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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 Boire asks:

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 them. (2)

     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 come.

Transcending the Corporation/Nation State

"It took man 250,000 years to transcend the hunting pack.
It will not take him so long to transcend the nation."
J.B.S. Haldane

"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 tell us.

     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 cyberspace.

     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 space.

     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."
Carl Jung

     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.

     Some 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 mutilated. (5)

     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 agri-chemical industry.

      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 Decisions

     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 illusion.
It shows things as they are."
Mark Pesce

     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.

      As John Perry Barlow says in his "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace:"

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. (6) [Emphasis added]

      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 Watts (8) 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."


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