Anonymous: From /b/ In-Joke to Sociopolitical Philosophy?

Anonymous has always been growing, changing, and redefining itself. Some suggest it may now be expanding beyond hacktivism and identity-hiding, and into an ideology. Perhaps, one can be Anonymous without being literally anonymous.

For a while, I’d been noticing a trend in the way people who call themselves Anonymous seemed to think and act. Several days ago, this post on Pastebin summed it up quite nicely for me:

Anonymous is not a group. Many of us form groups, but Anonymous is not about groups.
Anonymous is not a hacker collective. Many of us hack, but Anonymous is not about hacking.
Anonymous does not live on the Internet. Many of us meet and communicate online, but Anonymous is not just about the Internet.

Anonymous is a movement. An idea. A meme. Over years and years, it has grown and matured: beginning like an immature child, pulling pranks and causing chaos with no rhyme or reason; then becoming a formidable activist movement, devoted to the freedom of information and anti-censorship.

And lately, as global society begins to collapse, with the legitimacy of our leaders and institutions eroding every day, Anonymous is growing once more, its purpose becoming clearer and further realized.

Many Anons hide our identities, but Anonymous is not about hiding. We hide our names and our faces because they are irrelevant. [Emphasis mine]

Names are a distraction from the words we say, and the actions we take. They are, at best, a nuisance, and at worst, a serious danger to human thinking. This is why Anonymous does not support politicians. We do not support parties. We do not support named ideologies. We do not support cults, be they cults of dogma or of personality.

We don’t want to know your name. We don’t want to know if you are a liberal, a conservative, a capitalist, a communist, a socialist, a fascist, an anarchist, a green, or whatever. All we care about is whether we like the things that you say, and the things that you do.

So from time to time, some of us may remove our masks, or let our identities slip. But we will still be Anonymous. For we have surrendered our egos, and ignore the egos of others.

We are Anonymous, people who have freed our minds from the tyranny of names.

One could argue, isn’t Anonymous just another name? To which we say: it is the anti-name. The name to end all names.

There’s a host of anecdotes suggesting that many self-described Anons are beginning to view Anonymous as a ideological movement. “You can’t arrest an idea” was the response to FBI threats against LulzSec; LulzSec, of course, being one of many Anonymous-affiliated groups — perhaps comparable to Greenpeace’s affiliation with the green movement, or PETA’s to the animal rights movement. The popular new forum What Is The Plan flies the banner of Anonymous for adamantly hacking-unrelated purposes, reinforcing the notion that Anonymous has a mission beyond its most infamous methods. And, of course, the vast support and turnout of Anonymous at Occupy Wall Street, a social change action only tangentially related to the Internet or technology.

It’s that last one which really makes the Pastebin manifesto resonate; Occupy Wall Street is almost an exact manifestation of what it describes. Vocal support for politicians of any party or political stripe is nearly absent. Arguments that the occupation should focus on “abolishing capitalism” or “let’s have socialism/anarchism in America” fail to gain widespread support. Celebrities such as Roseanne Barr, Michael Moore, Cornel West, and others inspire the movement with their appearances, but do not become the faces, voices, or leaders of it. Instead, the gears are turned by no-name, average people discussing specific, concrete issues and solutions.

Few of these average people make much of an effort to hide their identities, but they don’t play them up either; they speak with their words, not with their names. This is partially because of the limitations of physical versus online communication: voices can’t easily be obscured, and masks can be uncomfortable after prolonged use or get you arrested in New York City.

But online, many Anons do end up being decidedly onymous: from pseudonyms in IRC channels, forums, and Twitter accounts, to the names of groups like LulzSec and C@b!nCr3w. The fact that most don’t (willingly) reveal their “real” names is hardly the point; when all’s said and done, which specific Anon or Anonymous-affiliated group took an action is often an incidental curiosity. For example, how many articles about Anonymous’ leak of NYPD officer Anthony Bologna’s personal info even bother to mention that it was done by the aforementioned C@b!nCr3w?

These bits and pieces — one Anon’s musings on Pastebin, the ramifications of pseudonyms and named groups within Anonymous, and the Anonymous-influenced Occupy Wall Street — are all, admittedly, just that: bits and pieces. They’re not rock-solid proof of a cohesive and clear definition of the Anonymous movement, or the driving ideas behind it. But Anonymous has never been particularly clear, cohesive, or rock-solid. It’s nearly impossible to accurately define what it is at any particular moment in time, so it may be positively Sisyphean to forecast what it may be morphing into next.

