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vintage cpunk



>From "Timothy C. May" <[email protected]>
Date: Sun, 2 Feb 1997 19:25:50 -0800 (PST)
To: [email protected]
Subject: My Departure, Moderation, and "Ownership of the List"



A couple of people have sent me pinging messages, asking about my
status on the Cypherpunks list....apparently it has taken several weeks
for folks to notice my absence! :-}  This may speak volumes about why I
have left the list, and what the list has become.....

I chose not to write a "departing flame" (or message, but some might
call it a flame) when I unsubscribed several weeks ago--within an hour
of reading that John and Sandy had decided to make "their" list a
moderated list, by the way--as I saw little benefit. I was also fed up
with things, and saw no point in wasting even more of my time arguing
against the New Cypherpunks World Order, as the NCWO was clearly
presented as a fait accompli, not something ablut which opinions of
list members (or even list _founders_, at least not me) were being
sought. It's my nature to just say "Fuck it" and leave when I feel I
have overstayed my time, or things are no longer fun, or I am made to
feel unwelcome.

But since several people have pinged me, asking about my status, I'll
take some time to say a few things. I've had access to the hks.net
archive site, and/or the Singapore site, to occasionally see what was
being said on the list (old habits die slowly, so I sometimes drop in
to see what you people are flaming each other about...not
surprisingly--in fact utterly predictably--I see vast amounts of
bandwidth consumed by arguments about moderation, about the putative
biases of the Moderator and Director of the New Cypherpunks World
Order, about alternative moderation strategies (which is stupid, as
John and Sandy announced what they were going to do, not just some of
their preliminary thoughts), and so on. I've also noticed fewer
substantive essays. With no false modesty I tried awfully hard to
compose substantive essays on crypto-political topics, often more than
one per day. (Others did too, but they seem to be tapering off as well,
leaving the list to be dominated by something called a "Toto," the
"O.J. was framed!" ravings of Dale Thorn, the love letters between
Vulis and someone name Nurdane Oksas, and the occasional bit of crypto
news. Ho hum. I'm glad I'm not reading the list in e-mail, and thus can
easily avoid replying to these inanities...which would probably not be
approved for reading by Sandy, so why bother anyway?)


Rather than compose a traditional essay, I'll take the  easy way out and
list some bulleted points.

* First, I don't argue that John Gilmore is unfree to do as he wishes
  with his machine, toad, which has been the major machine host for the
Cypherpunks list. John can tell us we have to write in Pig Latin if he
wishes. Much of the debate I saw in the archives was debate that missed
  the point about what John could and couldn't do. No one can seriously
  question the right of the owner of a machine, or the owner of a
  restaurant, etc., to set the policies he wishes. The owner of a
  restaurant is perfectly free--or used to be, and still is to anyone
  with even slightly libertarian or freedom tendencies--to set the
  rules of his "house." He may insist that shirts and shoes be worn, or
  that smoking is not allowed (or even is required, in theory), etc. He
  may say "All those eating in my restaurant must wear funny hats and
  have their costumes approved by Sandy Sandfort." This is
  unexceptionable.

* However, anyone who disputes these rules (disputes in the sense of
disliking or disagreeing with them, not legally challenging them) is
  free to leave. Those who don't like crowded, noisy, smoke-filled
  sports bars are encourgaged to leave. And so on. Again,
  unexceptionable.

(The more complicated case of contracts, verbal or written, and
"changing the rules," does not apply here. No one had a contract with
John, or Sandy, or Hugh, etc., so this is not germane.)

* But the really important issue is this: is the _physical hosting_ of
  the Cypherpunks mailing list coterminous with the "Cypherpunks"? If
  the list was hosted by, say, UC Berkeley or PGP Incorporated, would
  we consider these hosts to be the "owners" of the Cypherpunks group?
  Would we think that a corporate host, say, would have the authority
  to direct what we could say on the list? (Again, not disputing their
  corporate property rights...as a libertarian, I cannot. Other issues
  are what I'm getting at.)

* If a Boy Scout troop meets at a local church, and has for several
  years, continuously, would we consider the church to be the owner of
  the troop? Could the church insist on avoidance of certain "cuss
  words" and demand that prayers be said before each gathering?
  Certainly the church could tell the troop what policies were to be
  followed if the the facilities were to be used, etc., and the troop
  could leave if it didn't like the terms (or, in parallel with my
  situation, any troop member could choose to leave....). This is what
  we mean by "property rights": the legal right of a property owner to
  do with his property as he wishes, modulo prior contractual
  relationships, criminal laws, etc.

* How did the mailing list for the group, now called Cypherpunks, get
started, and how did it end up being run off of John's hardare? Hugh
  Daniel got the actual mailing list rolling, based on a discussion
  Eric Hughes, Hugh, and I had the day after the first physical
  meeting, in September 1992. We thought the group we had just spent
  the day with ought to be able to stay in touch, and that a mailing
  list was the right way to go. There was talk of siting it on the UC
  Berkeley computers (actually, the Undergraduate Association
  computers, a la the Cypherpunks archive site at "csua"), but Hugh
  thought he might be able to use "toad," and this is what happened. (I
  have not heard from Hugh on his views of this New and Moderated
  Non-Anarchic List.)

