Shannon Larratt Interview [The Publisher’s Ring]

Shannon Larratt Q&A

“Man is a make-believe animal: he is never so truly himself as when he is acting a part.”

– William Hazlitt

After a quite some time of people suggesting it, I’ve finally done my own Q&A column. All of these questions were submitted by IAM members, and I hope I’ve done an acceptable job answering them. Before you read this, please understand that these are just my personal views. The site is made up of a wide range of people with an incredibly diverse set of beliefs, and this is just one of many of them. So please don’t be terribly offended if you don’t agree with one of my views.

Please excuse the pretentiousness of some of the answers.


shawn.spc: Do you remember what you did four days ago?

No, I don’t. My memory lasts between five minutes and a few hours most of the time, although I do of course have a dotty memory of events, but it’s unclear, muddled, and not in chronological order. While I’ve done my best to structure my life in a way that makes this unimportant, it is very damaging to my social relationships. It makes it hard for me to know who I know, who I can trust, who I shouldn’t trust, and who is lying to me or telling the truth. I have to rely on notes, automated assistance, and of course Rachel to get by.

It also makes it extremely difficult for me to write longer essays because when I’m writing them and proof-reading them I can’t remember more than a few paragraphs at a time, so I tend to repeat myself a lot. To combat that I try and write an outline and just expand it gradually, writing a sentence at a time and “filling in the blanks” as I go. I program the same way at this point — one of the good things is this all has forced me to start properly documenting my code!

Anonymous: What is it in Rachel that makes you think she is so amazing and spectacular? Is she really pretty in person or is it just fancy camera work on your part? Does she really “hold you together” as it says on the staff page?

Yes, absolutely. I don’t think people who don’t know me personally understand just how non-functional I am. While parts of me are totally supercharged and far outperform the average person, other parts of my life and persona are extremely troubled and hard for me to control. I think that part of the reason that I’ve worked so hard to have success in an independent lifestyle is that it’s put me in a position where these shortcomings are less relevant. Even still, they’ve progressed to the point now to where it is difficult for me to run my own life, and without her help I would probably fall apart. She’s incredibly intelligent and competent (it’s not as if she’s just “the girlfriend” — she’s an equal partner and probably does more day-to-day in running the site than I do) and her skills perfectly complement mine and I think vice-versa as well. (As an interesting side note, I’ve seen this same sort of partnership in both other programmers and in many body artists that I respect).

And yes, she really is that beautiful in person.

FroggerJenkins: Providing a service of this magnitude, while amazing, must be tiring. Do you ever regret launching BME?

Sometimes the amount of time I have to spend working depresses me, because I often get up at 6:30 AM and work late into the night. At this point I have very little time for anything of my own and it’s starting to wear on me. Sometimes I think as well about how much more money I’d have if I spent more time on work and less time on BME, but I’ve never regretted launching BME. I also think it’s important to note that I’m really just a facilitator or catalyst — I help direct where BME is going, but BME is an expression of thousands and thousands of people, not of me.

xMeMNoCHx: While I enjoy reading your diary posts and articles, a lot of them always seem to deal with darker subjects (the nature of the business I guess)… what in life right now enables you to take a step back and say “damn, it’s good to be me!”?

Not that I don’t enjoy being me, but I’m not sure that anything makes me say “it’s good to be me” in the sense of “rather than someone else”. Every one of us should be able to say that they enjoy being alive. Unfortunately many of us are imprisoned by society and are unable to fully be ourselves and express the things we need to, and thus become miserable.

That said, I did go yacht shopping today, and until we moved back to the city Rachel and I did have matching “his and hers” Porsches. We’re both very hard workers and have always been financially rewarded for doing so. This has allowed us to do things for our friends and community that make us happy, and it lets us raise our daughter without a financial spectre always over our heads. I am very grateful for this.

Uberkitty: If you could suggest a single book to the entire world what would it be? What about suggesting all the writings of a single author?

