30in30 – Post 11 – The Illusion of Involvement: Co-option of hacker culture

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There is power in numbers, movements, public sentiment and those can dictate the course of a human epoch. Those in control of that power ride the reigns of a beast that can be used for the benefit of many, or the benefit of few.

The hacker counter culture goes back nearly 70 years to the early days of computing at the MIT model railroad club. Since then it has morphed from an obscure niche, to mainstream culture. As part of that, there is the allusion to the exclusivity of the underground, and the biggest example of that is the Guy Fawkes mask.

30 second history lesson:

Guy Fawkes Day is a special event in British history that celebrates the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Guy Fawkes and his group wanted to overthrow the Protestant King James I and bring back Catholic rule. They planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament on November 5th, but their plot was discovered, and Fawkes was caught guarding the hidden explosives.

The modern resurgence of the symbolic mask:

In the 1980s Alan Moore (known primarily for his work in comic books including Watchmen, V for Vendetta, etc.) created the character “V”, who was an eloquently spoken, anti-fascist anarchist that blows up parliament. In the comic, V hid his disfigured burned face with a Guy Fawkes mask, and encouraged legions of people to do the same in solidarity. In 2005, the Wachowskis (whom directed the Matrix movies) came out with a film adaptation of the comic (which Moore hated by the way). It was from this movie that the mask was popularized and then adopted by the decentralized hacktivist group Anonymous.

Capitalism takes advantage of the mainstreamness of the culture:

As the symbols become more prevalent, there is a market for selling access to the perceived exclusivity, without the effort or risk of doing anything other than supplying a credit card.

Grassroots movements, born out of the collective voice of the people, have historically represented a powerful force for social change. Yet, in today’s age of pervasive rhetoric, these movements are increasingly susceptible to co-option. Through the manipulation of narratives and the allure of belonging, rhetoric has found a way to exploit our innate desire to be part of something bigger, offering the illusion of involvement with minimal effort. This article explores how rhetoric can co-opt grassroots movements, weaving false narratives that captivate individuals and dilute the authenticity of their intentions.

  1. The Power of Narrative Construction: Rhetoric, at its core, is the art of persuasion through language. By constructing narratives that resonate with people’s emotions and aspirations, skilled rhetoricians can shape perceptions and control the discourse surrounding a grassroots movement. They create a compelling story that taps into the desires and frustrations of individuals, offering a vision of change and a sense of belonging. When the rhetoric aligns with the movement’s original goals, it can be difficult to discern the manipulation occurring beneath the surface.
  1. The Allure of Easy Participation: One of the key tactics used by rhetoric to co-opt grassroots movements is the promise of easy participation. By presenting a simplified version of the movement’s goals and a low bar for involvement, rhetoricians make it appealing for individuals seeking a sense of purpose and belonging without the need for significant commitment or sacrifice. This approach appeals to our inherent desire for instant gratification, providing a superficial sense of involvement while bypassing the hard work required for meaningful change.
  1. False Narratives and Symbolic Gestures: Rhetoric’s co-option of grassroots movements often involves the construction of false narratives. These narratives may exaggerate or distort the movement’s objectives, focusing on superficial aspects or symbolic gestures rather than addressing the core issues at hand. By emphasizing performative actions that require minimal effort, such as sharing a hashtag or changing a profile picture, individuals feel they are contributing to the cause without engaging in the substantive work necessary for genuine impact.
  1. Dilution of Authenticity: As rhetoric co-opts grassroots movements, the authenticity and original intent of the movement can become diluted. The false narratives propagated by rhetoricians draw attention away from the grassroots organizers and their genuine concerns, redirecting the focus toward superficial gestures and manufactured symbols. This dilution can lead to a loss of momentum, as individuals who were initially driven by a desire for real change become disenchanted with the shallow representation of their cause.
  1. Power abhors a vacuum: As people become disenfranchised by the inauthentic actions of the masses that consider themselves part of the movement, they become more susceptible to being radicalized by third parties with other agendas. Other groups or factions may develop and become focused on objectives that differ from the altruistic ideas that they may have initially joined for.

Conclusion: As individuals seeking purpose and connection, we must remain vigilant and critical of the narratives presented to us. True involvement in a movement requires more than the acceptance of a false narrative or the performance of superficial gestures. It demands active engagement, education, and a commitment to understanding the complexities of the issues and layered agendas at hand.

By recognizing the tactics employed by rhetoric to co-opt grassroots movements, we can protect the authenticity and integrity of these powerful collective voices. It is through informed and meaningful participation that we can reclaim the true essence of grassroots movements, ensuring they remain catalysts for genuine societal change rather than mere illusions of involvement, or as being pawns for others with hidden agendas.

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