Chapter 5: Freedom in Cyberspace
"The right to control one's own consciousness
is the quintessence of freedom."
Richard Glen Boire (1)
"On Cognitive Liberty (Part I)"
Journal of Cognitive Liberties (2000)
What does the word "freedom"
mean to you when used in the context of cyberspace? It might
be worth your time to pause for a moment and reflect on this.
How the world community-at-large answers this question in
the decade that lies ahead will have a profound effect on
the future of free speech and free thought on this planet.
As you recall, the opening
chapter in this book defined cyberspace as a synergistic collection
of concepts, all denoting a sense of place, or mind-space.
In essence, cyberspace exists primarily in our minds. It is
from this perspective that I suggest we consider what is meant
by "freedom in cyberspace."
Each day, as we make our way
through this world, we are confronted with the thoughts of
others. Governmental bodies tell us that we must act, and
therefore think, in certain ways if we are to be considered
law-abiding citizens. Businesses want to influence our thinking
in ways that make their products and services attractive,
so we will spend our money on them. Our friends, churches,
and families all compete for their share of our mental freedom
as well. Since this is how the world works, it should be no
surprise to find life to be much the same in cyberspace.
To my mind, the word "freedom"
never stands alone. It is always accompanied by its faithful
companion, "responsibility." In cyberspace as in
everyday reality, we walk on a high wire, strung between these
two old friends. As long as we maintain our balance, all is
well. Today, however, with the onrush of new technology, such
as the omnipresent computing environments described in the
previous chapter, a strong wind has begun to blow, one which
threatens our precarious balance on the wire. As Richard Glen
What are the implications for mental autonomy when wearable
computers become wet-wired to our own minds and memory is
augmented by a high-speed wireless connection to the Web?
Similarly, advances in biotechnology and drug-design increasingly
raise legal and ethical questions related to cognitive liberty,
including what rights people will have to access these and
other technologies, and what rights we will have to avoid
These are very important questions,
and how they are answered will have a direct impact on the
future of biological life on this planet for many years to
Transcending the Corporation/Nation
"It took man 250,000 years to transcend
the hunting pack.
It will not take him so long to transcend the nation."
"Control can never be a means to anything
but more control."
William S. Burroughs
Naked Lunch (1959)
When one thinks of a country
other than her or his own, one usually thinks of it as a collection
of individual people who have a common culture. Yet when we
think about a transnational corporation we generally do not
think of the individuals who make up that company. Instead
we tend to view these large entities as having a will and
life of their own, independent of the people who compose them.
I find it ironic that so many people think of corporations
as autonomous living entities but view nation-states as large
groups of people in which individuals carry the full weight
of their nation's actions. When we are slighted or injured
through the fault of a corporation we say, "The XYZ Company's
widget ruined my carpet." Yet when our country acts harmfully,
the victims say, "Those Americans ruined our economy."
So which is it to be? Should corporations and countries both
be viewed as independent entities, responsible only as some
kind of super-person, or should we see them as assemblages
of individual people pursuing some form of common objective?
It seems to me that for the sake of consistency they both
should be thought of in the same way.
If we are to remain committed
to the principles of democracy, then let us view all human
organizations for what they truly are, groups of people. With
that view in mind, consider once again the title of this section,
"Transcending the Corporation/Nation State." This
title isn't meant to imply that we overthrow our governments
and wreak havoc on our companies-quite the contrary. What
I mean by "transcending" is that each and every
one of us not only take responsibility for the actions of
our countries and companies, but that we also view the actions
of organizations we encounter to be the joint responsibility
of every one of their members. Let us proclaim this century's
motto to be "Assume Responsibility."
Ever since the rise of the
dominator society, the great mass of humanity has been content
to let leaders run the show. Even in pseudo-democracies like
the United States, we have abrogated most of our rights and
allowed a system to evolve which has little relationship to
a true democracy. If you go to our nation's capital and seek
an appointment with your congressperson, most likely you will
have to wait in line behind a legion of lobbyists. Those are
the people who have the real influence over our elected officials.
