The 25 Principles for Adult Behavior: John Perry Barlow (R.I.P.) Creates a List of Wise Rules to Live By

Image by the Euro­pean Grad­u­ate School, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

The most suc­cess­ful out­laws live by a code, and in many ways John Per­ry Bar­low, founder of the Elec­tron­ic Free­dom Foun­da­tion, Wyoming ranch­er, and erst­while song­writer for the Grate­ful Dead—who died on Wednes­day at the age of 70—was an arche­typ­al Amer­i­can out­law all of his life. He might have worn a white hat, so to speak, but he had no use for the gov­ern­ment telling him what to do. And his charis­mat­ic defense of unfet­tered inter­net lib­er­ty inspired a new gen­er­a­tion of hack­ers and activists, includ­ing a 12-year-old Aaron Swartz, who saw Bar­low speak at his mid­dle school and left the class­room changed.

Few peo­ple get to leave as last­ing a lega­cy as Bar­low, even had he not pio­neered ear­ly cyber­cul­ture, pen­ning the “Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence of the Inter­net,” a techo-utopi­an doc­u­ment that con­tin­ues to influ­ence pro­po­nents of open access and free infor­ma­tion. He intro­duced the Grate­ful Dead to Dr. Tim­o­thy Leary, under whose guid­ance Bar­low began exper­i­ment­ing with LSD in col­lege. His cre­ative and per­son­al rela­tion­ship with the Dead’s Bob Weir stretch­es back to their high school days in Col­orado, and he became an unof­fi­cial mem­ber of the band and its “junior lyri­cist,” as he put it (after Robert Hunter).

“John had a way of tak­ing life’s most dif­fi­cult things and fram­ing them as chal­lenges, there­fore adven­tures,” wrote Weir in a suc­cinct­ly poignant Twit­ter eulo­gy for his friend. We might think of Bar­low’s code, which he laid out in a list he called the “25 Prin­ci­ples of Adult Behav­ior,” as a series of instruc­tions for turn­ing life’s dif­fi­cul­ties into chal­lenges, an adven­tur­ous refram­ing of what it means to grow up. For Bar­low, that meant defy­ing author­i­ty when it imposed arbi­trary bar­ri­ers and pro­pri­etary rules on the once-wild-open spaces of the inter­net.

But being a grown-up also meant accept­ing full respon­si­bil­i­ty for one’s behav­ior, life’s pur­pose, and the eth­i­cal treat­ment of one­self and oth­ers. See his list below, notable not so much for its orig­i­nal­i­ty but for its plain­spo­ken reminder of the sim­ple, shared wis­dom that gets drowned in the assaultive noise of mod­ern life. Such uncom­pli­cat­ed ide­al­ism was at the cen­ter of Perry’s life and work.

1. Be patient. No mat­ter what.
2. Don’t bad­mouth: Assign respon­si­bil­i­ty, not blame. Say noth­ing of anoth­er you wouldn’t say to him.
3. Nev­er assume the motives of oth­ers are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
4. Expand your sense of the pos­si­ble.
5. Don’t trou­ble your­self with mat­ters you tru­ly can­not change.
6. Expect no more of any­one than you can deliv­er your­self.
7. Tol­er­ate ambi­gu­i­ty.
8. Laugh at your­self fre­quent­ly.
9. Con­cern your­self with what is right rather than who is right.
10. Nev­er for­get that, no mat­ter how cer­tain, you might be wrong.
11. Give up blood sports.
12. Remem­ber that your life belongs to oth­ers as well. Don’t risk it friv­o­lous­ly.
13. Nev­er lie to any­one for any rea­son. (Lies of omis­sion are some­times exempt.)
14. Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
15. Avoid the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness. Seek to define your mis­sion and pur­sue that.
16. Reduce your use of the first per­son­al pro­noun.
17. Praise at least as often as you dis­par­age.
18. Admit your errors freely and soon.
19. Become less sus­pi­cious of joy.
20. Under­stand humil­i­ty.
21. Remem­ber that love for­gives every­thing.
22. Fos­ter dig­ni­ty.
23. Live mem­o­rably.
24. Love your­self.
25. Endure.

Bar­low the “cow­boy, poet, roman­tic, fam­i­ly man, philoso­pher, and ulti­mate­ly, the bard of the dig­i­tal revolution”—as Stephen Levy describes him at Wired—“became a great explain­er” of the pos­si­bil­i­ties inher­ent in new media. He watched the inter­net become a far dark­er place than it had ever been in the 90s, a place where gov­ern­ments con­duct cyber­wars and impose cen­sor­ship and bar­ri­ers to access; where bad actors of all kinds manip­u­late, threat­en, and intim­i­date.

But Bar­low stood by his vision, of “a world that all may enter with­out priv­i­lege or prej­u­dice accord­ed by race, eco­nom­ic pow­er, mil­i­tary force, or sta­tion of birth… a world where any­one, any­where may express his or her beliefs, no mat­ter how sin­gu­lar, with­out fear of being coerced into silence or con­for­mi­ty.”

