He made it. Now it made him
If you think that backslapping awards and honorific titles are a feudal relic – an archaic and degenerate indulgence of the old world’s imperial plutocracies, think again. They’re alive and well in the New World – and flourishing in the even Newer World of Cyberspace!
Which, we can’t help noticing, has its own self-congratulatory plutocracy, whose members are just as eager to slap each other on the back, and give each other fancy titles, as the Lords and Dukes of yore.
It’s perfectly proper that EFF founders should get awards from the organization they created. So writes one John Perry Barlow – co-founder and Vice Chairman of the EFF, and BF, FL-GD, GBN, CIA,WCR (rtd), to give him his full title. (We may have missed a few out – sorry, John). Barlow objects to our story EFF honors EFF founder with EFF award:
Cheap shot, Dude.From: John Perry Barlow
Mitch deserves it. You know that. There’s nothing unseemly about it. We have an independent selection process. The EFF gives the award, but we don’t pick the winners or even the nominees.
We do restrict the jury from including people who are still actively associated with EFF on a daily basis. John and I are still on the board, and likely to remain so for some time. So we’re not candidates.
I doubt you’ll clarify this, but journalism deserves better from you. And usually gets it.
That Kapor is a nice man who does good charitable deeds isn’t the point of contest. The point we were making is that in Western societies, the only organizations who give the founders honors tend to be dodgy. Look at the spontaneous gestures of generosity that the old Communist parties would bestow on the wrinkly dictators. Or self-satisfied corporations, sending the founder off into the sunset with yet another founder’s award.
While we’re always on the lookout for new norms of behaviour in “cyberspace”, some old norms of human behaviour die hard. And one of them is the sheer revulsion felt at backslapping. Just as we have a deep biological aversion to meat that smells foul, or looks like it’s turned foul, so we react to cult-like gestures, such as self-congratulation. It’s a sign that something isn’t quite healthy.
There’s also a good case to be made for promoting a campaigner or activist who hasn’t been fully recognized, and whose work could benefit from the attendant publicity.
Nevertheless, to drive his point home, John urges us to publish his congratulations to Kapor, which we’re happy to do, too.
Fifteen years ago, when we were conceiving the EFF Pioneer Awards, I remember thinking that you were already an entirely fitting recipient. But I also knew propriety would require that you wait, and maybe for a long time. In those uncertain times, I could only dream that we had begun a tradition that would survive long to eventually give you what you richly deserved from the beginning.
At the time, I even imagined presenting this to you myself. Unfortunately, we were so scrupulous about designing an independent selection process that I only learned of this about ten days ago. By that time, I had already been contracted to a commitment in London that I could neither reschedule nor wriggle from beneath.
Perhaps it’s appropriate, given the nature of what you created and have defended all these years, that I’m doing this virtually. The heartfelt hug that would come with it will have to wait until the next time we share prana.
I hope everyone present tonight is pointedly aware that, without you, there would be no Electronic Frontier Foundation. It wouldn’t have begun in the first place and it wouldn’t have survived a number of nearly terminal crises over the years. Without your vision, insight, wisdom, humor, hard work, and material support, it simply wouldn’t have happened. I helped, John Gilmore helped even more, and we can be grateful to a multitude of other brave and freedom-loving souls who did most of the heavy lifting. But you were the bottom line.
And had the Electronic Frontier Foundation not been there during this critical time, when the very foundations of the future were being laid, the world might already be a place where local governments had successfully established the right and ability to impose themselves human culture all over the planet. What little hadn’t been locked down by governments might now be owned by the media golems. The Internet might have been supplanted by the Information Superhighway, and the Web, if it existed at all, would look like a way to freebase television.
Without you, and your off-hand remark that architecture is politics, Larry Lessig might still be an obscure professor at Harvard Law School.
[ So he’s to blame – ed.]
There would be no Creative Commons nor Canto Livre nor Brazilian revolution against WIPO. Without you and your creation of the CIX, the Internet might still be a marginal network connecting a few academics and government officials. Without you, there might be no general understanding in courts all over the world that the rights that had adhered to previous media adhere as clearly to Cyberspace.I know that you had your agonies on behalf of creating the future we are now lucky enough to inhabit. There were times when EFF board meetings were as tumultuous as Sicilian weddings and I knew how much these donnybrooks pained you.
Indeed, I know how much I have pained you in various ways. I know that there were times when you felt that Gilmore and I had hijacked your beloved EFF and turned into radical libertarian fringe group. But you forgave, you stuck with us, and you hung with the cause.
As you know, I believe that one’s central task in life is to be a good ancestor. Generations many times unborn have a great ancestor in you. And if, in a couple of hundred years, people everywhere are able to say what they believe, know what they hunger to know, and use tools for thought that empower the truth, it will be in significant part because Mitch Kapor descended one May afternoon from a pale Wyoming sky and set about to free the future.
I am grateful to you. I admire you. And I love you.
Thank you, Mitch. You’re a real pioneer.
John Perry Barlow, Cognitive Dissident
Co-Founder & Vice Chairman, Electronic Frontier Foundation Berkman Fellow, Harvard Law SchoolHome(stead) Page: http://www.eff.org/~barlow
And thank you, John.
FL-GD: Former lyricist, The Grateful Dead
BF: Fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. But then these days, who isn’t?
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