When I first migrated to the Mormon Matrix, it seemed to me a flawlessly elegant combination of history, science, and society. I immediately benefited from my conversion, upgrading my interpersonal skills, self-esteem, and sense of life purpose. It didn’t take long for me to start finding flaws in the system. At first it was slow: an Old Testament massacre here, a little history of cosmology there, learning about multiple, difficult to reconcile versions of the “First Vision” (Mormonism’s riff on Muhammad’s first encounter with Gabriel).
It didn’t take much at first–a little apologetics patch, an upgrade to add some complexity to my worldview–but soon I was running into bugs way faster than anyone could fix them. Eventually, I discovered that the system was a porridge of kluged narratives and borrowed rites, and discriminatory legacies were coded into core doctrines.
Since the system was a hack, but I was stuck in the system for some time, I started to hack the system. I became a doctrinal hacker. I inserted as many references to Mother in Heaven as I could. I found quotes from leaders that supported my liberal political values. I excised the hateful memes embedded in Elders’ Quorum lessons and emphasized simple and elegant principles. I found I wasn’t alone in my self-awareness: there was the Irvine Outhouse Intellectual group, feminist Mormon housewives blog, and the greater community of DAMU and ExMo bloggers.
I’m no longer hacking Mormonism. But now that I’m thinking in these terms, I can see this pattern repeated throughout my life. Rules and social structures, systems–I feel like you learn them so you can break them and transform or beat or excel within the system. This was my approach to high school, it explains my frustration with monotheistic belief systems, which tend to set themselves up as perfect and totalizing. It also captures my experiments with gender bending, my fascination with poetry, modern art, graffiti, AdBusters, flashmobs, philosophers like Pierre Bourdieu and Judith Butler and punk rock/DiY culture.
There are some systems we’re all stuck with, or at least stuck in. Global capitalism, to take one example, with its devastating cycle of production, consumption, and human and environmental degredation. We can’t really swap it for a better system, and it’s so all-encompassing that we can’t really transform it from without. But there are hackers who are trying to mess with the system, to throw wrenches in the gears of this efficent machine, and to make us more aware of bugs in the program, the inelegance of its code. Perhaps most importantly, hacking huge systems even in small ways can help us overcome the sense of powerlessness we may feel. Looked at in this way, Mahatma Gandhi was one of greatest social hackers of the 20th century.
I’m still thinking at a pretty meta level here, but I hope to play with these concepts here over the next few months. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.