1993-04-21 - Should we become “suits”?

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From: pmetzger@lehman.com (Perry E. Metzger)
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: 5257747cf1c045146d38c0e0b3841d3ae4540d37f877ad9101a8a3e9c80a6bbe
Message ID: <9304212343.AA29698@snark.shearson.com>
Reply To: N/A
UTC Datetime: 1993-04-21 23:43:45 UTC
Raw Date: Wed, 21 Apr 93 16:43:45 PDT

Raw message

From: pmetzger@lehman.com (Perry E. Metzger)
Date: Wed, 21 Apr 93 16:43:45 PDT
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: Should we become "suits"?
Message-ID: <9304212343.AA29698@snark.shearson.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

No one said anything about becoming "suits", Tim. 

The problem is this: the name "Cypherpunks" makes us sound like people
who break into computers for fun or other such stuff. I was on the
phone with John Markoff of the New York Times a couple of days ago,
and I was unhappy that no one had yet changed the name of the group
because I frankly felt that I could not encourage him to subscribe --
the results would be unpredictable. I encouraged him to read more
sci.crypt instead, which he has already been doing.

I've been associated with radical political causes for a while. I've
found that in general, the radicals are their own worst enemy. People
are NOT happy about being lectured to by strange-acting people. 

Bill Winter of the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire was their
chairman over the period in which the LPNH went from four members of
the state party to actually becoming a force in New Hampshire
politics. New Hampshire is the *only* LP outpost to make any
significant electoral inroads, *anywhere*. He once told me this: you
can get people to accept strange sounding ideas when promulgated by
normal looking people. You can get them to accept normal-sounding
ideas when promulgated by strange looking people. You can't get them
to accept strange ideas when promulgated by strange people.

No, I'm not saying you should wear a suit. I'm not saying John Gilmore
should cut his hair and start wearing Armani. I'm just saying that our
name is a stumbling block.

Why shoot ourselves in the foot for something worthless?

The simple change in our name from something confrontational that
makes us sound like machine crackers to something that expresses what
this group is about would make a radical positive change in our image.

Now, what are the benefits of keeping the current name "cypherpunks"?

Well, lets see Tim's list.

>In a sense, Cypherpunks fill an important ecological niche by
>being the outrageous side, the radical side...perhaps a bit like the role
>the Black Panthers, Yippies, and Weather Underground played a generation

None of whom accomplished any of their goals. You REALLY want to
emulate them? I've been an occassional visitor to #9 Bleeker Street,
where Dana Beal, last of the Yippies, holds court. He doesn't wash
regularly, and he wonders occassionaly why no one takes his drug
legalization crusade seriously. Hint: they are connected.

We can't afford to lose this fight. This is a matter of life and
death. Playing out fantasy games about being 1960s radicals is fine
and well -- when you don't care about the outcome. We can't afford to
lose, so we can't afford to emulate losing strategies.

> And, frankly, my guess is that even most of Middle America will
>feel somewhat more comfortable listening to a John Gilmore, for example,
>than a Bill Gates-type nerd clone. People know honesty and sincerity when
>they see it, and they know lawyers when they see them. It's been 25 years
>since the hippie heyday, and most Americans have adjusted to varying
>outward appearances.

Well, I'm not proposing that John not be a spokesman -- most of our
interaction with the media is happening electronically and not in
person, and John is eloquent. But you are fooling yourself if you
think people listen to Hippies over Suits.

I'm speaking as a person who used to have long hair and worked
exclusively in Tee-shirt and shorts. I feel more comfortable dressed
that way -- but these days I wear a suit because thats what gets me
paid. I'm also speaking as a person who's extensively looked at this
question in connection with my activism in the Libertarian Party.

The fact is this: over and over again, every scientific study thats
been done (by lots of people), every anecdotal comparison I can make
in things like why one LP candidate did well and another did poorly or
why one local group soared while another failed, each one of them
point to the same conclusion: that conclusion is, sadly, that you are
completely wrong Tim, and that people judge by appearances, and that
even the most down and out people in our society will take the word of
a person who looks respectable over a person who doesn't. This
includes hackers -- hackers will trust grungy looking people as soon
as they have verified that they are fellow hackers, but watch what
they do sometime when they drive by a hitchhiker as casually dressed
as themselves. Take a sample of hackers, put them in a sociology lab,
show them videotapes of people making statements who are dressed like
hippies and dressed like bankers, and five will get you ten that they
react just like the rest of the population.

Influencing the public is not a guessing game any more -- its a
science. People have done honest to god studies on this. I'll happily
forward you references if you want.

>We don't all have the same politics...some of us are
>anarcho-capitalists, some are socialists (I hear), some are nonpolitical
>(as near as I can tell), some decline to state, and some may off in their
>own uncharted territory. But what we all seem to believe in common is that
>no government has the right to force us to make tape recordings of all of
>our conversations (to be placed in escrow, in case the government someday
>needs to listen to them!), to tap our phones, to insist we speak in
>government-approved non-coded language, and to use their "Wiretap Chips."

Fine and dandy, but how does changing our name to "cryptoprivacy" harm
any of this?

>In any case, it's much too late to change the name now.

No its not. Its perfectly easy.

>And note tha the "Hackers Conference" has not changed _their_ name,
>either, despite the negative publicity given the name.

They aren't doing any lobbying. Their name doesn't matter. Their image
makes no difference at all. Ours does.

>As for respectablity, is our goal to be "co-opted" into the

Tim, I'm an anarchist. Do you REALLY think I'm about to become
co-opted by the establishment? Is it REALLY your belief that changing
the name of the group to "cryptoprivacy" would turn me into a raving
statist, foaming at the mouth about imposing regulatory control

>There are already several groups, as I've mentioned, made up of lawyers
>and "respectable spokesmen" like Mitch Kapor and Mike Godwin (wherever he
>is now).

No one can log in to their groups -- we provide an essential service.
I WANT the New York Times reporter reading this group, but I don't
want him to think we are crackers or nuts.

>But I don't plan to shave off my beard, cut my hair, start wearing suits,
>or be "moderate and reasonable" in my arguments.

Who asked you to? You aren't going on television, and moderating your
ARGUMENTS is useless. I'm talking about appearances, nothing more. Our
name is cheap and easy to change. It costs us little, and I'm not
proposing we change anything else.