L. Neil Smith's
Number 310, March 13, 2005

"Words and Guns"

Filtering Entertainment
by Jay P Hailey

Exclusive to TLE

I can only speak for myself here. Your opinions and actions may be different from mine. Cool. Go for it.

Not paying taxes is against the law.
If you don't pay taxes, you'll be fined.
If you don't pay the fine, you'll be jailed.
If you try to escape from jail, you'll be shot.
Thus I—in my role as citizen and voter—
am going to shoot you—in your role as taxpayer and ripe suck—
if you don't pay your fair share of the national tab.
Therefore, every time the government spends money on anything, you have to ask yourself, "Would I kill my kindly, gray-haired mother for this?"

From a Libertarian perspective, Star Trek sucks. It's a space fantasy rooted in a brain damaged little atheist socialist utopia. The writers as a general rule are either inhabitants of the political left wing or arguably outright sociopaths.

How can I watch that?

Now if you're looking for something a libertarian can get behind, there's Firefly. The thought process behind Firefly is the polar opposite of Star Trek. It won't make you choke.

In fact I think there's a whole article in going through Firefly and Star Trek line-by-line and comparing them.

Hell, for a while I watched "The West Wing". I didn't shout at my TV much, but when I did, I was serious about it. (The West Wing Depicts a fantasy Democratic Administration, the way Law and Order or CSI depict fantasy Police Officers and JAG presents a Fantasy US Navy...)

So why do I still watch Star Trek? Because I do. I like it. I don't know why. I just do.

Star Trek often disappoints me and I often wind up yelling at my TV screen, incredulous at how the writers can be so dumb. And yet I go back for more.

Recently, in a discussion someone said, paraphrasing, "Remember than when some one talks about that sort of socialism, what that means is that somewhere there is someone with a bayonet in his face."

This is true. The West Wing depicts a charismatic president and staff who always say the clever things, who struggle with questions of right and wrong... and want to take away everyone's guns.

That should make me angry. I should be outraged.

Why am I not outraged? I am taking some ideas and saying "That's just TV." and putting then in one mental box. I am taking the "real" world and my opinions about that and putting them into a different box. I can, mostly, tell a good idea (leaving people alone if they want to be left alone) from a bad idea (taking everyone's guns away) and I do this.

Why? Because there are a lot of bad ideas out there. A lot of them. And there are the results of bad ideas everywhere.

We live a gray world—built on crime and blood. You can't escape it. If I was mad at everything a good Libertarian should be mad about, I'd wind up running down the road naked, screaming and trying not to touch the pavement.

The streets and sidewalks are the results of armed robbery and coercion—someone was robbed at gun point to pay for them.

This affects everything—The TV Show Firefly was filmed in Southern California, one of the more regulated job markets in all existence. The working conditions were governed by whatever organization in California regulates labor relations. Safety regulations were set by OSHA.

Am I tacitly supporting OSHA and the California bureaucracy by watching Firefly and not objecting?

There were probably, democrats and liberals among the production crew. Do I tacitly support their political philosophy by watching their product?

When I buy an L. Neil Smith book, I can't get much more libertarian than that, can I?

But wait. The paper that book was printed on comes from a paper mill. The working conditions in that mill are governed by OSHA as well. The EPA governs what that paper mill can dispose of and how it does so.

The cost for this regulation is added to the price of the paper. The printer buys the paper and makes a book, the distributor buys the book and sells it to me through a book store—and the cost is passed along to me through each step. I am indirectly paying for more government every time I buy an L. Neil Smith Book.

More—every employee is paid in part from the money I enter into that system to get the product I want. And every employee pays taxes (or gets shot as P.J. O'Rourke pointed out) and there I am contributing to the whole thing again.

The world is filled with things like this. And I can make myself absolutely crazy getting mad and staying mad about all of them.

The fact of the matter is we don't live in a libertarian world.

I am all about freedom. If my wife doesn't want to hold Libertarian views, that's her bag. I explain (as calmly and patiently as I can) when I find inaccuracy or error in her thought process. And she nods and says "Yes, Dear," and believes what she damned well wants to anyway.

