current status of cypherpunks, tim may, etc. ??
R. A. Hettinga
rah at shipwright.com
Sun Apr 11 12:40:50 PDT 2004
-----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
At 3:37 AM -0400 4/11/04, Riad S. Wahby wrote:
>Apparently he's still to be found posting on various Usenet groups.
>RAH knows more about this than I do.
Obviously, Tim was on usenet long before he, Eric Hughes and John
Gilmore started this list on toad.com after the first physical
cypherpunks meeting 11 years ago last fall.
Because some spam-defense techniques require the absence of usable
email addresses, and because Tim has changed his addresses more than
once over the last few years, you can go on groups.google.com and
just search for "Tim May" in the author field -- don't forget the
quote marks -- and see everything he's posting now. He's usually in
the local Bay Area groups, and on Misc.Survivalism, though I haven't
looked in about a month or so. As we just saw in a previous forward
from usenet, most of the stuff he posts there makes me cringe, like
his later stuff here, but, obviously, Tim's as smart and as creative
as he's ever been.
Even though when I showed up here, 10 years ago sometime in May to
learn how to do cash transactions on the internet, Tim regularly and
thoroughly jumped up my ass about my various ideological impurities
and deep flaws in my character :-) (it was ever thus, I got used to
it, and I hopefully learned to give back as good as I got), there
was, invariably, something useful in almost all of his posts here.
This, in spite of, to me at least, the increasing preponderance of
deliberately provocative cruft he trolled around here, presumably in
boredom, just to piss people off.
Obviously, though more civil, and, frankly, productive, this list
isn't the same since Tim left, not the least because this list was,
for all intents and purposes, his creation, by dint of the sheer
amount of time he put into it, if nothing else.
As most people here know, I've long been interested in influence and
reputation, and I once introduced Tim at a Mac_Crypto conference in
terms of the magnitude of his influence, which is, frankly, much more
considerable than people really understand. Tim thanked me for a
"nice introduction", and, while I was being quite cordial, this being
one of the few times we got along, "nice" was pretty orthogonal to my
Tim May, whether he likes it or not -- understands it completely or
not -- has literally invented, discovered, a new form of emergent
social order. More properly, in learning that property can be
controlled by cryptography in a manner *independent* of biometric
identity, he was the first person to understand that the control and
market-auctioned transfer of property could be achieved without the
need of the force-monopoly of the state. The result is something
which is, by definition, anarchy.
Tim called it crypto-anarchy, since it required the use of strong
cryptography on public networks to happen, but I don't think even he
understood just how far the idea could go. His concern was more
immediate. Like freedom, privacy is an inherent good, and anything
that maximizes both privacy and freedom maximizes the good in the
world. All the structural possibilities that resulted were just
gravy. It's probable that his hatred of the state came first, long
before his discovery of cryptography as a means to that end, but the
effect is the same whether, like me, the crypto changed his opinion
of the state, or, as was probably Tim's case, his opinion of the
state led to his discovery of crypto as a means to get what he
One way or the other, Tim and other early cypherpunks really did
discover a way to make physically real the yearnings of libertarians,
anarcho-capitalists, and other free people throughout the ages, by
using, for the first time in more than a thousand years, technology
and markets instead of manifestos, politics, philosophy, or, in the
case of libertarians, somehow-constrained government and monopolistic
I think that this didn't happen fast enough for Tim, and he devolved
to hoping for some disaster to force his new world into being, and
failing even that, he began to advocate more, I suppose,
"traditional", methods of getting what he wanted: those involving
force, without regard, unfortunately, to reason, much less economics.
It was upsetting, infuriating, to watch, but, after a while, we
realized that Tim was, after all, a free man. He could do what he
wanted with his time and resources, and it wasn't our right to tell
him to do otherwise, no matter how negative our opinions were of his
As for the more personally repellant of his beliefs, we have to
remember that he advocated something that most of us have come around
to over time, something that many anarchocapitalists have talked
about before Tim May did, that discrimination in transactions and
hiring of *any* kind is a *right* of free people in markets, foolish
consequences or not, and that it's only wrong when governments force
that discrimination onto everyone, like they do in Jim Crow, Nazi
Anti-Jewry, or Apartheid laws.
Tim's collapse from that rationally-derived belief in the economic
necessity for freedom, including individual discrimination, into the
language of "Aryanism", and the advocacy of mob-violence, (something
that is guaranteed, paradoxically, to degenerate into
state-controlled force in in almost all historical cases, speaking of
chimneys), again paradoxically, only puts his original point into
even starker relief.
Personally, like his coming to cryptography because of his hate of
the state, I think his now-overt racism emerges from his (*claimed*,
remember; he's said that "Tim May" is a pseudonym more than once here
;-)) Virginia upbringing, and that his adoption of anarcho-capitalism
as a political philosophy might have been the result of some inherent
racism, but that's just armchair psycho-babble voodoo on my part. The
point is, his opinions in that regard are now morally repellant, and
that's a shame, because before he got to this point where his anger
overtook his capacity to reason, he was, in fact, making sense.
So, to me, at least, whatever Tim and company did before or after
doesn't matter so much as what they did here on cypherpunks in the
early days. Lots of people's lives (mine, for instance... :-))
auger-in after what others consider to be their most memorable and
productive accomplishments. Even a man's *own* opinions of the events
of his life change over time, so who knows what Tim thinks about his
time here, and whether it was worth it or not.
Nonetheless, as Phillip K. Dick said once, reality doesn't change
when you change your mind.
If it all works, if it has a basis in economic fact, that people in
general get more stuff cheaper and live longer and happier by being
completely free of *any* government in their lives, and they get to
that point by using strong cryptography on public internetworks, Tim
May may well be remembered for the rest of history as having
discovered the substrate of a new society. Something, I believe, on
the order of the advent of agriculture and cities, and lots of us
here were around to watch the initial promulgation of those ideas,
even if we were not around (in my case, at least) to witness their
And, maybe, some of us will be around not just to *watch* it happen,
but to *make* it happen as well.
Without sending a "bunch of useless eaters" "up the chimneys", as Mr.
May seems to fondly hope for, these days.
-----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
Version: PGP 8.0.3
-----END PGP SIGNATURE-----
R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
More information about the cypherpunks-legacy