Freedom Digital Library


Civilization and Beyond


"Dear Friends"

20 March 2005
Dear Friends,

More About Metaconsciousness, Part II
Higher Ground

by J. Harmon Grahn

In the preceeding part, More About Metaconsciousness, Part I, I cited a small Bibliography1 of sources, not all of which have so far actually been "used," and none of which have yet been "used up." Those which have been overlooked will find their place in what follows.

Contents of More About Metaconsciousness
Part I: The "Mainstream"
Part II: Higher Ground


In Part I, in The River and the Cataract, I observed that "the perils of trackless jungles and overhanging canyons notwithstanding, the most difficult and formidable obstacle facing any would-be contemporary diversity generator is reaching the decision to desert the 'mainstream,' and face the hazards of seeking higher ground." I have a friend who aptly calls it the "meanstream."

Reaching the decision really is a formidable obstacle, for consider: everyone reading this, including its Author – and practically everyone not reading it – has been born and raised in the thick of civilization, with an unbroken heritage, generation upon generation, for the past ten thousand years. We have all imbibed from birth the unquestioned mantras of civilization:

All these things we have believed, without question or doubt, and in most cases, without even conscious awareness. Is it any wonder that anyone naysaying any of these presumed "axiomatic truths" should appear to most civilized people as a madman? I certainly will not complain if any reading these pages should think me so; for I, who have been raised more or less like my peers, know intimately the long path I have taken on the way to the conclusions I have so far reached, and cannot "blame" anyone who has not taken a similar path, or reached similar conclusions. Therefore, if I seem to "bash civilization" in what may seem to some an "extreme manner," you may be sure I do so "in a purely Pickwickian sense." Which is to say, without malice toward anyone – including even "the secret band of robbers and murders" of which Lysander Spooner wrote so passionately over a century ago.

Nevertheless, it remains a stubbornly immovable fact that civilization doesn't work, and all who remain tangled in its coils are swiftly approaching the Abyss from which there is no further escape.3 Those of us who can see our peril must desert the "mainstream," and transplant ourselves on higher ground – or perish in the attempt, for we shall surely perish otherwise; or worse, live as slaves.4

We are not the first civilized people to have faced the prospect of abandoning our civilization. Quinn cites numerous examples, particularly in the Western Hemisphere, who have done exactly this.5 Ours is the unique privilege (so far as we "know") of having to abandon a global civilization. In the past there has always been a "frontier," beyond which the tentacles of civilization had not yet reached. There was always a jungle, or a trackless desert, or an unexplored continent into which those peoples for whom civilization had lost its luster could vanish. Today, civilization is the jungle; so our predicament takes a somewhat different form.

Although in terms of "space" and "time," there is "nowhere to go" on Earth that has not already been pre-empted by civilization, there is "somewhere to go" in terms of alternatives to the patterns offered by civilization. These alternatives are patterns of the tribe; which have a proven track record stretching back millions of years into the human past.

At this point, however, a cautionary note is appropriate. Although the tribe has worked for humans for millions of years, there is one obstacle the tribe has so far not successfully surmounted: the obstacle of civilization itself. Civilization has systematically destroyed or crippled tribes wherever it has encountered them, and so far, the tribal way of life has defended itself poorly or not at all against the conquests of civilization. Therefore, if the tribal way of life is to provide effective sanctuary from pre-emption by civilization, it must acquire a street-smart savvy that pre-civilized and contemporary tribes have evidently lacked. This is certainly true today, while civilization still bestrides the Earth; and it will be true into the remote future, for who knows when or where the spectre of vanished civilization may once again raise its ugly head? Whenever, wherever it may be that some people take it upon themselves to pre-empt the will and action of others, the peoples of those times and places must be prepared to deal with it effectively; not as the tragically naïve Native Americans did 500 years ago, for instance, when they first encountered the bearded pirates from out of the Eastern Sea, a/k/a los Conquistadores.

So how does a post-civilized tribe deal effectively with any manifestation of civilization? This we must learn, or perish; and having learned, must never forget. We are advantageously situated right now in the very midst of the last days of global civilization run amok – so we have to deal with it, or die trying. If any of us succeed, we will have accomplished something monumental for the follow-on generations of all humanity. If none of us succeed... humanity may as well never have set foot upon the Earth. These are the stakes in the game we are playing. As the dwarf Gimli cheerfully remarked in the recent film version of The Return of the King, "Small chance of success; large probability of getting killed: what are we waiting for?"

Enter the Hackers

Daniel Quinn cites the circus as an example of a contemporary tribe that functions effectively within the environment created by civilization.6 I would like to suggest another, more spectacular and globe-girdling example: the free software / open-source community, or the tribe of hackers.7 Hackers invented, built, and populate the World Wide Web.8 Hackers have "reverse-engineered" the proprietary computer operating system Unix, originally developed by Bell Labs hackers Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, and have given to the world the free / open-source GNU / Linux operating system which practically runs the Internet today, and is (in my estimation) more powerful, functional, stable, and certainly more cost-effective, than any proprietary operating system now available for the expanding global population of personal computer users.

In The Cathedral & the Bazaar,9 Eric Raymond provides considerable insight into the particulars of hacker culture, as well as a penetrating analysis of the astonishing success of the "bazaar style of software development" exemplified by the rise of Linux; in comparison to the "cathedral style" of proprietary software development. I submit that valuable lessons may be learned from a study of these disclosures, and that they are applicable to a far wider field than that of pure software development.

