First, however, I’m just going to clarify one thing. My aim here is not to demonise Anonymous, nor critique their aim. After all, I personally can’t see how the world would be any worse with the destruction of Scientology being successfully carried out. What I am saying is that we should critique their existence, style and methodology with a very critical eye (as is my way) – and come to some substantive conclusions about what this means for our culture and society as a whole, assuming they have the kind of power they claim to have.
So let’s get started. The first question asks after the nature of the group Anonymous. We need some kind of answer to this before we can attempt answers to the other questions. Here I have to admit the limitations of my knowledge. I am not a member of this group. I am not involved in discussions with people who are members. I have no insight into the decision making hierarchy (assuming that there is one – and they actually seem to claim that there is not). So I can only go by the various releases that have appeared on the internet and try my best to draw conclusions from them. All conclusions that I draw will of course be open to critical scrutiny – which I wholeheartedly encourage.
First thing I note about their movement is that so far it has been a fantastic piece of theatre. It’s dramatic and it’s edgy. Their videos are quite gripping – and we’re all now hanging out to see how this plot is going to unfold. This is exactly their intent. Nietzche wrote that “All great things must first wear terrifying and monstrous masks in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity.” With great irony Anonymous adopts the symbolism of the mask itself as their mask. In their second video the opening image is of someone clad in a black biker helmet – the mask that obscures his identity (some of their videos are getting pulled from Youtube so the link might not work). As a mask, anonymity itself fits Nietzche’s criterion perfectly. There is nothing more terrifying than the unknown. It is in this way that Anonymous creates the drama they need to advance their cause.
But regardless of this level of irony, the skilful marketing, or potential Nietzchean comparisons – one has to wonder at the level of sophistication of those writing the scripts. In many respects one feels that this is exactly the movement that would arise in a generation raised by hollywood; a generation force-fed with endless mythological cliches of rebellion in their popular literature and cinema even whilst being subjected to a life of stultifying conformity; a generation so impoverished and starved for genuine creative stimulus that it would unleash those same mythologies and cliches of rebellion at the very institutions that bequeathed them. Once one understands this disturbing irony the existence of a cultural entity like Anonymous becomes very disturbing indeed. This is not so much a critique of Anonymous itself – but of the culture that has produced them.
The point is so important that it needs to be laboured. Take for example this posting attributed to Anonymous. Notice the picture at the bottom. For those who don’t recognise it, it is the symbol that appears in the movie: “V for Vendetta” – a story about an anarchist anti-hero who brings down a totalitarian British government. In a number of other propaganda pieces I have seen, they use the image of the Guy Fawkes mask that also figures prominently in the movie.
But Anonymous does not just borrow its imagery from Hollywood movies, it borrows the language as well. They sign their propaganda pamphlets with the words, ‘We are Anonymous, We are legion.’ I mean, c’mon. Is Joss Whedon the voice of anonymous? In the final episode of Angel, a Joss Whedon production, the agent of the Wolf, the Ram, and the Heart utters: ‘You can’t defeat us, we are legion.’ Interestingly, the storyline conceived in Angel directly mirrors the style adopted by the Anonymous group. It has a faceless group – The Wolf, the Ram and the Heart – which considers itself legion in the same sense as does Anonymous – except Whedon intended them unambiguously as the bad guys.
If Angel was not the direct inspiration for that aspect of their style it is not particularly important. There are plenty of other examples of similar popular cultural artefacts which together almost certainly does serve as the inspiration. Another obvious comparison can be drawn with the work of Chuck Palahnuik and his novel ‘Fight Club’, and the David Fincher directed movie of the same name. In this story we see the development of a faceless underground movement by the literally non-existent leader Tyler Durden – which then proceeds to enact it’s anarchistic program entitled ‘project mayhem’. It’s particularly the fact that the organisational structure of Tyler Durden’s army has no centralised organisation structure which causes one to draw the parallel with Anonymous. Consider this quote from a blog claiming to be a informational agent for the group:
In essence, we are all Anonymous, just some are more Anonymous than others, but that doesn’t mean that one Anonymous has authority over another, because we can never tell who is who. Isn’t this such an interesting system?
