L. Neil Smith's
Number 306, February 13, 2005

Happy Anniversary!

The Death of Hope

by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

Although I predicted last year that UPN would do its damnedest to kill off Star Trek: Enterprise, a series they renewed only under the immense, diamond-squeezing pressure that Star Trek fans have learned to apply to television networks over the past thirty-something years—moving Archer and his friends from Wednesday to Friday evening was a dead giveaway—I was caught by surprise by the curt announcement, immediately following this week's episode, that it would be among the last.

Just like any libertarian, I have always had certain predictable moral and ideological disagreements with the monumental and totally unprecedented series of TV series (never forgetting nearly a dozen full-length theatrical movies) Star Trek consists of. But with the end of Enterprise, I will no longer have a reason to watch broadcast television.

I hope somebody who tries to sell ad-time is listening.

Now I had already observed the way that science fiction shows (and some of the better fantasies) had been disappearing. With Buffy and Angel gone, B5 over, Star Trek dead, and Firefly languishing in bureaucratic limbo, there's nothing left but utter garbage aimed at convincing us that our fellow beings are vicious criminals who haven't been caught yet—and I'm just talking about supermodel and "talent" shows.

My wife's observation is shorter and sarcastic: hey, the network has to make room for more bottom-of-the-pond-scum sitcoms (they're in such short supply, after all) and entertainments where they deposit a gaggle of morons on some desert island and let them vote each other to death.

Another fairly recent development—following a decade of cop shows dedicated to decreasing our sensitivity to having our rights defecated on by the boys in blue—are all of the forensic dramas charged with convincing us that there is no point in resisting the authorities because all their tech-heavy and omniscient investigators need from us is a smudged print from a butt-cheek, sufficiently fumed with cyanoacrylates, and a sample of our halitosis, to demonstrate scientifically that we are all dangerous subversives who must be put away.

On one of these shows I actually heard a federal thug—who was supposed to be the hero—threatening to charge a sheriff's deputy under the Patriot Act for insisting that it must be locals who are in charge. Of course spoilsports who insist on search warrants are the villains.

But aside from the relatively simple task of intimidating anybody inclined to march to a different drummer (or to no drummer at all), while making oppressors look like liberators (the same guff they're peddling in Iraq), this kind of propaganda—first developed by Jack Webb to make the Los Angeles Police Department look like something other than what it was: the most violent and corrupt police force this side of Ankara—has a longer range objective: to stamp out any hope for a better future than the prison presently being constructed around us.

Imagining the future in any detail is a mental operation of the highest order—one that those in power have no wish to encourage. People capable of that sort of thinking might eventually notice, say, that it wasn't Afghanistan or Iraq that attacked us in September of 2001, but card-carrying subjects of a monarchy we like to pretend is friendly to us, but who would follow the example of Jesse Jackson, if they they thought it would do any good, and spit in the oil they sell us.

The first duty of any police state is to keep its victims from escaping. Some use concrete and barbed wire. Others, recognizing that mental escape is far more dangerous than physical escape, use methods like drug laws and censorship. Permitting subjects to imagine—let alone write and produce stories of—a future that doesn't include the Omnipotent State is intolerable, a clear step in the direction of cultural suicide (an escape route which the State routinely denies to individuals).

Space represents the ultimate escape, of course. For decades, for all our lives, many of us who grew up with the idea, have believed that humanity in general, and not just government-approved jockstraps, would eventually get off this dirtball (the environmentalists can have it) and reestablish ourselves in new places—today the Solar System, tomorrow the stars—where, thanks to a reinvigorated principle of liberty, peace, prosperity, and progress would be the order of the day.

Freeman Dyson put an even finer point on it. Once we get out to the asteroids, he told a magazine interviewer, the IRS will never find us.

This, of course, the police state can never permit. And to make things even worse, the future that rational individuals envision is in stark, violent conflict with the "vision thing" of our current rulers, whose dark religious fanaticism, scratched deeply enough, makes the most wild-eyed Muslim bomb-thrower seem a paragon of purest reason by contrast.

Obsessed with the expected "End Times"—expected, that is, every second Thursday for the past five thousand years—and a terror of having their behinds left, our view of steady human advancement and an endless frontier makes their beliefs appear infantile, punitive, and irrational.

They can't allow that, so the Captain and T'Pol have to go.

For the time being, then, we're back to print. All we have to keep our hope alive is a handful of science fiction writers who still write ... well, science fiction (as opposed to the stuff I've been seeing for the last couple decades on the racks in grocery and drugstores). Writers who see it as a sacred calling to envision and concretize futures better than those under construction by the Right and the Left.

Futures worth imagining.

Futures worth working toward.

Futures worth fighting for.

This is why I write the way I do, in case you didn't know it, especially Pallas and its sequels Ceres, which I've just finished, and Ares which I'm starting next week. They present a long, deep future in which men and women rather like us are reaching for the stars.

UPN has decided to help the current anti-future regime by reaching for the mud. But they will never, ever darken my television screen again.

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.

Neil is presently at work on Ceres and Ares, two sequels to his 1993 novel, Pallas, a decensored and electronically published version of his 1984 novel, Tom Paine Maru, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May. A 185-page full-color graphic novel version of The Probability Broach has just been released by BigHead Press.

Order The Probability Broach: The Graphic Novel from:
Laissez-Faire Books or from Amazon.com


Serenity, the FIREFLY movie
Serenity: The Official Movie Website

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