Chapter Five – Ground Rules
I’m looking at the back of a packet of salted roasted peanuts. The ingredient list is refreshingly simple: peanuts, vegetable oil, salt. What is below the ingredients is more interesting. There is a line that says, “CONTAINS: PEANUTS” and below this line is the further affront to basic intelligence, “MAY CONTAIN NUTS”. The cultural reach of this now infamous phrase, encapsulated beautifully in the John O’Farrell novel of the same name, is such that it has become a parody of itself. The warning is ludicrous on one level (of course a pack of peanuts contains nuts), overly paranoid on another (facing up to the constant threat of litigation) and yet completely sensible at the level where a peanut allergy could cause anaphylaxis and possibly death.
When Time’s Up! was published one of the most common reactions was that the section on undermining was reckless: it didn’t give nearly enough warning as to the possible repercussions of carrying out counter-industrial actions. In particular, where the concept of relative risk was discussed I was accused of not giving sufficient space to the possible human impacts of such outcomes as the power grid being switched off or even, and I write this with slight incredulity, people losing their beloved Podjobs1 as a result of a shrinking economy. Responding to this at the first peanut level I would be tempted to write, “Warning: This book contains information about Undermining.” At the second peanut level I would have to rewrite the text to ensure there could not possibly be any inference that I would be encouraging people to do anything that could possibly be considered illegal or even hurtful, regardless of the target.
This chapter is about the third level.
I have no intention of putting a bright orange sticker on the front of this book stating the bleeding obvious, but I don’t think many people will have a problem with that. On the other hand I also don’t give a fig whether something is illegal or not. That might make a lot of people uncomfortable, but please let me explain. The word “illegal” does not mean something that goes against any of the fundamental moral tenets of humanity. When I use the words “legal” and “illegal” it refers to those rules that have been put in place for the benefit of the industrial system: in some countries and states they may be referred to as Laws, but they are actually nothing more than temporary measures to impose a cultural viewpoint. Sometimes they are called Statutes, sometimes Regulations, sometimes Acts, sometimes Decrees; it all means the same.
On the other hand, I do give a fig and more about whether something is lawful or not. Humanity has, whether formally or not, passed down something called Common Law, which consists of the basic rules that should be observed in a just society under all but the most extreme conditions. For instance, under Common Law it is wrong to intentionally kill or harm someone without their consent; it is wrong to take something that rightfully belongs to someone else; it is wrong to impinge upon someone’s basic human rights of clean air, fresh water, food, warmth, shelter, companionship, liberty and other things related to human dignity. Actually there are surprisingly few things that could be considered to comprise Common Law, which is significant, because anything more specific would imply a particular culture being imposed upon an individual or collection of people.
This distinction between legal and lawful is important, not only from a practical standpoint, but also a moral one. An undermining activity may be illegal in a certain part of the world but it is not likely to be unlawful. In all likelihood an undermining activity may run both counter to the legal system in place, yet lead to a greater availability of the basic rights enshrined under Common Law. Try telling a community that their action against an industry polluting the well from which they take their water is illegal and they will tell you in no uncertain terms where to stick that industry’s statutory permission to pollute!
Level Three on the
Peanut Undermining Warning Scale is fundamentally about protecting those basic human rights – your own as well as the rights of others – that may be affected by any actions you carry out. That is why this chapter exists, and why you must read it before going onto the fun stuff in Part Two. I cannot absolve myself of all responsibility for the outcomes of undermining simply by writing some words, but I can try to the best of my abilities to help the Underminer grasp the difference between when it is right to do something, and when it is not.
Ask me how change will happen and you will always get the same answer. You know the answer but it still needs to be said because most people, even those in the brightest, most radical threads of environmental activism, have forgotten the point of what they are supposed to be doing. Ask me what to undermine and you will always get the same answer. You know the answer but it still needs to be said because most people, even those who are determined to remove the system and all it stands for, have lost their sense of perspective. Go back to the discussion about cancer; about finding a cure.
Did anyone ever consider shutting down the reason for these toxic processes ever existing in the first place?
What is the reason for the systematic and terminal destruction of our life support system? Disconnection. We see Industrial Civilization as an acceptable way of living, even as it destroys everything we need to survive. The machine works to mask the destruction and works even harder to ensure we embrace the machine; that we become part of the machine. Connected human beings see the destruction and see the disconnection happening. Connected human beings are a rare species and are becoming rarer with each new television channel, each new road, each new city and each newly disconnected culture.
Focus on the reason.
Undermining is removing the bricks from the walls of disconnection; cutting the lines of communication between each part of the ecocidal machine; tearing up the script of civilization’s great performance. The time for symbolic gestures ended long ago, yet we still as a “movement” believe they can create change. It seems that this cloudy organism even the most disenchanted campaigners still call the Environmental Movement is being held together by the sheer power of hope, and that somehow if a critical mass of people banging on the machine’s unyielding carapace bang hard enough it will shatter, a burning light of reason will shine out and the great institutions of power will turn into petals that drift on the breeze of our desires. Hope is dead. Symbolism is dead. Get used to it.
The windows of shopping malls crash down as another carefully aimed Black Bloc boot finds its mark against capitalist greed; an airport’s expansion is halted as a portion of land is broken into a patina of tiny holdings each claimed by a different person; a new road is rerouted and scaled down because a group of tree-sitters and tunnellers made it too expensive to justify the original plan. The time for public, direct action may still be with us, but it is gradually becoming as symbolic as the marches and the rallies that our Leaders so enjoy watching us waste our time and energy organising and participating in. Direct action, as we currently understand it, may eschew banging on a great symbolic shell but in turn it barely scratches the surface as the machine moves to dominate another million people every week2 in its hunger to swallow up the last vestiges of uncivilized, industry-free humanity. Traditional direct action is perhaps no more than a distraction – it has its place, particularly in local, rapidly changing situations where a cessation of something deeply immoral may buy sufficient time for something more permanent to be undertaken. As a means to an end, though, it is not the answer.
