This is a story I wrote a few years ago. This is so far my only foray into a type of science fiction I could describe as “horror.” It came from wondering about how a machine might react when given a purpose but no moral context with which to fulfill it. The lead character has had something terrible happen to him, but at first he does not know what. As he slowly recalls, he is forced to decide whether or not to tell his friends. Would they accept the kind of monster he has become — has always been?

You can purchase it at Amazon for a dollar, or download Former in MOBI or EPUB formats.

Andrew Horning gracefully, gently, dashes the hopes of Indiana Libertarians

lplogosmallI’m from Indiana, one of the Libertarian Party’s stronger states. Dan Drexler, Sean Sheppard, Chris Spangle and Andrew Horning are just a few of the people I know of in our movement who are tireless crusaders for liberty. While I don’t know half of them half as well as I should like, I like more than half of them half again better than half my Republican colleagues.

Believe it or not, even the Libertarian Party has partisan drama to deal with. I have adopted the Paul strategy and have been spending my time working among Republicans, so I have not been privy to the details of whatever is going on in the LPIN. I do happen to see when Andy Horning posts to Facebook and I’m glad I do. He’s one of the better advocates we have in the state, and he articulates the message very well.

Anyway, He is among the higher-profile libertarian Hoosiers, and there were some who wanted to see him as the state party chairman. In a recent post to Facebook, he said this:

When I first heard the rumor that I was running for the job of Chair of the Libertarian Party of Indiana, I assumed it was some sort of political trick and I scoffed it. As others I respect supported the idea, I considered it. I sent out some emails and started some discussions that I think were timely and important. I offered what I think are valid criticisms of the party, and a lot of responses (positive and not-so-much) came back. The responses were (how shall I say it?) con brio e fuoco.
All good. My skin is thick enough. We need to talk and I’m happy to have started a discussion that will continue, I think. I’ll be happy to continue that discussion.
…But not in the context of me running for the job of a partisan insider. I can see by what I know of my self (and what others in the party obviously think of me) that I’m most definitely not the guy for the job.
I actually never intended to start any fights. But if I pull my name out of the hat for LPIN Chair, I think the stressin’ will become something much more constructive.
So to all you who’d hoped I’d run, I’m sorry; I can’t. To all those who flared up; I’m sorry I offended your delicate sensibilities – now get back to work. To the rest of you, let’s consider our current situation, and find a better way forward.
Our political struggles are just beginning and we need all hands on deck.

With a call for unity and an apology for any divisions inadvertently caused, he bows out from a race he never entered.

During his multiple candidacies for Indiana government offices, he has been a stalwart advocate of strict constitutionalism. He has stuck to that principle with such fervor, even I sometimes thought he should probably try more palatable marketing line. But matters of taste aside, the truth of the matter is that if the Libertarian Party is going to distinguish itself at all, it needs such principled extremists.

I’m not a part of that party right now so my opinion hardly matters, but that’s the sort of person I’d like to see at the helm of the LPIN for a while. Nevertheless, he’s not in charge of the party, doesn’t want to be, and those who do have a different vision than he would… And that’s okay.

He is not unique in this type of conduct, by the way. Among my liberty-minded friends I see this attitude constantly. Libertarians are often viewed as overly vocal egoists who have a problem with authority. The reality is quite different. Among libertarians — the good ones, anyway — your self-worth does not come from how much power you have amassed, but by how well you respect the rights of others. You don’t become a libertarian because you crave power.

We’re repeatedly accused of having an “I got mine” mentality, as if individualism meant every man living like Robinson Crusoe minus Friday. To the contrary, respect for the individual makes genuine cooperation possible. If political rivals can’t find a way to coexist without ripping each other’s heads off, it’s going to be within the LP. At least that’s what I’m hoping.

From my perch in the GOP I’ll keep rooting for anyone who is constructively pursuing a freer world, no matter what party they are in. Particularly all of you in the Indiana LP, both party insiders and activist outsiders. It would be a darker world without you.

Overlords and Freedom

I hope every science fiction fan has the same affection for the classics as I do. The good ones provide a window into what was on the minds of authors of that era. The great ones offer a timeless window into ourselves.

One book that I think does both is Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. After only a few chapters the book has made quite clear the horror many felt in the 1950s toward the recently-concluded war, and the terrifying invention that punctuated the bloodshed: nuclear weapons. Arthur C. Clarke’s contemporaries experienced the Second World War directly and personally. The image of a mushroom cloud was new, alien, the scale of its destructiveness should still boggle the mind. Suddenly, Man had crossed a threshold where one false step could end our species in a flash. Hitler was not just a fresh memory, but a recent experience, and tyrannical communist regimes and revolutions had cut a bloody path through Asia. Under those conditions, such a false step was a credible fear. It must have indeed felt as if humanity’s “childhood” ended with the close of World War II, and a dangerous adolescence had begun.

Childhood’s End begins with the arrival of a seemingly all-powerful race calling themselves the Overlords. From their city-sized flying saucers parked over Earth’s major cities, they govern and guide humanity from this tense post-war period into an age of peace and enlightenment. Religion slowly recedes to be “replaced” by science. Society flourishes thanks to the careful engineering of the Overlords, who issue orders to the world’s governments, with the implication that resistance means instant death.

Right from the beginning, I can tell I am ideologically incompatible with this book.

“All political problems,” says the chief Overlord in the book, “can be solved by the correct application of power.”

I suppose in a way that is true, since government exists on a foundation of force in the first place, but the message is broader than that. The character then explains that humanity had so many political problems because political power was never great enough, and humans lacked the wisdom to apply it wisely.

If his storytelling is indicative of his worldview, Clarke seems to believe that an all-powerful state might solve our problems, if only it was wielded wisely. Libertarians reading this will immediately recognize the circular logic. If men are evil, why give any man arbitrary power in a state? Of course, Clarke gets around that question by making the rulers otherworldly supermen. As for me, I believe that both goodness and evil exist in all human beings. A peaceful world is possible without overlords. Even if it isn’t, an all-powerful dictatorship is certainly not the way to achieve it.

While the Overlords cultivate humanity into a race of empiricists living in seemingly limitless luxury, there is a simultaneous waning of the culture. Imagination comes to a standstill. I find Clarke’s assumption here flawed. Compared to the 1950s, we live today in a world with many of the luxuries then thought of as science fiction. We carry devices that can entertain us in myriad ways, diversions are almost infinite. Yet because of this, culture is flourishing. Certainly there are many who are entertaining themselves with very poor-quality works, but the information age has brought us a world in which new and constantly improving content appears at a breakneck pace, and almost all of it is free. Clarke seems to believe that struggle and hardship drive human creativity, and that technological advancement reduces those inputs to creativity. Creativity may indeed come from struggle and loss, but because we will never be free from scarcity, there will always be something more to strain and strive for.

Contrary to what Clarke believed about humanity, we find that neither peace nor great technological advancement dull our imagination. If anything, it only extends our reach and expands our minds.

All that said, in technical terms it is a masterfully composed science fiction novel. Typical of Clarke, you are tantalized with an intriguing extraterrestrial mystery, with glimpses of the full picture gradually revealed. If you can stomach the worldview, give it a shot. Just know that while Clarke had his finger ever on the pulse of scientific curiosity, he had a lot to learn about the fires of the human spirit.