I highly recommend “The Good Life” by Scott and Helen Nearing. If any single book influenced major change in my life that is probably it. His other books are brilliant as well. I also think everyone needs to read “War is a Racket” by Major General Smedley Butler (which you can read for free online), an anti-war essay written between the first and the second world war. People hear it so much that it must read like a cliché, but those who don’t learn from history really are doomed to repeat it. So more so than focusing on individual authors, I think it’s essential that people read classics, especially those that touch on the issues we believe are “new” or politically relevant today.

ServMe: From what I’ve seen and read, you seem to be living proof that as long as you want to accomplish something bad enough, you can. I suppose that as most other humans you have failed at things, so do you see those failures as the end of something, or just as an intermediary step towards reaching your goal — or coming up with something even better?

I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as success or failure in the way that most people use it. Sure, sometimes a task works the way you wanted it to, and sometimes it doesn’t. But I’m not entirely convinced that the purpose of life is to “win” — I think the purpose of life is more to discover, accept, and experience being alive (and I think body modification is a tool in achieving that for some people). Failure is a part of that, and while I don’t seek out failure, I do my best to appreciate it when it occurs. The only real failure is not appreciating being alive, and there are of course days where I have that failure.

serpents: You have very strong, well-thought out opinions, and very persuasive ways of making those known. You also have a fairly strong natural magnetism of person. You also speak of your narcissism fairly regularly. It’s obvious that despite your best effort, it does seem that a “cult of Shannon’s personality” tries to form itself within IAM members from time to time in that a proclamation from you is instantly carried on high by the masses as gospel, and people who were only moments ago defending their attitudes to the death can sometimes backpedal just as fast to align themselves with your opinions. The question is what keeps you from totally taking advantage of it, setting up an island nation and proclaiming yourself god-king before an adoring mass of followers?

I don’t want followers. Followers are not interesting travel partners in life. I hope that if people back-peddle on their statements because of something I say it’s because they’ve considered what I said, debated it for themselves, and come to a similar conclusion as I did — just believing something “because Shannon said so” is foolhardy. I’m sure I say stupid stuff all the time and I hope that people respect themselves enough to be able to decide on their own which of my words are right for their life and which are not. I have no desire to lead anyone anywhere, although I’m thrilled when people decide to follow a parallel path, and if something I’ve said or done has helped them find it, I’m honored to have been able to do so.

lilfunky1: Have you ever tried to make someone (such as your parents) try and understand the reasons behind your modifications? Did you give up? Or was it never any of their business?

If people understand themselves, then they will understand me as well. The key to understanding what makes other people work is understanding what makes oneself work. While I can try and help others learn about themselves, when it comes right down to it, they have to do it on their own. The people in my family who understand me are the ones that understand themselves.

Netzapper: Would you support a measure (enacted by the United Federation of Planets, Q Continuum, God, or some similarly omnipotent organization) to replace all of the world’s firearms, missiles, artillery, etc. with swords, ballistas, trebuchets, etc.?

When I first read this question I interpreted it as a swords into plowshares question. So my first answer is one to an imaginary question.

Well, that did of course happen in Japan in 1588 when Hidéyoshi and his samurai banned the ownership of swords and firearms by all but the noble classes. They scoured the country telling the people that the swords were going to be melted down and turned into a giant statue of Buddha. Of course, once the swords and guns were all in the hands of Hidéyoshi, they were instead turned into a giant statue of him, and Japan has been a police state ever since.

Sometimes freedom and liberty have to be defended, and I don’t believe that will ever change. Giving up our ability — and our fundamental right — to do so is suicidal.

But in terms of the question that you actually asked, history hasn’t shown us that forcing soldiers to kill each other in hand to hand combat versus from afar reduces the amount of death or increases the “personal responsibility” the soldiers feel for that death. If anything, it makes it worse. So no, I don’t believe such a transformation would be positive

UrgentClunker: How would you define failure, and what would you consider your biggest failure to date?

