Saturday, February 17, 2018

Jack In, Young Pioneer!

Keynote Essay for the 1994 Computerworld College Edition
by John Perry Barlow

I'm entering these characters aboard the M.V. Matanuska, an Alaskan ferry headed up the Inside Passage, south of Juneau. The fog is so dense that the bow is not visible from the bridge. Morning sunlight pouring in from the top of it illuminates the whole into a blazing haze of featureless glory and peril. The Future.

Almost exactly a century ago, such fog banks were stuffed with stampeders of the last great gold rush on this continent. The flood of raw hopefuls who headed to the Yukon in 1898 were nearly the last Americans to heed the advice of the great newspaper publisher and windbag Horace Greeley, who proclaimed what was probably the motto of the 19th Century when he exhorted: "Go west, young man!"

By that time, the Yukon and Alaska were about as far west as they could go. Already every other North American frontier had been scribbled over with the graffiti of civilization.

Only a few years before, in 1875, my own family...a restless gene which had been farming recently cleared ground since the 1600's...moved into the upper reaches of the Green River Basin of Wyoming and thus deflowered the only frontier available to them without doing something as crazy as heading for the Arctic. There they came to a bewildered halt.

So I grew up resenting that the noble, essentially human, act of plunging off into unassayed wilderness, driven by nothing more rational than vague dissatisfaction and aspiration, would not be mine to undertake. It was the critical part of my inheritance which my forbears had spent.

It turns out I was not quite right about that. Today another frontier yawns before us, far more fog-obscured and inscrutable in its opportunities than the Yukon. It consists not of unmapped physical space in which to assert one's ambitious body, but unmappable, infinitely expansible cerebral space. Cyberspace. And we are all going there whether we want to or not.

We must seek our future in the virtual world because there is no economic room left in the physical one. Not only has all the good farmland been homesteaded long since, but nearly all the work one might do with his or her hands is now being done either by machines or by people from parts of the world where what's considered a living wage is a lot less than you'd likely accept.

So the engines of history have other plans for us. Save a few Amish and survivalists, we have all been swallowed by the cultural superorganism of digital technology, a beast now well beyond anyone's control, and it is slouching off to Cyberspace with us in its belly. Since it's inevitable, I would suggest we make peace with our fate, rather as though we were Jonah setting up a permanent settlement inside the whale.

I did try my personal best to resist conscription as a Knowledge Worker. I spent 17 years running the family ranch in Wyoming before I came to this. I fed cattle every winter morning from a hay sled drawn by four Belgian workhorses. I lived horseback, without lawyers or locks. I made my living from things I could touch, and far too usually smell, very much a creature of the physical world.

But I was as culturally doomed as the Tasaday of New Guinea. Technology had so empowered my competitors with fertilizer, growth hormones, and computerized futures hedging programs, that only a few of us were necessary to feed those remaining Americans who still eat beef. Such atavistic practices as mine were like stone axes against smart bombs.

Yanked from the 19th Century, I found myself, like you, tossed unceremoniously onto the doorstep of the 21st.

So here we are, plunging through the fog, unsure of where we're headed but making excellent time. While I may have serious doubts about being forced to emigrate to a place where I can't even bring my body, I can no longer complain about belonging to the first generation in the recorded history of my family to be done out of a frontier to fling itself into.

This frontier, the Virtual World, offers opportunities and perils like no other before it. Entering it, we are engaging what will likely prove the most transforming technological event since the capture of fire. I have a terrible feeling that your children, by the time they are my age, would be barely recognizable to me as human, so permanently jacked in to The Great Mind will they be.

I could be wrong about this, of course. Sweeping predictions about the future have a way of turning their authors into fools after a few decades. Our envisioned trajectories usually turn out to be a lot more fractal than plotted. The Big Events are never seen in advance.

A few days ago, I passed through Seattle, a place I first visited on the occasion of the 1961 Seattle World's Fair, which also called itself the Century 21 Expo. The Fair was filled with depictions of Seattle at the Millennium, a place where the Space Needle would be more the architectural norm than the quaint artifact it seems today.  The chief feature of these projections was a glistening transportation web from Vancouver to Portland around which the citizens would be whisked in 200 mph automatic pods. The only prediction of these which came true was that the Burbs would metastasize the full circumference of Puget Sound.

Absolutely nobody predicted the extent to which little beige bit-spitting boxes would become the substrate of civilization in the 90's.  Certainly no one foresaw that the mysterious stuff which lived in those boxes and made them spit their bits would become the economic staple of SeattlePlex. And, even in an event which  Bill Gates' prominent Seattle parents surely must have taken a hand in, no one came close to predicting such a thing as Bill Gates.

