I am doing this AMA today in support of an organization I have been on the advisory board for for close to a decade. Clear Path International is working with landmine and bomb survivors in Vietnam. Their partner group, Mines Advisory Group is working to clear unexploded landmines and bombs.

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Comments: 336 • Responses: 31  • Date: 

JohnPerryBarlow230 karma

Well, folks... I've been at this for about two and a half hours. I hope you all found reason to support the cause I did this to support. But my fingers are starting to get all rubbery and my sentences unfilled with numerous missing words. I"m really grateful to all of you for coming. It felt cool to have you "here." I'd love to do this again sometime.

And now I'm off to attend the wake of a friend who hasn't died yet. He knows he's done for, and very soon, so he thought he get his friends together to say all the nice things we'd ordinarily say over his unappreciative coffin.

Truck on, y"all...

stox96 karma

Besides donations to the EFF, what can I do to better fight the good fight against the abuse of surveillance by my government?

JohnPerryBarlow152 karma

Tough question. You can also donate to my more recent foundation, The Freedom of the Press Foundation https://pressfreedomfoundation.org/ which I co-founded with Dan Ellsberg, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, John Cusack, Xeni Jardin, and Trevor Timm and Rainey Reitman from EFF. We're funding WikiLeaks and other initiatives of its sort and trying to inspire new ones. Let a thousand leaks spring. Let so much be revealed that the government gives up on secrecy as a way of assuring power.

stox30 karma

Will do. BTW, you should think of coming out to the H.O.P.E. convention one of these years. I would be honored to hook you up with the organizers.

JohnPerryBarlow37 karma

I don't think I know about the H.O.P.E. Convention. Tell me more.

Hwy61Revisited71 karma

Hey John, I'm a big fan of both your work as a songwriter and as a humanitarian. I'd like to thank you for all of your work with The Dead and with helping those who really need it. Could you share one of your fondest memories of working with The Dead? Also, do you have any advice for a young deadhead who is leaving for college tomorrow? Thanks again for everything.

JohnPerryBarlow146 karma

Wow. That's almost 50 years worth of memories... There are a lot to choose from, but I'm pretty fond of the time we were playing the football stadium and the University of Colorado and one of those biblical Front Range thunderstorms popped over the ridge and walked toward us on legs of lightning. The stage and sound system had been designed by Bear to be a ""floating ground" so immediately there was St. Elmo's fire all over everything.

JohnPerryBarlow124 karma

Lightning struck all over around the stadium. Killed one fan. And the rain formed in this great canopy over the band. It was about to fall and crush everybody when I and another guy jumped up and started cutting holes in it. I got mine where the water could get to the ground, but one of his dumped onto the stage. Suddenly the stage had 2 inches of water on it and the band was still playing.

JohnPerryBarlow122 karma

THEN, somebody in cutoffs came onstage with a Skilsaw, knelt down in the water and started cutting holes in the stage while everyone around him jumped for cabinets. I don't know why he wasn't electrocuted. Or, for that matter, why the band, which went on playing, was electrocuted either.

startin-over42 karma

non-dead head here. Does Bear=Augustus Owsley Stanley III?

JohnPerryBarlow50 karma


aeranvar68 karma

How hopeful are you about the work the EFF is doing in the fight against the surveillance state? Given the scale of the challenges before the organization, have you ever felt like giving up?

JohnPerryBarlow94 karma

I'm actually guardedly optimistic that we will prevail in the long run. Gradually the institutions themselves will see the completely disproportionality of the threat and the responses.

shakedown_st64 karma

Hi Mr. Barlow, thanks for doing this AMA.

I'm a big fan of the Grateful Dead and was kind of shocked when I was reading a book titled Masters of Deception that there was a chapter dedicated to you. Phiber Optik and Acid Phreak of the Masters of Deception hacking group had a beef with you in 1989. Some details and quote by you at the time:

In one highly publicized incident, during a 1989 forum on computers and privacy sponsored by Harper's magazine, John Perry Barlow, a freelance journalist and lyricist for the Grateful Dead, went head to head with Mr. Abene, or Phiber Optik. Mr. Barlow called the young hacker a "punk."

According to an article by Mr. Barlow -- an account that Mr. Abene will not confirm or deny -- Mr. Abene then retaliated by "downloading" Mr. Barlow's credit history, displaying it on the computer screens of Mr. Barlow and other network users. Skirmishes Subside

"I've been in redneck bars wearing shoulder-length curls, police custody while on acid, and Harlem after midnight, but no one has ever put the spook in me quite as Phiber Optik did at that moment," Mr. Barlow wrote. "To a middle-class American, one's credit rating has become nearly identical to his freedom."


