John Perry Barlow died “quietly in his sleep” at the age of 70 on Wednesday morning, according to a memorial post shared on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website. Barlow co-founded the EFF, a nonprofit devoted to protecting civil liberties in the online age, in 1980; he was also known for his time spent working as a cattle rancher in Wyoming — and as a lyricist for the Grateful Dead.
Barlow’s lasting legacy is that he devoted his life to making the Internet into “a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth … a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.
Barlow wrote the lyrics to “Mexicali Blues,” among other Dead tracks, but his most famous and consequential piece of writing might be his prescient 1996 internet manifesto, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” which begins:
Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.
We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.
For more vintage Barlow, here’s an endearing, fascinating, and wide-ranging conversation between him and the feminist scholar bell hooks from the Buddhist magazine Shambhala Sun:
John Perry Barlow: There’s something problematic here, and I go back and forth on it all the time. I want to have a cyberspace that has prana in it. I want to have a cyberspace where there’s room for the breath and the spirit.
bell hooks: Well, that’s what I haven’t found, Barlow.