When You Wish Upon a Star ...

by L. Neil Smith

Prepared for the Denver Area Science
Fiction Association, February 19, 1994

         Was it Frederick Pohl or Alexei Panshin who first observed, "The future isn't what it used to be"? Maybe it was Karl Marx. Maybe it was Groucho Marx. Whoever said it, that's more or less what science fiction seems to be telling us right now.
         If you stood in front of your bathroom mirror every morning and repeated a hundred times, "I'm a stupid, worthless pile of excrement and I'm not fit to live," how long would it be -- days, weeks, months -- before you started to believe it? How long would it be -- days, weeks, months -- before it was true?
         Science fiction is the bathroom mirror which our society uses to reflect the future. What it's saying to us now -- what it has been saying for more than thirty years -- is sort of the collective equivalent of the exercise I just described above: "Western culture is a stupid, worthless pile of excrement and it isn't fit to live."
         Now I don't believe that statement for a minute, myself, but I do believe that we're living with the disastrous effects of the exercise today, and that the culprits who are doing the repeating are mostly academia and the mass media, but that the leading elements are those among them who produce science fiction.
         From the original classic Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, through Babylon 5, TekWar, Time Trax, and Wild Palms, to the late, unlamented Space Rangers, the message is invariably the same: the historically and politically unique civilization that was born at Concord Bridge, with the Minutemen as midwives, is headed nowhere now but toward an increasingly oppressive police state that has already nullified everything the Founding Fathers, and the Bill of Rights they left us, once stood for.
         To my knowledge -- and I'd be delighted to be proven wrong -- I am the only major science fiction writer in print who consistently ventures to speak explicitly of times and places where people enjoy more freedom and prosperity than we do here and now. Don't ask me whether I believe that I'm accurately predicting a future of greater individual liberty. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't; it seems to depend on the news of the day and how often it mentions Hillary Clinton or Pat Buchanan.
         Ask me, rather, whether I'm creating such a future.
         Because that's exactly what I'm doing.
         With each and every word I write, I hold up a mirror -- okay, a bathroom mirror -- in which America can gaze at herself and repeat, "Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better." If I do it well enough and often enough -- and most importantly, if you buy my books in sufficient quantities so that, in a manner of speaking, I do it loud enough -- it will turn out to be true. The technique I'm desribing here is derived from Yoga, self-hypnosis and various self-improvement philosophies, and believe it or not, from the fascist "Big Lie" of the 1940s.
         I call it the "Big Truth".
         Be careful, however: convincing your subconscious mind that some revolutionary improvement is possible, then on the strength of that, going out and making that revolutionary improvement happen, is a different thing from simply wishing for revolutionary improvement and doing nothing else. In fact if I were to choose a motto for our ailing age, it would be, "wishing will make it so".
         "Wishing will make it so."
         No matter how sweetly you dress it up -- no matter how many cuddlesome cartoon crickets warble it sweetly against a sky of starry celluloid -- it's really no more than a savage, unsatisfactory substitute for genuine philosophy or science. It's a system of beliefs best-suited to the nasty-tempered whims of a two-year-old child. And if you push it too far -- for example, how much aviation fuel is really in that tank, as opposed to what you want to be there? -- it can even get you killed.
         "Wishing will make it so."
         Don't get me wrong: I am a lifelong libertarian, one of Barbra Streisand's "selfish individualists", and the very last person to deny that what an individual believes is ultimately his or her own business. As Robert Heinlein wisely observed, "One man's theology is another man's belly-laugh." And as 15 years as a science fiction author have taught me all too well, vice-versa.
         "Wishing will make it so."
         If nothing else, it's all part of the process of natural selection. Human lives rooted in a judicious respect for the facts of objective reality tend to be more rewarding. People who see clearly and think straight are likelier to reproduce, and their offspring are likelier to prosper. Those who choose less rational paths will be replaced, statistically, by those who make better choices, and the human condition will gradually improve. You may think that this is cruel, but it identifies a real phenomenon. It's just the way the universe works -- the way it has worked for billions of years -- whether you like it or not.
