cr> Stahlman on J.P. Barlow


Craig A. Johnson

I encourage readers to take a look at both the Barlow piece, posted 
on 10 February, and Mark Stahlman's reactions to it.  Though these 
postings are at a higher level of abstraction than we normally run on 
this list, the issues that motivate them are what we discuss on a 
daily basis.

And, by all means, if you have views on one or both of these 
analyses, please jump into the fray, on any level you feel is 
appropriate and comfortable to you.


Date sent:        Sun, 11 Feb 1996 14:35:47 -0800
From:             Mark Stahlman (via RadioMail) <•••@••.•••>
Subject:          How 'Bout Some Context, Please


Many of you have complained that my recent posts are far too cryptic and
just require too many "leaps" into unfamiliar territory.  Fair enough.  Let
me try to summarize the current situation (sorry, it ain't no soundbite):

1) We are indeed at a crucial inflection point in human history.  The new
technologies we are creating bode *both* enormous promise for helping to
lift humanity from its current condition of overwelming squalor and early
death *and*, at the same time, remarkable danger for permanently enslaving
us all.

2) We live in a world which is saturated with attempts to manipulate
attitudes and modify behavior.  Modern mass media is overwelmingly and
consciously committed to a propaganda effort which had its direct origins
in the near total reliance during and after WW II on psychological warfare.
 The "Cold War" was, in this respect, an ongoing psychological war waged
against all of us.  Afternoon talk shows are just "therapy" for those who
wouldn't otherwise see a shrink.  The post WW II goal of "psychiatric shock
troops on every corner" has already been very nearly achieved.

3) The most important issue for the Internet (both as a business and as a
social phenomenon) is how the Net will function in relation to our evolving
 psychology and the resulting social relationships.  McLuhan's famous
dictum, "The Medium is the Message" had a second part -- "The Audience is
the Content."  Both the telephone and television (the two closest analogs
to aspects of the Net) were important and enduring precisely because they
irrevokably altered who we became.  And, whatever business model ultimately
succeeds in New Media, it will be as a result of its powerful effect on our

4) Therefore, I believe the central question for the Net is: Will the
anti-propaganda quality of many-to-many communications develop into a
culture which resists manipulation and promotes liberty and wisdom or will
it only fragment and confuse us more, making wholesale manipulation of a
dazed and "future-shocked" population even more crushing and inevitable?  I
call this fight over the character of this medium "The Battle for
Cyberspace" (also the title of my book-in-progress).  In other words, how
will the Net change who we are becoming?  Is it a force leading towards
liberty or slavery?

5) The dominant focus of the post WW II attempt to use modern media to
manipulate behavior has been to undermine the historic commitment to
economic growth (replacing it with consumerism or primitivism depending on
the audience).  Progress, science, truth, reason and the institutions which
have supported these attitudes (noteably Christianity) have all been deemed
obsolete and all slated to be replaced.  Some attitude pollsters believe
that as much as 30% of the U.S. population has already been broken away
from those earlier beliefs -- and reputedly the share is growing rapidly.

6) In the place of the earlier "image" of Economic Man who altered Nature
to expand humanity's scope, a New Age has been proclaimed based largely on
Gregory Bateson's dictum that society is superior to the individual and
that the "eco-sphere" is superior to civilization.  Given variously the
titles of "post-industrial" or "post-modern" or "Third Wave" or "New World
Order" or "Information Age" or simply "New Age", these "futures" are
universally visions with a pre-industrial and often an overtly feudal or
imperial character.  As defined by one of it's chief architects, Kenneth
Boulding, the "meaning of the 20th century" is the movement to an "image"
of humanity which is "post-civilization" and dominated by the economics of
a "new scarcity."

7) While the reasons for committing to an agenda of "social engineering" to
undermine the cultural/psychological commitment to economic development are
varied, they revolve around basic issues of power in society.  Growth and
real economic development inevitably threatens those in power.  And,
liberty and popular wisdom directly threatens to overthrow these oligarchs.
 Although honest fears of nuclear conflagration and a profound sense of
loss in confidence in mankind's capability to be trusted followed WW II
undoubtedly shook up a generation, the craven thirst for power (and to be
included in circles of power) has always motivated the leaders of this
anti-growth agenda.

