….And MIA is our Bob Dylan.
“What the hell you on about?” is what you’re probably asking yourself right now… Well, let me give you some context, and then my thoughts on this auspicious new age we find ourselves in.
Hannah and I were watching a documentary on Anonymous – a powerful and sometimes dysfunctional group of hackers, trolls, activists, and internet-enthusiasts who generally make up the vanguard of our time.
Members of Anonymous were chosen for interviews. We listened to their musings on Internet-culture, and the myriad ways that it has changed over the course of the last 15 years. It’s not clear how these particular members were recruited or selected – I reckon that it might have something to do with the political views of the director (cherry picking members that best represent the directors’ opinion about what Anonymous members/”operatives” are all about).
It was interesting to watch how this international group of tricksters discovered themselves, and then each other. At first, they likened themselves to a bunch of Merry Pranksters – playing silly tricks on people on the Internet (Re: Habbo Raids). In a child-like manner, they would poke fun at society by vandalizing websites and hacking the pages and profiles of various hotshots (be them celebrities, businesses, or government institutions). Much like Shakespeare’s jester figure who uses riddles and jokes to undercut the implicit infallibility of the king, Anonymous used internet pranks to call attention to things that they considered dubious, unjust, or just plain silly.
Then, when the Church of Scientology tried to censor them, they developed a political edge that forced them to redefine who they are, what they stand for, and what they will allow themselves to do with their various talents (hacking). This led to a strict anti-censorship stance, which inspired the movement to later hack and vandalize the Church’s website. You can see their developing ideology take solid shape in what sounds to me like a manifesto:
Things took another dramatic turn when citizens from Tunisia and Egypt reached out to Anonymous for help. At this point, Anonymous developed not only a political edge, but an ethical one as well. Here we saw the power of empathy, and how that emotional charge led to the emancipation of dissident voices in the Middle East. Hackers from around the globe helped spread the news of oppressive regimes by circulating video, audio, and text messages taken by people living under times of war. Where the Tunisian and Egyptian government tried to silence it’s citizens by shutting down the internet, Anonymous fought back by arming these very same citizens with modems, instruction manuals, and secret phone numbers which could be used to text and then publically – globally – share what was going on. Where governments tried to hide the carnage wrought by their own police, armies and secret service employees – Anonymous aimed to publicize and “share” the footage taken by citizens in the streets.
Now, Anonymous is almost synonymous with the #Occupy Movement – a global movement that has captured the hearts and minds of so many disenfranchised youth. Occupy stands for free speech, internet privacy, democracy, social justice and so much more… You can trace a clear line from the movements beginnings to it’s current state.
This is where things get tricky: is Anonymous good or bad for the world?
I reckon that it goes beyond good or bad – I think they are important, and more than that – I believe they are necessary.
Are governments fundamentally “good” or “bad”? No – but they are necessary.
Hannah’s view was that groups like Anonymous undercut the legitimate democratic process and weaken the powers of political institutions. That is a very valid point.
But in my point of view, legitimate political institutions are no better or worse than Anonymous. I think both need to exist.
Legitimate political institutions have the media on their side and the law on their side; is it any wonder that we associate them with safety and order? It’s all a PR stunt. Let’s take a moment to seriously consider the ethics of legitimate political institutions and see if they truly are better than illegitimate groups like Anonymous.
Legitimate political institutions stole our parents retirement money and ran away to a yacht on the beach. Even more, they got a raise for stealing our parents retirement money.
Legitimate political institutions support slave-wages in developing countries — actively ignoring the human right for fair trade and economic justice.
Legitimate political organizations support undemocratic wars in other countries.
Legitimate political organizations support oppressive regimes by selling weapons to dictators in other countries.
I could go on.
Don’t get me wrong, I support legitimate political institutions – but they are no longer efficient. They don’t necessarily represent the voice of the people. They move too slow. And they are directly tied to mafia-like organizations, known today as corporations, in the great pyramid scheme of life that we call capitalism.
Anonymous are no better or worse than governments. Anonymous, like governments, will make mistakes. They have made mistakes – big mistakes; but their potential for good is far more important.
As for MIA, the reason I think she embodies the zeitgeist so well is that she has traveled to developing countries and brought back stories from the front-lines of capitalism. She both celebrates globalization and criticizes globalization in a way that I think is clever, interesting, and honest. She also understands the new digital landscape and embraces it. The internet for MIA – is a social tool, a political tool, and cultural tool. Just take a look at the lyrics to this song for instance:
It seems to me that Anonymous embody the spirit of the age – along with other key players like Shepard Fairey, Banksy, and Russell Brand.
This is a millennial thang that we got going on here. I think that as a society we go through periods of extroversion and introversion, and to me – the 80s and 90s were a period of personal and social introversion; whereas the millennial years seem to embody a spirit of personal and social extroversion.
And I’m all for it. Perhaps a bit of healthy dissent, and greater pubic scrutiny of our long-held (and in my opinion archaic) political and social institutions could result in some truly SUSTAINABLE alternatives. We’ll make mistakes along the way – but hey, that’s history! That’s life!