Time and energy are the great levellers when it comes to deciding on the priorities of your actions. As we spend more time, and personal energy, striving to earn money to support a lifestyle that is far removed from our indigenous lives we find we have less of it to spend on the things that really matter. The simplicity of a connected life is an oxymoron to those who take all their cues from the industrial system: wake up, get dressed, eat, go to work, work, eat, work, go home, eat, watch television, go to bed. That’s the stuff of a simple life, isn’t it? Simple in form, but immensely complex if you take a second to look at the machine that makes that daily routine possible. Consider the act of watching television.
The Set itself is made up of a large number of components, the majority of which have dependency on other components. In a traditional CRT television there is a tube which consists of an anode and a cathode, an evacuated glass dome containing various photo-sensitive components and a series of “guns” that are electronically controlled. This control comes from the main board which controls the conversion of the electromagnetic signal into something that can be utilised by the picture guns and the sound system, which itself has many components including amplifiers and speakers. There are also many other components which control picture stability, electrical throughput, additional display mechanisms – like on-screen menus – and inputs from various sources. Surrounding all this is the case itself, upon which are mounted the different modules, plus control buttons and other embellishments.
The Set had to be Manufactured, so we have to take into account the factory where the components were made, along with the (undoubtedly separate) factory in which the components were assembled. These factories are highly complex themselves, equipped with conveyors, testing systems, circuit printing machines…far too many things to list here. The original components were constructed from raw materials that were produced by a different set of complex systems, including mining, material processing and refining, smelting and a range of chemical processes required for producing the precise material required for manufacturing.
At almost every change in process there had to be some form of Transportation; from the mine to the sorter to the refiner to the smelter to the shaper to the shipyard to the factory to the next factory to the next factory to the distribution depot to the warehouse to the store to the house – and that’s a simplified version, because each component and module would have undergone its own discrete transportation path prior to assembly as a single television set, in the box and packaging that themselves were produced by factories from raw or recycled materials (and I won’t even start on the complexity of the recycling process). Every mode of transportation needed to be manufactured and delivered; not forgetting the fuel to power this transportation.
And the Fuel to feed the power stations that produce the electricity which is transported across the land through power lines made of copper and aluminium, via step-up and step-down transformers made of metal, oil and a myriad other components to control the flow of power, eventually to the house where the television is used. But without a Signal the television is nothing. The transmitters are powered using the same, or perhaps a different, power infrastructure; but that’s not the half of it. At the studio where the signals are originated are highly complex – far more complex than in the television – electrical and computerised systems that take the tape, disc or live recording from its source to the signal refining systems that convert the source into something that can be broadcast. Prior to preparing for broadcast, if the signal is not live, there would have been editing, production, scriptwriting, actor or presenter preparation…everything that is necessary for the source media to be acceptable for broadcast. And when that signal is fired into the air, to be picked up by a land station or a satellite, then nothing has started or ended; it is just another stage in the unfeasibly complex system we call television.3
We are taught not to consider the whole but merely to fulfil our places within that whole; cut off the rest and be content with our lot. The connected life is a simple life in comparison to the absurd complexities required to present the evening viewer with their soap opera or bring even the most basic foodstuff to the table of a city-dweller. The connected life is a straight line to the tangled web of our daily school, work or “leisurely” lives. That last comparison is vital – leisure in its proper sense is what you experience outside of the necessary tasks required to survive. Outside periods of food stress – something that is becoming more common in the industrial world with each passing season – non-civilized cultures have (or had) abundant leisure time in which to commune with each other and the environment that provides for them. Leisure in civilized terms is a manufactured experience, almost always involving the transfer of money, and frequently requiring compromise among those being foisted into whichever activity they have been allocated to.
The problem is, when it comes to trying to change things for the better our priorities have been screwed up by the system we have been brought up in. Back in Chapter 2 we considered the amount of time, to which we have to add energy, we have lost to the civilized way of being, and this reflects heavily on what we think we are capable of getting done. It’s quick and easy to sign a petition to save the rhino or light a candle in the name of peace; and that’s often all we think we have the time and energy to do. A friend recently commented: “So many of us apply our best energy to the most inconsequential things of daily routine, and we scarcely give a passing thought to the most important questions of life.”4 When you consider how incredibly trivial most of the things we carry out during our daily lives are then it has to bring us up short, otherwise what chance do we have of getting out of this mess?
We can make time for the things we need to do by simply giving less time over to the trivial distractions that shorten our real lives: less time slumped in front of the television, catatonic in our scrutiny of other people’s emptiness, for instance. Energy can be reclaimed by using what we have around us; not necessarily some ethereal energy flux some perceive as flowing through the roots and branches of wild nature but using the connections we have with the real world to make us feel enlivened again. Both time and energy can also be revoked from the things that claim rights over our lives: the overworked student dragging home a bag full of homework; the office drone in constant touch with base; the endless retail forays; the so-called holidays that only happen if we spend an inordinate amount of time and energy earning enough money to pay for them.
Then, when we do have the time and energy to be truly productive, after we have given back some of those lost hours to our family, friends and communities – such as they exist at the moment – then we can start focussing on undermining the Tools of Disconnection. This time and energy is precious. Why waste it doing something that will make no difference?
