L. Neil Smith's
Number 344, November 6, 2005

"It's the American thing to do."

There is No "Joe Sixpack"
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

A few weeks ago, on one of the Internet mailing lists where I hang out, another correspondent was holding forth on what he believed was needed for libertarians to get their message out to someone he called "Joe Sixpack".

He had no way of knowing—nor should he necessarily have given a damn—that this turn of phrase has always annoyed the hell out of me. If the writer had belonged to another generation, he might have referred, instead, to Mencken's "booboisie", to the "great unwashed", the "masses", or the "people", as in, "Your People, Sir, are a Great Beast!"

I never use expressions like "Joe Sixpack", if only because, as individuals who want to change the world around us, we'll never get anywhere, we'll never touch the hearts and minds of the people living in it with us, by insulting or talking down to them. The principle seems elementary to me, but, as they say on the 'Net, your mileage may vary.

Still, there's an even more important reason never to refer to our fellow human beings that way. I once had a brief but rather vehement argument with another science fiction author (I've written about it before), definitely not a libertarian, but fairly well known to our crowd. The fellow claimed falsely that he knew my work and that I made a habit of saying that, politically and philosophically, Americans are sleeping, and if they could be awakened somehow, libertarianism would triumph.

Of course I've never said anything like that. As I've noted on many another occasion, if Americans were sleeping, there'd have been no milk on your porch or in the dairy case this morning, no meat in the counter, not even any cereal boxes on the shelves. We wouldn't have any electricity or running water. Americans are as busy as they can be, making our civilization function, taking care of themselves and of their families. Politics is only tangentially important to them, if at all.

We do have to change that last bit, at least a little, but we'll never do it by baby-talking those around us as if they were morons. They aren't. Look around you at the the world, and every other time in history. Americans are the brightest, most progressive, most peaceful people in the history of the planet, and somehow most of them manage to get out of bed in the morning and do it every day, despite being looted and hobbled by vicious swarms of insanely violent, parasitic bloodsuckers who call themselves governments, federal, state, and local.

We can't change that by trying to fool folks into becoming free, with not-quite-clever strategies and half-assed, deceptive tactics. The Libertarian Party has been trying to do exactly that for decades, condescending to the people around us, trying to protect their tender sensibilities from the "terrible" truths about genuine, unvarnished libertarianism.

Heaven forbid they should find out that we want them to keep every cent they earn, to spend it exactly as they wish, on whatever they happen to want, to possess the tools to defend themselves and their families when nobody else can do it, and to enjoy absolute, inviolable privacy.

Heaven forbid Americans should discover that we want to take the criminals depriving all of us of those simple things, extract as much restitution from them as possible, then throw them in jail somewhere, so they can feel like the rest of us feel most of the time, thanks to them.

Heaven forbid.

The simple fact of the matter is that there is no Joe Sixpack—or, rather, that everybody is somebody else's Joe Sixpack. You may think that what the other fellow likes to do with his life, his time, his energy, and his money is trivial, unworthy, even disgusting. And he may think the same of what you do. Every one of us is interested in very different things, dedicated personally to all kinds of different pursuits. And that's exactly how it should be, and what it's all about.

And he should be free to do it without interference or haranguing by withered souls whose real complaint is that someone, somewhere, is happy.

Earlier this week, after anticipating it for months, my wife and daughter went to see Paul McCartney ("Sir Pauly", as they call him), performing on tour. To my eye, the event resembled a kind of religious experience. As they described it later, the vast auditorium in Denver had more people in it—merely from this region—each and every one of them shouting, cheering, and sobbing by turns, than the libertarian Free State Project has ever been able to attract from the entire country.

Now I've seen a great deal of talk online, disparaging those who will gather in great numbers, and at great effort and expense, for the comparatively trivial purpose of seeing a rock legend or a famous sports team, but can't be persuaded to come together to save their country. That's where a lot of the "Joe Sixpack", "booboisie", "great unwashed", "masses", or "Your People, Sir, are a Great Beast!" stuff appears.

My habit in those circumstances is to ask the disparagers, "Well, what do you offer that's a tenth as attractive to folks (to them; never mind what you think they ought to want) as Sir Pauly or, say, the Denver Broncos?" Sure, we libertarians are dead right about what's wrong with America and the world in general. Sure, we libertarians are dead right about how to fix it. But after a long, hard week of putting the milk on your porch or in the dairy case, the meat in the counter, and the cereal boxes on the shelves, after keeping the electricity and the water flowing, making our civilization function, and taking care of themselves and their families, maybe they feel they deserve a night off.

Anybody who begrudges them is dead wrong.

And always remember that, as bad as things may seem to us, as bleak as the future may appear, the times are better for the average American today than anyplace else in the world, at any other time in history. Why should anybody give a rat's ass about what's important to libertarians?

We've made a mistake of historical proportions, really, believing that we're in competition with fascism and socialism, with Republicans and Democrats. They're insignificant. The truth is that it's Sir Paul McCartney we're competing with, and the Denver Broncos. I'm not saying that we have to be mindlessly entertaining, only that we have to offer individuals something as attractive and interesting as our competitors do. I'm not certain what that is, even now, although I've looked for it, every day of the forty-three years I've spent in the movement, and on every page of the twenty-five books I've written, so far, about freedom.

From time to time, we libertarians talk among ourselves about what makes us different. The pursuit we're dedicated to is liberty. But I won't deride the trucker who labors to bring me jeans to wear, or the doctors and nurses who saved my foot from being amputated last year, or the weary waitress who carries fajitas sizzling to my table with a smile.

Whether I ever find the key to their hearts and minds or not (I suspect it's far likelier that the government will eventually drive them to something resembling a revolution), I will treat them with the admiration, gratitude, and respect that they deserve. And I'll always tell them the plain truth, every single damned time. It's what I owe them, and that way I'll have a much better chance of getting their attention.

That's my strategy, it always has been, and I don't plan to change it.

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (w/Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" www.lneilsmith.org. Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is looking for a literary home.

A decensored, e-published version of Neil's 1984 novel, TOM PAINE MARU is now available online: http://payloadz.com/go/sip?id=137991.

Neil is presently working on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May. The stunning 185-page full-color graphic-novelized version of The Probability Broach, which features the art of Scott Bieser and was published by BigHead Press www.bigheadpress.com has recently won a Special Prometheus Award.It may be had through the publisher,at Amazon.com or at billofrightsPress.com.


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