Hackers, the Left, and possibilities for radical democracy

September 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

This post is just a way of pointing to a couple of provocative chunks of text from two sources: an abstract for a presentation by Toni Prug at the 6th Historical Materialism annual conference (2009), that suggests that

Dismissing the dysfunctionalism of the parliamentary capitalist-democratic framework is easy, what do we replace it with? This presentation argues that the objects of future egalitarian societies are all around us. From Free Software, Linux, Google and Facebook, to rough consensus, electronic books and financial and organizational openness – it is our task to rethink and re-purpose whatever possible. We need to become generic hackers, turning anything to our advantage, learning from capitalists who for centuries used whatever we opposed them with as a source of their own strength. […] Hacking is a political possibility that is here, in front of us. Its possibilities are open and yet to be determined. The State-forms of all kinds (local councils, courts, parliaments, political parties, unions, childcare, health, educational and social care institutions) await to be hacked.

(http://www.historicalmaterialism.org/conferences/sixth-london-conference/sessions-and-paper-abstracts/0015.txt)

and a nicely-written article on the IETF from 1995 by Paulina Forsook for Wired titled “How Anarchy Works”:

The Internet, perhaps the greatest instantiation of self-organization the planet has ever seen, evolves in its fractious decentralized way through the Internet Engineering Task Force, the IETF.

In the IETF, there’s a kind of direct, populist democracy that most of us have never experienced: Not in democratically elected government, where too many layers of pols and polls and image and handling intervene. Not in radical politics, where too often, the same old alpha-male/top-dog politics prevail despite the countercultural objectives pursued. And not in the feminist collective world, where so much time is spent establishing total consensus and dealing with the concerns of process queens that little gets done. The IETF provides a counter-example of true grass-roots political process that few of us have ever had the privilege to participate in, outside of the backstories about member planets of the Star Trek Federation. IETF group process succeeds because of a profound connection with, and understanding of, the real world of networking.

MIT professor Dave Clark, one of the grand old men of the Internet, may have unintentionally written the IETF anthem in his A Cloudy Crystal Ball/Apocalypse Now presentation at the 24th annual July 1992 IETF conference. Today, it’s immortalized on T-shirts: “We reject: kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code.” Which might translate to, “In the IETF, we don’t allow caucusing, lobbying, and charismatic leaders to chart our path, but when something out on the Net really seems to work and makes sense to most of us, that’s the path we’ll adopt.”

Most IETF work is done over e-mail between meetings, using Net dist-list servers. But its pioneers, ever smart and sensible, knew that people must occasionally meet face to face, that the bandwidth of real-time conversation can make issues-resolution a hell of a lot more efficient, and that sometimes the most important work that humans do happens in that most fertile, inadvertent, and self-organizing fashion: over dinner, in the hallways, late at night over drinks. (https://www.wired.com/1995/10/ietf/)

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