Am I supposed to divorce her? Am I tacitly supporting a poorly considered political stance when I show affection to her?

She's free to believe whatever she wants as far as I am concerned. I do try to leave other methods of thinking and conceptualizing around where she can find them. She surprises me, often. (Who do you think brought Michael Z Williamson's "Freehold" into the house? She did!)

Anyway—freedom means that some people are going to think differently. If somehow we woke up in Laporte, NAC tomorrow, I am sure there would be miserable, bedraggled socialists somewhere standing on soap boxes in public haranguing people about the woes of the free range capitalist system. I don't think lots of people would listen, but I think somewhere, somehow there will always be someone with a bad idea.

I am free not to buy this bad idea.

In this world, I interact with my wife for a specific set of reasons. And she with me, as well. Our relationship does not hinge on one participant or the other being politically acceptable. We're here for other reasons.

When I buy a book, a well considered world and world view is a plus. What I am really buying it for is to be entertained. James P Hogan manages to do this, even though he apparently doesn't believe in free market capitalism (I suspect he is seeing Mercantilism and calling that Capitalism) and so he imagines very free places and then bends over backwards to try and explain how this could happen without free exchange between people. Or at least free exchange of something other than money.

I read James P Hogan's books because we have an exchange—I put some money down and he tells a tale where I give a damn about what happens to people in the end.

There it is. He may try to load up his story with some of his political ideas. But if he doesn't perform the primary function, entertaining me in exchange for money, I won't purchase his product. Ayn Rand failed me in this manner.

Heinlein succeeds in this manner. The fact that I largely agree with his later Libertarian leanings is icing on the cake. I care about what happens with Juan "Johnny" Rico in Starship Troopers although I suspect I would not like living there very much.

I can filter the entertainment from the ideas. And I don't have to accept the ideas.

Show me a story where the protagonist must face an exciting and engaging question of right and wrong, and I am there. That's the product I want. I am a sucker for explorations of the nature of right and wrong in the actions of protagonists and their friends and foes.

Sometimes Star Trek manages this. Firefly managed it in every episode (It clearly is a superior product), James P Hogan manages it in his books and so does L Neil Smith. (and Charles Sheffield, and Robert B Parker and so on, and so on.)

Whether I am a "good" libertarian is another question, and perhaps one open for discussion.

I am not going to filter my entertainment for "political correctness" from any angle. If a liberal, gay, transvestite astrologer writes a good story set in Plato's Republic, and it happens to catch my attention, I'll give it a shot.

When Noam Chomsky starts talking about state supported mercantilism as "Capitalism" I know he's off base. What I like about him is how he identifies the problems of our modern political milieu. So what if he's an Anarcho-Syndicalist? I am not buying solutions from him. I know what solutions I'd prefer. Freedom!

The filter is in my head and in what I let stay resident.

The faith God gave a Mustard Seed—

"—if you have faith like a mustard seed, you can move mountains."—Matthew 17:20

As I understand it—the goal of the "Freedom Movement" (as such) is to eventually move the world closer to freedom.

I agree with Scott Bieser—The culture is what needs to change. Politics and institutions will change to follow that. So to popularize the ideas, the Memes of freedom if you will is a good way to try and accomplish this.

Well once upon a time I had to look at myself, identify what was wrong with me and start taking steps to fix it. I couldn't fix myself over night. It has been a long process of incremental change over time.

Moving a mountain? Easy. Select the new spot for the mountain. Approach the mountain. Pick up a rock. Take it to the new location. Place rock in new location. Repeat.

You'll be working on it for a while, but if you keep it up one day at a time, you'll get there.

This is a metaphor and so not terribly accurate. In trying to change western culture, we're dealing with a living, moving thing. And one that has other forces acting upon it.

Tough. Compared to a mountain I am small and there is no way in hell I am going to lift a whole mountain at once.

So I keep moving the rocks and I keep remembering why. I want to be a better person. I want to be a freer person.

If you get there by a different path, more power to you. We'll meet there in the end.

But I can't stay mad all the time. And I can't boycott everything that's not purely libertarian. I am not sure I'd want to even if I could.

I do remember who I am and where I'd like to wind up. And that will have to do the trick.


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