A major sticking point for many people in promoting and undergoing tasks that are designed to undermine the industrial system, something that could fairly if specifically be described as “sabotage”, is whether these tasks could be harmful to others. A conversation I had with a broadcaster from the USA highlighted this. “One other thing I disagree with is the ‘Sabotage’ part, which seems to risk the possibility of needlessly hurting people: ‘[W]ill anyone die or be seriously harmed as a direct result of what you do, and are you prepared to take on the responsibility for the harm you may cause?’ I advocate non-violence.”
As do I. We need to get this out into the open now: “violence” is a heavily loaded term, often used by the mass media, and frequently used by politicians in order to turn people away from any positive actions people may be using that “violence” in support of. Of course I don’t support acts that intentionally seek to harm5 people or other living things in their undertaking. Nor do I support acts that indirectly cause harm to others. The only situations these would be acceptable in my, and I would imagine your, eyes is in the defence of yourself and others, or survival. On the other hand, the “violence” that is condemned by the mouthpieces of the industrial system is rarely violence at all. This is a shining example of our language being stolen from us for the benefit of Industrial Civilization, and especially those who control this dominant culture. Smashing a window is not violence unless someone gets harmed in the process; cutting a cable is not violence unless someone gets harmed in the process; barricading the entrance to a factory is not violence unless someone gets harmed in the process.
Hitting someone in the face with a riot shield is violence.
Keeping someone incarcerated in solitary confinement is violence.
Forcing pigs into farrowing cages to give birth is violence.
Clear-felling a swathe of forest is violence.
Pouring sewage sludge into a living river is violence.
I do not advocate violence, nor do I need to because undermining rarely if ever leads to the harming of living things or, for that matter, anything that is genuinely representative of real humanity. Undermining targets the Tools of Disconnection. Undermining brings down the causes of violence and oppression. Undermining is, by definition, not only a necessity in these horrific times, but a moral good.
But there are always going to be objections. One of the most intractable is in the eventual aim of the undermining process: the dismantling of Industrial Civilization. Back in Chapter 3 I gave two clear reasons why this is not contradictory to, but in fact entirely compatible with, the perfectly reasonable desire to continue the human race. Of course there will be those that scoff over the claims of apocalyptic thinkers suggesting instead that we have nothing to fear from climate change; the continued pollution and despoilment of the global ecosystem; the spread of endemic disease; the collapse of the global food supply; and the twin spectres of peak oil and peak water.
Even if we do have something to fear from these things, the application of technology will save the day, apparently. And if you believe that technology will save the day then of course it will save the day in your eyes rather than fail to do anything except make us believe everything is going to be alright. (Interestingly this is almost exactly the argument for the existence of God and why nothing that goes wrong is ever God’s fault.) Furthermore, if you believe technology is a universal good, which logically follows from believing technology will save the day, then you will be more than happy with the subversion of human beings into industrial slaves, an irradiated Earth outside of the survival domes we have created for the lucky few future city dwellers, and a meal consisting of genetically modified everything.
Good luck, then.
But for the rest of us, those who are taking notice of what’s going on in the outside world, what I have said time and time again continues to apply – the system will collapse under the weight of its own abuses, and when it does collapse it will be a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions. Undermining the industrial system may seem extreme but is simply hastening the inevitable while also reducing the time the machine has to carry out its ecocide, and at least giving us an element of control over the form of the collapse. And let’s be honest, do we really have anything to fear from the switching off of the corporate controlled television system or the complete loss of faith in so-called “democratic” systems of government? Do we really have anything to fear from the industrial grain giants being unable to build a brave new energy future around biofuels or for the advertising industry to become incapable of selling us new versions of things we never needed in the first place? Do we really have anything to fear from the recreation of genuine human communities and the collapse of the profit-motivated global banking industry?
The movers and shakers in the industrial system have everything to fear from these things. We the people have everything to gain. Undermining is not about initiating mass murder, it is about saving lives on a grand scale.
A second objection is that the individual acts of undermining may have repercussions that are not within your control to prevent once the act has begun. To give one hypothetical example, a group of people may think it is a reasonable act of undermining to shut down a nuclear power station and thus prevent the very many Tools of Disconnection dependent on the power grid from functioning. Putting aside for the moment the possible harm that may result from suddenly shutting off the power (admittedly hugely overstated by politicians in particular, after all how many hospitals don’t have back up power, and how likely are road deaths really in the event of a mass traffic signal failure?) there is the huge issue of how to control a nuclear reactor from overheating as a result of the loss of cooling systems. Yes, some might like to crow about the folly of having a source of electricity that is a cause of death and illness if not shut down properly and then kept under constant expert supervision – quite unlike coal-fired power stations that are merely a cause of death and illness when they are running properly – but that does not absolve those responsible for the uncontrolled shutdown from the potential harm this may cause.
As far as I can see, the uncontrolled shutting down of a nuclear power station is not justifiable given the risk to others. Furthermore it could be considered as much a symbolic act as sitting on an airport runway. Symbolic or not, the risk to others far outweighs the possible end benefits.
But there are occasions where some kind of harm may be justifiable, albeit posing a moral question that no one but the Underminer can answer. Let’s say a chemical plant that is representative of thousands of other chemical plants around the world springs a leak, causing an amount of damage to the surrounding local environment that is only prevented from becoming worse due to the quick-thinking actions of a passer by. The small amount of damage that has occurred turns out to be reminiscent of Agent Orange upon the jungles of North Vietnam, yet the chemical company said the production process was safe. The knock-on effect is a viral change in the public’s former confidence in the industrial chemical production system: no one wants these things near their homes, yet they cannot operate without being within reach of a source of workers and the expensive infrastructure associated with populated areas. Everything starts to be questioned from the bottom-up and somewhere in infospace the question “Why do we need this?” is posed. The question becomes a meme. The meme becomes a turning point.
