The pixelated-faces on the screens and the authoritative voices in the papers are blab-blabbing all about ‘hacks’ now. Did the Ruskies hack the elections? Can I hack my body with this LED screen? How can I hack my mind to be better at talking to people? Tell me how to hack my Iphone, I need to have more control.
Hack is a gross word. That hard, nasal, up-a right in the middle, that particularly tacky, staccato English vowel is the pivot of the whole word. hAck. Ughh please. You ‘hack’ up a hairball or a slimy lugi, wrenching it with violence from the deep cavities of your body; pus, mucus, tearing up what is inside and exorcising it to the exterior. You ‘hack’ an enemy or obstacle into an indistinguishable, bloody pile with a machete or a tomahawk. In both actions there is an element of mutilation, destruction, a cathartic, primitive impulse… hack.
Of course these things live on in our world. Hack is still around, but it has taken a new form in digital postmodern capitalism. It still carries the connotation of opening-up, but no longer just to pulverize or shred apart. In a finer sense, we create an incision in the object; now with greater utility and intent…we hack to get behind, to sneak in through the enemy’s wall or barrier. To open up, incise, and observe with the conscious gaze. Then, gradually, after gathering data, we manipulate with specific intent, something that was previously concealed, prohibited. Of course, as gratification to the ego. We relish in our newfound control, we are always clever David cutting the tendons of Goliath.
With a delicate, specific procedure, Hacking is a weird, malignant obverse of the scientific method.
Who are They? In the 21st century we treat hackers as either basement-dweller creeps or robin hood-like figures. There is no physical description of a hacker, you cannot identify one in real life. Any image of them is strictly imaginary. Hackers are always just a faceless ‘Them.’ In fact, ‘hacking’ tells you everything you need to know about our civilization: essentially anonymous, with anti-authoritarian sympathy, a specialist-professional, a narrow niche and very specific, though very useful, skill set. Always the anti-hero. Usually morally conflicted. (One of my friends is a hacker). Hacking is a counter-cultural activity that is just now being digested by the commercial culture industry, in tv shows like Mr. Robot.
Save your judgments. This is the world we live in whether or not we like where it’s going. We have to learn about hacking so as to not be obsolete in the New Nerd Order. I have outlined a few renditions of the ‘hack’ to educate those who might fall for these sorts of articles, attracted by the seductive traces of power and control left by the buzzword of the moment, hack.
- The Mindhack
One theme that runs through all ‘hacks’ is a desire for more control, to get more out of life, something or someone or your own ‘self.’ To be more efficient; better, smarter, faster, stronger. To be more competitive on the market-place of psyches.
The mindhack ranges from behavioral psychology, to body language, to neurological biochemistry. You might see articles on Quora (or reddit or whatever) from the distraught asking for ‘cool mindhacks’ related to doing better business, staying calm, gaining more confidence. There are at least a couple websites titled ‘mindhacks’ or ‘mind-hacks’ full of manipulative, seductive misinformation techniques. It’s all stupid and unethical, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ –type shit.
And in other recent news, pills akin to that drug from Limitless are being consumed by regular people (and not just eccentric wealthy cultists) for an ultimate biomedical mindhack. Nootropics. sure. ‘cognitive enhancement pills.’ It’s not uncommon for undergrads to scarf Adderall or other ‘study drugs’ to boost their ‘performance’ but this is some next-level shit. It’s probably making a lot of money at the moment. The language is curious, ‘cognitive enhancement‘- ‘unlock your true brain.’ Whatever. What about reading a book? Or talking to smart people? What happens when the mindhack pills wear off? You’re probably worse off than before.
- The Biohack
If mindhacks are clearly a product of capitalistic neurotic-insecurity and inferiority complexes, and a general desire to manipulate one’s fellow men, the biohack is a much more interesting psychopathology. Everyone has a strange relationship to their body. Technology has only provided new means for this particular desire.
A journalist on the Verge shadowed the foggy basement world of biohackers. Buzzwords abound. They are basically the ROTC kids from your high school, returned from the military disillusioned and stranger than before. Or at least the two guys in the article count for this crowd. Biohacking, I’m sure, is probably spread all over the world in all sorts of milieus.
