A hack touches the virtual—and transforms the actual. “To qualify as a hack, the feat must be imbued with innovation, style and technical virtuosity.” 1Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (New York: Penguin, 1994), p. 23. This is the classic journalistic account of the hacker as computer engineer, and the struggles of hackers to … Continue reading The terms hacking and hacker emerge in this sense in electrical engineering and computing. As these are leading areas of creative production in a vectoral world, it is fitting that these names come to represent a broader activity The hacking of new vectors of information has indeed been the turning point in the emer- gence of a broader awareness of the creative production of abstraction.


Since its very emergence in computing circles, the hacker “ethic” has come up against the forces of commodified education and communication. As Himanen writes, hackers, who “want to realize their passions,” present “a general social challenge,” but the realization of the value of this chal- lenge “will take time, like all great cultural changes.”2Pekka Himanen, The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age (New York: Random House, 2001), pp. 7, 18, 13. If A Hacker Ethic seeks to resurrect the spirit of Max Weber, then A Hacker … Continue reading And more than time, for it is more than a cultural change. It will take struggle, for what the hacker calls into being in the world is a new world and a new being. Freeing the con- cept of the hacker from its particulars, understanding it ab- stractly, is the first step in this struggle.


The apologists for the vectoral interest want to limit the se- mantic productivity of the term “hacker” to a mere crimi- nality, precisely because they fear its more abstract and multiple potential—its class potential. Everywhere one hears rumors of the hacker as the new form of juvenile delinquent, or nihilist vandal, or servant of organized crime. Or, the hacker is presented as a mere harmless subculture, an obsessive garage pursuit with its restrictive styles of appear- ance and codes of conduct. Everywhere the desire to open the virtuality of information, to share data as a gift, to ap- propriate the vector for expression is represented as the object of a moral panic, an excuse for surveillance, and the re- striction of technical knowledge to the “proper authorities.” This is not the first time that the productive classes have faced this ideological blackmail. The hacker now appears in the official organs of the ruling order alongside its earlier ar- chetypes, the organized worker, the rebellious farmer. The hacker is in excellent company


The virtual is the true domain of the hacker. It is from the virtual that the hacker produces ever-new expressions of the actual. To the hacker, what is represented as being real is al- ways partial, limited, perhaps even false. To the hacker there is always a surplus of possibility expressed in what is actual, the surplus of the virtual. This is the inexhaustible domain of what is real but not actual, what is not but which may become. The domain where, as Massumi says, “what can- not be experienced cannot but be felt.”3Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual (Durham: Duke Univer- sity Press, 2002), p. 30. Never was the virtual more delicately de- scribed, nor the difficulty of opening a space for it within the … Continue reading To hack is to release the virtual into the actual, to express the difference of the real.


Any domain of nature may yield the virtual. By abstracting from nature, hacking produces the possibility of another nature, a second nature, a third nature, natures to infinity, dou- bling and redoubling. Hacking discovers the nature of nature, its productive — and destructive — powers. This applies as much in physics as in sexuality, in biology as in politics, in computing as in art or philosophy. The nature of any and ev- ery domain may be hacked. It is in the nature of hacking to discover freely, to invent freely, to create and produce freely But it is not in the nature of hacking itself to exploit the ab- stractions thus produced.


When the hack is represented in the abstraction of property rights, then information as property creates the hacker class as class. This intellectual property is a distinctive kind of property to land or capital, in that only a qualitatively new creation may lay claim to it. And yet, when captured by the representation of property, the hack becomes the equiv- alent of any other property, a commodified value. The vec- toral class measures its net worth in the same currency as capitalists and pastoralists, making patents and copyrights equivalent to factories or fields.


Through the application of ever-new forms of abstraction, the hacker class produces the possibility of production, the possibility of making something of and with the world— and of living off the surplus produced by the application of abstraction to nature—to any nature. Abstraction, once it starts to be applied, may seem strange, “unnatural,” and may bring radical changes in its wake. If it persists, it soon becomes taken for granted. It becomes second nature. Through the production of new forms of abstraction, the hacker class produces the possibility of the future. Of course not every new abstraction yields a productive appli- cation to the world. In practice, few innovations ever do so. Yet it can rarely be known in advance which abstractions will mesh with nature in a productive way.


It is in the interests of hackers to be free to hack for hack- ing’s sake. The free and unlimited hacking of the new produces not just “the” future, but an infinite possible array of futures, the future itself as virtuality. Every hack is an expression of the inexhaustible multiplicity of the future, of virtuality. Yet every hack, if it is to be realized as a form of property and assigned a value, must take the form not of an expression of multiplicity, but of a representation of some- thing repeatable and reproducible. Property traps only one aspect of the hack, its representation and objectification as property. It cannot capture the infinite and unlimited virtu- ality from which the hack draws its potential.


