L. Neil Smith's
Number 370, June 4, 2006

"A Downright Moron"

Pipe Smoke and Flannel Shirts
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

I was having an online conversation the other day (e-mail, not instant messaging) with an old friend of mine, an attorney I'll call "Lawyer Dagget", about the way the world seemed to work when I was a boy.

There's danger in such conversations. I'm officially an Old Guy now; my boyhood was a long, long time ago. If you're not particularly careful to avoid it, the viewpoint of a child, and the passage of many years, can act like gauze laid over a camera lens, concealing hideous blemishes that would have been unavoidably obvious at the time to an adult.

But I'm also a very practical student of history, and I've spent my lifetime, so far, comparing the period I was born into with other periods. I have a pretty good idea, I think, of what counts and what doesn't count, of where we've been and where we're going, and I have understood since fourth grade (about 1955) that we are in a period of decline, analogous to the gradual but inevitable collapse of the Roman Empire.

The bottom line is that, despite what follows, I'm not a person overly inclined romanticize times and circumstances that don't deserve it. Although what I have to say represents my subjective impressions—what else could it represent; the only point of view that I have, or can have, is my own—I didn't pluck my observations out of thin air.

My conversation with Dagget—this part, anyway—started with phrases that my father, who was born in 1919, was fond of using. For example, he would often ask somebody complaining about a minor matter amidst otherwise happy circumstances, "What do you want, egg in your beer?"

Like a lot of things inherited from your folks, I'd never thought about the phrase or where it might have come from. I looked it up on Google and Wikipedia as I was discussing it with Dagget. I gather that people used to break a raw egg into their beer, back in the old pre-Salmonella days, but I don't know for certain, even now. It makes sense when you know that my dad grew up in a rough and tumble cowtown straight out of the dime novels, that had twice as many saloons as churches.

And the famous "free lunch" on every bar.

Dad would also say, admiring a car or something else somebody had, "I wish I had that car—and he had a boil on his ass." It was a joke, of course. Nature never created a kindler, gentler warrior than my father, a WWII veteran and prisoner of war, but it was also a very different world, in which a straightforward admission of admiration or envy was taken for what it was, not as an excuse to get a restraining order against somebody, or coerce them into psychiatric bondage of some kind.

Our conversation turned, gradually, toward a time, just following WWII, when a lot of the world's biggest problems seemed to have been dealt with successfully. (They weren't, but we're talking here about how people felt.) The badguys had stuck their ugly heads up once again and been thoroughly trounced. Now all that unpleasantness was behind us, and it was time to begin living life as it had been meant to be lived.

H. Beam Piper's Murder in the Gun Room is a murder mystery that, in many ways, quite unselfconsciously, manages to reflect that general mellow feeling. It was a time of competent, self-sufficient men, their suits and ties cast off, relaxing for the weekend in chinos and plaid flannel shirts, smoking their pipes (whatever happened to the aroma of pipe tobacco that permeated my childhood—never mind, I know all too well what happened), reading Argosy and Field & Stream, cleaning their shiny new Model 70 Winchesters (there's another evocative aroma—Hoppe's #9 bore solvent), chambered for the .30-06 that they'd come to love and trust through two world wars, in preparation for hunting deer and elk among the orange, red, and yellow leaves of aspen in the fall.

Shiny new Model 70 Winchesters, Dagget added, that they'd ordered by mail and had delivered to their door, with no impertinent questions asked. The model owes as much, I suppose, to faded (and inaccurate, as it turns out) memories of the comic strip "Mark Trail" as it does to Piper.

My dad bought his Model 70 at the Base Exchange at Pepperrell Air Force Base in St. John's, Newfoundland. It came equipped with a four- power Lyman Alaskan, the first rifle scope affordable to the average individual. I was ten years old. Half a century later, I can still smell my dad's aftershave in the cheekpiece of the rifle's walnut stock.

But Dagget's absolutely right. When we let the right to buy guns by mail order, anonymously, be taken from us, it was the beginning of the end for America. The next thing we lost, for all practical purposes, were the pipes and tobacco. Sooner or later, everything that we loved was "proven" to be carcinogenic, fattening, or politically incorrect. Today even those flannel shirts have become objects of derision on endless reruns of a television show where the unforgivable flaw of the main character is that he isn't half the woman his wife is.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'd be the last to claim that those times, just after WWII, were perfect. The miserable truth is that the culture of individual liberty which is unique to the United States has been circling the drain for far longer than that, since at least the War Between the States. Say, rather, that the 1950s are the last time in history in which—without the application of psychiatric drugs—individuals were free to be happy without experiencing any guilt about it.

Were they good everywhere? For everybody? Absolutely not. It was still the same old world out there, being shaved by an insane barber. Even in America, if you were black, for example—even if you were freshly home from laying your life on the line to help white Americans defeat the Germans and the Japanese—simply finding food and shelter for the night while you were travelling across the country could be an ordeal.

If you were a woman, the measure of independence you had won for yourself as a WWII defense worker was suddenly ripped out from under you.

No, the times were not idyllic for everybody.

Many years ago, I wrote at considerable length of the universe as a cold, dark, hostile void in which we occasionally happen across little pools of light and warmth, created at an unimaginable cost of time, effort, imagination, and self-inflicted torment by human beings for themselves and their children. Sometimes these little pools spread and grow. Other times they're snuffed out by uncaring nature or sheer evil.

It has always been my inclination, just as it is of any rational, decent human being, to welcome others into that pool of light and warmth we call American civilization—in particular, competent, self-sufficient women—just as long as they're willing to pay the same cost of time, effort, imagination, and self-inflicted torment that others have paid before them, and continue to pay, to maintain it.

The degree to which I give a damn about the color of anybody's skin, his or her sex, their language of birth, or anything like that can only be written in negative numbers, expressable in scientific notation. The object, once idyllic times have been established for somebody, anybody, is to try—without threats, without coercion, without guilt trips or government—to make them just as idyllic for everybody.

That's called "improving the human condition" and "the advance of civilization".

Trouble is, that isn't enough for those with an ideological axe to grind. They aren't content to help arrange things so that each of us can live the life that he or she wants to live. We must be forced to live the life that others want us to live—although, as members of the nomenklatura, the ideologues won't be compelled to live that way themselves.

They take the pressure off themselves by offering us others to hate: Commies, Koreans, Southerners, Catholics, Italians, the Irish, blacks, whites, Indians. Lately it's Moslems and so-called "illegal" immigrants. Tomorrow, it's bound to be somebody else—anybody but the idiots, criminals, and crazies who handcrafted the mess we live in.

Bit by bit, American civilization has been picked apart, maimed, and twisted to fit some lunatic social experimenter's wet dream of the way things ought to be—whether we who have to live the lives they force upon us want those lives to be that way or not. Each and every day our options grow fewer in number and our personal horizons become narrower.

Forget the immigrants, illegal or otherwise. Forget the Moslems. They can't do any damage to American culture that hasn't been done already by our very own politicians, bureaucrats, journalists, and academics.

There's a way out—but is America ready for it?

Time will tell.

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at lneilsmith.org.

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is presently looking for a literary home.

A decensored, e-published version of Neil's 1984 novel, TOM PAINE MARU is available at: http://payloadz.com/go/sip?id=137991. Neil is presently working on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May.

The stunning 185-page full-color graphic-novelized version of The Probability Broach, which features the art of Scott Bieser and was published by BigHead Press www.bigheadpress.com has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at www.Amazon.com, or at BillOfRightsPress.com.


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