Our national elections have been reduced to a contest in marketing
30-second sound bites. One of the reasons I do not like our
current electoral process is that it often makes me feel the
way I do when I push a WALK button on a downtown traffic signal.
I know that the button is connected to the traffic light in
some way, but my sense is that the light is going to change
when it is programmed to change and not before. In the United
States most of our elected officials are pre-programmed by
the people and organizations that donate campaign funds, and
we button-pushers in the voting booths are being led to believe
we have more to do with the process than is actually the case.
Most members of our species
have spent the past thousands of years living in subjugation
to those who see fit to control access to any and all information
that may, in some tangential way, pose a threat to their base
of money and power. This control of information began in ancient
times, when priests first took control over the lines of communication
with the spiritual world. They told us that we were not ready,
or did not have the proper training to hear these messages
directly, and we accepted these pronouncements with little
question. Today, priests of all manner continue to impose
their ideology on everyone who will listen. Without access
to the same underlying information on which they base their
claims, we have been unable to directly challenge what they
Fortunately, the Internet now
provides a way for us to change this situation. Armed with
information that was previously controlled by those in positions
of power, we now have the means to transcend the feeling of
powerlessness we once felt when encountering the vast structures
of government and business. What is more, we can instantly
communicate this information to other like-minded people all
over the world. The ability to communicate with one another,
globally and instantly, is the real advantage the Internet
brings to those who live outside the walls of the rich and
powerful. This is why the Internet presents a serious threat
to the people who are running the show today. Only by joining
together in a community of minds blanketing the entire planet,
touching every human organization, will we be able to overcome
the barriers erected by nations, religions, corporations,
ethnic groups, and on down to the barriers most of us erect
around ourselves. It is imperative that we not allow any government,
business, or other organization to hold control over our personal
If you do not think governments
want to do exactly that, listen to the words of Richard A.
Clarke, the U.S. National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure
Protection, and Counter Terrorism: "The accompanying
National Plan is the first attempt by any national government
to design a way to protect its cyberspace." (3)
Notice the subtle use of "its cyberspace." If we
are not extremely vigilant in the next few years, those now
in positions of power, both in government and in business,
are going to succeed in carving cyberspace into territories,
just as they have done on land. In the U.S. government's plan,
just beneath the sentence quoted above, is the heading, "A
New American Dependence . . . A New Threat to America."
Once again the military/industrial/prison complex is attempting
to create enough fear in the minds of Americans that we willingly
surrender even more of our hard-won freedom. Granted, the
U.S. plan clearly states, "The government will not dictate
solutions and will eschew regulation. Nor will the government
infringe on civil liberties, privacy rights, or proprietary
information." But anyone who was a political activist
in the 1960s can remember how easy it is for a small group
of fanatics within the government to disregard such boilerplate.
While I do not mean to downplay the threats that terrorists
present to our networks, I believe that these threats can
be defended against by means that fall far short of putting
a military controlled cybercurtain around our nation's information
It is time to stand up and
be counted in these crucial days of Internet policy formation.
Let us tell our policy-makers that we do not want to waste
our time and energy on a never-ending series of wars in cyberspace,
trying to prove the superiority of one culture, religion,
or country over another. Instead, let us channel all of our
energy into building a civilization, a planetary civilization
ruled by our species-mind and encompassing all the cultures,
races, religions, and governmental bodies on Earth. For decades,
motivational speakers have been saying, "What the mind
can conceive, and the heart believe, the hand can achieve."
Nothing is more true in a quantum universe.
The Survival of our Species
"In the history of the collective as
in the history of the individual,
everything depends on the development of consciousness."