No matter that the “passer by” happens to be in league with the person who caused the leak in the first place; a genuine feat of undermining has been achieved. But what is the damage? Is the initial defoliation and associated toxic effects justified by the outcome; and what if the outcome was not so successful?
The fact is no one can accurately predict the outcome of any action, which means that a different way of moral thinking is required for undermining. Even if the intention is to do good, and even if the likely outcome is a net positive, and even if the actual outcome is greatly positive, does that justify the harm that may have been caused by the undermining? No amount of quantitative analysis can deal with such a question – in some ways it is morally repugnant to try and make a judgement of harm vs. harm that echoes the executors of carpet bombings in World War Two or the missile strikes of recent Middle Eastern imperial aggression in trying to justify “acceptable losses”. Morals are not maths.
The ultimate judgement should actually be a question of Karma. In other words, are you, the Underminer, prepared to take full responsibility for the outcome of your actions?
If you are not prepared to do so, then you have no right to carry through any such action. This does not, of course, remove the very serious need to carry out some form of risk analysis in advance of an undermining action, but here’s the kicker: the nature of undermining is such that it is most likely not going to cause any actual harm to another person or to the wider environment in which it is carried out. This has to be a battle in which the only real victim is the system itself.
That said there is potentially one other type of victim in undermining, and that is the Underminer. Going back to the discussion I had with my broadcaster friend, the other main question raised was: “If Industrial Civilization is murderously protective of itself, as you suggest, which I don’t necessarily deny, how do you remain alive and free when you imply that if anyone dies as a result of taking your suggestions, that’s OK, as long as the risk has been calculated? In other words, how do you get away with writing this stuff?”
A good question, though one that does not necessarily follow from what I have written in the past. In my last book, and subsequent writings, there are two things that I have been very keen to emphasise in relation to personal risk, namely:
1) Concentrate on the Tools of Disconnection;
2) Don’t get caught.
The first point has already been covered in some detail, but the focus here is that by concentrating on the Tools of Disconnection you are not doing anything the system currently recognises as a clear and present threat; therefore you are considerably less likely to be a victim of violence or oppression if you steer clear of the kinds of direct action tactics I mentioned earlier in this chapter. Less likely for now, that is.
That last proviso is critical, because at some point the system will recognise that undermining is a threat to its very existence and begin to resist in all the ways we have become used to. Look at the range of punishments meted out to people who the system claims to be terrorists and you get an idea of what can happen when the Culture of Maximum Harm decides to defend itself. Common sense thus dictates that you follow all of the normal steps that any Enemy of the State would take to ensure their continued safety – and here is where “Don’t get caught” comes into play. I outlined a few of these steps in the last chapter when discussing Housekeeping in particular, and will go into some detail about the mechanics of specific types of undermining – including some of the ways personal risk can be reduced – in Part Two. For now it is enough to say that you must always be aware of how much risk you are exposing yourself to at each phase in the undermining process and try and minimise that level of risk; in particular by making sure you really know what you are doing and rehearsing each discrete task in as realistic a setting as possible. Knowledge and practice are vital factors in reducing personal risk.
In addition, where specific risk areas can be identified list each one and compare them to how much you are really prepared to sacrifice in the pursuit of your goal. Some risks will be less of a problem to some people, such as being physically injured (a small price to pay for a large outcome, perhaps) whereas something like permanent psychological harm – admittedly far more likely when just worrying about our precarious state rather than actually doing something about it – is likely to be a risk too far for most of us.6 Incarceration for some people may just be part of the game, whereas for others a loss of liberty for however short a time may be something you are not prepared to bear. There is a great deal of personal preference involved in calculating acceptable levels of risk. In short, if it feels too risky then you are probably not ready (or perhaps not keen enough) to undertake the particular task you have in mind.
But here it takes an interesting turn, because when it comes to the question of reducing the level of personal risk in an action there turn out to be two entirely different paradigms, one of which runs contradictory to the “don’t get caught” mantra, but neither of which is necessarily wrong.
Undermining in secret is often the only way to achieve the desired outcome, especially at the early stages in the process; but true secrecy – as opposed to simply not letting on what you, or your group, are doing – is impossible without anonymity. You may think you can get away without your activities being tracked and your communications being traced, but as an individual you have an identity, something that is intrinsically tied to what you do. What your identity does can be connected to what you do, potentially exposing your person to danger.7 If you can protect your identity then you have a far better chance of being able to conduct your activities without exposure – at least until you decide to expose the undermining yourself.
But there is a proviso, and that lies in the complex and usually poorly-understood nature of anonymity itself. The concept of anonymity is much like randomness: it may be possible to achieve in theory but in reality it can only be approached. Thus when attempting to create change while at the same time remaining protected from detection the blanket of “anonymity” is often no more than gauze or, at best, a threadbare coverlet.
The wide distribution of like-minded people across the Internet means that centralised facilities, such as chat rooms and forums, are often vital rallying points for the general discussion of ideas and the planning of activities. However, the need to be available to a global audience also makes them vulnerable to interlopers who may appear genuine (they are trained, after all, and may even have been activists themselves) but are not as they seem, even to the experienced user. True, the complexity and segregation of the global Internet – if that is the primary means of your undermining – makes it difficult for any one authority to track activity they consider to be threatening; add to this the ability to apply powerful encryption algorithms and route data across multiple pathways, and it becomes possible for any two parties to communicate in relative secrecy. On a superficial level at least, any eavesdropper or data interrogator will struggle to attain useful information about the parties involved based on their lack of identity. Combined with traffic encryption and distributed routing the Anonymous moniker provides something akin to the dead letter box of Cold War street corners. It is not foolproof, but it helps. If you are careless with personal information of any sort, however, then no amount of technological privacy will prevent your electronic self being linked to your real self.
