I recieved a piece of e-mail from a textfiles.com user going by the nom de plume of "Captain Anarchy", asking me to help stop the common misperception of the word "Anarchy" in the BBS and Internet worlds. I initially balked at the idea, but as time goes on, I do suppose there's room for casual observers to get the wrong idea, so let's talk about it.
Textfiles.com has an "Anarchy" section, wherein there are a very large range of files dealing with destruction, mischief, mayhem, and general troublemaking. In some cases, the writers simply give you very large lists of horrible things to do to the neighborhood around you, while others go as far as listing ingredients for incendiaries they wish you to build (and which any reasonable person would never do). Throughout this section, the writers will often refer to themselves as "Anarchists" and what they're practicing as "Anarchy".
In his book "The Hacker Crackdown", author Bruce Sterling touches on the heavy preponderance of these destructive textfiles and is at a loss to explain them beyond an interest by Hackers in "Forbidden Knowledge", and leaves it with a pretty clever twist about this desire to trade information representing a shift in society, and so on.
Personally, I believe it to be an expression of power. If you read into them, these files represent huge acts of force that the typical young teenager might not personally be able to experience, but through the typical ups and downs of these painful years, might want to. Or at least know they could if they really wanted to. Handling the pressures of teenage years are that much easier if you think you know more than you're supposed to.
As I've mentioned in a speech I gave at DEFCON in 1998, textfiles can trace their existence back to Abbie Hoffman and the Youth International Party Line, which became the Technological Assistance Party (TAP) and which gave way to 2600 Magazine in the early 1980s. Abbie Hoffman's "Steal This Book" reads with all the humor, prodding, profanity and clear-eyed instructions of the best of the later BBS-era textfiles. Abbie, however, was one of the most celebrated of the protesting, government-shaking youths of the time, and his book goes far beyond mere instructions to a sort of manifesto of how to bring about the destruction of this oppressive state atmosphere he saw crushing the country.
Somehow, in the move from the revolutionary thoughts of the 1960's through to the technology explosion of the 1980's, these pure ingredient lists of wanton destruction and danger got linked and wrapped up with the idea of protest and fighting against the oppressive all-powerful state, and someone decided to refer to them as "Anarchy" files.
I won't pretend to be an expert, or even a dabbling authority on the concept of Anarchy as a political system. As I understand it from my days of working as an artist for the Zine known as "Factsheet Five", Anarchy as a political system is an attempt to keep out a vast, overseeing government, and instead focus on the cooperation of smaller collectives towards an ideal society. Some anarchists wish for the abolition of all government, replacing it with a shared authority by these smaller collectives, while others have tried to bring Anarchist ideas and approaches to the current systems of government.
The point is, the concept of "Anarchy" as portrayed in these files is not in any way related to these political movements, which exist on their own merits. The dictionary definition of Anarchy, which is "An Absence of Government", may or may not be an ideal situation, but it's honestly not a part of the tone and ideas of the writers of these textfiles. If you feel like taking a real logical stretch, you might be able to argue that the files advocate the destruction of the current order to leave a vacuum of power. Then, this vacuum of power could be filled with a more radical/preferable system of governing or self-governing. How this could possibly be achieved by screwing with the ketchup packets of a McDonalds, of course, is beyond me.
I often recieve correpondence from people who wrote these files. More often than not, these writers are actually rather embarassed at their writings and ask me if it's entirely necessary for them to be still online. I don't believe in burying the past, but I do share their concern about two groups taking these files seriously: Young minds who think that this sort of explosives construction actually happened years ago and they just missed the fun, and groups of self-righteous "Universal Parents" who might point to these collections of files as serious attempts to foment revolution or scar the minds of the young. Both of these groups are entirely misguided.
It might need to be said, if you've previously thought otherwise, that the 1980's were not a time of wanton, spectacular explosions raining down from suburban neighborhoods all across the country. While no doubt people blew things up, it wasn't the natural order of things and people were no doubt arrested or fined heavily for doing so. No great social change took place as a result of criminal mischief. There have been some issues with the massive amounts of corporate mergers, however. We're still feeling the effects of that. Otherwise, pretty smooth sailing.
As for the idea that this collection exists in some way to poison the minds of youth, well, these files were WRITTEN by youth. Even a cursory view of the files reveal all the badly-written phrases, poor spelling, and near-myopic perspective of teenage authors going for shock value or to wave the biggest stick in the playground. These are hardly the tools used by predators to ensnare children; much preferable ones are the uniforms of authority or the latest editions of school textbooks.
If the idea of learning more about Anarchy as a system of government interests you, then simply use a search engine to find pages entitled "ANARCHY FAQ" or "ANARCHY SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT" and see what pops back at you. It probably won't mention smashing mailboxes anywhere in it.
- Jason Scott