Tuesday, February 10, 2009

How old is Anonymous and where does it go to church?

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The press release and letter of Anonymous Québec to Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet applauding his critical remarks on Scientology has stirred curiosity about the relationship of Anonymous to religion and the involvement of religious people in the movement.

Basically, Anonymous consists of a majority of twenty-somethings and equal pluralities of atheists, religious people, and the religiously non-identifying.

The most significant fact is that Anon is of the generation born into the internet and is creating new Web 2.0 forms of culture, community, and activism. If the Church wants to get a clue about contemporary society and culture, it needs to understand Anonymous.

Anon is the vanguard of the anti-Scientology movement, which before Anon was obscure to the point of public invisibility. Anon has given it Web 2.0 cutting edge activism, and its only, and lulzy, symbols and icons: Headless Guy and the Guy Fawkes Mask.

Anonymous is also on the cutting-edge of creating internet communities of distinctively internet culture and activism, which is just beginning to come into existence. Teh Church needs to understand all this.

There are no statistical demographic data on Anonymous except for two polls on the Anonymous forum Why We Protest. One is on age and the other is on religion. Because the voters are self-selecting rather than randomly selected it does not have strict statistical significance. Nonetheless, the polls are a good general demographic indicator for analysis and reflection.

Here is where they stand today, which happens to be the birthday of Lisa McPherson, iconic martyr to organized Scientology's medical quackery, and anniversary of the first Anonymous protests one year ago.

On February 10, 2009, 7,000 anons from Project Chanology poured off the internet and into the streets to say " Happy Birthday!"to Lisa and to tell L. Ron Hubbard and organized Scientology, "GTFO!" They have been raiding Scientology orgs around the world every month for a year now.

Age:

Poll: Age Poll

Voters: 1411

0 - 17: 15.45%
18 - 25: 47.98%
26 - 35: 18.43%
36 - 45: 10.35%
45 - 60: 6.17%
60+: 1.63%

Religion

Poll: YOUR Religion

Voters: 66

I have collapsed some categories for clarity.

Atheist: 33.33%
Agnostic: 10.61%
Great traditions: 29.28%
Other: 26.78%


Comments on the age poll:

Half of Anonymous is college/immediately post-college age. The next largest group are the late 20/early 30-somethings who form nearly 20% of Anon. Thus 70% of Anon are college to early thirty-somethings. Add in the 36 - 45 age group, and Anon is 80% twenty and thirty- somethings.

What is significant is that over half of Anon was born after 1980. They form what author Chuck Underwood in the Generational Imperative calls, "The Millennials", successors as a social and cultural cohort to Generation X, the Baby Boomers, the Silents, and the G.I. Generation among the five living generations. (See Meet America's Five Living Generations)

I don't agree with many of Underwood's characterizations, but the differences in outlook of distinct groups are real and important to understand, particularly in a movement like Project Chanology, Anon's "large scale plan to take down the Church of Scientology in its present form."

What is significant about the millennials is that they were born into the internet. Anonymous with its image board roots and culture are truly "the children of the internet" and "the internet incarnate" as one of them proclaimed in The State of the Insurgency Address", which remains one of the most powerful manifestos of the essential internet nature of Anonymous, its revolution, and Project Chanology.

The State of the Insurgency is essential reading to understand why Chanology is foremost a free speech movement and secondarily a human rights protest movement. It is true that in a sense all human rights abuse is a genre of suppression of free speech: human trafficking, coerced abortion, false imprisonment, disconnection, and working conditions abuses all involve some degree of suppression of free speech.

However, the victims of all these are individuals. When Scientology suppresses freedom of speech on the internet it oppresses society. No one has seen this as clearly as the original unrelenting anon insurgents from 4chan who launched Project Chanology and were joined by channers from the image board underworld of the internet.

The millennials of Anon launched the first Web 2.0 internet free speech insurgency. They may be starting something less splashy but equally significant, the creation of communities of their own internet culture. In fact, this may be Anon's most important challenge in 2009 to sustain Project Chanology.

The Anonymous local cell site in San Francisco began as We Are Legion, a planning site for Project Chanology activism. It has now morphed into Uplink, a center for internet culture and activism. (Registration required). It is built on a ning platform as are the sites of Anonymous Québec and Anonymous Hamburg, which are among the most active cells in Anon.

Anons don't use the internet. They live on it. What an Anon site like Uplink is doing is experimenting and edging towards the creation of community for people who live on the internet and whose culture is their own, and more importantly, their own creation. Here is how they are doing it

megaphonebitch: How to build an uber planning site for free in under 30 minutes.

