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Feb. 10 2010 - 8:29 pm | 2,894 views | 5 recommendations | 17 comments

Anarchy in the Everyday; The Late, Great Nation State

Time Time Time Time Time

Image by 顔なし via Flickr

There is always a point at which the terrorist ceases to manipulate the media gestalt. A point at which the violence may well escalate, but beyond which the terrorist has become symptomatic of the media gestalt itself. Terrorism as we ordinarily understand it is inately media-related. The Panther Moderns differ from other terrorists precisely in their degree of self-consciousness, in their awareness of the extent to which media divorce the act of terrorism from the original sociopolitical intent….

- William Gibson, Neuromancer, 1984

A phenomenon of great importance will not necessarily receive the attention it merits, and thus we may conclude that there is perhaps something  going on this very instant to which we ought to be paying attention if we care to know what the future holds for us, in which case we should take a moment to examine what is novel today for signs that it may prove common tomorrow.

Ten years ago it would have been infeasible for tens of thousands of individuals with no physical connection or central leadership to conceive, announce, and implement a massive act of civil disobedience against a significant Western power, crippling a portion of its online infrastructure in the process – and to do all of this in a matter of days , and without anyone involved having to contend with the tear-gas-and-horseback response with which states have traditionally been in the habit of contending with mass action. But such a thing as this is happening today, and having been done once will almost certainly be done again – repeatedly, increasingly, and with potentially significant consequences for the nation-state and implications regarding that which will perhaps someday come to replace it.

In 1984,  William Gibson introduced a great deal of what would become the iconography of the internet by way of the future world depicted in his novel Neuromancer. He also described a group of nihilistic young terrorists whose acts were often surrealist in nature and whose specialized common language and behavior had evolved quickly, one of many dramatic youth trends that were forever popping up and disappearing with an unprecedented rapidity facilitated by “cyberspace,” a term Gibson invented. A decade later the author described an organization called the Republic of Desire, itself made up largely of proficient internet users in the habit of conducting destructive pranks both for amusement and reasons more practical, and occasionally even ideological.

That some great array of individuals would come to unite via the advent of the internet and thus work in concert against a shared antagonist – perhaps a hated social convention or aesthetic sensibility – was not only predictable, but predicted. And now it is happening, most noticeably in the form of the ongoing denial of service (DDOS) attacks and other actions being taken against websites of the Australian government by the semi-absurdist semi-organization known as Anonymous, itself an outgrowth of the popular image board 4chan along with an interlocking directorate of associated internet entities.

The attacks in question, in which thousands of computer users work in concert to overload a given website with requests for information and thereby shut it down for the duration, are prompted by a recent spate of moves on the part of the Australian government to censor and otherwise regulate content available to its citizens via the internet, an effort in which the Aussie state has been unusually enthusiastic relative to most of its Western counterparts. Anonymous’ current campaign is the second of its kind; the first, in 2008, targeted the Church of Scientology with DDOS attacks, a series of in-the-flesh protests outside Scientology centers worldwide, the theft and dissemination of sensitive documents, and a variety of other steps – all coordinated, or not, in a decentralized fashion that provides for no names, ranks, or central direction.

The specifics of this particular case have already been detailed by some of the more astute media outlets ranging from Wired to the BBC. Some of the details expressed regarding Anonymous will be wrong, as usual, but the details matter little as nothing is likely to come of this incident, whereas the implications for the future defy overstatement. Having taken a long interest in the subculture from which Anonymous is derived and the new communicative structures that make it possible, I am now certain that this phenomenon is among the most important and under-reported social developments to have occurred in decades, and that the development in question promises to threaten the institution of the nation-state and perhaps even someday replace it as the world’s most fundamental and relevant method of human organization. Over the next week or so, I will make this case more formally.

Update: Friday 6:30 EST

I was contacted last night by a person whom I’ve verified to have been the member of Anonymous who effectively launched the 2008 campaign against the Church of Scientology by posting the now-infamous statement of purpose video, which was eventually viewed nearly four million times and which was followed by Project Chanology. The individual has offered to grant me an interview:

We are very happy with the article you wrote. I spent a lot of time working on press for the titstorm guys over the last few days. Sending out the big press release, answering and interviewing with abc, bbc, and so on. Its been busy. It is nice when someone actually gets Anonymous. So few journalists do.

