb now what shifts or changes have hackery experienced in those cultural shifts.
Oh, that's a fantastic question. I would say, I would challenge the question a little bit and say that our understanding of hackers as coming from America and Europe predominantly is a little bit of an effect of the American hegemony and the fact that if you see something in media you see the American version First and most prominently. Right. And so, you know, I joked about the the story that we tell ourselves as being like MIT, like MIT whistling down phone lines prison, infosec, but that is the, if anyone has an idea of hackers that is a big part of it you know they might throw in the movie hackers there may be sneakers. But you'll notice that a lot of that is because those are American institutions, so they are given more attention, and they've got a broader reach. And so I would strongly suggest that we look at a lot of hackers elsewhere in the world that have been doing this for years, a book I love and I've been talking to anyone who will listen is Jace Clayton's book uproot, and he talks about actually a lot of different kind of almost folk music traditions across the world. They've been empowered by computers, and the idea that you know they've taken this really weird flexible machine, and use it to lift their traditions and their culture up into the modern world. Right. And this idea that the computer can be a folk instrument, and he talks about people in Mexico in the Maghreb of places in Sub Saharan Africa. And those are hackers that have been doing this for as long as hackers in the West have, they just haven't had the visibility, right. So, to answer the second part of that question, I think that we can absolutely see hacker strains out there in the world, and well i think that there's been things like DEF CON China, people are understandably extremely conflicted about moving this hacker conference into a regime. That's fairly totalitarian, right, it's a fairly it's not Iran.
I'm not going to go to Beijing anytime soon I feel safe saying that.
And, but but reaching out and finding ways to include people in the broader global hacker culture I think is good. We've seen actually the hacker ideas from the, from some of the ways that the protesters in Hong Kong dealt with, you know, are engaged in protest, come back over here right. The use of umbrella shield walls, is a brilliant simple idea that has have a whimsical hacker heart to it I think right. The fact that they realize that, oh hey snowblowers can can be pretty effective against tear gas, right. So, these aren't hacking in the traditional sense but I think there's a kind of common idea there, and that there is a lot of cross pollination that's happening. And I firmly believe that we should be looking at hacker groups in the global south, South America, you know, things like that. They have a lot to teach us, and I think that if we get out of. If we realize that, you know, a huge part of our vision of hackers globally, is just that the first, you know the brightest light you see in any topic when you look at it is whatever the American culture, kind of portrays about that. I think that you will get around and you will find hackers and a lot of places that you did not see before. I hope that answer your question was a bit of a ramble.
Yeah, I mean I understand that when because it's a bit of a, it's a bit of a deeper question. And now, again this is content that is deep and challenging. Can you suggest some simpler or perhaps easier to process starting points. Even for how to have these conversations amongst fellow hackers or with people that we know that aren't part of the hacker community.
Yeah, that's a question it's a little hard for me to answer because of. I've been reading a lot about this, especially like recently praying this talk. One fairly accessible, though scholarly kind of kind of dense work is the work of Hans Jonas, he wrote, probably the seminal text on the modern understanding of Gnosticism. It's called the Gnostic religion, the message of the alien God and the beginnings of Christianity. His writing style is very accessible, but it is one of the things that will get you will, you'll, you'll get more information than you want, right. I also think that the Naga Hamadi library there's an excellent English translation of all the texts that were found at NACA body. If you want to go right to the sources, the translation for those into English is excellent. There's also translations into German and Italian and, you know, so there's one language that is more comfortable for you. There are some,
some of the translations out there.
I would also suggest, If for some of the for some of the kind of occult and alchemical stuff, the occult works are actually intentionally hard to access. Right. The whole point of the occult is that it's, you know, there, there are mysteries there, right. In fact, if I had to highlight one of the biggest differences between hackers and a call this is that a cultist one in some sense to have their knowledge be privileged. But I would say, you know, go and go and read some of the writings of people associated with it right go and read polyester currently, it gets weird and you'll read a lot about sex magic and probably have some really uncomfortable passages to read, but it gives you a sense of what they're trying to do they're trying to change the world
via this lens of kind of mystical aesthetics, you know.
