L. Neil Smith: An Historic Shift of Priorities

An Historic Shift of Priorities
by L.Neil Smith

Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

Since I became the father of a daughter, some twenty-five years ago, I have been known to observe that if each and every one of us simply focussed on his or her own family, we probably wouldn’t have wars or jihads, or whatever else the sociopaths called “leaders” find to distract us from the true priorities in life, from what’s really important.

Without slighting my darling, lovely wife a micron, the jeweled heart of my existence for the past quarter of a century has been my daughter. I am now entering an evolutionary phase we call “the empty nest” as my daughter, gainfully employed at an amazing job, finds her own place to live and to be herself. I’m trying very hard to be a good sport about it because I recognize that it’s necessary, and that my daughter has already achieved vastly more in life than I had at her age.

My hope for her is that she learns the following truth I’ve discovered about priorities: nothing can be allowed to come before the family you make for yourself. I’m ashamed it took me so long to learn it myself. My only excuse is that I was brought up in a military family in Strategic Air Command, in which everything comes before family.

Which brings me, by no great coincidence, to a second truth I think the universe is trying to teach me. If every cent of the $173 billion (closer to a trillion in today’s terms, plus after-costs amounting to another trillion) this country spent on the War in Vietnam had been spent, instead, on medical research, where would humanity be right now, say, relative, to cancer? Of course North Vietnam would have conquered South Vietnam, but that’s what happened anyway. It was all, wasted wealth and lives, for absolutely fucking nothing.

I occasionally wish I were religious enough to imagine Lyndon Johnson’s fat dripping off a rotating iron spit onto Robert McNamara’s face (and parts south) in one of the lowermost circles of Dante’s Inferno. Even if I wanted to, I will never be able to forget or forgive the horrific, purposeless terror and death of Johnson’s war. Sixty-odd thousand young Americans and over two million Vietnamese dead.

Would one of those have discovered the cure to AIDS? Who can say? In the parlance of the times, what if they’d given a war and nobody came? What if we’d all listened a lot closer to the anti-war lyrics of Buffy Sainte-Marie (look her up)? They were unique because they placed the moral responsibility for war directly in the hands of individuals. People simply never learn a damned thing about war, from decade to decade and century to century. We’ve thrown away many more trillions of dollars since Vietnam, mostly in the Middle East, to no good purpose.

Personally, I’d like to live in a world where it’s a lot harder to start and sustain a war. I’d like even better to pass that world along to my daughter. I’d begin with demanding a campaign pledge from all politicians to do two things: outlaw the practice of conducting wars without declaring wars; and to volunteer the very minute after they declare war. Something tells me we’d somwhow find a lot fewer wars to fight.

Next, imagine—and discuss incessantly with others—what could be done with the wealth that isn’t wasted on war any more. Mind you, I’m not advocating any government programs, here. I’d simply leave all that money exactly where it belongs, in the private hands that created it. I’ve written and spoken at length before about what life would be like with no taxes (and economic regulations). That’s a world that would be worth working toward. I’ve been doing my best all of my adult life.

For example, this civilization is only a handful of years away from ending the terrors of old age. At sixty-eight, I have a whole bunch of things wrong with me that would have killed me outright half a century ago, but have been reduced to mere annoyances, thanks to modern science. Life extension is already here. The two greatest remaining threats of aging right now are Alzheimer’s disease and cancer in all of its various forms. I’ve been hearing all week about how they’re now curing the former in laboratory mice. And a single world war’s worth of money for cancer research—I’ve always believed that cure will turn out to be cybernetic in nature, a “bug” or glitch in our cellular reproductive system—could stop that threat, as well.

What you do with your immortality is your own business, of course. But, mostly because they despise themselves, and everybody whom they perceive to be like them, there will be some individuals who are afraid of and hate the idea of humanity living significantly longer. “Earth is already too full!” they scream with less and less credibility, thanks to our increasing understanding of economics and human action. The Reverand Thomas Robert Malthus thought there were already too many people in 1798. Later, Paul Erlich thought there were too many in 1968. In fact, there will be places for people on Earth to live for centuries, and newly-developed resources for them to consume forever.

And nobody will be forced to live forever.

Let’s assume for a moment that the population crazies are right. This brings us to something fruitful we might do with our excess years. When Erlich was at his zenith, some of us proposed encouraging the extra people to emigrate. The trouble is, the kind of space travel we had then couldn’t carry enough passengers to significantly reduce the daily increase. Even given the Shuttle, that situation hasn’t changed.

Since then, however, various thinkers and writers have explored a new concept, the space elevator, which, in a year’s time, might remove millions of people from the planet. If dozens of them sprang up all around the world, we’d see a population phenomenon like Ireland, which has only 4,000,000 people, but has spawned 40,000,000 in America alone.

Put an end to war, win immortality, and massive space travel, in its place. It’s a very nice thought, but how do we get from here to there?

I have proposed before, starting an organization—it wouldn’t really be a political party, but would call itself one—to make current politics obsolete. The Privacy Party, as I call it, would be essentially libertarian in character. Its guiding principles would be the Bill of Rights and the Zero Aggression Principle. It would nominate no candidates, but endorse the few existing candidates it could. It would regularly generate “white papers”, forming a policy base. It would put people together with similar ideas. It could take America permanently out of the hands of politicians, bureaucrats, and policemen. It would promise people immortalty and the freedom of the sky.

