In the mid to late nineties, Eric Rosenfield and I founded a webzine called, which was an attempt to duplicate in internet form the sort of xeroxed zines that helped drive the underground music scene of the eighties. That attempt more or less failed, but we did end up doing some cool and interesting things, giving me the opportunity to publish a satirical hitlist entitled "This is not a hitlist" in response to an earlier post that had gotten a warrant issued for Eric's arrest in the State of Connecticut. Eric later plead no contest to the charges, which were, frankly, bullshit and I got off scott free. Much of this was done in pursuit of one of our many mottoes and mission statements, in this case the fun idea that we had been "Using Their Machines Against Them Since 1899."

At this point, it's clear that "Using Their Machines Against" them is an idea whose time has come. At this point, three things are clear 1.) Various large and powerful political entities are fucked up and are more concerned with covering their asses than they are in doing The Right Thing™ 2.) Occasionally, if not for the outrage in the blogotwitterverse about the villainous actions of these entities, nothing would have been done about it. 3.) There is a lesson to be learned from this.

The lesson is that the time has come for a strategic view of how exactly the asymmetrical warfare of the electronic proletariat, by which I mean the people who make the communications economy work, against the electronic capitalists who own the means of production can actually be fought. More importantly, this model is one that gives a way forward for those of us who want to do something to shape politics and challenge the status quo of global capitalism in the years to come.

One of the fundamental principles of asymmetric warfare is that the weaker force must never meet the stronger force head on. As such, the crucial principle that must guide guerilla information revolutions is the drive to capture early the ability to set the terms of the engagement. In the case of #amazonfail, for example, this strategic victory was accomplished early on and with resounding success. Part of this was due to the involvement of gay rights activists, a crew of people who have been fighting asymmetric warfare against social norms since June 28, 1969. Those of us that were involved in the wider struggle that is at the center of the issue in #amazonfail should learn from the example of our LGBT siblings in trying to move from the victory that was claimed in that conflict, such as it was, to a general strategy of Using Their Machines Against Them.

For example, note that in recent years the arguments over gay rights have focused on the marriage issue. There is a good reason why gay rights activists have chosen this particular front to fight on. Marriage is at the core of our system of property ownership. Everything from probate to insurance to medical decision making and the fact that these sorts of rights are regularly denied to gay and lesbian partners is highlighted by the marriage issue. It is also not something that the right is particularly well organized in resisting. It's very difficult to defend hetero marriage only laws without sounding like a raging homophobe, and that translates to an essentially muddled message. As a result, while it's been slow in coming, there is a coming sea change about gay marriage in American politics as the recent wins in Iowa, Vermont, and Massachussetts show.

What is the broader lesson here? The lesson is that one must marshal limited resources carefully in order to focus the majority of attacks against the highest value targets while at the same time coming at them in a slantendicular fashion. This is the fundamental theory behind the system of strategy I am calling "Using Their Machines Against Them." The theorem on which this rests is as follows:

"Whenever a marketing tool is used to an end that challenges the hegemonizing effects of oligarchic capital, oligarchic capital loses. Whenever a marketing tool is used to an end that generates profit for oligarchic capital, everyone but the beneficiaries of global capitalism lose."

This theorem defines a fundamental strategy for the postmodern infoterrorist, a strategy of viral anti-marketing. The theorem needs proving however, so here we go...

