L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 320, May 22, 2005
"The British are Coming!"
Taking it on Faith
Special to TLE
I read a lot, and much of what I read is science fiction. I'm capable of suspending all disbelief for hours at a time while I live in the world of the book I'm enjoying, at least until it's over. But seeing something on the printed page, no matter how immersed in imagination I might become, is no comparison to actually experiencing something the real world.
Given my interests, more than a few people have asked me if I believe in UFOs. The answer to that question is an unqualified "yes." After all, people see UFOs all the time. A UFO is simply an "unidentified flying object," no more and no less. To deny that such things exist is obtuse, something I sincerely hope I'm not. But then comes the follow-up question: Do you think that UFOs are of alien origin? My answer to that is a little less definitive. I hope they arecome on, how amazing would it be to meet intelligences from another world?but I don't really know. To say yes again would be to imbue the lack of evidence with nothing more tangible than wishful thinking. I hope I don't do that, either.
I've often wondered how I would feel if I were to actually see an alien spaceship coming in for a landing. Would I be afraid of the possibility of creatures who most resembled those from War of the Worlds or Independence Day? Or would I eagerly go to greet aliens that I hoped were something like those in Close Encounters of the Third Kind? I finally got the chance to see just how I really would feel late one night in Phoenix, Arizona.
I was outside on beautiful clear night, standing in the front yard of a house not too far from the central part of town. Despite the reasonably well lit neighborhood, I could see some of the brightest stars sparkling above. And then I saw it, rising above the silhouette of the palm trees. It was a gigantic silvery cigar-shaped object with brightly colored lights flickering along its circumference. It didn't make a sound despite its substantial size. It hung there in the sky glowing and twinkling before me, and it was beautiful.
The truth of the matter is that it took me less time to figure out what it really was than it did for you to read my short description of the event. It was merely a blimp, lit from within its semi-transparent skin, making its majestic way across the Valley of the Sun. But in the split second between one breath and the next, in that fraction of a moment after I saw it but before I knew what it really was, I discovered what my reaction would be to the sight of real visitors from "out there:" Pure, unadulterated joy. Even now, I can recall the moment and the feeling.
My point here actually has nothing to do with UFOs, but rather with the fact that there are some things we just can't know without experiencing them. And the more alien (pardon the pun) those things are to us and our experiences, the less likely it is our imaginations can come close to creating an accurate reaction or emotion for the circumstance. Consider, for example, a man who tries to imagine going through childbirth. A man doesn't have the vaguest frame of reference to even begin to understand the physical or emotional impact of labor and delivery!
That's why I get so exasperated with those in Congress who claim to "feel your pain," or who insist they know what "the American people" wants or think. The vast majority of these men and women are well educated and wealthy. The majority of Americans are not. Congressional representives claim to be in touch with their constituencyand to be fair, phone numbers and address for each of them are broadly disseminatedbut the reality is that they're typically quite well insulated from direct contact with the rest of us. Who can gain access to politicians with relative ease? Bigwigs from big companies and movie stars, both of which most Americans are also not.
When President George W. Bush says that "most Americans want Social Security reform," he may or may not be right. He also says that most Americans think that reform should involve private accounts. There are some polls that seem to bear that out. But if the polls are right and the president is right, how come so many in Congress say that their constituentstheir segment of "the American people"disagree? And more importantly, how can men and women who enjoy a guaranteed pension program about three times better than the average worker (and most workers don't have any pension plan at all) really understand how most of us feel about our only "pension" plan?
President Bush likes to talk about the innate goodness of the American people, and he speaks regularly of prayer and his Christian faith. Congress, too, typically becomes quite devout during election years. Even the Democrats are spotted going to church or talking about how much of an effect Jesus has had on their lives. But the fact is that substantial numbers of Americans don't attend church on anything resembling a regular basis, and significant numbers aren't Christian at all (and most members of Congress, at least in deed, aren't particularly Christian even by the most charitable of definitions). At the same time, moral judgments are made and solemnly rendered as if it is the will of "the American people" and not merely the will of the politician making the statement.
What complicates matters further, of course, is the fact that some of these politicians actually believe they're doing the right thing. And all too many voters have faith that the politicians they elect and re-elect will do the right thing. Whether or not they actually do the right thing is almost immaterial to a faith that, except in the cases of the most grievous abuses, remains unshakable. And much as the politicans don't truly relate to the every day lives of their constituents, the voters don't really grasp what it's like to the lives of the men and women who make the lawswhich is probably how they manage to keep their faith in them.
I'll let you in on a secret. I have faith that there is, indeed, intelligent life on other planets. The universe is just too big for me to even consider any other alternative. But I don't have much faith at all in politicians. Their universe isn't nearly so large, and contrary to the belief of many in Congress, the rest of the world does not revolve around them and their doings. Besides, the evidence of wrongdoing in Washington seems to be as overwhelming as the evidence of extraterrestrial visitors seems lacking.
What would convince me that UFOs were visiting ETs? Photographs. Alien DNA. Seeing it for myself, maybe. What would convince me that politicians really wanted to do what was best for "the American people?" For them to stop doing what they want to do, and leave off making decisions based on what they think (or even what they're sure) "the American people" want. Everyone's personal life is, when you get right down to it. largely alien to everyone else's. No one can decide how I should live my life, spend my money, raise my children, make my friends, or enjoy my free time better than I can.
Taking responsibility for ourselveswhether we want to or notis what's really best for each and every one of us and our families. That's how good parents raise their children, and how children become productive citizens and good parents in their own right. Unfortunately, many in government consider that "the American people" need care and coddling just like children. And these bad politicians are also bad "parents" who won't allow their charges to grow up and make decisions on their own.
That's how we've ended up with a large percentage of Americans who are essentially young adults still living in Mom and Dad's basement and living off their largesse. That's why we have a problem with high crime rates among the young. In short, all of the things "the American people" don't want. Space aliens could conceivably destroy the planet. Illegal aliens could conceivably destroy our culture. But it's the people who live in Washington, many in lifestyles entirely alien to ours, are the ones who are making substantial inroads into destroying our country. It's going to take more than faith to fix that.