A few weeks ago I read an article in the New Yorker by David Kushner titled, “Machine Politics.” It is an article about the infamous career of Geohot, the hacker who cracked the iphone to work on all carriers and subsequently hacked the Playstation 3. As I read the article, there were several passages that made me think that when a political blogger is “doing it right” they are acting very much like a hacker.
Here is one of those passages:
Hotz likes to hack according to the early definition of the word: getting inside a machine to see how it works, and changing it. To him, hacking is almost a sport, played against someone in a position of authority. “It’s a testosterone thing,” he told me. “It’s competitiveness, but it isn’t necessarily competitiveness with other people. It’s you versus the system. And I don’t mean the system like the government thing, I mean the system like the computer. ‘I’m going to stick it to the computer. I’m going to make it do this!’ And the computer throws up an error like ‘No, I’m not going to do this.’ It’s really a male thing to say, ‘I’m going to make you do this!’ ”
Don’t jump to the conclusion that I think blogging is like hacking because it is something you do on a computer. That has very little to do with it.
Instead think of the different machines you might hack with your political blog. Perhaps you are wanting to get inside the machine of a local political coalition that is enacting policies you don’t agree with. Or maybe you want to get inside the machine of an advocacy organization to dissect how they are peddling influence. You might want to divine the inner workings of modern mainstream media. Yes, machines are all around us. And in a world where we surround ourselves with automobiles, and computers, and ipads, and televisions, and countless other machines, it is easy to lose site of the machines that are made up of human parts as opposed to parts of metal, plastic, and silicon.
One of my favorite blogs, Ribbon Farm, contains a post that compares large bureaucracies to software. While the post is lengthy, it is worth the read if you have got the time. While I don’t want to discuss this comparison at length, I do want to operate on the assumption that a bureaucracy functions like a piece of software that is programmed to perform a specific function. In this case, massive bureaucracies are a prime target for political bloggers to hack.
I think this passage from the Ribbon Farm article provides a good explanation of how to hack a bureaucracy:
There are only three ways to get a bureaucracy to do anything it wasn’t designed to do: by stealth, with secret and deniable support from allies in the staff hierarchy, by getting air-cover from a sufficiently high-up Sociopath who can play poker with whichever oversubscribed Sociopath is in charge of exception-handling for the specific process (i.e., jumping the appeals queue and calling in favors to ensure the required ruling), or through corruption and bribery.
While I will leave it to your imagination to determine how you go about hacking an organization, I think it is worth acknowledging that this work is crucial for political bloggers to perform.
For example, the default strategy of most political blogs that I read is to provide ancillary commentary to what is already being discussed in the current news cycles, which are popularized by the mainstream media. Rather than regurgitate and repurpose what everyone is already talking about, it would be more fun and productive for a blogger to try and find out how this machine is working.
Consider this description of how Geohot hacked the iPhone:
Eventually, he found his target: a square sliver of black plastic called a baseband processor, the chip that limited the carriers with which it could work. To get the baseband to listen to him, he had to override the commands it was getting from another part of the phone. He soldered a wire to the chip, held some voltage on it, and scrambled its code. The iPhone was now at his command. On his PC, he wrote a program that enabled the iPhone to work on any wireless carrier.
What is the baseband processor of the mainstream media machine that generates daily news cycles?
Once you have identified this “part,” how do you get it to listen to you and override the commands it is getting from another part of the organization?
Answering these questions will open a fun new world for you and you blog, but it is one that will involve reaching out and networking on a level that transcends getting a few links from other bloggers. This strategy might require you to cultivate a relationship with a reporter or mid level staffer at a news organization. You might have to befriend a communications director of political campaign of a candidate you support. You might have to spend some time with a federal agency learning what they do, how they work, and who the decision makers are.
While there is a lot more that can be discussed when implementing strategies like this, the purpose of this post is to just get you thinking about two questions:
- Is my blog pointless right now?
- How can I give it more purpose?
These questions get to the heart of political blogging. If you are blogging about politics, it is because you recognize that politics is simply the application of power to advance specific interests. If your political blog isn’t participating in this process, your blog is just noise.
I suggest that the best way to participate in the grand project of acquiring and applying power, is to start hacking.