But why do we go picking on other websites for our own enjoyment? This is incredibly hard to explain, for Anonymous operates somewhat chaotically, but there is some structure behind our behaviour. Remember the Ancient Greeks? They did not believe in Representative Democracy, only on general consensus with the common people. Anonymous is similar. We do not tell some Hacker on Steroids to do the work for us (BASIC PRINCIPLE: Anonymous is not your personal army) we decide for ourselves by consensus whether or not to act based on how much lulz we can accumulate from our target
The claimed lack of hierarchical structure in their organisation is evident from this quote. But there are further similarities – consider this quote about their methods used to achieve their objectives:
As time wore on and certain anonymii grew, matured, and gained more experience, Anonymous began to extend its reach beyond the internet – calling victims in real life, contacting relatives, co-workers, employers, and friends of targets to further spread rumors and harass. Anonymous learned to order cash-on-delivery pizzas for the target. Anonymous learned to get local parent-teacher organizations worried about the target’s deviant sexual fetishes. Anonymous learned to send solid black pages to fax machines. Anonymous learned to find any website or service that would mail something for free, and send thousands to the target. Anonymous learned to raid “IRL” – In real life. Disguised as a popular icon, Anonymous would photograph, harass, spread information or post fliers about the target.
Consider the scenes from fight club where the members go out the conduct their homework assignments, or the folders that hang on the wall labelled: Disinformation and Mischief.
Or consider yet another quote from this same blog:
Despite our negative press in the past, Anonymous is not a collection of 15-year-old punks with a preference for gay porn and exploding yellow vans. Anonymous is not a domestic terrorist. We are your doctors, lawyers, bankers, and firefighters. We are your teachers, your students, your cashiers, your taxi drivers, your waiters and waitresses. We are your friends, your family, and your children. We are you. We are well-educated, well-funded, and determined.
…and compare it with this line from Tyler Durden:
Look – the people you are after, are the people you depend on. We cook your meals. We haul your trash. We connect your calls. We drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep. Do not fuck with us.
Anyone else see the similarity?
I could go on, quoting the endless lists of subversive fictions invented by many different talented writers and thinkers. The point I’m making is this. Anonymous derives its inspiration, style and methodology from these popular cultural sources. The irony of this being that they were bequeathed these fictions by the corporate elite they are now setting themselves in opposition against. This elite was motivated not by the substance of these subversive fictions – but by the fact that a market existed that hungered for them. They might not have written them – but they funded them, and made their mass distribution possible. How interesting that a market driven corporate structure would nurture the seed that would one day grow in opposition to its very existence.
This is exactly what I mean by the claim that this is the movement of a generation so starved for a genuine culture – that it must take its inspiration from those whom ultimately they despise. It’s as though a child, made ugly by a diet of endless shit, has suddenly gained the self awareness to look at itself in the mirror – and it hates so very much what it sees. The only way it knows how to react is with the same ugliness is has been fed over the years at those who fed it.
This is not to say that I think all such cultural artefacts are so unworthy to be so labelled. In fact – I see Fight Club as one of the greatest novels written in the past 50 years. But that is because Palahnuik writes with a delicious sense of irony that is directed not just at the institutional structures which Tyler Durden reacts against – but also at the sentiment which strives to emulate figures like Tyler Durden. The story is so ripe with irony that you’d have to be an American not to get it. It’s this that makes Palahnuik a genius. He encourages as to think through all the angles – not simplistically take up the banner of a single side. As such, anyone striving to emulate those subversive figures that our best literature subjects to savage, ironic critiques – prima facie demonstrates a lack of understanding of such an ironic and critical disposition. It is this observation that underwrites my scepticism that the group Anonymous actually does have the kind of critical sophistication that they claim.
