Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 28 Nov 01 17:09
Peter Ludlow received his PhD in philosophy from Columbia University in 1985. He has written, edited, or co-edited ten books, including High Noon on the Electronic Frontier (MIT Press, 1996) and Crypto Anarchy, Cyberstates, and Pirate Utopias (MIT Press, 2001), and has published over 50 articles in scholarly journals on issues ranging from the philosophy of time to issues in artificial intelligence. Professor Ludlow has lectured at dozens of foreign universities ranging from Cambridge University in England to Novosibirsk State University in Russia and has been a visiting professor at Cornell University, UC Santa Cruz, Kings College in London, and the University of Venice in Italy. He holds a permanent appointment at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, but this academic term is a visiting professor at Syracuse University. In Crypto Anarchy, Cyberstates, and Pirate Utopias, Peter Ludlow extends the approach he used so successfully in High Noon on the Electronic Frontier, offering a collection of writings that reflects the eclectic nature of the online world, as well as its tremendous energy and creativity. This time the subject is the emergence of governance structures within online communities and the visions of political sovereignty shaping some of those communities. Bruce Umbaugh is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Webster University, and teaches at its campus in St. Louis and online. After earning a BA in Philosophy from the Honors Tutorial College of Ohio University, he completed his MA and PhD at the University of Maryland, College Park. Trained mainly in traditional areas of philosophy like epistemology and philosophy of science, he wrote a dissertation on rationality. When he went online, he was quickly taken with ways in which traditional philosophical issues recur in computer-mediated contexts, and he saw cyberspace as a kind of test bed for theories about anarchism, identity, and a host of other issues. He has written and lectured on issues such as anonymity and Usenet identity, virtual community, WebTV and free speech, the ethics of market research, and privacy protection, to philosophers, schoolchildren, and geeky computer types. His book, *On Berkeley* (Wadsworth, 2000), not only reviews the British empiricist's reasons for saying, "to be is to be perceived," but also considered what they have to do with understanding quantum mechanics and virtual reality. He is writing a book on cyberspace ethics. Please join me in welcoming Peter and Bruce to inkwell.vue!
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Thu 29 Nov 01 05:24
Thanks, <castle>. Peter, I expect that a lot of folks reading this will be familiar with High Noon, and somewhat fewer with the newer Crypto Anarchy book. Would you start by saying a little about your motivations for these books?
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Thu 29 Nov 01 18:16
I was afraid you were going to ask me that. The sad truth is that I really don't have a clue why I got involved in these two projects. They just sort of happened, if that's possible. Well..., wait a second... that was certainly true for _High Noon_ but less so for the _Crypto Anarcy_ project. The latter was actually spawned some years ago when someone (Brenner perhaps?) was editing a special issue of the _Fringeware Review_ on the future of law or something, and I wrote a piece called "Laws IN Cyberspace". It was supposed to be about where law was going to be going in five years or something like that. The _Fringeware_ people didn't like it, which made me think I was on to something, so I decided to use that essay as the backbone for a collection of essays that had to do with the emergence of online governance structures, issues of the sovereignty of cyberspace etc. _Crypto Anarcy, Cyberstates, and Pirate Utopias_ was the result.
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Thu 29 Nov 01 18:27
So you're saying that _Crypto Anarcy, Cyberstates, and Pirate Utopias_ is an anthology, but has a thesis? There's a point to the whole schmeer?
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Thu 29 Nov 01 18:47
Yah, strangely enough the point came first. I was pleased to find all the supporting documentation -- especially the law essays by Mnookin, Post, Johnson. Other items I already knew were out there (like Barlow's infamous declaration of the independence of cyberspace and, of course, Hakim Bey). Uh, there might even be more than one point to the schmeer and I imagine some of those emerged as the project took form, but yes, in general, the project is pointy. Why else would I do it?
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Fri 30 Nov 01 04:27
Let's get after some pointiness, then. The book opens with your essay, that you just mentioned, then offers up a section on "The Sovereignty of Cyberspace." There we find Barlow's provocation: "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." By contrast, David Bennahum puts it to us as a question: will we deal with the real world or retreat into our own private delusion--one that places cyberspace above and beyond the realities of the physical world? (And Brin and Barbrook redirect our attention to the social.) The sovereignty theme is clearly a big deal for the book. The obvious questions to ask are "Who's right? Is cyberspace independent?" (Feel free to tell us.) But reading the section this week, I was struck by something else. Bennahum's piece casts the issue as *up to us*, rather than up to governments or just in the nature of things. Do you think that's so (or was so in 1996, say)? That users decide whether cyberspace is a mysterious, separate place, or more connected to the physical world? Or should we expect there's some brute fact of the matter on those questions?