Failure is not enjoying the game of life. Any time I get depressed and let my fears get the best of me, that’s when I’m failing. An interview bombing, a car accident, a poorly written article: none of those are failures. The only failure is when you don’t enjoy failing (not that one shouldn’t try and “win” every time). If I’m understanding him correctly, my father’s core lesson to my siblings and I was that life is the ultimate game, and victory comes first from enjoying it and second from coming out in first place (and that if you have to kill a hobgoblin, you must make sure he can scream his death scream on the battlefield to open the doors to hobgoblin heaven).

snackninja: Have you ever considered running for political office? What level of government would you feel most comfortable in?

I believe running for political office is an honorable aspiration, and I considered running for the office of mayor in Toronto on a secessionist platform to make Toronto a partially independent city-state. I still think it’s the right thing for both Toronto and Canada, and I’m starting to see more mainstream political groups making noise along the same lines. However, my extreme views on many subjects coupled with my appearance would make it very difficult for me to run for office. There are better ways for me to independently facilitate political change in the world.

What was the first concert you ever saw? The best one?

The best concert I ever saw was during Mojave 3’s first tour (although their final concert in Toronto as Slowdive was incredibly emotionally moving). Not including stuff I saw as a kid, I think the first concert I ever went to was the Sonic Youth tour promoting Goo.

What do you think the next major evolutionary change that the human race will experience will be?

Humans have remained largely unchanged through catastrophes of immense magnitude such as the most recent Ice Age. Humans are successful because we’re smart, but also because we’re incredibly adaptable. So I think it’s unlikely that we’ll see any natural evolution occurring. However, I do think it’s very likely that we’ll tinker with ourselves genetically more and more. It’ll start with gradual improvements — smarter, stronger, healthier, and able to survive in more hostile environments. Whether that eventually takes us into a form other than human, I don’t know. I hope I get to see some of it in my lifetime.

I think the changes facing humanity are more likely to come from our escalating technology. We’re on the cusp of entering space, and cities in orbit, on the moon, and on neighboring planets will very likely come in our lifetimes. We are also facing the risk of increasingly versatile, adaptable, and extremely intelligent machines who could potentially replace us inside the same time period. The Japanese are making terrifying progress in this, and I don’t believe they have the technological checks in place to keep it from snowballing out of control. It’s a very dangerous game, and I think we are making a terrible mistake in barreling forward so recklessly. Whether they are our children (and thus the next step in “human” evolution), or if they’re a science experiment gone horribly wrong is a question for the robot philosophers of the 22nd century to debate.

Celestial_Horror: It seems that many of the most knowledgeable modified people at some point became professionals, and performed modifications on others. Was there ever a point where you considered a career as a piercer or artist?

I did briefly tattoo, which I enjoyed, but to be perfectly honest I’m very introverted and fairly sociopathic. I like seeing my friends, but only for short periods, and I do not enjoy being around strangers. As a piercer, tattoo artist, or other body modification practitioner, you have to be extremely comfortable working with all sorts of people to give them the experience they need. I do not believe that I have the ability to do that.

kamikuso: When did you first get into computers and programming, and how did you go about educating yourself?

My father was always involved in computing and telephony projects as far back as I can remember, and from about the time I was five years old, worked mostly at home. Because of that I got to be around some amazing minds at a very young age, and had hands-on and relatively unrestricted access to new technology. My parents were very careful not to let me or my brother fall into the trap of television, so programming became my entertainment. I was encouraged to learn and loved doing it. I did later spend some time at the University of Toronto in cognitive and computer science, which helped make me less of a “sloppy” programmer, but I think it’s still fair to say that I’m exclusively self taught.

hotpiercedguy: Do you ever wish you were more or less revered? Are you happy with what “celebrity status” you currently have?