         The idea that "wishing will make it so" is deadliest whenever it's applied to the formation of public policy. When that happens, it doesn't matter whether you opted to use your head, not when all your choices are made for you by somebody else. Then you are forced to suffer exactly as if you'd made the inevitable mistakes, instead of your fellow voters, or some bureaucrat or politician. As Heinlein also observed, "'Vox populi, vox dei' usually translates, 'How the hell did we get into this mess?'"
         The classic case is the Volstead Act of 1919.
         For decades before its passage, its fanatical supporters, members of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Anti-Saloon League, and the Prohibition Party -- we're talking about the original "Botherhood of Man", here -- people who believed that drinking is a Bad Thing (which, indeed, it may be) and demanded a law to compel those whom they had been unable to persuade, to behave as if they'd been persuaded -- ignored complaints that they were making a mockery of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and of the traditional American respect for privacy and individual liberty. For more a decade afterward, they ignored the secondary effects of alcohol Prohibition which proved more damaging to civilization than any use of alcohol ever had.
         Alcohol Prohibition never stopped people from making, selling, or using alcohol, but it is to blame for a great deal that's still wrong with America today. For starters, it was the beginning of a widespread popular disregard for the law. In 1919, millions of ordinary, decent people who believed that they had a right to drink alcohol became outlaws overnight through no fault of their own -- that is, because of nothing that they did themselves. They responded by drinking more than ever -- many of them for the first time -- simply to assert that right.
         Even worse, w ith the stroke of a pen, a previously acceptable variety of behavior was suddenly lumped together with acts that everybody agreed were wrong -- like murder and kidnapping. For millions of ordinary, decent people, moral lines in America became hopelessly blurred, and have tended to stay that way ever since. In a way that could never have happened if the do-gooders of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Prohibition Party, and the Anti-Saloon League hadn't meddled in their private affairs, millions of ordinary, decent people were suddenly, and for the first time, exposed not only to criminal violence, but to legally-sanctioned violence as well -- the axes and submachineguns of Eliot Ness and his thuggish colleagues -- just as if they were criminals themselves.
         Also for the first time, alcohol Prohibition put certain unsavory types (the types who traditionally wear light-colored ties with dark-colored shirts) in business -- big business, as it turned out -- who by virtue of the power, prestige, and capital they were able to accumulate between 1919 and 1932 are still with us today.
         And, although it wound up getting partially repealed, because juries -- composed of ordinary, decent people who believed they had a right to drink alcohol, and who were fully informed of their thousand-year-old duty and power and right to nullify unconstitutional (or just plain stupid) legislation -- because juries were humiliating Eliot Ness and his thuggish colleagues by failing to convict individuals caught in redhanded violation of it, alcohol Prohibition set many ugly precedents for government meddling in every other aspect of individual life.
         It's an axiom among street-level law enforcement (not their deskbound political bosses) that you can't eradicate crime, you can only move it. Some believe using "The Club" gave rise to carjacking. Muggers in Florida pick on foreigners and out-of-staters because they fear domestic victims will be armed.
         Prohibition always causes more of the undesirable behavior in question, not less. Does anyone doubt for a minute that the successful suppression of violence on television will lead directly to an increase in the popularity of snuff films? There's nothing mysterious about that process, at all. If I glared sternly at you right now and told you it was prohibited henceforward to wear the color red, how many of you would show up at the next meeting dressed in red from head to toe?
         I would.
         And yet somehow your fellow voters, and the bureaucrats and politicians of America, utterly failed to learn the folly of "wishing will make it so" -- or much of any kind of lesson at all -- from alcohol Prohibition. Those camera-happy demagogues who scream loudest about gangs and youth violence today are exactly the same camera-happy demagogues to whom the Federal Minimum Wage -- which, after all, is just another form of Prohibition and perhaps the most significant cause of today's youth violence -- has become a sacred article of liberal faith.
