L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 331, August 7, 2005
"Stop meddling in other people's business"
Oh, Grow Up!
Special to TLE
In a conversation with my mother last weekend, she remarked that she was glad I'd grown up to have a different "sort" of friend than I'd chosen when I was younger. "I don't know why you insisted on being friends with such bad kids," she said, "but I'm happy you have such nice friends now."
The "bad" kids my mother is talking about were those I first met when I entered Junior High School. Most of them weren't really bad. Sure, they wore blue jeans instead of dressier clothes, and they skipped school sometimes. Many of them smoked cigarettes on the sidewalk in front of the school between classes. Some of them managed to come into possession of some small amount of alcohol on Friday or Saturday nights. The girls worethe horror!heavy make-up. The boys, more often than not, had long hair.
Though there was little if any criminal behavior involved where those "bad" kids were concerned, I was raised to be what school children used to call a "goodie two shoes." I wore dresses to school and wouldn't have dreamed of skipping class. Smoking was, I thought, a filthy habit, and drinking was just plain wrong. As far as make-up goes, well, I was sometimes allowed to wear a bit of mascara on very special occasions. Besides, I'd always been told that girls who wore lots of make-up were, well, "easy."
Like many school children, I wanted to be one of the popular kids. But the dresses I wore weren't the expensive up-to-the-minute style, and my hair wasn't professionally cut or coifed. I didn't have money, and I wasn't a cheerleader. To make matters worse, I was smart and I was fat. Because I didn't meet any of their many stringent requirements for fitting in, I was utterly rejected by the popular kids. I really only gravitated to the "bad" kids because I had nowhere else to go. The real irony, of course, is that the popular kids were often elevating themselves solely by making otherslike mebelieve they weren't good enough, but I didn't know that then.
What was important at the time was the fact that those "bad" kids never said a word about my clothes. They didn't make fun of me because I was fat, nor did anybody say a single unkind word because my family didn't have money. They'd offer me a cigarette when they lit up, but they'd do nothing more than shrug when I said, "No, thank you." And far from making derisive comments about my good grades, they were actually admiring. Some even occasionally asked for help with one class or another. On those rare occasions I got in troubleor more commonly when somebody else was picking on methey stood beside me without reservation. Yes, they broke the rules, but those "bad" kids were the best friends I'd ever had.
Over time, I began to behave a little more like the "bad" kids. I started smoking. I swore a blue streak (though never at home or in class). I dressed in blue jeans and t-shirts. Though I continued to get good grades, and despite the fact I never got in any trouble, my parents weren't pleased. I was rebelling against the rules, rules which had, I was told, been made for my own good.
When I look back now, I can see that there were some aspects of our rebellion that may not have been all that bright. Smoking, for example, isn't the best choice to make if you intend to live a long and healthy life. But I can also see that the rebellion was, in large part, being waged against rules we were rapidly becoming too old to need or appreciate, and some of which never made sense in the first place. We were growing up and, as every generation before us had done, we were stretching toward the freedom promised by adulthood.
As a young adult, I moved to the big city and worked in a professional environment. I left behind the jeans and dressed appropriately; I always did my best, worked hard, and behaved responsibly. Adults, in many ways, are subject to rules children can't imagine! But I had the freedom to make my own decisions, and that was enough. My friends were other young professionals. I was, if not happy, at least content. I was a good girl again, perhaps with less smugness than in my extreme youth, but still a good girl.
Over time, I started to pay more attention to politics because I came to realize the tremendous effect politics had on the making of the rules to which even grown-ups are subject. I wrote letters to my representatives, and I voted. I did my best to keep up with current events. I didn't ask for much beyond an acceptance of my viewpoint and at least some consideration for my thoughts or requests. Instead, because I didn't have enough money or because I wasn't a cheerleader for a particular politician or party, I got form letters or brush-offs.
I wasn't deterred; I was determined. We do, after all, have freedom of speech in this country! But one afternoon, as I was writing a response to a political news story I'd read, I found myself repeatedly striking out words and revising what I'd written. After several revisions, revelation struck like the proverbial bolt of lightning. I was stunned. I realized I was trying to change my words to soften them becauseI could hardly believe it!I was afraid of the repercussions of saying what I really thought. It was at that point that I began to take a long hard look not just at politics in general but at some specific rules that were there "for my own good." These days, I have more to think about than ever.
It's been pointed out by more than one student of history that one of the best ways to exert control on a population is through the police. By making enough laws, virtually everyone is guilty of something, and the threat of jail is a potent one, especially to those who consider themselves "good!" We're now in a place where those in power are holding onto that power by making rules that devalue and redefine the liberties of everyone else.
I don't imagine my mother would be pleased, but if people who rebel against such "rules" are "bad," then I'm afraid that some of my current friends are "bad" people, including:
And there are more men and women like these I currently consider acquaintances or role models, but who I hope I can someday call friends as well.
I don't know that my mother will ever really understandand I'm sure that some people never willthat rebels aren't necessarily bad. In fact, that they're rebels at all is sometimes completely unintentional. But if doing the right thing, if valuing freedom and honoring unalienable rights, is bad, then I'm a "bad" girl again myself.
A couple of wonderful and uncompromisingly pro-liberty people I've not yet had the privilege to meet understand the sentiment well, I think. Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman recently teamed up to write a novel called Out of the Gray Zone. The book features a musical group that goes by the name of Rebelfire which sings, "When 'for your own good' is a lock and a chain, and security's used to enslave hearts and brains, then out of our bondage rebellion will fly. On that day, the Outlaw, the Outlaw will ride."
The lock and chain is already well in place, forged and steadily tightening via the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, and the ever growing desire of those in authority for increased control. Anyone who opposes that control is, by government definition, bad. But a character in Out of the Gray Zone says to another that "only slaves and babies stand for being helpless and controlled." If you don't intend to be the former, then perhaps it's timeonce againto grow up.
Out of the Gray Zone is available online via RebelfireRock.com. You can also download "Justice Day," the song excerpted above which I heartily endorse as the anthem of the freedom movement.