Barlow (that’s what most of his friends called him) flaunted his complexity. He advertised himself as a Republican Deadhead, as a cowboy hacker, a spiritual rationalist, a womanizing feminist, a technological hippy. He had a remarkable gift of conforming himself to the contours of whomever he was arguing with, so both sides could violently agree and civilly disagree. His full embrace of his own cognitive dissonance allowed him to craft outrageous statements and manifestos that he truly believed to be true and also knew were wholly fictional.
It’s been less than a week since the death of EFF co-founder, cowboy poet, Grateful Dead lyricist and Mayor of the Internet John Perry Barlow died, and he’s already sorely missed. But Barlow was an open access advocate before that was a thing, and the archive of his work at the Internet Archive is full of what Bruce Sterling calls “a lot of weird, flaky, broke-the-mold stuff.”
Image by the European Graduate School, via Wikimedia Commons
The most successful outlaws live by a code, and in many ways John Perry Barlow, founder of the Electronic Freedom Foundation, Wyoming rancher, and erstwhile songwriter for the Grateful Dead—who died on Wednesday at the age of 70—was an archetypal American outlaw all of his life. He might have worn a white hat, so to speak, but he had no use for the government telling him what to do. And his charismatic defense of unfettered internet liberty inspired a new generation of hackers and activists, including a 12-year-old Aaron Swartz, who saw Barlow speak at his middle school and left the classroom changed.
2. Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him.
3. Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
4. Expand your sense of the possible.
5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
6. Expect no more of anyone than you can deliver yourself.
7. Tolerate ambiguity.
8. Laugh at yourself frequently.
9. Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.
10. Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
11. Give up blood sports.
12. Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously.
13. Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)
14. Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
15. Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.
16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.
17. Praise at least as often as you disparage.
18. Admit your errors freely and soon.
19. Become less suspicious of joy.
20. Understand humility.
21. Remember that love forgives everything.
22. Foster dignity.
23. Live memorably.
24. Love yourself.
It was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, of all places, where John Perry Barlow wrote “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” in 1996. That might have been an odd place for a poet and former Grateful Dead lyricist to pen a foundational document of internet activism, but it was also an apt one: Barlow’s manifesto, and the movement it undergirds, helped give us the dynamic—but also often deleteriously corporatized—internet we have today.
With a broken heart I have to announce that EFF’s founder, visionary, and our ongoing inspiration, John Perry Barlow, passed away quietly in his sleep this morning. We will miss Barlow and his wisdom for decades to come, and he will always be an
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