A Desperate Suspension of Disbelief
By L. Neil Smith
Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise
Given the choice between a mass-murdering clown and a tired old political whore, America has chosen the mass-murdering clown. While the 1996 election doesn't come as any surprise -- nobody was ever able to convince me that the country would be better off in Brady Bill-Bob Dole's hands than in Waco Willie Clinton's -- it does continue a process of disillusionment in my fellow human beings that began about the time of the Libertarian Party nomination of Harry Browne.
Harry, as you must know by now, didn't attract enough voters to populate Wyoming.
The Morning After, I was describing to a favorite aunt my ... let's call it "spiritual distress" over the deliberate choice my countrymen had made to keep a bloody-handed baby-burner in the White House. In defense of American voters, my aunt asked, given the corrupt, collusive nature of the media, how could people know what Clinton did at Waco? Afterward, my wife Cathy asked, "How could they not know?". Both questions (and recalling how Philadelphia reelected the evil mayor who authorized the infamous MOVE bombing) made me think.
I'm not sure who it was (Edgar Allen Poe, maybe) who called the essential element in absorbing a work of fiction "a willing suspension of disbelief". Although the reader knows that what he's reading is untrue, with the help of a skillful enough author, he can pretend otherwise for the sake of amusement or enlightenment.
It strikes me that this is like welfare state politics, where people may know that what they vote for will have, at worst, a negative effect, and at the best, none at all. Yet they wish to believe otherwise, and with the help of a skillful enough politician, they can achieve a "desperate suspension of disbelief".
This certainly explains a lot, concerning people and events. For example, the frustrating way that, although it's known the minimum wage causes minority unemployment, it keeps getting raised. Or that, although it's been proved that gun control accomplishes nothing but harm, people want to believe it will stop crime. It's a hell of a lot easier than doing what would really stop it.
Politicians, academics, and the media are the worst, because they mostly constitute the bottom of the national barrel, so hopelessly and deliberately self-befuddled that they've become incapable of doing anything genuine for a living.
Which explains the way they vote.
Civilization is a mess, only one or two calamities from violent collapse. The formula for fixing it is simple: enforce the highest law of the land, the Bill of Rights. Free people have incentives to maintain civilization. Slaves don't.
As long as Americans go on being allowed to make essentially meaningless choices between essentially identical candidates, they'll go on believing that they're free. Pro-freedom candidates who want to win must first teach voters that they're not free, and that's no task for any gradualist, moderate, or "pragamatist".
(As for those who know they're not free, they need to learn you can't get what you want by voting for something else. Gun owners may finally learn this lesson the hard way as they see how many Republican congressmen vote for Brady II.)
What complicates the matter is that, at some level, Americans know the truth of their political and economic serfdom, but they're hell-bent in their determination to maintain the self-delusion that they're free. It makes them desperate to believe that anyone who runs afoul of the government (say, Randy Weaver or David Koresh) deserves whatever happens to him. They have to believe this, and they bitterly resent anyone who makes it more difficult for them.
The secondary formula we may derive from all this isn't as simple as Bill of Rights enforcement, and no matter how you slice it, it's going to be a lot of work. But the only proper strategy for Libertarians and Constitutionalists is:
(1) pound the voting public incessantly with one poignant and horrific story after another of the violent, abusive manner in which government hurts people;
(2) emphasize the completely unsuspecting innocence of the government's victims;
(3) never fail to point out how such travesties are inevitable, and will get worse and worse, as long as certain fundamental principles are neglected; and
(4) finish up, not simply with the demand for Bill of Rights enforcement (or some other reform we believe desirable) which this was all leading up to, but
(5) a warm, colorful picture of what everyday life will be like for the listener under the much-improved circumstances we're asking him to help bring about.
This formula must be used relentlessly. Its undeniable effectiveness is predictable from the success with which socialists employ their own formula of tear-filled anecdotery to get their political way -- as contrasted with our customary appeals to reason, principle, and law. Ours differs in that we want to smarten people up, not dumb them down, and therefore, we eventually bring them back around to exercising their rational faculties. We also provide them -- and this is my speciality -- a concrete vision of the reward that awaits them.
That's what we must do.
Here's what we must not.
From this moment of electoral ignominy on, I refuse to entertain another word regarding the advisability of gradualism, moderation, or "pragmatism". Their emphasis among the highest levels of the Libertarian political movement now appears to have been driven, all along, by the basest of ulterior motives, anyway, a desire for unearned wealth.
Even the densest and most cowardly among our tiny and insignificant number must understand, from the campaign disaster most recently behind us, and many others that preceded it, that these approaches -- which were self-evidently specious to begin with -- have been discredited once and for all, thoroughly and beyond question. Nor will I argue seriously with anyone who holds the contrary.
Instead, I'm going to go on following the course I set forth on 19 years ago, when I pursued the five-step formula above, to write The Probability Broach.
L. Neil Smith's Prometheus Award-winning The Probability Broach offers a window onto a Libertarian civilization -- and enough sex and violence to keep even the most apolitical reader turning pages. Buy it at bookstores anywhere, or call Laissez Faire Books 1-800-326-0996
A JUROR'S CREED: As an American juror, I will exercise my 1000 year old duty to arrive at a verdict, not just on the basis of the facts of a particular case or instructions I am given, but through my ability to reason, my knowledge of the Bill of Rights, and my individual conscience.
-- L. Neil Smith
Next to advance to the next article, or Previous to return to the previous article, or Index to return to The Libertarian Enterprise, Number 19, December 1, 1996.