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News Date: 2018-02-09

John Perry Barlow - A Good Ancestor And The Greatest Man I Have Ever Known
Posted Feb 9, 2018
Source Packet Storm

John Perry Barlow

October 3rd 1947 – February 7th 2018


If we are lucky, we may find ourselves in just the right place, at just the right time, peering down the barrel at the future history of humanity.


For those of us lucky enough to steal a glimpse of such monumental proportions, we usually do so in the rearview mirror - to see what could have been.


John Perry Barlow saw what could be, and on many occasions, what he could do to rally a team to charge a course to a better future.


And so he did, again and again. Without prejudice or fear, holding strong only to what was right. And he had serious fun doing it.


Thus is the story of John Perry. In the last decade of his life, when he became disillusioned by what he would call the “world of bits,” he wanted to do something in the “world of atoms.” He wanted to make a difference, to be a good ancestor. To do something his grandchildren could reach out, touch, and be proud of him for. This is what JPB and I set out to do.


Like those closest to him, John Perry was, to me, an incredibly complex yet straightforward man. I have had the honor and privilege to be as close to him as anyone over the last 10 years. We were business partners, housemates and best friends. Like father and son. We traveled the world together. He often joked about us being like a married couple. Among the complexities of our relationship, I had the dubious and insufferable honor of being his first, and only, boss. That’s a mantle you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. But, I take that as a testament to our trust in one another and the strange joy we found setting out to do the impossible — I wouldn’t change that for the world.


It’s from this place that I want to share the magic of this man, and the wisdom he imparted on those close to him.


Serendipitously, today marks the 22nd anniversary of his writing of the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace – a decree that carried the torch of a generation of young hackers, like I once was, helping forge a brave new world where the internet and all the knowledge it contains, knows neither boundaries nor limits, wants most to be free. He will forever be known as the godfather of freedom on the Internet — for threatening to drop his wrench into the complex machinery of whatever injustice he saw brewing. And sometimes he would.


But he was also an environmentalist, in the purest sense of the word, though his skin would crawl when he heard that term, bastardized as it had become. He was deeply concerned for the future of the earth, too, and it was from this place that he had a strong desire to build something new — to find a way to solve problems with grace and ingenuity, so that people could have their most basic needs met – all while turning their shit, literally, into gold. He endeavored to “do good while doing well,” to be a good ancestor.


He and I met shortly after he had a back surgery , which gave him a new lease on life and allowed him to get up and dance again, for the first time in many years.


We jumped on a crazy idea and turned it into reality— something that had never been done before. We built an energy-positive, carbon-negative wastewater plant that could make clean water, fertilizer and crude oil from sewage, and we did it in Daphne, Alabama. He said it was one of his proudest accomplishments in life —the team that we built, the relationships he forged, and what we accomplished together through, as he would call it, “guerilla and loincloth” ingenuity. For its own reasons, what we tried to accomplish at Algae Systems was a greater success than we could have ever imagined— yet, for reasons beyond our control and, having nothing to do with its merit, it has become not.


Oh but, the stories I could tell — like the time, several hours into a tedious license negotiation with six NASA lawyers, JPB takes several of what he believes to be ephedra, and turns to me some minutes later with a labored look on his face and says, “Matt, I fear I’ve made a grave mistake, I believe I just inadvertently took several Ambien.” Between propping him up in the meeting and kicking him under the table when he uttered gratuitous nonsense, we somehow made it out of there ultimately successful.


Thus was the journey with John Perry. No matter what the task, he was game. And he was game in his own way, by his own rules.


John Perry was hospitalized following a routine trip to Alabama, and this set off a cascade of hospitalizations over the course of two years that caused a great deal of pain and suffering for him. But the promise of his family and friends, Algae Systems, EFF and the Freedom of the Press Foundation kept his spirits high for a long time, because he believed in something bigger than himself— he believed that his life was for those around him and for future generations, as much as it was for himself to live. There are probably hundreds of people who consider John Perry to be among their best friends. He was a gentleman who would listen attentively and respond with wisdom, grit and love. He was game, always—and always there for you.


Those of us who knew him closely, knew that his wisdom ran deep— into the sinewy spiritual, although he never confessed to having a thought one way or another about what lies beyond the veil. He took a most practical approach to these matters, saying that the secret to life is learning how to accept love. Coming from a man who had more people who loved him than anyone you’d ever met, (and I might add, who could get co-dependent with a fire hydrant), that was saying something.


Think about that for a second. A man who had no shortage of love in his life and scores of amazing people around him always felt that, in the end, accepting the love from those around you was the greatest gift and challenge in being human.


John Perry Barlow left this world much better than he found it, both for those of us who knew and loved him, and for future generations to come.


John Perry was many things to many people. For me, JPB was a champion, a leader, a co-conspirator and a friend.


There are many things that I could say about John Perry but one thing is certain: he lived more than anyone I have known. He championed a way forward that will forever shape the course of knowledge and freedom. He inspired generations with his words, and built foundations on which freedom can endure in our increasingly interconnected world.


Although he would bristle at these words, John Perry would become the greatest man I have ever known. I am by far a better man because of him, and it’s my hope that his magic will find its way into future generations, through those of us that knew him well, and through the enduring legacy of his actions and words.


His willingness to live in the moment, to live life to its fullest and to do what is right, no matter the cost, that lives on in all of us.


Humanity lost a champion and a legend yesterday, and we have some big gnarly cowboy boots to fill. May his words and spirit infuse our actions with the power to do what’s right no matter what, and may we too, be better ancestors with the inspiration he provides.


Matt Atwood

San Francisco, February 8th, 2018


PS - The next time you’re really hungry for breakfast – go have yourselves a quiveringly rare steak with an entire Denver omelet on top and an extra large can or two of Red Bull, on ice. He’d approve.

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