Yeah, that's a pretty cool contrast there between the secret world has some of these ancient groups and this, and the openness, relatively speaking at least of a hacker community such as through events like the one we're presenting now. Yeah, and honestly I wouldn't have thought of connecting alchemists and hacker the weight hackers that we have. I'm kind of curious how you view. Some other organizations both historical and current such as the Dionysian mystery cults back in ancient times, the Freemasons the Rosa crusty ends. Do you see them having outlooks that are perhaps hacker adjacent.
Yeah, for sure. And i think that you know the mystery cults again there's there's that weird sense of, you know, in a way, there's there's two ways to respond when you think you have a secret. Right. One is to hoard it and be precious about it and be like, I have this secret and I'll tell it to you if you cross my palm or if you, you know, if you do what I say. And that's kind of a mystery call idea is that there is some sort of like secret knowledge here and we'll let you in, if, if it's right for us right or if you're worthy. And then there's the other of like, I have a secret I want to tell everybody and that I think is the more hacker impulse right. I think we're Gnostics going to bridge that gap as they didn't want to teach, and they did want to share that information, and they were secretive only because there was very real risk in sharing that information. Right. A awful lot of Gnostics were burned at the stake, right, or tortured horribly right.
And so I think that
there are a lot of hacker adjacent cultures that that they saw knowledge. As a practical good right, I have a secret that can get you ahead in life, right, the Freemasons, the reason you join Freemasonry is not actually trade secrets. It's one of the secret handshake that introduces you to people in the doors of power right there are secrets it first and come a knowledge called second, whereas the, the reason why you are a gnostic is because you feel that knowledge has moral power right that's the delineation I think is really significant. Do you see knowledge as good only for what it can bring you or do you see knowledge as a source of moral truth of value, and a foundation on which to build ethics.
Also I'm just wondering if you could summarize quickly a difference between, say, an occult tradition, and a religion, are there, religions that feed into your ideas of hacker ethics.
Yeah, I mean absolutely I it's not by accident that I, I think father Tim Clancy then my talk. Father Tim is a scholar who works on how religions are experienced by people in a technological world, right. He's done some really cool stuff in talking about like, Why are mega churches so compelling. And part of it is, they're meeting people at the technological boundary where they live right mega churches are very popular with young people because you can get it on your phone. Right. You can attend church via via Skype and things like that. So I think there are religious orders today that are very hacker like I actually think a lot of the Jesuits are right I went to a Jesuit university. And so they're this weird little offshoot of Catholicism, that takes as their mission, their charism, they're calling education. Right. They are called to teach and, and they see teaching and knowledge, and the pursuit of information and, and education as a way to be closer to God, and as a service that one does to God in the church. Right now I'm not religious myself, but I found myself extremely comfortable amongst Jesuits and amongst the general education. And I think part of it is that shared kind of educational DNA of education and knowledge is being more significant for both myself as a hacker and them as Jesuit, you know. As for the difference between an occult occult group and religion. I mean, the, the glib snarky answer is to get a tax break right level. There's some level of social acceptance to make sure religion. I would say there is something a little bit deeper and one of them is religions tend to focus on some sort of global truth that they see as metaphysical and underlying the world, and a cults are much more about aesthetics and because of the the mystical and unexplainable right. I don't think that's 100% accurate delineation but I don't think there is one, so
I know and I understand I mean there's a lot of great conversation in the matrix chat. Will you be willing to join folks in the hallway conversation room to discuss more about this.
Yes, absolutely. I'm going to take a two minute break to attend to my meat robot, and I'll be there. So,
the Tarquin thank you very much for your presentation at hope 2020 can't wait to see you, hopefully the next time we meet in person.
It'd be a pleasure thank you so much for, for having me.
Ground Control take it away.