First, what is a marketing tool? A marketing tool is any technology that is used to entice consumers into engaging in consumerism. I am speaking broadly of technologies here. While it is true that banner ads on websites and street teams of paid models promoting products with free giveaways to passers by are both such marketing tools (and yes I'm fully aware of the irony of the fact that right now there are banner ads on this page while you read this essay. Talk to Eric, he's not half the Socialist I am.) they are really more of a tactic than a technology. Broadly speaking, the technologies I'm talking about are large things like The Internet, Television, and even Language. These things, by and large, exist in their current forms because they are so regularly and systematically used to drive consumer desire. While in most cases they were not invented to serve the purposes of Hegemonizing Capital, at this late stage of Capitalist social development nearly every technology of any value has been repurposed to serve that end and the vast majority of research and development into new technologies is teleogically aimed at the end of furthering Capitalist Hegemony. The utility of a technology is defined by THEM as its ability to sell. This is a technology's value. What's interesting about this is that while such value is tacit in all discussions taking place about media and technology from the almost quaintly utopian futurisms of the TED convention to the much more cynical machinations of the latest Madison Avenue wizardry, it is also tacitly acknowledged by the systems adherents that value is a function of utility. This is a fundamental premise of Benthamite social theory and is a foundational axiom of neo-classical capitalist economics and it's attendant political science in Public Choice Theory. This is not internally consistent, of course. The dogma of capitalism is that value is set by an interaction of supply and demand in a market place. The utility of an item, that is, the work that it does, is almost negligable. Indeed, the postmodern situation of modern commodities trading almost completely ignores the use of any particular commodity. At the level that most players in global capital engage with them at all, they are dealt with through abstract financial instruments according to artificial means on exchanges that set values according to demand and supply in a nearly circular justification of their own foundational principles. Never mind that pork bellies' true value is the use of pigs as a food source, or that the true value of crude oil is the use that people will eventually get from the various petrochemical derivatives that will be refined and developed from a barrel of crude. What matters to the players in Hegemonizing Capital is not that use, but rather the price that can be got for its resale. This is market value detached from utility value and is the lifeblood of global capitalism driven by the (mistaken) view that prices are scarcity indices as circularly shown by the behavior of commodity markets.

Since I'm not more than an amateur economist, and not a very good one at that, I leave all of this as an unessential introduction to the main point here, which is not about political economy but political strategy. The end game of global capital, and as such the political aims of right wing capitalist theories of government such as the so-called "fiscal conservatism" advocated by the Republican Party in America, is always and forever the generation of profit. It doesn't matter to these people who is generating the profit or how the profit is generated so long as the greatest possible profit is in fact generated. To their way of thinking, this ensures fairness in the system and an equal access meritocracy functioning according to something like natural or god-given laws akin to the laws of physics. Any tampering with the ability of the market to generate profit for its participants by governments is therefore anathema. Hence their wideranging opposition to such socialist mechanisms like nationalized industry, regulatory agencies of any kind, and the redistribution of wealth in service of the common good through the mechanism of progressive taxation of income, profits, and capital gains. To be clear about my position and the fundamental principle of Using Their Machines Against Them, such aims in political economy are inhuman, destructive, and evil.

In such a system as we find ourselves, then, in order to counter these aims to further humane, constructive, and righteous goals, there must be an effective resistance mounted by those who share those aims. Such aims might be described as assuring human rights, providing for a fair system whereby the value of labor as measured by production is commensurate with its monetary compensation, and to such an end a drive to limit the hegemonizing effects of capital concentrated in the hands of the few and used solely to the profit of the oligarchic elite. We are lucky, therefore, that they have given us so many tools with which to work against them. All that remains is to work out effective strategies for resisting the demands made on us to toe the consumerist line that will over time reduce and reverse the aggregation of capital in the hands of the hegemonizing oligarchy at the heart of global capital. This is the strategy of Using Their Machines Against them.

This is not, of course, a completely empty field wherein use is a value neutral proposition. There are a variety of highly problematic issues inherent in Their Machines that require our attention before we can fully develop a strategy of resistance. To begin with, it must be recognized that the homogenizing nature of mass communication is in fact not value neutral. While it is a fact and one that the strategy of Using Their Machines Against them must make use of, it is in and of itself a function of the aims of global capital that people be cordoned into homogenous subgroups to be either marketed to or ignored so as to maximize the efficiency of the Global Capital Machine. To illustrate this problem, take for example Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is ostensibly founded on the laudable goal of free and open access to information. Unfortunately, this goal itself relies heavily on the sort of ridiculous ideas prevalent among computer hackers and as such is built around notions of "free" "open" and "information" that are themselves problematic. Hacker subculture is notably white, male, and antisocial. The community politically is heavily invested in capitalist notions of success, ie the accumulation of money, and unsurprisingly is largely rife with extreme libertarian notions about the entire range of human activity from economic and public to familial and private. I personally blame this bias among geekdom and hackerdom, which have a serious overlap, on the fact that these are people biased in favor of hard sciences, scientific materialism, and technofetishism; and against social sciences, more humane metaphysical ideals (take your pick, they probably think it's bullshit if they've thought about it at all), and a healthy skepticism about the meaning inherent in machines of the Machine. More important though, is the fact that as a specific community with specific communal values, the whole body of Wikipedia editors contain within their worldview a number of extant biases which amount to a set of controls and valuations on the information that Wikipedia makes available. Given Wikipedia's size and ever growing importance as a reference tool, this in the long run may have a role in shaping perceptions of information itself.

