Hackers ethics for the world after collapse by Vesna Manojlovic

for Nature Bats Last

31st December 2013



In the summer of 2013, two coincidences changed the course of my life -- I read "The Story of B" by Daniel Quinn, and I met Guy McPherson.

After reading "The Story of B", and devouring all the other books by Daniel Quinn within the same month (Ishmael, My Ishmael and Beyond Civilization) (1), I woke up to the recognition that there is a name for the problem I was intuitively aware of -- the Culture of Takers. While I am inevitably part of that culture myself, since I am living in the Western Civilization, on the other hand I am a hacker: part of counter-cultural movement that is hackers community and hackerspaces. Because of that, I could notice the similarities between the hackers ethics and "tribal cultures" (or Leavers, as Daniel Quinn called them).


I met Guy McPherson at the hackers conference "Observe Hack Make" (2) in Holland. Guy's talk about Near Term Extinction immediately made me cry, while I sad goodbye to everyone who I love in this world… and afterwards made me curious and energetic: curious to learn more, and eager to contribute. I started reading this blog, and got informed, comforted, terrified and inspired.

From the five stages of grief, I skipped denial and anger, quickly allowed depression to turn into sadness, and currently I am in the bargaining phase where I think there is still "something to be done". I trust that there will will be a collapse, several stages of it, but if the life on Earth and human species survive, I want to contribute to the new future.

This is my contribution: I want to explore the connection between the hackers ethics and myths for the third millennium; I want to connect the climate activists, doom-sayers and those going beyond civilization with my own hackers tribes -- and back.

Hackers conferences


If you were never exposed to a group of hikers or their culture, the best place to start is an outdoors conference. Out of ten major ones in Europe, I've been to eight: starting in 1997, every two summers I was on a camp in Holland, or in Germany. These are week-long camping events, organized by thousands of individuals that agree to cooperate with each other on the completely voluntary, un-institutionalized, ad-hock bases. Everyone is a participant, there are no visitors. The contributions are made in voluntary work, sharing knowledge by giving presentations and workshops, minding children, and making art and music together. We organize ourselves in villages... we sleep in tents... we eat together... and it all looks like a big tribal gathering. With lots of electricity & Internet.

Smaller but more frequent events are conventions and congresses. Most famous American hackers congresses are Defcon and H.O.P.E., altho they have much narrower focus on computer security. The biggest and the oldest in Europe are the CCC congresses, organised once a year in Germany (December 2013 was the 30th edition). Apart form hardware and software hacking, the topics are human rights, freedom, innovation, impact of new technology on the society, activism and alternative lifestyles, art and creativity, and utopia.

I am inviting you to find the next event close to you and to take part!

Hackers ethics

What kind of creature can you expect to meet on the hackers conference?

One of the main characteristics of hackers is that they do not like to be fitted into a stereotype, so it is quite difficult to describe them!

My definition of a hacker is "someone who finds creative new ways to put to use what is around her".

If you check Wikipedia (3), you will find five values: Sharing, Openness, Decentralization, Free access to computers, World Improvement.

I will first cover those values that overlap between hackers and "Leavers" (tribal) communities.

Life-affirming values within Hackers ethics


The value of sharing, for example, is expressed in Free Software movement, where hackers are mixed with programmers. Also, sharing of knowledge is one of the main goals of exploration that hackers undertake, sometimes disregarding conventional laws. Sharing is directly opposite to consumerism, because it focuses on contribution and participation, rather then on consumption. Sharing mentality fosters values other then amassing of material wealth. Most hackers work for not-for-profit, non-commercial organizations. Prestige is granted to those who contribute and share the most - of their knowledge, contacts, contributions. Sharing also fosters close relationships, based on common interests and activities, rather then on power or hierarchy. Embracing sharing as a value reveals beliefs in altruistic human nature and abundance mentality. Sharing can be seen as a reflection of empathy: if I recognize that you have the same needs as me, then I will share what I have and what I know with you.

Here is the similarity between tribal values and hackers values: "when food is scarce - share it" vs "when information is scarce - share it".


