A declaration of the independence of cyberspace
by John Perry Barlow
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.
You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces. You do not know our culture, our ethics, or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order than could be obtained by any of your impositions.
You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve. You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts. Many of these problems don't exist. Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means. We are forming our own Social Contract. This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different.
Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.
We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.
We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.
Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.
Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge. Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hope we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.
In the United States, you have today created a law, the Telecommunications Reform Act, which repudiates your own Constitution and insults the dreams of Jefferson, Washington, Mill, Madison, DeToqueville, and Brandeis. These dreams must now be born anew in us.
You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants. Because you fear them, you entrust your bureaucracies with the parental responsibilities you are too cowardly to confront yourselves. In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole, the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat.
In China, Germany, France, Russia, Singapore, Italy and the United States, you are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace. These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media.
Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.
These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers. We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies. We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts.
We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.
This document harks back to the 90s, when the above form of techno-optimism was fashionable. So too, of course, were the myriad postmodern critiques of the Declaration's "neoliberal hubris". Such talk of a new "home of the mind" neglects the material fragility of fiber-optic cables. Likewise, the pastiche of the original "Declaration" was critiqued in line with the idea that America's founding fathers' shared a simillar hubristic vocabulary out of touch with the painful reality of America. One is reminded of an exchange in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon:
"Very well, let me put it this way," Kivistik said magnanimously—he was not above dumbing down his material for the likes of Jon. "How many on-ramps will connect the world’s ghettos to the Information Superhighway?"
Oh, that’s much clearer, everyone seemed to think. Point well taken, Geb! No one looked at Jon, that argumentative pariah. Jon looked helplessly over at Randy, signaling for help.
Jon was a Hobbit who’d actually been out of the Shire recently, so he knew Randy was a dwarf. Now he was fucking up Randy’s life by calling upon Randy to jump up on the table, throw off his homespun cloak, and whip out his two-handed ax.
The words came out of Randy’s mouth before he had time to think better of it. "The Information Superhighway is just a fucking metaphor! Give me a break!" he said.
So, what use does such a document hold these days? Well, I'm of the opinion that its central points still hold value:
1. Cyberspace has no borders. This was perhaps a bit monolithic; it's true that old borders do not count so much in cyberspace — think crypto, or the "greater digital America" that is the online anglosphere. That doesn't mean cyberspace is borderless however; its borders are esoteric, and ideological. And of course physical borders do break through; think the "Great Firewall of China". Bitcoin miners still manage to toil away within the PRC, though.
2. Likewise, the platonic internet ideal of "body-less" identities is not ubiquitous, but it is not a pipe-dream either. "Anons" with Anime avatars control billions in digital value; digital morphologies comfort the self-estranged, and "V-tubers" with voice-synthesizers are as close to this ideal as one can get currently.