John Perry Barlow is an American icon, a true patriot, and a believer in privacy and personal rights. I always enjoy his take on current affairs I think you will too. Here’s one of his newsletters.
———> B a R L o W F R i e N D Z —–>
<A continuing series of occasional outbursts to about 1172 of my
dearest friends. Please let me know if you’d rather not receive it.
But you’ll miss some great parties…
I do try to keep this list to actual friends – I mean folks who might
bail me out of jail. Some of what I report here is too personal to
be of general interest. Nevertheless, please feel free to post or
forward anything you think merits wider distribution.
Finally, if this broadcast feels impersonal, I hope you will remember
that individual responses generally elicit personal replies. And even
if I’m sometimes too swamped to write back, I delight in hearing from
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1. Sputter, Mutter, Howl…
2. Could They Possibly Be Right?
4. Gilberto Gil and Brazil.
———————->> ——————–>>>> ——>
THE SILENCE OF THE SPAMS
Once again, I’m starting to get messages from you BarlowFriendz
inquiring into the state of my health or wondering if you’ve been
dropped from the list. It’s strangely heartening, your assumption
that if I’m not spamming at you, there must be something wrong.
Your concerns appear to have been sharpened by contemporary events.
I’ve read so far about ten different versions of the following: "Why
are you being so quiet? Surely you have something to say about what’s
going on at the moment..?"
Well, actually, no. Not exactly. I’ve been in outrage overload for
weeks. I’m finding it hard to express myself these days with anything
more articulate than gesticulations and sputterings. Lately I’ve been
mute as Congress.
(Actually, not everyone in Congress has lost his voice. Senator
Robert Byrd recently gave a speech too historic to earn notice in any
mass medium but which has been so widely circulated on the Internet
that I’ll spare you the receipt of yet another copy. If you haven’t
read it, you may find it at:
It contains this utterly true line: "I truly must question the
judgment of any President who can say that a massive unprovoked
military attack on a nation which is over 50% children is ‘in the
highest moral traditions of our country’".)
Of course one wonders what purpose might be served by saying anything.
An estimated eleven million people marched all over the planet this
weekend. (Check them out http://www.hyperreal.org/~dana/.) While this
out-pouring, unprecedented in the history of civilization, managed
for the first time to draw acknowledgements from Bush and Blair, they
were dismissive at best. (Blair elevated non sequitur to surreal art
form when he said that the million plus protestors in London were
fewer in number than people killed over the years by Saddam Hussein.)
I have been dumb-struck by the Administration’s sublime arrogance,
their mythic hubris, their utterly un-entitled entitlement. What
could I say that might detail their brutal expedience more boldly
than their own actions? Mouth open, jawing thin air, eyes wide and
staring, I’ve kept quiet.
Meanwhile, under conditions of "Orange" Alert, our streets now
contain more machine gun-toting heavies per capita than I ever saw in
East Germany, the wildly arbitrary TSA is randomly searching cars
without probable cause as they enter airports, the Justice Department
is introducing an even more unconstitutional addendum to the USA
PATRIOT Act, and the predictions I made to you on the afternoon of
September 11, 2001 are being realized more dreadfully than even I
believed they could be.
Still. It is morally useful to remember that, no matter how certain,
one might be wrong. If I am to condemn the Emperor’s smug certitude,
I must be mindful of my own. Thus, I’ve been attempting, in the back
of my mind, to make a case for the Administration’s behavior.
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL
I remember a time years ago when I was as convinced that Dick Cheney
was obscenely wrong about something I am now. Subsequent events
raised the possibility that he might not have been so wrong after all.
With this in mind, I’ve given some thought lately to how all this
might look to the Vice President (who is, I remain convinced, as much
the real architect of American policy as he was while Gerald Ford’s
Chief of Staff or George the First’s Secretary of Defense).
As I’ve mentioned, I once knew Cheney pretty well. I helped him get
elected to his first public office as Wyoming’s lone congressman. I
conspired with him on the right side of environmental issues. Working
closely together, we were instrumental in closing down a copper
smelter in Douglas, Arizona the grandfathered effluents of which were
causing acid rain in Wyoming’s Wind River mountains. We were densely
interactive allies in creating the Wyoming Wilderness Act. He used to
go fishing on my ranch. We were friends.
