Hack for your Rights

Hacker ethics understood as a simultaneous and global game in the search for structural changes in any area of society

Comunes Collective
Version 1.0

Our intention in this text is to extrapolate some ideas extracted from struggles and conquests in the digital world, and apply them in the search for change in other areas of our society.

We can identify a relevant “game” played in recent decades, a game with a clear strategic potential: the one confronting Free1 Software against proprietary software of large corporations such as Microsoft.

© cc-by-nd-nc diagonalperiodico.net

The effort that the collective creation of software represents is not always obvious, and is typically only made apparent through a practical perspective (“this works better than that” or “I’m more used to this than that”). However, in the end, what is really at stake are our liberties, our privacy and our independence as individuals and as a part of society; in short, the common good.

Free Software is gradually finding its way to our PCs (either through programmes such as Firefox or operating systems such as Ubuntu) and even to our mobile phones (via Android). Still, it is something we use indirectly all the time, since most of what we understand by “the Internet” works because of it, including large proprietary service companies such as Google or Facebook.

One of the most important lessons we can learn from Free Software is that we can play and win in this great game of the global fight for our liberties and the common good, and that we can change the unsustainable and unjust historical present.

Despite the hundreds or thousands of programmers large companies may hire, how can they compete with Free Software that has been created by hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts collaborating all over the world and that has been improved, translated, adapted and released as a common good for the rest of humanity?

Besides, we can reach other areas, such as Free Culture. As Eben Moglen says “if all knowing, all culture, all art, all useful information can be costlessly given to everyone at the same price that it is given to anyone. If everyone can have everything, anywhere, all the time, why is it ever moral to exclude anyone?” If it does not cost us anything to share, why exclude other people artificially?

The best current example of Free Culture is Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, created, managed and maintained the same way as Free Software: by thousands of people like us, while made available to everyone in many languages. It is a good example of a “digital common good”.

Which commercial encyclopedia can compete with this collective, permanent and selfless effort that Wikipedia represents? None. Encarta, Microsoft’s encyclopedia, stopped publishing in 2009. It’s as if the old ice factories tried competing with refrigerators.

But the fact is that this is only the beginning.

Beyond Free Software: A Global Game to Play

In an effort of extrapolation, why should we only target Free Software or encyclopedias and Free Culture?

One of the most interesting things is that Free Software shows us a winning game that can be played not merely against Microsoft, but also against any threat to our freedom (such as transgenics, hybrid seeds which cannot be replanted, privatisation and merchandization of health or education, etc.).

It also shows us that producing for our common good (be it bits or vegetables) is a healthier practice than simply producing for commerce (thus justifying war, illness, planned obsolescence, environmental devastation…).

For further extrapolation, a simple cross-multiplication is sufficient. It is clear that Free Software makes us more free in the face of abusive, monopolist and captive computer and Internet practices. So what other similar practices can make us free in the face of other problems? We can think of examples such as seed monopoly, life patents, unfair pharmaceutical laboratories (which, for instance, prefer to research in lifelong medication), lack of transparency of institutions (and their control by unethical corporations)... you name it.

Something we can learn is that both individually and collectively we can play and win in similar games against opponents which put the common good and our liberties at risk (whatever the issue: food, environment, health, education…)

We must be aware that anyone can take part in these games, so we can convert the current historical situation into a great board of simultaneous and decentralized games. The more participants in each game, in a search for the desired structural change, the greater the possibility of any one of us finding the winning move (such as Wikileaks) and thus, the greater the possibility of success as society. If we win these games, we all win.

Eric S. Raymond said “Given a large enough [collaborators] base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix obvious to someone”.

You too can play... or better, you too can hack

May we explain this in another way: A hack could be an ingenious solution to a problem. A trick, a brain wave, or that idea that just surprises you or makes you laugh because of its ingeniousness.

Hacking is the act of doing hacks, and hackers (originally “woodcutters”) are those that perform hacks —nothing to do with computer piracy. On the other hand, hacktivism, the use of hacks for political purposes, can be seen as a quest for freedom in our society.

Free Software is a great hack and shows us how something, such as our economic system, can be changed or hacked for the benefit of humanity and the common good. It shows us a fissure and how, even under the same game rules of this unjust system, this same system can be beaten.

We must be aware that everyone can be a hacker and may dare to hack in areas other than software, and in other fields of life which restrict our freedom, beyond computers and the internet. A good example in the field of journalism is Wikileaks. It’s a great winning game that can be played in other areas (for instance, by disclosing the unjust practices of corporations and local administrations) in favour of transparency and our freedom.

Our society needs hordes of “woodcutters” to search for and chop up the fissures of corporations and institutions which are against freedom and put the common good in jeopardy.

To oppose is not enough; neither can we do just anything

More ambitious strategies are necessary, focused on the collective quest for those winning games which can end current unjust situations. Sometimes it is a matter of learning from games played by other people and groups, and adapting them to our environment or improving them.

We encourage everyone to play, hack and become social “woodcutters”. Our aim should be to clean up and prune the rotten apple trees which are affecting our communal forest and future.

We challenge you to participate in this simultaneous game for a better world. Whatever your field is (agriculture, biology, music... anything), you can in all certainty hack against what harms us. If your game is a winner, we will all win; and if other games are winners, we will all win too.

This text is an attempt to encourage simultaneous games to fight practices which jeopardise the common good, but it is only one “game strategy”. More effective game strategies may occur to you. Think about it.

Happy hacking!

© 2010-2012 Comunes Collective cc-by-sa

1 “free” as in “free speech”, not “free beer”

English translation from Spanish by Christine Lewis Carroll