And no more Loompanics Unlimited, alas.
I suppose it was inevitable that Loompanics would shut down their operations sooner or later, what with Amazon cornering so much of the book market, and what with this new-fangled "inter-net" thing providing light-speed access to the kind of semi-clandestine information which once proved so hard to get your hands on. Loompanics belongs to the era of C.O.D. mail order and celluloid pornography. A time when you could order spider monkeys by post, and no one even considered buckling their seat-belts.
But the news has me buzzing with bittersweet nostalgia just the same.
I was a lazily rebellious high school kid, burdened with bad grades, bad acne, and poor prospects all around, when a friend loaned me a smudged up, dog-eared copy of "The Best Book Catalog in the World."
Loompanics? This looks cool — where’d you get it?
Ordered it from an ad in Soldier of Fortune.
Jesus fuck, man. They’ve got a book on how to break into a nuclear power plant. That’s fucked up. Can I borrow this?
I can’t remember if it was the 1986 or 1987 edition. I remember there was an interview with Bob Black, whose Abolition of Work monograph must have just come out, and they were still carrying that Gerry Reith book, and that creepy Paedophilia text by Tom O’Carroll. Oh yeah, and there were those situationist-ish broadsides from some outfit called Anti-Authoritarians Anonymous. Or something like that.
I’m guessing it was 1987.
Honestly, I’m almost embarrassed to admit what a fucking revelation it was. I spent hours poring over those newsprint pages, bookmarking the priority purchases and keeping tabs on the stuff that could wait. While my friend stocked up on Kurt Saxon’s "recipe" books and other pre-Columbine manuals of mayhem, I found myself gravitating toward the cerebral tethers nearer the back of the catalog — the sections on "Heresy" and "Reality Creation" and "Anarchism and Egoism." It’s fair to say that Loompanics introduced me to the usual counter-cultural icons and signposts; there was Principia Discordia, and Semiotext[e] USA, and The Book of the SubGenius, and Apocalypse Culture, and there were those flaky art-world journals put out that weird couple in San Francisco.
Sentimental nerd that I am, I still have them all. Want to borrow anything? Sorry — I have a policy.
It was also through Loompanics that I got my first unadulterated taste of full-on radical libertarianism. Somewhere in between the mirth and subversion, I ordered Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, and Morris and Linda Tannehill’s The Market for Liberty. Then it was on to one of Murray Rothbard’s polemics — I forget which. But the one that really snared my synapses was Defending the Undefendable, by Walter Block. I didn’t take Block’s logic all the way down (nobody does), but there was something about the rigorous and clearheaded consistency with which he dispatched the "hard cases" that jolted my polarities for the long haul. For a taste of what I mean, check out Block’s classic defense of blackmail here.
But it may have been the catalog’s hyperbolic introduction that struck the first and deepest chord. "We know where we belong," it announced:
we are the lunatic fringe of the libertarian movement. We don’t believe in laws, rules or regulations. We have contempt for censorship, secrecy and dogmatism. We don’t give a damn about being "respectable," or Politically Correct. We don’t care about anything except having fun and your right to find out anything you want to know. Nothing is sacred to us, except skepticism and self-reliance.
And that was enough. That was my politics.
Even as I’ve mellowed over the years, I still love the existential gambit inherent in those heavy-handed pronouncements — the bold insistence to brook no authority; that freedom matters more than safety or prosperity or whateverthefuck they want to prop up in trade. I know it’s hopeless. But life, as I’ve said before and will say again, is too fucking short. Even a shut-in can dream.
They say "It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand," but the catalyst for my "libertarian odyssey" was the Loompanics catalog. It will be missed.
As Mike Hoy would say, Happy book hunting, and good reading!