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Fri 30 Nov 01 05:05
I'd say that the sovereignty of cyberspace, like the sovereignty of everything else, depends to a large degree on whether the denizens *want* it to be sovereign (and, in some cases, whether they are willing to fight a war to make it sovereign). Next week Long Islanders may decide that LI should be a sovereign state. It's not like their decision flies in the face of some brute fact. On the other hand, their decision to withdraw from the US may have unpleasant consequences for them. Same holds for the sovereignty of cyberspace. Nothing about the idea flies in the face of reality -- it's just a decision to be made. That having been said, I think the Barlow mistake is thinking of cyberspace as a single monolithic sovereignty. It makes more sense to say that there are "cyberspaces" and some of those will achieve varying degrees of autonomy. Maybe even sovereignty.
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Fri 30 Nov 01 05:49
" . . . fight a war to make it sovereign." Is there a war (are there wars) like that going on now?
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Fri 30 Nov 01 07:45
Well, clearly there are wars like that going on in the so-caled real world. As we've seen, even in the RW, a lot turns on what we mean by 'war'. I don't have any problem with saying that there are currently stuggles taking place for sovereign cyberspaces, although to some degree those are being fought in courts and through actions like the development of resources for cryptography. Think about Wendy Grossman's latest book, where the term 'war' is used in this context without embarassment.
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Fri 30 Nov 01 09:53
Long Islanders would, I take it, be aided in their quest for sovereignty by living on an actual island. Likewise, we have Bruce Sterling's evocative title, *Islands in the Net*. Long Islanders would be hindered by their various other connections with off-island entitites, though. Residents commute elsewhere to work, and mail travels on- and off-island, and there are bridges and ferries and airports, and people have family members elsewhere, and so on. To what extent would one have to give up (on) connections with the so-called Real World in seriously seeking some cyberspace sovereignty?
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Fri 30 Nov 01 11:41
That's exactly right wrt Long Island. The social, economic, and political identities of Long Islanders have virtually nothing to do with the physical geography of where they live. That's why (or one big reason why) the idea of a Sovereign State of Long Island sounds so funny. But now let's consider the converse case where, say, a group of Long Islanders and a group of Australians *do* develop regular business and social relations over the internet. Let's say they have several virtual corporations and have town hall meetings on a MOO which is in Palo Alto. One wonders why terrestial governments should have any claim over such an emerging online community. Certain governance structures will emerge organically, and the thought is that they can and should be taken just as seriously as the laws of geographically identified states.
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Fri 30 Nov 01 14:39
What are the enforcement mechanisms available in more-or-less sovereign cyberspace? In sufficiently discrete environments, some pretty direct analogs of RL punishments are available: you can @newt or @toad a MOO character, for example. But in the broader ecology of cyberspace, enforcement depends on coordinating actions of, say, sysadmins at ISPs in Australia and on Long Island with the work of wizards on the MOO in Palo Alto.
Bob 'rab' Bickford (rab) Fri 30 Nov 01 14:56
Generally, when I think about the supposed "independence" of cyberspace, it's more in the sense of making existing meat-space governments irrelevant and impotent. The minarchist in me likes that idea a lot, given the huge history of death and destruction done by those governments, and worries about what they might get replaced with if people like you start talking seriously about "governing" cyberspace. How much does your current book have to say about emergent norms and non-centralized enforcement mechanisms and all of the other things that techno-utopians (like myself, I admit it) have thought about for the last couple of decades? Are these things just dismissed out of hand like so many authors have done or do they get a little serious exploration?
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Fri 30 Nov 01 14:59
The problem isn't finding enforcement mechanisms for cyberstates. Toading can be done at a push of a button. The real problem is going to be finding recourse for citizens that are the victims of trigger happy sysadmins. There are two views about this (both considered in the essays by lawyers Post and Johnson). On the one hand if you have a nasty sysadmin or an unhappy rule set you can always join another online community/economic enclave -- maybe you get a competing marketplace in rule systems. Right now that requires moving to another state or country in meat space. When we're dealing with cyberstates the move is easier. Against that, however, there is the concern that you can build up important social and economic ties within a particular virtual environment. In the most simple case, your customers may expect to find you at that location. What recourse is there if a sysadmin boots you? Right now, you are probably flat out of luck. In short, finding enforcement mechanisms is the least of the problems. There are, of course, famous cases where people are toaded and return with a new account (e.g. the return of Mr. Bungle as Dr. Jest on LambdaMOO) but this strategy is untenable for situations where your RL identity is important.
Bob 'rab' Bickford (rab) Fri 30 Nov 01 15:09
Do I gather correctly that these essays talk exclusively in terms of MOOs and MUDs and whatever else they're being called? I've studiously avoided participation in any such thing (aside from a few brief and rather tentative explorations about 1988 to 1990) and so (for example) I'm having to infer what you mean by "toading". I do gather that people really think of these things as communities and so the experience must be nearly as powerful as the WELL has been for many of us, but frankly they're mostly just puzzling to me.
