Two things hampered the delivery of the last installment of my book CONSPIRACY! to my eBook mailing list. Well, three things, actually. The first was that I put off sending it out for a couple of days, deluged with other work. No problem, I thought.
Then current world events made a book with already purposefully bad taste REALLY in bad taste. Which was totally a coincidence, but made me feel like this was not the exact time to send the finale of the book out.
Then I came across a booklet on one of the public document-sharing sites that scared the shit out of me and made me question the entire project.
In CONSPIRACY!, a would-be home-grown terrorist named Hansel Van Halen writes a booklet called "The Zaius Project." This booklet stresses science and the idea of over-population. It also contains half-assed conspiracy theory culled from other sources, and a call-to-action. Van Halen's solution is a crude biological weapon he purchased over the Internet. Fortunately, he receives an untimely (or, depending on how you look at it, timely) demise before putting his plan into action.
I had several themes running here. One was the potential of the Internet to both make highly dangerous information readily accessible and bring likeminded people (including terrorists) together. Another theme explored how people can pick-and-choose from information and theories of varying degrees of quality or craziness and build a world-view from that.
Then yesterday I found an actual eBook on a document sharing site that eerily touched on the same topics. It was absolutely horrifying. While I wrote CONSPIRACY! as more of a slapstick dystopian nightmare on the order of "Brazil" or "Fight Club," this was no joke. Like the fictional "Zaius Project," the booklet focused on science, then overpopulation. "Only the fit should live." Snatches of conspiracy theory that I've seen from a bunch of other sources were cut-and-pasted in. Then, it had "Anarchist Cookbook" stuff (probably cut-and-pasted as well) on how to make bombs, etc. Over and over again, using these techniques to kill people was encouraged. Not implied. Specifically encouraged.
Is such a booklet covered under free speech?
I mean, you can write conspiracy theory until the cows come home. You can express open distrust of the government. You can even talk about revolution. But this book was really, really dangerous. And while I am familiar with your right-wing extremists, your left-wing extremists, your religious extremists -- this was like something completely different.
This is not an isolated case. There's tons of stuff out there on these sites. And I'm fine with the free speech element up to the point where actually killing people is suggested. I hope I won't be called "George Orwell" for not wanting to see instructions for a balloon bomb with the words "kill people" next to it being published for mass consumption. Call me crazy, but that just seems to be asking for trouble.
Me and writer Mark Sable recently discussed these topics in an interview I did with him for Comics-Op. His comic, "Unthinkable," is about a government program that uses authors of fiction to brainstorm terrorist scenarios in order to anticipate and prepare against them. It's based on an actual program. The interview (which I need to transcribe in full and post on this site), brought up topics such as the responsibility of the artist to society and the danger of having people "copycat" one's fictional work.
Which is not to say that I think the booklet I found on this site was influenced by my unfinished book in any way. CONSPIRACY! had a small audience on an email list. The "anarchist" booklet was posted online before I began sending CONSPIRACY! out. I guess if anything, my observations based on what I saw in the conspiracy community were little too dead-on. The thing is, as I said before, I really felt I was being purposely extreme and slapstick in CONSPIRACY!. Hansel Van Halen was supposed to be truly a larger-than-life comic book character. His plan and rationale was supposed to be so "out-there" and ridiculous that he was far more a low-rate Doctor Doom than anybody even close to being in reality.
At any rate, I'm shaken, and I'm going to sit on CONSPIRACY! for a little while until I parse this out. Certainly, I want to do something with the book (novella, actually). And certainly, people write dystopias that are uncomfortably close to reality all the time. In a way, these books can be informative, a warning of sorts coated in black humor. But I'm gonna parse this one out because I'm like "gak!"
And my apologies to the people on the mailing list.
(comments closed because any issue involving "free speech" seems to make people lose their fucking minds -- even if the "free speech" in question is related to specific instigation to physically harm other people)