meet a general without an army. or a war.
Ars has a longform story on an unlikely cyber warrior, Christopher Doyon, aka Commander X. If you see him out in the wild and think that he’s merely a lanky 50-something panhandler smoking like a chimney in coffee shops while surfing the web, you could certainly be forgiven for making that mistake. Little does anyone know that he’s leading the worldwide fight against fascism and tyranny in Egypt and Syria after having battled persecution and injustice in the U.S. Now, this highly ranked general of the Anonymous armies is a fugitive from the long arm of the law trying to punish him for a DDoS attack against a local government office when it tried to tell people not to randomly sleep in local parks. Except when you read through Doyon’s story and the caveats carefully noted by writer Nate Anderson, you’ll discover that only the last part of all this is really true while the rest is basically a giant ego trip from a homeless conspiracy theorist with a laptop and a cause. Though exactly what that cause is gets very quickly lost in the histrionics…
Basically, the fight being fought by Doyon is against tyranny and oppression although what he’d call tyranny and oppression shows that he’s not familiar with a real authoritarian government and these verbs are usually used to say “‘The Man’ isn’t letting me do whatever I want.” Were he one of the many victims of authoritarianism, odds are that he would’ve been long sent to do a stretch of very hard time in a prison camp and the arrest he would’ve endured wouldn’t have been very gentle, proper, or brought to a court that released him on moderate bail while they reviewed his case. Even the reason why he fled was egotistic. After he coordinated a DDoS attack on Santa Cruz county, the judge didn’t want him to use social media to organize another one and while the case was being heard, ordered him to stay off Facebook and IRC. Imagining that this was a ploy to prevent the transformative work he was doing around the world over IM, he set off for Canada to seek political asylum. Because apparently, he thinks he’s important enough for that.
For more detail, I certainly recommend checking out the story itself, it’s well worth your time, but what really resonated in it with me was the textbook image of a conspiracy theorist looking for a conspiracy to fight. Doyon the 50+ year old drifter living off $15 a day used on coffee, smokes, and a fast food sandwich, perfectly matches with society’s definition of a bum. While many of his peers were studying, working, and trying to build families and careers, he was dropping acid and hanging out with anarchists who saw everyone who didn’t see eye to eye with them as enemies, sinister sleeper agents of the state, sort of like the Agents in The Matrix. He has nothing to show for his half century on this planet. But Commander X, his alter online ego, is the liberator of the oppressed, the digital Gandhi, King, and Eisenhower, all rolled into one. He commands legions and legions of followers and fierce digital artillery in the form of “ethical botnets” that can muscle giant companies like PayPal off the web. Commander X’s facade of a vagabond is a cover, much like that of a secret agent. Now, doesn’t that seem a lot better and more grandiose?
Too bad that this too is pretty much bullshit. Well known Anons have a real distaste for him as a so-called “leaderfag” who thinks he’s in charge of things he’s not, and whose chest-thumping is effectively worthless. So he talks to a small group of his fans and imagines that he’s fanning the flames of revolution against puppet governments of the New World Order. Like many conspiracy theorists on the far left, he’s ready to jump down anyone’s throat should he hear disagreement, rushing screaming at top speed at various strawmen about supporting The Plutocracy or busy stuffing words into critiques of his absolutist worldview, accusing his detractors of simply taking fascist oppression lying down or being blind to the government’s misdeeds. Whatever legitimate gripe he has, has long been obscured by hyperbole and reflexive categorization of anything an authority figure with which he disagrees does as either a war crime or enslavement of the 99%. I can understand why. He’s lived in cozy far left echo chambers in which being radical was simply not radical enough so nuance and debate are simply not part of his world anymore.
Finally, I can understand that there are plenty of people out there not happy with the way things are and wishing their lives had turned out differently. A lot of people feel the same way, like we got stuck on a treadmill and are going exactly nowhere. I know I’ve written plenty of posts which decry the fact that so much potentially transformative science and education is constantly being given the short end of the stick by visionless, bloviating empty suits we elect to govern us. A lot of these potential programs could make the 9 to 5 cubicle grind unnecessary in the long term as well as give us more options for what to do with our lives. So I get it, we’re not in our utopias yet and I’m sure my version of a perfect would would be someone’s mechanical nightmare. But the way to change the world isn’t to pretend to command hordes of cyber anarchists. It’s a tedious, long process that may involve waiting until the visionless retire or fall out of power. It takes time and sorting through competing ideas. DDoS-ing the shit out of stuff produces a speed bump on the way to something new and to pretend that it makes a real difference leads nowhere.