Anonymous and the Digital Antinomians.... was 'Twitter will set you free to Occupy'

Darren mail at
Sun Jan 22 08:51:16 GMT 2012

I suppose this piece continues the debate started by the post 'Twitter 
will set you free to Occupy'.  Guess this is more in tune to this list 
due to plenty of references to diggers, levellers and ranters.

Also lots of good links out from the website (not completely obvious 
from my browser - italic text in the tract is clickable) 

"Anonymous and the Digital Antinomians

Posted by John Postill on January 21, 2012 ยท Leave a Comment

By Dan McQuillan

How are we to understand the political implications of Anonymous? How do 
we explicate the digitally mediated 'atmosphere of dissent' that links 
the Arab Spring and the global Occupy movement? I suggest we look to the 
forgotten history of antinomian movements, especially the radicals of 
the English Civil War.

Anonymous itself resists easy definition; it is a name invoked to 
coordinate and identify a plethora of loosely connected actions. It is 
meme, a culture, a way of organising online -- a loose alias that 
nevertheless includes a cadre of skilled hackers. An antinomian is no 
easier to pin down -- it is 'one who holds that under the gospel 
dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because 
faith alone is necessary to salvation'; also: 'one who  rejects a 
socially established morality.'
Lulzsec & The Ranters

The Ranters were antinomians who were active around 1640-1660, a time of 
turmoil and revolution in England. Their return today is well 
signposted; the pastebin rhetoric of Anonymous splinter Lulzsec is the 
hacker version of Abiezer Coppe's pamphlets:

"We are Lulz Security, and this is our final release, as today marks 
something meaningful to us. 50 days ago, we set sail with our humble 
ship on an uneasy and brutal ocean: the Internet. The hate machine, the 
love machine, the machine powered by many machines. We are all part of 
it, helping it grow, and helping it grow on us."

' 50 Days of Lulz' by LulzSec, 2011

"And the sea, the earth, yea, all things are now giving up their dead. 
And all things that ever were, are, or shall be visible... But behold, 
behold, he is now risen with a witness, to save Zion with vengeance, or 
to confound and plague all things into himself"

Abiezer Coppe's 'A Fiery Flying Roll', 1650
Revaluing 4chan

Appreciating the deeper connection between digital dissidence and 
antinomianism means looking at the roots of Anonymous in 4chan and the 
/b/ image board (the "random" board). /b/ is characterised by shocking 
images and dark, densely layered insider jokes, who's denizens refer to 
themselves as "/b/tards": "At first sight /b/ looks chaotic and 
offensive. It is. And in a sense it isn't. In Turner's anthropological 
terms, /b/ can be seen as a liminoid space that acts as an on going 
ever-evolving initiation ritual". Its 'no rules' policy and florid 
rejection of convention incubated an antinomianism that coloured 
Anonymous as it evolved from 4chan to activism, as tracked by 
anthropologist Gabriella Coleman in 'Anonymous: From the Lulz to 
Collective Action'.

Hence we can understand the foundational commitment of Anonymous to free 
speech (as one Anon  put it, "free speech is non-negotiable") not as 
geek liberalism, or even libertarianism, but a  robustness that precedes 
these modern political categories, a free speech typified by English 
dissenters like the Ranters, the Levellers and the Diggers. The 
historical linking of this form of free speech with the staunch struggle 
against tyranny lessens the surprise of OpTunisia, when Anonymous 
unexpectedly forked from online hacktivism in to the messy world of 
street politics and the struggle to overthrow the dictatorship in Tunisia.
Commons & Heresy

Anonymous has been a direct link between the Arab Spring and the global 
Occupy movement, with a visible presence in camps and protests as well 
as online. But they are only part of a plurality of currents that echo 
the English Dissenters of the Interregnum. It was the Diggers who most 
famously 'occupied' St. George's Hill in 1649 the name of "making the 
Earth a Common Treasury for All", and it was the Levellers call in the 
Putney debates for democratic accountability and financial transparency 
from government that finds common ground with the discourse of the 
Occupy movement. Even the tension between the different currents of 
digital culture finds parallels in the 1640?s -- Digger spokesman Gerard 
Winstanley's distaste for the Ranters ("Ranting principles", according 
to Gerrard Winstanley, denoted a general lack of moral values or 
restrain in worldly pleasures) speaks to the differences between 
Creative Commons and hacktivism.

