July 22, 2010
Interview with Loompanics Unlimited Founder Mike Hoy
An Interview With Mike Hoy, Founder
and President of Loompanics Unlimited
Regarding What It's All About
Q: What is “Loompanics Unlimited?”
Loompanics Unlimited is a publishing and bookselling company specializing in odd, unusual, controversial, and wild-ass books, with an emphasis on questioning authority. We have been in business for 28 years now. We are a small business, bringing out about 15 of our own titles a year, and offering approximately 150 new titles per year from other publishers. Our current Catalog with Supplements contains more than 800 titles.
Q: Why is your Catalog dedicated to the Second Law of Thermodynamics?
The Second Law of Thermodynamics is the tendency towards universal entropy – in short, over time, chaos will prevail. "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold…” (Yeats). Within society, Loompanics favors more entropy, i.e., less government laws and other social restrictions – increased anarchy. Within our own bodies, Loompanics favors less entropy, i.e., less degeneration and death. So the Second Law of Thermodynamics is at once a friend indeed, and a worthy adversary. America needs to loosen up.
Q: Many of your books deal with violence and criminal activity. Aren't you harming society by making available information on how to manufacture illegal drugs, or offering how-to-do-it violence manuals?
Of course not. Nothing harms “society” more than censorship and dogmatism. I believe that people are mature enough to be allowed to find out anything they want to know about anything they want to know about, and that any attempt to suppress the free transmission of ideas and information will cause much more harm than freedom ever could. Mostly, the “harm” of freedom is to institutions and ideologies that don't want us to be able to find stuff out. The “harm” from publishing, say, Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture (now in its 6th edition) is nothing compared to the harm of having the DEA be our only source of information about drugs, or the harm of throwing people in prison for talking about drugs in a way that they don't like.
Q: So you think it would be harmless for a fourth grader to get hold of a copy of Secrets of Meth? How can you say that?
In the first place, I do not sell to fourth graders, but for the sake of argument, let's say that I did sell a copy of Secrets of Meth to a 9-year-old – what could the “harm” possibly be? Here is a brief excerpt from that book: “Another way of doing the electric cell method of turning the propenylbenzene into phenylacetone is given in the Journal of Organic Chemistry article, Volume 49. If, at the conclusion of passing current through the reaction mixture, a little 1% solution of sulfuric acid is added and stirred for an hour, the product of the cell is 98% yield of the same glycol by the formic acid and peroxide method.” That is from page 72.
Now, I submit that if we had a fourth grader who could actually understand that passage, what we ought to do is give that kid a state-of-the-art laboratory and get the hell out of his way. A guy like that might discover a cure for cancer, or something. A phenom like that ought to be encouraged to study chemistry. And furthermore, the passage demonstrates that a goodly part of any illegal drug manufacture book is going to rely heavily on mainstream chemistry – because life itself is chemistry.
Q: The “Drugs” Section in your current Catalog contains more than 70 titles. Are you encouraging people to use drugs?
I'm encouraging people to think about drugs. There is more absolute horseshit and just plain lies being put out about “drugs” than any other subject. “Just say no” makes exactly as much sense as “Just say yes.” My position is “Just say know.” Drugs have been demonized in this country to provide an excuse to trample on our civil liberties and make us so scared and dumb that we cannot think. The fact of the matter is that we humans (and many other species, too!) have been getting high on one substance or another ever since we first stood up on our hind legs. Esteemed scientists such as Dr. Ronald K. Siegel have postulated that the desire for intoxication is actually a fourth drive, as unstoppable as hunger, thirst, and sex. I think that drugs are a positive force in our society, and it is evil to prohibit our access to them.
To give only one example, just think of the economic miracle that would result from the legalization of cannabis - not just "hemp” or “medical marijuana” but pot for getting high, too. It's already one of the most lucrative cash crops in the USA - why not recognize that fact, and all of us benefit from it? It's an ideal crop for small farmers. Why should someone have his life destroyed by being sent to prison for helping people? Just so some lifelong parasitic pigs can continue to slurp at the public trough? That's not enough reason for me. Legalize it all, and let people be.
