(Originally published at Earthblog.net)
When I think of America, the picture in my mind is not the Statue of Liberty or the flag, but the Loompanics Unlimited catalog. Loompanics is the apotheosis – a word I’ve always craved the opportunity to use – of free speech, the most perfect example of everything that’s right with our beloved country. As Marilyn epitomizes movie stardom, as Willie epitomizes country music –in the same way, Loompanics is the ideal example of what America is all about. Or was meant to be.
Both distributor and publisher, in a typical year the company produced 15 books under its own imprint, and added around 150 new titles from other houses. Four-time Loompanics author Claire Wolfe, who has been called America’s most eloquent anarchist and the Ayn Rand of the 21st century, says, “Loompanics had a well-deserved reputation as the most bold, eclectic, and in-your-face of all freedom-oriented book catalogs.” I’d certainly never received another that featured a disclaimer, warning the customer that the bookseller can’t be responsible for the fate of your package if it happens to cross the path of certain government officials.
The news that Loompanics is folding its tent comes as a real blow to many. “They were one of the only book publishers in the world to publish Ace Backwords. And now they’re closing down. I just hope there wasn’t a connection there,” says the author of Surviving on the Streets, continuing, “Loompanics occupied a special niche in the book publishing world, and now that niche is no more. Which is a sad state of affairs. A lot of would-be rebels, pseudo-nonconformists, and arm-chair anarchists talked ABOUT subversion. Loompanics showed you how to BE subversive.”
The company has published and/or carried the works of Karl Hess, L. Neil Smith, Jim Goad, Russ Kick, Vin Suprynowicz, Paul Krassner, and many other notable thinkers. “I have seen the best minds of my generation…..in the Loompanics catalog,” as Allen Ginsberg might have said in his most famous poem.
The arrival of the 200-plus page, non-shiny, black and white catalog always promised several evenings of delight. Many of those pages were accounted for by articles about the latest abhorrent schemes of the government and big business, making it as much a magazine as a catalog. Other gems also turned up, original essays you can’t find anywhere else, like an Ace Backwords memoir of working in the red-light district.
You Are What You Know
You Are What You Do
No More Secrets
No More Excuses
No More Limits
That’s the Loompanics philosophy, summed up in 6 precepts. Not a bad platform. If a Presidential candidate offered the same, I’d vote for her.
Loompanics never hesitated to take a stand, announcing Jack Herer’s masterpiece The Emperor Wears No Clothes, as “the most important book we have ever sold!” Some of its offerings were pure philosophy, like William J. Murray’s Anarchic Harmony and Unconditional Freedom. Others sound like an outlaw curriculum: how to do armed robbery, pick pockets, beat a lie detector, collect illegal debts, bury your contraband, change your identity, and disappear.
Before saying “tsk-tsk,” a rational person will pause for moment to consider the multitudes of fellow citizens incarcerated for victimless crimes, who emerge months or years later with a full set of thug credentials. When it comes to manufacturing career criminals, nobody does it better than the American justice system. No mere book of dirty trickery or exotic weaponry could hope to have a fraction of the impact. Government goons may be the only ones remaining who hold the touching faith that books have tangible power. Most real thugs don’t or can’t read.
Loompanics books can help protect your computer from viruses, your phone from tapping, and your house from unauthorized entry. They can also help you promulgate computer viruses, tap somebody else’s phone, and unauthorizedly enter someone else’s house. You could learn how to lie with statistics, and also how to unmask their lies. How to cheat on your wife without being caught, and how to win a street fight in case you get caught anyway. How to create a revolution or a nuclear strike, and also how to survive a revolution or a nuclear strike. It’s equal-opportunity knowledge and, like all knowledge, a sword with two edges. What if everybody knew everything, all the time? Us and them – what then? Can you imagine living on a planet of telepaths?