I couldn’t care less whether people think I’m a rock star or not (anyone who’s met me in person knows I’m not), although it makes me a little sad when people revere me — they really should be revering themselves instead. There’s nothing in me that isn’t in them as well. That said, having some level of popularity has been useful in spreading the messages I try and get out into the public mindset.

MoDvAyNe: When you started the IAM community, had you ever considered that it would sprout and become a family for others interested in body modification?

I had no idea. I wrote the IAM software because I wanted a tool to maintain my own online journal. I really wasn’t expecting it to be so popular when I opened it up to everyone else as well, but I’m very happy that it was. So many unexpected blessings and life-changing events have come for so many different people thanks to the community that has formed on IAM.

Fidget: In retrospect, is there anything about BME or IAM that you would have done differently, but don’t feel like you can change now that it’s established?

There are some organizational things that I might have done differently, and technologies that evolved differently than I’d expected at the time. I’ve made alliances with people from time to time that have betrayed me or ripped me off, but really, I think all of us could list endless things like that. Other than correcting things like that, I don’t think I’d change anything. The sites’ missions have stayed the same since day one.

Reverence: For most people it’s hard to come out of their shell. Visible modifications are hard for people, as you know, since society places a lot on outward appearance. How long did take you and how much thought was put into your visible mods before you had the work done? Or did you not hesitate at all?

I didn’t put any thought into it at the time because it was who I was, if that makes any sense. I don’t have to justify my modifications to myself because they make sense and they feel right. The only time I’ve had to “make excuses” for my physical appearance is for periods where others have tried to convince me that the modifications were a mistake.

I’m sure there are many people out there who choose modification for fashion or social reasons, and that’s cool and I don’t have a problem with that, but I didn’t choose it. It’s how I was born and it’s who I am, and nothing can or will change that.

That said, I think that people should know themselves pretty well before they go making decisions that could have a harsh impact on the rest of their life. If the modifications they’re making are going to affect their ability to find employment or even fit into the social mainstream, they need to very seriously consider whether they want to make such an immense sacrifice.

Kraz_Eric: I’m interested most in your religious beliefs. I’ve read hints here and there, but nothing concrete.

At its simplest, I believe that we (on this planet) are all part of a single entity, and that we are as interconnected and as dependent on each other as the cells in our own bodies. I believe that this superbeing is what most religions call God, and I believe that we are all God and a part of God. I think most religions try and express this in their own way, but they err in taking the metaphors used to explain this phenomenon too literally and thereby cloud the true nature of the universe.

sadlyinsane: Do you ever worry about the influence that you and your site carry on a large group of a younger generation?

Not at all. I believe in what I’m saying, and I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t think it was the truth, so I have no problem with it influencing anyone, no matter what their age is. I also believe that young people are the future (duh!) and that they’re a lot smarter than adults give them credit for. If that’s who I have an influence over, great!

starspring: Has the look and layout of BME or IAM been determined or inspired by any particular method or design source?

I pretty much just try and keep it as simple as possible. I don’t think that any of my sites really stand out as graphic design masterpieces, but I hope they’re easy to use. In terms of what I do online, my goal is to get the content to as many people as possible, so that’s what influences the design decisions.

medlabchick: Most people know that you would love to live on a tropical island but have you ever thought about building a cabin in the middle of the forest in northern Ontario? Believe me, no one would find you there.

Hey, I’d love to live in a fortified compound in northern Ontario, but I fell in love with and married an American girl who’s spent her adult life living in places like Phoenix, Miami, and New Orleans. While I grew up in a wood-heated house in Canada and love the winter, she’s not quite the fan of it that I am.

jasonthe29th: for what social justice issue would you be willing to give up BME completely? For instance, if giving up BME stopped the death penalty or abortion would you do it?

BME is a part of who I am, and a part of the thousands of people who’ve helped create it. Justice is absolute. You either have it, or you don’t. You can’t have “a little justice”. Thus I don’t believe that you can give up one freedom in exchange for another.

Raistlyn: What are the pitfalls of running BME and IAM?

