THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 155, January 7, 2002
THE BRIGHT AND THE BLEAK
The Enemy's Greatest Weapon
by L. Neil Smith
Exclusive to TLE
After living in this world for 55 years (so far), being active in the freedom movement for 40 years, and writing books for 25, I have finally identified -- and, to some degree, come to understand -- the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of those opposed to individual liberty.
It isn't a matter of small arms. This government doesn't trust its soldiers with anything resembling real guns. Those soldiers came from the people in the first place, after all, and, in the fullness of time, will return to the people. So it issues them .22 caliber rifles and .35 caliber pistols and tries not to issue them any ammunition at all until they're in the right place at the right time to enforce its will on other folks, usually unarmed and helpless troglodytes grubbing out the meagerest possible existence in some Neolithic dumpsite of a country.
It isn't tanks, artillery, cruise missiles, or nuclear devices, either, although, historically, government has never hesitated to use the first two on its own people and, the way things are going, will inevitably use the latter two the same way, before the new century is over.
No, I witnessed the deployment of oppression's most deadly and effective weapon only last night, while I was out with my wife, my daughter, my brother, and a few of our ice skating friends at a local restaurant. One of our number had moved to another state last year and was back for a Christmas visit. The restaurant we were in was her favorite.
She'd just flown back to Colorado -- with everything that entails these days -- from an especially warm and sunny locale. Outside the restaurant window, it was bone-chillingly cold and snowing lightly. One of our company suggested that we all fly out to visit our friend sometime.
My wife said something about hating to be with me in an airport even before September 11, and before I knew it, I was declaring that I would never fly commercially again until I could do it fully armed. I added something about not taking it for granted that such a thing was impossible.
And that's when the big gun came out.
What it sounded like was an embarrassed snort from my brother. I couldn't see, but I know the expression that goes with that snort: a slight rolling of the eyes, a little smirk, a subtle spreading of the hands, all adding up to, "Don't blame me. We all know what Neil is like. He actually thinks about being a free man living in a free country! The fact I have to be his brother is only an accident of birth."
At the same time, my wife's eyes were pleading with me not to get into it with my brother. We'd done that once before in a restaurant, many years ago. My crime then had been to utter two words (I never got a chance to add anything else about them), and it very nearly came to blows.
The two words?
And the very instant I said them, out came the embarrassed snort, followed by a diatribe that managed to include every tired cliche ever spoken about the man, including his alleged resentment of women with power (meaning Hillary Clinton), and even the phrase "mind-numbed robots".
As I said earlier, I'm 55. As you may or may not know, I've spent my entire adult life in pursuit of the values and ideals that America was supposedly created to embody. My brother is 53 and -- as a law enforcement officer in three or four different jurisdictions -- has spent his entire adult life in service to an entity that has done its very damnedest to destroy everything America is supposed to have been about, generally using our safety -- and our own ineptitude -- as an excuse.
I tried being a cop, a long, long time ago, and I have a pretty good idea what it's all about. It has its attractions, but it didn't work for me then, and it certainly wouldn't now. My brother, on the other hand doesn't have a clue what I'm all about (he's consistently avoided getting a clue over the past several decades), and yet he can sum up everything he thinks he knows about me with an embarrassed snort.
We very nearly got into it another time, at our mother's house, when I said I thought that something I had written had influenced legislation then being considered down in Denver. He surprised me, coming completely unglued and informing me that I don't do anything real (I'd only written about 20 books at that point), that I spend all of my time sitting on my fat ass in front of a computer monitor and (by implication) not out in the real world doing real things like he does.
I refrained from defining what he does, out in the real world. I was already established as the villain of the piece -- I'm certain that's the way my mother saw it; she always liked him best -- simply by sitting there (on my fat ass) being verbally abused by somebody who earns a living by violating people's rights at their involuntary expense and getting insulted if anyone has the bad manners to point it out.
But I thought about this incident a lot afterward, and came to the reluctant conclusion that my brother was offended by the idea that I might feel smarter than, or morally superior to, those white-belted, plaid-pantsed, child-buggering, influence-peddling lowlives in the statehouse whose bidding he has pledged to do daily. Who am I, mere ass-sitter that I am, to say what should or shouldn't be written into law?
My brother once said, in a milder moment, that there have to be functionaries like him, because the majority of individuals simply won't expend the effort to maintain civilization. That sounds great, especially to anyone grown cynical about his fellow human beings the way most cops have, but there are a couple serious things wrong with it.
I've heard the same kind of thing from public school teachers and principals, complaining about a lack of parental participation. The trouble is that -- whether you're parent trying to alter a socialist curriculum, or a private individual reducing crime more effectively than any hundred cops by carrying the effective means of defending yourself -- when you try to participate, teachers scream about that even louder and cops will beat you up and haul you away to some local dungeon.
What schools really want you to be is exactly the kind of mindless puppet of the state they're trying to make of your children, a sot of unpaid teacher's assistant. What cops really want you to be is quietly compliant.
Also, my brother is dead wrong. If ordinary people weren't willing to maintain civilization, there'd be no running water, electricity, or milk. There's more to civilization than marked cars, whirling blue and red lights, nightsticks, the kind of high-capacity autopistols they're trying to forbid to civilians, Mace, and handcuffs. A hell of a lot more.
You have relatives, too, and you know what this is like. I'm not saying that my brother is the enemy. At worst, he's like the troops wielding those toy government-issue rifles. I think he's genuinely embarrassed by any person -- not just his big brother -- who believes that the history of civilization can be changed by one individual or a handful of individuals. That, of course, is how the Weapon works. The Great Snort of Embarrassment should replace the Great Seal on our currency.
I have no doubt Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry were surrounded by family and neighbors who experienced a deep chagrin when the boys said that things in America had to change and they were going to help change them. Benjamin Franklin's own son was the British governor of Pennsylvania, which probably made for fairly edgy family reunions. I'm equally sure that Adolf Hitler rose to power because too many Germans were embarrassed to discuss his personal and political shortcomings at parties.
After all, somebody might snort at them embarrassedly.
I've heard it said, given the choice, that most people would rather die than speak to a large audience. I've also heard that the thing most people fear is personal confrontation. I've also noticed what I regard as an extremely strange phenomenon: men who have faced the guns, grenades, and bayonets of an enemy in war, but who lack what the Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann called the "civil courage" to stand up to purely verbal abuse at the hands of those who advocate political oppression.
The Republican Party and the National Rifle Association are full of such men. They feel embarrassed, even worse, they feel threatened by those among their own number who are not intimidated by a derisive snort, rolled eyes, spread hands, the entire ritual conducted before one's peers to publicly disown and disassociate oneself from unpopular ideas.
I, on the other hand, love speaking to large groups. There's only one other thing in life that makes my blood sing that way and alters and enhances my state of consciousness. Moreover, I've never feared declaring what I believe, or embarrassing those around me who don't like to think about the ugly world they've helped to make or help to maintain.
Make no mistake, it's ugliness that cops maintain, not civilization. We've now reached a point in this country where individuals are being made to disappear from their very homes or off the street, hidden from their families and lawyers, and tried by drumhead courts with secret evidence. The current administration has stated that it will imprison or execute these people as it likes, without any reference to the Constitution.
In a broader sense, something like 95% of the government's daily operations are unauthorized by the highest law of the land, the Constitution, and very few people think there's anything wrong with that.
Think it might be time to speak up, even at a risk of embarrassing one's friends and family? Or might it have been time thirty-some years ago, when it was clear that this stuff was going to happen sooner or later?
The answers to those questions should be obvious.
But you never know, do you?