Information Crime

By John "Birdman" Bryant


The only virtue is knowledge; the only evil is ignorance. --Diogenes Laertius

Information has always been regarded as subversive, whether to political or to ideological regimes. This is why Galileo was silenced, why the Nazis burned books, why communist countries control the media, and why wowsers ban pornography. --J.B.R. Yant, Mortal Words, v. 1

Most of us would agree with the statement that knowledge is good; and yet in practice, most of us deny it with a vengance. Indeed, the behaviors which have made men most wroth have always been what might reasonably be called information crimes, i.e., the "crimes" of either knowing too much, or else of permitting others to find out too much. The reason for the popularity of the suppression of information is the widespread (tho rarely articulated) belief that certain information has the power of polluting the mind. Perhaps the most obvious illustration of this is found in the two instances where censorship is most often encountered in the U.S. -- profanity ("dirty words") and pornography ("dirty pictures"): Originally these were held to have the power of polluting almost everyone (except the censors); later they were held to pollute only women and children; and now the pollution is alleged to affect only little old ladies from Dubuque, children, and most born-again Christians except televangelists. What is interesting about information crimes is that for the most part, they have not been identified for what they really are; and thus those who are committed to a free and open society have either been largely unaware of the significance of information crimes, or else have often interpreted them as something having little or nothing to do with information. The intention of the present article is to explore this neglected subject, and in particular to identify a wide array of information crimes with a view to demonstrating, by the sheer size of their number, the enormous hostility to information which exists in even the world's freest society.

As we mentioned above, one of the best-known classes of information crimes is the dispensing of sexual information. Today the greatest sex-information crimes involve the more explicit kinds of erotica (i.e., "pornography", and especially "kiddie porn"), but also involve nudity, underage sex, certain types of swimwear, the dispensing of abortion information by government clinics, and other lesser crimes of "carnal knowledge". In the Victorian era of a century ago, strictures on sexual information were far more severe than they are now, for it was in this age when spreading birth control information was a felony, when women explained their ailments to doctors using dolls, and when modesty dictated that arms and legs should be referred to as limbs and that all limbs -- including those of chairs and tables -- should be covered. Curiously enuf, however, sexual information was not a crime in the society which conservatives -- who are usually the biggest enemies of sexual information -- celebrate more than any other: that of ancient Greece. In that society people often went without clothes (gymnasium has its root in a Greek word meaning naked), homosexuality was openly practiced (Socrates, for example, had a proclivity for his young male students -- just let him try to get a job nowadays!) and dinner parties were common in which youngsters performed oral sex on both male and female guests while they conversed at table.

While we are on the subject, it is worthwhile to point out that child erotica (i.e., "kiddie porn") is presumed by current psychological scuttlebutt to have special powers of mental pollution. In particular, not only is kiddie porn assumed able to pollute the presumably asexual child participants (by introducing them to "deviant sex" and "too early" sex), but also to pollute those persons who watch it, by encouraging them to seek sexual gratification with children. The question raised by this, however, is, Is pollution really occurring?, i.e., Is sexual knowledge by children, or kiddie sex itself -- whether with other kids or with adults -- really bad? While it is beyond the scope of the present article to discuss this question (however, see the article "Adult-Child Sex: What's Wrong With It? in my recent book Bryant's Law and Other Broadsides), it will suffice to note that -- at least judging from the reports of "child molestation" with which we are besieged in the present day -- there are apparently a lot of people who engage in this sort of thing, and thus a lot of people who seem to think it is perfectly OK, including the kids. But even if we judge kiddie sex to be wrong, it certainly does not follow that sexual information, including pornography, will "pollute" the minds of children in any reasonable sense of the word, and those who allege this to be true have simply not proved their case.

Closely related to questions about kiddie porn are those about homosexuality, not merely because kiddie porn sometimes involves homosexual acts, but more importantly because homosexuality may involve an information crime in the sense that homosexual seduction might turn someone into a homosexual, i.e., the seduction might convey to the seductee the information that this form of sex is enjoyable. This fact is considered especially important in the case of children, since their impressionable age presumably makes them more receptive to this sort of experience. Homosexual seduction is, of course, a paradigm case of "mental pollution", and it is thus such "pollution" that a parent -- never having been "polluted" himself -- wishes to keep his child away from lest the child learn to enjoy something his parents never did.

