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The Hacker Manifesto: An Early Influence on My Self-Determination Ethic

The Hacker's Manifesto

I remember the first time I read it. I can’t remember how I found it, I just remember how I felt as I read it. My eyes wide, my heart rate increasing, my eyes darting from line to line.  I couldn’t print it fast enough. The Hacker Manifesto, a small essay written by  Loyd Blankenship (aka The Mentor) and published in the underground hacker e-zine Phrack, has been quoted in movies and republished on countless websites. This short piece of prose articulates the motivation and ethic of the first generation of computer hacker.

To be clear – I wasn’t a hacker, not even close. But I did feel different, out-of-place. I found the manifesto during yet another session of scouring the internet by myself into the wee hours of the morning. These were the days of Netscape and dial-up and dot matrix printers. School was easy, my classmates slow and the real world full of possibilities yet just out of my reach.

I kept this print out for years. It was tentatively displayed in my bedroom at my parent’s place and then proudly displayed in the makeshift office in my first house. I still have that worn, slightly ripped piece of paper. Reading these words takes me back to that awkward kid who knew he was out-of-step with the rest of the world but couldn’t understand how or why.

Today – I think I understand. We each have a very short time on this planet. We have only so many moments to enjoy and opportunities to tell the people you love how you feel. I get the need to compete. I understand how money and material possessions are used as a scoreboard for life. It’s easy to measure and almost universally accepted as a measure of success. But it’s a false measure.  I can’t understand why people don’t see how meaningless it all is. I don’t understand how people can’t see how hollow, unfulfilling and misguided a life spent in pursuit of “more” is.

I know I must seem like a hypocrite. I talk about money and investments all the time. Clearly I’m a full and active participant in the system that I claim to reject right? Not really. Listen and watch closely. I speak the same language – but the ideas and motivation are very different.

I am only a small part of a much larger system. And like the hacker in the Mentor’s missive, I will use the very system that enslaves most the world against itself and achieve freedom. I will outsmart those who say it can’t or shouldn’t be done.  The consumerist serfdom that so many buy into and defend with the ONLY thing of any real value, their time and energy, is just not for me.

I’m not a computer hacker, but I am a life hacker. An economic rebel. A financial freedom fighter.

The truth is that the difference between me and that young man in his parent’s basement those many years ago is perspective and acceptance. I am no longer filled with anger and angst. I’ve replaced it with calm and confidence. I am mindful. I’m determined. I will be free.

Thank you Mentor for inspiring me so many years ago. For helping me remove the blinders.


The Hacker Manifesto

+++The Mentor+++
Written January 8, 1986

Another one got caught today, it’s all over the papers. “Teenager Arrested in Computer Crime Scandal”, “Hacker Arrested after Bank Tampering”…

Damn kids. They’re all alike.

But did you, in your three-piece psychology and 1950′s technobrain, ever take a look behind the eyes of the hacker? Did you ever wonder what made him tick, what forces shaped him, what may have molded him?

I am a hacker, enter my world…

Mine is a world that begins with school… I’m smarter than most of the other kids, this crap they teach us bores me…

Damn underachiever. They’re all alike.

I’m in junior high or high school. I’ve listened to teachers explain for the fifteenth time how to reduce a fraction. I understand it. “No, Ms. Smith, I didn’t show my work. I did it in my head…”

Damn kid. Probably copied it. They’re all alike.

I made a discovery today. I found a computer. Wait a second, this is cool. It does what I want it to. If it makes a mistake, it’s because I screwed it up. Not because it doesn’t like me… Or feels threatened by me.. Or thinks I’m a smart ass.. Or doesn’t like teaching and shouldn’t be here…

Damn kid. All he does is play games. They’re all alike.

And then it happened… a door opened to a world… rushing through the phone line like heroin through an addict’s veins, an electronic pulse is sent out, a refuge from the day-to-day incompetencies is sought… a board is found. “This is it… this is where I belong…” I know everyone here… even if I’ve never met them, never talked to them, may never hear from them again… I know you all…

Damn kid. Tying up the phone line again. They’re all alike…

You bet your ass we’re all alike… we’ve been spoon-fed baby food at school when we hungered for steak… the bits of meat that you did let slip through were pre-chewed and tasteless. We’ve been dominated by sadists, or ignored by the apathetic. The few that had something to teach found us willing pupils, but those few are like drops of water in the desert.

This is our world now… the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud. We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn’t run by profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals. We explore… and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge… and you call us criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias… and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals.

Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for.

I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto. You may stop this individual, but you can’t stop us all… after all, we’re all alike.

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