Even if you are not explicitly using the Internet for organising or carrying out undermining it doesn’t mean that your activities are not being broadcast in such a way – mobile phone messages, physical visits to places, financial transactions and so many other things are all recorded and potentially available to whichever authorities are granted this privilege. It pays to understand Internet anonymity because it reflects a lot more than just the technology involved.
Anonymity is not just a protective mechanism, though. In 2008 a concerted campaign, that continues as I write in 2011, began to target the pseudo-religious Scientology organisation. Known as “Project Chanology” – a name deriving from the 4chan web site on which much of the planning took place – this campaign managed to expose the activities, materials and the people involved in Scientology to a remarkable degree, especially considering the influence that Scientology purported to have over everything it touched.8 The people responsible cast themselves as Anonymous, producing videos and written statements that emphasised the nature of this many-headed yet headless entity. The sign-off evolved into something of a catchphrase that at once was sinister yet comforting to those who shared their views both in opposition to Scientology and in favour of power given to the ordinary person by virtue of collective anonymity:
More recently, Anonymous has acted as a trigger point for – and sometimes the main instigators of – actions relating to freedom of information (“Operation Payback” is one example) and rebellion against totalitarian regimes, not just those in the Middle East and North Africa but those regimes that manifest themselves as corporate power against ordinary people. Some aspects of the Anonymous “brand” have been purposely manipulated for personal gain, such is the cultural aura that attaches itself to anything that the system does not understand, but within Anonymous itself ego and self-gratification are left at the gate: there is no authority, there are no leaders.
Why Anonymous Works – An essay by The Hivemind9
If you were to start answering the question, “Why Anonymous Works?” You need to ask a psychologist how a person’s mind works and then a sociologist how a counterculture works, and then you have to think about how the Internet changes some things we think about in terms of both how a person’s mind works and how the Internet is a society by itself. The Internet creates this awesome veil of anonymity. Anonymity plus a big group of people equals invincibility.
The Internet existed long before Anonymous, and no super-consciousness has sprung from any Usenet group, Yahoo! mailing list or internet forum before now. Something was added in the case of Anonymous that took it beyond whatever limitations lie in other online communities. Personally, I believe it to be the anonymity. If you don’t know who someone is, you have no preconceptions as to how they will perform; you don’t know of or have any negative impressions of them that would lead you to believe that they may not meet your standards. Additionally, with no identity there is no credit, no glory, no ego. All that matters is accomplishing the goal, and the payoff that comes with that accomplishment. When who came up with an idea no longer matters, the idea itself is much more easily considered, scrutinized, improved upon, acted upon or discarded, and it’s this mechanic that allows Anonymous to react so quickly to change. It works because we have the ability to communicate in real time, from the street, or online in fora addressing our interests. It works because my interest isn’t necessarily your interest, but our interests may intersect somewhere and when that happens, we can play nice with each other. It works because we’re all the same. There is no “Elite Anonymous” except in the imaginations of Scientology and the few deluded who think they speak for the hive. It works because our decentralized nature offers few targets.
Anonymous is comprised of a vast spectrum of interdisciplinary skills and talents. This is the Legion part and it is multi-disciplinary. For example, there are Anons currently re-composing shredded documents from the Egyptian Secret Police archives. Some Anons may be older than a number that will be younger. There are other Anons designing and printing posters, fliers and handouts for the latests protests and demonstrations outside $cientology Org$; outside Capital Buildings; in the streets of Paris, Tripoli, San Francisco, Cairo, Toronto, Vancouver and Tehran. These are Legion too, and the same demographic applies.
And there are the Legion of Photoshop, Illustrator, Photography & Graphics artisans, and dynamic media artisans – animators, videographers and editors; sound engineers, music composers and performers; actresses and actors; makeup artists and costume designers. It goes on and on and on and the demographic scales are wide. There are many different types and kinds of digital technology talents. These too are Legion and also have a very wide demographic scale. Hardware experts, programmers, application designers, electronic engineers, audio engineers, video engineers – many of these individuals have digested all the massive tomes on Internet Protocols to a degree where many of them can quote chapter and verse from any of them, any time. I know and have known many such specialists; they have memorized a stack of books taller than you, and taller than me. Their knowledge is deep, intimate and always expanding.
In the early 1990s, it was projected that online usage would expand exponentially, and so it has, to the point that kids with only recent experience of the internet think they can lecture us about it. I think understanding their language [4chan] demonstrates the depth of their perspective.
For example, the term ‘butthurt.’ See, it used to be that discussing politics and religion was taboo in social situations. Why? Because some asshole would become butthurt when you suggest a view they disagree with, and they’d threaten you with a beating. So back when most socializing was done in bars, nobody talked politics or religion. But with the Internet, the butthurt have lost all power. Now they can be mocked mercilessly and in anonymity. Now ideas must stand on merit, not fists. Now you’re free to say God’s a myth, or that Bush is an idiot, or that Tom Cruise is the greatest actor of all time. And as a result, this entire culture has come to realize that being butthurt is a BAD thing. That if you have to threaten others or storm out, you probably have the weak position. A ‘lulzcow’ is someone that’s butthurt, fails to realize how powerless a position that is, and just keeps ranting and allowing themselves to be teased. The Internet – and the trolls10 in particular – have led this revolution whereby the butthurt have lost power. This is very, very significant in terms of human civilization, and few realize it yet. There are entire governments built on butthurt that are now at risk of collapsing. Bush’s fearmongering was butthurt. Iran’s leadership is butthurt. Scientology’s leadership is butthurt. You get the idea.