And this is a shame – because it is to such a critical disposition that they seem to strive. Consider this quote from the above mentioned blog:
Historically, Anonymous’ targets have had one or more of the following properties:
1. Inability to handle criticism
2. Overblown sense of self-importance
3. Panicky reaction when private information on them is released
4. Frantic attempts to cover up the aforementioned information
5. Fondness for threatening legal action
7. Love for spouting repetitive, idiotic rhetoric
8. Suppression of free speech or free will
These are the things I would like to think that I fight against on a daily basis. This blog is my public contribution to that cause (small a contribution though it is). Presumably – if this what they fight against, then one would think that Anonymous would like to embody the kind of things that someone like me values the most: freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and above all – a critical disposition that eschews dogma and strives for truth without presupposition at the outset as to what that truth might be.
But these concepts so easily become words – and anyone who feels that they have a grasp as to their meaning must be willing to question their understanding. I submit that Anonymous has still some way to go in this respect. I have presented my argument above – I expect it to be subjected to the same kind of critical engagement that we all advocate. I hope I might attract some members of ‘the legion’ to so engage.
This is my analysis of the character of the group Anonymous. it follows quite neatly as to what I think this implies about the society in which a group like Anonymous can arise. It is a very culturally impoverished society indeed. it’s the analogy of child fed by shit that serves my purpose here. Our cultural diet has been for so long dominated by tales of masked superheroes who act above the law – that they’ve finally begun to appear in reality. It’s doubtful that the people who comprise the membership of Anonymous have the requisite sensibility to really critique whether this is a reality that would serve us well. It’s my opinion is that it’s not.
Which brings us to the third question I raised at the beginning. My opinion is shared by Mark Bunker from Xenu TV, a long time campaigner against Scientology. Watching it is like listening to the wisdom of the elder, desperately trying to penetrate the passion of youth. He speaks so much sense. His message is simple. You don’t want a society where people act above the law in order to effect change – no matter how well meaning they may be. He urges people to accept peaceful, institutionally accepted methods of resistance. And states the view that these avenue still present a real opportunity for effecting positive change. At this current stage of the game – I share his view.
Obviously, the members of Anonymous do not. Let’s return to the second question and wonder that if they are indeed ‘legion’ as they claim – what does it say that so many have given up on the institutional structures designed to preserve justice and protect our liberties? Indeed, the existence of such a large group (if they do indeed exist as such) – would be a strong reason to further critique the realities of our political and cultural institutions. If it takes an underground group to prosecute for justice against the like of Scientology – then we have to seriously question the ability of our society to provide such justice through its established institutional structures. Until the real evidence of the legion of Anonymous members comes to light – we aren’t forced to such considerations. And what’s more – there has been a growing consensus against Scientology for some time with the latest evidence of this being the actions of the German government against the church.
However, if the Anonymous movement did grow – if a major element of disaffected people, who used harrassment and various other illegal activities to wage their ‘wars’, came to dominate our cultural landscape – well, this is not a reality I would like to live in. Maybe I’m old fashioned. But I still believe in the rule of law.
So how do we encourage the like of Anonymous to give up their wars – and to adopt lawful tactics to achieve their quest for justice? Well I would never advocate a ‘war’ on Anonymous. I would never advocate becoming like them to defeat them – the way they advocate becoming much like Scientology to defeat Scientology. I would simply suggest that we work to restore trust in the democratic institutions that in recent times seem to be failing us. I would suggest that we engage in critical dialogue – and try to offer a richer, and more creative understanding of the cultural forms of life that surround us. I would suggest that we try to develop a more profound culture that rejects the superhero drivel that hollywood keeps dishing up.
I would suggest that we nurture our youth with a diet of culture so rich that posterity would look upon us with awe and remark that truly we were an enlightened generation.