In particular, the global hacker tribe have demonstrated a remarkable agility in dealing with civilization, not by opposing it, but by doing, on an expanding and accelerating scale, essentially what I have been advocating in this series of essays, i.e. fomenting metaconsciousness. It is, in fact, "written in" to the hacker ethic, which Raymond defines as:

1. The belief that information-sharing is a powerful positive good [emphasis added], and that it is an ethical duty of hackers to share their expertise by writing free software and facilitating access to information and to computing resources wherever possible. 2. The belief that system-cracking for fun and exploration is ethically OK as long as the cracker commits no theft, vandalism, or breach of confidentiality.

Both of these normative ethical principles are widely, but by no means universally, accepted among hackers. Most hackers subscribe to the hacker ethic in sense 1, and many act on it by writing and giving away free software. A few go further and assert that all information should be free and any proprietary control of it is bad; this is the philosophy behind the GNU project.10

Sense 2 is more controversial: some people consider the act of cracking itself to be unethical, like breaking and entering. But the belief that 'ethical' cracking excludes destruction at least moderates the behavior of people who see themselves as 'benign' crackers.... On this view, it may be one of the highest forms of hackerly courtesy to (a) break into a system, and then (b) explain to the sysop, preferably by email from a superuser account, exactly how it was done and how the hole can be plugged – acting as an unpaid (and unsolicited) tiger team.

The most reliable manifestation of either version of the hacker ethic is that almost all hackers are actively willing to share technical tricks, software, and (where possible) computing resources with other hackers. Huge cooperative networks such as Usenet, FidoNet and Internet ... can function without central control because of this trait; they both rely on and reinforce a sense of community that may be hackerdom's most valuable intangible asset.11

Raymond's analysis of the utility of Open Source is careful to step around the "ideological" proposition that "information should be non-proprietary." Whether it "should" or "shouldn't," there are qualitative pros and cons that have "real-world" impact upon a product's utility, and these have been widely misunderstood.

For example, the idea behind making a creative work proprietary is ostensibly to deny one's competitors the ability to duplicate and profit from the work at its author's12 expense. One can see the thing from the author's point of view. A manufacturer, for instance, usually does not welcome a competitor selling the same product under a drifferent brand name, especially when he, the original manufacturer, made the investment necessary to develop the product and bring it to market. One can appreciate how such a person might reasonably take measures to keep his product proprietary and exclusive to himself and his designated licensees.

There are important differences, however, between software, and possibly of other kinds of information, and "manufactured goods." Contrary to widespread belief, software developers do not primarily manufacture software: they provide a service. Their service only begins with the acquisition of a software product by a client. In order to keep the client happy, the developer must maintain the product, make it adaptable to the client's unique needs, repair its flaws (debug the program), and provide enhancements and improvements throughout the useful lifetime of the product. A developer who conscientiously and reliably provides these services will out-perform a developer who does not. Such services can be time-consuming and costly, however, and if the developer treats his product as a manufactured good seeking a one-time sale, other things being equal, he is going to loose in the long run to his competitor who operates on the basis of a different model.

The "bazaar style of software development" has turned out to have been such a "different model;" as opposed to the "cathedral style," which treats software, in part, as a manufactured good for sale. In 1991 a Finnish hacker named Linus Torvalds began work on a non-proprietary clone of the Unix kernel for Intel 386 processors. At the time, nobody had dreamed that a lone hacker, or even a team of hackers, could produce anything as complex as the kernel – the heart, the very core – of a functional operating system. Such "high end" projects, it was universally believed, could only be successfully developed by well-organized teams of highly trained professionals – which of course could only be assembled in the milieu of hierarchically structured corporate entities. Linus's project, however, attracted the voluntary participation of large numbers of other hackers, just because it was so cool, and by the end of 1993 Linux was competitive in reliability and stability with many proprietary Unix flavors, and supported an enormously larger software base – including even some commercial applications.

What was happening, and has continued to happen, was the synergistic convergence of a highly appealing project among hackers, with the sudden emergence of the Internet into the "mainstream" via the World Wide Web. This brought to bear the creative ingenuity of thousands of relatively isolated hackers from around the world, and the "impossible" emerged as the increasingly functional and robust "free software" product, Linux.13

From nearly the beginning [Raymond writes], [Linux] was rather casually hacked on by huge numbers of volunteers coordinating only through the Internet. Quality was maintained not by rigid standards or autocracy but by the naively simple strategy of releasing every week and getting feedback from hundreds of users within days, creating a sort of rapid Darwinian selection on the mutations introduced by developers. To the amazement of almost everyone, this worked quite well.14

No one was more thoroughly flabbergasted by the performance of the GNU / Linux operating system than longstanding GNU hacker Eric Raymond.

Linux overturned much of what I thought I knew [he writes]. I had been preaching the Unix gospel of small tools, rapid prototyping and evolutionary programming for years. But I also believed there was a certain critical complexity above which a more centralized, a priori approach was required. I believed that the most important software (operating systems and really large tools like the Emacs programming editor) needed to be built like cathedrals, carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation, with no beta to be released before its time.

Linus Torvalds's style of development – release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity – came as a surprise. No quiet, reverent cathedral-building here – rather, the Linux community seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches (aptly symbolized by the Linux archive sites, which would take submissions from anyone out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles.