As with antinomianism, any social movement deploying the affordances of 
General Computation and the Internet will tend towards heresy in the 
eyes of the Establishment (see the transcript of Cory Doctorow's talk 
'The Coming War on General Computation' at 28c3).  This modern heresy 
finds it's practice in hacking, "the intellectual challenge of 
creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations" and "a tactic for 
transforming pre-existing elements to evoke meanings not originally 
intended in the raw material". As  Otto von Busch says in Abstract 
Hacktivism: "Hacking and Heresy can be seen as two practices of 
distributed reinterpretation of systems and political protocols, 
especially in relation to organic networked systems where the hacker or 
heretic claims the right to be co-author and co-designer"

The small group who started the catalytic pre-Occupy camp in Madrid in 
May 2011 included hackers. It was a moment that blended technical and 
abstract hacktivism:

"In the early hours of 16 May something unexpected happened. A group of 
some forty protesters decided to set camp at Madrid's main square, 
Puerta del Sol, instead of returning to their homes. One of them, a 
member of the hacker group Isaac Hacksimov, explained later: 'All we did 
was a gesture that broke the collective mental block'. Fearing that the 
authorities may evict them, they sent out calls for support via the 
internet. The first person to join them learned about their action on 

Taken together, these developments become epochal when they raise the 
curtain on forgotten social forms outside the framework of capitalist 
globalisation. Commenting on the fluid dynamics of the new politics, the 
Virtual Policy Network makes an explicit link to the pre-industrial: "A 
new politics has emerged from the affordances of the internet, and agile 
movements are continually emerging from the underlying flow of 
micro-political acts...If we look inside these movements we see 
complexity, and we can detect a core of deeply rooted pre-industrial 
human behaviours mediated through a digitally interconnected global 

So what can we expect from an antiomian atmosphere of dissent that blows 
across the internet and condenses in the squares? If our English 
Dissenters are any guide, it will involve commons-based innovation; as 
Charlie Leadbeater points out in 'Digging for the Future' "the Levellers 
wanted to raise food production through mutual ownership of underused 
land that would allow new technologies like manuring to take hold" and 
they believed " that knowledge, even of the word of God, came from 
within rather than being handed down by the clergy. A productive, 
cooperative community would share and create knowledge rather than be 
ruled by the dogma of a narrow elite."

As Nicolas Mendoza concludes about 4chan & Wikileaks: "Rather than being 
the result of a violent class struggle, the end of capitalist hegemony 
might be the result of a slow Internet-enabled process of migration, a 
dripping (to abuse once more the WikiLeaks logo) towards societies that 
organize around commons"ii. It wouldn't be the first time there's been 
an exodus; as David Graeber highlights in 'Fragments of an Anarchist 
Anthropology' there are historical examples of withdrawal, as there are 
of societies that have resisted hierarchy & accumulation altogether. 
Even micro-examples like Crop Mob show how the affordances of the net 
can support pre-industrial modes of agriculture and the Foundation for 
P2P Alternatives relentlessly catalogues the worldwide prototyping of 
peer-to-peer alternatives, "a relational dynamic in which people 
exchange not with each other as individuals, but with a commons...on a 
global scale, enabled by internet technologies".
Antinomian Atmospheres

In these times, in the streets and squares blown by the digital winds, 
there occur liminal moments of the kind anthropologist John Postill 
experienced with Spain's Indignados:

"Many participants later reported a range of psychosomatic reactions 
such as goose bumps (carne de gallina) or tears of joy. I felt as if a 
switch had been turned on, a gestalt switch, and I had now awakened to a 
new political reality. I was no longer merely a participant observer of 
the movement, I was the movement. From that moment onwards, virals such 
as #takethesquare or #Iam15M (#yosoy15M) acquired for me -- and 
countless other 'converts' -- a very different meaning; they became 
integral to the new paradigm that now organises my emic understanding of 
the movement".

Gabriella Coleman has identified the resonance of Anonymous with the 
horizontal network forms and decentralized, non-hierarchical consensus 
democracy, a pattern clearly parallelled in Occupy. But rather than 
focus on organisational form we can open ourselves to their 
circulations, their tempos and their transmutations. By tuning instead 
into their textures and densities we may see them both as accretions of 
what Kathleen Stewart describes as an atmosphere: "An atmosphere is not 
an inert context but a force field in which people find themselves. It 
is not an effect of other forces but a lived affect -- a capacity to 
affect and to be affected that pushes a present into a composition, an 
expressivity, the sense of potentiality and event. It is an attunement 
of the senses, of labors, and imaginaries to potential ways of living in 
or living through things. A living through that shows up in the 
generative precarity of ordinary sensibilities of not knowing what 
compels, not being able to sit still, being exhausted, being left behind 
or being ahead of the curve, being in love with some form or life that 
comes along, being ready for something -- anything -- to happen".

The restless antecedents of the Ranters were the Brethren of the Free 
Spirit, an antinomian and egalitarian heresy that ranged across Europe 
in the 13th and 14th centuries, challenging earthly powers and refusing 
to be repressed. By drawing parallels between the Antinomians of 1649 
and the spirit of Anonymous I am suggesting, perhaps, the emergence of a 
Brethren of the Free Internet.
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