This may sound naïve, yet as Cindy Cohn writes in EFF’s obit­u­ary for its founder, Bar­low “knew that new tech­nol­o­gy could cre­ate and empow­er evil as much as it could cre­ate and empow­er good. He made a con­scious deci­sion to move toward the lat­ter.” His 25-point code urges us to do the same.

via Kot­tke/Hack­er News

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ale­jan­dro Jodorowsky’s 82 Com­mand­ments For Liv­ing

Lou Reed and Lau­rie Anderson’s Three Rules for Liv­ing Well: A Short and Suc­cinct Life Phi­los­o­phy

Mil­ton Glaser’s 10 Rules for Life & Work: The Cel­e­brat­ed Design­er Dis­pens­es Wis­dom Gained Over His Long Life & Career

The Hobo Eth­i­cal Code of 1889: 15 Rules for Liv­ing a Self-Reliant, Hon­est & Com­pas­sion­ate Life

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (12) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (12)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Michael J. Tobias says:

    He will tru­ly be missed. Hope­ful­ly, his 25-point code will live on in the hearts, minds, and actions of a grow­ing num­ber of like-mind­ed pio­neers and lovers of free­dom.

  • Joya says:

    My ver­sion of the code .… inspired by the 25 points :

    Be Patient and kind
    Assign respon­si­bil­i­ty
    not blame
    Don’t’ assume motives
    Expand your vision and sense of what’s pos­si­ble
    If you can’t change it
    let it go
    Don’t expect more
    than you are will­ing to give
    Tol­er­ate ambi­gu­i­ty
    Laugh at your­self fre­quent­ly
    Be more con­cerned with what is right
    than who is right
    cer­tain­ty is no guar­an­tee
    You might be wrong
    Min­i­mize risk
    you will be missed
    Respect oth­ers
    lies of omis­sion
    only if you must
    Pur­sue mis­sion
    not hap­pi­ness
    It’s not all about you or me
    Praise at least as often as dis­par­age
    Admit errors prompt­ly
    Don’t’ take any­thing per­son­al­ly
    Love your­self
    Learn con­stant­ly
    Endure mem­o­rably
    With dig­ni­ty

  • David George says:

    Very sim­i­lar to Jor­dan Peter­son­’s “12 Rules for life” from his new book of the same name.
    1. Stand up straight with your shoul­ders back.
    2. Treat your­self like some­one you are respon­si­ble for help­ing
    3. Make friends with peo­ple who want the best for you.
    4. Com­pare your­self to who you were yes­ter­day not to who some­one else is today.
    5. Don’t let your chil­dren do any­thing that makes you dis­like them.
    6. Set your house in per­fect order before you crit­i­cize the world.
    7. Pur­sue what is mean­ing­ful — not what is expe­di­ent.
    8. Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie.
    9. Assume the per­son you are lis­ten­ing to might know some­thing you don’t.
    10. Be pre­cise in your speech.
    11. Don’t both­er chil­dren when they’re skate­board­ing.
    12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.

  • david loos says:

    “be less sus­pi­cious of joy”? it’s phras­ings like this that “red flag” this list, and all oth­ers like them, as anoth­er batch of self-help hog­wash.

    if you need this kind of crap, then your life is always going to be screwed up.

  • Steve Heilig says:

    Sounds kin­da like you might need this more than many.

  • Cicero says:

    Noth­ing like JBP’s 12 rules.

  • smartalek says:

    F*ck me dead, this is now the *sec­ond* time that I’ve had to learn of the pass­ing of a beloved cre­ator (the first being Ursu­la K Le Guin, of Earth­sea and Ome­las and ansi­ble fame — who also, by-the-by, wrote BOTH of the sto­ries that — to be far more polite than I sus­pect is deserved — were “homaged” in the movie Avatar, “The Word for World is For­est,” and “Vaster Than Empires and More Slow”), from a damn BLOG.
    Thank you, I guess?
    RiP, Mr Bar­low; your words and Bob­by’s music make you immor­tal — even if, ulti­mate­ly, EFF was your greater gift to us.

  • William O. B'Livion says:

    One of my favorite quotes:

    “Despite almost every expe­ri­ence I’ve ever had with fed­er­al author­i­ty, I keep imag­in­ing its com­pe­tence.”
    –John Per­ry Bar­low

    It’s a shame the EFF had to stain his lega­cy by beg­ging the gov­ern­ment to take over the inter­net. They will regret that.

  • Z says:

    Except this list is far more self-cen­tered

  • jo says:

    Fun­ny, that’s one that stood out to me as being relat­able.

  • Jerilyn Brandelius says:

    It was not men­tioned that he wrote this list on the eve of his 30th birth­day which was on Octo­ber 3,1977 when he felt the need to artic­u­late his ver­sion of being an Adult…

  • Naomi says:

    Amen to that, Steve

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.