The fact that this bazaar style seemed to work, and work well, came as a distinct shock. As I learned my way around, I worked hard not just at individual projects, but also at trying to understand why the Linux world not only didn't fly apart in confusion, but seemed to go from strength to strength at a speed barely imaginable to cathedral-builders.15

Accordingly, Raymond undertook the ethnological study of how the hacker tribe that formed around Linux actually worked. Raymond wrote up his four-year analysis in a paper titled "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," first delivered publicly in May, 1997, at the Linux Kongress in Bavaria, and reproduced in his book of the same title.16

The hacker tribe greeted Raymond's analysis with thunderous applause, for he had given them an image of themselves, and a picture of what they were doing, and its significance, of which they themselves had been virtually unaware. The real kicker came eight months later, however, when Netscape Communications, Inc. announced their decision to go open-source with their line of Netscape browsers; and their CEO Jim Barksdale was citing Raymond's paper to the media as the "fundamental inspiration" for their decision.

This was the event [Raymond writes] that commentators in the computer trade press would later call "the shot heard 'round the world" – and Barksdale had cast me as its Thomas Paine, whether I wanted the role or not. For the first time in the history of the hacker culture a Fortune 500 darling of Wall Street had bet its future on the belief that our way was right. And, more specifically, that my analysis of 'our way' was right.17

Street-Smart Savvy

Well, good on Eric Raymond! Yet he was sobered by the implications of the fact that someone from the heart of the "mainstream" had gone out on a limb to follow the path through the jungle being hacked by the hacker tribe. Up front, it looked like a big feather in the hacker cap – but what if Netscape's gambit failed? This was a significant possibility, for the colossus and prototypical "cathedral-builder" Microsoft had marked Netscape down for its prey; and victory for Microsoft in this contest would not do the hackers one bit of good.

As we'll be seeing in greater depth a bit further on, Microsoft's strategy has been to box their market exclusively into reliance upon Microsoft products by "embracing and extending" universal protocols in such a way as to turn them into de facto Microsoft protocols – so that only Microsoft proprietary software can use them. This is exactly counter to the original intent of Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the HTTP and HTML protocols which support the World Wide Web;18 and it is anathema to hacker culture.

For Netscape [Raymond writes], the issue was less about browser-related income (never more than a small fraction of their revenues) than maintaining a safe space for their much more valuable server business. If Microsoft's Internet Explorer achieved market dominance, Microsoft would be able to bend the Web's protocols away from open standards and into proprietary channels that only Microsoft's servers would be able to service.19

The success of the Netscape initiative was suddenly intertwined with the success, and possibly even the survival of the hacker tribe. In response, Raymond became a Netscape consultant in February, 1998, for the purpose of developing a strategy for bringing success to their initiative. He describes some of the elements of that strategy, along with ancillary measures he and other hackers took to broaden the appeal of what in consequence became widely known as the Open Source movement.

What the hackers had been producing had mostly gone under the name Free Software, following the pioneering work of Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU Project. In the present instance, however, a number of elements emerged as crucial to the success of the Netscape innitiative, and crucial to the expansion of the momentary beachhead thereby established for the hacker tribe:

  1. In order to succeed, the products and methods of the hackers – essentially the GNU / Linux operating system – must be perceived positively by the "big fish" in the "mainstream," specifically by the "captains of industry" in the domain of software development among the Fortune 500.

  2. In order to accomplish this, it was essential that GNU / Linux be represented favorably in that segment of the press that is particularly influential among the Fortune 500: specifically, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Forbes Magazine, and Barron's.

  3. Parallel education of the hacker tribe, particularly in the tactics of guerrilla marketing, was also seen as essential.

  4. To these ends, the term "Open Source" was adopted, and tied as a standard of certification to the Open Source Definition, which was adapted in turn from the Debian Free Software Guidelines.20

Whether deserved or not, "Free Software" had acquired an association in the popular and trade press as representing hostility to proprietary information in general, and consequently to the interests of the very decision-makers it was now seen as crucial to impress favorably. Additionally, the ambiguity of the word "Free" ("Think 'free speech,' not 'free beer'," explains Stallman) was seen as introducing an element of confusion where clarity was essential. Accordingly, the above initiatives were taken by Netscape and Raymond, and found swift cooperation among large segments of the hacker tribe, including Linus Torvalds, Tim O'Reilly, and Tim's O'Reilly & Associates, a major publisher of hacker manuals.

The immediate objective was to take advantage of the window of opportunity opened by Netscape's decision to go open-source with their browsers, and achieve a foothold of "legitimacy" in "mainstream" perceptions for GNU / Linux, and for the "bazaar style" of software development. If other "mainstream" major players, besides Netscape, could be persuaded to follow suit and similarly adopt some elements of the "bazaar style," and / or port their software to Linux, this would go a long way toward securing a kind of "homeland" for the hacker tribe.

Time was of the essence. You can hold a publicity campaign together only so long before it starts going stale. If you can't achieve tangible results within that time frame, the "window of opportunity" closes, and you're back at "square one," or worse. In the event, Corel Computer announced their Linux-based Netwinder network computer in May, and the database giants Oracle and Informix ported their products to Linux in July. After that, software vendors began porting to Linux on a routine basis. Between July and November, meanwhile, the targeted financial press began to come on-stream with steady coverage, initiated by a piece in The Economist, and a cover story in Forbes, and the perceived solidity of GNU / Linux steadily climbed.21

Conversely, the prototypical "cathedral style" software giant Microsoft began taking increasing alarm at the performance of GNU / Linux, and commenced measures to combat the growing menace. This is documented by what have become widely known as "The Halloween Documents," internal Microsoft memoranda, leaked to Eric Raymond by a Microsoft insider, and immediately published on the Open Source site. They are long, arcane, and prolix; and Raymond's pithy annotations add to their length. They are well worth reading nevertheless, because they provide a unique window into an historical phenomenon from an unintentionally candid point of view, and provide insight into the rich contrasts between the "cathedral" and "bazaar" mentalities. They are also possibly the most eloquent advertisements ever penned for the GNU / Linux operating system, and the "bazaar style" of software development.