Under the sanction of law, the hack becomes a finite property, and the hacker class emerges, as all classes emerge, out of a relation to a property form. As with land or capital as property forms, intellectual property enforces a relation of scarcity. It assigns a right to a property to an owner at the expense of non-owners, to a class of possessors at the ex- pense of the dispossessed. “The philosophy of intellectual property reifies economic rationalism as a natural human trait.”4Ronald V Bettig, Copyrighting Culture (Boulder: Westview, 1996), p. 25. Coming out of the critical communications studies tradition, this work covers useful ground in detailing how the emergent … Continue reading


By its very nature, the act of hacking overcomes the limits property imposes on it. New hacks supersede old hacks, and devalue them as property. The hack takes information that has been devalued into redundancy by repetition as communication, and produces new information out of it again. This gives the hacker class an interest in the free availability of information rather than in an exclusive right. The immaterial aspect of the nature of information means that the possession by one of information need not deprive another of it. The fields of research are of a different order of abstraction to agricultural fields. While exclusivity of property may be necessary with land, it makes no sense whatsoever in science, art, philosophy, cinema or music.


To the extent that the hack embodies itself in the form of property, it does so in a quite peculiar way, giving the hacker class as a class interests quite different from other classes, be they exploiting or exploited classes. The interest of the hacker class lies first and foremost in a free circulation of information, this being the necessary condition for the renewed expression of the hack. But the hacker class as class also has a tactical interest in the representation of the hack as property, as something from which a source of income may be derived that gives the hacker some independence from the ruling classes. The hacker class opens the virtual into the historical when it hacks a way to make the latter desire a mere particular of the former.


The very nature of the hack gives the hacker a crisis of identity The hacker searches for a representation of what it is to be a hacker in the identities of other classes. Some see themselves as vectoralists, trading on the scarcity of their property. Some see themselves as workers, but as privileged ones in a hierarchy of wage earners. The hacker class produces itself as itself, but not for itself. It does not (yet) possess a consciousness of its consciousness. It is not aware of its own virtuality. Because of its inability—to date—to become a class for itself, fractions of the hacker class continu- ally split off and come to identify their interests with those of other classes. Hackers run the risk, in particular, of being identified in the eyes of the working and farming classes with vectoralist interests, which seek to privatize information necessary for the productive and cultural lives of all classes.


To hack is to abstract. To abstract is to produce the plane upon which different things may enter into relation. It is to produce the names and numbers, the locations and trajecto- ries of those things. It is to produce kinds of relations, and relations of relations, into which things may enter. Differentiation of functioning components arranged on a plane with a shared goal is the hacker achievement, whether in the technical, cultural, political, sexual or scientific realm. Hav- ing achieved creative and productive abstraction in so many other realms, the hacker class has yet to produce itself as its own abstraction. What is yet to be created, as an abstract, collective, affirmative project is, as Ross says, “a hacker’s knowledge, capable of penetrating existing systems of ra- tionality that might otherwise seem infallible; a hacker’s knowledge, capable of reskilling, and therefore rewriting, the cultural programs and reprogramming the social values that make room for new technologies; a hacker knowledge, capable also of generating new popular romances around the alternative uses of human ingenuity.”5Andrew Ross, Strange Weather: Culture, Science and Technology in the Age of Limits (London: Verso, 1991), p. 11. See also Andrew Ross, No Collar (New York: Basic Books, 2002). If journalism is the … Continue reading


The struggle of the hacker class is a struggle against itself as much as against other classes. It is in the nature of thehack that it must overcome the hack it identifies as its pre cursor. A hack only has value in the eyes of the hacker as a qualitative development of a previous hack. Yet the hacker class brings this spirit also into its relation to itself. Each hacker sees the other as a rival, or a collaborator against an other rival, not—yet—as a fellow member of the same class with a shared interest. This shared interest is so hard to grasp precisely because it is a shared interest in qualitative differentiation.


The hacker class does not need unity in iden tity but seeks multiplicity in difference. The hacker class produces distinctions as well as relations, and must struggle against distinctions of its own making in order to reconceive of itself as itself. Having produced itself as the very process of distinction, it has to distinguish be tween its competitive interest in the hack, and its collective interest in discovering a relation among hackers that expresses an open and ongoing future for its interests. Its competitive interest can be captured in the property form, but its collective interest cannot. The collective interest of the hacker class calls for a new form of class struggle.


The hacker class can enlist those components of other classes that assist in the realization of the hacker class as a class for itself. Hackers have so often provided other classes with the means by which to realize themselves, as the “organic intellectuals” connected to particular class interests and formations. But having guided—and misguided—the working class as its intellectual “vanguard,” it is time for hackers to recognize that their interests are separate from those of the working class, but potentially in alliance. It is from the leading edge of the working class that hackers may yet learn to conceive of themselves as a class. If hackers teach workers how to hack, it is workers who teach hackers how to be a class, a class in itself and for itself. The hacker class becomes a class for itself not by adopting the identity of the working class but by differentiating itself from it.


