Oh well a young man ain’t nothin’ in this world these days
I said a young man ain’t nothin’ in this world these days
The old man got all the money
And a young man ain’t nothin’ in this world these days
– “Young Man Blues,” by Mose Allison
Now, this transfer of power, this increase of power from a mere
musket and a little cannon, all the way to the hydrogen bomb in a
single lifetime, is indicative of the things that have happened to
us. They rather indicate how far the advances of science have
outraced our social consciousness, how much more we have developed
scientifically than we are capable of handling emotionally and
None of the questions that bothers us today has an easy answer.
And many of them have no answers at all, at least in their complete
sense. We may only do our best, and from there on make sure that we
are doing all that human beings can do to meet these problems.1
– President Dwight D. Eisenhower, April 5, 1954
A problem is wicked in the technical sense when it can’t be understood until a solution has been developed. Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong and they don’t even solve, in that the problem persists. Every wicked problem is different, as is its solution/mitigation; there’s only one chance to address a wicked problem; and there are no alternative solutions to choose from.2
A problem is super wicked when time is running out, there is no central authority, the people who have to solve the problem are also causing it, and their policies discount the future irrationally.3
This cold world has convinced me to betray myself again.
Some faceless men.
I am one of them.
I feel the loneliness of the long distance runner now.
This sterility is rotting me out.
Can’t live in service.
I’m dropping out
– “Young Man Blues,” by Modern Life Is War
DEFCON Kids: Hacking (is) a Social Movement
r00tz Asylum is a nonprofit dedicated to teaching kids around the world how to love being white-hat hackers. A white-hat hacker is someone who enjoys thinking of innovative new ways to make, break and use anything to create a better world.4
So, why would a parent want his daughter to learn these skills?
“Why would I do this?” he asks, while laughing. “Fundamentally
the world is about systems. And we work within systems all the time,
but sometimes systems are broken, and we need to be able to subvert
them. And that is a life skill I absolutely want her to be able to
At least their hearts seem to be in the right place, but their ideas are as incoherent as trying to organize hacking.
The criminal ecosystem is increasingly attractive for young people via the Internet. Top computer graduates are
being lured into cybercrime, but normal kids are, too. Online illegal activities are profitable and low-risk and so many young hackers are drawn in by the easy money.
Worried about the absence of skills in their organizations for mitigating cyber threats, skills which are different from those needed for conventional IT security, people in private industry and government are starting to hire hackers.
Hackers are becoming strategic resources as every economic sector is exposed to the risk of cyberattacks. Industry is desperately trying to ensure security by bringing hackers “into the fold” – as if a hacker could be co-opted.
“We need to recruit from Snowden’s generation,” admitted
former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden. “The challenge is how
to recruit this talent while also protecting ourselves from the small
fraction of the population that has this romantic attachment to
absolute transparency at all costs.”6
The NSA seeks to recruit and train young hackers while it’s easier to get security clearances. They try to attract high-school kids with a senior-year work-study program. But joining at an early age doesn’t guarantee loyalty; hackers being what they are eventually become bored and move to the private sector where salaries are much higher.
When you have no real regard for your actions, with no real regard for
anyone else or their feelings, the world opens itself to you happily.
Power, money, exclusivity, and knowledge are all things that come
with being a black-hat hacker. The things you learn as a black hat
are invaluable compared to the extensively large and retarded
archives that some notable ethical hacking forums harbour.
[dot] [dot] [dot]
When nuclear weapons are involved, I think it’s stupid for people
But the NSA competes not only with corporations and other quasi-state groups,
…increasing levels of poverty, marginalisation, and continuous confrontation with the authorities within these areas make young men ideal candidates for radical groups. It is very easy to recruit disgruntled individuals…8
it also competes with our streets at home.
Normal and healthy kids need to belong to a group to establish their own identity, to exist. Existence is of course primary; the means to existence – through the particular group – is important but secondary. Being together with people in the same situation reduces the nearly intolerable stresses of adolescence.
Searching for and being part of a group is critically necessary for an adolescent’s survival, even if it risks survival.
Any group that is available is a port in that storm, whether it’s a family, a neighborhood, a school, a profession, the military, ISIS, Steam, DERP, or the street.
And we are hackers of our own tribal instinct; our lives, livelihoods, and communities depend on the primordial, incessant struggle for members and membership.
You gotta dream but you gotta feed me real life…I ain’t even got a lot of dreams I can choose from.
– “Before They Kill Me,” by K. Walker
Our addiction to material growth drives our systems to be increasingly complex and so, inevitably, increasingly broken. It has driven them not just beyond understandability, stability or even controllability, but beyond sustainability. The problem is super-wicked; it can only be hacked. But it’s all the more hackable for all of that.
Can we hack our hacking? Can we hack sustainability?
Social hackers like Ela Bhatt are not afraid of the dirty secret that no one wants to admit – that we have over-developed. Economic development has historically been coupled with increasing happiness, but we have reached a point where more development is making us less happy and destroying the planet. It is time for social innovators and entrepreneurs to stop operating at the fringes and to figure out how to reconstruct social and economic systems to maximise our happiness and regenerate the planet so we can continue to live on it for the millennia to come.
What we need are social entrepreneurs who hack the hell out of the current system, destroy it and create new systems where the externalities are regenerative, sustainable, just and happy.9
– “The system is failing, hack the system,” by Dan Morrison
Of course on a finite planet there are no externalities; there is only so much room, so much energy, and so much intelligence available for destroying, reconstructing, and regenerating our incomprehensibly complex systems and planet so that we can live sustainably. But is achieving that necessary for happiness?
It had better not be…for their sake.
1 Eisenhower, Dwight D. “Radio and Television Address to the American People on the State of the Nation,” April 5, 1954. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=10201 (retrieved February 22, 2015).
2 “Wicked problem.” (2015, January 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wicked_problem&oldid=641562125 (retrieved February 22, 2015 01:26).
3 Levin,Kelly; Cashore, Benjamin; Bernstein, Steven; Auld, Graeme (23 May 2012). “Overcoming the tragedy of super wicked problems: constraining our future selves to ameliorate global climate change”. Policy Sciences 45 (2): 123–152. doi:10.1007/s11077-012-9151-0
4 “Honor Code.” Rootz Asylum. http://www.r00tz.org/about/ (retrieved February 22, 2015).
5 Henn,Steven. “At This Camp, Kids Learn To Question Authority (And Hack It).” http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2012/08/17/159015235/at-defcon-kids-camp-young-hackers-learn-to-pop-locks-and-drop-it
(retrieved February 22, 2015).
6 Kopstein, Joshua. “How the NSA Recruits in a Post-Snowden World.” http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/17/how-the-nsa-recruits-in-a-post-snowden-world.html (retrieved February 22, 2015).
7 Alexander, William. “A Chat with Some Immoral Hackers Who Don’t Care About Your Feelings.” June 24, 2013. http://www.vice.com/read/i-spoke-to-some-black-hat-hackers-about-internet-ethics (retrieved February 22, 2015).
8 Al Jazeera, “Why do Lebanon’s young men join ISIL?” January 15, 2015. http://journalfocus.com/2015/01/why-do-lebanons-young-men-join-isil/ (retrieved February 22, 2015).
9 Morrison, Dan. “The system is failing, hack the system,” The Guardian, Jan. 15, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/social-enterprise-network/2014/jan/15/social-enterprise-systematic-change-need-social-hackers (retrieved February 22, 2015).