Publication of The Halloween Documents breathed new life into the open-source campaign with an explosive resurgence of press coverage, and gave Microsoft a very public black eye by confirming the worst suspicions of Microsoft critics about the lengths to which they were willing to go – or at least consider – in dealing with their competition. The publicly disclosed Microsoft memoranda confirmed, among other things, that the essential long-term strategy at Microsoft was to "de-commoditize" standard protocols – which is an arcane way of saying that Microsoft deliberately "embraces and extends" standard protocols in ways that render them inaccessible to any but Microsoft programmers. Here is a quote from Halloween Document I:

De-commoditize protocols & applications

OSS projects [a Microsoft acronym for "Open Source Software projects"] have been able to gain a foothold in many server applications because of the wide utility of highly commoditized, simple protocols. By extending these protocols and developing new protocols, we can deny OSS projects entry into the market.

David Stutz makes a very good point: in competing with Microsoft's level of desktop integration, "commodity protocols actually become the means of integration" for OSS projects. There is a large amount of IQ being expended in various IETF working groups which are quickly creating the architectural model for integration for these OSS projects.22

To which Raymond adds the following annotation:

In other words, open protocols must be locked up and the IETF crushed in order to "de-commoditize protocols & applications" and stop open-source software.

A former Microserf adds: only half of the reason MS sends people to the W3C working groups relates to a desire to improve RFC standards. The other half is to give MS a sneak peak at upcoming standards so they can "extend" them in advance and claim that the 'official' standard is 'obsolete' when it emerges around the same time as their 'extension'.23

Or as Raymond puts it elsewhere, "No wonder hackers often refer to Microsoft's strategy as 'protocol pollution'; they are reacting exactly like farmers watching someone poison the river they water their crops with!"24

Microsoft is thus a typically civilized outfit, neither better nor worse than countless other civilized organizetions at perpetual war with every entity on Earth not cooperative with their agendas of exploitation, plunder, and control. It is a story as old as civilization itself, told and retold in endless variety, yet always to the same catastrophic effect: "Roll over and play dead, or we'll destroy you!"

The truly remarkable story here is the story of the hacker tribe, which for the first time in ten thousand years exhibits signs of having the street-smart savvy required to stand up to civilization, and thrive in the face of its most vicious predations. The story hasn't entirely played out, yet the signs to date are propitious.

This performance is extraordinary. I believe it is a straw in the wind – at least – and may indicate a major sea change in the course of human events.

A Straw in the Wind

The point of all this – in case you may have mislaid the thread of the discussion – is: given that civilization doesn't work and is sweeping all entangled in its coils over the Cataract and into the Abyss, the most urgent "mission – for those who choose to accept it," and wish to avoid the catastrophic destiny of civilization, is to find a way to higher ground, entirely away from the "mainstream." In general, as already discussed, the way away from civilization, must lie among the patterns of the tribe, which have evolved over the course of millions of years, and work very well – in most circumstances. The patterns of pre-civilized tribes have not worked very well, however, when confronted by civilization itself, and have been routinely destroyed or crippled wherever they have been found by civilized peoples. The performance to date of the hacker tribe exhibits indications of being a possible exception to this ten-thousand-year-old rule. Accordingly, I speculate that the bazaar style of software development pioneered by the hacker tribe may represent a straw in the wind pointing a viable way to higher ground for those who have reached the point of decision to walk away, if possible, from civilization.

Here, our path diverges, in a sense, from that of Eric Raymond – not due to disagreement, but due only to a difference of emphasis. Raymond is a hacker, and his primary concern is quite properly the evolution of the hacker tribe and the "bazaar style" of software development. I am not a hacker, and my primary concern is with the survival and ongoing evolution of the human experiment on Earth. The two are entirely compatible, yet are not entirely congruent.

I expect the open-source movement to have essentially won its point about software within three to five years [Raymond wrote]. Once that is accomplished, and the results have been manifest for a while, they will become part of the background culture of non-programmers. At that point it will become more appropriate to try to leverage open-source insights in wider domains.25

It has been "three to five years" or so since Raymond wrote those words, and perhaps now is the time to begin applying "open-source insights in wider domains." And perhaps it is also appropriate that this be undertaken largely by non-hackers. The question on the agenda paper then becomes, "What elements, if any, of hacker culture in general, and of the 'bazaar style' of software development in particular, are applicable to circumstances outside the domain of software development?"

Lessons From the Bazaar

Eric Raymond points out an interesting incongruity in the open-source movement between their stated ethos and their actual practice. According to to the Open Source Definition, and to software licenses compliant with it, such as the GNU General Public License, as Raymond puts it, "anyone can hack anything. Nothing prevents half a dozen different people from taking any given open-source product ..., duplicating the sources, running off with them in different evolutionary directions, claiming to be the product."26 This particular form of "promiscuity" – sanctioned by consensus and use of OSD-compliant licenses – is called "forking," and is almost never done in hacker practice. The consensus among the hacker tribe, as disclosed in actual practice, adheres to a much more "puritanical" ethic, and certain taboos are rarely if ever violated.

In particular, ownership of an open-source project is treated as sacred among hackers. Because software is not a "manufactured good," but an ongoing service to its clients, an open-source project has a dynamic evolutionary life, potentially involving the creative input of many hackers over the course of the project's entire lifetime. "The owner(s) of a software project," Raymond writes, "are those who have the exclusive right, recognized by the community at large, to re-distribute modified versions."27 A project owner, "recognized by the community at large," may be an individual or a group, and may acquire project ownership in one of three ways:

  1. Originate the project;
  2. Be publicly named as successor by the project's previous owner;
  3. Assume ownership of an orphaned project.

