"To seek out that which was lost..."

COMMENTS on A Cyberspace Declaration


Date: Tue, 13 Feb 1996
From: Jeffrey.Johnson@Eng (Jeff Johnson)
To: "Multiple recipients of list cpsr-nii@cpsr.org"
Subject: Comments on Barlow's Declaration

While I certainly agree with the sentiment expressed in John Perry Barlow's cyberspace declaration of independence, I think that the declaration commits serious errors, both strategic and tactical.

On the tactical side, he errs by arguing that cyberspace differs from the physical world, and that governments and laws from the physical world have no jurisdiction there. Though cyberspace is certainly different in many respects from previous means of communicating, the most important point we should be making is that those differences -- as great as they are -- are *irrelevant* to the question of what rights

and responsibilities exist there. We should be arguing that the same Bill of Rights that applies to all prior forms of communication has undiminished jurisdiction in cyberspace. Barlow himself made this very point in an article in a recent special (Scenarios) issue of Wired: he said that for all the techno-hype about cyberspace, it's still basically people talking to each other. So he should know better.

The declaration is also tactically wrong because it will surely raise the ire (and possibly vengeance) of people in Congress who resent the Internet precisely because they do not understand it. In a newspaper story I read last week about the signing into law of the Communications Decency Act, Senator Exon's aide on telecommunications matters was quoted as saying something like (I don't remember the exact quote) "These Internet people think they're somehow not subject to the same standards as everyone else." The aid is wrong, of course: what we want is for the *same* Bill of Rights that applies to everyone else to apply to our chosen form of communication. Barlow's declaration just adds fuel to this fellow's (f)ire.

More importantly, the declaration is *strategically* misguided because it perpetuates the idea, widespread among Internet users, that the main things wrong with the Telecommunications Act of 1996 are the decency and abortion restrictions. In fact, those restrictions are obvious flaws -- legislative aberations -- that will soon be declared unconstitutional and brushed aside. The rest of the bill -- unfortunately not an aberation but the result of the usual corporate domination of the legislative process -- will then remain, allowing massive corporate monopolization and shopping mall-ization of the online world as it expands to include more of the population, as well as the brushing away of valuable historical checks and balances such as the doctrine of common carriage, limits on control of media markets, restrictions on secondary use of information, considering the broadcast spectrum to be a public asset, etc. We've got to stop being so solipsistic, i.e., caught up in defending our own rights on the Internet, that we fail to defend the rights of everyone *else* to have a network that treats them as citizens instead of as consumers.

Jeff Johnson


Posted by Richard K. Moore - rkmoore@iol.ie - Wexford, Ireland
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These Are excellent points!

While there are flaws in the document... there are also some very valid points!! And as an expression of thought (which is the beauty of the net) and even poetry, I find it to be well done...

The disagreement I personally had was over the same "separation" issue. and the part where it said... " We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies."

Of course from a slightly different perspective... WE are convinced that to "give consent for others to Rule over your Body... is a TRANSGRESSION of the HIGHER LAW... specifically the first Commandment!

If we had not been Tresspassed against by our GOVERNMENT... on the Physical level... WE WOULD NOT NOW BE ENGAGED IN OUR PRESENT "Cyber" TROUBLE!!!

We would still BE FREE! TO LIVE... and to EXPRESS OURSELVES!!!!

IaHU-NaTaN iahu@efn.org


Subject: Invertebrata

Dear Mr. Barlow:

This is to express my disagreement with you on a number of points you made in your "virtual" harangue; the least of which being that reptiles ARE, in fact, vertebrates.

In regard to your "cry" over the Senate's enactment of the Telecommunications Reform Bill,

"I do hope this cry will echo across Cyberspace, changing and growing and self-replicating, until it becomes a great shout equal to the idiocy they have just inflicted upon us.";

it is. Equal in idiocy, that is.

You pay lip service to such great thinkers and warriors in the cause of liberty as Jefferson, Washington, and DeToqueville, and even have the temerity to compare yourself with the throwers of the Boston Tea Party, but your argument is manifestly little more than wind from a pinko's backside.

Thus you begin your "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace":

"Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel..."

--nothing but good old high school dialectical materialism--but wait--suddenly you go mystical on us with:

"Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live."


"Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are based on matter, There is no matter here.

Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion."

What the hell is "arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications." supposed to mean? Does it represent some meaningful concept you are trying to communicate, or is it rather, as I suspect, merely the striving after an "intellectual" effect? You say you are creating a world that is "both everywhere and nowhere, but is not where bodies live."
Are you not a living body? If so, what possible good can such a world be to you? Are you some kind of modern adept who has, for the first time in human history, achieved through the agency of "cyberspace" a state of disembodied spiritual Nirvana?

It becomes evident that all your high-flown affected prose is nothing more than a rehash of the time-worn statist anti-conceptual slogans which pass for political philosophy in contemporary society. What is disturbing about it is that it is a reflection of a pervasive disease which is manifestly epidemic on the Internet, and throughout all of American society, i.e., mass intellectual abnegation; a collective irrational flight from reality.

