I just read yet another supposed justification for stealing people’s hard work. This was written on a blog, itself a response to a post by Andrieh Vitimus.
It begins with several paragraphs describing the hard life of a young college student who is only working part time at a minimum wage job.
I understand. I’ve been there. I remember days of living on spaghetti with a little ketchup and garlic powder. I remember visiting my girlfriend’s college dorm’s lunch roomÂ and making a dozen PB&J sandwiches to take so I’d have something to eat for the next several daysâ€”and I didn’t even like PB&Js.
So the person the blogger describes doesn’t have much money left over to spend on books.
We get it.
But does this justify stealing or “pirating” books?
The thing is, while I was going to college I knew I had a choice. I was offered many well-paying jobs, ranging from being a dealer in Las Vegas to touring with a well-known rock band. I chose to stay in school. The student that the blogger describes chooses to be in school.Â He chooses to have a part-time, minimum wage job and go to school. That means he chooses to be short on money. Choosing to be short on money is not an excuse for stealing. As a magician, it’s important to realize that we are responsible for our decisions and not victims of fate. So I don’t buy this argument at all.
When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.
Some Books are Garbage
Next, the blogger discusses the problem with the quality of occult books. Now, it so happens that I agree withÂ Sturgeon’s Law, that 90% of everything is garbage. And yes, that means that 90% of occult books out there are garbageâ€¦to me. That doesn’t mean they actually are garbage, only that I can’t in any way make use of them. For all intents and purposes, for me they are like garbage.
I still remember trying to slog my way through a classic grimoire, The Sword of Moses. I didn’t have enough background in the subject to make any sense of it. So for me, it was garbage. I shared my dislike of the book with a friend. He looked at me in shock. He said it was the first book that actually revealed to him the basics of sex magick. He didn’t think it was garbage at all.
I read Dion Fortune’s Psychic Self-Defense ages ago. I thought it was worthless, paranoid garbage with little practical value. I know many people who think it is the best book on the subject. I know people who think the books by Ophiel (Edward C. Peach) are simplistic garbage. While I agree that some of his books are, in my opinion, terrible, I find others to be absolute gems.
Garbage? Great? That’s all based on personal opinion, not fact.
The blogger is upset that there are lots of books which are basic. Since he is advanced, he obviously doesn’t want to buy those basic books. For some reason, however, he seems to get snared into buying them, thus wasting his money. In order to avoid this he seems to feel he has the right to “pirate” (i.e., steal) books. In response to this I have one thing to say: “30-day return policy.” Many bookstores, including on-line bookstores, have a 30-day return policy. Buy books instead of stealing them. If you don’t like a book, send it back! Get a refund.
There’s something else I’d like to add. When I was starting out in occultism, advanced books made no sense to me.Â So I went back and started with books expressly intended for beginners. I read everything. Sometimes, the words really struck me. Other times, the words didn’t share anything new or important. I talked with other people. Some of them agreed with me. Others liked just the opposite books that I liked. There’s a reason for so many beginner books: different books appeal to different people. If one book doesn’t appeal to a reader, another will. So I have nothing against beginner books. I have nothing against there being LOTS of beginner books. The thing is, I don’t think readers should look at beginner books and disparagingly call them “fluffy” or “dumbed down” just because you no longer need them.
It’s absolutely true that Llewellyn publishes a lot of beginners books. I think that’s great. Llewellyn was also the first to publish modern books on astrology, the first to republish books by Crowley and Regardie. We publish books for beginner, intermediate, and advanced students. If all you go after is the beginner books when you’re at an intermediate or advanced level, of course the books are going to seem fluffy or garbageâ€”to you.
A False Attack
The blogger particularly attacks Migene GonzĂˇlez-Wippler. He writes, “â€¦Migene Gonzalez-Wippler’sÂ Santeria: the Religion [is] put out by Llewellyn. However much the information on Santeria in it might be correct â€“ and with what I’m about to say â€“ the information contained in the chapter onÂ Palo (chapter 19) looks to be complete crapâ€¦” He says he prefers “decent material that’s been subjected to a peer review process.”
Respectfully, you wrote it “looks to be complete crap.” Don’t you know? Or are you just guessing? You say much of the information in the book “might be correct.” Don’t you know? Or are you just guessing? You have claimedâ€”falselyâ€”that Llewellyn does not fact check books. Further let’s look at Ms. GonzĂˇlez-Wippler’s credentials. Here is what Wikipedia says about her:
Migene GonzĂˇlez-Wippler is aÂ Puerto Rican new-age author and a leading expert on the Afro-Caribbean religion ofÂ SanterĂa. GonzĂˇlez-Wippler was born inÂ Puerto Rico and has degrees in psychology andÂ anthropology from theÂ University of Puerto Rico and fromÂ Columbia University. In addition to her solid background inÂ social sciences she has also worked as a science editor for the Interscience Division ofÂ John Wiley, theÂ American Institute of Physics, and theÂ American Museum of Natural History, and as an English editor for theÂ United Nations in Vienna, where she resided for many years. She is aÂ cultural anthropologist and lectures frequently at universities and other educational institutions. She also has contributed extensively to theÂ Institute of Puerto Rican Culture’s collection, especially when it comes to Santeria and its practices, beliefs and organization.
I realize that being a famed expert on Santeria (I recently saw her being consulted for her expertise on one of my favorite bizarre TV shows, “Oddities“) does not automatically make one an expert in the similar tradition of Palo. But do you really think she’s going to destroy her reputation and career by not making sure her writing is accurate? I think you owe Ms. GonzĂˇlez-Wippler an apology.