There was a wonderful exchange on Why We Protest recently. I can't find the link so I will paraphrase [Update: see original quotes below]

Older cranky anon: Anon culture is the culture of teenagers.

Wise Anon: No. It is the culture of the internet. There are thousands of older people who share this culture, particularly among Information Technology professionals.

Indeed. Pay attention, Cardinal Ouellet.

Comments on the religion poll:

Basically, a third of Anonymous is atheist; another third belong to the great world religious traditions, primarily Christianity; and a third consider themselves "other". This poll has fewer respondents than the age poll and so is somewhat less statistically significant.

A few things strike me. Though atheists are the largest single group, they do not appear to be militant about it any more than religious anons are militant about their beliefs. My impression is that Anon has a more tolerantly agnostic flavor. Agnostics and atheists alike on Why We Protest applauded Cardinal Ouellet's dissing of Scientology.

I have grouped the great religious traditions together because many of the issues regarding Scientology's status in society and law turn on whether it is a New Religion or a religion at all. Christians are the largest group here, with Buddhists and Jews following. And yes, there are Muslim anons. I personally know two, one of whom is a Sufi. This third of Anon forms an important asset in rallying the churches in the work of bringing organized Scientology to accountability in the eyes of society.

In addition, thousands of anons, particularly in the UK and Europe are culturally Lutheran, Catholic, or Anglican. Though personally agnostic or functionally agnostic, many were raised in religious families and attended religious schools. They have social relationships and an understanding of religion's social and political functions which is also an important asset to Chanology.

Special mention should also be made of Jewish anons, particularly for the lively presence of Anon Tel Aviv who collaborated recently with German anons to produce the Hebrew sub-titled version of their interview with a high-ranking German Scientologist Holocaust denier. ( See For Great Justice - Scientology: Holocaust Denial or Just Anti-Semitic?)

For more see Anonymous Tel Aviv and their videos on the channel of Anon Imouse at vimeo.

We have zero information on how Cardinal Ouellet decided to take on Scientology. It is difficult to believe that Anon was not part of that process, if only because he may have asked his assistant one day, "Who on earth are those young people in masks and what are they doing?" Perhaps a reporter should ask him to what extent Anon piqued his interest.

An anon in Germany told me that he hadn't been to church for years but would go back if it would help Chanology. Yesterday, an anon from Anonymous Québec went to meet with his parish priest to speak to him about Chanology and give him a copy of their letter to the Cardinal.

It turned out it was a day off for the curé, so today he is going to the Cardinal's office to personally deliver a copy of the letter there.

I hope the Cardinal or his assistant reads this and invites him in for a chat someday.

In closing, I want to recommend Jeff Jacobsen's illuminating paper We Are Legion: Anonymous and the War on Scientology. It is the most serious sociological treatment of Anonymous that has yet appeared. Significantly, Jeff is a Christian and former Scientology Lisa McPherson Trust staff member [Thanks for the correction Jeff.], who was a member of a Pentecostal church that turned into a cult and who returned to Christianity after he left Scientology. The Cardinal, and anyone else interested in understanding Anonymous needs to read Jeff's paper.



Oh hai. Thx 4 teh infoz!!11unum

Update

Update: a commenter here pointed me to the original post by Anoniemert in the thread "What do Scienologists do for fun? The older cranky anon is, in fact, a former Scientologist newly acquainted with Anonymous culture. Anoniemert is the wise anon:
Arsolycus:
Michael stop trying to be a culture imitator; recovery is important for ex-Scientologists but not to the point where you feel it necessary to imitate the culture of teenagers.

Anoniemert:

I would like to point out, as neutrally as possible, that this is a slightly incorrect view of the culture.

I am not a teenager and have been actively following the culture for years.
The anonymous culture is not the culture of teenagers, it is the culture of the internet.

Due to it's nature the participants of anonymous are mostly teenagers and students.
It also includes many professionals (mostly IT) of any age.

2 comments:

Fredric said...

Anonymous is winning! The Scientology crime syndicate has maybe 40,000 remaining customers world wide, and Anonymous won't stop until every Scientology customer has been freed.

Until then, enjoy this Anonymous video!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iurEJ3yNN3Q

Henk de Vries said...

here is your full quote for this "wise anon"

"I would like to point out, as neutrally as possible, that this is a slightly incorrect view of the culture.
I am not a teenager and have been actively following the culture for years.
The anonymous culture is not the culture of teenagers, it is the culture of the internet.
Due to it's nature the participants of anonymous are mostly teenagers and students.
It also includes many professionals (mostly IT) of any age. "

The "grumpy anon" is an ex-sci and new to anony culture, he can't be blamed :)