The cognitive linguist George Lakoff wants liberals to stop thinking like enlightenment scholars and start thinking about appeals to the “cognitive unconscious.” He asks that progressives “embrace a deep rationality that can take account of, and advantage of, a mind that is largely unconscious, embodied, emotional, empathetic, metaphorical, and only partially universal. A New Enlightenment would not abandon reason, but rather understand that we are using real reason– embodied reason, reason shaped by our bodies and brains and interactions in the real world, reason incorporation emotion, structured by frames and metaphors anad images and symbols, with conscious though shaped by the vast and invisible realm of neural circuitry not accessible to the conscious.” That quote comes from his 2008 book The Political Mind and –regardless of your political affiliation– it is certainly worth a read. Others appeal to your “embodied reason” all the time and, when they do it right, their conclusions just feel right. This is how, according to Lakoff, Republicans are so good at getting Americans to vote against their interests. Appeal to one’s sense of self-preservation, individuality, and fear of change and you have a voter that is willing to cut their own Medicare funding. I generally agree with Lakoff’s conclusions, but I do not think Republicans are the masters of this art. Internet pirates, the likes of Kim Dotcom, Gottfrid “Anakata” Svartholm, and even Julian Assange, state their cases and appeal directly to our cognitive unconsciouses better than any neocon ever could.
Appeals to individuals’ basic concepts of right and wrong are all they have. First, they are not sympathetic characters and cannot trade on their own (to borrow a phrase from Bourdieu) social capital. Whether it is Assange’s alleged rape charges; Kim Dotcom’s “self-styled ‘Dr. Evil’ of file sharing” lifestyle; or Anakata’s drug abuse, pirates are rarely bastions of trust or reasoned argument. Thus, they have to rely on the moral and ethical reasoning of their actions. They may be flawed men, but their causes are just and righteous. Second, many of these icons must state their case from compounds and hideouts in New Zealand, Cambodia, and Ecuador. It is difficult to base an argument in a single country’s laws or customs when you are constantly moving through various expat and asylum statuses; not just because you are calling into question the basic definitions upon which those laws are founded, but because you do not want to say anything that could come back to bite you if you get extradited. Third, what they did was probably illegal. Whether it is hosting pirated episodes of Breaking Bad, or releasing classified diplomatic cables, large powerful actors are going to get their pound of flesh unless the protective forces of the international spotlight keep you in the news and out of a rendition camp. The best way to assure that you are bathed in the spotlight, is to keep a loyal following that evangelizes on your behalf. Finally, if you are not the star of the show, then you are (almost by definition) #anonymous. That means your disembodied words need to confront basic concepts of right and wrong. They shift entire frames of reference. Their words are the stuff of spectacle- jarring, alien, and (as always) driven by lulz.
Before I go any further I want to make clear that I am not equating DISNEY.MOVIES.COLLECTION.BOX.NR.2.T-ARTS.mkv with video evidence of the U.S Army shooting unarmed civilians in Iraq. (See video above.) Rather, I am demonstrating a relationship between the public opinion of a flawed individual (which I will refer to, from now on, as a “pirate”), his or her cause, and international data crimes. What they are stealing is inconsequential, to the extent it has any bearing on how the pirate justifies his or her actions to the general public and the media. The target is different, but the underlying anarchist principles are usually the same. Today’s UDID leak is an excellent example:
You are welcome to hack what the system wants you to hack. If not, you will be
Jeremy Hammond faces the rest of his productive life in prison for being an
ideological motivated political dissident. He was twice jailed for following
his own beliefs. He worked until the end to uncover corruption and the
connivance between the state and big corporations. He denounces the abuses and
bribes of the US prison system, and he’s again facing that abuse and torture at
the hands of authorities.
Last year, [sic] Bradley Manning was tortured after allegedly giving WikiLeaks
confidential data belonging to US govt… oh shit. The world shouldn’t know how
some soldiers enjoy killing people and even less when they kill journalists. Of
course, the common housewife doesn’t deserve to know the truth about the
hypocrisy in the international diplomacy or how world dictators spend money in
luxury whilst their own people starve. Yep, the truth belongs only to the
elite, and if you are not part of them (forget it, that won’t happen), fuck
People are frustrated, they feel the system manipulating them more than ever.
Never underestimate the power of frustrated people.
For the last few years we have broke into systems belonging to Governments and
Big corporations just to find out they are spending millions of tax dollars to
spy on their citizens. They work to discredit dissenting voices. They pay their friends for overpriced and insecure networks and services.
You home, stuff, car and computer, you will pay for everything you have for all
of your life. All the time: a monthly fee, forever until you die. That’s the
future; nothing is really yours. LAAS – Life As A Service.
You will rent your life.
This is how they make their case to the public. Generally, the argument makes an appeal to the individuals’ sense of safety (usually from government violence), coupled to rights talk or some kind of universal (even divine or natural) entitlements. The topics are usually the same: Information about government surveillance, copyrighted material with unfair use laws, or (as seen in the quote above) the hypocrisy of government action against its people. The direct appeal to values –”world dictators spend money in luxury whilst their own people starve”– are important for the three reasons outlined above. The pirate does not argue against the trumped-up claims of lost revenue by Viacom (let the pundits and the EFF do that) or the finer details of extradition law and the facts of the case. Instead, they point to fascist or nationalist politics, unwarranted arrests and searches, or the assassination of fellow hackers. Anonymous is reminding you that their fight will soon be your fight, if governments and corporations get their way.
How is this any better than manipulating emotions? In The Political Mind Lakoff describes how President Bush was able to keep soldiers in Iraq despite the protestations of the Democrat-controlled congress. He uses this as an example of “framing” –introducing a topic with words and phrases that work against the opposition:
The United States is at war wirth an enemy threatening our national security. The president is the ‘unitary executive,’ the commander in chief in charge of all use of the military; we can’t have five hundred commanders. The Congress is merely a bursar of funds, trying to “micromanage the war,’ ‘tell the generals in the field what to do.’ Withdrawal would be ‘surrender,’ and timetables for withdrawal ‘told the enemy when we were surrendering.’ (P. 147 Viking Press)
W turned a deliberative body into nit-picking bean counters. It was a highly orchestrated media campaign and it worked flawlessly. It is difficult to argue for withdrawal when so many people are describing it as a surrender. We see a similar attempt at framing at the end of the above quote from Anonymous. Monthly services systems like Spotify, Netflix or Steam ask you to trade ownership for closely guarded access. You can have access to millions of songs legally, but if you stop paying $9.00 every month, it all goes away. Anonymous, by highlighting the never-ending cost of your Life As a Service, reframes our augmented lives: streaming is not convenient it is a gilded cage. Very few people will actually take the time to “find the candy” and actually sift through the million-and-one Apple UDIDs. But they might read the statement on pastebin or see it quoted in the media. No one wants to rent their life. The phrase gets at our concepts of self and individuality. Marketing speak about convenience falls flat against a backdrop of self control. Why subscribe to services if it means handing over ownership of my life to a company that does not care about me? Nothing is more frightening than finding out you have willfully handed over control of your life. It is the sort of realization that flares up every time you turn on your Playstation, fly an American flag or make a phone call. You think back to the moments at which you were most naive and what it will take to regain that lost semblance of control. For some, that might mean actively deselecting parts of their augmented life. For others, it means finding a new normal. Whatever that is.