Or the idea of ‘lulz.’ To goons11, ‘lulz’ is just a bastardization of ‘lol.’ But it has a much richer meaning than this. From the perspective of existential philosophy, life has no meaning and no purpose. This fills people with ‘existential angst.’ That’s the fear people have of living pointless lives. It drives people to adopt false beliefs – just so long as the beliefs provide us with (fictional, objective) purpose or meaning. And in a meaningless, pointless life, we are radically free to do anything – even to kill ourselves. But we’re also free NOT to kill ourselves. We’re free to enjoy ourselves. So ‘lulz’ is the opposite of ‘angst.’ It’s the subjective joy we find in our meaningless and purposeless lives. And a community that embraces lulz is a truly existential culture. Pursuing lulz involves working to create the world we wish to live in.
‘Not your personal army’ is an important phrase, and emphasizes the independence of channers. Each is responsible for their own actions. Nobody else’s actions reflect upon you, and yours reflect only upon yourself. Nonetheless, complex, organized, leaderless action can be implemented and achieve great things. This illustrates that Anonymous is aware of the ‘obedience to authority’ effect explored in Milgram’s work, as well as Ashe’s work in conformity. We are all independent.
‘Unwarranted self-importance’ ties into all of these. The arrogance of unwarranted self-importance leads one to become persistently butthurt, and therefore a lulzcow. It also defies the existential truth: that your life is meaningless and pointless. It makes you imagine others are your personal army. It prevents you from seeing the lulz in things. In truth, unwarranted self-importance is the cardinal sin of the Internet.
Obviously, realtime or very close to it communication just didn’t exist before Anonymous because if it had then certainly with such a simple formula of common ground plus internet access one of the thousands and thousands of communities would have spawned such an entity as Anon outside the chans.
The term “hivemind” is used when multiple people make the same response at the same time, not because of some prior agreement on any issue, or because of some super-fast communicative powers of the Internet, but because they think the same way. Anonymous works when enough people who think the same way all work on one project at the same time. Not because one person proposes an idea and they agree or are swayed, but because it would be what they would all be doing anyways as individuals. It’s not the realtime communication that gives such a group incredible speed and efficiency, it’s the lack of communication required to accomplish whatever goal is set. This also explains how the hivemind can function without any central leadership or hierarchy: with no need for constant communication to check with the others in the group if something is acceptable, you don’t need any form of administration to settle disputes. Should any dispute rise in a hivemind, the two (or more) opposing sides split off from each other, as variations in thought processes become more evident. I’m not saying that these splits are peaceful, easy or simple, the birth of 7chan, the purge of the channers from Chanology, the endless arguments over loli that used to be rampant, all are examples of the hivemind fracturing and variations becoming clear enough to cause a split. However, no amount of splits ever really impacts the efficiency of the process, and because there are usually clear definitions as to what sides exist in the split, it’s able to be processed by the community as a whole at a much more rapid pace. There’s no attempt at reconciliation or compromise, there’s a declaration of where you stand on the topic, assessment of how many may agree with you, and then action.
In my experience, the ideas that move forward in Anonymous always spring forth from a small subsection of minds (some in communication before the idea is released, some not) and then spread. It is impossible to tell, however, which ideas in your own mind are ones that will take off. We all have lots of ideas: passionate beliefs, jokes, artistic endeavors, wild fetishes, directed and undirected rage. Many times an Anon will share these ideas with the rest of the hive in some fashion, be it a message board, IRC channel, or forum. Most of these will fall flat, never to be heard from again, but a select few rise to the top. When a thought of an individual Anon does fail, it is not a failure of Anonymous; that concept was never an idea Anonymous had. When something an individual Anon puts forward is embraced by the hive and catapulted to success, it is not the success of the initial thinker. That was an idea Anonymous had, it just happened to start in that one person’s corner. The idea of “taking credit” for the success of an Anonymous initiative is as nonsensical as one neuron in your brain taking credit for a correct answer on a test.
Which brings us to another strength of Anonymous: Anonymous does not fail. Individual Anons fail, all the goddamn time. Individual Anons lose their jobs, lose their girlfriends, go to jail, have chronic health conditions, commit suicide, and quit. Anonymous does none of these things. Individual Anons do not win when they take part in Anonymous. If Anonymous did not succeed at an action, it’s not because Anonymous somehow failed. The action clearly was not the will of the hivemind, and the people who undertook it were just confused individuals pretending to be something that they weren’t. Even if they worked with Anonymous before that action, even if they worked with Anonymous after that action. The only things that count are the things that succeed.
When deciding to join the ranks of Anonymous, you make a conscious and firm decision that it is not about who you are, what you want, it’s about what Anonymous is. And, in removing that, you consider things as a unit. When there is a discussion going on, I’m not thinking about how I personally feel, I’m thinking “Does this represent Anonymous?” and “Would Anonymous do this?” Anonymous really is the first global iteration of “We the people.” And the people is getting fed up.
Hive mind bees do it because it’s all they know. No free thought or expression, just instinctively following scents and responding with behaviours. Anons are not like bees. If one Anon doesn’t like the way the ‘hive’ is going, they’ll drift off and do their own thing.
Also, bees don’t do it for teh lulz.
I am lucky in the place where I live to have certain freedoms that are not granted to people in other places – the right to author books and articles that in some countries would be punishable by imprisonment at the very least – but if I’m being honest I am surprised not to have been “spoken to” by now. The kinds of articles that have appeared on The Unsuitablog have, I know, been considered a threat by corporations and political institutions alike, but one tactic I have often turned to has been that of publishing any correspondence that has passed between me and my less than ethical target. The fact that I do make a point of publishing emails has probably worked in my favour, given that I have never once received even a solicitor’s letter demanding I take down or alter an article.