8) This situation is not a "conspiracy" any more than everyday life is one.
 No doubt people met and still meet in private and hatch plots, but the
overwelming evidence for what I've described is on the shelves of any well
stocked library (and probably on your bookshelves as well).  Since the "New
Age" goal is cultural transformation, the issues must be openly discussed
-- without necessaryily dwelling on the inevitable outcomes, of course. 
The "New Age" has been proselytized endlessly -- from many different
directions.  So much so, it has effectively become a part of our common
assumptions about the future.

9) While not an orginal thinker, Alvin Toffler has been an effective
organizer for the "New Age" who has operated near the center of its
"invisible college" since the early 1960's.  His "Third Wave" is the best
known popular version of "post-civilization" and, since he recruited Newt
Gingich to be a leading "New Age" politician over 20 years ago -- when
Toffler ran his Anticipatory Democracy (A/D) Network and Newt ran the
Georgia chapter -- he is worthy of some attention.  But, even with Newt, Al
Gore and Ross Perot all clammering to be the first to implement the "Third
Wave", this whole crew lacks a certain cultural pizazz in Net circles.  So,
enter stage right, John Perry Barlow.

10) No stranger to circles of power, Barlow read the winds of change and
jumped early onto the Newt/Toffler-wagon from his earlier Gore-buddy
posture (following his cyber-culture chronicler posture and so on) using
his Digital Mafia connections to open doors.  As his interview with Newt in
the first issue of (Barlow-buddy JFK Jr.'s) "George" documents, both these
guys are focussed on the need to control culture -- then, they agreed, in
10-20 years you control the laws.  As his leading role in last summers PFF
(Newt's think-tank) Aspen event showed, Barlow is vying to be Toffler's
1990's replacement.  And as his recent 24-hours essay indicates, Barlow is
trying to successfully reformulate the "New Age" anti-growth message into a
form that will be acceptable to the Net.

11) The essense of "New Age" politics is the destruction of the
nation-state -- still the most effective political weapon ever devised to
thwart the oligarchs.  The constitutional republic was invented as a
bulwark against oligarchist empires -- specifically the British Empire.  In
turn, British Radical Liberalism (and, genealogically, it's modern
libertarian/free-market offshoots like Hayek and Steve Forbes) were
invented largely to subvert republics.  The movement to curtail national
soveriegnty is a "New Age" cornerstone -- as are the various complementary
suggestions for some form of "one-world" government or what H.G.Wells
called the "Modern World State."

12) Barlow's "Declaration of Independence for Cyberspace" is just a
re-packaging of Toffler's "New Age" committment to undermine national
sovereignty and, thereby, economic development.  Like the PFF's earlier
"Magna Carta for Cyberspace" (which more accurately revealed its cultural
lineage), this is a recruiting document.  It's a trial ballon that
cynically tries to harness the anger (and fear) on the Net for this "New
Age" agenda.  Likewise, his piece and his buddy Jaron Lanier's editorial in
last November's SPIN (the subject of the earlier thread on related
subjects) are attempts to organize support for a 30-40 year old
anti-development, anti-nation-state cultural subversion.  Same message; new
messagers -- accept death and deprivation "gratefully."

Barlow's hope (along with many other prominent "cyber-gurus") is that the
Net will become an effective medium to manipulate public opinion towards
forcing the abandonment of "obsolete behavior" -- specifically economic
development and its foundation, political liberty.  

My hope is that the Net helps to break the grip that this oligarchist
agenda has already successfully won.  To do so, it will have to become a
massive and authoritative educational vehicle -- focussed on defeating

To that end, I will continue to ask the question, "What is so-and-so really
saying?" and "Where did this idea come from anyway?" and "Who is this
person who is trying to tell me all this?"  And, I encourage you, my fellow
Netizens, to try to penetrate the propaganda haze and do the same --
including with my efforts, of course.  Meanwhile, thanks for your patience
with my often he-just-presumes-too-much postings.

Mark Stahlman
New Media Associates
New York City


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