         Never mind that any job at a buck and a half an hour beats the hell out of no job at five.
         Never mind that beyond the palest shadow of a doubt, the Federal Minimum Wage generates unemployment by punishing those employers who would otherwise hire young, unskilled, "marginal" workers.
         Never mind that, if most of these young, unskilled, "marginal" workers could get any kind of job at all, history demonstrates that they'd soon learn enough to get a better-paying one.
         Never mind that the majority of these young, unskilled, "marginal" workers might even be too busy making a living -- and enjoying the self-respect that comes with it -- to join a gang.
         Never mind that the Federal Minimum Wage raises the cost of goods and services so its secondary victims have a harder time obtaining food, clothing, and shelter, that in effect, your fellow voters, bureaucrats, and politicians invented the "homeless".
         Never mind any of that: "Wishing will make it so," and these nasty-tempered two-year-olds -- excuse me, your fellow voters, bureaucrats, and politicians -- demand fulfillment of their wishes no matter what it costs, no matter who gets hurt, because they want to bask in the glow of their own self- righteousness.
         Remember that sentence, "they want to bask in the glow of their own self-righteousness," because it may define our times even better than "wishing will make it so". Facts and logic are simply irrelevant to the twisted mindset of Prohibitionism, whether we're talking about those who would prohibit alcohol, those who would prohibit running your own business the way you see fit, or yet another kind of Prohibitionism with which we're all too familiar these days, those who would prohibit free exercise of the inherent individual right to own and carry weapons.
         Never mind what the Second Amendment to the Constitution demands.
         Never mind that the Bill of Rights of which it is a part is the only thing that keeps America from becoming the world's largest banana republic.
         Never mind that gun control -- no, let's call it by its right name, "victim disarmament" -- never mind that victim disarmament has no effect except to render millions of ordinary, decent people, non-aggressive and productive individuals, women, minorities, and the elderly in particular, helpless in the leering face of a frenzied and maniacal criminal population that your fellow voters, the bureaucrats, and politicians created in the first place, just as they did the "homeless".
         Never mind that senators, congressmen, legislators, commissioners, and councilmen who have violated their oath of office by advocating, introducing, sponsoring, or voting for victim disarmament of any kind belong in prison, sharing their concrete kennel with the judges, sheriffs, and police chiefs who enforce it.
         Never mind any of that.
         "Wishing will make it so."
         They're out to strip an entire nation of its personal weapons, come hell or high water, because they find a well-armed citizenry aesthetically offensive -- and like the nasty-tempered two-year-olds they most resemble, they're not going to let a few little things like a decent regard for the facts of objective reality, social justice, or even the Bill of Rights interfere.
         In 1919, millions of ordinary, decent people believed they had a right to drink alcohol and we all know how that turned out: bathtub gin, Al Capone. The federal agency created to enforce alcohol Prohibition burned 105 people to death -- more than a dozen of them children -- in Waco, Texas just last summer.
         Are we capable of learning anything from history? Today, millions of ordinary, decent people believe they have a right -- and a duty -- to own and carry weapons. With 750 million firearms -- three quarters of a billion guns -- of modern design in working condition already in private hands in America today, how do you suppose the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban are going to work? Forget your worries about the North Koreans -- what American city is the BATF going to nuke first?
         As I often say, whereas libertarianism and conservatism are perfectly respectable -- if somewhat divergent -- political philosophies, liberalism is just another form of mental illness.
         But before you conservatives in the audience begin feeling too smug, maybe it's time to examine your own mindset. You could be just as guilty of the same kind of self-righteous nonthinking. Liberals are often accused, and correctly, of believing that if a policy doesn't work -- say, banning guns -- the answer is to do it more. Conservatives believe that if a policy doesn't work -- say, putting more people in jail, per capita, than any other nation in the world -- the answer is to do it harder.
         Take the so-called "War on Drugs" ... please.