So, although we should be humble in our projections, and while the present moment is probably weirder than any previous, there are a few things which we can learn from previous frontier settlement.

At the moment it seems that the most important of these is that government will come. Such combinations of unpredictability, massive change, peril, and opportunity as are found on any frontier are to government like blood to a great white shark. This is because government lives in part to diminish unpredictability. The kind of economic free-for-all which smells like opportunity to the freebooter represents another kind of opportunity for the bureaucrat. And over the long run, it has traditionally been the bureaucrat who prevailed.

Thus, if one goes to the Yukon today, he finds very few gold miners (or, for that matter, entrepreneurs of any sort). About seventy percent of the people who are in that economically stagnant region work for some form of government. Most of them are the spiritual descendents of Sgt. Preston, whose real-life Mounty counterparts were dispatched into the economic wilds of Dawson and Skagway to impose social decency on the stampeders.

There is a cycle of frontier inhabitation which has usually gone like this: Misfits and dreamers, rejected by or rejecting society, are pushed out into the margins. There they set up camp and maintain what little order they want in it by unwritten codes, the honor of thieves, the Code of the West.

Despite their usual haplessness, they discover resources and start exploiting them. Burghers and boosters back in the civilized regions hear of these discoveries. Settlers, a milder sort, come in with their women and children and are repelled by the savagery and license of their predecessors, whether mountain men, prospectors, or Indians. They send for troops to secure the frontier for the Rotary Club and the PTA. They elect representatives, pass laws, and, pretty soon, they've created another place which is boring but which at least appears predictable.

Already we can find the usual Christian soldiers massing at the borders of Cyberspace. Whether their instruments of entry are the FBI's Digital Telephony proposal (which proposes to hard-wire the Net for automated surveillance) or the NSA's Clipper Chip (which would allow you to lock your digital door, but only if the government kept a key) or well-meaning legislative efforts ensure equal access to the Net, or increasingly punitive props in the collapsing structure of copyright law, or pure, blue-nosed priggishness, the government is preparing to place this new frontier under the rule of law. Whether the pioneers already there want it or not.

There are, however, some critical differences between this frontier and its predecessors. For one thing, while there was no question that the government in Ottawa had legitimate jurisdiction over the Yukon, the same could not be said of the relationship between Washington and Cyberspace.

Cyberspace, being a region of mind rather than geography, is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. There are no national borders. The only boundaries which are significant are those which one crosses by entering a password. The location of those systems is irrelevant.

What difference does it make that the actual whereabouts of a hard disk is, say, California, when one may as easily actuate its heads from a keyboard in Berlin as from the desk it sits on? The Internet is essentially one great machine (or, better, organism) all elements of which are continuous if wide-flung.

Nevertheless, the American government maintains the conceit that someone moving encryption software from a hard disk in California region of that great digital Critter to another in the Berlin region would be engaged in the illegal international shipment of embargoed arms.

Or take the case of a Cupertino, California couple who were recently convicted on federal charges of distributing materials deemed pornographic according to the community standards of Memphis, Tennessee.

In both of these case, a local government is trying to apply its ordinances upon all of Cyberspace, and thus the entire planet. This might work for a time. Because of the American origins of the Internet, Cyberspace seems "ours," rather as Panama once did. This won't last long. As increasing numbers of non-Americans jack in, even such little willingness to submit to Washington as now exists will cease.

And it's unlikely that any new external power will arise in Washington's place. The Internet was designed to survive nuclear ordnance raining down all over it. This required that it be headless and self-organizing. It is thereby as resistant to Washington's efforts to control it as it would have been to Soviet efforts to decapitate it. It is the largest functional anarchy the world has ever known and is likely to stay that way.

Thus, the electronic frontier also differs from its predecessors in that setting up reservations is not likely to suffice for corralling the natives. As digital pioneer John Gilmore said, "The Internet deals with censorship as though it were a malfunction. It routes around it."Furthermore, unreal estate is unlimited. Unlike land, they are making more of this stuff. If you don't like the politics of the system you're on, you can set up your own for the price of a clone and increasingly cheap Internet connection.

There is, in addition, an irresolvable mismatch between the accelerating pace of technology and the changes it will enact upon the terrain of Cyberspace and the geological ponderousness with which the conventional legal structure of any jurisdiction, physical or virtual, can adapt to those changes.

Unfortunately, while governments have been good at imposing limitations, they show little capacity for accepting their own. Personally, I don't believe that government as we've known it as a promising future. I think the terrestrial powers will pursue us into Cyberspace and die of confusion there, thrashing  arbitrarily and crushing miscellaneous unfortunates as they do. Like rabid dinosaurs, the fact that they're doomed will not make them any less dangerous.

