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The contentious history of the Anarchist Cookbook
Numerous critics have called for the ban of the infamous instruction manual for violent civil disobedience.
- The Anarchist Cookbook provides instructions for making bombs, drugs, and operating firearms; naturally, this makes it rather controversial.
- Concerned citizens, anarchists themselves, and many others have called for the ban of the book, but most liberal democracies have refused to do so.
- Whether you think dangerous literature should be banned or whether banning books is an inherently anti-democratic position, knowing and understanding why the Anarchist Cookbook draws so much criticism can be valuable.
It's difficult to find a book more eclectic, violent, provocative, and incendiary than the Anarchist Cookbook. It's a bizarre instruction manual that covers a wide array of topics whose only connection is that they are often illegal and dangerous. Broadly, the book covers four areas: drugs; electronics, sabotage, and surveillance; natural, nonlethal, and lethal weapons; and explosives and booby traps.
Since it was first written in 1971, much of its information is out of date. But some topics, like how to make improvised bombs, don't have an expiration date. The book provides instructions for making LSD and teargas, primers on how to operate various firearms, how to sabotage different kinds of infrastructure, and writing on anarchist philosophy.
The book was written by William Powell, a manager of a bookstore in Greenwich Village. Powell quit his job, however, to write the Anarchist Cookbook. "My motivation at the time was simple," said Powell in an article for The Guardian. "I was being actively pursued by the US military, who seemed single-mindedly determined to send me to fight, and possibly die, in Vietnam." Its counter-cultural, violent message proved popular; today, it has sold in excess of 2 million copies.
It should come as no surprise that the book is infamous and controversial. But the kinds of criticism it attracts varies depending on the source. Governments across the world clearly have a negative opinion of the text. It does, after all, advocate for violent civil disobedience. The Anarchist Cookbook is banned in Australia. In the UK, possessing the book—though not illegal itself—has often been used as evidence in terrorism cases. A teenager was accused and later acquitted of a plot to assassinate British National Party members in 2008. In 2017, a 27-year-old who had traveled to Syria and possessed a copy was accused of being a terrorist. It turned out that he had merely printed a copy of the Anarchist Cookbook for use in a role-playing game in a university society.
In the United States, critics have called for a ban of Anarchist Cookbook ever since its publication. Worryingly, the book has been found in the possession of several mass shooters, including the Columbine shooters, a 2013 shooting at a Colorado high school, and the 2012 shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Despite these demands, the book remains legal and easy to purchase or find online.
Though it remains legal, the FBI certainly doesn't approve of it. In their initial investigation of the Anarchist Cookbook, the FBI wrote that it "has to be one of the crudest, low-brow, paranoiac writing efforts ever attempted." Numerous letter-writers exhorted then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to ban the book, but he could only reply that "the FBI has no control over material published through the mass media."
A photo of J. Edgar Hoover, under whose administration the FBI investigated the Anarchist Cookbook.
Still others argue that the book should be banned because much of its content is… well… crap. Powell wrote the Anarchist Cookbook when he was just 19, and much of its information is inaccurate. For example, the cookbook provides instructions for extracting a chemical called bananadine—"a mild, short-lasting psychedelic"—from banana peels. Bananadine does not exist; it was a fabrication written in the underground newspaper the Berkeley Barb in an attempt to get authorities to ban bananas. Powell, however, believed it to be true.
The explosive recipes are particularly dangerous, though few would feel much remorse if a bomb-maker were to accidentally blow themselves up. Still, since the text attracts many people who are more curious than homicidal, the inaccuracies could have consequences for more innocent readers.
Even anarchists don't find the Anarchist Cookbook particularly compelling. For one, its philosophical stance is questionable. Its preface conflates nihilism and anarchism, a position that many anarchists would take umbrage to. Leo Tolstoy, for example, was certainly not a nihilist; he was a thoroughly religious man who espoused an anarcho-pacifist philosophy. Noam Chomsky believed in anarcho-syndicalism, a kind of mixture of socialism and anarchy that very much requires the belief in something, at the very least the virtue of doing work for work's sake.
More inherent to the book's purpose is the fact that the use of violence as a means to anarchy is perhaps the defining divide among different anarchist philosophies. Violent actions in anarchy is referred to as the propaganda of the deed—a kind of terrorist method of intimidating those in power and recruiting and inspiring others for a political revolution. Though this conforms to the public perception of an anarchist, it is very much denied by many prominent anarchist thinkers, like Leo Tolstoy—who was more or less constitutionally incapable of hurting a fly—Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn.
But the most important person to level criticism against the book and its violent tactics is William Powell himself. Powell later converted to Anglicanism and became a teacher to students in developing countries in Africa and Asia, a far cry from his anarchist youth. He has been trying to get the book pulled from shelves for decades, but he no longer holds the copyright to the work.
In his article for The Guardian, Powell wrote:
Over the years, I have come to understand that the basic premise behind the Cookbook is profoundly flawed. The anger that motivated the writing of the Cookbook blinded me to the illogical notion that violence can be used to prevent violence. I had fallen for the same irrational pattern of thought that led to US military involvement in both Vietnam and Iraq. The irony is not lost on me. […] The continued publication of the Cookbook serves no purpose other than a commercial one for the publisher. It should quickly and quietly go out of print.
Despite his efforts, the Anarchist Cookbook is still widely disseminated online and easily purchased at Amazon or bookstores. While the commitment to the free and unimpeded distribution of writing is a valuable, admirable quality in any democracy, in the face of so much criticism, perhaps it would be best if the Anarchist Cookbook did, in fact, go quickly and quietly out of print.
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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