Thus you believe that while you are free to pursue the ninety-nine names of the sexual act through esoteric packet switching networks, those "obsolete industries", those "weary giants of flesh and steel" must somehow keep your grocery store shelves stocked, your gasoline pumps primed, your electrical circuits energized with power--even build and maintain the very communications networks upon which your "virtual world" depends. "The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish", you say. If you are able to snap out of your escapist reverie long enough to touch your computer's monitor, or cpu chassis, or rattle the keys of your keyboard, you will be confronted by the inescapable fact that these things are REAL. They are not made of "thought" or "data bits" or "information"--they are made of glass, organic polymers, and steel.
Furthermore, they were not conjured into existence by the the random wishes of disembodied irrational minds, nor as an "act of nature", nor did any one of them "grow itself through (your) collective actions", as you put it. No, the terrible truth is these things were manufactured by flesh and blood human beings in (brace yourself) a FACTORY!


You speak contemptuously of industrial products as being ignoble as e.g., pig iron, as though ideas by themselves have some greater intrinsic value.
Thus are revealed the errors in your epistemology: ideas alone are no more valuable than a pig of raw iron; perhaps even less so. It is only when the ideas of free, rational men are marshalled according to reality-based principles and directed toward the creation of something of value to human life that they become valuable. In this way a pig of iron is fired in the presence of coke and oxygen to produce steel, and that steel is then rolled into sheets which are then cut and formed into the chassis which contains the components of your computer. In a technology-based culture such as ours, the men who accomplish these things are called INDUSTRIALISTS, and the places where they do them are called FACTORIES.

Perhaps you are unaware of the six elements of industrial enterprise, the so-called "five Ms": Men, Money, Machines, Materials, & Management.
"Ideas" are obviously subsumed under the heading "Management", and the five
"Ms" under the single heading "Capital"; therefore ideas are nothing more than a form of capital. The industrialists who place capital at risk in order to create value are called CAPITALISTS. Capitalism depends not only upon the free exchange of ideas, but of the other four forms of capital as well. Herein lies the value of the Internet: now, on a scale much larger than has existed at any time in human history, individuals have the power to manage an abundant source of capital; information, for the sustenance and betterment of their lives. When every man is a capitalist, the governments which seek to rule the minds AND bodies of mankind by means of arbitrary, coercive force will necessarily fall, and we will have created a truly "humane and fair" civilization--one founded upon voluntary trade.

Where will this leave you? I will let your own words answer that question:

"We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies."

This is perhaps the most amazing of all your evasions. Can't you see that by giving (the government) your consent to rule over your body they also gain de facto control of your mind? Your "virtual" existence within the networks which comprise "cyberspace" is akin to that of a parasitical worm in the alimentary canal of a dying animal. Like any parasite, you are oblivious to the fact that the death of your host implies your own demise as well. By your evasion of the fact of the physical existence of the wires and relays and logic circuits that are the guts and blood of your cyber-world, you are blinded to the threat of physical intervention by hostile entities, i.e., government. A physical network of wires is vulnerable to the placement of "gatekeepers", just as a network of highways is vulnerable to the placement of roadblocks and checkpoints.

You seem to think that your call of your fellow cyber-denizens to your standard of protest (you haven't dared to use the word "revolution") represents something fresh and new on the Internet. I'm sorry to inform you that you are rather late to the ball; while you and your ilk have been revelling in your freedom to rot your minds on prurient material online, a quiet revolution has been going on for several years now. Those of us who do not merely pay lip service to the concept of liberty, but are committed to living it, have been creating a true "civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace." We are creating our own free-market money system using digital authentication to clear transactions. We are using digital encryption to create secure channels, where government cannot get in to despoil, steal or destroy, by which means value may be exchanged. We are using spread-spectrum radio broadcasting technology to create a wireless communications network where every computer will be a unique entity, directly addressable by any other, and cannot be monitored, jammed, or interfered with in any way by any hostile force.

So you see, we do not oppose the Telecommunications Act; we don't need to. It is a last desperate act of a dying statist regime, akin to enacting legislation and setting up enforcement apparatus against the coming of spring; it is an irrational act which flies in the face of reality, and is, therefore null and void from the moment of its enactment. It deserves nothing more (or less) than our raucous belly-laughter.

The same goes for your mindless, ineffectual, futile "protests." Let me tell you a secret: the government you affect to oppose, LOVES your protests. Why? They are the reassurance they crave that you will take no effective action to oppose them. Such silly, childish, symbolic gestures as turning web pages black or your little blue ribbon images are proof to them that your protests are nothing more than the impotent tantrums of frustrated children, and therefore they have nothing to fear from you. And as icing on the cake, in your e-mail-broadcast diatribe, you spout a replay of their own anti-conceptual, anti-capitalist, anti-life propaganda! I can almost hear the guffaws of laughter emanating from the White House--they must be slapping one-another on the back there and on the Hill, congratulating themselves on their great victory over their philosophically unarmed adversaries.

These words of mine have not been very sparing of your feelings, and doubtless you are thinking it is a strange way for me to try to convince you of the rightness of my position. But I have no desire to convince you--if you still have the courage to use what may be left of your mind, you will grasp the reality of what I have said, and embrace it without the need of convincing. If not, you will undoubtedly perish along with the government to which you are enserfed. I leave it up to you.

As for me, and those aligned with me; we demand nothing of any man or any government except this:

"Laissez-nous faire!"--leave us alone!

--Jennifer Abelle