I occasionally undertake mildly subversive activities, like posting documents describing how proprietary protocols are organized, setting up MP3 sites, explaining to people how to get around bans, describing anonymous file exchange possibilities, or writing sneaky perl code. But this comes as part of a larger philosophy of subversion; I’ve never made a penny off of my website, but have put hundreds of hours of work into it. Working hard without financial reward is a subversive activity in and of itself; as is publishing a book online for free.
Now this is not to say that I’m even very good at being subversive. I dare say that most people who try to be subversive end up succeeding much better than I do, by describing the construction of pipe bombs, or advocating socialism, pointing out giant security holes in various widely-used programs, releasing whole professional operating systems for free, or sowing discontent among the masses. Relatively speaking, I’m a nobody in the world of subversives. But that’s okay; I’ve got my admittedly small soapbox of a website to stand on here and I enjoy it. But the real question that a wise person would ask is this: why the subversion?
Subversion is, by my definition, a resistance to the status quo. It is the “check” in “checks and balances,” the “correction” in the market, and the “invisible hand” (to borrow from Adam Smith) in society. I think my reasoning for why I believe subversion to be a good and moral activity is best described by the Hegelian world view, which advocates having an idea (a thesis) clash with an opposing idea (the antithesis) to produce a compromise that is closer to the truth (synthesis). If the status quo is considered to be the thesis, then subversives represent an antithesis and must be seriously considered in their own right. While one should always try to make a strong case for one’s beliefs so as to help the truth be most rapidly arrived at, one must also keep a keen ear to what the person who argues with you says; the more quick you both are to listen and see the reason (and faults) in the other’s argument, the more rapidly the two of you will approach the truth.
As a simple example; what panels/discussions/debates are interesting when all of the participants believe the same thing? What issues get raised and in what detail? How scrutinized are presented facts? The truth is that conflict is not only far more interesting and entertaining, but it is more educational. Each side must make their case in a clear and compelling fashion – any weaknesses will be sought after and pried open by the opposition. Indeed, the Smith analogy is not far off; a opinionated people function in a similar fashion as a free market. The competition weeds out bad business in a capitalistic economy, just as reason and discussion weed out bad ideas in a society with free speech. (Although neither example has shown to hold true all of the time!)
Being, as it is, that I would like to encourage the truth to be found, I find it in my moral duty to counter ideas or movements which are succeeding. This is, upon reflection, the rather generic stance of the traditional liberal; the impetuous youth. Undoubtedly, I will develop more reserved conceptions about the ideal approach to truth as I age. In that sense, I may join the status quo…but I will be truly disappointed if there isn’t some young whippersnapper violently disagreeing with me on my ideas. And with the conjunction (or disjunction, perhaps?) of the ideas of young and old we achieve a better understanding of the world and ourselves, and with luck become a touch wiser for it.
NOTE: I am a hypocrite. Don’t actually expect me to live by the above principles. =)