It's been 24 years since that happened and I was wondering if your perspective on the event has changed at all. Or did this impact the way you saw the Internet at the time and where it was going? Any other thoughts on this?

Thanks a lot and let the four winds blow you safely home.

JohnPerryBarlow58 karma

Actually, I got a phone call from Phiber Optik, who is now back to being Mark Abene. He now lives in San Jose, has one small child and another soon to arrive, a successful Infosec company and a life. It was so great to hear from him. We are very excited to get together again. Meanwhile, we're still fighting exactly the same war we were then. It's just a lot bigger and more complicated than it was in those halcyon day.

JohnPerryBarlow35 karma

Yipes. I see I'm way behind here. I should have hired a court stenographer!

kodemage13 karma

If you have a camera you can take a video of yourself answering a question and upload to a site like youtube. That's a totally acceptable form of response. Some people actually feel more comfortable talking out loud instead of typing a response.

JohnPerryBarlow38 karma

I'd love to be able to do that, but my girlfriend has invited a bunch of REALLY LOUD people over and there's no way in the world that you'd be able to hear what I was saying over what they're shouting.

Moomoomoo133 karma

Who would win in a fight, you or Robert Hunter

JohnPerryBarlow76 karma

Depends on the weapon. He can, has, and always will beat the living shit out of me in the song-writing category. No contest. The only reason he hasn't driven me to commit ritual suicide is that I always knew that it would be a monoculture without other voices. And I don't like mono cultures.

On the other hand, if we were competing with handguns, it would be over quickly. I'm a very accurate shot with a S&W .357 Magnum.

Heliumvoices28 karma

WHats it like being such a generally awesome guy? i keep seeing your name pop up and im like no cant be the John Perry Barlow. yup...it is.

WHat made you decide to start this very specific foundation and do the proceeds go to help any other men and women injured in combat other than in vietnam?

JohnPerryBarlow37 karma

I love those fairly rare moments when I realize what an awesome guy I am. Most of the time I feel like people usually feel about themselves, which is usually not as awesome as they deserve. I didn't start CPI or MAG, but I've been a supporters of both since I met an incredibly funny and dangerous man named Lou in a Phnom Penh bar called The Heart of Darkness. He was clearing mines, and I'd been seeing what they could do.

HappyZombies26 karma

What did you do in order to become such a great man?

JohnPerryBarlow273 karma

The jury's well out on the great man thing. On the other hand, I'm willing to accept it when someone calls me a good man. I've been working on that one quite consciously for a long time. And, outside of being a good ancestor, it's my primary ambition.

In fact, the night before I turned 30, I found myself so surprised to have reached an age of indisputable adult that I wrote up a set of "adult principles" that I've been trying to live up to for 35 years.

In fact, here they are:


1 Be patient. No matter what.

2 Don't badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn't say to him.

3 Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.

4 Expand your sense of the possible.

5 Don't trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.

6 Don't ask more of others than you can deliver yourself.

7 Tolerate ambiguity.

8 Laugh at yourself frequently.

9 Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.

10 Try not to forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.

11 Give up blood sports.

12 Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don't risk it frivolously.

13 Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)

14 Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.

15 Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.

16 Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.

17 Praise at least as often as you disparage.

18 Admit your errors freely and quickly.

19 Become less suspicious of joy.

20 Understand humility.

21 Remember that love forgives everything.

22 Foster dignity.

23 Live memorably.

24 Love yourself.

25 Endure.

jeezywitz22 karma

Im not going to blow smoke up your ass with fandom and everything.. I just have one quick one. Is it true that Jerry would only eat the fattiest, gnarliest food?

JohnPerryBarlow45 karma

He would have made a poor poster child for Whole Foods. But he was kind of like a lot of us, he ate healthy food when somebody put it in front of him, and much of the time he just at what we there. Honestly, I don't think he thought much about food. Or health for that matter. It was the music that counted.

nationalparkfan22 karma

In the song Looks Like Rain, is there any deeper meaning to the words "written in the letters of your name"? Certainly a beautiful image. I have always wondered if there is a particular name coded somewhere in the song.

