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L. Neil Smith's
Number 756, February 2, 2014


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The Newt and the Toad
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

My wife and daughter brought home a movie this week, The Fifth Estate, a "docudramatic" account, starring Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock fame, of the various and nefarious goings and doings of Julian Assange, one of the top three "whistle-blowers" on the planet today. Or perhaps four: my wife has become a big fan of Glenn Greenwald.

It's worth noting that, for one reason or another, Assange opposed the making of this film and begged the producers not to do it. I'm not entirely sure why. It's somewhat slow and a little boring, as an entertainment, but it does Assange no particular harm. He's portrayed as a difficult man, but most men of accomplishment are difficult men—ask my wife and daughter—and that seldom diminishes their accomplishments.

I make an exception for Woody Allen.

In tone, it's very similar to the chilling 1974 Gene Hackman film The Conversation which I have always liked, and which probably seemed paranoid to most people when it was made, but turned out to be very conservative in its estimate of the degree to which we're all spied on by government and others. Most people seem not to realize that Will Smith's 1998 Enemy of the State is a kind of sequel to The Conversation. The Fifth Estate also bears some resemblance to movies like All the President's Men, The Parallax View, and The Net.

The top three "whistle-blowers", of course, in no particular order, are Assange himself, Bradley/Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. I'm interested in these individuals for a number of reasons, not the least of which, is that I wrote about them (actually, I anticipated them) long before most people in the world ever knew they existed.

Including me.

Eleven years ago, in a speech I delivered to the Libertarian Party of New Mexico entitled "Empire of Lies", I asserted that every human being on Earth is swimming—drowning—in an ocean of lies, mostly told by governments of one variety or another. I pointed out that lies of that kind—for example, the Gulf of Tonkin "incident" that never happened, and yet cost the lives of 60,000 Americans and 2,000,000 Vietnamese—are deadly. I proposed, therefore, that any politician, bureaucrat, or policeman caught telling a lie to any member of the public for any reason—a well as any among their ilk keeping secrets—ought to be subject to capital punishment, preferably by public hanging.

On network television.

Some time later, I stumbled on what I think is the true historical significance of the Internet. For as long as human beings have been communicating with one another, except among family and friends (and even then, sometimes) communications have been vertical and one-way, from the top down. Just to take it back to the Middle Ages, you can't talk back to, or argue with a church bell. You either do what you are trained to do when it rings—wake, pray, eat, go to bed—or you do not, and suffer whatever consequences society has arranged for you to suffer.

This sorry situation was not improved materially by later "great" inventions like the printing press, movies, radio, or television. Such innovations only made it easier and more convemient to issue orders. The elite laid down the law to the peons (that's us) and there was no way of contradicting them. Letters to the Editor are limited to 400 words.

But the Internet, and all of the technical, political, and social phenomena associated with it, turned this communications hierarchy sideways. Almost overnight, it was now possible for anybody on the planet to talk to anybody else, and to speak privately with a single individual, or to millions, without obtaining anyone's permission, judged not by their power or authority, but by the cogency of their arguments.

Atlas didn't shrug, Authority wigged.

Traditional Big Media, newspaper, magazine, and book publishers, movie studios, radio and television network executives, held onto their monopoly gatekeeper position, inherited from a more primitive era, desperately and at any cost. Only they were fit to judge what word could be sent by mere individuals to the Great Unwashed (that's us, again). What it cost them is their very existence. They were incapable of divining that the Age of Authority, including theirs, was over.

For governments all over the world, subsisting as they all do on lies, intimidation, and violence, it was a nightmare. They have tried to fight back, but they will lose. The tide of history is against them. The idea of "peer-to-peer" communication is out there, and—short of the mass slaughter some of them seem to be preparing against us: a measure of their utter despair—it can never be called back or contained.

Given those ingredients, government lies (and the truths hidden behind them) and the long arm of the Internet, it was inevitable that of a world population numbering seven billion, people like Assange, Manning, Snowden, and Greenwald would emerge. This is not to diminish their courage and integrity, simply to point out that something like it was bound to happen, in the circumstances. In a way, it hearkens back to the first philosophical problem I can remember pondering really seriously: do the times make the man or does the man make the times?

My answer is yes.

As a novelist concerned with character, I find one thing about these guys fascinating: Assange and Snowden are hetero, Greenwald is gay, Manning is transexual. It probably means nothing, but it is interesting. Even "diversity" appears to be a matter of spontaneous order.

But the most important damage they have done to our enemy the state, they may not even be aware of. Among the countless illusions they have shattered is the notion of the left-right political spectrum. Over the course of the Cumberbatch movie, we see Hillary Clinton on TV, and in other segments, Newt Gingrich. These two are supposed to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, and yet what they each have to say about Assange is almost identical. They want him in jail.

They want him dead.

Why? For discovering the truth and sending it to everybody.

If I were President, I'd give these guys pardons or amnesty, or whatever is required to make them whole. I'd also give them big shiny medals.

They are what America needs more of.

As for Gingrich and Clinton, Reid and Boehner, McCain and Waxman, and so forth, two peas in a pod. Not a nickel's worth of difference between the pair. Left-wing socialist, right-wing socialist. Right-wing fascist, left-wing fascist. Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dumber. Pushmi-Pullyu.

Newt Clinton, Hillary Gingrich.

What difference does it make?

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