... thus USENET spake, Why hast thou, Canter, broke the bounds prescrib'd To thy transgressions, and disturb'd the charge Of others, who approve not to transgress By thy example, but have power and right To question thy bold entrance on this place? --Milton, Paradise Lost 4:877-882, slightly altered ...the strife which thou call'st evil, but wee style The strife of Glory: which we mean to win, Or turn this USENET itself into the Hell Thou fabl'st, here however to dwell free, If not to reign... --Satan to the Archangel Michael, PL 6:290-294, slightly altered
If Laurence Canter is not Old Nick himself, he has at least sold his soul to the Devil in his quest to become the Faust of the Internet. How else could he still be walking up and down on the face of Cyberspace sowing his mischief? Consider: Robert Tappan Morris, a brilliant and basically inoffensive geek, gets three years probation for loosing his unintentionally virulent Internet worm; Clarence Thomas IV is fired from his sysadmin job for a misguided but at least unself-serving attempt to save every Usenetter's soul; Canter and Siegel knowingly and selfishly spam Usenet and become the darlings--or at least the 15-minute wonders--of CNN, Larry King, and the New York Times. If the Devil doesn't have a hand (or hoof) in it, I don't know who does.
Inept as most of C&S's Mephistophelian aspirations are ("Cybersell"? Oxygenated water??!!), they did show a true Faustian genius in their shrewd manipulation of the media. No doubt they had expected a massive Usenet reaction to the Green Card posting, never once dreaming they'd have a shot at national TV. But when it came, they were prepared--not to cover their faces with their jackets and run from the photographers, not to hang their heads and apologize for their greed and stupidity, but in the best tradition of recent American overnight infamy, schooled by Tonya Harding and John Bobbitt, to lie and bluster through it, confident in their knowledge that in America in the '90s notoriety is its own reward--not that book contracts and fees for Inside Edition interviews are anything to shake a forked tail at, either.
Actually, the best literary Faustian parallel to Canter's career I can think of is Saruman in Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings." Cast out of his former estate by the righteous wizards of the Florida Bar Association, Canter looks about for a rich, innocent, and apparently weaponless land that he can dominate through shrewdness and bullying. It is the Usenet Shire, whose inhabitants have grown lazily confident that their utopian anarchy is secure from outside invaders. Ruled mainly by common law and tradition, the Usenet Shire seems defenseless against a High Lawyer who comes wielding the magic runes of Torts and Statutes from the Real World. So now the Usenet Shire waits and wonders: will an on-line Frodo grown in wisdom and power step forward to defend his land? Or will Canter/Saruman be undone by some vengeful Wormtongue of his own creation? (There are hints, perhaps, in the recent posting by a "CSLaw Insider"...)
No, Laurence Canter and his consort are not the Devil and his dam, and as some Usenet posters have argued, in a world that contains Bosnia and Ruwanda the Green Card spam is relatively low on the scale of evils. Still I believe that our outrage is justified: Canter and Siegel *are* evil to the extent that their actions exemplify Satanic principles--and I mean that term to be understood in a general moral and psychological sense rather than in any narrow theological context. Sadly, it's not the grand, bold rebellion of Milton's Lucifer, but a puny, weaselly brand of Satanism; C&S's Cybersell manifestoes are to Milton's rhetoric what a poorly suppressed fart is to a thunderclap. Milton's Lucifer at least had the bravado to challenge Heaven's archangels to their face; Laurence Canter, although with pericles.com he is now de facto a news administrator, has shown neither the courage nor the common decency to enter into any Usenet forum to defend his actions. That is the stance of a coward; and it should be some measure of comfort to the Usenet community that cowardice is a serious handicap to the career success of would-be tyrants and usurpers.
-- David Sewell * firstname.lastname@example.org | "Where the earth is dry, the RADIOCARBON, Dep't of Geosciences, U of Arizona | soul is wisest and best."Back to the dsew Netwriting page