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The Cypherpunks Agenda
I wrote a personal reply to Adam Back, including some stuff about what's
apparently happening in the Bay Area community...I may learn more if I make
it to the Saturday physical meeting at Stanford, which I hope to make.
Some of the other things I mentioned to Adam may deserve a wider audience.
Warning: this is not a a carefully-constructed major essay, just some
thoughts which have been brewing for a couple of years. I agree fully with
Adam's point that many list members, and certainly many of those who
reflexivly shout "Cypherpunks write code!" whenever political issues come
up, are _missing the point_. What code should be written without some
grounding in what one's goals are?
I'm not calling for the usual debate about gun control, abortion, religion,
discrimination, etc. We sometimes get off, get sidetracked, on these
issues, but the debates are rarely useful.
Rather, I think we are no longer trying to figure out which building blocks
for our "agenda" are needed. Indeed, some here claim that any discussion of
goals or agendas is ipso facto "off topic."
Well, let me assure you otherwise. I was there at the beginning, at the
first meeting (called by Eric Hughes and me), in September 1992.
Politics--of a specific sort--dominated that first meeting, and subsequent
meetings. Not politics about welfare, or minimum wages, or Democrats vs.
Republicans (or Greens vs. SDU or other national parties in whatever
countries). No, "politics" about privacy, anonymous communications, digital
cash, information markets, etc.
We spent the afternoon playing a paper-based game, using envelopes as
mixes, using bulletin boards as information markets, using "Monopoly" money
as digital cash. Far from being a worthless game, it educated people as to
how a crypto-anarchic system might work. Out of this game came the first
"anonymous remailers" (of the Cypherpunk flavor, not the Julf flavor).
First written by Eric, then improved by Hal Finney, then by many others.
Out of this first meeting came wide use of PGP...we distributed PGP 2.0,
the first "modern" version of PGP, several days after release. And out of
this meeting came "BlackNet," "Magic Money," and several other "politically
Cypherpunks has _always_ been political! Those who think otherwise are
missing the boat.
Anyway, here's some of what I wrote to Adam:
At 6:50 AM -0700 10/8/98, Adam Back wrote:
>This is what I meant by my short rant about coderpunks detracting from
>the cypherpunk objective: siphons off 'punks from cypherpunks into a
>crypto-politically neutral environment. Then it gets increasingly
>more crypto-politically neutral subscribers, and anyone reminding or
>commenting that the original aim of the game was to distribute strong
>crypto to undermine the state, gets told by the local retro moderators
>that political stuff isn't welcome.
>Try reading the cyphernomicon (*), if you haven't.
Thanks for the plug.
I agree fully with your point about the "crypto-politically neutral" stance
many are now taking. I see this at the few CP physical meetings I manage to
attend these days. Many of the attendees are just cogs inside companies,
and have no idea why they're working on some widget, except that "crypto is
cool" and it's "their job."
I also am fed up with the "Cypherpunks write code" mantra. Yes, code is
very, very important. But _what_ code?
And for all of the mantra-chanting, actually very few have ever written any
memorable code. We are basically "coasting" on some code (PGP, SSLeay,
Mixmaster, a few other pieces) that implement only _two_ of the building
blocks: straight encryption and mixes.
So where is the _rest_ of the code?
"Cypherpunks write code" is a mantra to shut up any discussion of which
building blocks are important to write. And yet most of the mantra chanters
are actually not writing useful or interesting code, just hacking away in
Y2K: A good chance to reformat America's hard drive and empty the trash.
Timothy C. May | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,
ComSec 3DES: 831-728-0152 | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
W.A.S.T.E.: Corralitos, CA | knowledge, reputations, information markets,
Licensed Ontologist | black markets, collapse of governments.