psychological block

Jorn Barger

Jorn Barger (born 1953 in Yellow Springs, Ohio) is an American blogger, best known today as editor of Robot Wisdom, an influential early weblog. Barger coined the term weblog to describe the process of "logging the web" as he surfed. The short form, "blog," was later coined by Peter Merholz. Some of his writings have been a source of controversy, provoking accusations of anti-Semitism. He has also written extensively on James Joyce and artificial intelligence, among other subjects; his writing is almost entirely self-published.


Barger's first computer in 1964 was one of the first programmable digital computers available, a Minivac 601 designed by Claude Shannon and advertised in Scientific American.

In high school Barger specialized in math and science, but also read Freud, James Joyce, and Jiddu Krishnamurti. He graduated a year early, as valedictorian. Around 1978 he lived for a time at The Farm, Stephen Gaskin's intentional community in Tennessee. During the first half of the 1980s he programmed games and educational software for the Apple II, the Commodore 64, and the Atari 800. At one time Barger worked at Northwestern University's Institute for the Learning Sciences under the leading AI researcher Roger Schank, eventually departing over what Barger has called "philosophical differences".

In the late 1970s, Barger devised a theoretical methodology that demanded hypotheses be expressed as computer simulations, and that the simulations be refined by analyzing literary descriptions of human behavior. He called this method "cybernetic psychology", or "Robot Wisdom". An active participant in Usenet during the 1990s, he wrote early FAQs on ASCII art, Kate Bush, Thomas Pynchon, and James Joyce. In 1994 he formulated an "Inverse Law of Usenet Bandwidth": "The more interesting your life becomes, the less you post... and vice versa."

Barger has published (mostly via his website) material on artificial intelligence (AI) and the Irish novelist James Joyce. He has referred to Joyce as an early pioneer of artificial intelligence and as the master of descriptive psychology.


On December 17, 1997, Barger began posting short comments and links on his own Robot Wisdom website, thus pioneering the "weblog" as it is known today. His site soon included interlinked weblog sections titled "Fun," "Art," "Issues," "Net," "Tech," "Science," "History," "Search," and "Shop."

By 2000 he felt he had exhausted the formal possibilities of weblogs, and began instead to explore the timeline format, annotating each timeline entry with a link to a relevant resource. Meanwhile Robot Wisdom was evolving to include information and essays on James Joyce, AI, history, Internet culture, hypertext design, and technology trends, among the topics Barger covered. Announcements of plans for a future "hardcopy edition" of Robot Wisdom for purchase began appearing at the foot of some of the site's pages.

He occasionally posted comments about trying to find types of employment that did not conflict with his philosophical ideals. The maxim "You can't serve God and Mammon" appeared at the top of his "issues.literate" weblog section. By December 2001, he was experiencing financial difficulties that he announced would cause an interruption in keeping Robot Wisdom online. Before taking the weblog offline a couple of months, he posted comments mentioning an interest in employment by telecommute but noting his philosophical concerns: "I have a gigantic psychological block against Mammon-in-general, and no longterm ideas how to overcome it. Alternative currency? Retreat to a cave?" Barger has, however, experimented with Robot Wisdom as a revenue-generator, soliciting advertisements in 2000, and, in 2005, donations via PayPal.

Previously a longtime resident of the Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago, Barger was living in Socorro, New Mexico as of late 2003. Several bloggers initiated an outpouring of concern and speculation in December 2003 when Barger had not been seen online for some months. However, Barger had been known to take unexplained absences from the Internet before, and his departure turned out again to be temporary; Robot Wisdom returned in February 2005.

In a July 2005 Wired magazine item, writer Paul Boutin reported encountering a "homeless and broke" Barger walking with a mutual friend in San Francisco, California. The article said that Barger, "living on less than a dollar a day" had allowed his weblog's domain registration to lapse, but that Boutin found Robot Wisdom back online a few weeks later. Boutin claimed in the story that upon subsequently meeting him at a pub, Barger told him that the previous time they had met he had been carrying a panhandling sign he had not shown him. Barger reportedly told him the sign had read, "Coined the term 'weblog', never made a dime." Barger has since said that the Boutin article was mostly "fiction." For his part, Boutin published a clarification in his own weblog, saying the headline Wired had chosen might have misled readers into thinking Barger was "living on the street," rather than staying with friends.

Robot Wisdom went offline again in late January 2007. On 10 February, Barger placed a note on his "auxiliary" free hosted weblog soliciting $10 (US) donations, payable to his web host, to help "save". By 12 February, was online again.

As of April 2007, Barger is in El Dorado, Arkansas, and most days can be found hanging out at the Barton library

On Jews, Judaism, and Israel

One of the first weblog controversies revolved around his political comments and the wording of his weblog's headlines linking to articles concerning the history of Judaism, policies of Israel, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Some of the participants in a 1997 Web forum discussion Barger moderated on these issues accused him of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. The same accusations arose again in 2000, when Barger linked to an external article by means of the headline, "Is Judaism simply a religion of lawless racists?" (Barger has since reused the headline at least once.) In an ensuing discussion (titled "What is Racism?"), Barger suggested that the "Jewish ideology" of being God's chosen people was analogous to Hitler's ideology of an Aryan "master race". Shortly thereafter, the September 11 attacks on the United States prompted Barger to make several posts to Usenet suggesting that there was a Jewish conspiracy behind them.

Barger's positions on Judaism and Israel remain controversial. For a brief period in October 2005, Barger placed the sentence "Judaism worships fraud" atop his weblog. Almost one year later, in September 2006, the phrase "judaism is racism" replaced "the road to hell is paved with hasbara" at the top of The text was quickly amended to read "judaism is racism is incompatible with democracy".

In December 2005, a poll entitled, "Are You a Holocaust Skeptic?" was initiated. Barger's "Judaism timeline" makes only oblique reference to the Holocaust, identifying it merely as a catalyst for Jewish immigration to the United States. In a post to his weblog on 2nd July 2006, Barger linked to an external article entitled "Racial hatred as the real essence of Israel", with his own headline: "The real nazis show their true colors".

Barger has also linked to articles critical of Judaism published in The Occidental Quarterly, which has been described as a white supremacist journal.

In 2007, after nine firefighters died when a roof collapsed at a Charleston, South Carolina furniture store, Barger complained in his weblog how few news outlets had printed the store owner's (apparently Jewish) name.

On James Joyce

At least one of Barger's essays on Joyce has been published in the James Joyce Quarterly. Barger has studied Joyce's own notebooks and manuscripts (for Ulysses and Finnegans Wake) for insight into the author's own statements about his work; he has also prepared an online "shorter" annotated version of Finnegans Wake. Barger's website offers hundreds of pages of documentation for this research, although critics have noted that none of his Joyce research (except that published in the James Joyce Quarterly) has passed academic peer review. As a result it can sometimes be difficult to tell what is agreed upon by Joyce scholars, and what is Barger's conjecture. (Barger seemed to acknowledge this in 2005 when he published on USENET his list of "50 Joycean Conjectures".)

Notable postings


External links

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