• Loompanics - Free Speech, or Manuals for Crime?

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    Since 1975, Mike Hoy and his publishing company, Loompanics, have published over 300 books with titles such as, "The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving", "Secrets of Metamphetamine Manufacture" and "Understanding U.S. Identity Documents". Now, it looks like Loompanics is going out of business. Via boingboing.net, I read that Mike is closing up shop after 30 years of business. He says that he is going out of business because of the poor economic climate and not from polictical pressure.

    Some Loompanics titles have long been a problem for me. When they were publishing books about how to eat cheaply, how to drop out of society and political tracts on corporate fascism, I found them interesting. But when they published books that seem to be nothing more than how-to manuals for criminal activity ("Making Crime Pay" and "Techniques of Safe-Cracking", et.al.), I was very uneasy. I mean, Jesus, I don't want to sell these kind of books.

    Until the Iliad Bookshop, I had never worked in a bookstore that carried a lot of Loompanics titles. We keep them in the "oddities" section, and for good reason. These books deal with controversial topics that stretch our constitutional right to free speech almost to the breaking point. Does a book on how to set up a metamphetamine lab really serve a purpose other than to help crooks make money hooking people into a lifetime of drug addiction? Does free speech cover this kind of expression? My good friend Skye and her husband,
    Skip, had us over for Hoppin John and biscuits on New Year's day, and Loompanics came up during our hours-long conversation. Skye and I both felt that while some Loompanics titles were questionable, the books were still covered by free speech. Lisa and Skip, on the other hand, were adamant that these books did not benefit our community in any way and that local law enforcement should be allowed to have a record of those who sold and purchased books like the metamphetamine one.

    They made compelling arguments, but I still think that you sacrifice too much when you start policing certain books. It's the principle of free speech which is being tested in the case of the Loompanics catalogue. And sometimes you have to allow speech that is questionable in order to stay true to the broader freedom. If we start forcing certain types of speech/books to be curtailed, where does it stop? And I don't trust government to make free speech decisions for us either. Politics and money would rear it's ugly head and principles would go out the window. I wouldn't sell them in my own bookstore, but I don't think others should be prevented from selling them, or have other resptrictions placed on access to these books.

    I think Lisa and Skip are probably pleased that Loompanics is packing it in. I'm not so sanguine. At least Mike Hoy's departure from the anarchists book scene is not due to the Patriot act, but the fact that people just aren't buying his books like they used to.

    Wikipedia has a good backgrounder on Loompanics, if you are interested in learning more.
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