Fundamental to this is the failure of the information model favored by Wikipedia's codes and rules to account for the wide variety of truth conditions for the various kinds of facts it marshals. Wikipedia as an organization makes much of it's so-called "Neutral Point-of-View" standard whereby it prohibits specific advocacy of views from its articles. In fact the NPOV requirement in practice is more or less a hammer that wikipedia administrators use to stifle minority views and relegate them to small, often poorly researched "criticism" sections in major articles. There are a number of pernicious results of this practice, not least of which is the well-documented fact that numerous experts on various fields have been either excluded or banned from work on articles within their specialties because of the whims of non-expert administrators reinforced by the institutional secrecy and inherently anti-democratic nature of Wikipedia's top down administration model. But most important of these is the issue that the quality of the information provided by wikipedia works on a sliding slope. At the top level, certain kinds of facts are extremely reliable. If you want to know when The Battle of Agincourt was fought, or who won the 1974 World Series, Wikipedia is a good resource and will produce an accurate result. If, however, you're interested in prevailing attitudes about premarital sex in the United States, you're likely to encounter a vast and confusing mass of uninformed opinion based on the prevailing majoritarian morays of the wikipedia administration community as a whole.

Far from being a reasonable resource, a Wikipedia user looking at the article on Premarital sex gets a very brief dictionary definition of the term, a reference to the articles on Marriage and Fornication, and a link to a four year old article in USA Today about attitudes in the US. I'll note here from personal experience that at one point when I was playing around with Wikipedia I got into a fairly long and irritating conversation with an editor who didn't think there should be an article on Premarital sex at all and kept redirecting it to an article called "Sex Without Marriage." Now, I'm sure it comes as no surprise to most of the readers of this blog that "Premarital sex" is a hot button issue in American Politics relating to the proper approach that government should take in sex education, teen pregnancy prevention, public health in general, and all manner of closely related issues about representations of premarital sex in media. As such, it is an interesting and deep topic with a wide range of possible issues connected to it that Wikipedia because of the biases about sex and the proper way to address it from a "Neutral Point of View" has completely failed to give any information about. Clicking through to the page that wikipedia suggests is virtually synonymous with "Premarital Sex" ie "Fornication" results in shockingly little information that amounts to an etymology of the word, a note that it is mostly used as a religious condemnation of sexual activity, and for some reason a note that it's illegal in large parts of the muslim world. So here we have the vaunted free information about an extremely important political issue that is of questionable value, fraught with bias, and almost completely uninformative. Compare this with the article about Star Trek. The article is over a thousand words long, contains links to various sub topics, themselves lengthy, contains nearly sixty footnotes, a short bibliography, a fully linked and integrated index of other articles related in some way to star trek, and graphics depicting the time line of the Star Trek Franchise. Now don't get me wrong, I have no problem with Star Trek. I have on occasion enjoyed watching Star Trek. I've even paid money to see a couple of the movies when they were in theaters. I do not, however, think Star Trek is very important in the grand scheme of things. Wikipedia thinks otherwise, and what Wikipedia wants, Wikipedia gets. The inequality in coverage is not intentional of course, but it is a very real effect of the real biases extant in the community of people who write and edit Wikipedia. Where facts are in dispute, or where values run counter to the majoritarian rule of WIkipedia's self-selected group of technocrat admins, the quality of the information available rapidly slides into oblivion.

