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Bruce Sterling. A statement of principle
Catscan 10 "From SCIENCE FICTION EYE #10"
A STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLE
I just wrote my first nonfiction book. It's called THE HACKER
CRACKDOWN: LAW AND DISORDER ON THE ELECTRONIC FRONTIER. Writing this
book has required me to spend much of the past year and a half in the
company of hackers, cops, and civil libertarians.
I've spent much time listening to arguments over what's legal,
what's illegal, what's right and wrong, what's decent and what's
despicable, what's moral and immoral, in the world of computers and
civil liberties. My various informants were knowledgeable people who
cared passionately about these issues, and most of them seemed well-
intentioned. Considered as a whole, however, their opinions were a
baffling mess of contradictions.
When I started this project, my ignorance of the issues involved
was genuine and profound. I'd never knowingly met anyone from the
computer underground. I'd never logged-on to an underground bulletin-
board or read a semilegal hacker magazine. Although I did care a great
deal about the issue of freedom of expression, I knew sadly little about
the history of civil rights in America or the legal doctrines that
surround freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of
association. My relations with the police were firmly based on the
stratagem of avoiding personal contact with police to the greatest
I didn't go looking for this project. This project came looking
for me. I became inextricably involved when agents of the United States
Secret Service, acting under the guidance of federal attorneys from
Chicago, came to my home town of Austin on March 1, 1990, and
confiscated the computers of a local science fiction gaming publisher.
Steve Jackson Games, Inc., of Austin, was about to publish a gaming-book
called GURPS Cyberpunk.
When the federal law-enforcement agents discovered the electronic
manuscript of CYBERPUNK on the computers they had seized from Mr.
's offices, they expressed grave shock and alarm. They declared
that CYBERPUNK was "a manual for computer crime."
It's not my intention to reprise the story of the Jackson case in
this column. I've done that to the best of my ability in THE HACKER
CRACKDOWN; and in any case the ramifications of March 1 are far from
over. Mr Jackson was never charged with any crime. His civil suit
against the raiders is still in federal court as I write this.
I don't want to repeat here what some cops believe, what some
hackers believe, or what some civil libertarians believe. Instead, I
want to discuss my own moral beliefs as a science fiction writer --
such as they are. As an SF writer, I want to attempt a personal
statement of principle.
It has not escaped my attention that there are many people who
believe that anyone called a "cyberpunk" must be, almost by definition,
entirely devoid of principle. I offer as evidence an excerpt from Buck
BloomBecker's 1990 book, SPECTACULAR COMPUTER CRIMES. On page 53, in a
chapter titled "Who Are The Computer Criminals?", Mr. BloomBecker
introduces the formal classification of "cyberpunk" criminality.
"In the last few years, a new genre of science fiction has arisen
under the evocative name of 'cyberpunk.' Introduced in the work of
William Gibson, particularly in his prize-winning novel NEUROMANCER,
cyberpunk takes an apocalyptic view of the technological future. In
NEUROMANCER, the protagonist is a futuristic hacker who must use the
most sophisticated computer strategies to commit crimes for people who
offer him enough money to buy the biological creations he needs to
survive. His life is one of cynical despair, fueled by the desire to
avoid death. Though none of the virus cases actually seen so far have
been so devastating, this book certainly represents an attitude that
should be watched for when we find new cases of computer virus and try
to understand the motivations behind them.
"The New York Times's John Markoff, one of the
more perceptive and
accomplished writers in the field, has written than a number of computer
criminals demonstrate new levels of meanness. He characterizes them, as
do I, as cyberpunks."
Those of us who have read Gibson's NEUROMANCER closely will be
aware of certain factual inaccuracies in Mr. BloomBecker's brief review.
NEUROMANCER is not "apocalyptic." The chief conspirator in NEUROMANCER
forces Case's loyalty, not by buying his services, but by planting
poison-sacs in his brain. Case is "fueled" not by his greed for money
or "biological creations," or even by the cynical "desire to avoid
death," but rather by his burning desire to hack cyberspace. And so
However, I don't think this misreading of NEUROMANCER is based on
carelessness or malice. The rest of Mr. BloomBecker's book generally is
informative, well-organized, and thoughtful. Instead, I feel that Mr.
BloomBecker manfully absorbed as much of NEUROMANCER as he could without
suffering a mental toxic reaction. This report of his is what he
actually *saw* when reading the novel.
