Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 543, November 1, 2009

"Each advocate [of socialism] secretly imagines
himself at the top of the hierarchy-to-come"

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It's Just Not Fair!
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

Courtesy of HULU, I saw a couple of interesting documentaries the other day, about a pair of subjects most people would never think of connecting. I don't even know why I saw the connection, in a sort of flash, except that it seems to be my job as a writer. One of them, anyway.

The first was about the Battle of Agincourt, fought in 1415 as a part of the Hundred Years' War. King Henry V of England, who claimed a right to rule some parts of France, and to whom that country allegedly owed a lot of money, made his famous St. Crispin's Day speech (at least in the play Shakespeare named after him) and then proceeded to defeat a French army several times the size of the one he brought with him.

Henry's victory (which surprised even him) would have changed the course of history—can you imagine surly Parisian street characters insulting tourists in a Cockney accent?—except that his heirs piddled away everything he'd won. But what made the victory possible in the first place were mud, the Welsh longbow, and the "gray goose flock".

Perhaps I should explain. The Welsh longbow was a single, well- seasoned carefully-fashioned piece of yew six feet long from tip to tip (when the average archer was more like five foot four). Because the limbs were so long, it was easy to draw and the leverage those long limbs provided could propel an arrow at least a couple hundred yards.

The "gray goose flock" refers to arrows that were three feet long (the expression was "a cloth-yard shaft"), made of ash, and fletched with goose feathers. There is a ballistic characteristic called "sectional density" that I don't really want to go into here, but these arrows had a lot of it, which let them travel a long way, and when they got where they were going, penetrate a guy wearing plate armor, through and through, and nail him to his fancy high-backed saddle.

It was called a flock because the archers working for Henry loosed their yard-long arrows under the direction of a non-com who showed them the proper angle and called the shots—six hundred at a time. The French knights could look up and see and hear death coming at them.

They died by the thousands that day, mired in the mud of freshly plowed fields that had been rained on for a week. The knights didn't want to be cheated of their glory by a mob of peasants (the ones on their side) so they overrode their infantry, hit the mud—and a wall of ash projectiles—fell, man and horse, and were trampled, three deep.

"It's just not fair!" they cried.

For long years afterward, Henry VIII, who used archers to good effect, himself, had to put up with exactly the same whining: the French and other aristocrats complained bitterly about this invention, the Welsh longbow, that nullified a lifetime of training with animals and equipment in which they had invested fortunes, and which could now be defeated by mere farmers using couple of sticks and a piece of string.

"It's just not fair!"

Do what they would, the age of armored knights was over, and that was a very, very good thing. It set up the psychology under which our ancestors, equipped with another revolutionary weapon, the flintlock Pennsylvania or Kentucky rifle, cast off the rule of kings altogether. Most Americans today don't appreciate what was really revolutionary about that rifle: compared with firearms that had preceded it, it was so simple in design and cheap to manufacture, every family could own one.

Politicians and bureaucrats still haven't gotten over it.

The other documentary I watched was part of the Modern Marvels series, concerning "the world's biggest machines". Most of the program was dedicated to giant ships and trucks, airplanes and helicopters, and amazing earthmoving behemoths. The whole thing was extremely entertaining and enlightening. When I saw a ship—so big it was used to bring the U.S.S. Cole home on its deck—move off with the world's largest marine drilling rig, I almost wept to realize that our species is still capable of creating that kind of massive industrial magnificence.

See it on HULU here.

The last item in that program, however, and what prompted me to write this article, was the titanic conglomeration of impossibly complicated machinery that prints, cuts, collates, and folds the Indianapolis Star each day, bundles it up and kicks it out to the waiting trucks for distribution. Each roll of paper is six miles long; thousands of gallons of colored ink are involved, as well. When I was a journalism student in back high school, I toured a much more modest printing plant in Pensacola and had been impressed. The Star's plant goes beyond impressive, hundreds of yards long, housed in a building you could play several simultaneous games of hockey in, full of bright lights and bustling, busy people who seem to know exactly what they're doing.

And suddenly I knew—way, way beyond the differences in politics that seem to capture everyone's attention—exactly why the "Old Media", the "Main Stream Media", hate, loathe, despise, and fear the Internet.

Consider that Matt Drudge of has probably altered the course of American history at least a dozen times. And yet, if in the years he's been operating, he's spent more than one percent of one percent of what it costs to run a lashup like Indianapolis Star, let alone get it to its readers, I would be shocked right down to the ground.

The newspaper has 300,000 readers. Drudge has tens of millions. Even our own modest undertaking, The Libertarian Enterprise, online now for about 15 years, likely reaches the population of a small city, and goes all over the world, on the skinniest shoestring you can imagine.

"It's just not fair!" you can hear the bustling workers bitterly complaining as one huge newspaper after another takes a nosedive into today's mud of Agincourt: obsolesence and bankruptcy. The television networks and stations are right behind them. The paradigm has shifted. The worm has turned. Charles Fort would say it isn't time to newspaper any more. Before too much longer those giant presses will be so much junk.

Medieval aristocrats couldn't uninvent the Welsh longbow, the clothyard arrow, or the gray goose flock. A lot of people today would like to uninvent the Internet. But any individual can now communicate with any other individual all over the planet, and it's too late to stop. Mess with the 'Net as it is, it will simply morph into something else.

That's a very, very, very good thing.

And just not fair at all.

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 more than 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 is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels. Links to Neil's books at are on his website


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