Openness is often expressed as "information wants to be free", and is sought after in the activities such as whistle-blowing. Hackers are taking part in anti-trademark and anti-Intelectual-Property movements, where they mix with activists, and were instrumental in WikiLeaks. Hackers community might look like not really welcoming to outsiders, however, it is at the same time egalitarian and meritocratic, so those who are genuinely interested in contributing are accepted. Openness also means being open-minded to new ideas, but also very critical and questioning of authority. Most hackers are generalists rather then specialists - they know a little bit (and sometimes A LOT) about everything. Hackers are supporting diversity and have understanding for other minority groups and subcultures, since we are also outside of the mainstream culture. Again, empathy is needed to be truly open and accepting of others - ideas, solutions, differences.

(pro-tip: do not mix "Open Source" with "Free Software" when talking to real die-hard hackers! These are loaded terms and will lead to a night-long discussion about the differences and advantages of one or the other…)


Decentralization is a principle that opposes hierarchies, authorities and dogmas. Decentralization relies on self-sufficiency and cooperation. Decentralization means horizontal structures. Hackers favourite decision-making process is based on consensus building, since most hackers collectives are self-organized volunteering communities.

It could be said that the original Internet was built by hackers, and todays decentralization is one of the principles that is leading hackers to work on the new models for the networking in the future, since "The Spynet" is not fulfilling their goals any more. These emerging networks are so new that they do not have a name yet, and I wrote about them in my essay last year [link]. Sometimes they are called Darknet, or Community-Based-Wireless-Mesh. They are based on principles of abundance, cooperation and peer-to-peer decentralization.

In addition to that -- hackers are very playful! For example, we do not see programming as tedious work but as a challenge and an opportunity to solve problems. Some can play computer games or board games for incredible amounts of time! (I'm personally not a gaming type of hacker). We play with technology, we play with rules, we play with systems...

Unsustainable values within Hacker ethic

Free Access to Computers

Aren't hackers part of the problem, rather then part of the solution, you might ask? Indeed, is it not these geeks who are inventing and demanding more and more newer and newer gadgets, without regard to destruction of the environment that the production of this equipment is causing, nor considering the pollution due to the disposal of the old equipment?! Is it not the Internet, the playground for hackers, that is using more and more energy for all the data-centers, satellites, under-sea cables and antennas?

Yes, you are partially right to think so.

However, the material side of consumerism is underlying this behavior, and consumerism is a characteristic of Takers culture in general, not only of the geeks. This is something that we all will have to leave behind, when the energy and raw material shortages will bring global economy and even industrial civilization to collapse. But being resourceful and creative, being able to repair and reuse old technology could be the contribution that hackers can make, even in those conditions.

"Free access to computers" represents broader value then just demanding more gadgets: in its core is an egalitarian principle. It is not limited to the computers as such, but to anything that can teach you how the world works: tools, data, information, knowledge.

Nowadays, some hackers are aware of the need for sustainability, and are working on the solutions within their sphere of influence (4). Challenge is to expand on this knowledge, and to consider how this principle can work out in the society after the collapse.

World Improvement

There are two approaches in the hackers community to the world improvement: purely technological, and political. Most hackerspaces tend to be apolitical, and deliberately ignoring real-world consequences of the technologies they are exploring, as opposed to to hacklabs, that were/are connected with anarchist and squatting movements (5).

On the other hand, socially aware and politically active hackers are more famous: WikiLeaks, Pirate Parties, Maning, Snowden and other whistleblowers, Aaron Swartz...

In the context of collapse, techno-positivism is the biggest downside of the hackers mentality. Hackers worship science and technology. They still believe in the techno-fix. Althou hotly atheistic, they do not recognise in themselves strong belief in the powers of "progress" and "growth". When confronted with the facts about climate change, overpopulation, crisis ... majority of them shuts down and quotes science fiction solutions.

But, they might be able to come to the same conclusion through the scientific proof and mathematical models: for example, it was Albert Barlett, Professor in Nuclear Physics who was teaching about the exponential growth, suastainability, renevable resources and the fact that natural laws also apply to humans. Screenshots below are from his famous presentation (6).