And while I have some faith that the netizens will eventually find appropriate and effective means for securing as much order as they want, I also expect that various sorts of bad craziness will afflict them for some time to come. Skagway, 1900 might look like a nice place to raise a family compared to Cyberspace, 2000.

It is because of these twin co-evolving perilous opportunities that Mitch Kapor and I founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation back in 1994. At the time, we perceived our narrow purpose as being the protection of digital expression and the enhancement of digital community.

Now EFF's expanding charter extends to resisting the last ditch efforts of the old Industrial Age powers to colonize and subdue Cyberspace, while helping the folks who pass much of their lives there to find practical means for ordering their own affairs. I hope you will join that effort, either with us or by independently struggling toward your own approaches to these problems.

And don't be dismayed. Jack in. Go to Cyberspace, and go with all the adrenaline and goofy optimism which ought to accompany frontier enterprise. As I say, I don't think you have much choice, so you might as well make the best of it.

But don't come to this wild place expecting to civilize it, as I once did. This frontier may well be permanent And, finding bedlam, please don't send for your troops. They will only get in the way of a future which you will have to invent yourselves.

 The Inside Passage Thursday, August 11, 1994

Thursday, February 15, 2018

John Barlow - In Memoriam

John Perry Barlow (10-3-1947 to 2-7-2018) American poet, essayist, psychonaut, cattle rancher, revolutionary, political activist and cyber-libertarian... is gratefully dead at age 70. He was first/best known as lyricist for that great American, Dionysian, Psychedelic Cult Rock band, the Grateful Dead. The songwriting team of Barlow and rhythm guitarist, Bob Weir, were responsible for such Dead classics as: Black-Throated Wind, Cassidy, Estimated Prophet, Lazy Lightnin’/Supplication and Lost Sailor/Saint of Circumstance. 

Barlow was second/best known for his work in digital freedom and as a founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” became the definitive statement for all who cherish a free and open internet.

He was Fellow Emeritus at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, where he had maintained an affiliation since 1998.

John’s passing marks a sad day for cyberpunks and Deadheads alike. He will be missed.

- J♥

Holes in what's left of my reason
…holes in the knees of my blues.
Odds against me been increasin'
…but I'll pull through.

I never could read no road map.
I don't know what the weather might do.
But hear that witch wind whinin’ and I see that dark star shinin’
I got a feeling there's no time to lose... no time to lose.

But I'm still walkin'
…so I'm sure that I can dance.
Just a Saint of Circumstance
...just a tiger in a trance.

And the rain fallin' down…

- John Perry Barlow, from "Saint of Circumstance"

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Tek-Gnostics at Conscious Life Expo

The crew at Tek-Gnostics are packing up the circus wagon in preparation for our latest road trip to the 16th annual Conscious Life Expo, being held at the LAX Hilton convention center in sunny Los Angeles, California. The Expo's intent is "to bring together people, ideas, products and possibilities over a jam-packed 4 days to feast the mind and body and deepen our connection to spirit."

Keynote speakers at the Expo include George Noory, William Henry, David Wilcock, Linda Moulton Howe, and a Tek-Gnostics favorite... Dennis McKenna. Dr. McKenna's Sunday workshop is entitled: "Waking up the Monkeys: Plant Teachers and the Rediscovery of Nature" Human evolution, particularly cognitive evolution, has been greatly influenced at critical historical and evolutionary junctures by the ‘plant teachers’ and they continue to help us restore our proper role as intelligent symbionts with all life on Earth. This workshop sounds as if it will be right up our alley...

The intrepid "Agent 87" and I are packing our bag of tricks for this extraordinary event. We will be manning the Tek-Gnostics Media booth in the Expo's Pacific Ballroom (booth # 832). In addition to presenting Tek-Gnostics H.E.A.D. Gear and other artifacts such as The Tek-Gnostics Heresies, we will be debuting and promoting Agent 87's new blog: Synchrodelic Atmosphere. This important new addition to the Tek-Gnostics Network promises to be an esoterically informative and (quite likely) pop culturally irreverent website. We are currently still making minor adjustments to the site but will launch shortly after the Expo... Stay tuned and shine forth! 

In the meantime, we have made some recent additions to our Network's Mothership: Of particular interest is our updated and expanded High Weirdness page. Check it out...

We are looking forward to the event and hope to see each of you, dear fellow psychonauts, at the Conscious Life Expo 2018! 

Cheers and see you soon!  - J   

Monday, January 22, 2018

Disclosure or CIA psyop?