NEUROMANCER has won quite a following in the world of computer
crime investigation. A prominent law enforcement official once told me
that police unfailingly conclude the worst when they find a teenager
with a computer and a copy of NEUROMANCER. When I declared that I too
was a "cyberpunk" writer, she asked me if I would print the recipe for a
pipe-bomb in my works. I was astonished by this question, which struck
me as bizarre rhetorical excess at the time. That was before I had
actually examined bulletin-boards in the computer underground, which I
found to be chock-a-block with recipes for pipe-bombs, and worse. (I
didn't have the heart to tell her that my friend and colleague Walter
Jon Williams had once written and published an SF story closely
describing explosives derived from simple household chemicals.)
Cyberpunk SF (along with SF in general) has, in fact, permeated
the computer underground. I have met young un
derground hackers who use
the aliases "Neuromancer," "Wintermute" and "Count Zero." The Legion of
Doom, the absolute bete noire of computer law-enforcement, used to
congregate on a bulletin-board called "Black Ice."
In the past, I didn't know much about anyone in the underground,
but they certainly knew about me. Since that time, I've had people
express sincere admiration for my novels, and then, in almost the same
breath, brag to me about breaking into hospital computers to chortle
over confidential medical reports about herpes victims.
The single most stinging example of this syndrome is "Pengo," a
member of the German hacker-group that broke into Internet computers
while in the pay of the KGB. He told German police, and the judge at
the trial of his co-conspirators, that he was inspired by NEUROMANCER
and John Brunner's SHOCKWAVE RIDER.
I didn't write NEUROMANCER. I did, however, read it in
manuscript and offered many purportedly helpful comments. I praised
the book publicly and repeatedly and at length. I've done everything I
can to get people to read this book.
I don't recall cautioning Gibson that his novel might lead to
anarchist hackers selling their expertise to the ferocious and repulsive
apparat that gave the world the Lubyanka and the Gulag Archipelago. I
don't think I could have issued any such caution, even if I'd felt the
danger of such a possibility, which I didn't. I still don't know in
what fashion Gibson might have changed his book to avoid inciting
evildoers, while still retaining the integrity of his vision -- the very
quality about the book that makes it compelling and worthwhile.
This leads me to my first statements of moral principle.
As a "cyberpunk" SF writer, I am not responsible for every act
committed by a Bohemian with a computer. I don't own the word
"cyberpunk" and cannot help where it is bestowed, or who uses it, or to
As a science fiction writer, it is not my business to make people
behave. It is my business to
make people imagine. I cannot control
other people's imaginations -- any more than I would allow them to
I am, however, morally obliged to speak out when acts of evil are
committed that use my ideas or my rhetoric, however distantly, as a
Pengo and his friends committed a grave crime that was worthy of
condemnation and punishment. They were clever, but treacherously
clever. They were imaginative, but it was imagination in a bad cause.
They were technically accomplished, but they abused their expertise for
illicit profit and to feed their egos. They may be "cyberpunks" --
according to many, they may deserve that title far more than I do -- but
they're no friends of mine.
What is "crime"? What is a moral offense? What actions are evil
and dishonorable? I find these extraordinarily difficult questions. I
have no special status that should allow me to speak with authority on
such subjects. Quite the contrary. As a writer in a scorned popular
literature and a self-professed eccentric Bohemian, I have next to no
authority of any kind. I'm not a moralist, philosopher, or prophet.
I've always considered my "moral role," such as it is, to be that of a
court jester -- a person sometimes allowed to speak the unspeakable, to
explore ideas and issues in a format where they can be treated as games,
thought-experiments, or metaphors, not as prescriptions, laws, or
I have no religion, no sacred scripture to guide my actions and
provide an infallible moral bedrock. I'm not seeking political
responsibilities or the power of public office. I habitually question
any pronouncement of authority, and entertain the liveliest skepticism
about the processes of law and justice. I feel no urge to conform to
the behavior of the majority of my fellow citizens. I'm a pain in the
My behavior is far from flawless. I lived and thrived in Austin,
Texas in the 1970s and 1980s, in a festering milieu of arty crypto-
... ... ...
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|Спрашивает генерал(Г) у новобранца(Н): |
(Г):-А объясни мне, почему ты решил вступить в армию?
(Н):-Ну, во первых нужно защищать Родину от врагов.
(Н):-Во-вторых, служба в армии сделает из меня настоящего мужчину.
(Г):-Правильно, а что в-третьих?
(Н):-А в-третьих, блин, моего согласия никто не спрашивал!