This is a comment I posted in response to the Command Line Podcast 2011-06-30
I feel that you deserve a more in depth hearing as to my thoughts on how the term “hacktivism” and “hacker” may be viewed by some as “elitist.” By the end of this rant you should understand my view that elitism is an individual trait that is embodied by some leaders (not all) of the “hacker” movement. Traits of elitist leaders are pompousness and a tin ear, and to be fair there are pompous leaders in every walk of life. Indeed, much of the Command Line commentary speaks to this ideal of tone-deafness amongst the leaders of our greater society. Yet your commentary does so without engaging with those, perhaps with differing views, within that greater whole. The expression of “expertise” casts strange shadows in the limelight of media.
I think it comes as a surprise to some activists (all activist not just “hacktivists) that they are part of the greater society. And that these people have their own worldview and their own journey to that vista. The lack of curiosity many activists seem to have about others who inhabit the larger public with them begets its own sort of standoff. You know those people at work that you just hate talking to because they don't give your opinion a fair hearing all that matters is their “correct” (and often personal) view on things. Sure they nod their head but in the end they just smile and go on about their business, which often comes at a great expense to either the company or other employes. This is how one usually feels after listening to anyone taking systemic umbrage without first seeking an answer to “why” people in society feel the way they do.
Where is the social curiosity of the larger hacker movement? Why do they have no interest in the thoughts and feelings of larger society? (I'm thinking here of Assange & LULZ who would coercively hack a system at the expense of a more meaningful, inclusive “social” hack). It drives me up a wall to see people like Assange act through coercive means. Their actions undercut all of your hard work at inclusion. I mean why should I even care to discuss this with you? What value do I gain from this, if you are indeed allying your politics with such methods?
To your mind you may be educating me along with the rest of the public, but much of my experience has this as a one way conversation. Indeed your thoughts on the “social hack” and the “hack your world” speak to a whole world of unrealized ideas within the “Hacker” community itself (whatever that might be, as all hackers seem to loathe any definition of their constituency, yet get online and you WILL know who's in and who's out). The fact many in the hacker world simply deny the problem doesn't help either.
Now why might I dare call any leader among the hacker movement “elitist”? For one we have that very real “expert” problem amongst hackers. I would wager that many such people have an extreme disdain for the pundits. Yet these fine individuals also miss the fact that the internet turns us all into such pundits. You again are a fine example of that, you are indeed an expert in your field and you have a highly choreographed and systematized way of presenting your personal viewpoint. Now as an American I hope you can find empathy with the idea that Americans are habitually skeptical of any expert, regardless of their credentials.
The internet has another unique feature that truly separates it from true equality with the mainstream media. Namely the internet is an arena of self-selection. This is not like the old TV or radio with only so many channels to chose from. No the internet is so vast and wide that no one can hope to engage with all or even many parts of it. So even if punditry is becoming mainstream that doesn't mean that the pundits are watched by a large segment of the population. Rather then expanding ideas the internet is the best thing that ever happened to the clique.
This narrowing of perspective is then shared by both parties: the viewer and the pundit. Those who work exclusively online don't receiving a flood of letters-to-the-editor on a vast array of topics. No now we are seeing self-selected groups writing in all the letters, to the point that letters expressing criticism are in the minority are often either ignored outright or worse the narrow minded groupthink of the site might even drum the dissenters out (Think of LULZSECs “just for kicks” hack of PBS as it was a large scale representation of a very real online social problem).
Yet problem is more encompassing then this. Certain leaders of the Hacker movement are, how shall we put it, showboats? Their quests for personal exploits and glory are part of the nightly media cycle. Even if these leaders are individuals their actions still add to the body-politic's understanding of what a “hacker” is and does. To be clear here, I am not arguing against the definitional explanation that you presented, but rather arguing that you are missing my point when I talk about the optics of these actions within the eyes of the entire public. So you as an expert are indeed right, but I am not talking here about “right vs. wrong” .
I am urging you to not retreat into your definitions and specifics, but rather expand your view and actions outwards towards the general public. I can only assume this is the path you have indeed chosen in your new profession of lobby and service work. Such noble choice represents that you are one of the few inside the hackivist movement who seems to wish to work with greater society and not simply complain, agitate against, or outright attack the existing institutions (to be fair it there are others who work towards inclusion, but they aren't the ones who I would plaster with charges of elitistism).
Your show is still only heard by a self-selected audience. You have the right idea, however, most of the community (LULZ, Assange, et al) near as I can tell don't seek any active input or criticism from the rest of society. Frankly none of the experts or pundits seem to engage on this subject seem to care much for a dissenting opinion even if it is done in such a manner to invite compromise and mutual understanding.
And that is what leads to the charge that some hackivist leaders (the well known ones) suffer from elitism. There is no curiosity as to why other people in the general public might feel the way they do, all the critical or dissenting comments are usually ignored outright or else blown off as “uneducated”. Where's the hacker expert's curiosity for those who see the world differently? Why do they see the world differently?
In the end we must ask ourselves, do we as the general public have anything to contribute to the conversation on the internet? Near as I can tell we have absolutely nothing of value to say or add to the discussion, best we leave everything up to the experts (and just leave our comments to rot in the box by the door). That is all well and good, just let me remind you, don't be surprised if that attitude gets you called an elitist every now and again.