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50


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 row.


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