While it might surprise many, it is a curious fact that the American judicial system is one of the greatest criminalizers of information. The crimes of judicial information primarily involve the rules which restrict information to jurors -- against hearsay testimony, against illegally-seized evidence, against self-incrimination, against rape victims' sexual histories being known, against jurors' knowledge of a defendant's prior criminal behavior, against jurors being or having been exposed to outside sources of information such as newspapers, against juror note-taking, against juror questioning of witnesses, against mention in open court of the common law and de facto right of the jury to pass judgment on the rightness of the law as well as the facts of the case ("jury nullification"), and so on. It would of course be foolish to deny that these restrictions are well-intentioned, but it remains equally true that their net effect is simply to deny to jurors a well-rounded picture of the circumstances -- a picture which any investigator would normally possess and, for most cases, almost any newspaper reader as well. Thus the issue which is raised by all this information restriction is, Why is an ignorant juror considered better able to render a fair judgment than an informed one?

One of the best-known information crimes of the present day is what is called politically incorrect speech, i.e., the act of conveying to others the idea that they are looked down on, often because of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or age, but sometimes because of fatness, ugliness, mental deficiency or just about anything else including political correctness. The reason generally given for the forbidding of politically incorrect speech is that it hurts others, this hurt presumably being sufficient reason to abandon the guarantees of Constitutionally-protected free speech. In fact, however, we can see that the banning of politically incorrect speech -- which has happened on a number of college campuses -- is merely another attempt to forbid "mental pollution" by keeping certain individuals or groups from being made to feel inferior because of their inferior or otherwise distasteful characteristics. One thing that the protectors of these groups have failed to realize, however, is that the politically-incorrect act of reminding others of their inferiority or distastefulness is a powerful means of making such people strive to overcome such characteristics; and thus while politically incorrect speech may not be pleasant, it may nonetheless have good effects. Undoubtedly, however, such reasoning is politically incorrect.

It is interesting to note that there is a close relation between the strictures of politically incorrect speech and those of socialism, namely, that in both cases there is an attempt to enforce equalitarianism by suppressing information. In the case of politically incorrect speech, equalitarianism is enforced by the refusal to permit expression of information about differences (and hence about inferiorities) among individuals or groups. Similarly, with socialism, not only is there a philosophical commitment to enforce equalitarianism (with consequent suppression of information about inferiorities), but the totalitarian nature of socialism forbids criticism (i.e., the pointing out of inferiorities) of any kind, and thus socialism deprives itself of the internal feedback which prevents it from correcting its own errors, much as the forbidding of politically incorrect speech removes an important incentive for the inferior person to correct his inferiority. As I have expressed the matter in Mortal Words, v. 1,

The failure of the Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes and closed societies is not primarily because of a poor economic system; it is rather because of a poor information system. To explain, we note that the reason for the poor performance of such systems is that, because there is no criticism permitted of those in power, there is accordingly an absence of what every mechanism -- including every social system -- must have in order to guide itself without running into the ground. The analogy to blindness in considering such a state of affairs is very appropriate: While an ordinarily-sighted person who walks down the street has information "fed back" to him each time he changes position, so that for each change of position his eyes tell him how far he is away from each potential obstacle, a blind man is given little or no information with any given step until the point where he runs into something. The lesson of all this, of course, is three-fold: First, that free societies will always have a decided edge on totalitarian ones, for it is they whose leaders will receive the feedback which will permit accurate navigation for the ship of state; second, that totalitarian regimes will stumble from major crisis to major crisis, since their leaders will be running blind (or largely so); and third, that the leaders of totalitarian nations will inevitably come to possess a deep sense of insecurity because of their inability to make their societies work as well as free ones, thus causing them to seek a proof of their capabilities in warlike acts towards the free societies whom they cannot otherwise surpass.

In contrasting socialism and capitalism, it is interesting in the present context to observe that the presumably-capitalist United States criminalizes certain types of economic information. One of these involves forbidding advertisements by foreign banks in American periodicals, thus keeping most people ignorant of alternative banks where they might be able to earn a better rate of interest on their money. A second and more far-reaching economic information crime is that of "insider trading", a practice which has received much publicity of late as being an odious breach of morality, but which curiously enuf is only forbidden in the stock market while being quite acceptable in the commodity markets -- where, incidentally, it doesn't seem to cause any problems, either moral or economic. The forbidding of insider trading is of course another attempt at equalitarianism, since it handicaps those who would otherwise be ahead of the game due to their superior information.

