Down With Power Audiobook!

L. Neil Smith's

Number 868, April 17, 2016

We have a terminal case of government

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His Master's Voice
In England, artist Francis Barraud (1856-1924) painted his brother's dog Nipper listening to the horn of an early phonograph during the winter of 1898. Victor Talking Machine Company began using the symbol in 1900, and Nipper joined the RCA family in 1929. Source: WikiPedia

A Statement to the Stars
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

I am thoroughly sick and tired of thinking and writing about this election in the forlorn hope that some one of the candidates may be microscopically less evil, stupid, or insane than the others. Having done more than my share of political scribbling for the year, I am now turning my attention to a topic it actually makes me happy to think about, a subject that may even affect the future of the human race a hell of a lot more than what gink gets to live in the White House the next four or eight years and drop bombs on folks living half a world away.

The Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, who helped develop the atomic bomb, was curious about this matter, too, and asked a question about it that has become known as "Fermi's Paradox". If reason, he asked, and an awareness of evolution, tell us that sapient life is abundant throughout the galaxy, then, aside from rustic fables about redneck First Contact and abducted hillbillies, why haven't we heard from otherworlders?

For decades, we have been listening faithfully, like RCA Victor's charming little black and white puppy, for some sign that there is actually somebody Out There, communicating with his neighbors, and that we can eavesdrop on him like a rural party line. The trouble is, it's as if we were primitive natives on some tropical Pacific island, watching for smoke signals on the horizon, or listening for distant jungle drums, when real civilization communicates with itself by radio, television, and the Internet. No fully advanced, starfaring culture is going to employ a medium limited to the pokey speed of light,

At its forty-million-mile closest, it takes over half an hour for E.M.S. signals to get as far as Mars, the planet next door. Four and a quarter years to get to the nearest star—and four and a quarter more back. Forget radio.

Whatever they use instead—and there are indications that information may be conveyed faster than light—I'm not physicist enough to guess, but I do know that, in a galactic population numbering in the quintillions, there will be a few billion hobbyists, cranks, who still listen to old-fashioned radio waves, for a hint of savages, like us, who don't know about transluctic communication techniques. Our mistake may be that we've been listening, instead of talking.

On the other hand, on the assumption that the more advanced a civilization is, the more libertarian it is, the people Out There may know perfectly well, already, who and where—and above all, what we are. We may be under quarantine (and the occasional UFOs we see are teenage thrill-seekers) because we are at an evolutionary dead end. We are hopelessly infested with a horrible disease dreaded throughout the Galaxy as Authority. We're like a big round juicy orange covered with gray-green mildew. We have a terminal case of government.

Consider: when we first became aware that we might not be alone in the universe in 1947, we were just recovering from a war that had covered the globe (like that mildew I mentioned) and killed sixty million people. Earth girls really are easy. Humans follow orders. Beings with any kind of sense avoid us like the plague we're infected with.

And yet, in their advanced wisdom, our galactic listeners may understand what so many of us fail to, that each of us is different, that not all of us are ready to march off to some totally senseless war or give up what we've worked so hard to earn in order to support it. So the question arises, what do we say to the stars, and how do we say it? How do we tell the universe (assuming that it gives a hacker's damn) that there is somebody sane and mature down here in this bloody zoo?

I first had this idea forty years ago and nobody paid very much attention to it. I have a slightly taller soap box now. So when this crappy election is finally over, I'll publish it again. People who are interested should form a small foundation and rent the spectacular radio telescope hanging down in the middle of a volcanic crater at Araceibo, Puerto Rico. (I do concede that any other competent radio telescope or array might do as well, but Araceibo is just so damn peachy.)

They should use it for transmitting, not receiving. Radio may not be very good for interstellar talk, but it's what we've got. What they should transmit are the words of the first oath I ever took as a free man:


That's John Galt's Oath, in case you didn't know, from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. It will tell the galaxy we've progressed beyond mere altruism. The next thing that I'd transmit is the Zero Aggression Principle.

After that, well, given my preferences, it would be my Covenant of Unanimous Consent, but maybe that's just me. The general idea is to inform the universe that there are civilized people imprisoned down here. We might even read them entertaining stories, like The Probability Broach or Alongside Night, An Enemy of the State, or Friday.

What they'll send back, probably decades later, are the blueprints for proper interstellar communications. Or, they might come for a visit. My cynical daughter cautions that they might just come to eat us.

Maybe there's nobody listening. Maybe there's nobody who cares. It certainly is no sillier than building ourselves a fleet of Pyramids. But maybe—just maybe—we might get a yell from alien scientists interested in how a people can think themselves out of statism and slavery. They might even offer us the technology to travel faster than light.

And just maybe elections wouldn't matter after that.

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