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“Nature is a free market system,” Barlow wrote in 1998.“A rain forest is an unplanned economy, as is a coral reef.Where Barlow’s story veers from many hippie icons, however, is his conclusion that he now “could more plainly see the virtues of being more of a Republican than I had been.” Barlow may have been the only acid-head to hang out on an Indian mountaintop with a Lama, and come back resolving to vote for the party of Richard Nixon. The son of multiple generations of cattle-ranching Wyoming Republican Mormons, Barlow says the chaos he saw in India reinforced his belief that the United States was en route to its own kind of spiritual and political collapse.(It didn’t stop him from bringing back a life-size Buddha head stuffed with hashish.) Taking over the family ranch in Pinedale, Wyoming, when his father fell ill in the early ’70s, Barlow would spend a decade and a half on the physical frontier, becoming an ardent conservationist and chair of the Republican party in Sublette County; in these roles, he would build coalitions with a Wyoming politician named Dick Cheney, eventually becoming a campaign coordinator for the young congressman.When Barlow died in February at age 70, remembrances came from United States senators and exiled dissidents, hackers and psychedelics enthusiasts, Harvard fellows and members of the Grateful Dead.Founding WIRED executive editor Kevin Kelly called him “the mayor of the internet.” Edward Snowden’s eulogy suggested that Barlow may have provided the seed of his own radicalization., a newly published posthumous memoir cowritten with Robert Greenfield, tells of Barlow’s journey from rural, Mormon Wyoming to the virtual domain that he was—in 1990—the first to call cyberspace, after the term from William Gibson’s .Running on charisma as much as policy, but with seemingly equal grasp of both, Barlow was perhaps less an influencer than an instigator.With an instinct for freedom honed as much on the psychedelic planes as the Wyoming frontier, Barlow’s personality rings big and weird throughout , as open-hearted as it was sometimes privileged.
From this observation materialized Barlow’s career as one of the network’s most eloquent theorizers. “It was a quality [Jerry] Garcia had as well,” Barlow muses, perhaps the only person on the planet qualified to draw those comparisons from personal experience. “I had spent 15 years riding around the [ranch] thinking about [Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of a consciousness-created] noosphere, and suddenly after all that time, I had evidence this was not just Teilhard’s pipe dream but was in fact real and growing its own nervous system.”“Find the others,” Barlow’s one-time guru Timothy Leary had instructed, those untapped minds already part of the same cause, consciously or not.
The word “libertarian” never appears in , but, to varying degrees, that’s what Barlow was, and the ideas orbiting that term would shape the EFF’s broader mission.
“I found it most effective to be inside the Republican Party acting as a libertarian,” he once said.
Encountering the father of the late internet activist Aaron Swartz, Swartz’s father tells Barlow about the impact the EFF’s cofounder had when he visited the 10-year-old Swartz’s elementary school class.
“His life was different after that,” Robert Swartz tells Barlow..