JohnPerryBarlow38 karma

Actually, I never knew where things like that came from. They would just appear in my head. I never tried to write songs, I just tried to write them down as they arrived. Occasionally, I had no choice and it was just work. I had to buckle down and make shit up. But "written in the letters of your name" was just there when I reached for it.

spellign_error21 karma

I'd like to take a second and thank you for making this AMA as a charity rather than just promoting yourself. Majority of famous AMA are blatantly advertising their products and only stick around for 30 minutes anyway

JohnPerryBarlow53 karma

Actually, I don't seem to be doing a great job of highlighting the causes I mean to promote here, all of which are extremely worthy and on the edge. Clear Path International http://cpi.org/ helps the victims of wars that go on long after they're "over". Somebody gets his leg blown off every day by munitions that were buried in anger against against a cause that no longer exists.

MAG or the Mine Advisory Group does similar work, though they're still in the business of finding and neutralizing mines.

EFF.org I'm sure most of you know about.

And the Freedom of the Press Foundation https://pressfreedomfoundation.org/ is a really innocuous name for a very edgy organization that exists to fund WikiLeaks and do things like putting an audio clip of Bradley Manning's testimony online, despirte that we courted a contempt of court charge in doing so. We also funded a stenographer for his trial since the government refused to provide them. In addition, two of us, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras are at the very center of distributing Edward Snowden's revelations about the Surveillance State. All these outfits deserve your support.

PotentPollen18 karma

Which songs are you most proud of?

On a sidenote, I'm a huge Grateful Dead fan and I also think what you are doing now with EFF and the Freedom of the Press Foundation is admirable.

JohnPerryBarlow46 karma

I wish I were more fond of my own songs, since I'm a helpless fan of Hunter's. But I'm really grateful that they work for other folks and, in a way, it's none of my business what people find in them. But I do have a few I'm pretty fond of: Cassidy (of course), Looks Like Rain, I Will Take You Home, Estimated Prophet, Music Never Stopped. etc.

JohnPerryBarlow19 karma

Thanks. I hope you support them.

hcashew16 karma

Hi John,

Did you travel to Egypt in 78 and do you have any thoughts connected with it amongst this current "coup" and possible brewing civil war?

Also, you seemed to be on Team Obama on the last election and was wondering how much his NSA involvement has completely soured you?


JohnPerryBarlow52 karma

I didn't go to Egypt in 78, more's the pity. I was ranching at the time and was right in the middle of the usual panicked rush to cut, bale, and stack three thousand tons of hay before the snow came. I hated not being there, but have since gone and spent a fair amount of time. I was very much involved in helping keep the Internet up during the Arab Spring blackout. I am deeply distressed, though not surprised, by the growing possibility of a civil war. The Internet is tough on monotheism. It's filled with truths that aren't "in the Book" as well as cultural systems that don't fit the local standards. What you see on the streets in Egypt and many other places is a standoff between the young "natives" of Cyberspace and the defenders of the faith. It will go on being bloody unfortunately.

As to Obama... I understand why he and his administration see things as they do. It's a weird reality distortion field that grows around the idea of "national security" an increasingly puzzling concept as the nation-state no longer has much practical value besides the obsolete ability to wage war.

ChrisHernandez13 karma

What in your opinion is the meaning of life, as far as I'm concerned it seems like it's eating other lifeforms and reproducing.

JohnPerryBarlow53 karma

The meaning of life is that we insert our souls into the Physical World so that love will make sense. On the other side of the spiritual membrane, everything is made of love, but it's meaningless in a sense without context. So it comes here to contrast with fear, entropy, doubt, cruelty... all the dark things that are not love.

Also, I think that the secret of life is learning to accept love. Giving it is easy accepting it is hard.

VurtFeather11 karma

How do you think encryption will have to evolve in order to address privacy concerns? Do you think a crypto approach is the right way to deal with these problems?

JohnPerryBarlow36 karma

Well, ultimately, no. I think that we need to reach a point of parity between the visibility of the private individual and the large institution. At the moment, things are heading the wrong direction. People are electronically naked. And the NSA and its ilk are opaque. That doesn't work. And the first answer is encryption on our side, second we rip down their drapes, and third we quite using our differences to make one another powerless. Everybody's weirder than most people think.

terrapin_station11 karma

Every time I hear about you, you're off on a new endeavor, which are very different. What drives you to be involved in so many different projects/occupations? And thank you for all of the vivid and beautiful lyrics

JohnPerryBarlow21 karma

I have a kind of life-sized ADD, I guess. I always want to learn new things and I always feel that there are other problems in the world that I might be able to help with. CPI and MAG are examples of something that I wouldn't have thought about being involved in if I hadn't met some some heart-crushing young mine victims and discovered the folks who were working to help them.

