ThoughtStorms Wiki

This is a historic page. But I'm keeping it around, because we have increasing examples of hacker / geek / nerd culture going bad.


I was telling HilanBensusan about my HackerSocialists page. And he basically said he thought hackerdom was a sick, macho culture.

At first I was astounded that he could be so critical, and found slightly absurd the idea that hacker culture was "macho".

But let's run through the argument.

From Hilan's perspective, hackers are involved in a desperate struggle against each other to win approval and gain status. And this is what he calls "macho". It's sick because the motivation for competing is a chronic lack of self-esteem that hackers feel. Having been taught to undervalue themselves by society at large, they're further taught by the group they try to fit-in with, that they can only gain acceptance by working to produce "gifts", which they bring as a kind of "entry fee" back into self-worth and social acceptance.

I think this model misses many things, and possibly the most important, about being a hacker.

But what suddenly struck me was that - with one, obvious, crucial difference that we'll discuss in a minute - this is pretty much the same theory of hackerdom that EricRaymond goes round promulgating.

Now, of course, for me Raymond's work in TheCathedralAndBazaar is a seminal touchpoint of much of my thinking. But if you look at it a certain way, it's also a breathtaking, ultra-right-wing intellectual coup.

Before Raymond started his propagandising, it was possible to see the FreeSoftware movement as a patch-work of different projects, with different motivations and goals. There was one very explicit ideological centre; the most prominent part of the movement : RichardStallman's Levellers], Diggers and other non-conformist factions ReclaimingTheCommons at the FreeSoftwareFoundation. Many of them worked because they were motivated by Stallman's ideals, and towards the same ends. Others were driven by that other great hacker motivation : to produce something better and cooler than currently existed. Yet others shared free software to teach and learn about coding.

But then Raymond turned up - claiming to be the one true theorist for a group who were too sensible and pragmatic to really need theorists. (Or at least any other theorist than him.) - and recast the whole set-up as his perfect libertarian society.

Hackers were no longer to be motivated by anything as wishy-washy or abstract as "ideals", and certainly not political ones. They might benefit from teaching and learning, but that was hardly sufficient for them to get out of bed in the morning. And what was "cool" really? Except what the market for EgoBoo said it was?.

For Raymond, the only possible explanation for all those hackers giving away FreeSoftware, was that they were MaximizingSelfAgrandizers, competing for acclaim and status. After all, what else could they be? Self-interest is HumanNature. And if any claimed that they were motivated by being part of a movement, or to liberate humanity from hording, or were just trying to build a better mouse-trap, then they were (self) deluded.

For Raymond, being motivated by the competition for status and approval is a perfectly acceptable thing because it starts from the assumption of a natural base-line where there is no approval or status or at least it takes the form of a kind of background radiation which you can only improve upon.

But for Hilan, the lack of self-esteem which motivates hackers isn't something natural. He's antithetical to all such talk of HumanNature or natural states. Instead it is something artificial and manufactured in the patterns of behaviour which our culture has fallen into. These are ways of treating each other where we basically do each other down (in millions of infinitessimally subtle acts) and sap each other's confidence when we don't conform to certain false and corrosive norms.

Of course this doesn't simplistically imply that the natural state is high self-esteem. Rather, all such categories and concepts as self and esteem come defined by our wider culture. So if people do feel such a lack, then by definition that must come from processes within our culture because that's the only place any ideas can come from.

So what evidence can we turn to? What empirical observations do the various positions imply? And what critical experiments could kill them?

At the end of the page on TheFreeSoftwarePhenomenon I detail some economic comparisons which criticise Raymond's hypothesis that seeking acclaim is the main motivation for hackers.

I'm wondering where we can turn though for better evidence and analysis of whether low self-esteem is something which can be said to be natural or culturally generated.

Of course Raymond, takes the ball to his camp. There are many reasons to hacking, certainly political reasons aren't the majority but i think the just pleasure of hacking offsers the ego-boost in almos all hackers. In my case using and devoloping free software has comes mainly for agreement with Stallman's ideas. In fact, withouth free software i think that i would had droped computing.

That doesn't negate that there is some macho elements and in my view there is a problem here, because it may raise the entry level for new contributors and may turn some people away. In the jocs fractals (http://kernelpanic.hacklabs.org/wiki/index.php/JocsFractals/Inici)) we had a debate about "womens and computer science" and one of the remarks was the former.


Hilan gives his original take : TheAnonymousFriendShowsUp

Where are the women in the OpenSource movement? : (login http://www.sdmagazine.com/documents/s=9411/sdm0411b/sdm0411b.html?temp=ZzMgJriglv (login bobsmith1 / bobbob )

Zby : http://www.perlmonks.org/?node_id=669596

See also :