John Young, professional architect and author of the website Cryptome has received a number of complaints and personal visits from the FBI during his long years making public the kind of information many members of the industrial system would rather remain private. He documented one such visit in November 2003 on the pages of Cryptome12:
Cryptome received a visit today from FBI Special Agents Todd Renner and Christopher Kelly from the FBI Counterterrorism Office in New York, 26 Federal Plaza, telephone (212) 384-1000. Both agents presented official ID and business cards.
SA Renner said that a person had reported Cryptome as a source of information that could be used to harm the United States. He said [the] Cryptome website had been examined and nothing on the site was illegal but information there might be used for harmful purposes. He noted that information in the Cryptome CDs might wind up in the wrong hands.
SA Renner said there is no investigation of Cryptome, that the purpose of the visit was to ask Cryptome to report to the FBI any information which Cryptome “had a gut feeling” could be a threat to the nation.
There was a discussion of the purpose of Cryptome, freedom of information, the need for more public information on threats to the nation and what citizens can do to protect themselves, the need for more public information about how the FBI functions in the field and the intention of visits like the one today.
SA Kelly said such visits are increasingly common as the FBI works to improve the reporting of information about threats to the US.
Asked what will happen as a result of the visit. SA Renner said he will write a report of the visit.
Cryptome said it will publish a report of the visit, including naming the agents. Both agents expressed concern about their names being published for that might lead to a threat against them and/or their families – one saying that due to copious personal databases any name can be traced.
Cryptome said the reason for publishing names of agents is so that anyone can verify that a contact has been made, and that more public information is needed on how FBI agents function and who they are.
Cryptome noted that on a previous occasion FBI agents had protested publication of their names by Cryptome.
Cryptome did not agree to report anything to the FBI that is not available on the website.
Notice the unremitting, almost blasé level of openness in the report: the address and telephone number of the FBI office, the names of the FBI officers, the words used – undoubtedly recorded openly during the visit – including the reservations that the officers had of their names being published, despite them visiting a private residence without a warrant. This level of openness yields no quarter. If a person is completely dedicated to the practice and dissemination of open information, whether that of the system in general or of themselves then they must not start making deals or promises of “just some privacy”. Everyone involved has to be clear this is how it works, and by moving into a space marked “Openness” all of their activities will be scrutinised in public.
The success of the Cryptome approach – John is still very active in the field of Freedom of Information – is made partly possible by the popularity of the website. With upwards of 100,000 unique visitors a day http://www.cryptome.org is not going to fall out of the public domain without considerable noise. It follows that anything placed on the Cryptome site will have been rapidly read (and reposted) by enough people to make any attempt at removal or corruption appear to be an attempt to suppress information. Such openness isn’t restricted to very popular websites, however. The average mainstream journalist might not last long in their job once they start getting visits from the security services, but widely read and respected people such as John Pilger and Johann Hari are high profile enough to get away with authoring stories that would be edited to oblivion were they the work of lesser journalistic hands. But even high-profile journalists have to seek out sympathetic publications such as The Independent and The Nation due to the incestuous nature of the mass media and its umbilical ties to the industrial system; and tragic endings have befallen the most respected writers, such as Lasantha Wickrematunge (killed in Sri Lanka in 2009) and Uğur Mumcu (killed in Turkey in 1993) who crossed the line too many times in the eyes of the institutions they were considered a threat to.
Nevertheless, as I have made clear, the indirect and non-confrontational nature of undermining provides a level of protection for those of us who wish to pursue this track, and openness can be a useful additional form of protection providing you have effective safeguards in place. Even a blog that has just a few loyal readers may be sufficient protection for the author to promote their activities and, possibly more important, record their state of mind and body, such that efforts to suppress them would be exposed – perhaps in the absence of posts; perhaps in the use of “safe words” that only certain readers know of. This safety device can be extended to sending regular text messages, emails, letters, even – in the nature of pre-satellite phone espionage – making chalk marks on walls or drawing blinds at certain times of the day. This might sound dramatic, but for some people these little extra measures can be just enough to make an undermining task worth taking on.
The Air Gap
Anonymity and Openness are often personal choices in conducting your operations, but for some people, particularly those operating in conditions where exposure could be a matter of life or death (think free speech advocates in current day Burma or anti-corporate activists in Pinochet-era Chile, for example) then the decision whether to remain open or anonymous may be a case of doing it one way or not at all. As I have said, the practice of undermining may well become something that occupies a similar space in the so-called “Free West” and other industrialised regimes that give the impression of being free, so long as you continue being a good consumer, worker, student, citizen…
This means that your own liberty may well depend upon other people, and in particular the way that they interact with you. It would do no good at all if you were undertaking a complex operation under the protection of anonymity, while others openly carried out distraction activities, such as legal protests, to find that your anonymity was then exposed by the very people you entrusted to keep schtum about your actions.
We are not talking about trustworthiness – although that is a critical factor in working as part of a team – but rather a lack of operational integrity. In the finance industry the activities of two potentially contradictory operations (such as a company working for rival clients) are kept separate by a protocol known as Chinese Walls. In computer terms the separation is best understood in the context of a Firewall or, more precisely, an Air Gap. They are not quite the same thing: a standard firewall will let some traffic move between networks, whereas an air gap provides a complete break between two discrete networks, much as Chinese Walls are meant to provide, though sometimes don’t due to carelessness or corruption. In the case of undermining, the air gap must be maintained between the Underminers and everyone else.