         The War on Drugs is nothing more than alcohol Prohibition dressed up for the 1990s. It certainly can't stop people from making, selling, or using drugs, any more than the Volstead Act ever stopped them from making, selling, or using alcohol, but it has succeeded in boosting the price of drugs from mere pennies a pound to hundreds of dollars an ounce -- which anyone who knows anything about economics will immediately recognize enormously increases the incentive to enter the illegal drug market.
         It's driven the weakest competition out of the market and created not just a livelihood where there wasn't one before, but a monopoly for the most violent and ruthless criminals in the world today -- and, not incidentally, for millions of bureaucrats, politicians, judges, lawyers, and cops, honest and otherwise. It's corrupted every American institution at every conceivable level.
         Worst of all, it's given the bureaucrats and politicians another excuse -- an excuse that appears acceptable to the media and the public -- to raise taxes exponentially and stamp CANCELLED across the Bill of Rights, especially the Second Amendment.
         Never mind that what you do to your body is your business or you haven't any rights at all.
         Never mind that the one and only way to protect your children from drugs is simply the long, hard, grownup task of bringing them up right; let's start by abolishing public schools, which concentrate and distribute self-destructive behavior the way public hospitals concentrate and distribute disease.
         Never mind that before the turn of the century, addictive drugs were freely available everywhere and nobody showed much interest in them.
         Never mind that there wasn't any drug problem -- I repeat, there wasn't any drug problem -- until your fellow voters, the bureaucrats, and the politicians created a drug problem.
         From the original classic Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine through Babylon 5, TekWar, Time Trax, and Wild Palms, to the late, unlamented Space Rangers, the message we get from most science fiction is the same: the historically and politically unique civilization that was born at Concord Bridge -- and specifically constituted to prevent travesties like alcohol Prohibition, business Prohibition, drug Prohibition, or weapon Prohibition -- is headed nowhere now but toward an increasingly oppressive police state that has already nullified everything the Founding Fathers, and the Bill of Rights they left us, once stood for.
         Unless you do something to stop it.
         And wishing will not make it so.
         There's more to the fight for a better future than simply wishing the badguys would go away. We hand them a bludgeon -- in the form of a contradiction -- every time we agree to any kind of Prohibition at all, and it's childish of us to expect them not to use it to bash our metaphorical -- and literal -- heads in.
         Wishing can't accomplish anything. We'll keep losing our liberties, one by one, until we get our logical and ethical ducks in a row The only answer is to enforce the Bill of Rights. Sure, there are parts of it that liberals don't care for. There are parts of it conservatives don't like. I'm a libertarian -- just like the Founding Fathers before me -- and every word of it is music to my ears. But the Bill of Rights isn't a menu, it's the Ten Commandments of American political behavior and if you blow one -- even one you don't like -- you blow them all.
         Unlike a lot of Utopian proposals being bruited about Right, Left, and Center these days, enforcing the Bill of Rights doesn't require the passage of another amendment, another statute, another resolution, another ordinance, or another regulation. Enforcing the Bill of Rights doesn't require a policeman stationed on every street corner. Enforcing the Bill of Rights doesn't require a basic change in human nature. Enforcing the Bill of Rights doesn't require the Millenium to arrive.
         The Bill of Rights is what we've got already.
         The Bill of Rights is what we all agreed on -- especially the bureaucrats and the politicians who took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution "against all enemies foreign and domestic".
         The Bill of Rights is the law.
         Let us determine here and now, to put the civility back into civilization, through stringent enforcement of the Bill of Rights.
         Through Bill of Rights enforcement.
         Forget Obi-wan Kenobi -- the Bill of Rights is our only hope.

L. Neil Smith is the award-winning author of 19 books including The Probability Broach, The Crystal Empire, Henry Martyn, The Lando Calrissian Adventures, Pallas, and (forthcoming) Bretta Martyn and Lever Action. An NRA Life Member and founder of the Libertarian Second Amendment Caucus, he has been active in the Libertarian movement for 34 years and is its most prolific and widely-published living novelist.

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