It is difficult to raise the
specter of the extinction of our species and at the same time
paint a glowing picture of the endless prospects for human
advancement that lie just over the horizon. Yet life always
seems to remain in some sort of precarious balance, so the
greater our potential for finding ways to extend human life
expectancy beyond 100 years, the greater is the potential
for eliminating our species completely.
of my acquaintances strongly disagree with my views about
the magnitude of the ecological crises we now face. Although
many of them admit we have serious challenges ahead, they
also think we have several centuries left before these ecological
problems reach crisis proportions. A few are quite cavalier,
believing that these warnings are nothing more than political
maneuvers on the part of some fuzzy-headed liberals. If only
this were so. Unfortunately, we appear to be approaching a
point of no return. On November 18, 1992, approximately 1,700
of the world's leading scientists, including the majority
of living Nobel laureates in science, issued the "World
Scientists' Warning To Humanity." Here is what they said
in their introductory paragraph:
Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.
Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage
on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked,
many of our current practices put at serious risk the future
that we wish for human society and the plant and animal
kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will
be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental
changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our
present course will bring about. (4)
This important document ends
with the following "Warning:"
We the undersigned, senior members of the world's scientific
community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead.
A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life
on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided
and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably
Keep in mind, that document
was published in 1992. At the beginning of the 21st century,
although small victories for the environment have been won,
the overall state of our planet's biosphere is in even worse
shape than it was when the above warning was issued. We pride
ourselves on being a culture steeped in science, yet we have
ignored this clear warning from our leading scientific minds.
Without a massive and rapid expansion of awareness about the
problems caused because of the way in which we humans are
using technology, I fear we will soon enter the twilight of
the human experiment.
Of course, there are those
who will say, "So what. After all, this planet is nothing
but a little speck of dust when considered in the context
of the cosmos. The human species, as it is presently constituted,
does not appear to be the kind of intelligence required to
bring peace, love, and harmony to the universe. Maybe it is
better that we do not survive." These people, however,
miss the point. When considered in the context of the entire
universe, human consciousness exists only on Earth!. Are we
not obligated to do everything in our power to see that this
unique form of awareness continues to grow and prosper? By
so doing there is hope that one day our entire species will
awaken to the fact that we are, in fact, all an integral part
of a much larger whole, that we are truly all connected, and
that our environment is a part of ourselves.
Although I am not optimistic
enough to believe that a last-minute solution to our environmental
crisis is inevitable, it is my personal belief that we still
have time to change our current course of planetary destruction.
If we act quickly and decisively, we can restore the ecological
systems required to support human consciousness for another
millennium. Without the Internet I would not be this optimistic,
for I believe the Net is the most powerful technology yet
developed that has the potential to ensure our continuing
evolution and survival as a species. If my expansion on Chardin's
idea is correct, the Internet is the physical infrastructure
of the noosphere, which therefore makes it the focal point
for the continuing evolution and expansion of human consciousness.
Let us not stunt this growth in consciousness by restricting
free speech on the Net.
With the exponential increase
in inter-human communications brought about by the Internet,
and particularly with the speed at which these communications
can now take place, we are well suited to move ahead and evolve
our consciousness to a higher, more global, level. The days
of "talking the talk" without "walking the
walk" of environmental correctness have passed. The time
has arrived for each of us, in our own microcosmic way, to
let others know what we have already observed, that it is
no longer enough to recycle a few cans, bottles, and papers.
Let us help others elevate their consciousness to the level
where they also clearly see that all of our daily actions
and decisions have a direct impact on the biosphere. For example,
if you happen to believe that organically grown food is healthier
for both yourself and for the planet, then encourage others
to follow your lead. Let your friends know that you are not
waiting until organic products become so plentiful that their
prices are as low as those of foods produced by our massive
If you know of companies
that are harming the environment, make the decision to no
longer purchase any products they sell, and suggest to your
friends that they do the same. Often it is a small community
or neighborhood that suffers from the shoddy environmental
practices of these corporate polluters. If you live in such
a community, tell the noosphere about these corporate criminals
by posting the story on the Internet. Gradually, there will
evolve a global awareness about these polluters, which seeps
into our species-mind. The same is true in politics and in
business around the world. There are many questionable practices
that should be brought out into the open where we can give
them a fair hearing. If you know of someone or some organization
that is harming the planet, do not keep this information to
yourself. You no longer have the luxury of waiting for someone
else to take these measures. With sound daily actions and
decisions on the part of each and every one of us, we will
not only survive this crisis, we will thrive.
