This is a first on Shadowboxing and, while it’s only tangentially related to music, I thought it was a good way to add in a bit of diversity. So, let’s get literary!
You may or may not be aware, but Stephen Aaron Grey aka DJ Freaky Flow is now a published author and his new book, Ant Farm: A Novel About What’s Bugging Society, just hit the streets. I’ve known Mr. Grey for many years, so when he sent me a copy of the book I had to take the opportunity to have a quick chat about the book, it’s history, and how he might make the changes he wants to see in the world.
**Here’s the prerequisite disclaimer: This interview is an endorsement of any political system or ideological values for Shadowboxing.org or the author of this blog post.
Why did you decide to write a book, and a book that has nothing to do with music, at that?
Obviously, music is a huge passion of mine, but there are other things that have become important to me too, like trying to educate people about how many different world problems have come to be, and how many of these problems could potentially be solved. As much as I love being involved in music, that outlet doesn’t lend itself well to being able to spread messages like these, but a book does.
George Orwell’s Animal Farm (which you credit), was an allegory about Russia’s devolution from communist paradise into a dictatorship ruled by fear and terror. Ant Farm is also an allegory, but would you say it’s more about free market, deregulation, libertarianism, or some other social or political ideals? Maybe, “anarcho-captitalist?” Though, the words that make up that descriptor have many negative connotations…
I think the term “free market” is a good one, because it leaves little room for misinterpretation, unlike some of the other terms you’ve listed. For example, some people use the term “deregulation” to refer to an industry that was once strictly regulated, and is now less regulated, but still state-legislated nonetheless. Some people use the term “libertarianism” to mean pro-military intervention under certain circumstances. Some people use “anarchist” to describe a society with Molotov cocktails, violence, no rules, and chaos. Some people use “capitalism” to describe a system in which corporations pay off politicians to influence laws to their mutual benefit. But all these terms also have other meanings to other people, and in my book, none of these aforementioned examples are situations that the insects who found Ant Farm are seeking, so I wouldn’t use those terms to describe the book, unless we’re all on the same page about exactly what those terms mean.
To avoid ambiguity, I prefer to describe Ant Farm simply as a “fictional” (but familiar) story about a free market society that deteriorates into a totalitarian society. Some people also like to use the word “voluntaryist” or “voluntarist” to describe this type of philosophy, but I don’t think either of those are widely understood yet.
What was the impetus for Ant Farm? Was there a particular moment or incident that made you want to write this story?
I first had just a nugget of an idea for this book several years ago, so unfortunately, I can’t remember if there was a particular moment or incident that inspired me. But I do know that I’ve thought about these issues for some time.
Like most pro-liberty people I’ve met, I didn’t become this way overnight. It took a lot of reading, listening, observing, and critiquing before I became fully convinced that letting people live completely freely, without state initiation of aggressive physical force of any kind, is the best (although still imperfect) way for a society to function.
There are countless examples I could give you about my transition, but let me give you just one here: When 9/11 first happened, like many people, I was extremely angry, and fully supported the U.S. military’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. But since then, as I’ve learned more about the terrorists’ warranted reasons for their sentiments (even though their actions were extremely unjustified), and I’ve taken a full 180-degree turn on my thoughts about the matter. Now, I realize I was wrong, and that the U.S. military should not have invaded those countries – they’ve only made things worse, as we’re starting to see now with even harsher organizations like ISIS gaining traction. Anyway, I wanted to show political/philosophical laypeople, and young adults, that government “solutions” to problems are almost always the wrong way to go about things, and almost always lead to those very problems being exacerbated, rather than solved.
Has your career as a touring DJ had an influence on Ant Farm’s story?
The DJing itself probably didn’t have much influence on the story of Ant Farm. There are no turntables or glowsticks in the book. But the touring part has led me to perform in several different countries, and during these travels, I’ve come to notice societal differences from nation to nation. So I guess the actual travels have definitely influenced the story. I noticed that some places have more societal woes than others, so that got me wondering about what the causes were for these differences. I researched these causes, and found that, almost every time, the causes were spawned by the actions of governments. The nations with the most restrictive governments generally seem to have the worst problems, and the nations with the least restrictive governments generally seem to have far fewer ailments. Even more demonstrative of this point is another phenomenon I noticed: When nations transition from restrictive to freer, their people generally enjoy improved rates of literacy, life expectancy, GDP, and homicide, and when they transition from freer to more restrictive, the opposite occurs.
How long has it taken to write the book?
From the time I first started brainstorming notes about how I wanted the book to go until the time that I actually completed the first draft was probably about two years. But after that, I think I spent another two years tweaking the story, getting feedback from people, and revising another 12 drafts until I finally had this finished version ready to go.
Because they’re so damned cute and cuddly. KIDDING!
I guess the real reason is threefold: First, I wanted to model my story’s structure after Orwell’s Animal Farm. I thought his use of non-humans really helped to give an outsider’s perspective that the average Joe can understand. Second, instead of using farm animals, like Orwell did, I chose different creatures to further differentiate my story from his, in addition to the dramatically different philosophies that permeate each of our books. Third, worker ants feel like a great metaphor for hard-working humans.
