Eric Raymond’s argument on the hacker movement as a gift culture and my comments

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My chosen question: (1) Eric Raymond’s characterization of the hacker
movement as a gift culture has been very influential. What is his argument and how persuaded are you by it?
In today' s societies, we can see there are many hackers who exist in our new digital world. When people hear the word ‘hacker’, they often have different feelings towards it. A majority of people consider hackers as people who are highly annoying and always snooping into other people’s computers. They also think that hackers always perform malicious or illegal tasks by using computers. Only a small group of people consider hackers as people that are highly computer literate, especially in terms of programming. Based on these ambiguous understandings of hackers among two groups of people, arguments are formed and these two sides of people both have their standpoints.
Therefore, in this essay, I will talk about hackers and the characterizations of their movements pointed out by Eric Raymond. Also, I will also explain how the hacker movement is related to the open source movement and the gift culture. I will also express my personal points of views towards Eric Raymond’s arguments upon the hacker movement.
I divided this essay into three parts. In the first part, I will introduce what hackers are and take a look at Eric Raymond’s points of views towards hackers and the characterizations of their movement. In the second part, I will talk about the hacker movement and how it is related to the open source movement. I will also take a look at the gift culture with reference to the characterization of the hacker movement. In the final part, I will explain how persuasive Eric Raymond’s arguments are upon the hacker movement on me by two concepts: collectives versus capitalism and intrinsic value versus instrumental value.
People always talk about hackers. However, how many of them know what hackers are? Even though some of them know what hackers are, would they misunderstand the meaning of hackers?
In this part, I will introduce what hackers are and who Eric Raymond is. Also, we will take a look at Eric Raymond’s characterizations of the hacker movement based on the hacker culture.
What hackers are?
According to Manuel DeLanda (2002), in his book “Open-Source: A Movement in Search of a Philosophy”, he gave some definitions to the term ‘hacker’. He said, “The term hacker refers not to the cyber-vandals on which the media has focused so much attention (the correct term for those who illegally break into private networks is cracker) but to anyone who writes his or her own software. The term does imply (although I doubt it is part of its "meaning") that the software writer in question does not have a Computer Science degree, that is, it typically refers to self-taught craftsmen. Thus, the term carries the connotation that a software writer enjoys the creation of programs (as opposed to being motivated by professional duty or economic rewards) and that he or she has a strong respect for the values of craftsmanship (elegant solutions to a problem are admired in and of themselves).” (Manuel DeLanda 2002)
In addition, according to the lecture note (Chapter 2) written by Professor Metter Hjort, she says that “hackers put emphases on three things. The first thing is creativity as a value. The second thing is the values of craftsmanship. The third thing is beauty, which means elegance, for example, as something worth affirming in its own right. She also says that hackers distribute their software for free and the software are programmed in a mode that allows, not only for the free appropriation and use of the programs, but also for the modifications and further developments of the programs by the users.” (Lecture Note: Chapter 2)
Moreover, according to a book called “Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution” (1984), Steven Levy also pointed out that “hackers are some people who create and modify computer software and computer hardware, including computer programming, administration, and security-related items.” (Steven Levy 1984) He also indicated that hackers have different definitions based on different areas:
In computer programming
“Hackers are software designers and programmers who build elegant, beautiful programs and systems. Hackers can also be programmers who hack or reach goals by employing a series of modifications to exploits or extend existing codes or resources.” (Steven Levy 1984)
In computer security
“Hackers are people who specialize in work with the security mechanisms for computer and network systems. While including those who endeavor to strengthen such mechanisms, it more often is used, especially in the mass media, to refer to those who seek access despite them.” (Steven Levy 1984)
In other technical fields
“Hackers are extended to mean people who make things work beyond perceived limits through their own technical skill, such as hardware hackers, or reality hackers.” (Steven Levy 1984)
In hacker culture
“Hackers are people who have attained certain social statuses and are recognized among members of the culture for commitment to the culture's values and a certain amount of technical knowledge.” (Steven Levy 1984)
Brief introduction of Eric Raymond
There is a person called Eric Raymond who pointed out the characterizations of the hacker movement. But before looking at his personal points of views on the hacker movement, we will take a look at the background of this person first.
Eric Steven Raymond was born in December 4, 1957, in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a hacker, an author, a commentator and also a supporter of the Libertarian Party.
As a hacker
