Disclaimer: this is a post written as part of my “ethics & digital world” course when COVID-19 first hit and classes were moved into distance format. It may contain heavy banter. The topic for that week was “Hackers and Ethics”. Original post here.
What good are ideals if that’s all they remain, to yearn towards them yet make no effort in achieving them. More generally, the stronger one’s ideals the more prone they are to limiting themselves by them, a pattern easily observed in todays’ hackers.
Let me explain: ideals are constraints. The more of them you have, the more limited you are in what you can accomplish and how you can accomplish it, or face the risk of becoming a hypocrite. This can often be seen with black hat hacker groups, but even other, questionable entities such as Cicada 3301, who idealise information freedom, yet in their memo to recruits ask them not to share the contents with anyone.
What’s in an Ideal
While individuals and organisations will have each their own ideals, there’s a common set of them, or one could say a blob that unites most hackers, white and black hats alike in their endeavours.
The first and major one is passion. Hackers are passionate about what they do, and they should. I don’t believe one could succeed in that world if they aren’t passionate about their craft, as there’s simply too much digging and reinventing the wheel required to get anything of significance done in the field. A hacker without passion driving them has no place in the practical, real world.
From passion derives creativity. One pay be passionate, but unless they are creative, they will hit a wall. In my opinion, while passion keeps a hacker sailing, it’s creativity which makes it smooth. Unless the hacker is a conceptual elitist only rambling about what hackers should be, to apply their skill they will need to think of crafty ways to overcome challenges. No matter how long they hack away at a problem, if they can’t overcome binary thinking, they most likely will get stuck at some point.
Ethicality in Hacking
While passion and creativity are what keep a hacker going, they don’t set a goal. A hacker, or any person should have a goal to get the most out of their skill. The hacker ethic in this case isn’t a moral case, such as white vs black hat, but more of a set of principles that makes sure the fuel that are passion and creativity don’t go to waste.
No matter how passionate you are, if you’re too lazy or don’t have the habit of doing stuff, you’re going to waste your potential. Thus, it seems that hacker’s don’t care so much about when to do stuff, but simply about doing it. In practice however, simply doing, while it will develop and boost one’s skill, if no routine is present then more complex tasks will end up lingering and left unfinished. The mindset of doing for the sake of doing is something that can get a rookie started, but isn’t viable on the long run.
Often times, to minimise the need for routine and keep up the idea of tinkering when feeling like it, hackers form communities where they can have a go at different stuff or work together on one project. This creates a melting pot of passion, skill, creativity and work ethics, which will ensure the longevity of a project without requiring individuality. In the practical world, this approach has proven itself to be highly sustainable.
Lastly, to work on all these projects, as a large portion of the community are only hackers by hobby, some financing is needed. Therefore unless one is a full time hacker, be it white or blackhat (the type that rakes in money), then some source of income is needed for them to be able to keep practicing their hobby. In a practical sense, this does not different from any other hobby people may have. The more resources you have, the more freedom in working on side projects one has.
While financial stability guarantees freedom of working on their hobby, hackers are driven by another ideal: the freedom of cracking stuff open. Be it legal or not, hackers love picking things apart to learn how it works, and potentially do it in order to share that information with the world. They do not wish to be bound by some arbitrary rules, if they have the means to circumvent them. Practically however, this self proclaimed freedom is a delicate matter, and may very well end up in the hacker losing their freedom and doing some time behind bars.
And finally, as the freedom of going against the rules, and breaking them is appealing, there are those who don’t do it for the money, fame or personal growth, but simply because they care about the community and want to help other people without the affinity they may have to benefit from their actions and findings. And this is where in my opinion the ideal falls apart. I believe the percentage of hackers who care about anything other than themselves (be it intellectual or financial gains) is negligible. In practice, almost no hacker is in it for the others, I’ve yet to see reasonable cause on the matter.
Add It All Together
With all that said, hackers do have some fairly applicable ideals, mainly due to how loosely interpreted they are, however depending on which camp they are on, these ideals are more for show that principles they follow in practice. However, if these are what keep the community together and hackers going, so be it.