Paganism and the Hacker Ethic: A Personal Perspective

If you have read the blog for any considerable amount of time, you know that my job is primarily focused on pulling data from a database – and getting the results ready for usage by various end users. I do this using SQL or Structured Query Language. It is a programming language, and to some measure, it is not. What it is, is a series of commands, set in motion against a framework that allows a database to retrieve requested data sets against a series of criteria – thus making it more of a toolset. My mind, from what I have been told by instructors and fellow Information Technology peers, is built for programming concepts. Loops, logical statements, retrieval arguments, correlating programming language syntax into something closer to Plain Language concepts…all things that come to me rapidly when using or learning a programming language. The terminology typically utilized as having a “programmer’s brain.”

And yes, that mentality gets applied to all kinds of things in real life. Grocery shopping, relationships, watching movies and tv shows, writing papers, taking vacations – everything follows a construct of variables, populating those constructs with data, and then utilizing that data. I have half-jokingly referred to cooking as “food programming”. So it is not much of a stretch for me to come to the world of hacking with a sense of awe and near reverence. But it is not the hacking you think it is.

Most people hear the word “hacking” and they think of the criminal world of the internet’s seedy underbelly. People doing programming tricks to skim half-pennies off of the interest from bank accounts (a popular ply utilized in the movies) or the illegal and unethical area of personal espionage, where people steal identities of others in order to get extended credit lines for nefarious means. There is definitely wizardry and skill utilized in these methodologies, but that’s not hacking. That is “cracking” which breaks the system and allows it to be exploited for unethical reasons. No, hacking is a different area altogether. In hacking, people try to figure out why something works and then seek to improve upon it. And if a security flaw is discovered, a hacker will try and fix the security flaw and report it to the owner of the program. Hacking is about taking something that has already been created, improving upon it, or using it as the basis for creating something new.

From Techopedia:

Hacker ethic primarily states and defines the ethical responsibility of a hacker, within their like-minded community. It was first coined by an American journalist, Steven Levy in his book Hackers: Heroes of the Revolution. Although this belief is highly appreciable within the hackers/hacktivism, it has no moral or ethical values in the general society. Typically, hacker ethics includes that whatever software, program or code a hacker develops must be open source, all the information is decentralized and is freely accessible and the overall knowledge must be shared and passed to other hackers.  (

This, as a concept related to Information Technology, is something I highly believe in. As a concept related to my own daily life, I try and handle myself as closely as I can to this concept. This includes the way I handle my own daily practice within Paganism and as a Polytheist. I am not a reconstructionist, I am not trying to recreate something from the past. I am also not trying to build something new and full of rules. Thus, the decentralized part of the way I approach my understanding of Paganism. And while my daily approach is mine, and mine alone, I do not believe that I am adding huge amounts to the overall body of knowledge. Merely, the way I approach what I do know of Paganism and Polytheism.

Now, notice, I have not said anything about my Druidry. This is where my desire to live my life as close to the Hacker Ethic gets bumped and bruised – particularly the decentralized authority, freely accessible, and sharing of information. Mystery belief systems will always clash with these aspects of the Hacker Ethic.

Within the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids – the order I freely chose to work within the constructs and precepts of, there are closed aspects of the information that one learns that should not be shared. Initiatory experiences are meant to be experienced when encountered for the first time. Sharing the knowledge of the initiation with individuals who have not had this experience will lessen the power of walking into the unknown. I have done the initiations for both the Bardic and Ovate Grades. Sharing the knowledge of these initiatory experiences would rob others of those exhilarating moments. Just as I am sure that sharing the format, structure, and moments within any other initiatory experience would lessen the experiences of the initiate in other traditions. Also, within OBOD, the lessons for each grade should never be shared outside of the grades either. And for much the same reason. The Path that is walked in each of the grades is for the individual to experience and work with. Sharing those lessons, those experiences will do nothing for the individual traversing through that particular lesson. In a manner of speaking, it is similar to cheating on a classwork test.

Furthermore, the Hacker Ethic recognizes no concept of authoritative leadership. Within many aspects of Paganism, there is recognized aspects of leadership. A High Priest and High Priestess have their positions of leadership. It is not an issue of military command structure, but that leadership does have a degree of deference attached to it. Under the Hacker Ethic, I would have to choose not to recognize that authority within OBOD. And honestly, I cannot do that. I have too much respect for many of these people as individuals, as well as deference to their ability, talent, and tenure on their chosen Path within OBOD.

Give that the Hacker Ethic is a major part of who and what I am, how can I reconcile some of these differences with what I practice within my own Spirituality? Well, to quote Captain Barbossa from the first “Pirates of the Carribean” movie:

And thirdly, the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.

And that’s true of the Hacker Ethic as well. At least for me. Violation of any aspect of the Hacker Ethic means that I made a judgment call when I ran across a difference between what I thought to be “right” and what is on display within the Ethic. The idea behind the Hacker Ethic is a set of guidelines meant to advance knowledge around the TX-O and PDP-1 mainframes in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The sharing of information, in this case, programming code instructions, was meant to make the best applications possible for use on those two mainframe systems. The aspects of the Ethic were carried forward into nearly every aspect of life by those who practiced it. The only morality applied to the Ethic is the one embraced by the individual practicing it. And honestly, the morality of an individual writing code in the early 1960s is a far cry from the mercenary and larcenous hearts that were created from the greed and corporate mentality brought about by the rampant consumerism of the 1980s and 1990s.