With the possible exception of Bill Gates, Dick Cheney is the
smartest man I’ve ever met. If you get into a dispute with him, he
will take you on a devastatingly brief tour all the weak points in
your argument. But he is a careful listener and not at all the
ideologue he appears at this distance. I believe he is personally
indifferent to greed. In the final analysis, this may simply be about
oil, but I doubt that Dick sees it that way. I am relatively certain
that he is acting in the service of principles to which he has
devoted megawatts of a kind of thought that is unimpeded by sentiment
or other emotional overhead.
Here is the problem I think Dick Cheney is trying to address at the
moment: How does one assure global stability in a world where there
is only one strong power? This is a question that his opposition,
myself included, has not asked out loud. It’s not an easy question to
answer, but neither is it a question to ignore.
Historically, there have only been two methods by which nations have
prevented the catastrophic conflict which seems to be their deepest
The more common of these has been symmetrical balance of power. This
is what kept another world war from breaking out between 1945 and
1990. The Cold War was the ultimate Mexican stand-off, and though
many died around its hot edges – in Viet Nam, Korea, and countless
more obscure venues – it was a comparatively peaceful period.
Certainly, the global body count was much lower in the second half of
the Twentieth Century than it was in the first half. Unthinkable
calamity threatened throughout, but it did not occur.
The other means by which long terms of peace – or, more accurately,
non-war – have been achieved is the unequivocal domination by a
single ruthless power. The best example of this is, of course, the
Pax Romana, a "world" peace which lasted from about 27 BCE until 180
AD. I grant that the Romans were not the most benign of rulers. They
crucified dissidents for decoration, fed lesser humans to their pets,
and generally scared the bejesus out of everyone, including Jesus
Himself. But war, of the sort that racked the Greeks, Persians,
Babylonians, and indeed, just about everyone prior to Julius Caesar,
did not occur. The Romans had decided it was bad for business. They
were in a military position to make that opinion stick.
(There was a minority view of the Pax Romanum, well stated at its
height by Tacitus: "To plunder, to slaughter, to steal, these things
they misname empire; and where they make a wilderness, they call it
peace." It would be well to keep that admonition in mind now.)
There are other, more benign, examples of lengthily imposed peace.
One could argue that the near absence of major international wars in
the Western Hemisphere results from the overwhelming presence of the
United States which, while hardly a dream neighbor, has at least
stopped most of the New World wars that it didn’t start. The Ottoman
Empire had a pretty good run, about 700 years, after drawing its
borders in blood. The Pharoahs kept the peace, at least along the
Nile, for over 2800 years until Alexander the Great showed up.
If one takes the view that war is worse than tyranny and that the
latter doesn’t necessarily beget the former, there is a case to be
made for global despotism. That case is unfortunately stronger, in
the light of history, than the proposition that nations will coexist
peacefully if we all try really, really hard to be nice to each other.
It is certainly unlikely at the moment that geopolitical stability
can be achieved by the formation of some new detente like the one
that terrified us into peace during the Cold War. Europe, old and
new, is furious with the United States at the moment (if my
unscientific polls while there in January are at all accurate), but
they are a very long way from confronting us with any military threat
we’d find credible.
I’m pretty sure that, soon enough, hatred of our Great Satanic selves
will provide the Islamic World with a unity they have lacked since
the Prophet’s son-in-law twisted off and started Shi’ism. But beyond
their demonstrated capacity to turn us into a nation of chickenshits
and control freaks, I can’t imagine them erecting a pacifying balance
force against our appalling might.
I believe that Dick Cheney has thought all these considerations
through in vastly greater detail than I’m providing here and has
reached these following conclusions: first, that it is in the best
interests of humanity that the United States impose a fearful peace
upon the world and, second, that the best way to begin that epoch
would be to establish dominion over the Middle East through the
American Protectorate of Iraq. In other words, it’s not about oil,
it’s about power and peace.
