L. Neil Smith's
Number 178, June 17, 2002


"Now You Have A Choice!"
by L. Neil Smith

Exclusive to TLE

My old friend Scott Graves ("Why I Hate Gunnies", TLE #177) couldn't be more wrong if he were a member in good standing of the Bush Administration.

His complaint, based on 12 years in the freedom movement, boils down to an inability on his part to persuade rugged individualists to agree with him about everything. Sooner or later, he says, no matter how enthusiastically they embrace libertarians on issues like the Second Amendment, you're going to run into an issue -- usually the War on Drugs -- where they can't or won't agree, and where they're willing or even eager to let the government have its way with the Bill of Rights.

Fair enough. I've known politically active gun people just like that, as we all have. Although I've known many more who finally came to understand that the War on Drugs was simply an excuse to build the foundation for an American police state, and have made the transition -- sometimes it took them years -- from conservative to libertarian. It wasn't easy to bring them to that understanding and transition, but if it were easy, anyone could do it, and we'd all be living in a free country today.

Regrettably, Scott falls back on old stereotypes, portraying gun folks as illiterate rednecks. The statistical fact is that they're better educated and make more money than the average. Lots of doctors and lawyers are gun owners, and about a billion and a half computer geeks.

Those gunny types Scott says he hates are what Heinlein (or was it Patton?) called "stiff-necked sons-of-bitches". They're nobody's pushovers. They've resisted every attempt so far by the socialist culture they live in to deprive them of their homes, their cars, their tobacco, their meat, their alcohol, their belief systems, and their morality. When you've finally turned them around, you've accomplished something, and you generally have an ally you can count on for the rest of your life.

Instead of trying to make nice with gun people Scott says, we (whoever the hell "we" are) should be courting ... wait for it ... druggies. He's not the first to say it -- I had two messages in my Inbox just this morning, advocating a similar strategy. I've been active in the freedom movement for three times as long as Scott has, and every few years somebody -- it began with Karl Hess and Murray Rothbard, as I recall -- is always proposing to turn the left wing into libertarians.

The trouble is, it's a complete waste of time and energy. Although I'm sure there must be exceptions, if only because there are to every sociopolitical observation, in my experience, druggies can't think their way out of a wet paper bag, and agree with the last person who talked to them. You may congratulate yourself for "turning them around" today, but the next time you see them, they'll be wearing a McCain button.

And, too, the notion of principle seems beyond the intellectual reach of most lefties. For decades, the "virtues" of "flexibility" and compromise have been drummed into them, until they're as ideologically watertight as a screen door in a submarine. If you involve yourself with them in some coalition effort, you have to watch your back all the time, either because they're stupid or perfidious -- a stand on principle and a regard for the truth being outmoded "bourgeois" values to them.

Maybe that's just my 40 years in the movement talking, what do I know? But what I think Scott is doing -- I've known him a long time -- is generalizing his experience inappropriately. He says he's gone to plenty of gun shows and the situation described above is how it always turns out. With all due respect -- and absolutely no insult intended -- the way Scott chooses to dress and groom himself, his manner of speaking, are much better suited to approaching druggies. Maybe he should limit himself to that and let others among us communicate with the gunnies.

Scott's reaction to the candidacy of Rick Stanley for the senate tells us a lot. Stanley is the Colorado libertarian who deliberately got himself arrested in Denver for carrying a gun, and who upset a whole bunch of people (including many other Colorado libertarians) by saying that the Second Amendment turncoat, Republican Senator Wayne Allard (about whom I've written myself, on occasion), ought to be hanged.

I hadn't seen Scott for a couple of years -- he'd moved away from Fort Collins -- and was quite surprised and disappointed that he was frightened by a Stanley bid for the senate. How, he asked me, are we going to get other candidates to run alongside a loose cannon like Stanley? I was disappointed because Scott was once a loose cannon, himself.

I like loose cannons.

We happened to be in Leadville when we had this conversation, at a preconvention cocktail party. I'd have thought that what had just gone down in that town would have taught Scott and everyone else like him a lesson. Leadville was ballyhooed as the first US community with a libertarian majority on its city council. Trouble was, it was a majority containing at least one semi-quasi-almost-principled specimen -- you know, a Nerf libertarian -- who folded the first time any pressure was put on him, and resigned from the LP on the eve of the convention there.

Very embarrassing.

And that's the kind of creature you're making room for on your ticket when you soften your stance and timidly avoid nominating men (and women) of principle like Stanley. I don't agree with everything Stanley says or does. I don't agree with everything anybody says or does. But I'd a hell of a lot rather have a candidate like him than the spineless, bloodless, gutless organism who wimped out on us in Leadville.

To put the whole thing in perspective, let me tell you a story about my experience at a gun show. I was wandering around, drooling on various tables, when I happened to overhear a conversation between the organizer of the show and one of the dealers. They didn't even know I was there.

"I've gotten to be pro-choice on everything," the dealer said. "Pro- choice on guns, pro-choice on abortion, pro-choice on drugs, too."

The organizer nodded. "My sister and her husband are protesters at abortion clinics. She chains herself by the neck to porch railings and what-have-you so people can't get in and the cops have to come and cut her out. Well, if my wife or daughter needed an abortion, and my sister was blocking their path, I'd put the hook from the winch on my 4x4 through the chain on her neck and tell her, 'Sis, now you've got a choice!'"

It's working, but there are no shortcuts. The humbling fact is that George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Ashcroft are manufacturing more allies for us than we could ever have done on our own.

You just have to be patient and persistent.

That's all.

Three-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith is the author of 23 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collection of articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at http://www.lneilsmith.org Autographed copies may be had from the author at lneil@lneilsmith.org


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