Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 426, July 15, 2007

"Get a rope."



by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

Okay, class, it's time for a review.

A "fnord", in case you've forgotten (or never knew) is a special symbol that, as Discordian teachings would have it, gets inserted in magazine or newspaper articles, or in radio or television programs, by our Secret Rulers (you know who they are), to alarm and terrify the population at an unconscious level, setting off a very carefully preconditioned urge to hurry to government authority for safety and comfort.

Discordian? A belief system, a comparatively new one, introduced by Greg Hill, Kerry Thornley, Robert Anton Wilson, and Robert Shea, with a surprising number of adherents, based on worship of—or at least a healthy respect for—Discordia, the ancient Roman goddess of confusion.

Known even better by her Greek name, Eris (her devotees also call themselves Erisians), she is, at least to me, the deity I'd venerate if I were inclined to venerate deities. Symbolically, Eris embodies an idea I find highly worthy of contemplating, that in chaos, there might just be room for a little freedom. Discordians tend to be anarchists at heart. The most dedicated among their number don't even care for the idea of natural law, because they feel that it cramps their style.

Then there's the deal about the Golden Apple marked with—but I digress.

The fnords were first described in Principia Discordia, the "Bible" of the Discordian movement, but most of us became acquainted with them in Illuminatus!, by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, and its various sequels. According to the story, the preconditioning begins when we enter the public school system. Whenever we remember afterward a visit to our Kindergarten or Third Grade class by the music or the art teacher, what actually happened is that someone came and hypnotized an entire room full of little kiddies, showed them the fnords, and then set off some horribly frightening stimulus: the sight of blood, a loud noise, a bright flash, an electric shock, or a bad smell—and then drilled into us that only the government could save us, and we must forget the whole classroom experience at a conscious level.

The next time we saw the fnords (in the Weekly Reader, in the Sunday funnies, or on Sesame Street) we wouldn't be aware that we'd actually seen them, but we'd experience a sense of vague disquiet and disconnected fear—and look to the government to make it stop. The achievement of enlightenment, in these terms, means learning to see the fnords consciously again, and shake free of their influence over us.

Not many individuals have achieved this kind of enlightenment—a great many fewer, as it turns out, than I would have believed before the airliners hit the towers. Literally overnight, decent, rational Democrats, Republicans, and even a handful of weaker Libertarians became rabid warmongers and racists, based only on the lies being told them by authorities none of them had regarded as credible the day before.

Somewhere back along the way, somebody—maybe it was ol' Ben Mussolini, maybe it was Joe Goebbels—discovered that the Big Scare is an even more effective technique than the Big Lie. Not to be outdone by foreigners, throughout American history, we've always had our Little Scare of the Year: demon rum, comic books, smoking in bed, video arcades, skateboards, pit bulls, computer games, Internet chat rooms.

Likewise, we've always had our Big Scare of the Decade: the Yellow Peril, White Slavery, the Huns, the Red Scare, the Nips, Communism, the Cold War, and most recently, Global Terrorism. Sometimes Americans—as Ben Wattenburg once observed of liberals—seem to be afraid of "every known phenomenon". It isn't hard—and never has been—to stampede most of them in any direction you want, with a big enough explosion.

The explosion, in this case, was the attack on the World Trade Center. Back in 1898, it was the explosion of the Maine. Later, it was the sinking of the Lusitania, or the air attack on Pearl Harbor. In each case, it conveniently came just in time to save the careers of countless politicians and bureaucrats, gave them unprecedented money and power, and cost us and our forebears a slice of their individual freedom.

Of course there had to be a villain in all of this, the brutal and decadent Spaniards, leering, crippled Kaiser Bill and his hordes of orcish minions, the goofy Emperor of Japan and his subjects, with their protruding teeth and Coke-bottle spectacles. But the good old- fashioned epithets—camel jockeys, sand-n-words—for our enemy du jour are no longer enough. Muslims first became "Islamists" and when that didn't prove sufficiently insulting and dehumanizing, they became "Islamofascists", an old neoconservative mind-trick that works only on those who haven't ever known any Muslims on a close and personal basis.

Would it surprise you to discover that the reason the Egyptians threw the Russians out in the 1950s, despite all the technical aid and assistance the latter had given the former by way of dams, electric plants, and so on, is that under communism, the state takes from the individual on the basis of his ability, and redistributes this stolen wealth on the basis of somebody else's need? Such a political doctrine was anathema to Muslims because it deprives the individual of the moral choice to obey the Prophet and the Koran in the matter of charity.

I am not an individual of particularly tender sensibilities, but I find myself increasingly disgusted by those who see this conflict as a god-given opportunity to talk about Arabs and Muslims the same way that their fathers and grandfathers and great grandfathers used to talk about black, Chinese, Irish, Italian, and Polish people. To be certain, there is plenty to dislike about Islam—all religions being, to my mind, equally evil, crazy, and stupid—but the cruelty and other ugly traits being attributed to its believers by neocons who've finally found a group it's safe to hate out loud is not among them.

A much better word for it—the mind-trick, not the people—is "Islamofnordism".

What actually frightens the neocons isn't the content of Islamic belief, but the devotion to them that allows a Muslim to die—to kill himself—for his faith. Neocons, for all of their religious blithering, do not possess courage and conviction like that. Most of them avoided the draft in the 1960s, one way or another, and have been content to let other mothers' sons do their killing and dying for them.

(Before anybody else says it, I avoided the Vietnam era draft, because I detested a war being waged for no reason against a people who should have been our friends. Because, in every one of America's too many wars, the man who might have found the cure for cancer or diabetes was killed with a bullet, a bomb, or a bayonet, and never got around to his life's real work. And because every cell in my being hates, loathes, and despises slavery of any kind, especially military slavery. On the other hand, I have never sent anybody else off to die, and it would be an extremely serious error to mistake my opposition to the government's wars for an unwillingness or inability to defend myself.)

But I digress once again.

What's the point to all this, then? I suppose it's that some of the warmest, kindliest, most generous people I've ever known were Muslims (and Arab Christians), and, on the other hand, some of them were Newfoundlanders, Catholics and Anglicans who come from an equally unforgiving environment and are just as warm, kindly, and generous. Neither people is especially gentle, but, left to themselves, most of them, and practically everybody else I've ever known, love their wives or husbands (or want to be able to), treasure their children, and only want peace, freedom, and prosperity for themselves and for everybody else.

Maybe it isn't the people, after all. Maybe Roddenberry and all those other socialist science fiction writers have been wrong all along. Maybe Mankind isn't warlike to its genetic core—people don't start wars, after all, governments do; it's the people who are forced to fight them. Maybe war is the biological byproduct of putrescently corrupt politicians, the media pimps and prostitutes who service them, and a few well-chosen "useful idiots" for man-in-the-street interviews and Congressional committee testimony. They're the "insane barbers" who are responsible for the horrible, dangerous mess the world's in today.

What can we do about it?

Start by learning to see the damn fnords. Whenever you feel like somebody's trying to stampede you, it's most likely because somebody's trying to stampede you. Refuse to be stampeded by the politicians, by the academics, and by the empty hairsprayed heads of the round-heeled mass media. Ask yourself what they might have to gain by making you hate people in faraway lands whom you don't know, and who don't know you.

And then, as the old picante sauce commerical advised us, "Get a rope".

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is presently looking for a literary home.

A decensored, e-published version of Neil's 1984 novel, TOM PAINE MARU is available at: 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 has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at, or at


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