Literature

The Revised Boy Scout Manual

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"You construct fake news broadcasts on video camera," the revolutionary handbook advises. "For the pictures you can use old footage. Mexico City will do for a riot in Saigon and vice versa….Nobody knows the difference." You don't even have to conceal the fakery. "In fact, you can advertise the fact that you are writing news in advance and trying to make it happen by techniques anybody can use. And that makes you NEWS. And a TV personality as well, if you play it right."

It sounds like a sardonic guide to modern info-warfare, but it's from a satire written nearly 50 years ago. The Revised Boy Scout Manual was composed circa 1970 by the Beat novelist and counterculture wizard-figure William Burroughs; parts have appeared here and there since then, but Ohio State University Press has only now made the full text available for the first time.

This is the ayahuasca trip of guerrilla guidebooks. At one point it suggests that revolutionaries release wild leopards—"they would eat the CIA men first, since they are bigger and slower." Another section proposes a plan to end the British monarchy by, among other things, violently compelling aristocrats to shout "Bugger the Queen!"

Amid the wild fantasies, dark irony, and dubious terrorist techniques, a humane social vision periodically peeks out. The basic social unit of Burroughs' utopia would be the MOB, standing for My Own Business. The MOB, he informs us, recognizes "the right of every individual to possess his inner space, to do what interests him with people he wants to see." Its enemies consist of "those who can't mind their own business because they have no business of their own to mind, any more than a small pox virus. Their business is degrading, harassing and frightening other people."

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