I offer this as a paradigm case of a phenomenon that goes far too unremarked about the world of Web 2.0, what I call the Insularity of Free Association. Far from the confrontational and wild milieu of social interaction on Web 1.0, epitomized by the venerable list serves, usenet groups, and discussion forums that populated the Internet in the eighties and through the nineties, social media in the last decade has moved more and more in the direction of supporting base tribalistic instincts among people to seek out their own kind. The result are large an amorphous island communities of people existing in a Homotopia of likeminded individuals who spend the majority of their time consuming information from each other and going without any real challenge from opposing information or points of view. This extends far beyond the realm of geeky white boys with underdeveloped social skills whose self-images are overdetermined by their consumption of mass media, such as may be found in the murky corridors of Planet Computer Hacker and SF Fandom. The blogosphere, for example, is far from a single giant sphere and much more an intricately interconnected web of overlapping individualistic concerns with starkly drawn boundaries beyond which few ever venture. Some of these communities are extremely contentious and involved in a never ending war completely absent of any real import. Take for example the running battle that's been fought for the last few years on various second wave feminist blogs on the one hand, and the sexpositive and transgender feminist blogs on the other. Virtually no one, I'm sure, outside of the small community of people who have chosen to dive into that murky conflict, is aware of the never ending stream of vitriol and acrimony that gets battered about between the two groups who, frankly, most people would probably assume have more in common politically than not. However, it becomes rapidly apparent to any outside observer that the two groups absolutely can't stand each other and as a result they more or less render themselves completely politically ineffectual because they are too small on their own to accomplish much and they waste too much time and energy on internecine flame wars so that at the end of the day they have nothing left to organize for common causes. The right is no better. Far from a homogenous group, there is rife factionalism among libertarians, social conservatives, and tea party types. Where they succeed, however, is through the greater degree of hierarchical structure in their midst, culminating in the pinnacle of information control that is Fox News which somehow manages to set the agenda and control the narrative about politics for a group of people who are largely incapable of seeing eye to eye on much of anything at all other than a mutual hatred of poor people, racial minorities, and non-christians. It should be no surprise, although it apparently is, that the Republican Party of 2010 is completely devoid of any kind of theory of public policy beyond cutting taxes and hating Obama. That's all their base can agree on and there's no real leadership to speak of on the right trying to generate policy initiatives to drive forward conservative goals.

Of course, the left is just as bad, not even in the radical fringes who are content to compete over who is the most ideologically pure. Not satisfied with the results of Howard Dean's 50 States strategy which has made the big tent of traditional Democratic Party politics probably much bigger than it really should be, we on the left have wasted the last two years of a sympathetic administration and a sympathetic majority in both house of congress wasting the organizational structure the Obama campaign, Howard Dean, and built on the internet on little more than a mess of pottage and largely symbolic fights over pushes for policy concerns that the composition of the senate what with Ben Nelsons, Blanche Lincoln, Evan Bayh, Joe Lieberman, and their ilk doomed to failure from the get go. It's not just the netroots fault of course. Obama has proved to be much more of a technocrat on domestic policy than he led us to believe. One can blame this on Rahm Emmanuel, Larry Summers, and Tim Geithner all one wants, but the fact is that he is the guy who chose them to help shape policy and the blame for their milquetoast bullshit is squarely on his shoulders. But we the american left have our fair share of blame to bear. On health care, for example, where we should have been agitating for single payer since the failure of Health Care Reform in 1993, we were instead content to sit back on our haunches and not bitch about it when Bill Clinton signed Nafta and welfare reform into law, and so gutted American Labor and the social safety net, and elected him to another goddamn term just because he wasn't a Republican. And yes, I voted for Ralph Nader too in 2000, and I probably bear some of the blame for Al Gore losing because I like everyone else said that it didn't matter who won between the Donkeys and the Elephants. Well, it did and it does. With a Gore presidency, 9-11 might not have happened, We might not be in Afghanistan, we might not be in Iraq, the wealthiest Americans might not have gotten a ridiculously huge tax cut over the last ten years, and we might have made real steps towards a sensible energy policy. And Al Gore is no hero of the left. He's every bit the technocrat that Barack Obama is, maybe only slightly left of him and that likely because he's allowed himself to move in that direction after losing the election in 2000. But what does the left do? We bitch about the failure of a pathetic public option, we whine that Don't Ask Don't Tell isn't being repealed fast enough, we complain that a center left Democrat is behaving like a center left democrat, and we spend a lot of time signing meaningless online petitions which seems to be the only thing that Netroots activism is capable of organizing and meanwhile that paranoid huckster Glenn Beck manages to get millions of people whipped into a frenzy over the belief that the sensible, moderate leftist policies that we compromise on are a first step towards totalitarian rule and the rise of the Great Beast from the Book of Revelations. The world is clearly going to shit. The forces of light are clearly losing. Consumerism and New Left Capitalist Technocracy are all that we can hope for out of liberal politicians, and we have no one but ourselves to blame.