A biohack requires more expertise than a mindhack. You need some background in technology or electrical engineering, a comrade or two who can cover the ground you’re unfamiliar with. You also need to be on intimate terms with a tattoo artist or piercer, to perform the required impromptu surgeries. It’s quite a sub-culture. The name of the game is to insert something weird and metal into the body; presumably in the name of ‘science’ or ‘anarchy.’ It is a very American-libertarian fixation, with steampunk mists and airs. I guess you could call this a ‘hobby,’ but the hack part comes from the emphasis on ‘improving’ the human body to ‘perfection.’ In the article, the men frequently disparage their precious organic forms as ‘blood-bags’ already half dead.
In one image in the article, the journalist, with his new magnetic implant, stands over a subway with a biohacker. They are waving their hands in the air, feeling the electromagnetic pull between some electrical equipment underground and the magnets inserted into their fingertips. The biohacker remarks on how they’re feeling ‘something that no one else is capable of,’ they have hacked into their frequently-referred to ‘6th sense’ and successfully boosted their ‘capacity’ and ‘awareness.’ And viola, revealed is the raison d’etre of biohacking. No longer are they walking in the realm of mundane everyday self-consciousness, they have biohack’d themselves and transcended.
Frequently they talk about themselves as ‘fringe,’ ahead of the ‘pack’, mere days ahead of Apple and Google in the implant game. Maybe.
Come on, be human, be honest, you know you recognize the desire at work here in your own life.
Whenever you’re cruising around the internet, and you somehow fall down one or another rabbit-hole of obscure subcultures, (like flat-earthers, the alt-rite, super post-modern eternal grad-student blog networks, tumblr witches, twitter activist echo chambers, wordpress stalinists, I could go on), you realize how neurotic these secluded and cloistered people are. You of course only ever half-understand what their talking about, but if you stay lurking too long you’ll be sucked in, you’ll find yourself having something to say, you’ll join the discourse. Then you’re doomed. This is the feeling I get with biohackers or ‘grinders.’ It’s not so far from the networks of Despicable Elitist Internet Marxists that I frequent. All in all, I get a sense that this hacking subculture, like a lot of fringe fashion and radical politics, comes from a deep seated desire to be ‘different’ or ‘special.’ A disgust and rejection of the physical body which borders on hysteria combined with a fixation on metal, electricity, LED lights, the unnatural and technically flawless. You could replace the x and y with any discourse or idea. I can’t speculate why they/we feel this way. But the logic of the cyborg is quite simple: prosthetic omniscience. Castration anxiety. Oedipus and angst. Just hack that shit man.
- The Lifehack
‘How to be a tool’ is a good summation. Marx told us to study our practice of life to uncover the parameters of our awareness. This includes for what and who and why we are living. The lifehacker discourse is like a coffee-table book or waiting room magazine version of this. Go to lifehack.org and just read for yourself. It’s all feel-goody liberal self-improvement. It’s all ego-centric, ‘how can I be a better me’ teletubbies psychology. It’s for people who enthusiastically use the word ‘Awesome!’ at every opportunity. Again, the underlying assumption is that the reader is someone with horrible FOMO and low self-esteem.
Unlike the mindhack, the lifehack is not in-itself utterly evil. It is mostly benign and boring. A lot of it is related to emotions or relationships, applying technical, instrumental reasoning to spheres that plainly require nothing else except painful self-reflection.
What does this mega-buzzword, hack, really tell us about ourselves?
Contained in all is a deeply flawed conception of ‘perfection,’ and an outdated conviction in (the illusion of) progress. In each sphere of ‘hacks’ what is the real aim? For whom, for what, how, and why are you trying to ‘better your self?’ What is ‘human perfection,’ if the blind eye we cast towards suffering of other people and the world is framed in google glasses or augmented with virtuality?
You get the picture. I won’t drive it home with more critique. Inlaid in each hack is an inability to see passed our own desires. When many of the ills we feel can only be confronted and solved with painful analysis, embarrassing help from others, relationships with real people which require blood and sweat and tears and bravery; basically the hack is a cultural phenomenon involving an attempt to circumvent thoughtful meditation, discipline, and honest self-reflection with technology and technical logic. So you can change your life without changing your self.
Fuck it. No universal messages of hope today. Although it doesn’t make sense to not have hope. There’s never no reason to not have hope in humanity, the future, even if it is technically illogical. That’s why technical reasoning does not equal ‘progress’ or ‘perfection.’ Not for us mortal blood-bags. Peace.