Was the December 16, 2017 NYT Disclosure article the real thing, or was it an example of the US government's Central Intelligence Agency attempt at directing the UFO narrative? “Dark Journalist” Daniel Liszt suggests it's the latter in this 2 hour YouTube episode with his guest Gigi Young.

In our previous post: Contact in the Desert, a Cultural Ethnography - Pt 3 we reported that...

As the horrific year that was 2017 drew to a close, Disclosure and Las Vegas were synchronistically back in the news cycle with a bizarre breaking news story of an off-the-books, 22 million dollar UFO monitoring program, secretly funded by the pentagon… as well as a black-ops research facility, run by Bigelow Aerospace. It was reported by the NY Times that: “Under Mr. Bigelow’s direction, the company modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena.”

Check out the above video and deside for yourself! Note: In synchronistic fashion, we conclude the Ethnography series where we began it, with a vid from Dark Journalist...

Monday, January 8, 2018

Contact in the Desert, a Cultural Ethnography - Pt 3

In the pre-installment of this series: Contact Aftermath …we drew a quick sketch of our experience of Contact in the Desert 2017. During that event, the ever-enigmatic Agent 87 and I shared many meaningful coincidences… occult encounters… esoteric conversations. We were able to meet some of our favorite luminaries and make new friends, amidst the desert sands and cosmic debris.

In the first proper installment of this series: Contact in the Desert 2017 – A Cultural Ethnography, we “fleshed out” the set and setting of CITD, being held on the outskirts of Joshua Tree National Forest. Considering JTNF and having spent much of my adult life in the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, calling this desert terrain a “forest” …is a bit of a stretch. Having also however, spent a good deal of time in the deserts of the “Great Basin” territory of eastern Oregon, I was somewhat prepared for the arid environment of the Contact venue.

As reported in part 1... 87 & I spoke with, or saw speak, the likes of Jacques Vallée, Graham Hancock, Laura Eisenhower and Andrew Collins. We also reported that the interests of the various sub-cultures present, expanded well beyond mere ET and AAT theory (or theology), simply because the idea of extraterrestrial contact cannot be confined to pop-cultural representations. We touched on a broader understanding of UFOlogy culture, and our attempt at developing a UFO cultural Ethnography. We examined the community’s deeper, mythic, psychedelic and shamanic aspects, as well as other seemingly disparate topics such as crypto-currencies.

In part 2 of our series: Contact in the Desert 2017 - A Cultural Ethnography - "Fear & Loathing" ...we touched upon the then current hot-button topics within UFOlogy, such as Disclosure, Artificial Intelligence and off-the-books space programs. Through our first-hand observations, we recognized a sub-cultural, conspiratorial angst surrounding Disclosure, A. I. and/or Break-away Civilizations. These understandable fears have surfaced in the hearts and minds of many, in a world where what was once considered the wildest of conspiracy theories of the 20th century, proved to be all-too-true in the 21st century. What was once science fiction of the last century has become dystopian fact, in our Brave Noö World.

In retrospect, framing part 2 of our series around CITD’s proximity to Area 51 and Las Vegas… using Hunter S Thompson’s “Fear & Loathing” as metaphor… took on a hauntingly synchronistic, surreal and downright bizarre significance after the subsequent deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas on the night of October 1st, 2017 at the Route 91 Harvest music festival. As that story (in some measure) unfolded, facts surrounding the mass shooting became increasingly bizarre. It was reported that the shooter, in addition to targeting the crowd below his vantage point in the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino, also targeted jet fuel tanks just beyond the festival grounds at McCarran International Airport.

These jet fuel tanks were reportedly associated with “Janet Airline” a highly classified Airforce passenger fleet that services, among other classified sites… Area 51. In the months that have passed since the most deadly mass shooting in US history, this story seems to have fallen off the radar of the pop press and mass media franchises… despite bizarre rumors surfacing of multiple shooters, including shots from circling helicopters, as well as mysterious deaths of vocal eye-witnesses. To date, the official version of events surrounding the Route 91 Harvest is shamefully lacking in detail, motive… and most importantly… believability. Whatever went down… it bore the distinct odor of some black op gone awry.

But events were to get even more bizarre...

As the horrific year that was 2017 drew to a close, Disclosure and Las Vegas were synchronistically back in the news cycle with a (and at this point I must apologize for my repeated use of the word) bizarre breaking news story of an off-the-books, 22 million dollar UFO monitoring program, secretly funded by the pentagon… as well as a black-ops research facility, run by Bigelow Aerospace. It was reported by the NY Times that: “Under Mr. Bigelow’s direction, the company modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena.”

