With the recent appearance of the anti-Scientology Internet-based movement named “Anonymous” we are witnessing the emergence of the first true virtual Stand Alone Complex as envisioned in the anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Allow me to explain. First, some background on what a Stand Alone Complex is, courtesy of Wikipedia:
While originally intended to “underscore the dilemmas and concerns that people would face if they relied too heavily on the new communications infrastructure,” the concept of the Stand Alone Complex eventually came to represent a phenomenon where unrelated, yet very similar, actions of individuals create a seemingly concerted effort.
A Stand Alone Complex can be compared to the copycat behavior that often occurs after incidents such as serial murders or terrorist attacks. An incident catches the publics attention and certain types of people “get on the bandwagon”, so to speak. It is particularly apparent when the incident appears to be the result of well-known political or religious beliefs, but it can also occur in response to intense media attention. For example, a mere fire, no matter the number of deaths, is just a garden variety tragedy. However, if the right kind of people begin to believe it was arson, caused by deliberate action, the threat increases drastically that more arsons will be committed.
What separates the Stand Alone Complex from normal copycat behavior is that the originator of the copied action is not even a real person, but merely a rumored figure that commits said action. Even without instruction or leadership a certain type of person will spring into action to imitate the rumored action and move toward the same goal even if only subconsciously. The result is an epidemic of copied behavior-with no originator. One could say that the Stand Alone Complex is mass hysteria-with purpose.
In the original anime, the Stand Alone Complex emerges in the form of the Laughing Man, a mythical figure under whose banner a large variety of disparate groups and individuals launch attacks against corporations and governments, with a common unifying theme of speaking truth to power. But there was no centralized organization, nor was there even an original who set out to launch such a crusade; the concept evolved spontaneously across the Internet, led by no one person but shaped by hundreds of independent ones.
If you’ve been following the recent anti-Scientology outbreak across the Internet, this should all be sounding eerily familiar to you. It started with the release of a kooky Tom Cruise Scientology video on a public video-sharing site. The “Church” of Scientology filed a copyright claim to take it down, whereupon the Internet responded en masse, with anti-Scientology crusaders congregating on sites like Digg, Slashdot, and 4chan much like the Laughing Man fans, devotees, and emulators did in Ghost in the Shell.
Things got really ugly for Scientology. Many of their secret documents were leaked online, along with full, unedited videos of Scientology conventions and the original Tom Cruise promotional piece that sparked the whole war. Meanwhile, the “Church” responded in kind with more lawsuit threats, take-down notices, and DMCA requests. Throughout all of this, the vast loosely affiliated group of anti-Scientologists spread across Digg, 4chan, other chans, and the like, began rallying under the name “Anonymous”.
“Anonymous” began releasing ironically-named propaganda pieces and unsettling videos of dark, imposing time-lapsed clouds serving as a back-drop to threats delivered in a scratchy synthesized voice. The haunting rhythmic mantra of Anonymous, used to close every subsequent video and propaganda piece, made its debut. Yet there was no central organizational structure responsible for any of this. All of the various prongs of the attack against Scientology — the videos, the leaks, the images and essays, the meatspace protests — came from disparate peoples rallying to the war cry of a single ideal. Heck, I even registered an Anonymous account on a BitTorrent tracker — what torrents I uploaded with it, I cannot reveal.
We are thus dealing with a true Stand Alone Complex, probably the first substantive one the net has ever seen. There was no original person who launched and organized this battle, but at the same time, it’s not accurate to call everyone who is participating in it mere copycats, because they are the entirety of it. This battle will continue raging for some time, and it’s about damn time. Scientology is truly dangerous like many other cults and religions, yet their litigious nature has effectively hamstringed the news media from covering these issues (except in Germany). So it makes sense that a fluid, faceless group should take root on the Internet to oppose them. After all, the threats of lawsuits only make sense if they can actually find you to sue you. Now you understand the meaning of “Anonymous”.
So keep a look-out on February 10, when something big is supposed to happen in this war against Scientology. I’ll be watching, perhaps even participating in a way that I alone decide is apt. And how could I not? We are Anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.
Update 2008-02-09: Anonymous’s war on Scientology is going very well, especially considering the disparity in sizes of the two participants.