Closely related to politically incorrect speech is the crime of "discrimination", i.e., the act of utilizing information about race or other group membership in making decisions of employment, social acceptance, and other economic and social interactions. No matter that group differences are well established (blacks are nine times more likely than whites to be criminals; women have substantially less physical strength than men; homosexuals are far more likely than others to carry AIDS), for we are now required by law to ignore the obvious, and in particular to abjure probability judgments which, from a statistical standpoint, make many of our decisions ridiculous. To those who favor this sort of suppression it is useless to ask why -- as in the case of jurors -- one can make better decisions when using inferior information; but as anti-discrimination is now part of both government policy and vulgar morality, it will evidently be very difficult to dislodge, no matter how infinitely stupid. And of course to permit discrimination is to create mental pollution in much the same way as does politically incorrect speech.

An information crime involving politically incorrect speech which has taken on special importance in the last few years is denial of the Holocaust, along with such collateral information crimes as denial of the authenticity of the diary of Anne Frank, and denial of the veracity and fairness of the Nuremberg war crimes trials. Most people of course think that anyone who would deny any of these presumably well-established truths must be insane or very ill-informed, but in fact there is a great deal of writing on the subject -- including such outstanding works as Prof. Arthur Butz' Hoax of the Twentieth Century, Prof. Robert Faurisson's Is the Diary of Anne Frank Genuine?, and Fred Leuchter's The Leuchter Report -- which pose very serious challenges to the commonly-held opinions on these subjects; and it is a tribute to the potency of Jewish media influence that the explosive facts concerning these matters have not become widely known. Because of our strong tradition of free speech, the Jews have been unable to criminalize Holocaust denial in America; but in places such as Germany, Canada and France, Holocaust denial has been made a grievous crime for which men of free minds have suffered severely.

While it may surprise the reader to say so, one of the most important information crimes of recent decades is the taking of recreational drugs. Drug-taking constitutes an information crime for two reasons: First, because it creates an entirely different (and officially unapproved) informational input to the drug-taker's consciousness; and second, because the authorities do not want people to have information about the enjoyment and enlightenment which can be obtained from recreational drugs since those who receive such information might want to repeat the experience. In sum, therefore, we see that drug-taking engenders "mental pollution".

Closely related to the information crime of taking recreational drugs is that of taking officially unapproved medicines and treatments. This latter category of behaviors constitute information crimes because they permit bypassing the official oracle of medical information, the licensed physician. This of course is done in the name of "protecting the patient from charlatans", but the real concern of the medical establishment is quite naturally to preserve its medical monopoly. And needless to say, when people get it into their heads that they can play a vital role in their treatments, then this -- at least from the standpoint of the medical monopolists -- constitutes "mental pollution".

One of the most serious information crimes in terms of hindering the free flow of information involves the copyright laws. To explain, we note that a piece of writing cannot legally be published without the permission of the author (a permission which is usually obtainable upon payment of a fee), altho the information which a piece of writing contains can be freely transmitted as long as it is not in the copyrighted format. Superficially, this sounds like a fair and just law, but in practice, because of the difficulty of obtaining permission to publish someone else's work and/or the difficulty of rewriting the information in a form which will not violate the copyright, a great deal of important information never gets transmitted. Accordingly, what needs to be done is to make the copyright law for printed matter similar to that for performed music: Anyone should be able to perform/publish any copyrighted work without prior permission, but a fixed fee for that performance/publication -- perhaps based on its length and on the number of people who hear/receive it -- must be paid to the copyright holder.

Another information crime which is of great importance in inhibiting the free flow of information in the present day is libel. While intended to forestall or compensate for the "mental pollution" produced by the hearers of "defamation", the practical effect of libel law, in conjunction with our inoperable court system, is to inhibit the free flow of information concerning the infinite rascality of our fellow beings, since men with money can use libel suits to bankrupt their enemies in the long tortuous process of "justice", irrespective of whether they are wrong or right. The libel law has become particularly odious in the last year or so with the declaration by the Supreme Court that opinion is no longer exempt from libel, altho long precedent had previously established its absolute exemption. As the immortal J.B.R. Yant once remarked, the Supreme Court may have nine Justices, but it has no justice.

One of the biggest areas of information crime in the present day is subsumed by the rubric "violation of privacy". While this is a matter of some complexity which I have treated extensively in chapter 13 of my forthcoming book Systems Theory and Scientific Philosophy, the general conclusion I draw is that a person has no use for privacy unless he has something to hide, i.e., unless he has committed an immoral act which will not pass the scrutiny of his fellows (and which, therefore, will act to "pollute" others' opinions of him.) If, then, we can accept this conclusion, it follows that the criminalizing of privacy violation is -- at least under certain constraints which I have set forth in my book -- another illegitimate attempt to interfere with the free flow of information.

