If you’ve never heard of the Big Book of Mischief, thank a censor.
Have you ever heard of the Big Book of Mischief? If you have, you’re one of the few. Most people haven’t.
Let’s try one a little more famous: How about the Anarchist’s Cookbook?
Whether you’ve heard of the latter or the former, or neither, you won’t be able to stroll into your local bookstore or public library to pick up a copy in any case; thankfully, no one else can either.
You can’t even order these particular books on Amazon, and they have everything.
It isn’t that the books don’t exist- they do. Both books have been banned, censored, de-platformed and demonetized into relative obscurity, thank goodness. But censorship being an imperfect tool, unwieldy and often unevenly applied, these books are still out there- somewhere.
Someone might be able to get their hands on one, or a portion, were they inclined to try- very hard. They shouldn’t try. Even as a purely academic pursuit, too much searching for either of the above might net a visit from the federal authorities.
Both books are bomb-making manuals; compendiums on arson, disrupting power grids and supply lines, poisoning municipal drinking water sources, infiltrating companies and government agencies to create chaos, mass violence, destruction and death.
With good reason they are censored today- just as books like these have been censored in the past since the first invention of the printing press.
It’s simple: Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, can write a manifesto describing his wild persecution fantasies and his nonsensical reasoning for committing terrible crimes if he wishes; it’s not exactly recommended reading material, but he can do it. FBI profilers and investigators love it when criminals do that.
The Unabomber cannot write a how-to manual on how to recreate his crimes. And even if he could, anyone presuming to actually publish it would find themselves in a world of legal trouble.
In 1980, you couldn’t have set up a publishing house and begun churning out mass-produced copies of the Big Book of Mischief. The U.S. is a free market economy, it’s true, and such a book, sadly, might have been very popular. But government authorities would have shut such a company down so thoroughly, FBI agents would have salted the ground of its former offices and burned its printing presses in effigy.
Anyone electing to hang their shingle out on such a venture would have found themselves, probably, in federal prison for the duration of their natural lives.
Any person in 2022 attempting to profit by widely decimating the Big Book of Mischief on the internet would, and should, face the same outcome.
Keeping the Big Book out of the hands of criminals, potential criminals and fatally curious teenagers is exactly the type preventative, preemptive measures we want from U.S. law enforcement agencies.
Who in society would benefit from the BBOM being freely and readily available for purchase?
How safe would any of us be if recipes for IEDS were as common in the average Google search result as casserole recipes?
Keeping that information out of the hands of those who might wish to use it is very difficult, even with censorship. Preventing violent instruction manuals from spreading, being shared, and being used to plan and commit crimes, is what the FBI should be doing.
It’s one of the reasons the FBI just successfully and gloriously bugged a whole world of organized crime. In a truly genius plan for the record books, worthy of the name “intelligence”, the FBI constructed an elaborate plot to trap would-be assassins, terrorists, and other criminals.
Claiming to have invented a messaging system that was uncrackable, invisible and utterly untraceable the FBI duped thousands of the world’s worst criminals into spilling their guts and their contacts. “Anom” was really the cops the whole time.
You have to hand it to the FBI, really; it was a truly brilliant plan.
On the other hand, it wasn’t exactly their first rodeo.
When the internet was still in its infancy, it was already clear to the pioneers of this new frontier- and the police- that some information, even in the Information Age, would need to be kept from being widely dissimulated.
The year was 1998 and a contract killer, a so-called “hit man”- or someone purporting to be one- wrote a book, what we might call an ebook today, which included detailed instructions on how to take up that particular career path.
Don’t try to look for this book; you won’t find it. The FBI, and presumably other U.S. law enforcement agencies have removed it, or insisted it be removed.
You won’t find videos of people being murdered, either. Or rather, you probably will if you really look (don’t)- just not as many as there should be.
More and more killers and violent criminals photograph, videotape, and even livestream their crimes. Internet censors work tirelessly to ensure we never see the worst of the worst- scenes of violence and depravity we thankfully can’t even imagine thanks to the efforts of a small team of- heavily rotated- censors.
No one can stay in the job long. PTSD is a major job hazard.
Every internet user over the age of 18 should probably be required to do a tour of duty as one of these brave souls for 30 minutes, just so we can put the censorship debate in the proper context of a brave and terrifying new world where it’s possible for the most dangerous criminals on earth to profit from their crimes in the attention economy.
Centuries ago, when humanity was confronting the writings of the Marquis de Sade, from whence our very term “sadism” was derived, the potential reach of his grotesque “literary” works was limited to a few thousand poor souls, at best. He wasn’t the first purveyor of violent pornographic material; he was unfortunately not the last.
The very fact his writings survived at all into the modern age is probably due to the controversy caused by his actual crimes, his notoriousness as a Bastille inmate, and the dark glamour he somehow managed to exert over 1920’s Paris surrealists a century later as some sort of bizarre anti-objet d’art.
The Marquise de Sade wasn’t an artist; he wasn’t a victim of censorious, Puritanical busybodies. He was criminal seeking to profit from his crimes and was treated as such by the French legal system. De Sade was precisely the sort of hated “aristo” which inspired the French peasantry to bloody rebellion in the first place.
Criminals are, for the most part, denied any opportunity to profit from their crimes by the U.S. criminal justice system. Since some criminals might seek to capitalize on their crimes in other ways in our new attention economy, censorship of criminality on the internet, far from infringing on our rights, lives, and freedoms, actually helps preserve them.
Criminals who would write books describing their crimes for profit, notoriety and attention; terrorists and terrorist-sympathizers who would spread detailed instructions on how to murder innocent people with explosives are not afforded the same freedoms of expression as the rest of us- with very good reason.
Even if pumping their poison out into the world didn’t actually net them money in the bank, criminals seek validation, capital and affirmation via other methods, which also must be cut off from them. Spreading their madness is one of the most virulent forms of predation; it can’t be allowed.
Censorship isn’t always Big Brother; sometimes it’s the Big Book of Mischief.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)