Hacker Ethic by Pekka Himanen Book Report

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by Susan

20 April 2018

The cybercrime that has plagued the hacking community brings about some serious ethical issues as pointed out in The Hacker Ethic. The first issue highlighted is the work ethic. The work ethic is based on the principle of rewarding hard work. It deems hard work as virtuous. The book compares traditional work ethics such as the Protestant work ethic to what Himanen describes as the Hacker work ethic. Himanen argues that a paradigm shift is necessary from the traditional view towards work to a view more similar to the hacker work ethic. The hacker work ethic is driven by passion and curiosity. The second ethical issue is embodied in the money ethic. In this section of the book, Himanen bashes traditional outlooks on work and money. Generally, people view money and hard work to be directly proportional and equally important. Himanen’s opinions differ from these views and are based on the hacker’s work ethic. The hacker’s work ethic advocates for a free working environment with the open distribution of information and works. It advocates for less restrictions in the IT field.

In a nutshell, Himanen argues that, unlike traditional work ethics, the hacker’s work ethic is not fuelled by financial gains and greed. Modern day hackers need to strike a balance on how much money influences their work ethics. The book then goes on to explore issue to do with netiquette. Netiquette is a term used to refer to the acceptable codes of conduct on how to interact on the internet. Netiquette gives rise to ethic; a term that Himanen uses to describe the ethical issues that lace our internet-driven world such as cyber-bullying, privacy and freedom of speech. These three ethical issues are important to the Information Technology field. The IT is a field driven by passion, intrigue and enthusiasm. Therefore it is necessary to find a middle ground within the modern day work ethic. The money ethic and freedom of information is also another issue that faces professionals and companies in the IT field. The last issue of netiquette and ethic is also crucial matter with some issues having legal consequences.

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The work ethic

The global labour force has adopted a specific attitude towards work. This attitude is complemented by structure and order. Such Principles are deeply rooted in the Protestant work ethic that Himanen describes. Himanen cites Max Weber in his article The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Weber traces the origins of the Protestant work ethic to clerics such as Richard Baxter who vehemently preached advocating for this organized working structure. Baxter’s sermons can be likened to those of other Protestant preachers. They argued that work is a divine calling. Baxter said in one of his sermons, “God is not pleased to see people just meditating and praying – He wants them to do their job.” The religious roots of the Protestant work ethic can also be traced to the monastery. Benedict’s monastery had a rule that deemed “idleness as an enemy of the soul”. The Protestant Reformation borrowed from the monastery’s line of thought.

Consequently, the church led the spread of this work ethic. The hacker’s work ethic is one that is based on passion and interest. It provides for freedom and less structure as in the Protestant work ethic. Himanen points out that the hacker’s work ethic does not, however, embrace the principles of the pre-Protestant era. The pre-Protestant era advocates for leisure and no work. Therefore one can see the evident advantage of the hacker’s work ethic to the two work ethics. It establishes a middle ground; a balance between structure and freedom. The Protestant work ethic focuses on organization, control and structure such as the 8-5 system that most countries have adopted. This favours the principles that capitalism is based on.

The main disadvantage of such a system is that the result is a labour force whose only drive is pay. Many people today are stuck in careers they have little or no passion for. They are only in these fields in order to pay the bills. This is contrary to the views of successful individuals more so in the computing field. Apple founder Steve Jobs once said, “In order to succeed – do what you love. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.” This view is in line with the hacker’s work ethic that embraces passion in the field of work. Contrary to the Protestant work model and the principles of capitalism as pointed out by Weber. The other downside to the Protestant work ethic is developing what most sociologists call “workaholism”. This is an inbuilt tendency to overwork and the need to “not enjoy work”. The seriousness of the working environment goes out of hand. The flipside to this is that the structure and organization championed for by the Protestant work ethic fosters results. A flexible working environment may result in laziness and little productivity that borders the pre-Protestant work ethic. The Protestant attitude towards work recognizes the seriousness of work and hence maximum results. In conclusion, there is need to balance between the Protestant and pre-Protestant work ethics; something that the hacker’s work ethic achieves quite well.
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The money ethic

