Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 436, September 23, 2007

"First Day of Autumn"

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The Bottom of the Birdcage
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

Sometimes, when I think about how long I've been involved in politics, one way or another, I am utterly astonished. Nobody really ever expects to get old. And sometimes, during those gray, bleak moments around two o'clock in the morning, I wonder if I haven't wasted my life, considering the amount of progress that I—not to mention countless others in the general freedom movement—haven't made.

My first time on the line was in 1961, when most of the student body of my alma mater, Choctawhatchee High School (yes, that's what I said—rhymes with "booby-hatchie"), traveled all the way from Fort Walton Beach, the biggest little city in Okaloosa County, Florida, to the quaint little county seat in Crestview, to spend their Saturday in what was then a reasonably novel and unprecedented attempt to picket the damn school board into giving our school some badly needed repair money.

Yeah, I know, not very libertarian. But I was 15, only getting started philosophically, and there were several cute girls involved, a splendiferous number of them named "Gail". Not to mention a chance to play a borrowed Stella 12-string all day, just like the one on which Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter famously composed "Good Night Irene". The Stella was, shall we say "inexpensive", and boy did my fingers hurt afterward.

As I recall, we did manage to get some newspaper reporters to come up and talk to us, and I believe at least one TV channel from nearby Pensacola. But it was then that I first suffered an extremely strange and very frustrating experience. If you've ever been associated with anything that got the attention of the media, I'm sure that you'll recognize it immediately. It was exactly as if the reporters and TV personalities had attended some gathering other than the one all of us had.

The simple truth is that, in all the forty-six years since, during which I've been pretty politically aware and active, there hasn't been a single issue, event, or phenomenon—not one—that the mainstream media haven't lied about, blatantly misrepresented or distorted, or overlooked, ignored, or suppressed, by accident or design. Even when they try, the fools never get it right. I have never been involved in anything I would have recognized afterward from their description of it.

Thomas Jefferson believed that a free press would be the salvation of this country's libertarian values and traditions, but sadly he was wrong. The mass media are uniformly populated by cowards, bullies, and toadies who will unfailingly suck up to whomever they perceive to have power—and immediately fall upon and rip out the throats of whoever they believe to be losing it. They know nothing of history, economics, or the law. They give not a fig about freedom or the future. I have sometimes observed that if the American people ever became fully aware of just how badly they're being served by the media (of course most of them don't want to know), there wouldn't be a single newspaper or radio or TV station left standing above its own ashes anywhere in the country.

All through those 46-six years (so far) I have tilted at windmills and bashed my head against walls, losing ground with every decade to the enemies of liberty—often thanks to "allies" who were more of a hindrance than a help—yet somehow never managing to give up. I have often wondered why I couldn't make myself just let it go, be content to live out the rest of my life in relative peace and comfort, and let those who will come after me deal with the mess, or be dealt with by it.

Part of it, I think, is that I've always believed that there's a lever out there, somewhere. Not a trick or a shortcut, but a tool to multiply our effort and make up for the fact that those who value liberty are as badly outnumbered as Colonels Travis and Bowie at the Alamo.

Over the decades, I've experimented with several different ideas, including (somewhat to my chagrin) a sort of religious organization based on institutions Robert A. Heinlein wrote about in The Day After Tomorrow or that Robert Silverberg described in To Open the Sky, or that Anthony F.C. Wallace examined in his remarkable work on cultural revival, Religion: An Anthropological View. I've also written many articles and speeches, run for office, and when I discovered that I couldn't count on most other folks to remain consistent with principle or simply stay the course for more than a few weeks, I started writing the freedom-oriented science fiction novels most of my readers know me for.

And still things have grown steadily worse.

I have plunged us all into this gloom and doom (as I often do at the beginnings of my novels) for a reason: enlightening contrast. I think I know of a way to change things—with relative rapidity. The coming national election in 2008 could represent a good test. But the method will have to be applied with considerable enthusiasm and much energy, and I'm not sure that, as a movement, we have that in us any more.

The idea comes in two parts.

The first I wrote about ten years ago in my essay, "Relining America's Birdcages", reprinted in the issue of The Libertarian Enterprise just previous to this one. It's relatively simple: whenever we become dissatisfied with the habitual stupid malfeasance, misfeasance, nonfeasance, upfeasance, or downfeasance of the mass media, we must write—not to the media themselves—but to those who support them financially.

As much as possible, keep it specific to a given show—the episode where an FBI agent asserted that the Second Amendment has a built-in limit as to how many guns you can own, or almost as good, almost everything Katy Couric and her despicable colleagues have to say. Write to the advertisers nearest the offensive program, just before it, as it's actually being broadcast, and also immediately afterwards.

With newspapers and magazines, write to the full- and half-page advertisers.

What we must say, in so many words, over and over again, is this: "If the media you support with your advertising dollars habitually lie about matters like private firearms ownership, the latest foreign war [or whatever your pet issue may be], why should anyone believe what they say about your products and services? How can anybody be certain they're not lying about that, too? Given their usual contempt for the truth, doesn't it make sense to do business with your competitors, instead?"

Let me repeat this, because I believe it may just be an idea with historical consequences. Ask advertisers, if the media lie about everything else, why anybody should believe what they say about the advertiser.

The second part is the mechanics of the thing.

Ten years ago, I wasn't nearly as acquainted with the concept of websites as I am now. It didn't occur to me that what this idea needs is a home base of some kind, one that could easily be established in cyberspace.

What such a site would have to offer is a list of corporations that advertise on television or radio, or in the newspapers, along with their e-mail and snail-mail addresses, telephone numbers, and the names and particulars of contact-persons—not necessarily the people they want you to contact—for those corporations. I'm told it's especially effective to write or call a corporation's CEO at home.

Of course the website would also offer similar information for the advertising managers for all the media in question, so they'll know it when an advertiser gets complained to in this special way—and they'll know that they're being ignored because they've never really listened.

While we're at it, let's have a blog, so the people behind this idea can visit with one another, trade tips and offer each other moral support.

We might also keep an archive of messages sent to advertisers, and perhaps even offer small prizes for the best—or most effective—ones. That means that someone will have to persuade merchants and other individuals concerned about freedom issues to contribute the prizes.

Finally, the website will need to be mirrored in several places, because the minute it's perceived as being effective, it will be attacked.

So in the end, to change the course of history, we need people who will make a note of advertisers associated with programs that advocate violating or reducing individual rights. We need someone who can build a website so they'll know where to get information about the targetted advertisers. And we need to begin building online lists of those advertisers.

I guess I need to let you know that another famous freedom website turned this essay down because the proprietor, for whom I frequently write other columns, observed, "You can't get people,"—by which he meant libertarians and gun owners—"to do anything." Even to save their own lives, he added, let alone an insignificant thing like their freedom.

Obviously, I disagree with him, or I wouldn't have written this article. But he's older than I am (by two months) and may prove to be wiser.

That's up to you.

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.

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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