I am a product of the decadent 1980s; I would never deny that. it definitely took a while for me to shake off the consumerism mentality of my time, and to adopt a different way of seeing the world around me. Paganism, Polytheism, and Druidry have taught me a lot about how to view the world differently, and how to change the concept of what “valuable” really means. Going back to the older ideals of what a hacker really was, as well as stripping away the bombastic image that Hollywood provided for the big and small screen, I came across the concept of the Hacker Ethic. This leads me to the evolving concept of Open Source, which is an off-shoot from the Hacker Ethic – and honestly, a little more evolved conversation within Information Technology. A decided left-turn off the round-about of where this blog sits.

Rest assured, my idea of Paganism is not reconstructive. My concept of Polytheism is one of sharing, discussing, and helping others to try and experience the Gods for themselves. A complete hands-on approach is very deeply held within the Hacker Ethic when it comes to learning and expanding knowledge. My Druidry, on the other hand, does not fit well into this paradigm…and there is no contradiction to that. Guidelines, not rules.

–T /|\

I Program Therefore I Compile – Trail-Blazing Paths Traveled

Over the past month and a half, my job has slowly evolved into what it has now become – something closer to a programmer than a researcher. granted, its mostly work in SQL, which many hardcore programmers do not consider to be a programming language, but I do not consider the difference between SQL and say – C++ to be all that different. The scope of what each language sets out to do is the true difference. Lately, part of my job has been pulling me into the world of R – another light-weight programming language that gets poo’d on by most hardcore programmers. The syntax for it is odd, different, and quite foreign to my brain…and so I feel challenged to make it do things. This is probably the best way to make me want to learn something – make it difficult for my brain. I always enjoy a challenge. Back when I was in high school, I learned to program pixels on the screen of my television with my Commodore 64. I would sit for hours in front of my C64 keyboard, programming the vector for each pixel – and even once got out graph paper and drew an intricate design. I then mapped the graph to the locations I wanted on the screen, and again sat for hours writing each line of code. I believe the entire program took somewhere close to eight-hundred lines of code. I never thought of optimizing code to do the same thing in the fewest lines of code or what is commonly referred to as “code optimization.”

A few months ago, I was asked to design a retention study for a particular collegiate program. The query I wrote called for thirteen years of data to be pulled to the screen from the database. First the population of a semester, then a group of students that were in both this semester, and the following one, and then the next semester’s population. For thirteen years of data, I wrote the entire query with hard-coded values, and the result was nearly five hundred lines long, with fifty-three coded variables. Amending the query to run for a different time frame or a different program was nearly impossible. Most of the singular changes would take nearly an hour to do. So I rewrote the query using a virtual table (not writing to the database but to RAM) and utilized a loop to handle the tedious recall of the same six lines of code. The result was a query that was 69 lines long with five variables. It was easily amended to utilize different time frames and could be recorded to another collegiate program with a change of one three-character variable (provided you knew the three character variable you needed to change it to).

Why did I do it?  Well, two-fold. One, I wanted a query that could be amended easily by anyone who was not me – with a small instruction set that explained what needed to be changed by the end user. That explanation was five sentences long. I was the trail-blazer here – as was stated in the movie “Moneyball”….

I know you are taking it in the teeth, but the first guy through the wall… he always gets bloody… always. This is threatening not just a way of doing business… but in their minds, it’s threatening the game. Really what it’s threatening is their livelihood, their jobs. It’s threatening the way they do things… and every time that happens, whether it’s the government, a way of doing business, whatever, the people who are holding the reins – they have their hands on the switch – they go batshit crazy.

Now, some of you might not be completely following along. I know, computer programming can be some of the most boring, inane stuff to some people. Not everyone is wired for this. But here is the point – being a trail-blazer is not for the weak of heart, or for those lacking the faith in what they are trying to do.

I am on a path of Druidry. I am NOT a trail-blazer here. It may be new, fertile ground for me, but someone else has walked here before me. I may not have a journal of their adventures or experiments or experiences to reference. So my experiences will seem like trail-blazing for me, but its most likely not. Except….that it is trail-blazing. It is FOR ME. And those initial steps are exciting. That new pattern of knowledge and logic falls into place, lighting up a whole new pattern of syntax. My world expands a bit more. I see things in a manner I have never seen them before. And I may not have a grinning mentor standing at my side, knowing what I am experiencing – allowing them to remember what it was like when their world was opened for them.

Thinking back, when I was that proselytizing newbie Pagan…when I had devoured “Drawing Down the Moon” over a single weekend, “The Spiral Dance” in a single evening…I remember how much those two books opened my eyes to what was possible. I had smelt the petrichor of the rains from Paganism for so long, knowing that there was so much more than what Christianity had to offer. Only I could not see on to that rich, inviting plateau until the wall between “cultured” religion and “uncivilized” belief was set aside. And my world was opened to a wider perspective. In a way, I had the same experience that Luke Skywalker did, when he first opened his mind to the concept of the Force. I was so excited by my “discovery” that I felt that everyone needed to see it too. That if they could perceive what I did, they would see the beauty of what I was encountering, and find joy in it as well.

Yeah.  Not so much. Just like the moment that the hero of Rush’s “2112” experiences his deflated moment when the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx shoot down his “discovery” as a ‘waste of time’ – the evangelical Christians I worked with at Carswell Air Force Base made sure to remind me that I was in Satan’s clutches. And in that same vein, being the only true programmer in my department, it is hard to share the excitement of learning more evolved manners of writing the same code in nearly 425 fewer lines to achieve the same result.

I am certain that many other Pagans have gone through similar moments in their Spiritual lives. As I noted before, many others have walked the same Path that I have. These corridors were fresh to others before me. These same corridors will be fresh to others that come after as well. They will be trail-blazing their ways to their own “new” knowledge, adding subtle changes or nuances going into the future. Just as programming will change as well, as new ways of addressing bits and bytes will be found – fundamentally changing the structure and syntax of a language. Each individual will have to compile the program on their own to see how it addresses who they are…while others have walked here before, we still have to walk those same Paths individually, for ourselves.