The first of these is obviously rock-solid. The second is sometimes necessitated by the owner's inability or lack of interest in the project to sustain the responsibilities of ownership. In such cases it is incumbent upon the owner to find a competent successor to carry on project ownership, maintenance, and oversight. The third possibility may occur when an individual or group of hackers take an interest in a project which has no evident or active owner.

In the latter case, elaborate measures are taken, first if possible, to locate the project owner, or failing that, to establish among the community that the project really has no owner, and that the hacker(s) taking an interest in the project are competent to resuscitate and support it. This may take some time, to allow every opportunity for the real owner to surface, and / or for any contention to the proposal to be brought forward and publicly aired. And even at that, the tribe may reserve judgement on the new owner until he, she, or they have significantly improved the project from the wellspring of their own creativity. The same may be true even in the case of of a publicly anointed successor to an open-source project.

Meanwhile, there is no taboo against privately (i.e. not for public distribution) modifying and recompiling the source of an open-source distribution for the purpose of adapting it to a particular computing environment, or giving it customized capabilities for a specific task. This is what open-source software is for.

These measures, universally adhered to by members of the hacker tribe, are not "required by law," i.e. by the Open Source Definition; yet they are given universal respect and observance by the tribe. Why is this?

Raymond suggests that these practices have evolved among the hacker tribe at least over the extended period he has personally observed them, and that they have much in common with parallel practices that have similarly evolved in entirely different contexts. He observes that these customs have evolved over time, they have done so in a consistent direction. That direction has been to encourage more public accountability, more public notice, and more care about preserving the credits and change histories of projects in ways which (among other things) establish the legitimacy of the present owners.

These features suggest that the customs are not accidental, but are products of some implicit agenda or generative pattern in the open-source culture that is utterly fundamental to its operation.28

I submit that these customs, peculiar to the hacker tribe, have evolved in the way they have because they work. And they consequently have much in common with social patterns that have similarly evolved throughout the entire spectrum of Life. They also have much in common with the so-called "Golden Rule,"29 and with the version of it that I have repeated many times elsewhere,

  1. Do whatever you like;
  2. Allow all others the same liberty.

No one wants to have their project ripped off or "forked" by a rogue hacker; and so – no one in the hacker tribe does this. And any that do may be quickly labeled a loser, bogus, or worse, throughout the tribe. The same dynamic manifests in naturally occuring social organizations of all kinds. The fish that joins a school, or the bird that joins a flock, and habitually bumps into those around it, doesn't remain long "in school." Conversely, the fish is part of the school, the bird is part of the flock, the elk is part of the herd, the wolf is part of the pack, the hacker is part of the tribe... because of the advantages thereby afforded to each individual member of the social organism. These advantages are highly valued, and this value is preserved to the extent it is honored by each individual. They, we, all of us, are guided by the invisible, always-everywhere presence of the metaconsciousness that occupies the nonlocal, nonlinear interstices among "All Things" – if we allow it. Human civilization does not allow it; which is precisely and succinctly why human civilization doesn't work.

Yet the open-source hacker tribe evidently thrive within the civilized milieu – something that tribes for the past ten thousand years have consistently failed to do. How do they do it?

They do it (so it seems to me) for the most part not by fighting the "cathedral-builders" – although they have the street-smart savvy not to take any wooden nickels from them either – but by pursuing their "bazaar-style" inclinations just for the fun of it, because hacking is what they like to do best. They are self-selected, and each hacker works on the project of his or her choice. There is no hierarchy, no one makes "assignments" for anyone but him or herself, and there is no supervision, or effort at "quality control," as is found among the "cathedral-builders." The peer review and dynamic consensus of thousands of other hackers covers all these allegedly "necessary" components of the "cathedral architecture."

Some of the lessons that we, who would walk away from civilization, may take from the tribe of hackers, are to

  1. Do whatever you like;
  2. Allow all others the same liberty;
  3. Allow no one to pre-empt your liberty;
  4. Take full and exclusive responsiblity for all your decisions, and all their consequences;
  5. Produce something valued by others;
  6. Remain unattached to your work.

Mainly, allowance, liberty, and responsibility are inseparable compliments; one cannot exist without the others. Civilization provides neither allowance nor liberty, and is a deliberate mechanism for evading responsibility. Even the "pharoahs," for whom, and by whom civilization was created, are without real liberty, all their plundered wealth and so-called "power" notwithstanding; for their tenuous and ultimately unsustainable position is parasitically dependent upon the functioning of sustainable social systems – which they systematically hunt down and destroy, because they cannot otherwise control them. Similarly, the supreme "cathedral-builder" in the software domain has (so far without success) attempted to sabotage, stifle, and destroy the Open Source Software movement – not by producing an honestly superior product line, but by pre-empting and sabotaging the open protocols upon which the open-source market depends. This is not competition: this is war, the underlying foundation and final bulwark of civilization.

The greatest lesson from the the bazaar, it seems to me, is this: There are alternatives to 'rolling over and playing dead' when confronted by pre-emptive force, or war, or civilization.

Lessons From Life

I think now that the reason the pattern of the tribe had worked so well during the human epoch before the advent of civilization, and the reason the hacker tribe has performed so effectively in spite of civilization, has to do with what is meant by that grotesquely overused and misunderstood word, love. In advancing these thoughts I do not wish to imply that I am gifted with a more profound understanding of love than anyone else; yet in reviewing what I have so far learned in the "school" I have been attending on this planet for the past several decades, i.e. the "school of experience,"30 some insights have occurred to me which may at least be worthy of sharing.

