Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 582, August 8, 2010

"I do not regard a lock on my door
as a limit to anybody's freedom."

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The Medium and the Message
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

It is the job of the government to provide you with service. It is the job of the media to supply the Vaseline.
—L. Neil Smith

Somebody once described the libertarian movement as "30,000 people trying to make a living selling newsletters to each other." We have been a movement, from the inception, of folks with something to say, even when getting it said—and spread around—proved arduous and expensive.

I can still smell the mimeograph fluid.

I once observed that, if Americans ever learned how they'd been lied to all these years, from Lincoln's War Between the States, through Roosevelt's attack on Pearl Harbor, Johnson's trumped-up Gulf of Tonkin "incident", George H.W. Bush's Ruby Ridge, Bill Clinton's Waco and Oklahoma City, George W. Bush's September 11, to the Bush-Obama so-called "War on Terrorism", there wouldn't be a television station left standing above its own ashes anywhere on the North American continent.

Apparently a great many more people than I knew have managed to learn the truth, because, second only to the moribund newspaper industry, television has begun dying a well-deserved lingering death, as more and more viewers turn to talk radio, and especially to the Internet.

Springsteen said it: "Five hundred channels and nothing on."

When I started working in the freedom movement in the early 1960s, the situation with the mainstream media (which was all we had) seemed pretty hopeless. These were the stuffed suits, the hairsprayed heads, the gentlemen of the evening as I was later to call them, who appeared physiologically incapable of telling the truth about anything. For 20 years I never heard a true word about gun ownership from ABC, CBS, or NBC.

Instead of anything resembling honest investigation, they stuck a finger into the wind (or somewhere else) to determine what side they'd take on the current issues as predetermined by what conservatives call The Liberal Template. And despite the fact that I vehemently opposed Johnson's disastrous trip across the Big Muddy, to this day I recall my utter disgust at their craven, unprincipled turnaround regarding Vietnam.

If you were gonna change sides, you had to have a real reason.

I did.

Mostly, instead of performing their proper function as envisioned by Thomas Jefferson, acting as a perpetual adversary to the government (even he had his doubts, saying that the only thing in the newspaper you can believe is the advertisements), they seemed to be playing some game completely internal to their industry, one that meant nothing to anybody but themselves, over what issue or event was hot and what was not, who had the power to make the choice, and which politician they would build up to near godhood one day, only to tear him down the next.

And again many other individuals felt the way I did; together, almost without knowing it and—starting with the unlikely foundation of a cybercommunication system built by government for the military industrial academic complex—we "grew" the Internet as we know it today.

In the beginning of the Internet era, the mainstream media, those congenital purveyors of one-way disinformation consisting almost entirely of government lies and threats, attempted to trivialize and marginalize the new interactive communication system by making fun of it and especially of those who used it, questioning its motives, its accuracy, and its reliability, despite their own deeply unenviable, decades-long track record of shameless and unrelenting propaganda generation.

Now, as the cold, dark waters of obsolescence and rejection rise about them, and they feel themselves going down for the third time, they want the government to tax the Internet, to subsidize the very institutions it should be rewarded for rendering obsolete, like taxing automobile manufacturers to subsidize the manufacturers of buggy whips.

Others want the Internet "regulated"—for which read monitored and censored—and those who use it forced to beg for some sort of credentials like "respectable" journalists (for which read government indoctrinated and vetted for abject compliance) as if respectability were more important than the truth the mainstream media refuse to tell. This is Hillary Clinton's bonnet-bee and it should never be forgotten.

Others have different ideas.

Before he wrote his blockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown authored a thriller he called Digital Fortress, which spotlights as strange a moral inversion as I've ever seen in American literature.

In the book, from the viewpoint of some of the protagonists, the worst possible disaster that could ever befall Western Civilization is about to happen unless Our Heroes can stop it. Our Heroes work for a gigantic computer center run by the National Security Agency that supposedly monitors every single electronic message sent by anybody anywhere.

The oncoming catastrophe they must prevent is the public release of encryption software—like PGP, one gathers, only massively more powerful—which will give any individual absolute privacy in his communications.

The guy who wrote the software (he's Asian, but I think he's meant to be Phil Zimmerman), a villain of the worst kind, must be stopped at all costs before the government loses its ability to spy on us. Our Heroes, again, are snoops who believe your e-mail is their property. There are a lot of twists and turns, but in the end, I couldn't figure out whose side the author is on, or who the heroes and villains really were. This is what comes of getting too much technical advice from those whose jobs are illegal under Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.

The fact that privacy might be viewed by anyone in government as a world-ending calamity pretty much sums up what's wrong with America today. I take it as a good sign that, in the end—but that would be telling.

Back to what we laughingly call "reality".

Naturally, not all is hunky-dory with the new medium. Wikipedia, for example, seems to have forgotten what it's all about, apparently attempting to ingratiate itself with the dark side—possibly because it thinks they'll win and kill the rest of the Internet—acquiring a bad case of political correctness that's going to destroy it in the end.