Well, alright. It is about oil, I guess, but only in the sense that
the primary goal of the American Peace is to guarantee the Global
Corporations reliable access to *all* natural resources. wherever
they may lie. The multinationals are Cheney’s real constituents,
regardless of their stock in trade or their putative country of
origin. He knows, as the Romans did, that war is bad for business.
But what’s more important is that he also knows that business is bad
for war. He knows, for example, there there has never been a war
between two countries that harbored McDonald’s franchises.
I actually think it’s possible that, however counter-intuitive and
risky his methods for getting it, what Dick Cheney really wants is
peace. Though much has been made of his connection to Halliburton and
the rest of the Ol Bidness, he is not acting in the service of
personal greed. He is a man of principle. He is acting in the service
of intentions that are to him as noble as mine are to me – and not
How can this be? Return with me now to the last time I was convinced
he was insanely endangering life on earth. This was back in the early
1983 when Dick Cheney was, at least by appearances, a mere
congressman. He was also Congressional point man for the deployment
of the MX missile system in our mutual home state of Wyoming. (The MX
was also called the "Peacemaker," a moniker I took at the time to be
the darkest of ironies.)
The MX was, and indeed still is, a Very Scary Thing. A single MX
missile could hit each of 10 different targets, hundreds of miles
apart, with about 600 kilotons of explosive force. For purposes of
comparison, Hiroshima was flattened by a 17 kiloton nuclear blast.
Thus, each of the MX’s warheads could glaze over an area 35 times
larger than the original Ground Zero. Furthermore, 100 MX missiles
were to lie beneath the Wyoming plains, Doomsday on the Range.
Any one of the 6000 MX warheads would probably incinerate just about
every living thing in Moscow. But Cheney’s plan – cooked up with
Brent Scowcroft, Don Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, and other familiar
suspects – was not about targeting cities, as had been the accepted
practice of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). The MX was to be
aimed instead at the other side’s missile emplacements.
The problem with this "counter-force strategy, " as it was called,
was that it was essentially a first-strike policy. The MX was to be
placed in highly vulnerable Minuteman silos. In the event of a Soviet
first strike, all of the Peacemakers would have been easily wiped
out. Thus, they were either to be launched preemptively or they were
set to "launch on warning." The MX was to be either an offensive
weapon or the automated hair-trigger was to be pulled on all hundred
of them within a very few minutes after the first Soviet missile
broke our radar horizon .
In either case, the logic behind it appeared to call for fighting and
winning a nuclear war. Meanwhile, President Reagan was bellowing
about "the Evil Empire" and issuing many statements that seemed to
consider Armageddon a plausible option.
I spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill during the winter of ’81-’82. I
lobbied over a hundred Congressmen and Senators against a policy that
seemed to me the craziest thing that human beings had ever proposed.
The only member of Congress who knew more about it than I did was
Veteran Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory accompanied me on one
of my futile visits to his office, where she spent better than an
hour listening to us argue about "circular errors probable" and "MIRV
decoys" and the other niceties of nuclear nightmare. When we were
leaving, she, who had seen a lot of politicians in her long day,
turned to me and said, "I think your guy Cheney is the most dangerous
person I’ve ever seen up here." At that point, I agreed with her.
What I was not thinking about, however, was the technique I once used
to avoid being run off the road by Mexican bus drivers, back when
their roads were narrower and their bus drivers even more macho.
Whenever I saw a bus barrelling down the centerline at me, I would
start driving unpredictably, weaving from shoulder to shoulder as
though muy borracho. As soon as I started to radiate dangerously low
regard for my own preservation, the bus would slow down and move over.
As it turned out, this is more or less what Cheney and his phalanx of
Big Stategic Thinkers were doing, if one imagined the Soviet Union as
a speeding Mexican bus. They were determined to project such a vision
of implacable, irrational, lethality that the Soviet leaders would
decide to capitulate rather than risk universal annihilation.
It worked. While I think that rock ‘n’ roll and the systemic failures
of central planning had as much to do with the collapse of communism
as did Dick’s mad gamble, I have to confess that, by 1990, he didn’t
look quite so nuts to me after all. The MX, along with Star Wars and
Reagan’s terrifying rhetoric, had been all along a weapon for waging
psychological rather than nuclear warfare.