As a hacker, he began his involvement in the hacker culture in 1976. In the late 1980s, he contributed to his first free software project. He also has some minor contributions included, Emacs editing modes and portions of libraries, like, GNU ncurses, giflib/libungif, and libpng. Since then, his primary contributions to the open source software have been maintaining the fetchmail email client and gpsd. He has also written a number of How-to documents that are now included in the Linux Documentation Project corpus.
As a author
As an author, he has written a book called “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” and “Jargon File” (the printed version also known as “The New Hacker’s Dictionary”). After 1997, he became a person in the open source movement as his original reputation within hacker culture was established in the “Jargon File”. So, he is one of the most recognized characters nowadays.
As a commentator
As a commentator, he writes political and technical opinion pieces through his website. He also has expressed his views on politics, race and the Iraq war through his web log since the spring of 2002.
As a supporter of the Libertarian Party
As a supporter of the Libertarian Party, he has strong interests in science fiction and firearms. He supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He is also an opponent of the Government.
Eric Raymond’s characterizations of the hacker movement based on the hacker culture
After looking at the background of Eric Raymond, we are now going to look at his characterizations of the hacker movement based on the hacker culture. However, before looking at Eric Raymond’s characterizations of the hacker movement, I will briefly make a description of the hacker culture to first.
Hacker culture
According to a book called “Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution” (1984) written by Steven Levy, it says, “The hacker culture is the voluntary subculture established between and around hackers. There are multiple independent and parallel hacker subcultures, often unaware or only partially aware of each others' existence.” (Steven Levy 1984)
Some common important traits among the hacker subcultures are shown below:
(1) “They place a high value on freedom of inquiry and have hostility to secrecy.” (Steven Levy 1984)
(2) “They consider information-sharing as both an ideal and a practical strategy.” (Steven Levy 1984)
(3) “They emphasize on rationality.” (Steven Levy 1984)
(4) “They have distaste for authority.” (Steven Levy 1984)
(5) “They uphold the right to take a copy of source code from one software package and start to independently develop a new package.” (Steven Levy 1984)
After looking at the description of the hacker culture, we are now going to look at Eric Raymond’s characterizations of the hacker movement.
Eric Raymond’s characterizations of the hacker movement
According to Eric Raymond’s book called “How to Become a Hacker” (2001), he uses many words to describe hackers. He said, “Hackers built the Internet. Hackers made the Unix operating system what it is today. Hackers run Usenet. Hackers make the World Wide Web work. Hackers solve problems and build things, and they believe in freedom and voluntary mutual help.” (Eric Raymond 2001)
Besides, he also showed how he hated authoritarians and why hackers should oppose them, he said, “Authoritarians thrive on censorship and secrecy. And they distrust voluntary cooperation and information-sharing — they only like ‘cooperation’ that they control.” (Eric Raymond 2001)
He pointed out there are five characterizations of the hacker movement. They are listed one by one in the following:
(1) Writing open-source software
Hackers always write some programs that other hackers think are fun or useful and they give the program sources away to the whole hacker culture to use. They also regarded these kinds of programs as “open-source software”.
In the hacker culture, hackers admire people who write large, capable programs that meet a widespread need and give them away, so that everyone can use them.
(2) Helping to test and debug open-source software
Hackers also serve who stand and debug open-source software. They think that it is inevitable for them to spend most of their software development time in the debugging phase.
“There are many hackers that are good beta-testers. They know how to describe symptoms of the open-source software clearly and localize the problems well. They can also tolerate bugs in a quickie release. Besides, they are also willing to apply a few simple diagnostic routines.” (Eric Raymond 2001)
(3) Publishing useful information
Hackers also collect and filter useful and interesting information in to web pages or documents like Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) lists, academic journals and papers, daily news, etc., and make those generally available.
(4) Helping to keep the infrastructure working
“As the hacker culture is run by volunteers, a few hackers will do some necessary but unglamorous work that need to be done to keep them going; for instance, administering mailing lists, moderating newsgroups, maintaining large software archive sites, developing RFCs and other technical standards.” (Eric Raymond 2001)
“For those hackers who do this sort of thing well get a lot of respect as everybody knows these jobs are very time consuming and not as much fun as playing with code.” (Eric Raymond 2001)
(5) Serving the hacker culture itself
Hackers serve and propagate the culture itself, for example, writing an accurate primer on how to become a hacker. Although the hacker culture doesn’t have leaders, it does have culture heroes, tribal elders, historians and spokespeople. However, hackers distrust blatant ego in their tribal elders, so they have hatred of certain people who visibly reached for those kinds of fame.
Hacker movement as the Open Source movement
In today’s new digital media, there are so many open source software on the Internet. Do we actually know what open source software is?