Is there any significance to the colors (besides red & blue) and pattern naming scheme for the ants in the book?
I think the only other significant colors are the white cockroaches, as well as the navy and crimson ants. For a dramatic effect late in the story, involving a flag (the specifics of which I won’t reveal here), the cockroaches had to be white. Also, for some reason, white cockroaches just seem way more terrifying to me than black cockroaches. Can you imagine if you saw a white cockroach scurry across your kitchen floor? What the hell!? You’d freak out! As for the others I mentioned, I wanted some ants to be clearly aligned with red ants, and others to be clearly aligned with blue ants. So crimson and navy ants, respectively, seemed to convey this quite well, since the shades are so similar to the ants I wanted to align them with. Also, ‘navy’ and ‘crimson’ have historical military connotations, and those particular ants also serve military functions in the book. For the rest of the ants, I needed to differentiate them from one another somehow, so I just kept trying to come up with new colors and patterns that I hadn’t already used.
At the beginning of the book there’s an emphasis on the ant’s freedom of movement, or lack thereof. Is that portion of the story inspired by agencies like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) or Homeland Security (HSA)?
Generally speaking, most situations and characters in my book aren’t usually meant to convey a single, specific, real-world example. Rather, I’ve created amalgams of several different real-world cases and people, and outlined fictional anecdotes based on those composites.
For example, as you’ve mentioned, in the beginning of the story, before the ants initially flee from their oppressive society to form a new, free society, yes, their movement is heavily restricted by a fictional government agency. For this agency, I drew not only from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Homeland Security Advisory System, as you’ve correctly surmised, but also from other restrictive historical and current factions, like the Nazi SS, the North Korean National Defence Commission, the Canada Border Services Agency, and others.
I read Orwell’s Animal Farm for the first time in a high school, is that where you see a market for Ant Farm? Or is there a target market?
I too read Orwell’s book when I was young, but I know of many people who read Animal Farm when they were older, and for them too, it clearly illustrated how a well-intentioned state-run forced communist society can lead to disaster. I hope my book will similarly illustrate how any forced state-run paradigm – even a democratic one – can lead to similar disaster, when personal liberty is not respected, and voluntary interaction is thrown to the wayside. I think it would be great if people were exposed to these kinds of messages when they’re young, but it’s never too late to be introduced to these concepts, even when you’re older, so my book is really meant to be enjoyed by anyone and everyone.
In your opinion does deregulation work in every market and sector of society?
As people will hopefully see in Ant Farm, free markets don’t solve all problems, but in my opinion – based on the hard data I’ve studied – free, voluntary interaction always creates more peace and prosperity, and less poverty and suffering, than aggressively forced, coercive interaction does, no matter the situation.
If you had the power to snap your fingers and make the basis of Ant Farm a reality, where would you start?
I would remove the government’s power to aggressively force people to do things, just as the ants of my book do when they first establish Ant Farm. If real life police squads, fire departments, military divisions, and judicial systems all had to convince you to spend your money with them over other competing companies (that are often banned today) – rather than threatening you with prison time if you didn’t (as they always do today) – then I have no doubt that we’d see way less corruption, much more accountability, and far higher personal satisfaction with all of those aforementioned organizations.
Are you involved in any campaigns or efforts towards a free market?
Well, my book is certainly one of those efforts, and there are many other organizations out there that are trying to spread great information, but ultimately, I think the only thing that can really lead to greater liberty is concrete action.
Unfortunately, where I live in Los Angeles, the population is just way too huge for me and other liberty-loving individuals to peacefully make much of a dent in the system. There is a very promising movement that I’m aware of, called the Free State Project, where a bunch of liberty-loving people are all trying to move to a less populated area, New Hampshire; there, because they aren’t as outnumbered, they’ve made some notable leaps forward, and I expect they’ll continue to do so. Under different circumstances, I’d certainly love to be a part of that movement, but I’m just way too scared of cold winters again. Remember, I lived in Toronto for 30 years, and one of the main reasons I left was because of cold weather! Also, as far as work in the music business goes, Los Angeles is the better place to be, and there’s also In-N-Out hamburgers here. Perhaps someday, I’ll make the move, so that any activism I might do would be much more effective.
There’s also another thing I’ve become involved in – Bitcoin – although, I’m pretty sure that a great many people using Bitcoin aren’t concerned with free markets; rather, they just care about the usefulness and value of Bitcoin. But there is a liberty angle too: When you buy goods and services with Bitcoin, you’re not using a currency that any government controls and can inflate, like regular fiat currency. Whatever a person’s reasons may be for using it, I think Bitcoin is a good thing any way you slice it.
Is becoming a writer part of a transition plan away from DJing?
You mean I’m not allowed to do both? Ha!
Many thanks to Stephen for taking time to answer our questions! Oh, and just for grins here’s a mix from Mr. Grey aka Freaky Flow.