This is why we have to change. This is what Using Their Machines Against Them is about.

Because we have been given this amazing set of tools. Look around, you're in shackles. Your media consumption is controlled and programmed. Yes I know, I like Rachel Maddow too, but recognize that she is a low rated escape valve that the Machine created and tolerates only because it captures the demographic of people who know that CNN shows nothing but a constant stream of bullshit. But recognize that your shackles are also a weapon, and if used correctly they can be wrapped around the necks of our captors like garrottes and we can make them choke on their attempts to make us their sheep. The strategy is deceptively simple. Rather than caving to the lifestyle oriented impulses of an ever greater consumerism, we can instead use all of this technology to jam the one way traffic of Capitalist Hegemony. The actions are small, it seems difficult and maybe even inneffectual. But remember this is assymetric warfare. As much as I wish it were otherwise, I am not Tyler Durden, and I am not capable of wiping the slate clean by blowing all the banks of the world up. That sort of action will accomplish nothing but the production of martyrs and scapegoats, and as such can only serve THEIR ends.

But because the actions seem small, they can be effective if done enough by enough people, as the #amazonfail issue last year on twitter showed. It forced Amazon to address it and make excuses for its behavior. That's clearly not enough, but it's a step in the right direction and a proof of concept for the first major tactical idea of Using Their Machines Against Them. If to use their machines against them we have to use things they give us in ways that won't further their ends, then to begin with we need to understand what those ends are. Their ends are to drive consumer demand. To target market products to you. To get you to buy. So the simplest thing you can do is to not buy. In fact specifically do not buy. Steal. This is shoplifting as mass political action. No more is the world a place where the honest neighborhood entrepreneur relies on your patronage to feed his family. Go to a shopping district and look around. How many store fronts do you see that aren't national or international chains or franchises? These are the entities who run the world, and they are the enemy. They deserve to get hurt. Don't just go rack anybody though, do your homework. Figure out which corporations have given money to the right wing politicians in your neighborhood and go rip them off. And don't do it in a disorganized manner, this only works as mass action. I'm not advocating law breaking here as a way for you to get what you want. Shoplifting as mass political action requires the theft of precisely those things that you don't need, the junk and garbage that they keep producing and trying to get us to buy even though the actual value of these things in our lives is completely miniscule. Take things you don't need and don't want. And get organized, don't just go do this on your own. You'll just get arrested. That's not political action, it's just petty theft. No, make it a mass action. Put together a facebook page or a twitter hashtag promoting National Shoplifting Day. Get all of your sympathetically minded friends to dress up and hit the local Walmart hard, then build a bonfire in the parking lot and burn all that crap. Videotape it and send it to the local news and let it be known that this is just the start of the revolution.

Now, of course I don't expect anybody to actually do this. I'm offering it as an extreme example of what I mean by Using Their Machines Against them. Creative shoplifting or vandalism as a mass political action is a germ, a representative example of a technique that can have an effect if it is well targeted and organized. Don't doubt for a minute that if a thousand people cleaned out all of the ammunition, for example, at a bunch of WalMarts and then dropped it all into an abandoned quarry, that sooner or later WalMart would get the picture and stop selling bullets. You have to hurt them in order to make them act. Corporations are amoral antisocial greed machines and will not act responsibly unless forced to. Our political system has proven unwilling and unable to grasp this extremely simple and obvious truth, and so all that is left to us is direct action. But make it count. And there are all kinds of ways to do it that won't get you sent to jail where you'll be useless to the cause.