Actually, open source software can also be regarded as free software. This kind of software can be used, copied, studied, modified and redistributed without restriction. They are the opposite of the proprietary software. Therefore, the source code of the open source software is published and made available to the public, so that people can copy, modify and redistribute it without paying royalties or fees.
In the last few years, the hacker movement is also regarded as the open source movement as the hackers had incredible success in the production of reliable and robust software.
The principles of the open source movement can be applied to different fields and areas in the society as the participants in such an open source culture are able to modify those products and redistribute them back into the community or other organizations. The applications of the open source movement’s principles are shown in the following aspects:
There are some usages of the open source for the government:
(1) Open source government
It refers to the usage of the open source software technologies in both traditional and non-traditional government organizations and operations, such as, voting and email.
(2) Open source politics
“It is a term used to describe a political process by using Internet technologies, such as blogs and email, to provide for a rapid feedback mechanism between political organizations and their supporters.” (Steven Levy 1984)
(3) Open source governance
“It is similar to the open source politics. However, it applies more to the democratic process and promotes the freedom of information.” (Steven Levy 1984)
There are some usages of the open source for the media:
(1) Open source journalism
“It is referred to the standard journalistic techniques of news gathering and fact checking. It is now commonly used to describe forms of innovative publishing of online journalism rather than the sourcing of new stories by a professional journalist.” (Steven Levy 1984)
(2) Web logs
“They are websites where entries are made in journal style and displayed in a reverse chronological order. They often provide commentary or news on a particular subject, for instance, food, politics or local news, etc. Some are also function as personal online diaries.” (Steven Levy 1984)
Web logs usually combine text, images and links to other blogs, web pages and other media related to their topics.
(3) Message boards
They are also know as discuss boards or forums. People with similar interests can get together and post messages for the community to read and respond to them.
Message boards are used to create conversations among their users where information can be shared freely and quickly.
(4) Open document
“It is an open document file format for saving and exchanging editable office documents, such as, text documents including memos, reports and books.” (Steven Levy 1984)
There are some usages of the open source for the education:
(1) Open source curriculum
They are educational resources and the digital source can be freely used, distributed and modified, mostly by the classroom educators. They invite feedback and participation in a community of education to create courses or units of study.
(2) Open source e-books
They are some online electronic books that are free for all people on the Internet. They are mostly academic books or some useful books for the acquiring of certain knowledge. They are generally typed versions of some books that are published for selling or placed in the library. They are available anytime and allow people to read them or download them for free.
(3) Open source research papers
They are some papers written by some researchers or professional people, such as, professors, government officials, investigators, etc. on some surveys or researchers. People can download them online for free.
Innovation communities
Innovation communities are regarded as open source communities. In these communities, “the business people provide negotiated products or services at no cost to the group. The business people benefit by gaining reputations in the community, experience and improved products.” (Steven Levy 1984)
Copyright, parents and trademarks
Richard Matthew Stallman once stated in his book “The Free Software Definition” that “the term “Intellectual Property” is designed to confuse people and it is used to prevent intelligent discussions on the specifics of copyright, patent and trademark laws respectively. He also made arguments on these three laws individually.” (Richard Matthew Stallman 2005)
Characterizations of the hacker movement as a gift culture
Gift culture does not adapt to scarcity but to abundance. It happens in a society that does not have crucial material scarcity problems with survival goods. Gift culture can be seen among original cultures by living in eco zones with mild climates and abundant food. It can also be seen in certain classes of our society, especially in the business issues and among the wealthy people.
Gift culture is very similar to gift economy. There are some common features between gift culture and gift economy. For example, in the gift economy, people share their food in a hunter-gather society. While in the gift culture, hackers also share their software freely.
In gift culture, social status is decided not by what you control but by what you give away. The characterizations of the hacker movement are also regarded as the gift culture. For instance, one of the characterizations of the hacker movement is to gain status and reputation in this culture not by controlling other people, nor by having things that other people want, instead, they gain status and reputation rather by giving things away, especially by giving your time, creativity and the results of your skill away.
There are some free software that are always available for sharing on the Internet and they are considered as the gift culture. Some examples are shown below:
(1) Operating systems: GNU/Linux, BSD, Darwin, and the Windows clone ReactOS
Logo of BSD Unix
Logo of Linux
Logo of GCC compiler

