There’s a social and philosophical condition that affects and benefits us as homosapiens. We’re able to think and act upon our thoughts. Each moment we live with the responsibility of being human and the irresponsibility of being human: our powers that allow us to act responsibly are the same powers that also allow us to act irresponsibly — This may lead to an unstable society and a somewhat dysfunctional world. A naive and yet historical approach to prevent dysfunction and misuse of power might be to concentrate power amongst a select few. However a brief look at current affairs reveals historic inequalities and foreshadows a bleak future should the concentration of power remain in the hands of a few.
When powers are concentrated by a select few it presents a great risk for the abuse of power. The same risk was recognized during Europe’s Enlightenment Era and such powers were deconcentrated from the monarchs and religious elite thus affording power to the average person. In the 21st century one may find oneself in the same predicament as one’s 18th century counterpart in that economic and political powers are yet again tied to the very few, in what many may call the “one percent of one percent”. Historic inequality and historic migrations are a common occurrence as the common man, woman, child risks great harm or debt seeking ways of empowerment. Fortunately in the world of Engineering a counter model of empowerment emerges, a model reflecting a natural philosophy that once was a beacon of hope in a vibrant and flourishing continent.
The Hacker Ethic is the spirit behind the Open Source movement a movement that endorses free and open technology. There isn’t a universally accepted definition of the hacker ethic but in the case of Open Software it can be loosely summarized as let all generally useful information be freely and easily available so no one has an unfair advantage over another person. In this regards, information, acting as the source of power, allows power to be distributed, not centralized, accessible, and not limited.
Much of the notable and progressive African kingdoms in history benefited from tenets of the Hacker Ethic, known widely today as Ubuntu (“humane-ness”). Ubuntu, a phrase used in Nguni languages (such as Zulu), can be characterized as a sharing and giving that connects and bonds all humanity for the common good. In Southern Africa a facet of ubuntu created a system that allowed any citizen to advance in social rank entirely based on personal merit. This merit based system created the conditions for nations across the African continent to have history’s first female rulers and empresses.
Decentralization of power was also common, where the King shared a far different role from his European counterpart. His power was directly determined by the people he ruled to such an extent as that should there be a drought in the nation the King was directly responsible for remedying the issue (or else jeopardize his fitness to be king). Such decentralization resulted in a form of social security where all land belonged to the people — not the king, where during famine it was the state’s mandate to provide for its citizens, and riches of war (usually livestock) were distributed as shares to the citizens according to merit.
Similarities can be observed in the first hacker circles at MIT were admission and participation was entirely based on personal merit irregardless of gender, ethnicity and age. The Hacker Ethic exemplified at MIT and the Open Source movement greatly advanced technology in the same way it once advanced African thought, sciences, mathematics and engineering.
The best way to hack our capacity for responsible or irresponsible actions is not to delegate responsibility and power to the hands of a few, but to distribute power freely, easily and as widely as possible. The Hacker Ethic creates a more sustainable balance of power and progress by removing any unfair advantages that arise when power is limited to the few. Through the distribution of all generally useful knowledge we can empower hackers, thought leaders, and makers in all walks of life, industries, and every region to better prevent today’s historic power inequalities.