Once again, Las Vegas was front and center in the unfolding cloak and dagger disinformation blitz surrounding UFOlogy, Disclosure and now the apparent reverse-engineering of UFO materials. Interestingly, Jacques Vallée’s CITD Saturday lecture was entitled: What do we know about material composition of UFOs? …where he went into great detail about the mysterious properties of materials “recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena.” In retrospect, his presentation was more central to the larger narrative around the UFO question. It was as if his information was a crucial puzzle peice that only now makes the narrative more understandable.

These were headlines right out of the X-files. What began in May of 2017 as an Odyssey to Contact in the Desert, spiraled out of control as the topics covered at that conference, increasingly imposed their High Weirdness upon an unsuspecting public at large.

However, even more, mind-bendingly synchronous events were in store for Agent 87 and I, as 2017 got weirder and weirder. In part one of this series, I had made an innocent pun involving 1987’s (take note 87!) harmonic convergence. What has unfolded since, can only be described as a convergence (harmonic or otherwise), as unrelated information streams encountered at CITD, began to converge in the pop media. In November of 2017, I posted a piece entitled: Singularity Unchained – Artificial Intelligence & Crypto-Currency. The post dealt with advancements in Blockchain technologies and their integration with artificial intelligence. The curious are encouraged to check out that post and subsequent posts on the topic.

Back in May, we touched upon the robust “ascension movement” community present at CITD. Within this movement, there is a clear conspiratorial distrust of the Technological Singularity and the rise of Artificial Intelligence. This mistrust took on a dichotomist form of human ascension vs A.I. assimilation. Now at the time, neither 87 nor I knew that much about crypto-currencies or blockchain technologies. However, we were visited at the Tek-Gnostics booth (#23) by an articulate young man in his 20’s, who knew a great deal about the subject. He visited our booth several times during CITD and enlightened us on the virtues (in his opinion) of crypto-currencies.

At the time, the various thought streams presented to us seemed quite divergent. The significant events that have unfolded since that time, demonstrate a convergence of information. What was then unrelated, now begins to become clear. Again, during the course of Contact in the Desert, multiple, seemingly disparate information streams were being presented by seemingly disparate characters. The archaic was dutifully represented by “Old Scratch” (see part one of this series). Blockchain technologies were represented by the delightful and highly intelligent millennial from the East Coast. The dichotomy between Gaian energies and AI technological singularity was imminent within the very fabric of the event.

The subsequent “disclosure” reported by the NY Times, of an off-the-books UFO research project, and by inference, an off-the-books space program, were adamantly and enthusiastically predicted by many UFOlogist factions in attendance. Interestingly, the recent disclosures could fit many different scenarios presented at the conference, including a break-away civilization narrative, as well as a hoaxed extra-terrestrial “event” as predicted by Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun, on his deathbed.

The break-away civilization narrative is especially resonant in these days of mistrust, cynicism and suspicion directed toward our political apparatus and the 1% or as we like to call them… the American Archons. The exploits of Bigelow imply nothing less than the reverse-engineering scenarios that have been prevalent within the UFO community, ever since the Roswell incident. One thing that the NYT report clearly demonstrates… the US military apparatus has been actively researching UFO phenomena, uninterrupted, ever since Roswell.

The convergence of these topics… UFOs & disclosure, A. I. & blockchain, the ascension movement vs transhumanism & singularity… all point toward some nexus point… as yet unclear. Stranger and stranger...

In regard to a Cultural Ethnography, I will relate one last event that took place at CITD. On Saturday night, the organizers of CITD, orchestrated by a certain “Dr. Dream” conducted a 333 Tibetan healing bowl ceremony and guided meditation. This was performed at the main, outdoor stage. The event was packed with attendees, vendors and guest speakers alike. As Dr. Dream led us through guided meditation, the emotional intensely grew. By the time the ceremony concluded, Agent 87 and I were renewed and rejuvenated. The power of so many people, sitting and chanting together in ceremony was profound.

By the end of the CITD conference, and in the ensuing months, my impression of an emerging ethnography is this… the communities that come together at events such as CITD… asking the big questions that they do… demonstrate diversity, creativity, curiosity, savvy, mentorship, insight, and intelligence (both intellectual and emotional). Taken as a whole, this community also demonstrates a certain naïveté that is apt to evoke a certain amount of ridicule from the larger population. Most importantly, they demonstrate a need to know, but also a reassurance that in time, all will become clear. The community gathered at CITD, coming together in ceremony, instilled a sense of hope for our shared future.

In conclusion, I once again return to the quote from that old heretic, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope.”