Can a book kill you? How about a poem, or a magazine? Maybe not outright, but a carefully crafted one might get you killed by other people. By a person infected with its ideas contracted through reading. The inspired host may take your life because the idea rationalizes why killing you is good, or required. Or in some cases handling a book can get you killed by a regime that deems the writing dangerous to their society. It’s also possible you accidentally kill yourself trying to follow some simple written instructions a buddy gave you for making the Mother of Satan.
Sound weird? Look around. Written words are driving people to enormous amounts of violence across the world with alarming effectiveness and have been for longer than you may realize.
The production of souls is more important than the production of tanks…. And therefore I raise my glass to you, writers, the engineers of the human soul.” –Joseph Stalin, 1932
Writers are targeting you
Crafty writers use knowledge of their audiences to shape messages effectively. In many cases you fit a targeted demographic profile a writer is creating influential ideas for. The ancients delivered their idealistic payloads in hand-written scrolls and codices that were circulated among tribes and communities (a lot are still available to read today!). In modern times they’re mass-printed in books, uploaded to blogs, or memorized by public figures and published as spoken speeches on live TV. And we all read, we all listen.
Young male adults make great target audiences for ideas, especially violent ones from rogue authors, underground hacker groups, terrorist factions, and sovereign states alike. But ultimately everyone is susceptible to some level of influence from reading or viewing content. It’s a natural byproduct of our ability to ingest information and learn.
Some of those ideas can be so exciting (or garnished with violent media) that they’re quickly re-communicated to others, who in-turn become target hosts that further the spread. Before you know it you have tens of thousands of passionate people ready to change their behavior or take some action.
By default your mind is a soft target
You should be careful to believe everything you read or see. You never know who made it, or for what purpose. Depending on how well the author has targeted you as their audience, a piece of writing may strike a chord you didn’t realize you had dormant within.
Have you ever gotten angry, sad, or jealous while reading? Or thought someone should be killed based on something you discovered in print? If so, you may be under attack by a writer.
Without preparation, a human mind can be soft, fragile, and extremely impressionable. Many people admit to this. There’s even a film rumored to exploit vulnerable human minds, turning them into violent maniacs just from viewing it.
Hard times, stressful situations, unexpected turmoil can dangerously destabilize a psyche. Anxious thoughts of impending war and anytime-anywhere terrorism can produce this effect. Combined with some people’s nature to take in everything they read as reality and act on it without scrutiny, you have a controllable host ripe for infection. Once something gets into their mind, they might spread the idea to friends or peers believing it to be fact; they might go protest in accordance with its requirements; they might even manufacture some explosives at home and use them to voice their newfound beliefs.
The terror attack in London’s tubes on September 15 was conducted by someone believed to be inspired by ISIS propaganda. In the December 2015 attack in San Bernardino, the attackers were said to be “consuming poison on the Internet,” by the FBI Director, who was referring to online information and terrorist media.
Infectious writing that fuels human mayhem
This is not new technology for controlling human hosts. The 1935 Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will was designed to demoralize and attack the psyche’s of the Allies. Frank Capra, who directed America’s response to the movie, said of the film that it “fired no gun, dropped no bombs. But as a psychological weapon aimed at destroying the will to resist, it was just as lethal.”
Crafted writing and resulting media built from it can be designed to bolster the spirits of allies or break down the mental resistance of enemies. As a reader or consumer taking in these kinds of weaponized thoughts without scrutiny, you are being victimized. You should be mindful and resilient to letting such constructions enter your mind and take root.
Some writing directly contributes to violence, pain, and death. People read the words, absorb the thoughts, and often take violent action. Books like the Anarchist Cookbook explain in great detail how to create weapons and sow anarchy. Jihadist magazines like Inspire, Dabiq, Rumiyah or the predecessors before them arouse violence and teach weapon-construction that has led to attempted mass murder all over the world. When combined with the un-developed psyches and immature brains of young adults, this content is like a match sparking extremely combustible fuel.
Research has also shown that poetry has been used as an effective vehicle for spreading violent ideas over time. According to Elisabeth Kendall, weaponized jihadi poetry has been written for centuries to recruit warriors, inspire them, and praise their deadly acts.