* I think we should all be very grateful to John for agreeing to let it
  run on his hardware, but not let our gratitude turn into some sort of
subservience and blather about how John "owns" the Cypherpunks group.

* Again, is the "Cyherpunks community" the same as the mailing list?
  And is the mailing list, hosted at toad, the "property" of John
  Gilmore?

* In my view, neither John nor Sandy in any sense "own" our group. It
  is a virtual community which sometimes has physical meetings at
  various places (including corporations, restaurants, and bookstores,
  none of which are even partial "owners" of the group) and which has
  had several instantiations on the Net, including sub-lists not
  connected to toad.com in any way. While John is of course free at any
  time to suspend his hosting of the list, I think it a serious
  misapprehension of the basic nature of virtual communities to accept
  the claim that John should decide on what is appropriate to bear the
  "Cypherpunks" list imprimatur and what is to be consigned to the
  flame list.

* The mechanics of the announcement troubled me greatly. To be blunt, I
  was seething with anger. I was mightily annoyed to read that John had
  made a decision to appoint Sandy as his Moderator, with no discussion
  on the list. I don't know if Eric Hughes and Hugh Daniel were asked
  their opinions, but I certainly know I was not. I feel that as one of
  the two or three founders, depending on how one is counting, and as a
  frequent contributor to the list since its inception, and so on, I
  (and others) should at least have been told of this plan. Better yet,
  have the plans discussed on the list, as some good ideas may have
  been generated.

I'll have more to say about my problems with how things were handled.
Frankly, it smacked of the same kind of fait accompli decision John made
with the unsubscribing of Vulis. While John had (and has) every legal
right to do with his property as he wished, the effect was very
negative. First, Vulis found other ways to post (duh). Second, the list
was consumed with flames about this, many from Vulis, and many from
others. Third, journalists (who love sizzle over substance any day of
the week) lept into the fray with articles which gave Vulis the
publicity he craved. Fourth, it sent a message to enemies of liberty
that "Even the Cypherpunks have found it necessary to abandon their
anarchic ways."

(I'm well aware of the issues with pests like Vulis, who seek to destroy
virtual communities like ours. But the solution John used did not work,
and generated more crap. As you all should know, it was John himself
who coined the wonderful saying, "The Net interprets censorship as
damage and routes around it." A delicious irony.)

* In the archives, I did see a bunch of "I support Sandy" and "John is
  our leader" comments from reasonable people. The obvious noise of
  Vulis and his cohorts like Aga made a "Do something!" attitude
  somewhat understandable. I don't think the decision made was a wise
  one, and I strongly doubt it will work to make the list a better one.

* The proper solution to bad speech is more speech, not censorship.
Censorship just makes opponents of "speech anarchy" happy--it affirms
  their basic belief that censors are needed.

* "Censorship" is another overloaded term. I don't think the
  "Definition 1" of dictionary definitions, about _governmental_
  restrictions, is the only meaningful definition. Everybody knows what
  it meant when we say that "Lockheed is censoring the views of
  employees," even though we know Lockheed is not using government
  power. A censor is one who censors. And even my "American Heritage
  Dictionary" gives this as its "definition 1":

"censor n. 1. A person authorized to examine books, films, or other
material and to remove or suppress morally, politically, or otherwise
objectionable."

(Other dictionaries of course give similar definitions. The notion that
censors are confined to being government employees is a misconception.)

* OK, even given that John had decided to censor "his" list, what about
  his choice of Sandy Sandfort as the censor? I've known Sandy for
  several years (I was the one who invited him to the second
  Cypherpunks meeting), but he's a poor choice as a censor, moderator,
  whatever. First, because he has so often gotten involved in
  protracted flame wars, such as with Vulis (remember the dozens of
  messages about the "bet" to bring Vulis out? I stayed out of the
  charade completely.), with Hallam-Baker, and with others. Second,
  because he has not been actively composing essays for a while,
  perhaps because of his job with Community Connexion. Other reasons,
  too.

(I count Sandy as a friend, but I'm just being honest here. Sandy is
just not a "Peter Neumann" (moderator of the "RISKS" list).

* Nor do the announced criteria make any sense. While the inane one-line
scatological insults have been filtered out, many "flames" make it
  through, based on what I've seen in perusing the hks archive site.
  And some reasonable comments get dumped in the flame bucket.

* As expected, those who only want to talk about cryptography (but who
rarely do, themselves, also as expected) waste bandwidth saying the
"anarchist" and "libertarian" stuff ought to go in to the "rejected"
  list. More bandwidth wasted, as each group lobbies to have its
  ideological opponents censored by Sandy.

* I would have had no problem had John announced that he was creating a
  new list, the "Good Stuff" list, with Sandy has his Chooser of Good
  Stuff. After all, both Eric Blossom and Ray Arachelian already offer
  just such lists, and more would not hurt.

But by making the _main list_ the censored one, this skewed things
considerably.