The Importance of Your Daily
It isn't just the citizens
of cyberspace who are aware of the speed at which change is
taking place today. Virtually everyone I know has a sense
of events rushing at them at an ever increasing rate. One
of the things that makes this particular moment in time so
unique is the incredible speed at which technology is advancing,
and by that I mean all technology, not just what we see in
relation to the Internet. Advances in the fields of gene therapy,
nanomechanics, and wireless communications, for example, are
taking place at rates undreamed of just ten years ago. I know
of no experts in any of those fields who predict a slow-down
in new discoveries and techniques.
Although what you currently
believe about issues such as global warming does matter, what
is just as important is that you act on your beliefs. If you
sincerely believe that we are simply in the warm part of a
cyclic change in weather patterns, then, after thoroughly
researching the issue, you have a duty to marshal all the
facts you can about your point of view and share this information
with everyone you can. On the other hand, if you believe as
I do that overpopulation is bringing our environment to a
point where it can no longer support life, then you have an
obligation to tell that story as you see it. In addition to
what you are already doing, such as buying the proper detergents,
conserving water, and recycling, for example, put up a web
page explaining your point of view. Encourage your friends
to become involved in one of the global discussions on environmental
issues that may be found on the Net. Remember the butterfly
and chaos? You never know how a small, simple action will
upset the balance of complacency and inaction and become the
catalyst for a transformation of our entire species to a higher
order of ecological awareness.
Humanity is truly at a millennial
moment. More and more people are beginning to sense that something
big is already underway. No one seems to know exactly how
to explain this feeling, but it appears to be spreading in
both the material and the cyber worlds. It is my personal
belief that now is the time for each and every one of us,
as conscious beings, to stand up and be counted. It is time
for us to take charge of our own destiny. We can seize this
moment in human time and lead the way forward, to higher realms
of being. This is not the time to be timid or afraid. It certainly
is not the time to remain stuck in the old systems of thought
and belief that have been imposed upon us since birth.
A new age is dawning before
our very eyes. It is time to awaken and join in the dance
of creative human activity. The day has arrived for each of
us to tune in to our deepest feelings about what we have to
contribute to the collective consciousness of our species.
Although we are all ultimately the same at the deepest levels
of our humanity, each one of us has a unique perspective to
add to the universe of knowledge. What better way for you
to do your part than to become a participating member of the
cyberspace community? It is time to connect to the matrix
we call the Internet and add your mind to our ever-evolving
sense of global consciousness.
The Importance of Cyberspace
"Cyberspace is a mirror that gets held
up to the third eye.
And the third eye, ajna chakra, is the light that removes
It shows things as they are."
Is it possible that the technology
we call the Internet could bring an end to human aggression?
During my service in a war that made little sense to the troops
on the ground, I reasoned that if everyone involved, down
to the last GI and rice farmer, had a sufficient amount of
accurate information on which to base his or her decision
about continued participation in the madness of that war,
things would have turned out differently. Perhaps this is
only a pipe dream, but the truth is we do not yet know what
the political impact will be once the majority of world citizens
have uncensored access to information from all sides of every
issue. Is it too far-fetched to believe that once everyone
realizes that we really are all next door neighbors that we
will work a little harder to maintain civility throughout
the world? Two generations from now there will be few world
leaders who did not grow up chatting online with friends in
a dozen or more countries. Online communications seem to quickly
reach a level where we can clearly see how much alike we all
are, regardless of race, nationality, religion, or other seeming
barriers that might separate us.
