Paganism and the Hacker Ethic: A Personal Perspective

If you have read the blog for any considerable amount of time, you know that my job is primarily focused on pulling data from a database – and getting the results ready for usage by various end users. I do this using SQL or Structured Query Language. It is a programming language, and to some measure, it is not. What it is, is a series of commands, set in motion against a framework that allows a database to retrieve requested data sets against a series of criteria – thus making it more of a toolset. My mind, from what I have been told by instructors and fellow Information Technology peers, is built for programming concepts. Loops, logical statements, retrieval arguments, correlating programming language syntax into something closer to Plain Language concepts…all things that come to me rapidly when using or learning a programming language. The terminology typically utilized as having a “programmer’s brain.”

And yes, that mentality gets applied to all kinds of things in real life. Grocery shopping, relationships, watching movies and tv shows, writing papers, taking vacations – everything follows a construct of variables, populating those constructs with data, and then utilizing that data. I have half-jokingly referred to cooking as “food programming”. So it is not much of a stretch for me to come to the world of hacking with a sense of awe and near reverence. But it is not the hacking you think it is.

Most people hear the word “hacking” and they think of the criminal world of the internet’s seedy underbelly. People doing programming tricks to skim half-pennies off of the interest from bank accounts (a popular ply utilized in the movies) or the illegal and unethical area of personal espionage, where people steal identities of others in order to get extended credit lines for nefarious means. There is definitely wizardry and skill utilized in these methodologies, but that’s not hacking. That is “cracking” which breaks the system and allows it to be exploited for unethical reasons. No, hacking is a different area altogether. In hacking, people try to figure out why something works and then seek to improve upon it. And if a security flaw is discovered, a hacker will try and fix the security flaw and report it to the owner of the program. Hacking is about taking something that has already been created, improving upon it, or using it as the basis for creating something new.

From Techopedia:

Hacker ethic primarily states and defines the ethical responsibility of a hacker, within their like-minded community. It was first coined by an American journalist, Steven Levy in his book Hackers: Heroes of the Revolution. Although this belief is highly appreciable within the hackers/hacktivism, it has no moral or ethical values in the general society. Typically, hacker ethics includes that whatever software, program or code a hacker develops must be open source, all the information is decentralized and is freely accessible and the overall knowledge must be shared and passed to other hackers.  (https://www.techopedia.com/definition/19706/hacker-ethic)

This, as a concept related to Information Technology, is something I highly believe in. As a concept related to my own daily life, I try and handle myself as closely as I can to this concept. This includes the way I handle my own daily practice within Paganism and as a Polytheist. I am not a reconstructionist, I am not trying to recreate something from the past. I am also not trying to build something new and full of rules. Thus, the decentralized part of the way I approach my understanding of Paganism. And while my daily approach is mine, and mine alone, I do not believe that I am adding huge amounts to the overall body of knowledge. Merely, the way I approach what I do know of Paganism and Polytheism.

Now, notice, I have not said anything about my Druidry. This is where my desire to live my life as close to the Hacker Ethic gets bumped and bruised – particularly the decentralized authority, freely accessible, and sharing of information. Mystery belief systems will always clash with these aspects of the Hacker Ethic.

Within the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids – the order I freely chose to work within the constructs and precepts of, there are closed aspects of the information that one learns that should not be shared. Initiatory experiences are meant to be experienced when encountered for the first time. Sharing the knowledge of the initiation with individuals who have not had this experience will lessen the power of walking into the unknown. I have done the initiations for both the Bardic and Ovate Grades. Sharing the knowledge of these initiatory experiences would rob others of those exhilarating moments. Just as I am sure that sharing the format, structure, and moments within any other initiatory experience would lessen the experiences of the initiate in other traditions. Also, within OBOD, the lessons for each grade should never be shared outside of the grades either. And for much the same reason. The Path that is walked in each of the grades is for the individual to experience and work with. Sharing those lessons, those experiences will do nothing for the individual traversing through that particular lesson. In a manner of speaking, it is similar to cheating on a classwork test.

Furthermore, the Hacker Ethic recognizes no concept of authoritative leadership. Within many aspects of Paganism, there is recognized aspects of leadership. A High Priest and High Priestess have their positions of leadership. It is not an issue of military command structure, but that leadership does have a degree of deference attached to it. Under the Hacker Ethic, I would have to choose not to recognize that authority within OBOD. And honestly, I cannot do that. I have too much respect for many of these people as individuals, as well as deference to their ability, talent, and tenure on their chosen Path within OBOD.

Give that the Hacker Ethic is a major part of who and what I am, how can I reconcile some of these differences with what I practice within my own Spirituality? Well, to quote Captain Barbossa from the first “Pirates of the Carribean” movie:

And thirdly, the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.

And that’s true of the Hacker Ethic as well. At least for me. Violation of any aspect of the Hacker Ethic means that I made a judgment call when I ran across a difference between what I thought to be “right” and what is on display within the Ethic. The idea behind the Hacker Ethic is a set of guidelines meant to advance knowledge around the TX-O and PDP-1 mainframes in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The sharing of information, in this case, programming code instructions, was meant to make the best applications possible for use on those two mainframe systems. The aspects of the Ethic were carried forward into nearly every aspect of life by those who practiced it. The only morality applied to the Ethic is the one embraced by the individual practicing it. And honestly, the morality of an individual writing code in the early 1960s is a far cry from the mercenary and larcenous hearts that were created from the greed and corporate mentality brought about by the rampant consumerism of the 1980s and 1990s.

I am a product of the decadent 1980s; I would never deny that. it definitely took a while for me to shake off the consumerism mentality of my time, and to adopt a different way of seeing the world around me. Paganism, Polytheism, and Druidry have taught me a lot about how to view the world differently, and how to change the concept of what “valuable” really means. Going back to the older ideals of what a hacker really was, as well as stripping away the bombastic image that Hollywood provided for the big and small screen, I came across the concept of the Hacker Ethic. This leads me to the evolving concept of Open Source, which is an off-shoot from the Hacker Ethic – and honestly, a little more evolved conversation within Information Technology. A decided left-turn off the round-about of where this blog sits.

Rest assured, my idea of Paganism is not reconstructive. My concept of Polytheism is one of sharing, discussing, and helping others to try and experience the Gods for themselves. A complete hands-on approach is very deeply held within the Hacker Ethic when it comes to learning and expanding knowledge. My Druidry, on the other hand, does not fit well into this paradigm…and there is no contradiction to that. Guidelines, not rules.

–T /|\

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