The vectoral puts the overdeveloped world directly in touch with the underdeveloped world, breaching the en- velopes of states and communities, even those of the sub- ject itself. The poorest farmers find themselves struggling against not only the local pastoralist class, but against a vectoralist class hell bent on monopolizing the information contained in seed stocks, or the curative properties of me- dicinal plants long known to traditional peoples. Farmers, workers and hackers confront in its different aspects the same struggle to free information from property, and from the vectoral class. The most challenging hack for our time is to express this common experience of the world.


While not everyone is a hacker, everyone hacks. Touching the virtual is a common experience because it is an experi- ence of what is common. If hacking breaches envelopes, then the great global hack is the movement of the dispos- sessed of the underdeveloped world, under and over every border, following every vector toward the promise of the overdeveloped world. The vectors of communication scatter as confetti representations of commodified life around the world, drawing subjects to its objects, turning on vectors of migration on an unprecedented scale. But what remains yet to be hacked is a new opening of expression for this movement, a new desire besides the calling of the representation of the object for its subjects, who will arrive, sooner or later, at boredom and disappointment. The vectoral world is being hacked to bits from the inside and the outside, calling for the combining of all efforts at abstracting desire from property and releasing the properties of abstracted desire.


1 Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (New York: Penguin, 1994), p. 23. This is the classic journalistic account of the hacker as computer engineer, and the struggles of hackers to maintain the virtual space for the hack against the forces of commodified technology and education—and thelooming behemoth of the military entertainment complex. A study of these exemplary stories quickly gives the lie to the ca- nard that only by making information property can “incentives” be introduced that will advance the development of new concepts and new technologies. The hackers at work in Levy’s book produce extraordinary work out of desires shaped almost exclusively by the gift economy. The autonomous, self-generat- ing circuits of prestige of the gift economy produce self-gener- ating circuits of extraordinary innovation.
2 Pekka Himanen, The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age (New York: Random House, 2001), pp. 7, 18, 13. If A Hacker Ethic seeks to resurrect the spirit of Max Weber, then A Hacker Manifesto offers a crypto-Marxist response. Himanen’s excellent work has much to say on hacker time and its antithesis to commodified time, and yet Himanen still seeks to recon- cile the hacker with the vectoral class. He wilfully confuses the hacker with the “entrepreneur.” The hacker produces the new; the entrepreneur merely discovers its price. In the vectoral economy, where much of what is on offer has no use value whatsoever, and exchange value is a mere speculative possibil- ity, the entrepreneur is a heroic figure when and if he or she can invent new necessities ex nihil. Here the “invisible hand” is a poker player’s bluff. The entrepreneur merely reiterates unnec- essary necessity; the hacker expresses the virtual. The confu- sion of one with the other is an ideological sleight of hand meant to lend some glamor to the dismal necromancy of vec- toral power.
3 Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual (Durham: Duke Univer- sity Press, 2002), p. 30. Never was the virtual more delicately de- scribed, nor the difficulty of opening a space for it within the vector, but outside the limit of communication. Massumi brings Deleuze’s thought toward a really fruitful encounter with the space of the vector as an historical and physical space, rather than a merely philosophical and metaphysical one. Butthere is still the difficulty here of following Deleuze too far in the direction of a pure, creative metaphysics, which loses the capacity to understand itself as historical, as an expression of a possibility that arrives at a given moment. There is too neat a fit between the pure ontological plane at the heart of Deleuze’s thought and the “disinterested” discursive space thought carves for itself within the closed world of education.
4 Ronald V Bettig, Copyrighting Culture (Boulder: Westview, 1996), p. 25. Coming out of the critical communications studies tradition, this work covers useful ground in detailing how the emergent vectoral economy works, but which in its thinking seeks to collapse it back into the categories and experiences of the era in which capital dominated the commodity economy. Critical communications scholars are right in emphasizing the lack of autonomy culture and communication have from the commodity economy, but wrong in thinking that this commodity economy can still be described in the language of capitalism. Attention to the problem of the economy specific to communi- cation and culture shows that what it broke free from was pre- cisely a superseded conception of its commodity form.
5 Andrew Ross, Strange Weather: Culture, Science and Technology in the Age of Limits (London: Verso, 1991), p. 11. See also Andrew Ross, No Collar (New York: Basic Books, 2002). If journalism is the first draft of history, cultural studies is the second draft. Or at least, so it might be at its best, and Ross might be an exemplar. Ross investigates the virtual dimension to the productivity of the productive classes. He discovers the class struggle over information across the length and breadth of the social factory. In everyday life, workers of all kinds struggle to produce mean- ing autonomously. The people make meaning, but not with the means of their own choosing. Cultural studies has hitherto only interpreted the interpretive powers of the productive classes; the point, however, is to make them an agent of change. Cultural studies was right in seeing phenomena in thecultural realm as not necessarily determined by events in a given economic “base,” but wrong in giving little weight to the changes in the commodity form as it expanded to encompass information. Far from discovering a realm of “relative autonomy” from the old class struggle, cultural studies discovered a realm saturated in the new class struggles around information as property, but had foresworn the very tools with which to analyze it as such.