It goes without saying that Loompanics provided a full complement of sex books and drug books. Not to mention cannibalism, conspiracy theories and female serial killers (one book features 182 of them.) Subjects ranged from the practical How to Get Your Filipina Finacee to the U.S. to the ecclesiastical Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible to the whimsical yet totally useful Complete Guide to Science Fiction Conventions.
Yes, Loompanics has published some unapologetically awful things. Former chief editorial director Steve O’Keefe reminisced to an interviewer about a book (not named) which “so upset the staff that the entire staff revolted against working on it…. Seven printers refused to print it……” The company’s ads have been banned, either permanently or partially, by The Wall Street Journal, Playboy, Soldier of Fortune, and Google Adwords, Which is their perfect right, but still…..Soldier of Fortune???
Before accusing Loompanics of being a dreadful bad influence, pause and take a look at some of the stuff you can get at the most respectable giant chain bookstores: for instance, Writers Digest puts out a compendium of poison information, including symptoms, forms, methods of administration and reactions. A similar volume, on murder and forensic medicine, reveals “how police distinguish between accidents and foul play.” But this is okay, according to the party line: such reference books are only for professional writers, who require accuracy in their fictional violent acts. Yeah, sure, you bet.
Many books on tamer, more life-affirming skills could also be found in the catalog: food growing, bee keeping, brain expansion, language-learning. Rancho Costa Nada: The Dirt Cheap Desert Homestead has been a perennial best-seller. It’s typical of the many works teaching vonu, a life of voluntary simplicity, usually mobile, that keeps you off the grid and under the radar. This may be combined with tax “avoision,” a made-up word encompassing avoidance and aversion. A whole catalog sector was devoted to self-sufficiency: taking care of yourself without government “help.” Because once you stick out your arm for a handout, that’s where they put the handcuffs.
To think the company’s chosen books are dangerous because you can learn how to pick locks or handle explosives, is a superficial view. It’s much worse than that. It’s the ideas, such as tax avoision and vonu, which pose a real threat to the encroaching national Dark Age. There is genuine empowerment in the knowledge of skills we hope we won’t need, but might anyway: how to pass a pee test, fight police abuses, prevent identity theft, or navigate the underground economy. However you or I may feel about it, there are things it would behoove us to know, before the day arrives when we regret our ignorance.
Being as how the US keeps a larger proportion of its people behind bars than any other country, the ugly and unfortunate truth is that even in the best of families, someone is likely to wind up a convict. The several books about how to survive in prison become more relevant, as fewer and fewer of us reach the end of life without needing such information.
The founding and sustaining genius behind Loompanics is Mike Hoy, whose interview at AuthorViews.com, recorded only a few months ago, now has an ironic flavor. “I’ve been doing this for approximately thirty years and the good lord willing I’ll be doing it for another thirty.” Willing as any disembodied spirit undoubtedly is, other factors intervened.
If one had a paranoid cast of mind, one might suspect pressure from the authorities. In the current political climate, a publisher with such a customer database as Loompanics must have – not to mention the true identities of authors who write about things nice boys and girls aren’t supposed to know – such a publisher might find discretion the better part of valor, and close the doors before the inevitable visit from mofos in suits sneering, “Hand over your records.”
But that’s only paranoia. One person familiar with the operation says, “The feds haven’t been so bad. Hell, they’re one of Loompanics’s biggest customers.” It’s possible that a mundane factor like insurance costs pounded the final nail into the coffin. Attempts have been made to hold the company responsible for people’s actions, and to collect damages. Mike Hoy says it’s just been a steady decline in sales. Boring, but also reassuring. I’m glad it wasn’t jackbooted goons in the night. Too many Americans have already become martyrs to the sadly misdirected quest for “security.”
(Originally this piece had 3 links, which have apparently now all disappeared. What’s up with that?)
Interview with Mike Hoy on Loompanics’s own site gone
Hoy on the AuthorViews site gone
Claire Wolfe’s tribute to Loompanics gone