As a relatively high profile activist I don’t believe it is possible for me to carry out more than a few low-key undermining activities under the mask of anonymity so openness is likely to be my “protection” of choice; writing this book is akin to spraying myself gold and shouting, “Arrest the shiny man!” but that’s the way I do things. Yet just because I choose this modus operandi doesn’t mean I have any right to force it on others. From time to time people contact me about activism and, whether intentionally or not, provide too much information. It may just be a suggestion as to what they are planning to do, but it’s far too easy to match text from emails to personal names and personal names to locations and so on, to the extent that I have to politely ask them to not tell me any more and, very rarely, not to contact me again for their own safety. It goes without saying that I also securely delete anything they have sent me. Others may not be so careful.
It is very tempting when armed with a bit of privileged information about something underhand to tell someone else about it; human nature provides the hearth on which the fire of self-aggrandisement burns. Surely just telling my best friend or the nice lady in the shop I’ve spoken to every day for the last 3 years can’t do any harm – just to get it off my chest and, if we’re being honest, to appear a bit more important and interesting for a short while.
Resist the urge.
That information may have come to you second or third hand, but it is not yours to pass on. We have to start getting the idea that certain things should be kept separate and if undermining grows as quickly as it needs to in these desperate times then we have to get the idea pretty damn quick!
The End of the Beginning
It’s time to move on for, as Goethe so keenly observed, “All theory, dear friend, is grey, but the golden tree of real life springs ever green.” Part Two is the guidebook itself, the directions and maps to the legend of Part One. It is not an exhaustive list of everything you can possibly do to undermine the Tools of Disconnection: partly because there is no way that a single piece of work could contain everything of relevance, nor would even be able to keep up with every new and valid idea that would be of use in the undermining effort. More importantly it is not for me or anyone else to tell you what you should be doing. What I can offer is a good idea of the kinds of tasks that can make a difference at a level of detail that is enough to get you started as an Underminer, but not so great that it can only be applied to that particular task. It is nice to think we are individuals who have our own favoured ways of doing things.
Some of these undermining tasks will be risky, in which case I will make that clear from the outset. I think there is enough information in this first part to allow you to make your own mind up as to what you consider an acceptable level of risk. Some of them, on the other hand will be the kind of things that almost everyone can have a go at without risking their own liberty or safety at all. There are also a number of “Quick Wins” which I will list in boxes: they are the kinds of things you can do with little planning, but can have an impact way beyond their application.
As we go on you will understand the context of these undermining tasks, and start to see how you can develop your own – you may even have your own ideas already. The future needs to be made by imaginative, strong and inquisitive minds. More than that it needs to be made by free minds, and so that is where we will start.
CLICK FOR CHAPTER 6 (PART 1)
1 Podjobs are those that, in the spirit of Scott Adams’ Dilbert, don’t actually lead to an improvement in the lot of humanity, nor even have any part in the production of anything tangible. A real job might be making wooden boxes for neighbours to store apples in; the Podjob equivalent would be advertising the same boxes to a global market or calculating the relative benefits of different coloured boxes on a consumer’s lifestyle.
2 Global urban population growth between 2000 and 2010 was 64 million people per year according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (http://esa.un.org/unup). Urbanisation is the most obvious indicator of civilised living and industrial dominance, but even this is a conservative estimate for it does not include the millions of people subject to creeping industrialisation and cultural homogenisation as a result of religious, educational and aid programs, along with the removal and alteration of their indigenous habitats in the name of development.
3 Extract from Keith Farnish, “The Complexity Myth”, first published at Culture Change, http://www.culturechange.org.
4 Jeff Mincey, private note.
5 It is the victim who should decide whether they have been harmed by something, not someone on their behalf, and then only after some time has passed, ideally after the effects of the undermining have been seen. It may be that they don’t feel they have been harmed after all.
6 I have sometimes been asked why I don’t get depressed, given the subjects I deal with on a daily basis and the worries I have particularly for the future of my family. The reason I give is that I am doing something to combat the cause of that potential depression; being proactive, not getting caught in a cycle of angst and worry, is a very powerful anti-depressant, certainly in my case. Undermining may be just the thing for some people who are feeling helpless.
7 Note that for the most part I am probably being overcautious in statements such as “expose your person to danger”. As you will see in Part Two, the vast majority – in terms of absolute numbers of individual tasks – of undermining is low risk, such that the entire section discussing personal risk may seem over the top. However, make no mistake, once you have become an Underminer in however small a way, then you will become hooked. Not just because of the intrigue and mischief that most people like to dabble in from time to time, but because of the undeniable joy in knowing you are part of something that is absolutely right. At some point you may wish to move onto higher risk activities, and it is for that reason that I make serious points about collective and personal risk.
8 In the mid-2000s Scientology groups managed to influence the results of internet search engines such as Google and Yahoo! to ensure that web sites critical of their activities rarely showed up in search queries. This has since been countered, for the time being at least.
9 This essay was constructed from a range of contributions by people who support and consider themselves to be part of Anonymous. Views were provided on request, except for one piece that was referred to by a contributor, written by him/her at an earlier date. By its nature the essay cannot reflect the complete range of viewpoints within the Anonymous community; however, the range of views, some of them opposing, does reflect a fair cross-section of those who occupy this mindset.
10 A “troll” is a person who makes comments or posts media purely to incite a reaction.
11 Generally refers to members of internet forums that purport to be liberal and innovative but do not reflect that in their operation, e.g. banning of people for offensive posts, overly heavy moderation etc.
12 John Young, “FBI Visits Cryptome”, 2003, http://cryptome.org/fbi-cryptome.htm (accessed April 2011).
Version 1.01, published 24 October, 2012