The blogger also uses an old ploy: the straw man argument. In this case he creates an evil monsterâ€”The Publisher!â€”and implies it’s okay to hurt the monster. I can see this monster as an evil old figure, tapping its fingers together saying “Ex-cell-ent!” like Mr. Burns on “The Simpsons.”
Publishing companies are not monolithic monsters. They are composed of men and women who work hard and do their best. In exchange, they get paid and use the money to support their families. Money we all pay for books pays for editors and typesetters. They pay for the cost of the building and electricity. The taxes pay for schools and roads and police and fire fighters. They also pay for printing and help the people at the printer earn a living and support their families. If you buy from a local store they help keep that store in business. And of course, they also give money to the author so he or she can afford to write more books and share more information. Sorry, there is no evil “The Publisher!” whom you seem to think only has a goal of making money off of you, of “exploiting” you. You don’t have the right to steal from your mythical “The Publisher!” because he doesn’t exist.
Whether you like it or not, books intended for beginners sell in larger numbers than books intended for intermediate students. Books for advanced practitioners, or ones focused on specific and limited topics, tend to sell even fewer books. I can’t speak for other publishers, but I do know that Llewellyn wants to provide good books for all levels of students and spiritual seekers. Those beginner books that you denounce help subsidize and literally make it possible to publish books that do not have as big a market. They help make available at reasonable prices the books youâ€”and many others, including myselfâ€”want to read and study.
You may not like what you call “an overwhelming majority of publications that are rehashes of the same tiresome Wicca 101.” In reality, they are different people speaking with a different voice and emphasizing different aspects of Wicca as intended for beginners. But merely because you find them “tiresome” doesn’t mean other people feel the same way.
You seem to be making the same error I described in a recent post when I wrote,
Itâ€™s the idea that something that specifically applies to you or works for youÂ must work for everyone else. This could be calledÂ moving from the specific to the general without cause. Unfortunately, this is a leap in logic that cannot be made without evidence to support it.
You want more advanced books. Fantastic! So do I. But just because you don’t want to buy books for beginners and intermediates does not mean that other people don’t merely want such books, they need them for their own spiritual evolution. By taking the attitude that everyone must believe as you do, giving you some sort of right to “pirate” books, Â you are denouncing and condemning tens of thousands of other people who are not as advanced as you. I find that to be a highly offensive and insulting position.
So his argument seems to be that because someone doesn’t have a lot of money, and because they have no way of knowing whether a book is going to be good, they should have the right to steal money from the author, steal money from the people working at the publisher, steal money from the people working at the printer, steal money from schools and teachers, etc., and just pirate a book. I strongly disagree with that position.
Now, I sympathize. I really do. I have read lots of books that I would call garbage. And every one of them helped me understand what I knew and didn’t know. I have saved up for months to get a book I was looking forward to, only to read it and find out it wasn’t what I wanted or expected.
But none of this is an excuse for theft. None of this is a valid rationalization for pirating. None of this is justification for stealing.
When I first started studying occultism, people with similar interests wrote to each other and told each other about books. We waited for months to read reviews in little journals that were created on poor-quality typewriters and duplicated using mimeograph machines (ah, that smell!). We waited. We didn’t feel that because we were poor we were entitled to steal other people’s work. Some of us got extra jobs. My friend Scott Cunningham wrote articles about trucks for auto dealers. I worked as a courier for a bank, in a store that sold beads, in a store that sold magic tricks, and I managed a Halloween shop.
Luckily, todayÂ you have an easy way of quickly discovering the quality of books. There are always reviews of books on the internet. You can find them all over. And as you noted, it is also possible to get some books more cheaply in electronic formats.
You have strong opinions about books. Fantastic. Write reviews of books and post them on your blog. Request review copies of books from publishers. That way you can legally obtain them for free.
And of course, there is always the library. Right now I live in a small city with a very small library. You may be surprised to discover what you can borrow through what is called the “Interlibrary Loan” service. And if you’re near a university or college, their libraries and ability to access other libraries is unparalleled.
I have no doubt that some day the student described by the blogger will be earning a good living. At that time I can assure you that he won’t feel it’s right for other people to steal from him.
It’s not “boosting.”
It’s not a “five-fingered discount.”
It’s not “ganking.”
It’s not “gaffling.”
It’s not “geesing.”
It’s causing other people to suffer.
It’s causing the prices of products to go up so that other people can’t afford things.
I don’t know you in person. If you’re going to steal other people’s work, that’s up to you, your personal ethics and your conscience. Contrary to your claim, nobody isÂ exploiting you and your lack of knowledge about a book’s content. You can resolve your lack of knowledge by using the internet. You can resolve your position by saving some money, getting an extra job or both. Your choiceâ€”or the choice of the student in your exampleâ€”not to save money and not to get an extra job does not justify harming others.
If you’re going to steal, that’s your decision. But respectfully, don’t try to justify the harm you’re doing to others with bogus reasons. They may make you feel righteous in your actions, but they’re really just excuses for crimes.
We each make choices in our lives. When we find a wallet lying on the ground, we can choose to keep the money that’s in it or find the owner and return it. The money in that wallet may belong to someone who needs it to pay for medicines for his child. Our choices have results that affect us and the world around us. In my opinion, when we make choices we should consider the ecology resulting from that choice. By that I mean how does it affect us, those around us, and the community in which we live?
When people know that you steal books, why should they not feel justified in stealing a bicycle, motorcycle, or car? Why should they not take yours? After all, you’ve provided them with a rationale for doing just that.