FueledByTesla11 karma

How are you?

JohnPerryBarlow23 karma

I'm really pretty darned ok. Though I don't know how I'm going to keep up with all these questions.

glengineer11 karma

Are you going to stay with Vanguard? I always enjoy your ... ahem ... controversial comments and how you challenge the speakers.

JohnPerryBarlow15 karma

I see no reason to leave TTIVanguard.com. I have a lot of edifying fun there. Keeps me up to speed on the "learning curve of Sisyphus" by which I mean that technology expands faster than anyone can learn it. And I love the opportunities to take jovial potshots and the spooks 'n' suits, all of whom I like despite our differences.

bytemr10 karma

Greetings from Wyoming!

I am born and raised in Wyoming and continue to live here today, working as a software engineer. My biggest issue is that many people in the state are seemingly resistant to change and the state is slow in general to adopt new technology. What tips do you have for making people in this part of the country more aware of technology and the issues that it faces?

Thanks for taking time to do this AMA.

JohnPerryBarlow21 karma

Well, we are talking about Wyoming here. Part of what makes it so wonderful is that it IS resistant to change and generally feels like anything it doesn't understand is trying to fuck with it. Which it usually is. I think I may move back there. I've voted in Wyoming in every election but the last one and I just don't feel very Californian.

bytemr6 karma

Very true. I know I'd be out of place in California, but at the same time I just wish for a bit more technology in the state. I feel like it can be liberating.

JohnPerryBarlow24 karma

Yeah, but don't forget the size of those skies. And the meatiness of that Meatspace.

humpyfer549 karma

Is it just me, or does it seem that in spite of the cage rattling and hand wringing over the now documented abuses of the NSA and others, that the general mood of the public is a resounding "..meh...." ? What, in your opinion, will it take to stir the public from their torpor and compel them to demand accountability and reformation of the whole graft ridden "democratic" process..?

JohnPerryBarlow33 karma

That is an astonishingly hard question to answer. Everybody knows and nobody cares. Why? I don't know. Complete lack of imagination, I guess.

Or maybe it's just a kind of paralyzing future fear. I feel like people would react but they are playing possum everywhere I look. And, as the Navajo Indians say, it's impossible to awaken someone who's pretending to be asleep.

All we can do is continue to make this dangerous stuff visible to people whose liberty is at stake.

EloquentMumbling9 karma


JohnPerryBarlow33 karma

Yes. You can have my beer. I wasn't going to drink it anyway.

avianaltercations8 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA. I wanted to say that I love your work as a lyricist for the Dead (my favorite song is Throwing Stones), but I think your work with the EFF is just as amazing! Since I could ask you anything,

Since not everyone can be Richard Stallman and use a Leemote computer, what role does Free Software play in your day-to-day computing (be it a phone or a laptop)?

JohnPerryBarlow13 karma

Thanks. I'm glad they work for you. Free software is all over everyone's life to a much larger extent than people think. Most web servers run on Apache, which is open source, so we're all doing it right now. And, frankly, I'm grateful that everyone can't Richard Stallman.

exodasius5 karma

Hello John, and thank you for all of the work you've done as a founder of the EFF! I'm wondering, why does the EFF care so much about the surveillance? I know that it can be a little creepy thinking about it, but the government only checks the info of the person behind the IP only if they feel they are a threat to the nation. While I'm all for internet freedom (I'm neither democrat, nor republican), my stance on the issue is that if the government wanted to know something before, they know it now, and there is nothing changing what knowledge they now have.

JohnPerryBarlow46 karma

Well, what do you mean by the government? There are probably over a million people who had the same level of access that Edward Snowden had. Any one of these could listen to all of your calls, read your every e-mail, have the complete list of your favorite porn sites. Now in order for him to take that information and use it against you in some official context he would need a FISA warrant. On the other hand, if he personally wanted to stalk, kidnap, or blackmail just as a side project of his own, there's not much in the system to stop him. It used to be only J. Edgar Hoover had this kind of leverage. Now it's available to hundreds of thousands of people, very few of whom have ever gotten high. Moreover, once the NSA has gathered all this stuff, it become succinctly available to the hackers who will find it easier than you'd think to penetrate their systems. This is a very big change.