I believe that BME stays fully inside the law and is a responsible publication. However, there are hateful people out there that have such a problem with who they are themselves that they choose to attack BME to distract themselves from the things they need to fix inside themselves. Because BME is totally above-board, they are constantly fabricating and calling in fake charges to various authorities.

The only other pitfall is extremely long hours which to be honest is burning me out and I have to figure out a way to reduce that workload if I want to keep maintaining the entire site. That said, it’s far more of a positive experience than a negative one. I have some concerns about how the community is changing as time goes by, and whether some of what BME does is relevant or desired, but, for now at least, I’m staying on course and sticking with the plan!

frzamonkey: What is the one thing that we as IAM members do that you wish you could change?

I just wish people were nicer to another. It’s pretty pathetic to watch people who could be friends getting off on tormenting each other for no apparent reason other than enjoying seeing someone else in pain. That’s about the only thing that really bugs me, when people think that rather than curing their own pain, they’ll instead invalidate it somehow by making everyone around them hurt as well.

t.thomas: Do you feel life is dress rehersal for something larger?

I don’t believe that there is something larger in terms of heaven or anything like that. It’s already here and we’re already living in it… we just have to open ourselves to it. Joseph Campbell put it perfectly when he wrote, “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

Erica: I remember that when you first did your modcode, you marked “I happily kill what I eat”. When and why did you become vegan?

I became vegan first for environmental reasons, kept with it for health reasons, and then stayed vegan long term for spiritual reasons. At the point I wrote that I was just transitioning to a fully vegan diet. Ethically, my primary problem was with factory farming and the truly brutal (and environmentally foolhardy) practices they employ, and morally I had real concerns that people were “hiding” the fact that a sentient living creature was giving up its life for our pleasure. I believe that if someone is going to eat meat that they need to embrace the death of that animal and on some level thank it for what it has given them. In the modern context, I don’t believe we can gain that awareness unless we are either raising our own animals for consumption and slaughtering them, or by hunting our own food. While I would not do it myself, I believe that by understanding the life-death-life cycles and taking an active and compassionate role in them one can perhaps justify eating meat, but at this point in my life I would not be able to bring myself to do so.

pella: I think I read some where that you studied art history at university. What are you favorite non-body mod related artists?

I’d like to think I appreciate good art from all eras, but I’m most partial to impressionists like Gauguin and Van Gogh, and as well to fauvism which of course grew from them. I like impressionist works quite simply because they’re beautiful and appeal to me aesthetically, and fauvism appeals to me emotionally.

Do you think a wider more in depth knowledge of not only body art but fine art is valuable for professionals in this industry?

I think an in depth knowledge of fine art and especially art history is valuable for people in all professions. Understanding the art that a culture produces is essential to understanding the context in which the events of the time happened — just knowing the time line is not enough. You have to be able to feel what the people living through it were feeling, and art is one of the only ways we have to transmit that information across time.

Cylence: Do you think it’s possible to take body modification too seriously? I mean, when you start referring to your eyebrow ring as “my transformative spiritual experience” and are willing to be unemployed and exiled from your family or commit suicide rather than take it out, has it gone too far? Obviously an extreme example but I think you see what I’m getting at. Can body modification become too much of a person’s identity, to the point where it is their identity?

I suppose one can take anything too seriously, but no, assuming the person is being honest with themselves, I don’t think you can ever take anything too seriously. “Transformative spiritual experiences” are often found in everyday events, and I would never question someone’s right to find value in that. If they’re wrong, their lie to themselves is far worse than their lie to me or you (since it’s really none of our business anyway). Clearly if someone is willing to ostracize themselves from their family and from society over their modifications they perceive them as extremely essential, and while I think it’s important to know oneself well enough to decide when something is healthy or unhealthy, cutting off someone’s medicine like that is rarely going to have a positive outcome. If someone needs modifications, I think they should be supported in that.

Shannon Larratt

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