The notions we have been given by civilization about love, like everything civilization teaches, are perverse. We have been taught that it is "virtuous" to "love" others, but not ourselves; that there is something fundamentally "wrong" with us that we are powerless to correct, yet for which we bear an inescapable "guilt." We have been taught shame for our magnificent bodies, and for our bodily functions, urges, apetites, and pleasures. We have been taught that we are "cursed" by a "sub-human animal nature," against which we must struggle constantly in order to achieve and sustain the sublime standards of... what? Civilization??!

Our pre-civilized forebears were not burdened with these perversions. Perhaps they had their own, but not these. And our non-human peers have never had to deal with them – except insofar as they have had to deal with civilized humans. Perhaps now, after ten thousand years of civilized tyranny, some of us are beginning to creep from beneath the oppressive shadow of what we have been taught about love.

These thoughts do not pretend to be definitive or final, yet I earnestly submit to your most penetrating introspection the idea that until you profoundly love yourself, you will never genuinely love another; and you will never achieve the appreciation or reverence for Life, upon which your own life, and the life of your planet, finally depends.

You, reading these words, right here, right now, are the intentional metaconscious product and manifestation of "That Which Creates All That Is." To repudiate this with shame, fear, and loathing, as we have all been taught to do from our first breath, is a blasphemy of incalculable proportions, if the word "blasphemy" has any meaning at all. You are here, you exist. This you did not achieve by your own effort or intent, but by that of "That Which Creates All That Is," whatever "That," shrouded in impenetrable mystery, may ultimately be. There is no one and nothing in all the breadth and depth of "All That Is," of which the same may not truthfully be said. You stand as a peer beside "All That Is," simply by virtue of the irreducible fact that you, like "That," exist. What further "justification" do you need? Who dares stand before you and declare your existence less valuable or important than theirs? Only civilized people make such preposterous claims; and the only reason they have ever "gotten away" with such an outrageous lie is that they started drumming it into your infant consciousness before you had even drawn your first breath on this Earth. Perversion of perversions! Crime of crimes! There are no words to describe such obscenity!

Well, yes. Yet, forgive them, for they know not what they do; just as we, who have done likewise, to our own children, if we have any, and to all our civilized peers, have not known either, what we were doing. If we awaken, however, we need not keep on doing it!

The key is to awaken. Awaken to the realization that there are no valid "laws" which "require" any of us to violate "Who We Are," or to participate in the destruction of the fabric of Life (including our own) on planet Earth. There is no one and nothing on Earth, or off it, which can "require" anyone who is not comatose to commit murder or suicide. In a tyranny in which "everything not prohibited is compulsory," nothing is prohibited, and nothing is compulsory. In a system in which "law" is whatever the Pharoah says it is, there is no "law." Yet the Law of Life remains, unviolated and inviolable, and even the Pharoahs are powerless to change it.

History records that the Roman gladiators used to open the gladiatorial spectacles of those times by standing before the reigning "Emperor," or the subsidiary "Pharoah" of the local district, and shouting, "Morituri te salutamus!" "We, who are about to die, salute thee!" They were dead men already. What "honor" had they, in cooperating passively with the corrupt spectacle of civilized slaughter for the amusement of multitudes no more alive than they? Well, they were prisoners and slaves, and were doubtless coerced; just as countless multitudes of civilized people today are no less prisoners and slaves than were the Roman gladiators.

People, wake up! you who have eyes to see, ears to hear, and minds capable of thinking. There is nothing going on today that has not been going on for the past ten thousand years – yet certainly today, one way or another, it will not be going on for very much longer. "Things that can't go on forever don't."31 Every mother's son who marches off to war at the bidding of a modern Pharoah is as much a corpse today as his brother is, who did the same thing ten thousand years ago. Who has the almighty crust to ask anyone to do that? When will this blasphemous lie come to an end?

It will come to an end either when there is no life-sustaining planet left, or when individuals reach the point of decision, each for his or her own private reasons, to "just say 'NO' to tyranny, state terrorism, and war." It will end when individuals resolve to walk away from civilization, or die trying, no matter the difficulty, obstacles, or resistance encountered along the way. It will end for you whenever you decide to end it – unless you're already dead first. Are you?


I first became aware of Linux and the tribe of open-source hackers several years ago, when I encountered a book by Tim Berners-Lee,32 and wrote an essay about it.33 My essay came to the attention of GNU / Linux demigod Richard Stallman, and he responded with an essay of his own.34 Stallman's essay inspired me with the vision that has been given expression in the Freedom Digital Library. Parenthetically, it may also have had something to do with the emergence of another remarkable open-source project, the Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.

What is particularly remarkable about the Wikipedia is that anyone can edit it! Anyone at all. Anyone who reads it can also add, subtract, or otherwise modify any part of its contents. Now any right-thinking civilized human would predict this to be a clear formula for unmitigated chaos – wouldn't s/he? So... check it out for yourself. Is the Wikipedia a hodge-podge of chaos? Or is it a frankly useful source of information about a large and expanding spectrum of topics? Talk about open-source! How much more open can you get? And what does this tell us about the "necessity" for "governmental oversight?" (Close parenthesis.)

Anyway, I was deeply inspired at the time by the example of Tim Berners-Lee, and by the astounding accomplishments of the Free Software / Open Source community of hackers, disclosed to me by Stallman and Raymond. I was also at the time tangled up by default with the Windows operating system, having never before even heard of the Linux alternative; and I now deeply wanted to sever my ties with Windows and join the Linux community.

