Saturday, August 16, 2008

anonymous in hamburg

Witnessed a tiny Anonymous demonstration in front of the Hamburg Hauptbahnhopf. Roughly 5 - 10 guys dressed in standard hipster black and wearing V for Vendetta masks: while blaring a bizarre German cover of the Ghostbusters theme (?!?!?), they displayed anti-Scientology signs and one guy passed out leaflets (auf deutsch).

Although I support Anonymous in their efforts against Scientology, this display provoked several questions:

° Is such behavior really efficacious? (also: how would one measure its efficacy?)

° Suppose the anti-Scientology crusade succeeds; who next? Since Anonymous purports to be a loose collective of likeminded individuals (rather than a hierarchical organization), is this true democracy in action? A segment of the population becomes so fed up with the oppressive behavior of some organization that it spontaneously donates its time to publicizing and interfering with said oppressive behavior.

OK, but the most obvious targets for such publicizing / reprimanding of oppressive behavior are governments. Governments share with Scientology the ability to harass, attack, and otherwise suppress individual voices, so Anonymous's strategy of literally anonymous action may be uniquely suited to combating this form of oppression as well. But also: uniforms and anonymous group attacks by one segment of the populace upon another are the hallmarks of fascism. What's to prevent an initially altruistic Anonymous from metamorphosing into the very oppressive object it most abhors?

Supposedly, here, the answer is Anonymous's non-hierarchical structure. Without identifiable leaders, convincing other members of such a group that particular actions are just, only those actions uniformly supported on the basis of prior (=unmanipulated) values will guide action. Here's the rub, though: hierarchical structures seem to arise naturally from any complex interacting group (not just people, here, think dogs, bees, genes, atoms: this is the essence of the claim of evolution (see Herbert Simon's seminal "The Architecture of Complexity")). So, if Anonymous is successful, and continues, it will necessarily metamorphose into its evil twin.

° V for Vendetta masks: I can't decide if this is profoundly appropriate or merely evidence of the transient and shallow nature of Anonymous.

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