Q: You have a number of anarchist books in your Catalog. Are you an anarchist?
Pretty much so, although I am too much of an anarchist to be an anarchist – I have found that the organized anarchists have too many rules and too many leaders for me. I am so much of an anarchist that I have gone beyond anarchy &$8211 I am agnostic about anarchism. I guess I would call myself a political solipsist. I don't much know how “society should be organized,” but I want everybody to be able to live the way they want. I would like to see everyone create his own reality. I think that any large institution, not just government, is likely to be dangerous to individuals. That is where I part company with the “Libertarians” – they actually seem to think that large corporations are rivals of the government. My view is that they have become interchangeable with the government. In fact, corporations now wield even more power than governments – look at what is going on in Afghanistan and Iraq, for Chrissakes. The U.S. Government is serving the “oil” and “defense” industries.
Q: So, if a person can't trust the government, and can't trust private corporations, what do you think people should do in order to be more free?
Well, I don't have a one-size-fits-all platform that I want everybody to all cluster-fuck together on. I just want people to give their heads a good spring cleaning, and start looking for things they can do to help themselves. I sell a lot of books on things like starting up little businesses, making money on the side, breaking free of the work/consumer economy. What might be swell for one person might not be a good idea at all for another. But if your mind is closed to the possibility of doing anything except traditional work, you will not be able to recognize an opportunity, even if it bites you on the ass.
I sell books on increasing your intelligence, both by raising your “I.Q.” and by expanding the boundaries of your thinking. Books such as How to Start Your Own Country, or The Last Frontiers on Earth might sound “crazy,” but they get you thinking about questions such as “What is sovereignty?” and “How far off the beaten path can someone actually go?”
Plus, it is just plain fun to think about the off-trail possibility, the overlooked alternative - and freedom should be fun, above all else. If it ain't fun, then it ain't really freedom.
Q: What is the Loompanics logo? Is that some kind of space ship or something?
Yes, what that is, is it's an orbiting space colony of the type proposed by Gerard K. O'Neil in his 1976 book The High Frontier. I was very impressed by the idea that a relatively small group of people could get off this planet and out by themselves, and literally have their own world. Unfortunately for just about everybody, the idea has been co-opted by the government, in order to militarize outer space (“Star Wars”) and right now it doesn't look like we, the people, are ever going to be able to live like that. But I like the idea, so I have kept it as the company logo.
Q: The Loompanics Catalog and Supplements contain features and articles as well as book write-ups.
Uh-huh, I always like to have a couple features that reflect the Catalog's general orientation: individual freedom. Over the years, I have collected the best of these articles into four anthologies: Loompanics' Greatest Hits, Loompanics' Golden Records, Loompanics Unlimited Live! In Las Vegas, and Loompanics Unlimited Conquers the Universe. There's some really good writing in there.
Q: What do you look for in a book to publish or sell?
What I really like to see is for someone who knows what he's talking about to take a subject that is little-known, or even abhorrent, and then write a straightforward how-to-do-it book about it. Books such as The Art & Science of Dumpster Diving, Methods of Disguise, Making Crime Pay, Rancho Costa Nada: The Dirt Cheap Desert Homestead, If We Can Keep a Severed Head Alive…, How to Start Your Own Country, Did Jesus Exist?, Practical LSD Manufacture, Combat Knife Throwing, The $51 Fantasy, etc., etc. I love this sort of thing, and I always have, and I always will.
I like challenging books, funny books, exciting books, crazy books. Sometimes reporters have asked me “What kind of people would buy books like these, Mike?” I always answer, people like me. When I am putting together the Catalog, or a Supplement, I always imagine what books I would like to see for sale, what books I would buy, and I look for those kinds of books. Useful books, outrageous books, beyond-the-pale books, over-the-top books. How to Build Your Own Log Home for Less Than $15,000, Stealth Juror, Home Workshop Professional Lock Tools, How to Make Driver's Licenses and Other ID on Your Home Computer, They Were White and They Were Slaves, Everything You Know is Wrong, How to Be an Ass-Whipping Boxer, Guns Save Lives, etc., etc. I literally cannot get enough of this stuff.