Every political party that presently exists is based on taking things away from people and either giving it away or destroying it.. Name an issue, and see who is about to be targetted by whom. The Privacy Party would take nothing from anybody. Its interest would lie in restoring rights to everyone, and encouraging a new renaissance for America.

No conventions, no committees, no officers, nothing to vote on or fight other people’s votes. The platform was written in 1789, by James Madison.

If you’re game, if you want to be free, if you want your children or grandchildren to be free, write to us and let us know. We might accomplish absolutely nothing. We might affect the next general election.


  1. From one Neil to another: well said, my friend. Which button do I press to give six stars out of five?

    But, in my view, you don’t go far enough. You speak of “America” as if it was “we” and something good; instead of what it is, the biggest and most dangerous criminal gang on the planet. And I’m sorry, but a political party is not the way forward. You can’t pull down a corrupt system from the inside. Samson tried that; and look what happened to him.

    One, perhaps more subtle, point: I don’t think you make it clear enough that what you call family doesn’t have to be biological.

    And your essay doesn’t fully justify its title. What exactly is the “historic shift of perspective,” to which you refer? Yes, I know the answer; it’s the coming shift of perspective from the collective to the individual. But will your readers understand that?


  2. Still in the 1960s?

    O.K. as Julie has not commented yet, I will.

    President Johnson and Defence Sec McNamara actually followed a demented “limited war” policy in Indo China – they did not even try to win, the concept of “victory” was not even on their minds. This was pointed out by many people at the time.

    Not only was there no effort to overthrow the Marxist regime in North Vietnam – there was not even a serious effort to defend the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). As had been noted when Ike was President to protect South Vietnam one would have to put regular ground forces into the hill country of Laos (as Vietnam, unlike Korea, has an “exposed left flank” – it has a land border on the western side of the country, whereas Korea is covered by a seacoast to the west as well as to the east) – President Johnson (and the jerk Robert McNamara) refused to do this – instead relying on air power and a few CIA officers and native hill tribes.

    They did not even use air power effectively – for example asking for the top targets of the Air Force and Navy and then FORBIDDING the Air Force and Navy from hitting these targets. Because of their “limited war” idea of talking to the Communists – the Nixon betrayal at the Paris “Peace” Accords was in the minds of Johnson and McNamara also from-the-start.

    As for military spending – it was about 11% of the economy during the Vietnam War and about 11% of the economy BEFORE the Vietnam war (what happened was that military spending on building up assets such as aircraft, or ships, or missile defence, was spent on current military spending (war fighting) instead).

    Although had the Vietnam war not happened President Johnson might have spent even more money on destroying the United States with his “Great Society” Welfare State programs.

    Military spending is now heading towards 3% of the economy and the size of the United States Navy and Air Force is heading for 1930s levels – with no defence against such modern threats as electro magnetic pulse attack and so on. And the Chinese military (as part of the “Forth Modernisation” started as long ago as 1978) growing rapidly – both at sea and in the air. The PRC regime is also making endless new claims to lands and seas that are suddenly “always part of China”.

    As for Indo China – the real scandal (which Rothbardians appear to be blind to) is that the United States allowed millions of people of people to be murdered by the Marxists in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos when I could have been prevented.

    One does not need to read such works as “On Strategy” or “Strategy for Defeat” on the Vietnam War to know his, as many people (such as Senator Barry Goldwater) pointed it out at the time – the Johnson Administration never tried to win (neither did the Nixon Administration) VICTORY was never their objective.

    But it is a waste of time to talk to people who are even against the Korean War and are against CIA operations in France and Italy in the late 1940s (without proposing any serious private enterprise military effort).

    People, such as the late Murray Rothbard, who would have let the Communists conquer the entire world (including the United Kingdom) – as they, Rothbard and co, seemed to operate under the deluded idea that the United States exists on some other planet and what happened to the planet Earth did not matter.

  3. Yes in the past the United States could rely on Britain to oppose and contain threats in the world.

    However, Mr Smith, the United Kingdom is no longer able to do that – and was no even in the 1960s (or even in the 1940s).

    You may say that what you were taught in the United States Air Force is wrong – and that your family is all that really matters.

    However, it is actually you who are mistaken.

    As your family will not survive without the United States armed forces opposing and containing threats on this planet. And it is too late (much too late) to wait till the United States itself is attacked.

    If there is an alternative to the United States military (perhaps some great private company with nukes in orbit and large scale land-sea-and-air forces) I have not been shown this alternative.

  4. Thank you, Paul, for your incisive reminders of the actual history of Korea and Viet Nam. You have done a much better job than I would have done.

    It’s quite true that the weak and powerless must keep their heads down, comply with the demands of the bad guys with the power, and — if they are sufficiently brave — offer at least sub rosa moral support to the strongest of the relatively good guys in the neighborhood or on the planet, if they wish to go on living at all, let alone to go on living and enjoying their families.

    Why not “let George do it.” Especially when the mishandling of the lethal weapon that we call “the military” can so easily lead to catastrophe.

    If only one could talk the rest of the world into doing likewise….

    “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom,” said Mr. Jefferson, and that vigilance applies not only to paying attention to one’s own government’s latest attempts at power-grabbing and other forms of malfeasance, but also to those of the larger world. This is so whether it is attempted through toxic philosophies such as collectivism in various dress, or “know-nothing-ism,” which has a long history going clear back to the ancient Greeks; or through naked force of arms.

    If you wish to tend your roses or enjoy your family in peace and freedom, you should keep your musket oiled and handy. As Orwell observed:

    People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

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