Racist nukes

I love these dogs

John Perry Barlow masters the 180

John Perry Barlow has just written a set of excellent, superb essays decrying the impending war. It’s terrific, fantastic rhetoric — he’s an amazing writer when he feels strongly about something, and he’s bang on. Everyone should read these pieces.

But then read a bit further down, because Barlow writes something remarkable:

It pains me deeply to say this, but I think that part of the problem may be the Internet.

A lot of what’s wrong may be the very sort of thing you’re reading right now.

The Internet, has, as expected, provided a global podium to everyone with an opinion. Cyberspace has become an infinite set of street corners, each with its lonely pamphleteer, howling his rage to a multitude all too busy howling their own to listen.

All of our energy goes into things like this BarlowSpam, energies that might be better spent in creating traditional blocs like the NRA, or the AARP, or some large group capable of either buying Congress or scaring the shit out of them. This screed won’t scare an elected official anywhere. And it wouldn’t generate enough money to elect or defeat a dogcatcher.

As much as I loathe organizations, we need to organize.

Bingo. I couldn’t have said it better myself. As any professional writer knows, and as millions of bloggers are now finding out, words aren’t really that powerful. At best, they’re catalytic — inspiring people to action. But it’s the action that matters, when it comes to politics. We can scribble all our brilliant ideas all we want, but the world is truly changed by people in grey suits faxing documents for like 17 hours on end. Hell, that’s how the Christian Coalition does it. And that’s how the progressive, left-wing groups I’ve been supporting for years do it.

But you know, I can’t resist a big, juicy “I told you so”. Because though it’s great for Barlow to come to this realization … remember his fierce dismissal of government back in 1996, when Barlow wrote the “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”? Remember how ludicrous and naive it was? How he went on and on about how government was slow, government was weak, nuthin’ ever gets done in Washington, how all the kewl stuff was happening online and nobody should bother paying attention to this boring old industrial-age government stuff? And how everyone, including otherwise smart people like Declan McCullagh lapped it up?


As I wrote in Shift magazine last month (which I’ll quote, just so I can even more smugly shove the knife in deeper here) Barlow’s Declaration helped prove “the grim law of cyberpolitics: Smart coders can make idiotic citizens.”

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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