Flight of the Seabird
Remembering John Perry Barlow: Barlow in conversation with Edward Snowden; Barlow's "adult principles" for living; and more.
John Perry Barlow speaking at Personal Democracy Forum. Photo by Esty Stein.
John Perry Barlow, founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, author of “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” bon vivant extraordinaire, Grateful Dead lyricist, alternative energy entrepreneur, and a friend to many of us, passed away yesterday morning.
Barlow spoke many times at Personal Democracy Forum, perhaps most memorably in dialogue with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden back in June 2014. And while they wrestled with serious topics like mass surveillance and the limits of state power, Barlow also knew how to crack wise. When Snowden pointed out, “Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should,” Barlow responded, “I’m afraid we’ve descended to this point. But why do animals lick their genitals? Because they can. Why do governments do this? Because they can’t lick their own.” (Snowden quipped: “They’re licking ours and taking pictures.”)
Barlow was always thinking ahead. At PDF 2010, he predicted that centralized mega-states were inevitably going to decline. “There is too much stuff going into Washington for it to handle. We’re going to be going back to the city-state,” he predicted. “We can no longer run this country from the center. We need to run it, just as the Internet is run, from the edges.”
Reflecting on the rise of WikiLeaks at a forum we did on online civil disobedience in 2011, Barlow also recognized how national boundaries were becoming more porous. But instead of calling for building walls, he urged a strengthening of values. “National laws are a set of “local ordinances in cyberspace,” he noted. “In the absence of law, ethics and responsibility is what you have to have.”
If you have never listened to Barlow describe how he met and then lost the love of his life, set aside some time for this segment from This American Life. And have some tissues nearby.
Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which Barlow helped found, tweets that he had put the finishing touches on his autobiography in recent weeks.
Here is a list of “adult principles,” written by Barlow when he was 30. He gave us, his tribe, a charge, speaking at PDF at 2010: “You folks, in this room, have the capacity to be the greatest ancestors anybody has ever had.” Barlow lived that truth. RIP and fare thee well.