Picture 20.pngPicture 9.pngPicture 8.pngPicture 17.png



If you are curious to see how all these values work in action, come visit a local hackerspace! There is one in every major city and there are rural communities that have them too. They have existed for decennia (one of the oldest ones in C-Base in Berlin), being situated in squatted houses, info-cafes, communes.. but the name became popular about 10 years ago, and the concept is as varied as the hackers scene. Sometimes they are known under a different name: maker-space, hacklab, fablab... but they also have different philosophies (5).

I have been part of the hackerspaces before they were even called that way  ;-) With a group of friends we had a "Hangout" in Amsterdam, around 1998-2001, and at the same time I was taking part in a hack-lab in the squatted places called ASCII. Currently I am part of Amsterdam Hackerspace Technologia Incognita, that exists since 2011. Whenever I travel I visit other hackerspaces in Europe. By now I toured about dozen of them. I always feel like home, even if I don't know anyone -- but often I meet people that I already met at conferences and camps -- it is a close-knit community.

Each hackerspace is a community-operated physical places, where like-minder people can meet and work together, share resources (tools, space, infrastructure) and knowledge. This leads to exchange of ideas, and innovation: sharing the same space allows for interactions we can not anticipate. Sharing, Openness and Decentralization are the values, again. From the practical point of few, what mostly happens at the hackerspace is: electronics, workshops, woodwork, cooking, 3D printing, soldering, sewing, making music, giving lectures, teaching kids, exchanging books, making quad-copters, programming, hackathons, laser-cutting...

There are similarities between tribes and hackerspaces: "Tribe is a form of organisation that works equally well for all members" -- and the same goes for the hackerspace! For example, there are no bosses, no kings. There are no imposed laws, only rules that were tested and proven to work. "Tribal wealth is the energy that tribal members give each other in order to keep the tribe going" -- exactly the same happens in the hackerspace! Money is of no importance, expenses are shared and there are no profits; projects keep on going because of people who invest their energy, interest, knowledge and enthusiasm, and are proud of the results of their work.

Check out (7) for the location and activities of the hackerspace near you. I do hope you like it and become a member, and contribute!



If there will be any future for the humans on the Earth after the collapse of civilization, they will need new myths, new culture, new ways of thinking, new ways being, in order not to repeat the same mistakes we made. One possible story can be based on the hackers ethics. The new world can learn about Playfulness, Sharing, Openness and Decentralization from the hackers.

In my opinion, hackers need to learn more about Empathy, being part of Nature (rather then "fixing" it), and Spiritual Connection.

Personally, Life has already taught me that all we can do is to love, that openness also means courage to be vulnerable, and that death is part of life (8).

My new learning goals are: to be inspired by beauty of Nature, to accept that the laws that guide the creation of that beauty also govern the fate of humans. To relax my skepticism of spirituality, soften my atheism, and I sometimes can let myself feel that All is One. I can broaden my feeling of belonging to a hackers movement, to belonging to the Community of Life on this living planet.

For all of us to learn from each other, we need more contact between thinkers and doers; between philosophers and geeks. New collaborations between programers, artists and farmers, anarchists and politicians, atheists and yogis, activists and scientists and, yes, hackers and poets.

These new connections are going to produce unexpected results.

Open questions

What do you think are the next steps?

How do you suggest that hackers can contribute to your activities?

Will you be curious to take part in hackerspaces and hackers conferences?

I am looking forward to your comments and suggestions! That will make me create a better picture of the ways you find that this newfound movement can contribute to the world after collapse. With your input, I will be able to contribute back to the hackers community and create new connections.

Collections of Links


Writers Bio

Vesna Manojlovic lives in Amsterdam, Netherlands for 15 years, and is originally from Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Vesna is a mother of three, a hacker and a Community Builder. By education Electrical Engineer, by choice lover, lecturer and gypsy, by name Goddess of Spring. Home page:

Credits: Tom Sager