* (Frankly, one of my considerations in leaving was the feeling that I
would never know if an essay I'd spent hours composing would be
  rejected by Sandy for whatever reasons....maybe he might think my
  essay was off-topic, or used one of the Seven Deadly Words, or was
  "too flamish." Whatever. I realized that life is too short to have
  Sandy Sandfort deciding whether my essays should go out to the main
  list (which is really just a list like Eric Blossom's best-of list,
  except it is be edict now the main list) or be dumped into the flames
  list, to be read by a handful of people.)

* Why, many reasonable people may ask, did I not simply unsubscribe from
the "Cypherpunks" list and subscribe to the "Cypherpunks-Unedited) (or
whatever it is called) list? Because of my overall anger with the issues
raised above. The imperiousness of the decision, the notion of favoring
Sandy's tastes in a more "first class" way than, say, the tastes of Eric
Blossom, Ray Arachelian, or, for that matter, me.  "Some censors are
  more equal than others."

* The decision to "moderate" (censor) the Cypherpunks list is powerful
ammunition to give to our opponents, and Vulis is certainly gleeful that
his fondest wishes have been realized. And it won't work. People are
consuming even more bandwidth arguing the merits of John's decision, the
traffic is presumably being slowed down by the need for Sandy to wade
through the traffic and stamp "Approved" or "Rejected" on what he
  glances at, and people are "testing the limits" of what they can say
  and what they can't say.

* It also sends a message that people are incapable of filtering out bad
speech, that they need a censor to do it for them. (Again, I have no
problem with competing "screeners," a la having Ray, Eric, or David
Sternlight filtering what they think is OK and what is not. Let a
  thousand filtering services bloom.) But the clear message by having
  Sandy censor the main list (the default list, the list name with the
  main name, the list we all know about, etc.) is that Cypherpunks need
  Big Brother to shelter them from Bad Thoughts, from Naughty Words,
  from Evil Flames, and from Impure Desires. Foo on that.

* Psychologists might point to random reinforcement, even to the
  effects of terror. How many of us are likely to write controversial
  posts knowing that Sandy might wake up having a "bad hair day" and
  thus reject our posts? How many will begin to skew their opinions to
  match those of Sandy? (I would venture a guess that a Duncan Frissell
  would almost certainly get a libertarian rant past Sandy while a
  Phill Hallam-Baker might easily fail to get a leftist rant past him.)

* Those who want "less noise" should subcontract with the filter
  services of their own choosing. This is the "Cypherpunk Way." Having
  Sandy as the censor is the easy way out.

* By the way, the moderated list "RISKS"  works pretty well. But it is
  not a _discussion_ group. It is, rather, a digest of news items
  related to computer and technology risks, with some discussion by
  various contributors, and with a long turnaround time of a few issues
  per week, tops. Peter Neumann also devotes a lot of time to making it
  run smoothly and bases part of his professional career on running it.
  I surmise that Sandy is not prepared to do the same. Nor would this
  be a good idea, as this would kill the spirit of the debate.

* Had there been a debate about the policy, I can think of several
approaches I'd like better. But inasmuch as John made it clear that
  there would be no debate (and, perhaps as part of the "problem," John
  has not really been a active member of the mailing list, in terms of
  participating in the debates), this is all moot.

In any case, my several years with the list have taken a huge amount of
my time. Given the way this whole thing was handled, and the way the
list is degenerating even further, it looks like it's good that I'm
moving on to other things.


* To summarize:

- the decision to censor the list was made without any discussion on the
list, without any discussion with at least some of the longterm core
contributors, and was presented as a "fait accompli."

- while John has every right to do with his hardware as he wishes, he
  does not "own" the Cypherpunks group (though whether he owns the
  "list" is a semantically debatable point)

- whatever our group once was, or still is, is not dependent on having a
particular mailing list running on someone's home machine...and it
  cannot be claimed that any person "owns" the Cypherpunks group.

- there is some talk of creating another Cypherpunks list, on other
machines; I don't know whether or not this will fly, or if I'll devote
  any time to such lists.

- the effect of censorship, such as I have seen it so far, is not
  producing a better list. In fact, as I would have expected, it is
  producing a more boring and sheltered list.


And so there you have it.

I had no plans to set down my views, feeling it was a waste of my time
and your time. Rather than foam and rant the way some did (and Vulis
must have posted 100 messages on the subject), I chose to simply make
my exit, quickly.

But as I have recently seen several mentions of my absence (including a
particularly complimentary comment from Asgaard--thanks), I do feel I
owe it to you all to explain my views.

Which I have done. Have a nice year, and a nice millenium in a couple
of years.


--Tim May




Just say "No" to "Big Brother Inside"
We got computers, we're tapping phone lines, I know that that ain't
allowed.
---------:---------:---------:---------:---------:---------:---------:----
Timothy C. May              | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital
money, [email protected]  408-728-0152 | anonymous networks, digital
pseudonyms, zero W.A.S.T.E.: Corralitos, CA  | knowledge, reputations,
information markets, Higher Power: 2^1398269     | black markets,
collapse of governments. "National borders aren't even speed bumps on
the information superhighway."