What a sweet thing to say! At any rate, I’ll post the interview after it’s been conducted. I find that this works better than posting them before they’ve been conducted. It’s an old journalism trick.


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  1. collapse expand

    Thank you for supporting the cause.

    We are legion.

    We do not forgive.

    We do not forget.

    We are Anonymous.

  2. collapse expand

    Before their attack on Australian government computers, “Anonymous” publicly announced: “No one messes with our access to perfectly legal (or illegal) content for any reason.” How arrogant. Their illegal attacks are no way to accomplish any purpose, legitimate or illegitimate. It is the terrorist mentality of, “you are a threat to our illegal behavior therefore we are justified in harming you in any way we want.” It is the same mentality they have displayed when attacking Scientologists. That is why two “Anonymous” members have already been sentenced to a year in federal prison — Brian Mettenbrink and Dmitry Guzner. The group’s illegal attack on the Australian government is an open confession of their antisocial mentality.

    • collapse expand

      As I mentioned, the group is semi-absurdist. It’s also decentralized, and thus the most widely-read statement of purpose, which is the work of one person, does not necessarily convey the intent of the majority of individuals involved, who don’t reside in Australia and are clearly not getting involved in this as some practical method of maintaining access to pornography, as Australian laws don’t apply to them. I’m also not sure how you tie this in to the Scientology attacks; what “illegal behavior” on the part of Anonymous was being threatened by the CoS that you characterize both campaigns as drawing upon the “same mentality”?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      salvatore90, I am Anonymous. I have not participated in the attacks on the Australian Government. I have never posted at 4chan or any of the other chans. I don’t attack Scientologists – except David Miscavige, human rights abuser. My weapons are truth and humor. I fight for the rights of all scientologists to practise their belief system freely, without coercion, abuse and fraud. I’m fighting for you, sal. That’s my mentality. I don’t speak for any other Anons.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    As I track it, it is the third such event not second.

    It is an interesting social development that’s for sure.

  4. collapse expand

    Well writen. Most media is ready to paint Anon as some grand hacker conspiracy. Yes you’re right, there is no mission statement tying together the actions of Anonymous. We are average, computer-literate, generally well-informed people and we are learning how to make our opinions known to the big wide world.

    Although, I admit, we usually do it for the lulz!

  5. collapse expand

    If you want, I’m happy to chat. I imagine that some of my viewpoints might be of interest to you, and I am happy to spread the word. As a teaser, I work for the nihilist party in my vountry, and I’m participating in operation titstorm right now. If you can’t see my email from this post, please reply with a way for me to contact you.

  6. collapse expand

    I have followed this phenomena for over two years, this group plays heavily on the Sampson vs Goliath issue not the right or wrong issue, most of them don’t even care to understand the issues that they are aligning themselves with. I’ve interviewed many of these teens and they are mostly teens. This leads to many of them just doing what one person is suggesting them to do. So to say it is loosely organized is a major overstatement. Its a very few slanting an idea in a particular light and then “releasing the hounds”.
    If you dig deeper though and look at 4chan and the vulgar human behavior that exist there, where the moral code is below even that of a “LA Gang” and is justified by the idea that the internet is different. (And I am not even talking about the porn)You will better understand the cold callousness that these people justify their acts from.
    Ultimately these few people will lead the many into criminal acts that will force government or justify the governments action of heavy censorship of the internet. Either they are not bright enough or they have been duped wholesale but they will bring the government down on the internet far quicker and more thoroughly then any pornography could.
    And those “few” will be LOL when it occurs.
    I look forward to reading your research and commentary

  7. collapse expand

    Finally someone can write an article about anon without the conservative bias making me want to drown myself. This post is in no way saying the ends justify the means, rather, it is amazing how the means are even happening. Anyone who does not support the message Anon is presenting here (regardless of the methods) does not deserve the freedom they have, and they will eventually (with the unwillingness to support it) cease to have it.

    This is not about porn, this is about not standing idly by while the government begins to take your freedom.

    When history is written, we’ll all be either heroes or terrorists. If it’s the latter, the world will be a much worse place.

