Cognitive Dissident: John Perry Barlow

Utne Visionary and Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow has
been part of every countercultural movement since the ?50s, from
beatnik to cyberpunk. In a wide-ranging interview with Tim Dickinson, the man who popularized
the term ?cyberspace? discusses the Total Information Awareness
project, online activism, file sharing, and the prospect of a
digital counterculture. Here are a few choice bits:

On the feasibility of preempting terrorism through data-mining,
as convicted Iran-Contra conspirator John Poindexter recently

?The thing that spooks me about the Total Information Awareness
program is that that it?s inside DARPA [the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency]. And unlike the CIA or the NSA, DARPA has
a great track record of actually going out and making big
technology happen?because they?re small, they?re light, they?re
anti-bureaucratic, they?re engineering minded. And Poindexter may
be a convicted felon but he?s a very, very smart guy. So while I?d
like to say there?s no way that this is going to happen under any
other circumstances, I?m less assured of that at the

On the prospect of a digital counterculture:

?I started out as a teenage beatnik and then became a hippie and
then became a cyberpunk. And now I?m still a member of the
counterculture, but I don?t know what to call that. And I?d been
inclined to think that that was a good thing, because once the
counterculture in America gets a name then the media can coopt it,
and the advertising industry can turn it into a marketing foil. But
you know, right now I?m not sure that it is a good thing, because
we don?t have any flag to rally around. Without a name there may be
no coherent movement.?

On being a pathological optimist:

?Somebody came up to me after a talk I gave recently in London,
and he said to me that there?s something entertaining about
watching a pathological optimist try to be pessimistic. [Laughs.]
And he had a point. I?m basically an optimistic person. And lately
I?ve been thinking a lot about groundless hope?which in some
respects may be the only kind there is. If your hope has good
reasons attached to it, then maybe it?s just a form of planning. I
think that election was a consequence of people becoming hopeless.
If people had hope they?d vote.?

?Leif Utne

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