Easier said than done, however. On a limited budget, and with limited know-how, one doesn't scrap existing hardware and software that "works," even if imperfectly, and replace it with something entirely new and untried. At least I didn't. I think now, in hindsight, I might have made the switch then and there. Clearly, even with my straitened means, I could have acquired a Linux distribution at virtually no cost, and installed it on my computer – probably at the sacrifice of all the Windows software I was then in the habit of using daily. In the event, my uncertainty about available open-source replacements, defficient know-how, and routine habit combined to disuaded me, and I struggled on under the Windows umbrella.

Eventually, a major change occurred in my life, and I found myself "on the road" without any computer at all. Being computerless was a temporary condition, which I remedied with the purchase of a laptop computer "designed for Windows XP." I wanted Linux, but got a "good deal" on this machine, and decided to go with what I could easily get under the circumstances. I really loved the little machine's portability – but was almost immediately disappointed in its operating system, Windows XP Home Edition. It crashed catastrophically while I was still in the process of setting up the new computer, and I had to reformat the drive and reinstall the system from scratch, of course losing all the labor I had already invested in customizing my new system.

Never mind, life goes on, and so did I. Several months later my system, now my sole means of livelihood, crashed catastrophically again, and I had to hire professional help to recover it. I resolved then and there to turn the machine, at least partially, into a Linux unit. I partitioned the re-formatted drive, dedicating most of it to free space earmarked for Linux, and wound up with a dual-boot system partitioned between GNU / Linux and Windows XP Professional Edition. I really loved Linux from day-one, and was amazed at how robust and functional it was, and how rich its compliment of highly functional open-source software. The only fly in the ointment was, I couldn't access the Internet from my Linux partition.

That's when I became educated about "Winmodems." A "Winmodem" isn't a real modem. It is a software-emulated modem that works very nicely, thank you, with (guess what?) an associated Windows operating system. Some "Winmodems" can also be patched to work with Linux, and are then called "Linmodems;" but I wasn't able to find a patch for mine, and could only access the Net through Windows. The result was, even though I had it installed on my machine, I still couldn't use Linux as my primary operating system, and had to do all my "real work" in Windows. I came very near purchasing a U.S. Robotics external hardware modem for my machine – until I discovered that, for Pete's sake, my machine was not equipped with a serial port! No dice. So I found myself using Linux less and less, and Windows more and more.

And... life went on. Until one day last December I discovered that no sooner did I make dialup connection with the Net on my little machine, than data was immediately being offloaded to a mysterious destination by process(es) unknown. I wasn't downloading e-mail or a Web page, yet my "Winmodem" was busy as a beaver offloading data from my machine. Spyware!

Back to the shop for my poor little machine – where I found that it was so infested with spies and worms that my only permanent recourse was to reformat the drive and start over. Short of that, the professionals cleaned it up as best they could, and they solved the problem of instantaneous data offloading, at least for the time being. But what was left of the six gigs I had allocated for Windows a year or so before was not adequate for installation of the latest Windows Service Pack; so the known holes in my system, which had evidently admitted the spies and worms in the first place, could not be entirely plugged.

At that point, I decided I'd had it to the back teeth with Windows, and I was through. Come Hell or high tide, I would build me a box from the motherboard up, and by golly install Linux on it, and nothing but. And that's exactly what I did. Fortunately, I have a brilliant son who has built a couple of Linux boxes himself, and he helped me select compatible parts via e-mail and long-distance telephone calls, and was able to help me past some of the sticky parts of the process.

It wasn't easy for me, and sometimes I was at my wit's end trying to understand things about Linux that real hackers seem to be born knowing. But "with a little help from my friends," I got the thing built, and installed, and configured, and working – and I wound up with absolutely the most powerful, functional, robust, and stable computer I've ever owned; and the least expensive too! I am no longer tethered to Windows, or to proprietary software that runs on Windows, and I'm happy.

This has been the story of a tiny real-life incident in one man's process of walking away from civilization. It's just a single item, and for me, it took the push of desperation to bring it off. There are countless other tethers to cut, and I've been snipping away at them for years now too. Someday, maybe I'll tell you about how I and my family uprooted ourselves from our comfortable suburban lifestyle, and commenced homsteading a log cabin in the woods – without computer, electricity, telephone, or indoor plumbing. But that's another story for another time. The point I want to get across today is, it can be done – by those who want it badly enough. It isn't easy – easy is staying in the "mainstream," and eventually cascading over the Cataract with everyone else not awake enough to strike for higher ground. Those are the choices, as far as I can see. And you?


Civilization and Beyond


  1. Civilization and Savagery – 5/25/04;

  2. Beyond Civilization or The Killer Meme – 6/20/04;

  3. The Tribal Ideal – 7/2/04;

  4. Leavers and Takers – 8/6/04;

  5. In the Hands of the Gods – 8/18/04.

  6. The Gods & the Law of Life – 9/9/04.

  7. The Metaconsciousness Myth – 9/22/04.

  8. A Pact With the Devil – 10/14/04.

  9. A Metaconscious Mosaic – 10/27/04.

  10. More About Metaconsciousness, Part I – 2/5/05.

  11. More About Metaconsciousness, Part II – 3/20/05.


1. Here again is the small Bibliography introduced in this place in More About Metaconsciousness, Part I:

2. Beyond Civilization or The Killer Meme; The Tribal Ideal; Leavers and Takers; The Metaconsciousness Myth; More About Metaconsciousness, Part I; Walking Away, after Quinn, 1999. See The Tribe for suggested "Leaver-oriented" alternatives to these "lethal memes."

