Conscripting Our Future

by L. Neil Smith
[email protected]

Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

It’s good to be alive.

I can say that with some authority because, up until the middle of this week, I thought there was a small chance I wouldn’t be alive much longer.

It started innocently enough. I had decided to start a personal exercise program because all I’ve ever hunted were rabbits and mule deer, and I wanted to go elk hunting this fall. I have the rifles for it, a .35 Whelen and a .416 Rigby. Somewhere out there, too, I know, is an American bison with my name on it, and maybe even a big Alaskan bear.

I had tentatively engaged a professional to design an exercise program for me — one of the coaches at the local ice rink where I’ve written my last four books — but I thought it might be a good idea at my age (56), and with my medical history (among other things I have adult-onset diabetes and asthma), to get a go-ahead from my family physician. A hunter and fisherman himself, he agreed that my goals were reasonable, but added that he wanted me to undergo something called a “nuclear treadmill test” just to make sure my heart was up to it.

I’d had dozens of treadmill tests, although most of them seemed to be powered by electricity, or maybe kerosene, but I went and took the nuclear test anyway. What they do is shoot you up with a radioactive tracer, scan your heart once you’ve rested for half an hour, then put you on the treadmill until you’re up to a respectable fraction of your maximum allowable heart rate, shoot you with the tracer, and scan you again.

The test indicated I had a blockage in one of the arteries that feed my pump and that I was a heart attack waiting to happen. If so, it would be my third. They scheduled me for an angiogram that would be my third, as well. An angiogram is where they poke a hole in you where your torso joins your leg, slip a long plastic tube up your femoral artery into your coronary arteries, squirt you with X-ray-opaque dye, and take pictures. I had wanted an exercise program in the first place because I seemed to be growing less energetic by the day over the past year or so, more easily winded and prone to fatigue. Now I began to worry.

It really wasn’t that big a deal, I suppose, and it was an old story. Ten years ago this coming June and October, I’d had a couple of “myocardial infarctions” — heart attacks — at a pretty young age for that sort of thing. However the wonders of modern science and a loving and supportive family had taken care of all that, and I was still standing.

An earlier brush with the Grim Reaper had come in the late 70s, when my inflamed appendix had burst during the process of having it removed, and I’d gotten a nasty staphylococcus infection. I was told then that if it had happened just ten years earlier, I would have died, and that I owed my continued existence to new and effective antibiotics.

Twenty years later, I had a diabetic seizure (frankly, I’d rather have had another heart attack) and again, procedures and products that might have seemed like science fiction only a little earlier (a brief period on insulin, for example, made by microorganisms created to produce it in vaster amounts than sheep could, and that didn’t spoil at room temperature, and later on a couple of spiffy wonder drugs) assured that I’d go on annoying statists and critics for another few decades.

Now I wouldn’t inflict all of this sordid medical history on you without a very good reason. It was necessary in order to point out that the “life extension” we’ve all looked forward to throughout the 40-year history of the freedom movement has been going on, all of that time, whether we were there to help it along (or even notice it) or not.

The operation that saved my life twice, 10 years ago, but kept me in the hospital for three or four days each time (sort of a miracle in itself, if you think about it; earlier on it would have been for weeks or months), is now an outpatient procedure. I showed up in the morning at the crack of yawn, they did their mad scientist thing in about 45 minutes, kept an eye on me a couple of hours, and then sent me home with the knowledge that I did, indeed, have a 100% occlusion of the right coronary artery, but that my heart had constructed “collateral circulation” that gave it a better blood supply than it had to begin with.

Guess who’s going elk hunting in the fall?

But the point, as far as it concerns anybody else, is this. In the 70s, somebody — I think it was Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw — told us that for each year we manage to make it through, science is extending our lifespans by two years. Not only do I believe it, I’m proof of it. But this splendid process is by no means automatic. It stands on three legs: sufficient wealth to power it; adequate communication between scientists and physicians; and the freedom to do that science without interference.

The bad news is that all three are under attack as I write this. The wealth that powers human life extension may not be there much longer. It’s about to be taxed away from the individuals who created it, to pay for insane military adventurism in the Middle East and elsewhere. The Bush-Clinton-Bush Administrations’ stupid policies have already plunged this country into something that would be called a depression if economists were still allowed to use that word. And they are about to kill the last golden goose by regulating and taxing the Internet.