I’m starting to wonder if were aren’t watching something like the
same strategy again. In other words, it’s possible Cheney and company
are actually bluffing.This time, instead of trying to terrify the
Soviets into collapse, the objective is even grander. If I’m right
about this, they have two goals. Neither involves actual war, any
more than the MX missile did.
First, they seek to scare Saddam Hussein into voluntarily turning his
country over to the U.S. and choosing safe exile or, failing that,
they want to convince the Iraqi people that it’s safer to attempt his
overthrow or assassination than to endure an invasion by American
Second, they are trying to convince every other nation on the planet
that the United States is the Mother of All Rogue States, run by mad
thugs in possession of 15,000 nuclear warheads they are willing to
use and spending, as they already are, more on death-making capacity
than all the other countries on the planet combined. In other words,
they want the rest of the world to think that we are the ultimate
weaving driver. Not to be trusted, but certainly not to be messed
By these terrible means, they will create a world where war conducted
by any country but the United States will seem simply too risky and
the Great American Peace will begin. Unregulated Global Corporatism
will be the only permissible ideology, every human will have access
to McDonald’s and the Home Shopping Network, all "news" will come
through some variant of AOLTimeWarnerCNN, the Internet will be run by
Microsoft, and so it will remain for a long time. Peace. On Prozac.
If I were in charge, this is neither the flavor of peace I would
prefer nor the way I would achieve it. But if I’d been in charge back
in 1983, there might still be a Soviet Union and we might all still
be waiting for the world to end in fifteen nuclear minutes.
Of course, I could be completely wrong about this. Maybe they
actually are possessed of a madness to which there is no method.
Maybe they really do intend to invade Iraq and for no more noble
reason than giving American SUVs another 50 years of cheap gas.
We’ll probably know which it’s going to be sometime in the next
By then, I expect to be dancing in Brazil, far from this heart of
darkness and closer to the heart itself.
————————–>>>>>——————————- -> ->
MINISTER GIL AND SWEET BRAZIL
For the the last year or so, I’ve felt a growing intuition that
Brazil was beckoning me. Of course, in some senses, Brazil is always
calling to those who love music, dance, the sensual pleasures, and
open-heartedness. But this seemed more directed than that. With
increasing frequency, I found myself meeting Brazilians who became
immediately significant players in my life. It cropped up in my
By last fall, I had decided that it was about time for me to return
to Brazil, and I started looking for a pretext, since I rarely go
anywhere these days without what appears to be a reason and.
generally, an airline ticket that someone else has paid for. By New
Year’s, my inner voices were muttering so much soft Portuguese that I
had about concluded that that I would be forced to go there simply
because I wanted to, and on my own dime at that.
Then, in early January, I got a phone call from my old friend Julian
Dibbell who wanted to know if I would be willing to meet with the
newly appointed Brazilian Minister of Culture. I was headed to Cannes
the following week to speak at a music industry conference called
Midem. (This is truly the Trade Show of the Living Dead, but never
Apparently, the Minister, a musician and political hero named
Gilberto Gil, had read some of my writings on the economics of
expression, had seen that I was going to be at Midem, where he was
also appearing, and wanted to know if we could get together and talk.
I am now embarrassed to confess that, when Julian called me, I knew
next to nothing about this remarkable man or his remarkable work or
his remarkable life. Still, he was from Brazil, to which I’m
favorably disposed, and he was an official to the new Lula
government, to which I’m also favorably disposed. I told Julian I
would be happy to talk with him.
A few days later I found myself sitting in the bar of the Hotel
Majestic in Cannes, surrounded by a Fear-and-Loathing welter of music
biz bottom-feeders, looking for the arrival of an official entourage.
When Gil did appear, he was immediately obvious, but not because he
came in force. In fact, the most notable thing about him at first was
that he seemed like the least self-important person in the room.
