Monday, February 24, 1997

Week of 02/24/1997

Hypothetical History
The "Unreality" In Politics
- by David Matthews 2

What if..

What if you could go back in time and kill Adolph Hitler before he came to power in Germany?

What if you could save President Kennedy from being shot in Dallas?

What if you could save President Reagan from being shot in 1981?

What if you could change the course of an election so that George Bush got re-elected president in 1992?

What if you could go back in time and change the course of history?

Welcome to the world of hypothetical history - where you can change the course of time at a whim.

Hypothetical history has been a tool of writers for decades. Great writers such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells came up with futuristic stories based on events that had not occurred at the time. Many episodes of "Star Trek" were written with a hypothetical history to it - anyone remember Khan Noonian Singh? According to the world of Star Trek, we should be in the middle of the Eugenics War now. Even House Speaker Newt Gingrich, in his first stab as a fiction writer, used hypothetical history as the basis for his book "1945."

Well now there’s a new use for hypothetical history - to bash growing political movements.

The first target of this new kind of political attack is libertarianism. This has already been seen in political newsgroups under many names - such as the infamous "In a Libertarian world…" header. Quite often the argument is if this was a libertarian society, X would not exist, or Y number of people would die - because there would supposedly be no government to do all those things.


For starters there would STILL be a government in this magical, mythical hypothetical world that exists only in the minds of would-be pundits. Most libertarians - not all, but most - support limited government, not the complete abolition of it. But that is only the start of the neo-political hallucinations, the opening scene of a tale of woe and inadequacies that would make Oliver Twist feel like the King of England in comparison. Let’s go over a few of the classic ones, shall we?

"There would be no Internet." True, the US government did play a major role in the creation and development of the Internet, but can anyone say they were on it when it was mostly a government creation - before the World Wide Web existed? I can - back in 1986 - and let me tell you that it SUCKED! It had extremely limited potential at the time; good to convey text information and little else. It was only after the development of the WWW by PRIVATE interests did the Internet take off the way it did.

So who is to say that without the government infrastructure already present that the Internet wouldn’t have existed at all? Who is to say that the online services, in their attempt to get more customers and expand their scope of operation don’t enter into cooperative agreements with the smaller online services, such as what Prodigy did with Access Atlanta, or perhaps even into the bulletin boards? In short, there WOULD be an Internet - it just wouldn’t have happened as quickly or as broadly as it did.

"There would be no roads." Hmm.. no roads? Well according to these hypothetical historians, the federal government wouldn’t have the authority to create roads if it was limited only to the US Constitution. Guess they forgot about Section I giving Congress the power to regulate the creation and maintenance of roads… Or perhaps they assume that there would be NO government since they believe that this mythical libertarian society is somehow filled with anarchists…

"The poor will starve to death." Love this one. It assumes that the world will be filled with Scrooge-like people who will demand that the poor be exiled to work-houses and debtors prisons or that they die and - to quote from Charles Dickens - "decrease the surplus population." They seem to forget the wonderful works of private charities such as "Food For The Poor" and churches. Poverty is not a new condition - it has existed since the dawn of civilization, and government - for all it’s bluster and pork programs - hasn’t been able to eliminate it.

I myself have little use for this kind of thinking outside of the fiction shelf. Much like LSD, this kind of political hallucination is only subject to the individual on the acid trip. They’re the only ones who see the green-eyed monster when everyone else sees a sofa, and no matter how many times you reassure them otherwise they’ll still point at the sofa and rant away that it’s trying to eat their dog and take away their credit cards.

Then again, two can play the hypothetical history game as well. I’ve always wondered what America would have been like if the Puritans stayed in England. Or if Queen Victoria kept her snooty, pompous, upper-crust, British nose out of everyone’s lives instead of starting the wave of moralism that ended with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933? How about what would have happened if the Equal Rights Amendment became part of the Constitution ten years ago? Would it have stemmed off the shift of feminists to their extreme ends? Or what if people had the sense to realize that the so-called "red scare" in the fifties was a post-World War II propaganda ploy to push for the Cold War, and told Joe McCarthy and his ilk to just shut the hell up and get laid like everyone else?

Let’s get back to dealing with REALITY here. And the reality is that the government DID help invent the Internet. The welfare state DID happen. The Republicans DID run roughshod in the White House in the 80’s and in Congress in the late 90’s. These things DID happen. The question now becomes how to move on from there.

Then again it’s funny that this kind of attack is only targeted at libertarianism. Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh don’t spin fanciful takes about a magical, mythical liberal world. They’re too busy complaining about the encroachment of liberalism in the here and now. And liberals don’t tell horror stories about how the world would still be in the stone age if this was some hypothetical conservative society. They leave that kind of dreaming to Hollywood producers and screenwriters. So WHY then do conservatives and liberals both spin fantastic tales about what life would be like if ruled solely by libertarians?

Maybe it’s because they can’t use any solid arguments. After all, libertarianism embraces concepts that both liberals and conservatives partially use for their own causes. Or maybe they’re so desperate to bash libertarianism that they have to rely on flights of fantasy, because to attack based on reality would make them sound like tyrants lording over incompetent children. And then these people have the unmitigated gall to call libertarians dreamers? Who’s living in the fantasy world here?

Either way, this barrage of political unreality is pointless. Let’s deal with REALITY, not with flights of fancy best left to the fiction shelves.

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