Himanen relates the Protestant work ethic to the money ethic. In doing so he shows how much the current view towards work is money-driven and how it has influenced the “information economy”. The capitalist age that we are in holds money in very high regard. An individual’s affluence determines greatly the kind of life s/he lives. Capitalism is a slight shift from the Protestant work ethic. The Protestant work ethic holds work in high regard deeming it as divine. Capitalism, on the other hand, views money as the ultimate gain. Money is the driving force behind capitalism. In the current information age, information and its dissemination is big business. This is what Himanen describes as the “information economy”. In the spirit of capitalism, companies are making money out of this information economy. The hacker ethic differs with this opinion. Himanen cites the Jargon file, a document by the hackers’ society. The Jargon file argues that information should be free and urges that hackers write free software. The Jargon file states that money should not be a hacker’s main motive.

However one ought to look at this from a realistic point of view. Even hackers need to recognize the value of monetary gains in this capitalist world that we live in. The Principles that the Jargon file espouses are unrealistic in the present world. It might have been applicable in another economic system but not the current money-oriented one. This gives rise to what Himanen terms as “capitalist hacking”. Capitalist hackers use hacking as a means to financially empower themselves. The downside to capitalist hacking is the loss of the original principles that hacking advocated for. The passion that drove the individual into hacking and other IT-related fields is being substituted by the passion to make money. It is for this reason that Lotus founder Mitch Kapor lotus founder left the company. He said, “The things that were important to the business as an organism were things that I could demonstrate less and less enthusiasm for.” In order maintain this passion capitalist hackers need to only practice capitalist hacking partially. The issue of free information and software that led to the formation of the hacking community should not be lost. Hackers could undertake projects that pay and at the same time be involved in those that do not. A case in point is the Linux operating system developed by Linus Torvalds. Torvalds main influence was not monetary gain but to provide an operating system that would rival the monopolistic Windows operating system. Capitalist ideologies are the main causes for issues such as socioeconomic segregation, war and pollution by corporations. Therefore it is necessary that these ideologies be set apart from hacking practices. However, hackers should also accept the fact that we live in a capitalist society and hence they cannot entirely evade the issue of capitalism.

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Netiquette and Ethic

The internet is currently an ungoverned space. Nobody regulates what goes on the internet and there is entire freedom within the cyberspace. This presents an argument as to whether there is need for regulation or whether the internet needs to be left ungoverned. Himanen presents the hacker’s point of view towards this matter. Since the hacker ethic advocates for freedom of information, Himanen dismisses the issue of internet regulation. Freedom of information must be maintained. With freedom comes responsibility. Himanen argues that every individual needs to be self-accountable. There is the need for self-analysis in terms of how individuals interact with the world on the internet and other platforms. The Electronic Frontier Foundation embraces this view of freedom as well as privacy. It advocates for equal cyberspace rights for all. The issue of freedom and non-regulation is not that straightforward especially not in the current information age where anyone can access the internet. Self-regulation and self-accountability become hard to achieve because even individuals with malicious intent can access the internet. For instance, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) posted a beheading video that quickly went viral. ISIS also has Facebook and Twitter accounts that they use to spread their ideologies. The fact that a terrorist group can use the internet to catastrophic ends should be worrying to the hackers and Himanen. Is cyberspace freedom worth loss of life? Himanen’s are not applicable in the present day society where crime and terrorism are widespread. World leaders such as UK Prime Minister David Cameron have advocated for some sort of regulatory measures especially in extremist material posted. In as much as these regulatory measures are necessary, they should not infringe on people’s privacy and freedom of expression. Like most ethical issues, there is a need to strike a balance.

Works Cited:

  1. Pekka, Himanen, Castells Manuel and Linus Torvalds. The Hacker Ethic: A Radical Approach to the Philosophy of Business. 2002. Electronic.