It gets worse. In one of my early novels, The Nagasaki Vector, I predicted that the Soviet Empire would collapse of its own weight. I had many reasons for making that prediction, and it didn’t seem that outlandish to me, although “older, wiser heads” differed with me at the time. A principle reason I made the prediction, a reason it came true, was that Soviet scientists weren’t at liberty, as were their western counterparts, to exchange information freely with one another. In an era of history that’s defined by science the way ours happens to be, restricting that particular liberty constitutes a death-blow to civilization.

As if to underline this point, I saw a program on PBS the other night in which archaeologists discovered that Viking colonists in Greenland during the Little Ice Age died of starvation only because their priests wouldn’t let them learn from the Inuit who had moved down there from further North and survived the climate change very handily.

Now the same death-blow is being dealt to our civilization by ambitious, power-hungry politicos. I first saw it happen last summer, at a symposium on X-ray lasers that my wife helped organize. I tagged along, in part because it meant lounging around, pretending to work, at a luxury resort high in the Rockies, and in part because I thought X-ray lasers might be important in the novel, Ceres, I’d begun planning.

While the occasion was delightful — I got to meet and talk with scientists from all over the world — there was one cloud hanging over it. Five members of an eight-member delegation from mainland China had been prevented by the American government from attending. Mind you, nothing anybody was doing at this symposium was any great secret. This was just the Bushies flexing their muscles. And it could be costly to civilization if someone else — say the Chinese — make the next big breakthrough.

I can make the case — and I will sometime, in another column — that it isn’t secret weapons that end wars, anyway, but the weapons your enemy knows about and fears. We’d have won World War II without nukes; the Japanese were on their knees. Nor am I impressed with “smart” bombs that blow up aspirin factories or stealth aircraft that are limited to subsonic speeds and can’t fly in the rain. Maybe that last is why Silverfoot Junior chose the Middle East to pick a fight in.

Recently a friend of mine in a position to know told me that our universities have started “going dark”, meaning that they’ll no longer share, with the citizens forced to pay for them, any of their projects or discoveries deemed sensitive to issues of national security. Such items are being systematically removed from websites all over the country.

“Going dark” — as in Dark Ages, which only ended when a free flow of information, ironically from the Muslim world, made it possible for Europeans to recreate and eventually to surpass the glories of a lost past.

Not that government in general or the Bush-Clinton-Bush regime in particular has ever been very friendly to any kind of science that you can’t blow things up with. At some level — the level at which I try to understand Neanderthal superstitions and customs — I understand their opposition to research involving fetal stem cells. Being both ignorant and butt-stupid, they don’t know — because they don’t want to know — that human beings are made, not born, so to them, “every sperm is sacred”. Of course that’s never stopped them from raining fiery death down on pregnant women and ten-year-old goatherds. But their irrational hysteria over the creation of clones goes far beyond that.

There simply isn’t any reason for it — with emphasis on the word “reason”. A couple of years ago, I heard that paragon of conservative ignorance, butt-stupidity, hypocrisy, and irrationality, Michael Reagan, inform his listeners that a clone can’t have a soul. Now how the hell does he know that? Maybe one of those Viking priests told him.

Whatever the case, here we all are, right back at the Age of the Inquisition. The politicians, parasites every one, have conscripted our future in order to fight their war — a war to corner the market on an obsolete commodity, petroleum. They’re muzzling the scientists and engineers who would likely have produced that future. And now they’re joggling their elbows, telling them what they may and may not investigate.

I used to be confident that if I could make it through the next ten years, science would find a way to help me live another twenty. Now I’m not so sure. All three legs of the tripod of scientific progress that I described are being kicked out from under it. I’ve always thought it was appropriate that a sickle was an important symbol both for Death and for the Soviet Union. Now I think we may have to find a place for it in the Great Seal of the United States, as well.

The only way to fight back is to go on as we’ve been doing — but with a better understanding of what’s at stake. Government’s power to steal what it wants at gunpoint must be abolished. We must strive to make that the “slavery” issue of the 21st century. And before that, we need a new amendment separating science — especially medicine — and State.


Reprinted from The Libertarian Enterprise for January 27, 2003

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