(2) GCC compilers, GDB debugger and C libraries.
Logo of SambaServers BIND name server, Sendmail mail transport, Apache web serve, and Samba file server.
Logo of the sendmail
Logo of MySQLRelational database systems: MySQL and PostgreSQL.
How persuasive are Eric Raymond’s arguments upon the hacker movement on me
Finally, I will express my opinions on Eric Raymond’s arguments. For me, I think Eric Raymond’s arguments upon the hacker movement are very persuasive. The reasons will be explained in the following:
Collectivism VS Capitalism
As I think the characterizations of the hacker movement can be applied to collectivism and I personally hate capitalism. According to Wikipedia, it said, “Collectivism is a term used to describe any moral, political, or social outlook, that stresses human interdependence and the importance of a collective, rather than the importance of separate individuals. Collectivists focus on community and society, and seek to give priority to group goals over individual goals.” (Wikipedia)
As the characterizations of the hacker movement are always focus on the free sharing of the software, we can see that the hacker culture are mostly like emphasize on a community or a society rather than a separate individual. Hackers think the whole community’s benefits are more important than individual’s benefits. So, they share the software with asking for money or other benefits. I appreciate the attitude that they always give away things without asking anything in return.
Maybe I am a student, so, I especially appreciate that the hackers put some academic books, useful journals or research papers or books that offer you certain kinds of knowledge or skill into the open source e-books or open source materials. I am sure there are many scholarly students who are so poor that they cannot afford to buy the academic books for their study. I always think that knowledge in the books are all wisdom. So, I just want to ask a question: can wisdom be bought? I don’t think so. Wisdom should be costless. I am sure everyone has the ability to acquire wisdom but no one can buy it! Also, under the wisdom, everyone is equal to get it no matter you are poor or wealthy. That’s why I hate capitalism because so many capitalists use “wisdom” to help them make money from people. Maybe some people might say copyright is what matters, to avoid sharing of the electronic materials on the Internet. But I still think it is an excuse for some capitalists to make money. Honestly, if people think that the books are very useful or worth buying, you will absolutely buy it even though they have seen the typed version online, especially for the wealthy people. If people think that the books are not worth buying, they will not buy them anyways. Some people might say that people can borrow some books that they want in the library. But what if a large numbers of people want the same book at the same time? Maybe they are a group of people that are working on the same project or research. Do you think the library can fulfill all their needs? This is one of the merits of the free online electronic resources, because no matter how many people need that book or material, it can fulfill their needs. They can see the materials that they want all at the same time!
Intrinsic value VS the instrumental value
I think the characterizations of the hacker movement are mainly based on intrinsic value. According to the lecture notes (Chapter 2) of the appreciating art written by Professor Paisley Livingston, it says that, “intrinsic value is referred to someone who does something ‘for its own sake’ or with no external reward. And the instrumental value is referred to someone who does something only in order to get some external payoff or reward.” (Paisley Livingston: Chapter 2)
As we mentioned before, the hackers just give things away without asking for benefits or money. So, what they are doing is only for their own sake or because of the whole community with no external reward paid back. So, they are very similar to some artists or poets. In the past, poets compose their poems because of their own sake and not for money. They made their poems only for the intrinsic value. But for some today’s poets, they compose poems because they want to make money by selling them to people. They made poems for the instrumental value.
I appreciate the hackers’ attitudes because they are always for the intrinsic value. They make their own software and share with people without asking for the cost or external reward (I think reputation can merely be a reward, it can only be a consequence.) Unlike some capitalists, they make some software and make copyrights of them. If people want to use their software, they need to pay for them. All the things the capitalists are doing are just for the instrumental value because they make software only due to the payoffs and benefits.

Reference List:

Dreyfus, Suelette (1997). Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier. Mandarin.

Eric S. Raymond (1998), A Brief history of hackerdom.

Eric S. Raymond (2001), How to Become a Hacker. Thyrsus Enterprises

Levy, Steven (1984). Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Doubleday.

Lewis Hyde(1983), The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property.

Metter Hjort(2006), Lecture Note (Chapter 2)

Paisley Livingston(2006), Lecture Note (Chapter 2)

Perens, Bruce. Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution. O'Reilly Media. 1999.

Raymond, Eric S. The Cathedral and the Bazaar. ed 3.0. 2000.

Sterling, Bruce (1992). The Hacker Crackdown. Bantam.

Stallman, Richard M. The Free Software Definition. Free Software Foundation. 2005.

Verton, Dan (2002). The Hacker Diaries : Confessions of Teenage Hackers. McGraw-Hill Osborne Media.
Various (1999). Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution. O'Reilly Media.

Williams, Sam (2002). Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software. O'Reilly Media.

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