hacker = H = hacker humor

hacker ethic n.

1. The belief that information-sharing is a powerful positive good, and that it is an ethical duty of hackers to share their expertise by writing open-source code 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 open-source 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.

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 (see also samurai, gray hat). 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 the Internet itself 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.

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

Probably the most famous contemporary Finnish philosopher Pekka Himanen has written a book titled "The Hacker Ethic". Just to mention that the preface is written by Linus Torvalds and the epilogue by Manuel Castells.

To summarize the book briefly, Himanen represents hacker ethic much in the same spirit as Harry writes about it but Himanen pays a lot attention to the question if hacker ethic has replaced protestant work ethic (Max Weber) in the information society. Himanen comes into conclusion that the answer is positive: People want to work because it's their hobby too; or even more, an obsession. They don't count hours working day and night. Some amount of this work is done also without profit as a driving force.

It's quite easy to criticize Himanen that he generalizes hacker ethic to cover the types of work where's no room for that kind of ethic. It's impossible to think about a cashier in Walmart to have such an ambition on eir work. A McJob is just a duty, nothing else. It doesn't follow you home. To conclude, hacker ethic is the regime of the well-off.

Full Title:

The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age, by Pekka Himanen. Sections written by Linus Torvalds (Prologue)and Manual Castells (Epilogue). The site for the book, http://www.hackerethic.org, is up and running.

Hardcover ISBN: 0-375-50566-0 -- File under Technology/Current Affairs. Translated to English by Pekka Himanen and Anselm Hollo. Published by Random House.

The actual basis of comparison is from Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-1905). For those not familiar with Mr. Weber's work, let me briefly help. The Protestant Work Ethic is a common term for the reasons people traditionally work: money, primarily, and duty, a close second. A gross simplification, but I think it works.

The hacker, however, would dispose of these two reasons for work in favor of passion for the work. The distinction between job and work comes into play, as does the notion of cooperation, where the oft-quoted "Information Wants To Be Free" comes in. More on that in a bit.

A quick bite to give you that seems to sum up a good chunk of the book is:

A "hacker" is a person who has gone past using his computer for survival ("I bring home the bread by programming") to the next two stages. he (or, in theory but all too seldom in practice, she) uses the computer for his social ties--e-mail and the Net are great ways to have a community. But to the hacker a computer is also entertainment. Not the games, not the pretty pictures on the Net. The computer itself is entertainment.

Pekka tries to explain why Bill Gates seems reviled by The Community; the theory is that Gates' company, Microsoft, long ago replaced passion for profit, becoming part a traditional, Protestant ethic of maximizing cash, making money making a higher goal than the work itself. Gates' own words seem to echo this old Protestant ethic, "If you don't like to work hard and be intense and do your best, this is not the place to work." This contrasts with a seemingly more organic way of doing things that Pekka calles Hackerism. Because the old ethic is so much easier to measure than the Hacker Ethic, the old was is looked up to more by those whose job it is to measure such things.

For another good chunk, Himanen discusses the monolith of open source, Linux, using the ability to look at the source code produced by millions as proof of this free market economy in a deeper sense than the on Ross Perot and Republicans tend to use. The difference between free as in beer and free as in speech.

Personal opinion: All and all, this is a pretty readable philosophical text, sure to start interesting conversations and ideas in your own brain. The translation is a little rough. I would recommend some of Lawrence Lessig's books as companions to this, along with The Cathedral and the Bazaar, of course.

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