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L. Neil Smith's
Number 716, April 14, 2013

The "Don't ask, don't tell" style of concealed carry

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Saruman's Voice
by Chris Claypoole

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Near the end of Book Three of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, in the chapter "The Voice of Saruman", is this passage (please forgive the length):

Suddenly another voice spoke, low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment. Those who listened unwarily to that voice could seldom report the words that they heard; and if they did, they wondered, for little power remained in them. Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves. When others spoke they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell. For some the spell lasted only while the voice spoke to them, and when it spoke to another they smiled, as men do who see through a juggler's trick while others gape at it. For many the sound of the voice alone was enough to hold them enthralled; but for those whom it conquered the spell endured when they were far away, and ever they heard that soft voice whispering and urging them. But none were unmoved; none rejected its pleas and its commands without an effort of mind and will, so long as its master had control of it.

Tolkien's description of the power of Saruman's voice should sound familiar to anyone who has observed the power of a well-trained and charismatic demagogue over a crowd. A speaker with good speaking skills, practiced in modulation, pacing, tone, etc., can often take a group of people who were already disposed to agree with such an orator, and own them as completely as a rancher owns cattle. This applies to partisans of both wings of the Boot On Your Neck Party, as we observed in the unpleasantness of last year's primaries and election campaigns. And while each of those main groups was mostly unlikely to be swayed by the other team's "Saruman", one could easily pick out the different gradations of enthrallment among the faithful of each of them. (Yes, Obama is a much better speaker than Romney, though that is not that hard a bar to leap over, but the latter certainly rallied his side's party regulars with equally empty platitudes and promises.)

As for us libertarians, we are not completely immune to this weakness, either. Many of us, me included, have listened to a good speaker with whom we mostly agree, and felt some of the feelings described above. Often we later tend to analyze what was actually said and our thoughts then turn to sentences that begin with, "Yes, but..." or similar. This is fine. We shouldn't be automata, immune to emotions. But one of the major traits that libertarians share is critical thinking. (Sometimes too critical, but that's another story.)

Critical thinking helps us cut through the fog of well-presented bad ideas, identifying contradictory and fantastical promises for the cotton candy that they are. Critical thinking combined with the foundation of the Zero Aggression Principle allows us to derive moral practices for most situations without needing to beg direction from imagined authority. This is why the vast majority of politicians are quite reluctant to answer questions off the cuff unless they are posed by a fellow traveler. They have no core principles and often lack critical thinking skills. The ease with which most long-time libertarians can answer the "what-if" questions of non-libertarians may seem smug and know-it-all-ish to the latter, but it flows directly from the ability to apply the ZAP in a consistent manner. We don't have to consult our notes, or a politician, or a radio or television entertainer who reads the news.

This is not to say that emotion never enters into our interactions with others. We can be passionate about our principles, angry at injustice, and happy when wrongs are put to right. The ideal is that we should not let our emotions overrule our reason. I grew up in the Sixties; my father, with whom I had a good relationship, was a staunch Republican. I was in ROTC in college, although even then I thought that Vietnam and other foreign wars were a mistake from a "mind our own business" perspective. So, even now, after thirty years as a libertarian, I sometimes have to mentally stop myself from automatically cheering for whichever army a movie-maker is emotionally manipulating the audience to favor.

(I'm no fun at movies, as my wife will tell you. I tend to be too analytical, too picky about things like historical accuracy and adherence to the laws of physics, and I want a protagonist, dammit! Why should I pay good money to see a movie where everyone is some shade of dark grey? I can read about the antics of politicians for far less, just what I pay for Internet access anyway. And almost none of them know a damn thing about history or physics, either. Yet they believe they are smarter, better educated, and more qualified to guide our actions than we are. A fatal conceit, indeed. But I have digressed, as others are wont to do.)

The point I am trying to make is that we libertarians need to recognize that many, if not most, of our fellow Americans are easily mislead by talented/trained speakers, not because they are less intelligent, but because they lack the moral foundation and guidance of the Zero Aggression Principle. Obviously, we cannot force others to accept the ZAP; the best we can do is explain why it's much more likely to bring about peace and prosperity than the system of serial robbery (taxation) and its attendant violence under which we now live. That's right: appeal to their emotions.

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