While we mentioned earlier the attempts to restrict information by the court system, it would be a mistake to think that the courtroom is the only place in which the government attempts to make the dispensing of information a criminal act; for with its power to classify documents, manipulate reporters, intimidate whistle-blowing employees, license and regulate radio and TV stations, regulate "commercial speech", and use its agencies to muzzle political dissent (as it did with the Black Panthers and other '60's groups), it is clear that the government is in fact the greatest criminalizer of information. Worse than this, however, is the fact that the government, by virtue of its financial power, computer systems, tax records and other means, often has far more information on its citizens than the citizens have on the government, and particularly on those government employees who are responsible for the abuses of citizens. This imbalance of power and information has of course given rise to the desire for privacy which we discussed above, and thus in the sense that privacy is an attempt to correct the informational imbalance between the government and the individual citizen it may be considered legitimate. The goal, however, should not be to enshrine privacy; it should rather be to open up the government.

While our enumeration of information crimes has so far covered primarily those behaviors for which there have been actual judicial consequences, there are in fact many more acts which may be labeled information crimes in the broader sense that they involve the conveying of information which is in some wise forbidden or tabooed. One example of such crimes is taking a non-establishment view of such "fringe science" topics as UFOs, paranormal phenomena, Bigfoot, and forteana. Another example is the taking of non-mainstream political positions, such as supporting nazism or communism. A third example is in attempting to proselytize for a new religion, or for religious disbelief. While none of these is illegal in a formal sense, they all have potential consequences such as social ostracism which, in many cases, can be as devastating as any criminal penalty. And of course all have the potential to become actual crimes given only that laws are passed against them.

By this time the reader may have guessed that my interest in information crimes is more than academic, for I myself am an information criminal of some standing. My first information crime was making an "obscene" phone call, an act which almost got me expelled from high school (my excellent academic record saved me), and one which I later turned into a focus of much merriment by placing a photo of myself in the school yearbook (of which I was co-editor) which showed me talking on the phone, and which was captioned "Let one call do it all". (It is ironic that people now pay to receive obscene phone calls.) Since that time my information crimes have consisted primarily of publishing various books and papers which many people find quite upsetting. While I have not been arrested or had my life threatened, this is probably due less to the fact of my "criminality" than it is to the fact that my books are so extremely criminal in their information content -- especially The Mortal Words of J.B.R. Yant and Bryant's Law and Other Broadsides -- that they have simply been unable to obtain the kind of publicity which would have made me a target of the authorities or other censorious scumbags. Perhaps the clearest demonstration of this is the fact that of the numerous magazines and newspapers to which an ad for my books has been submitted, most have turned down these ads. This is surprising not merely because most of these periodicals are strong supporters of freedom of expression, but also (and primarily) because expensive ads (mine were all full-pagers) are not the sort of thing that most periodicals can afford to turn down. Indeed, one reason I first thought of publishing a magazine (presently forthcoming under the title The Subversive) was as a way to publicize my books, inasmuch as I expect it to be much easier to advertise the magazine than the books themselves.

In gaging the depth of people's hostility to information, we should note that information crimes cut across partisan lines in the sense that both liberals and conservatives are hostile to certain types of information. (For example, conservatives are hostile to sexual information, while liberals are hostile to information about group differences.) We should also note, however, that both liberals and conservatives are distinguished in this regard from libertarians, who, at least in theory, are not hostile to any information. Unfortunately, the practice of libertarians does not always match their theory, for several of the periodicals which turned down paid ads for my books were libertarian: Reason, Liberty, Oasis, and the Laissez-Faire Books mailing list.

Now having identified information crime and enumerated some of the most important ones, it is reasonable to ask why people are, as a general rule, so hostile to information -- or, more precisely, why most people find information so upsetting. The answer, I think, must be that most people have certain preconceptions about the world, and when information comes along which challenges these preconceptions, people find it threatening. This comes about, I think, because people in most cases are simply not aware that there is more than one way to see the world, especially when it comes to subjects like sex which are not openly discussed: Their experience and education have simply not exposed them to a sufficient variety of perspectives to keep new ones from being a shock. Accordingly, the cure for hostility to information is not, as popular opinion evidently has it, the suppression of information -- it is rather precisely the opposite: more information. It is this belief which has guided my life, which is the common thread running thruout all of my books, and which is the message underlying the many nasty and upsetting things I have written for which I have been so widely praised and damned.

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