Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 474, June 29, 2008

"These are beings perfectly willing to kill
you and your children for your own good."

Previous Previous Table of Contents Contents Next Next

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Des Moines
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

If you're a fan of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, or remember Isaac Asimov's character Wendell Urth, you will appreciate my surprise when I found myself in a car on the way back from a week-long visit to Chicago.

With my wife Cathy at the wheel of our trusty rented PT Cruiser, our travels took us (both ways) through areas of Iowa and Illinois that had been flooded so recently that we'd nearly had to cancel our trip.

We saw water everywhere, and the fields of corn and other crops it had turned into muddy swamp flats. Having experienced a flood of our own in 1997, we had a pretty fair idea of the unhappiness these people were going through—it's rather like the violated feeling of having been burglarized, except that there's nobody handy to bestow a second navel upon—and what they'd have to endure to restore themselves to normality.

The journey is about a thousand miles each way (just two weeks before, we'd made a trip of similar magnitude to Tucson and back—what's happened to me? Have I been replaced by an alien impostor?) and Cathy had pre-booked rooms for us on the way to Chicago. Due to schedule complications, she hadn't been able to do that coming home, so it was "catch as catch can"—only "catch" couldn't, because every hotel and motel from well inside Illinois, nearly to Nebraska was filled up with people who couldn't return to their homes and businesses because the kindly police had offered to kill them if they tried.

For their own safety, of course.

So there we were, at nine o'clock at night, sitting in a bleak, empty, fluorescently-lit Arby's restaurant—it was like a well-kept gas station bathroom—somewhere between Iowa City (where we'd been downtown before dark and seen the urban devastation) and Des Moines. We'd been on the road since early that morning and were exhausted. We needed a place—any place—to sleep. Only no place was available. We'd been to every motel we saw for several hours, and there was nothing.

It seems a bit silly now, but the word for it then was "despair".

Then Cathy said, "Maybe we should see if Rylla can help us."

Rylla is our 18-year-old daughter who had stayed at home with her girlfriend—and a Glock 17 loaded with Glaser Safety Slugs—to watch the homestead, take care of our animals, and enjoy having the place to themselves for the first time ever. Like Cathy and me, both girls spend an enormous fraction of their lives online. And it had almost seemed like Rylla was with us on both trips—virtually—thanks to the steady stream between us of text messages and phone conversations.

Yes, Rylla was there.

Yes, she'd be happy to look for a room for us online.

As she searched, we folded up our sandwich wrappers, got into the Cruiser, and headed west. Before very long, our daughter told us that she'd found something for us in beautiful downtown Des Moines. It was about twice the rate we'd been paying, but it sounded like heaven to both of us. Rylla took her mother's credit card number and made us a reservation.

From eastern Iowa by wireless telephone to Fort Collins. By Internet from Fort Collins to Des Moines. By cell phone again to us—now tooling down I-80—and back, and our despair was converted, by technology, into something resembling satisfaction and contentment. When we got to Des Moines, we found the elderly but extremely pleasant hotel downtown in surroundings that made my trigger finger twitchy. Happily, I'd strapped a little something back onto my right hip, once we'd left the primitive sacrificial customs of darkest Chicago far behind, so it didn't really matter if there were boogey-men under the poorly-lit parking structure or not, all we wanted was a bed for the night.

Some individuals to whom I've told this story agree with me that it's marvelous. To others it's apparently quite mundane. I guess it depends on where you started. I was born in 1946, the year after the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese packed it in. I grew up in an era when Dick Tracy's two-way wrist radio—we'd call it a cell phone today—was a science fiction concept, and a computer was several large rooms filled with miles and miles of wire and tens of thousands of vacuum tubes.

Vacuum tubes? Well, think of a lightbulb that—no, not the fluorescent kind, the kind that—never mind. Go look it up on Wikipedia.

If I have a point here, it's the same one I've made quite often before. We live in times of wonderful technology and crappy politics. The task before us now is not to let the latter destroy the former. For all that it gets misused by governments in the wars they wage on each other and their own people, technology is life-enhancing and joy-giving.