However, the notion of Anonymous as an ego-blind destroyer of weasel words, jargon, charlatanry, and bullshit in general is intriguing. It’s hard to argue that this world needs less cult-of-personality and dogma, and more individuals thinking for themselves. If Anonymous stands for a society in which people focus less on the egos of politicians, businessmen, and experts, and more on the ideas they communicate — regardless of which school of thought they come from — then hell, I’d gladly call myself Anonymous.


  1. pop

    The human race has always been trying to self-organise. Just like trillions of similar cells are cooperating to create the human body, groups of humans are discovering ways they can cooperate to become something bigger. You could say it’s a complex system, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We are born this way — we are social animals by nature, relatively intelligent ones too.

    Indeed, there have been countless attempts throughout recorded history and before it where humans created civilisations, and for the sake of this analogy we would postulate that political systems are the DNA that holds those civilisations together. Alas, some civilisations are born diseased, which causes them to fail, while others are born looking healthy, but their genes make them prone to corruption/cancer, which eventually causes them to fail (and thus the phoenix rises once more from the ashes).

    It’s quite clear by now that whatever political system is running the western world today is not destined to work and will fall like all those before it. Whatever that political system was it mutated and, for lack of a better term, degenerated into medieval guildery — western civilisation has been hijacked by corporate tribalism (call it whatever you like). I can’t tell how long this giant will take to fall to his knees — it could well be after our deaths. Perhaps he won’t fall at all, but will heal himself and keep walking, I don’t know.

    I consider Anonymous to be something new, perhaps the beginning of another such attempt that is growing into an ideology and ultimately a political system. Maybe it’s the cure the giant needs, who knows? Anyway, I would be naive if I didn’t attribute this phenomenon (in part or in whole) to the internet, possibly the most disruptive invention in thousands of years. I couldn’t attest to how good a political system Anonymous could become, but some instinctive part of me says it would’t be worse than what we have today (but whoever comes to control the internet is who controls the world, and there’s the phoenix rising again).

    To understand what ideals Anonymous embodies I try to look at its history. The name comes from 4chan’s “Anonymous” comment-posting feature, that’s quite obvious. The story behind what it means is, I believe, rather more complex. I invite you to read this article by the guardian, which reports on a keynote speech by Christopher Poole, the founder of 4chan:

    That may give some insight on these ideas, but I believe we can look even further. 4chan itself is a copy of 2chan, a hugely popular Japanese message board, whose founder also echoed similar thoughts:

    If one reads about Japanese society, it will quickly become apparent that their social ways are quite different from ours. They have a very explicit social hierarchy that is observed without question; in our eyes it looks almost militaristic, but it permeates everyday life to ridiculous levels. Not to say that an analogue doesn’t exist in our society, but it’s largely implicit and harder to find or counter.

    Anonymity rejects the very notion of social standing, just like the Anonymous member said above, and one is judged merely on his opinions and behaviour. In fact, I would be quite confident in saying Anonymous really seems like an *anti-movement* to hierarchical political and societal organisation, and is in essence a new and potent permutation of civil libertarianism.

    In all honesty, I find it absolutely fascinating. I’m also afraid of it.

  2. steelneck

    @pop: About the corporate tribalism, recently i listened on a lecture by Hans Rosling, Epidemiology for the bottom billion (four parts on youtube). He said something very good about corporations when he talked about patents and medicine:

    “I always regarded the corporate sector to be like the horse on the old farm, it was the force of the horse that brought food on the table. My grandpa tought me to be very polite to the horse, never talk bad about the family horse, to pet it and we did not eat the horse, it was sacred. But one thing they never did with the horse, they never asked the horse for advice. That is how we should deal with the corporate sector.”/Hans Rosling

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  4. Ninja (@icanhazsake)

    IT’ll take a few years for the Govt (including NYPD) to realize what you just wrote. I call myself a pirate. I do what I can to support the ones at the front lines. But maybe again I’m just another one in the group of Anonymous. Dark times we face now. But times that are interesting and bustling with activity towards the light.

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