L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 50, July 4, 1999
When You Wish Upon a Star ...
by L. Neil Smith
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
If I were to choose a motto for our age, it would be "wishing will
make it so." No matter how sweetly you dress it up, or how many
cartoon crickets warble it against a starry backdrop, it's no more
than a crude, unsatisfactory substitute for philosophy or science,
best suited to the bad-tempered whims of a two-year-old. Push it too
far -- how much aviation fuel is really in that tank as opposed to
what you want to be there? -- and it can even get you killed.
What a person believes is his own business. If nothing else, that's
part of the process of natural selection. Lives based on a judicious
respect for reality tend to be more rewarding. Those who see clearly
and think straight are likelier to reproduce and their offspring are
likelier to prosper. Those who choose less rational paths will be
replaced, statistically, by those who make better choices, and the
human condition will gradually improve. You may think this is cruel,
but it identifies a real phenomenon. It's the way the universe works
-- has worked for billions of years -- whether you like it or not.
The idea that wishing will make it so is most deadly when it's
applied as public policy. Then, it doesn't matter that you opted to
use your head, not when your choices are made for you. You're forced
to suffer just as if you'd made the mistakes, instead of some
bureaucrat or politician.
The classic case is the Volstead Act. For a century before its
passage, its advocates, who believed that drinking is a Bad Thing
(which indeed it may be) and demanded a law to keep people from doing
it, ignored complaints that they were making a mockery of individual
rights. For a decade afterward, they ignored its secondary effects,
which proved more damaging to society than the use of alcohol.
Prohibition is to blame for a lot that's wrong with America today. It
was the beginning of a popular disregard for the law. Millions of
ordinary people who became criminals by fiat overnight, responded by
drinking more than ever, many of them for the first time, simply to
assert their rights. With the stroke of a pen, previously acceptable
behavior was lumped together with acts that everyone agreed were
wrong -- like murder and kidnapping. Moral lines became hopelessly
blurred and have tended to stay that way ever since.
Prohibition put many unsavory types in business -- big business, as
it turned out -- who are still with us. In a way that could never
have happened if the do-gooders hadn't meddled in their private
affairs, decent people were suddenly exposed to criminal (and legal)
violence, just as if they were criminals themselves. And, although it
wound up being partly repealed, Prohibition also set precedents for
government meddling in every other aspect of individual life.
Bureaucrats and politicians failed to learn the folly of "wishing
will make it so" from Prohibition. Those who scream loudest about
youth gangs today are the same ones to whom the minimum wage, just
another kind of Prohibition, is a sacred article of faith. Never mind
that any job at a buck an hour beats no job at five. Never mind that
minimum wage generates unemployment by punishing those who would
otherwise hire young, unskilled workers. Never mind that, if these
kids had any kind of job, they'd soon learn enough to get a
better-paying one. Never mind that they might even be too busy to
join a gang. Never mind that the minimum wage raises the cost of
goods and services so that its victims have a harder time obtaining
food, clothing, and shelter -- in effect, that bureaucrats and
politicians invented the "homeless". These nasty-tempered
two-year-olds -- excuse me, the bureaucrats and politicans -- demand
fulfillment of their wishes no matter who gets hurt, simply so that
they can bask in the glow of their own self-righteousness.
To the twisted mindset of Prohibitionism, facts about the individual
right to own and carry weapons are similarly irrelevant. Never mind
what the supreme law of the land ordains. Never mind that gun control
renders peaceful and productive people -- women, minorities, and the
elderly in particular -- helpless in the face of a criminal element
that bureaucrats and politicians created, just as they did the
homeless. Never mind that legislators who violate their oath of
office by advocating gun control should be in prison. They're out to
strip a nation of its weapons come hell or high water, and they're
not going to let a little thing like a decent regard for objective
reality, social justice, or the Bill of Rights interfere.
But before you feel too smug, examine your own mindset.
You could be guilty of the same self-righteous nonthinking.
The so-called "War on Drugs" is simply Prohibition dressed up for the
90s. It can't stop people from making, selling, or using drugs any
more than the Volstead Act stopped them from making, selling, or
using alcohol. It has succeded in boosting the price of drugs from
pennies a pound to hundreds of dollars an ounce. It's driven weak
competition from the market and created not just a livelihood where
there wasn't one before, but a monopoly for the most violent and
ruthless among them -- and, not incidentally, for millions of
bureaucrats, politicians, and cops, both honest and corrupt. Worst of
all, it's given bureaucrats and politicians another excuse,
acceptable to the media and the public, to raise taxes exponentially
and stamp "CANCELLED" across the Bill of Rights.
Especially the Second Amendment.
Never mind that what you do to your own body is your business or you
haven't any rights at all. Never mind that the only way to protect
kids from drugs is the long, hard, grownup task of bringing them up
right. (Let's start by abolishing the public schools, which
concentrate and distribute self-destructive behavior the way public
hospitals concentrate and distribute disease.) Never mind that before
the turn of the last century, drugs were freely available and nobody
showed much interest in them. Never mind that there wasn't any drug
problem until the bureaucrats and politicians created it. There's far
more to the fight for the Second Amendment than simply wishing that
the badguys would go away. We hand them a club -- in the form of a
contradiction -- every time we agree to any kind of Prohibition, and
it's childish of us to expect them not to use it.
Wishing can't accomplish anything by itself.
We're going to keep losing our liberties -- and not just to own and
carry weapons -- until we get our own logical and ethical ducks in a
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