The deployment of poetry as an auxiliary weapon in militant campaigns did not lie dormant from the time of Muhammad until being picked up by today’s jihadists…There is abundant evidence of poetry composed to inspire, impassion, console or intimidate during the Crusades.
But where does the powerful core of this type of writing originate from? From other pieces of writing, of course. Religious texts may give rise to widespread sectarian violence, small clandestine terror cells, or lone wolf killers. Political attack ads or propaganda media may spawn hateful commentary, paranoia, and influence the votes of millions. Fake news or other media manipulations may directly foment real-world aggression, possibly start wars.
People read and then believe. Believe false facts or believe in some great purpose that makes them angry or homicidal at whatever thought is injected into their head. Then they’re driven to act. And act they do: pilot planes into buildings; drive vehicles into pedestrians; even wage full on assaults against an unarmed public.
Wisely analyze ideas without accepting them
Resiliency to dangerous writing (and thinking) can be built willfully or can come with age. Exposure to stress or other significant experiences can create some form of mental antibodies or armor. Basic awareness of the phenomenon is another place to start resisting. The trauma of aging can lead to wisdom or some amount of knowledge that makes us less susceptible, less gullible or impressionable, to manipulations we may have fallen prey to as children.
Because of their lack of awareness and emptiness of knowledge, children are the most vulnerable to wetware attacks on their minds and spirits. Most will believe anything (including Santa Claus) and are easily controlled. Children in the middle east may read jihadi poetry or propaganda and see heroes where the rest of the world see murderers. Without anyone to treat the infection, those children are captured as hosts to someone else’s ideas. Ideas that have been carefully designed to transform them into violent fighters.
The terrorist who killed two dozen and injured 250 in Manchester was only 22 years old. Most scientists think our brain is not even fully developed until our mid-20’s or 30’s. Without knowing how to think critically or having seen enough of life to gain wisdom, the youth are hyper vulnerable to infection and manipulation by deadly writing.
Published threats at scale
Propaganda texts can inflict societal damage at large scales over vast amounts of time. This kind of writing can trigger entire societies to commit acts of violence against individuals or other groups. Books like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Martin Luther’s The Jews and Their Lies have been fomenting anti-Semitism for hundreds of years and helped create the conditions that lead to the Holocaust. People read these thoughts and take them in, where the ideas alter their perceptions and fuel further thoughts inside the person’s head. They may spread their new thinking to others, or find groups of like minded people to continue inbreeding and evolving the virus among themselves. They may even pen child writings around their ongoing thinking to sow them further.
Writers as weapon designers
It’s certain than writing can instill ideas and emotions in consumers that drive them to mania, isolation, self-harm or even murder (perhaps mass murder). When this effect is crafted intentionally the inciting content is effectively weaponized.
Government agencies have a hand in the leverage of information weapons they hope would spread through people and create influential effects in foreign countries. The CIA had historically used books as weapons in international conflicts. In 1977, the New York Times alleged the CIA to have been involved with publishing more than 1000 books, including Machiavelli’s The Prince and T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.
The CIA understood the power of this kind of weaponry. From the words of a chief of the CIA’s Covert Action Staff during the cold war:
Books differ from all other propaganda media primarily because one single book can significantly change the reader’s attitude and action to an extent unmatched by any other single medium [such as to] make books the most important weapon of strategic (long range) propaganda.
Readers as handlers of hazardous material
As a reader, be careful. As a citizen of a society that may have banned a book you’re handling, be extra careful. Like witnessing child birth, death, or atrocity–some things can’t be unseen, and some ideas can’t be unexperienced. Open provocative books at your own peril, and be prepared to see them for what they are: other peoples’ ideas. Without an awareness of the author’s or publisher’s purpose and desire to influence, you may have just become infected by something engineered to control you.
Aristotle is credited with saying, It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. This is required when handling poisonous, viral writing. To be able to read and study without absorbing is what it takes, and is similar to working with infectious biological diseases inside a protective suit.
But again: be careful. No matter your level of protection or awareness of the authorial intent, there is always the risk of wetware infection. After all, we are only human.