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Fri 30 Nov 01 15:10
rab slipped, and with a really good question. First, just to be clear, I'm not talking about governing cyberspace in the usual sense (which to me implies ways in which people can govern cyberspace), but rather with the ways in which governence structures emerge *within* cyberspace. Now, the question is, what emerges? Authoritarian rule sets or what we might call libertatian rule sets? Well, maybe you get both. In between you have communities like the WELL in which for the most part enforcement doesn't come out of rule sets or actions by sysadmins but by group dynamics and peer pressure. Shunning, if you will. There are a lot of people on the WELL who have thought more about this than I have (you among them, rab) and who know more about the process than I do. My concern in the collection was not to dismiss any possibilities but to argue that all should be taken seriously.
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Fri 30 Nov 01 15:15
more slippage, now responding to rab's #14. There is a bit on MUDs and MOOs. Really only two essays, though. One is a piece by Jennifer Mnookin on the emergence of virtual laws on lambdaMOO, and the other is Charle's Stivales essay on the case of SamIam, which spanned LamdaMOO and mediaMOO. They provide some nice case studies, but no, to answer the question, the focus of the book is not exclusively on those kinds of virual environments.
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Fri 30 Nov 01 17:51
For those who are interested, the introductory chapter is online at... <http://semlab2.sbs.sunysb.edu/Users/pludlow/crypto.intro.html>
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Fri 30 Nov 01 18:04
Thanks for that link, Peter. Amazon has a collection of sample pages, including the table of contents, up as well. For denizens of cyberspace to secede, it seems it would be helpful to be obscure, hidden, invisible. Available through pseudonyms, but not linked to RL identities. Tim May's essays in the book advance this theory of "cypto-anarchy" -- that "cryptologic methods fundamentally alter the nature of corporations and of government interference in economic transactions" and "the wire clippers which dismantle the barbed wire around intellectual property." (Curiously enough, May's "Crypto-Anarchy and Virtual Communities" asserts his copyright, over and above the press's copyright in the collection.) Can you explain crypto-anarchy for beginners? Is it one of the "pirate utopias" of the title?
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Fri 30 Nov 01 18:44
Crypto anarchy helps make pirate utopias possible. In theory, that is. Crypto anarchy for beginners. Hmmm, how about this: encryption technology and related tools (encrypted digital transactions) make it possible for economies to emerge that are invisible to traditional nation states and thus escape their control (and taxation). Some of the emerging islands in the net, protected by encryption, may form interesting governance structures and in some cases, mini-utopias are not out of the question. 'Pirate Utopia' is of course a phrase from Hakim Bey's _Temporary Authonomous Zones_. Such utopias may be "found out" and squashed out of existence, but that's just how it is with pirate utopias. They are supposed to be creative, fun, and temporary. In this respect they contrast with traditional utopias like More's and H.G. Well's _Modern Utopia_. For Thomas More, every city looks the same. Here, every cyberstate will look different. If I wasn't allergic to the term 'postmodern' I might speak of these as being postmodern utopias. Again, the idea is that encryption technology will help make some of them possible.
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Fri 30 Nov 01 21:33
Piracy's well understood but does anyone buy the utopia bit anymore? There are lots of secret decentralized organizations out there but they tend to be preoccupied with smuggling of some sort or other, whether it's music or arms trafficking.
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Sat 1 Dec 01 04:12
It depends on what you expect utopias to look like. Hakim Bey wanted to argue that the 17th century Bucaneers had established utopias of a sort -- hidden away, devoted to grim business, but also with some forward thinking social policies and robust partying. For example, the bucaneers had a policy for equitable distribution of booty, equal participation for those on the margins of society, and a kind of workman's comp system (extra shares for losing an eye, etc.). I don't know much about the lives of gun runners and drug smugglers, but it's hard to imagine that it's utopian in any interesting sense -- I agree with you about that.
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Sat 1 Dec 01 05:14
Brian, I think that some of the cypherpunk crowd, at least, are serious about the utopian angle. The thinking is, roughly, that crypto allows disentanglement (for some lucky few, at least) from prevailing Real World institutions and that what arises is a collection of voluntary associations, each self-governing, interacting only at the margins. (Crypto -- and, as Peter notes above, the acts and intentions of users -- manages this by interconnecting individuals without regard to geography and in secret (hence, not susceptible to surveillance or to isolation), allowing economic transactions in secret (hence not regulable except by consent of parties to the transactions), and because authentication allows development of robust pseudonyms that can carry reputations.)
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Sat 1 Dec 01 08:32
I always think of burning man as a modern-day real world example of a temporary autonomous zone, although it's getting less and less autonomous each year.
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Sat 1 Dec 01 10:33
Yah, burning man was a really good example of a TAZ. More recent burning man events also show that TAZs don't last forever. It seems that they either get squashed out of existence or coopted. bm seems to be going the latter route.
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Sat 1 Dec 01 13:16
It came "out of hiding" or sort of above ground. That maybe happened to the Internet five or so years ago, too. I know you've been doing some thinking about the Al Qaida network in these contexts, too, Peter. What does Al Qaida have to do with crypto anarchy and TAZs?
Members: Enter the conference to participate