Thomas Paine talked about "sunshine soldiers and summer patriots".

And we all know about Benedict Arnold.

According to the badguys, of course, all these proposed controls are "for the children", a shiny excuse rapidly losing its charm, especially after I found myself attempting to explain to my daughter what oral sex is, not because of anything she'd seen on-line, but because of that great protector of children, Bill Clinton. Or they'll claim it's to protect the security of our precious Homeland from vile "Islamofascist cyberterrorists", who apparently possess some dark, mysterious hypnotic power—sort of like snake charmers, I guess -- to use Internet chatrooms and blogs to transmogrify squeaky-clean Productive Class kiddies into cursing, screaming, bomb-throwing neoMuslims.

Lately, a more subtle, but equally deadly threat to freedom of expression has arisen with various individuals and groups asserting that anything you happen to think of, write down, attach your name to, and send out into the world, from articles and columns to whole books, is up for grabs. There is no such thing as intellectual property rights. You have no right to claim what you've created as your own, and exclusively derive income from it, while anybody else may copy it, make any alterations they wish, remove your name, and replace it with their own. Or simply present it as if you approved of what they're doing.

Of course they claim that what they're advocating is a new kind of freedom, that copyrights and patents have become oppressive mechanisms of the state. One of them told me he doesn't want to live in a world he feels is shackled by intellectual property rights. I'd rather not live in a world shackled by gravity, but both are features of natural law. I do not regard a lock on my door as a limit to anybody's freedom.

But when you argue with them, the real shape of what they want eventually emerges. Like the socialists they are, most of them appear to envy and hate the creators of intellectual property, and relish a future they imagine in which it's impossible to earn a living by writing.

There can be, of course, no moral distinction between physical and intellectual property, and just because advancing technology makes something easier to steal, that doesn't make stealing it any less immoral. Opponents of intellectual property rights are nothing more than thieves, and, no matter what they may claim, neither are they libertarians.

But I have digressed.

Where the Internet is concerned, the simple truth, which those on both sides of the issue know perfectly well—just as both sides know perfectly well that the other side knows it—is that the new media, especially the Internet, are all that are currently propping up a deeply wounded and deliberately sabotaged economy, and preventing America from being taken over completely by the forces of domestic totalitarianism.

Lately, those who hunger to command those forces, to begin with at the Transportation Safety Administration, and now by order of the Department of Homeland Security's Jackboot Janet Napolitano (or is it Dolores Umbridge, I have trouble seeing any difference) have responded by forbidding their orcish minions to employ company computers to log onto "controversial"—meaning freedom-oriented—websites. Porn sites—remember what I said about propping up a deeply wounded economy?—are conspicuously absent from the forbidden list. The next logical step, of course, will be monitoring their Internet activity at home, exactly the same way the public schools do with their helpless prisoners.

When the other side sticks its fingers in its ears and starts chanting to itself about how it isn't listening, you can tell you're winning. If Obama were a liberal, in the old-fashioned meaning of the word, instead of what he really is, he would order these agencies to reopen their eyes and ears, to see and hear the individuals they're supposed to be serving, but whose lives they relish controlling and destroying.

Since its inception, the Internet has consistently frustrated the worst enemies of individual liberty—the Clintons, Bushes, Cheneys, Rumsfelds, Chernoffs, Obamas, Pelosis, Reids, Holders, Napolitanos, and Immanuels—and when it hasn't prevented their machinations, it has exposed them to public view so they can eventually be repealed, nullified, or otherwise disposed of. Any attack on the completely open and egalitarian character of the new media, is an attack on everything that has ever made America "the best idea that anyone ever had for a country."

There is nothing that anybody who initiates or supports such an attack can do afterward—Joseph Lieberman, the least principled individual in American politics today, comes to mind, as does Jay Rockefeller, the world's foremost electronic Luddite—to remove the ugly stain it places on his resume. He might as well pack up his bag of tricks right now, and get ready to emigrate to Venezuela, Cuba, or North Korea, where his snotty disdain for individual liberty can be appreciated.

Critics whine constantly that the Internet is as full of falsehood as it is of truth, as full of hatred as it is of real communication. In these ways, of course, it is no different from "real" life, where we are obliged each day to sort out lies and ugliness from everything else. Are these people infants, that they feel unequal to such a grown up task? Do they assume that everybody else is as infantile as they are?

And what of their "cure": gatekeepers, credentialization, and an inevitable return to the bland, polished lies of past generations, to what amounted to mass religious faith in kindly, reassuring con-men and establishment propagandists like Edward R. Murrow, John Cameron Swayze, Douglas Edwards, Chet Huntley, David Brinkly, and Walter Cronkite?

That era is over. One way or another, it is never, ever coming back.

And that's the way it is

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 more than 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 is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels. Links to Neil's books at are on his website

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