That, and a kind of light…
A slight black man with short dreads, he arrived alone and dressed in
casual hip. I had not seen a picture of him, but I felt like I knew
him at once. Indeed, I felt like I had always known him. If Gilberto
Gil were a woman, I would say it was love at first sight.
We talked for about an hour and half, rarely losing eye contact. He
seemed to me a vastly improved version of myself, a sort of black,
Brazilian Barlow, more talented, wise, and accomplished, but saddled
with none of my vices.
We found that we agreed in great and simple completeness on a number
of important matters. We agree that music – indeed, all of human
creation – is an ecosystem that deserves more thoughtful stewardship
than it’s getting. We admire the works of Frank Zappa, Andre
Malreaux, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, and Teilhard de Chardin (among
many, more obscure, others). We believe there is One Love. We believe
that fear is the only problem. We think that the economics of
creativity may be very different from the economics of manufacturing.
We believe that there is a great conflict underway between large
institutions, most notably corporations, and human beings. We believe
that the moment has come round when the human beings must find ways
to influence the behavior of these global creatures so they serve
human rather than institutional objectives. We believe that, just as
the United States has become the capital of Leviathan, so might
Brazil become the capital of that which is simple and human.
We believe that there is more reason for optimism than ever. We
believe, along with Emerson, that, when it gets dark like this, it’s
easier to see the stars.
We believe in common many things, including a few I’m not sure I’ve
ever discussed with anyone. We were both interested in extending the
conversation. He wanted to know when I could come to Brazil and I
told him I’d work on clearing out my calendar in March.
Gil has led an astonishing life. I love his music, now that I’m
becoming familiar with it, and has formed it out of of a huge stew of
musical forms and traditions. In Brazil, I now learn, he is the Pele
of song. He has created music with a broad variety of folks, ranging
from Jimmy Cliff to the Incredible String Band.
He has also been a notable dissident and political activist. Along
with his best friend, Caetano Veloso (also a song-writing superstar),
he was imprisoned and exiled by the Generals during the late 60’s. He
has been tireless in his defense of the downtrodden but is not a
conventional leftist, any more than I am.
Gil is a deeply spiritual guy, though not apparently religious in the
usual sense. He is an intellectual without the post-Modern rhetorical
garbage that has has made the learned discourse of our generation so
wearisome. He is Marx without Lenin. (Or maybe with Lennon.) He is
Gandhi with a guitar. He is a very cool dude.
Given all this, I was delighted indeed when I got an invitation a
couple of weeks ago to come to Brazil and spend ten days around
Carnival traveling around the country with Gil and the former French
Minister of Culture Jack Lang, himself a pretty interesting fellow.
I can’t think of a better way to get myself out of this winter of our
discontent, and I’m now in New York trying to horse myself together
for what could be a fairly lengthy summer tour. My return ticket is
for March 13, but I don’t really have to be back in the United States
until the latter part of March.
I feel like I’m diving off into the next phase of my life. I’m
jazzed, I’m grateful, and I’m a little apprehensive.
I expect you’ll hear more from me as this adventure unfolds.
Light and Hope,
John Perry Barlow, Cognitive Dissident
Co-Founder & Vice Chairman, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Berkman Fellow, Harvard Law School
Home(stead) Page: http://www.eff.org/~barlow
Call me anywhere, anytime: 800/654-4322
Fax me anywhere, anytime: 603/215-1529
Current Cell Phone: 917/863-2037 (AT&T)
Alternative (Inactive) Cell Phone: 646/286-8176 (GSM)
Barlow in Meatspace Now: New York City (Until 2/24) 212/965-1991
(Provisional) Trajectory from Here: Rio de Janeiro (2/24-26) ->
Salvador de Bahia (2/26-3/1) -> Recife (3/1-2) -> Salvador (3/2-3) ->
Rio de Janeiro (3/3-4) -> Salvador (3/4-7) -> Sao Paulo (3/7-8) ->
Salvador (3/8-?) -> Brazil… -> New York City (3/19-25) -> San
Francisco (3/25-26) -> San Jose (3/27-28) -> Orlando (3/29-31) …
Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism as it is a merge of
state and corporate power.
— Benito Mussolini
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