Any viable society must be a compact
between those who lived, those who
live, and those yet to live.
John Perry Barlow: a Wyoming Giant
by Jim Davidson
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
"Faring thee well now.
Let your life proceed by its own design.
Nothing to tell now.
Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."
— Cassidy, lyrics by John Perry Barlow
John Perry Barlow was born near Cora, Wyoming and grew up on a 22,000 acre ranch. When he was 15 he attended the Mountain Valley School in Colorado where he met Bob Weir in 1962. Weir and he would go on to compose songs to Barlow's lyrics as part of the Grateful Dead experience.
In addition to his career as a lyricist for the Grateful Dead and his career as an essayist with an unpublished novel, Barlow spent 20 years (1971 to 1991) raising cattle on the Bar Cross Land and Livestock Company ranch where he grew up. He was a Westerner, more cattle than hat, and came by his frontier views from his personal background.
In 1990, he co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation with freedom activists John Gilmore and Mitch Kapor. One of the things that was happening at the time was a raid on Steve Jackson Games due to some serious confusion on the part of the United States Secret Service about the difference between role playing games (of the Generic Universal Role Playing System—GURPS—created by Steve Jackson) and reality. It seems that GURPS Cyberpunks was a zany project to teach credit card fraud to legions of criminal hackers, in the minds of some dizzyingly poorly informed Secret Service agents.
I happened to be on a panel with Steve Jackson at the Chicago World Science Fiction convention where he told parts of the story. If the topic interests you, check out Bruce Sterling's non-fiction book The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier. As part of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Barlow helped to promote the global conversation on the tedious stupidity of inept, bungling government scum working to impede freedom of speech. The EFF later sponsored the ground-breaking case Steve Jackson Games, Inc. v. United States Secret Service in support of Steve Jackson Games. Steve Jackson Games won the case in 1993.
In 1996, Barlow was invited to speak about his work for intellectual freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom to be intelligent to a middle school classroom at North Shore Country Day School, which was a highly influential event in the early life of student Aaron Swartz, as Swartz's father Robert recalls Aaron coming home that day as a changed person. Swartz would go on to develop RSS and Markdown format and have an important role promoting individual liberty against the text book cartel before his suicide in 2013.
Prior to his recent passing, Barlow appeared by video with Edward Snowden and with Julian Assange. A self-described anarchist, Barlow attended the festival Burning Man on many occasions. In 1996, he authored a declaration of independence for cyberspace. Among his many other writings he once wrote:
"Imagine discovering a continent so vast that it may have no end to its dimensions. Imagine a new world with more resources than all our future greed might exhaust, more opportunities than there will ever be entrepreneurs enough to exploit, and a peculiar kind of real estate that expands with development. Imagine a place where trespassers leave no footprints, where goods can be stolen infinite number of times and yet remain in the possession of their original owners, where business you never heard of can own the history of your personal affairs.’‘Imagine discovering a continent so vast that it may have no end to its dimensions. Imagine a new world with more resources than all our future greed might exhaust, more opportunities than there will ever be entrepreneurs enough to exploit, and a peculiar kind of real estate that expands with development. Imagine a place where trespassers leave no footprints, where goods can be stolen infinite number of times and yet remain in the possession of their original owners, where business you never heard of can own the history of your personal affairs." — 2003
John Perry Barlow passed away in his sleep at home on 7 February 2018.
Jim Davidson is an entrepreneur, freedom activist, author of four books, and story-teller. He is currently working on an open-source freedom community project in Ohio. He was recently asked to serve as chief technology officer for TravellersCash.org.
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