For example, all of this social networking garbage that they are using to segment and dice up our demographics and target us for massive consumption can be used to contrary purposes. Go on, for example, and start tagging products as "useless" "overpriced" and "rip-off." Use twitter to organize local demonstrations against Internet Service Providers whose monopolies go far too much unchallenged in our system. Attend rallies for right wing politicians, pose as a right wing journalist, and interview the people present in a way that makes them seem sympathetic to racist, sexist, and theocratic principles. Edit the videos mercilessly and spread them around on YouTube. Try to get MSNBC to play them. You don't have to be a dumbass from Jersey in a furcoat and idiotic sunglasses to make unprepared conservative morons look like the morons that they are. Start a news organization on a shoe string budget and register for press credentials, then go interrogate conservative politicians at public appearances. Don't rely on the traditional media to show them being assholes, spread it around via YouSendIt, put it on YouTube and get all your friends on Facebook to repost it. If you work for one of these companies, take pictures on your Iphone of their labor and health code violations and assemble a database of all this stuff. Get video of your boss being an asshole and spread it around. Name names and blow whistles. You can do it anonymously these days for no money at all. This is PR assassination at its finest, Social Network Jamming to make the world a better place, and it relies on creativity and courage, the two things that THEY don't want us to have at all. The very acts are themselves a strong statement against the homogenizing forces arrayed against you and trying to control your life.

Use their other tools against them. Make up slogans, get them printed up on stickers at a local non-chain print shop and start plastering them all over official vehicles in the corporate fleets of the major actors of the oil economy. Organize a large group of friends all over the country to jam the phonebanks of a major telecom during off peak hours so that they adjust their scheduling and have to take on more workers to deal with the increased volume, then quit calling. Piracy is already a major activity that can be done in a more politically aware manner. Rather than using it to get things you want, use it to get things you think other people might want, and gift them. Fight back against corporations that try to railroad you. Report them to the consumer protection bureaus of your state Attorney General for the slightest malfeasance. But don't just stop there, get your friends to be "victimized" in the same way and then have them report the malfeasance to the AG as well. Enough reports might turn into a real prosecution with real consequences. The realm of private corporate espionage is almost completely untapped. Try to gain legal access to facilities of various bad actors (maybe by getting a job there) and get your hands on files and papers that might indicate what their private marketing strategies are and email them to competitors, then do the same thing to the competitor. Force them to spend all kinds of money developing new strategies because their competitors know what they're up to. Wikileaks has the right idea, but they've mistaken the enemy. Rather than making so much of government misbehavior, they should target the corporations who make the government do evil. Who cares about the problems in the US military when the real problem is not that we're in Iraq, but rather that we're in Iraq so that Blackwater, Halliburton, and Exxon can make a fortune in Government contracts on the backs of the American Taxpayer.

The possibilities are endless so long as we realize that small actions by the few if duplicated en mass and turned into a story that can't be ignored by major media outlets can have real an lasting effects. The strength of corporations is their amorality, their size, their wealth, and their influence. They are the bulwarks and the armies of the elite global capitalists who run them and who use them as a Machine to sate their own greed at the expense of the majority of the world's population. But that strength can be used against them. They are huge, bloated, ponderous, and rigid in their thinking. They are full of malfeasance at all times just waiting for the right whistle blower to come along and expose it to the public. Repercussions in the court of public opinion can at some times be swift and vicious so long as the public is given a good reason for it's outrage. Even if that reason is a trumped up pile of bullshit. Just look at what happened to ACORN. There's no reason that the same thing couldn't be done to the NRA or Focus on the Family. We can counter the actions of these undesirable groups by exercising those faculties that they do not have: creativity, individuality, courage, righteousness, and the ability to act quickly in a large group and then vanish into the ether. We are a powerful force and we are only beginning to realize what we are capable of. Time will tell if we will in fact realize this potential, but as of now you are on notice. You have a choice either join the fight or not. THere are no sidelines here, you are either with us or against us. And for those who are against us, we shall have no mercy.