The Internet at least
provides a platform, a soap box in the global town square,
from which to exchange ideas more directly. No longer does
one have to fly to Paris and speak with café patrons
about their real feelings during the World Cup. Today we just
log on to the Net, jump into a chat room and join a discussion.
Distance is no longer an issue. In fact, with the Internet,
all of the minds in the world are joined at a single point,
the phone jack in your home. What we, as humans, do with this
opportunity is up to us. But the technology is certainly here
to help whenever we are ready. The time has arrived for each
of us to join the global mind-the global conversation that
is taking place on the Internet.
Through an extraordinary chain
of events, the Internet has come into being. Without any doubt,
this is the most powerful communications medium in the history
of our species. Its importance can almost be measured on the
same scale as that of speech itself. A technology as powerful
as this, however, carries equal degrees of risk and reward.
What appears to be an incredible gift to humanity can quickly
be turned against us. It is for this reason that each and
every member of our species has a stake in seeing that this
rapidly advancing technology remains under the control of
our species-at-large, and not in the hands of just a few individuals
or corporations. This is certainly one of the single most
important tasks of this decade.
John Perry Barlow says in his "Declaration of the Independence
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.
Governments derive their just powers from the consent of
the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours.
We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know
our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders.
Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a
public construction project. You cannot. It is an act
of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.
How each of us protects
this "act of nature" is our test, our destiny. Unfortunately,
there is no simple or universal answer as to how one should
deal with the onrushing press of events and problems we face.
In my own life I handle the constant and rapid change by visualizing
change itself as a beautiful, perfect wave approaching a tropical
beach. Although I have never been a surfer, I have always
enjoyed watching these great athletes. So, in my own little
Walter Mitty way, I see myself riding a surfboard on this
great wave of change, speeding toward shore, the wind in my
face, cool spray all around, and I hear the great roar of
that powerful wave in my ears. While I am excited about eventually
reaching the beautiful beach and all of its pleasures, I never
take my concentration off the wonderful ride on which the
wave is taking me. In short, I simply embrace the wave of
change, always on my toes to sense a shift in the direction
of the wave, so I can adjust my board and extend my ride.
Some of my fellow surfers
occasionally wipe out. A few simply give up and paddle to
shore. But most of them just point their boards out to sea
and look once again for that perfect wave. To me, the Internet
is exactly that. It is a perfect wave of change, excitement,
power, and fun. And, like it or not, whether you are in the
seas of business or just "an average guy," you are
eventually going to be swept away by this great wave of technology
we call the Internet. So you wipe out a few times. Big deal.
But when you finally get your balance and catch the wave,
you will be in for the ride of your life.
There is one more thought
I would like to bring in to this metaphor. Whatever you do,
do not lose your sense of humor as you become ever more deeply
involved in the great events that have begun to unfold. Yes,
these are precipitous times, but what a great time it is to
be alive! Whenever I begin to take myself and life too seriously,
I recall a story that J.B.S. Haldane told about a scene he
witnessed one evening in India during the First World War.
As he told it:
The other picture is of three Europeans in India looking
at a great new star in the milky way. These were apparently
all of the guests at a large dance who were interested in
such matters. Amongst those who were at all competent to
form views as to the origin of this cosmoclastic explosion,
the most popular theory attributed it to a collision between
two stars, or a star and a nebula. There seem, however,
to be at least two possible alternatives to this hypothesis.
Perhaps it was the last judgement of some inhabited world,
perhaps a too successful experiment in induced radioactivity
on the part of some of the dwellers there. And perhaps also
these two hypotheses are identical, and what we were watching
that evening was the detonation of a world on which too
many men came out to look at the stars when they should
have been dancing. (7)
As important as it is
to grapple with the problems of 21st century life on the planet
Earth, it is just as important that we take time once in a
while to fully relish this wonderful dance of life. As Alan
once pointed out in a taped lecture I heard, "There is
no beginning or ending point to a dance. There is only the
dance itself, and the purpose of life is to dance."