Q: How do you get your manuscripts? Do people just send them in, or what?
Well, by now, as little-known as we are, Loompanics is well-known enough that we do get a lot of manuscripts that just come in over the transom. But I will also think of ideas for books I'd like to see, and then look for an author to write the book. I am very proud to be the publisher of writers like Ace Backwords, eddie the wire, Jon Fisher, Claire Wolfe, John Q. Newman, Uncle Fester, and many others whose first books were published by Loompanics. These are all intelligent writers, with great senses of humor, who have a lot to say that is important, and I think it says a lot for my company that we are their publisher.
And sometimes one of our regular authors will refer another author to us. Sometimes, other small press publishers will refer an author to us who has a project that isn't quite right for them. And we run listings in Writer's Market, and other standard references soliciting authors. Lots of times, our customers will become authors. When I was first getting Loompanics going, and was operating it out of my basement, eddie the wire (before he was “eddie the wire”) would stop over to the house to buy books, and we would shoot the shit, and he looked over all my lock picking titles (which were from other publishers), and told me that he could write better stuff. So, I said go ahead - make my day, and thus was born The Complete Guide to Lock Picking. We get our manuscripts wherever we can.
Q: Where do you get your customers? None of your books will ever be available on the paperback rack at Safeway.
Well, like our authors, we get our customers wherever we can. We have advertised in magazines such as High Times, Reason, The Nation, and other alternative periodicals. We have also advertised in mainstream intellectual mags like Harper's, The Atlantic, even Popular Science. The Wall Street Journal has always refused to allow us to advertise, which demonstrates a large lack of faith on their part in the self-correcting mechanism of the free market. Sometimes we will set up at shows and conventions, such as anarchist book fairs, the Northwest Book Fair in Seattle, the American Library Association's convention, Defcon, gun shows, survival shows, libertarian conventions, comix conventions, and even the big ABA convention a couple of times. And we mail Samplers and Supplements to bookbuyer lists of other small publishers, and magazine subscribers. Wherever we think there might be literate people who like unusual books, we will try to let them know about us.
I also do newspaper and magazine and radio interviews, and we set them up for our authors, too. I've even been on TV a few times, as have some of our authors. I enjoy talking about freedom of the press and why it is so necessary. Sometimes, I will get an interviewer who wants to do a hatchet job on Loompanics, and portray us as a bunch of Communist child molesters, or something. A couple months ago, I did an NPR interview in which the host (Bob somebody) became so disoriented with my mocking of the “War on Terrorism” that he cut me off in the middle of a sentence, sneering, “Worst of luck!”
When you're in business at the level we're at, there is really no such thing as bad publicity. I'm not looking for people who are afraid to question what their television sets tell them. If I wasn't pissing off assholes like that NPR guy, I wouldn't have much to offer anyone with brains.
Q: One last question. Why “Loompanics?” Does that mean something?
The first booklet I ever published (in early 1974) was an index to the first four years of National Lampoon magazine. I was in awe of NatLamp as it was before the original founders sold their stakes. I still think that those issues were the single finest examples of satire and social criticism that have ever been published in America. My favorites were Henry Beard and, especially, the late Michael O'Donahue. Nothing was sacred with those guys, and that makes for good writing! I liked NatLamp so much in those days that I even had a couple of small jokes published in there, something I still like to brag about whenever I get the chance (such as now).
My theory was that if I named my publishing company something that sounded like “Lampoon” that it would help the sales of the Index when I advertised it in NatLamp. Then, when I started to publish other stuff, I already had stationery, etc., printed up, and I got so I liked the name (it has a nice ring to it, I think), and I just kept it for all my publishing projects, and for my bookselling Catalog, too.
I know, it's anticlimactic.
Q: For many of the people reading this interview, this will be their first introduction to Loompanics Unlimited. Is there anything special you would like to say to these people?
Yes. Have fun, think for yourself, and buy some books.