3. Well, that is from the perspective of we particular individuals living our particular and local lives here on Earth. The myth of metaconsciousness, however, assures us that "we" are really One, without beginning or end, and hence are ultimately invulnerable to such "trivial" matters as the potential destruction of humanity, along, possibly, with all life on the planet. However, it is precisely from the perspective of an individual human and Earthly inhabitant that I speak; and I don't mind saying, from my limited perspective, that the Abyss is an eventuality I for one would passionately like to evade; for I see much richer potentials for our "little lives," provided we are able to escape this looming peril.

4. It may be of some solace to know that, when it comes to "living as slaves," we may rest assured that the condition will abide for only "a little while longer;" for it remains an irreducible fact that the existing slave-state, civilization, is inherently and irredeemably unsustainable, and therefore shall not be sustained much longer on planet Earth. There; is that any comfort to you?

5. Quinn, 1999.

6. Ibid. See also Beyond Civilization or The Killer Meme.

7. Raymond, 1999. Hackers, by the way, are justifiably irritated by the pejorative and erroneous spin the "meanstream press" have attached to their chosen sobriquet. Just to set the record straight, a hacker is authoritatively defined as "1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who perfer to learn only the minimum necessary. 2. One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming. 3. A person capable of appreciating hack value. 4. A person who is good at programming quickly. 5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in 'a Unix hacker'. (Definitions 1 through 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.) 6. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example. 7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations. 8. [depreciated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence password hacker, network hacker. The correct term for this sense is cracker.

"The term 'hacker' also tends to connote membership in the global community defined by the net.... It also implies that the person described is seen to subscribe to some version of the ... hacker ethic.

"It is better to be described as a hacker by others than to describe oneself that way. Hackers consider themselves something of an elite (a meritocracy based on ability), though one to which new members are gladly welcome. There is thus a certain ego satisfaction to be had in identifying yourself as a hacker (but if you claim to be one and are not, you'll quickly be labeled bogus." – The New Hacker's Dictionary, Third Edition, compiled by Eric S. Raymond, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England, 1996, 1998, pp. 233-4.

8. Grahn, 2000.

9. Raymond, 1999; see footnote 1.

10. It is also in approximate harmony with the philosophy behind the Freedom Digital Library. See our Draft Vision Statement, § 4.2, for elaboration. See also Martin, 1995. I'll add here the idea that any author is entitled by free choice to make his or her work proprietary, just as anyone is entitled to have and to keep secrets; and is conversely responsible to take whatever measures he or she can to keep it so. It is not, in my opinion, properly incumbent upon any third party to keep an author's work proprietary, or to keep his secrets, absent explicit person-to-person agreement to do so – for the reason that all pre-emptively "legislated" obstructions to the free flow of information are by nature obstacles to the expansion of metaconsciousness, and are consequently stifling to the evolution of Life in Cosmos; and all Life is naturally entitled to defend itself from any entity or agency that threatens or stifles it.

11. Eric S. Raymond, The New Hacker's Dictionary, Third Edition, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England, 1996, pp.234-5.

12. I am using "author" here in a highly generic sense, meaning anyone who brings a creative work of any kind into manifestation; as not only the author of a literary work, but also the inventor of a machine, the architect of a building – or for that matter, the "Architect" of "All That Is."

13. These developments are related in "A Brief History of Hackerdom," Raymond, 1999, pp. 23-5. "Linux" should more properly be called "GNU / Linux," as Linus built his kernel around the GNU system under development at the Free Sofware Foundation. And, by way of a hint to those who would number themselves among the hacker cognoscente, "Linux" should most properly be pronounced "Leenuks," in consistency with the way Linus pronounces his name: "Leenus," not "L eye nus."

14. "A Brief History of Hackerdom," Raymond, 1999, p. 24.

15. "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," Raymond, 1999, pp. 29-30.

16. Raymond, 1999, pp. 27-78.

17. "The Revenge of the Hackers," Raymond, 1999, p. 203.

18. See footnote 8.

19. "The Revenge of the Hackers," Raymond, 1999, p. 202.

20. "The Revenge of the Hackers," Raymond, 1999, pp. 205-9.

21. Ibid., p. 214.

22. Halloween Document I, boldface emphasis added.

23. Ibid.

24. "Homesteading the Noosphere," Raymond, 1999, p. 115.

25. "Beyond Software?," Raymond, 1999, p. 227.

26. "Homesteading the Noosphere," Raymond, 1999, p. 87.

27. Ibid., p. 89, emphasis in original.

28. Loc. cit., p. 92.

29. See "The Golden Rule Across Religions."

30. I believe Benjamin Franklin once remarked that experience is "a school for fools who will learn in no other." I seem to be one of those he was talking about.

31. Herbert Stein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Nixon administration; quoted by Heinberg, 2004, p. 139.

32. Tim Berners-Lee, with Mark Fischetti, Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by its Inventor, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1999.

33. Grahn, 2000.

34. Stallman, 2000.

"More About Metaconsciousness, Part II" copyright 2005 by J. Harmon Grahn. Copying and redistribution, in whole or in part, are permitted in any medium provided this notice is included.

The preceeding is another edition of an accumulating collection of "Dear Friends" letters addressed to subscribers to the Freedom Digital Library distribution list. To subscribe, or unsubscribe, send an e-mail stating your wish to [address obfuscated], and I will add your e-mail address to, or subtract it from, the current distribution list.

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Love, Peace, Joy, Now,

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Civilization and Beyond