I am a Type II diabetic who suffered two heart attacks 15 years ago. Between an angioplasty, a direct atherectomy, and more angiograms than I can remember, not to mention about a dozen prescriptions, I'm alive and kicking today, hardy enough to walk a mile or two several times a week and travel more than 4000 miles by car in the space of a month.

I earn my entire living through the use of computers (on which I've written 21 of my 27 books) and do almost all of my professional business (not to mention quite a bit of shopping) over the Internet. In all that time, nearly three decades, I've only met two or three of my book editors (the precise definition is in a sort of flux at the moment, owing to technology) in person, and very few of my fellow authors.

My wife, although she goes to an actual office every morning, was a pioneer in the use of computer technology for business, continues to help it develop today, and is equally reliant on the electronic marvels of our age. Taken altogether, it's a pretty splendid way to live, very like something out of the colored sections of the weekend newspapers (remember them?) they called the "Sunday supplement", where everyone wore abbreviated clothing and traveled in bullet trains through plastic tubes or in giant flying wings over hypermodernistic buildings. We got the buildings and the clothing, plus computers and cell phones. If it weren't for government, we'd have the rest of it, too.

But the Utopia we all live in without knowing it is threatened to a greater degree than most of us appreciate by the coming presidential election.

On the one hand, we have a superannuated would-be Nazi, a crazed old poop who wants to continue the War on Everything, drop bombs on people who never harmed us, and be the World Police for the next 100 years. On the other... well, let's just say that the first time I saw Hillary Clinton, I remarked—for reasons I still can't explain—"that woman has the reek of the deathcamp on her". My impression—based on my understanding of history and human nature—is that Barack Obama is a monster waiting to be given the power to destroy everything Western Civilization has been building for the last 1000 years.

It is a tiny but significant intimation of what we're in for that the man leads a political organization that's planning to outlaw fried foods in Denver—or try to, anyway, while presenting unprecedented opportunity to what F. Paul Wilson called "lipidleggers"—during their upcoming national convention, an undertaking that is laughably petty and yet somehow terrifying in its sheer, insane, authoritarian zeal.

These are beings perfectly willing to kill you and your children for your own good—for what they decide is your safety. Cell phones give you cancer. The Internet is an addiction. Life extension will cover Blessed Mother Earth with that disease called humanity. Using energy will convert the sky into carbonized hummus. Peeing in the ocean will kill all the organisms in it that have a greater right to life than we do. Nuclear power will only allow people to breed more people. Going to other planets will pollute the pristinity of outer space.

With their minds permanently declutched from objective reality now by the religion that they call environmentalism (that the more honest among them call Gaianism), they have already shown themselves more than cheerfully eager to do anything—to us—to save our immortal souls (or whatever) from the hell of Global Warming, a now thoroughly discredited concept that no genuine scientist any longer takes seriously.

To keep what we have, to get more of what we want and need, we must do more than resist. We must thrust forward against and through the forces of politics that would send us reeling back into the Dark Ages.

Where it isn't split in half by irrational fear of terrorists in the closet or under the bed, and irrationally hellbent on revenge for September 11, 2001 on people overseas who didn't have anything to do with it, the general freedom movement is still tangled hopelessly, exactly as our enemies hoped it would be, locked in stupid, futile arguments over that pair of ideological tarbabies, abortion and immigration.

The heart, and what was supposed to have been the brains, of the general freedom movement, libertarians, have taken a tragic misstep by adopting the most suicidal forms of passive resistance—moderation, gradualism, incrementalism—and, in a hideously misguided search for "respectability", meekly handing over their own political party to the Barrbarians, those darkly twisted, shriveled, corrupted thralls of neoconservatism.

It's time for new resolve and real, proactive plans, consistent with principle, for retaking our party, our nation, and civilization itself.

Are you up to it?

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

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

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 has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at, or at


Artemis Zuna Trading Post
Artemis Zuna Trading Post

Help Support TLE by patronizing our advertisers and affiliates.
We cheerfully accept donations!

to advance to the next article
to return to the previous article
Table of Contents
to return to The Libertarian Enterprise, Number 474, June 29, 2008

Big Head Press