  8. collapse expand

    Well written. I am looking forward to future articles . . .

  9. collapse expand

    No Barrett, I was not referring to the attacks on Hal Turner. But your response lets me know that discussion with you is unlikely to be fruitful. Best wishes to you. I humbly encourage you to strive to maintain a small portion of your certainty for the possibility that there may be another point of view.

    • collapse expand

      If you look closely, you will notice that my reply regarding Hal Turner was to another commenter, not to you. You are correct that any discussion between us would not be fruitful, however, as you seem to believe that the Church of Scientology does not commit crimes, which is demonstrably untrue as seen by leaked internal documents as well as the successful prosecution of key staffers in the aftermath of Operation Snow White, among many other things.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Hello again Barrett. You are right — after posting my comment, I realized I was “responding” to something you had actually said to someone else. My mistake. Sorry.

        Nevertheless, your latest comment (Snow White, etc) is very disappointing.

        First of all, your assumption that I “seem to believe” that the COS does not commit crimes is not only without merit, nothing I wrote should have led you to that conclusion. I honestly do not mean any offense, but you are sounding more and more like a dupe. (Did that wild hostility just bruise your sensibilities and cause irreparable alienation?)

        Secondly, regarding your reference to Snow White. Since we are all aware of what happened at Watergate, I presume you are of the opinion that the Republican Party (as a corporate entity, a philosophic body, and as the sum of each of its members) was, is, and always will be a criminal organization. [With allowances for humor, I presume you are going to answer in the affirmative.]

        Having said that, assuming you believe the “leaked internal documents,” what do you feel needs to be done? Do you subscribe to the Anonymous theory of “dismantle the COS in its current form…” (in appropriate robotic voice)?

        I look forward to your interview with Greg.

        By the way, in your earlier message to me you asked about what “illegal behavior” on the part of Anonymous I was referring to. Your use of quotation marks suggests (to me) two things: 1) You endorse the Anonymous line that all their activities are peaceful and legal and amount to no more than shuffling electrons; and 2) any actual criminal destruction of physical property was done by anonymous people who are not Anonymous people because Anonymous isn’t really a group and therefore Anonymous can pick and choose which actions done in its name “it” wants to claim responsibility for.

        Hopefully, you do not fully endorse the other rationaliations: 3) that any such criminal acts against the Church are justified because blah blah blah, and 4) a little collateral damage is a minor cost in every good revolution.

        And finally, “you seem to believe” a lot of bad stuff about Scientology and/or the Church of. Your Anonymous friends (trolling, ha ha) rage about everything Scientology. Although I realize it is politically incorrect to speak of Anonymous as “they”, as if a consistent point of view might exist, they appear to me like all fanatics: Everything is black and white and Scientology, unfortunately, is black. They are like Colts fans who DESPISE the Saints. Or, more likely, Arsenal fans who hate the Spurs. Is the Church of Scientology a perfect assembly of innocent angels from its highest priests to its fringe parishioners? Probably not. But if you believe 0.1% of the drivel constantly regurgitated by Anonymous and the few, yes, few, ex-Scientologists, then you are, as I said, somewhat duped. I have read many times lately, where there’s smoke there’s fire. Maybe. But perhaps, where there’s smoke, there’s mirrors.

        There are a lot of truly wonderful people who call themselves Scientologists: socially, politically and environmentally aware people, with an astute understanding of the many cultures and other forces at work in our societies.

        But hell, if you want to get hung up in Snow White, as we have both conceded, the chances of this communication bearing much viable fruit is pretty slim.

        Fortunately, at least one of us is an optimist.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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    About Me

    I'm the author of Flock of Dodos: Behind Modern Creationism, Intelligent Design, and the Easter Bunny; my second book, Hot, Fat & Clouded: The Amazing and Amusing Failures of America’s Chattering Class (Being a Partial Record of the Incompetence of Our Republic's Mainstream Pundits, Most of Whom Deserve to be Exiled or at Least Have Their Cars Vandalized), will be released in 2010. I'm a contributor to Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post, Skeptic, and The Onion, and my work has appeared in dozens of other publications and outlets. I also serve as director of communications for Enlighten the Vote, a political action committee dedicated to the advancement of the Establishment Clause.

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