Kid's tomorrow

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Last week while visting Re:Publica 2013 in Berlin I had the opportunity to discuss the controversy brought to the surface by Groente's blog titled “What's wrong with the kids today?” with several people outside the Dutch hacker scene. A few things struck me. First and foremost, there is a massive underappreciation of the vastly differing contexts in which everyone involved in the debate operates. If you are a Hungarian hacker living in Budapest with the Fidesz regime just getting up to speed with dismantling the rule of law and decorating known anti-semites, you naturally have differing feelings about the trustworthiness of law enforcement officers and intelligence service people than someone in Western Europe. Likewise if you are an older CCC member and remember the 'alleged suicide' of Tron, it is hardly surprising that you have misgivings about any governmental influence. An even clearer and more recent example is the suicide of Aaron Swartz. And those who feel that way may learn with horror that the recent arrest of Sven Olaf Kamphuis was received with cheers in the Dutch scene (good riddance of the spamming bastard). At the same time Dutch law enforcement has traditionally taken a relatively (emphasis on relatively) benign approach to subversive technology research and tinkering. Part of that can be credited to the opportunity principle that allows Dutch prosecutors to selectively enforce the penal code when they feel that there is a social benefit to doing so. Part of it is a wider culture of cooptation and dialogue and a poor internalisation of the lessons of the horrors of Nazi occupation. That having said, mutual underappreciation is one part of the repeated shitstorms we've seen lately. But that would frame the debate as a Germany versus the Netherlands thing, which outside football is useless. And since football is useless too, it is just useless. If anything, nationalism runs even more counter to the hacker ethos than an undue respect for authority does. To me it is a surfacing of the fact that the hacker community does not exist, but is a bunch of overlapping communities that do not necessarily share the same attitudes to state power as the old guard did. A substantial group even feels that technology has little to do with society. Even in the hacker scenes there are useful idiots who 'have nothing to hide' or think that we're in a 'post-privacy era'. Likewise curmudgeons like Fefe seem to feel that you can't be a hacker unless you're an old-school squatter that still has the scars of receiving riot police beatings at Kalkar to show. I don't buy either of those extremes, nor of quite a few positions in the middle. To me there is a massive risk of tribalism within and between the various scenes. May I remind those of the Dutch left how the internal purity debates and the extremism of some caused the squatter movement to implode? Mind you, I will never shed a tear for the squatter movement, but that doesn't mean that there are not valuable lessons to be learnt there. The hacker movement(s) has/have the potential for as much staying power as the environmentalist movement has (and yes, humanity is still barrelling head-first to a self-inflicted environmental extinction event, but that is beside the point). There is also a deeply political dimension to it, to me the hacker ethos embodies many, if not all, of the ideals of Enlightenment. It is about sharing knowledge and creating new knowledge through synthesis and experimentation. Social progress is extremely dependent on technological progress, which makes technological progress almost political by definition. What does that say about tomorrow? If there is any tomorrow to be had, which I sometimes doubt when I see the resurgence of fascism in Europe, it can only be had by remaining as close together to each other. By avoiding false dichotomies (and I probably have included a few of those in this rant too) and first of all: by keeping up some level of dialogue. And at least a willingness to acknowledge that others may operate in a different context than yourself and that may have shaped his or her attitudes to law enforcement, intelligence services and the corporations that operate in that sphere. Likewise it means that some may have to learn that the jack-booted thugs in some countries are cuddlier than others. And us Dutch pragmatists may have to learn that money doesn't trump everything. And first and foremost it should not deterioriate into a “those German leftist work-avoiding bastards” versus “those Dutch corporate whores” like shouting match. Which it has now and that is something we can only lose by, on several levels. Because I want the curious kid of tomorrow to be able to learn from everyone involved and not to having to chose from a bewildering set of possible factions. And whose differences may be mostly meaningless symbolism. That having said, I'm becoming increasingly pessimistic about the future of any substantial hacker events in the Netherlands without having a permanent infrastructure to back it. The regulation from municipal governments is complete murder already, for example OHM2013 will have to hire at least fifteen professional security guards to satisfy government requirements (thanks to the Duisburg tragedy). That only adds to the sponsoring stresses. We need a CCC in the Netherlands, now more than ever. And at the same time this seems farther away than before.