Volume 18, Number 3, September, 2000

Prometheus Award Presentation

Prometheus Award announcement by Wendy McElroy:

I'm delighted to be the mistress of the 2000 Prometheus Awards. My name is usually associated with nonfiction, and with reason—that's where most of my writing has been. Nevertheless, my introduction to libertarianism came through science fiction, through Ayn Rand's futuristic novelette Anthem. And this is a common observation in the movement. People come to libertarianism through fiction. They come through Ayn Rand; they come through Robert Heinlein; they come through L. Neil Smith.

L. Neil Smith, when he established the Prometheus Awards, was acknowledging the political contributions that fiction makes to libertarianism, to the influence of freedom. He recognized the political importance, namely that it fires the imagination, it fires the vision of man and of woman, and it is absolutely essential to inspire people.

Having said this, another reason that L. Neil Smith forged the Prometheus Awards is in recognition of how excellent science fiction in libertarianism truly is. Just as libertarianism seems to dominate the Internet, so too does science fiction provide a natural home for liberty. And perhaps this is natural, perhaps this is inevitable. Because libertarianism is the ideology that celebrates man, technology, the future, and the synergy of all three elements together. At the best, this synergy produces works such as my favorite novelette in all of sf, which is Vernor Vinge's "True Names"; at its worst it's usually a really good ride. The Prometheus Awards every single year acknowledge and recognize the best of both aspects, the blending of both—the impetus toward freedom that's provided by libertarian science fiction, and just the true excellence in writing that is embodied by it.

And this year, I am pleased to say that the winner is Vernor Vinge for A Deepness in the Sky.

Vernor Vinge's acceptance speech:

Thank you very much for this award. I've always appreciated the possibility of being able to get this award. I got one several years ago, and I really appreciated that; unfortunately I wasn't able to be around at the time that was given out. Nevertheless it was very gratefully received. I was very honored by it.

When Fred asked me whether I was going to be around at the WorldCon he suggested that I make some remarks in accepting the award, and I have some autobiographical remarks that may be interesting, just in the journey that a person goes through to be favorably inclined to libertarianism and anarchocapitalism.

Actually my route may be somewhat in the minority. I don't think that I could be counted as a libertarian until I was around 36 years old. I grew up in a liberal academic family. I can remember sitting around the dinner table when I was about age 5 or 6 and asking things like, "This business that to have a job you have to be a member of a union—where's the morality in that? I don't understand" And I was assured that this would all make sense to me once I had grown up and appreciated the subtleties of the situation.

As a young adult I certainly wasn't a libertarian. I was aware of certain questions about liberty and I was very intrigued by the notion of anarchy. I had a story that came out in Analog, I think in 1967 in which we were not exactly invaded—aliens showed up, significantly superior to us and they were anarchists. The point of the story was that it didn't matter too much what they were, because they were sufficiently advanced so that they could treat us like invading Europeans. In fact, the human race came out relatively better than most of the people that Europeans invaded. But nevertheless there was a lot of unhappiness about the situation. This was before I had done any real reading, but essentially it was the stability problem of anarchy. And I had to have some way to resolve the stability problem, and that was the core of how the alien people had to work. And I resolved it in a way that was definitely not anarchocapitalism. Unless you make some almost magical biological assumptions it was probably an unworkable solution. But it was interesting; it shows my trajectory along the route to other thinking.

It really wasn't until 1979 or 1980 that I was exposed to libertarianism, much less anarchocapitalism. In 1980 my good friend in San Diego and fellow professor in the Math department Sara Baase, whom many of you probably know, loaned me a copy of David Friedman's The Machinery of Freedom. I think we al have those situations that happen— it's either Anthem or Atlas Shrugged or something—but "The Machinery of Freedom" just completely blew me away. I remember wandering around for probably two or three weeks recasting every social issue and everything I saw in terms of libertarianism and anarchocapitalism. It was such a good feeling, this sort of internal ferment; it was a marvelous feeling. Not that I changed anything in the world, but something had changed inside of me. In fact I did worry about it a bit, because lots of people in life come across something that is so eye-opening tha it explains everything than there are no problems left, and very often that's something bad. In this case it mellowed out and I have spent some portion of my time for the rest of my life seeking out situations that seem to be contradictory. My feelings about right and wrong have not changed especially since I was five years old and sitting at my parents' dinner table. I felt very comfortable with libertarianism because it agreed with what really were the basic notions of right and wrong that I had grown up with.

So starting from the early 1980s I was in a situation where anarchocapitalism and libertarianism were quite important to me. I remember in those early years I was amazed by how few disagreements there were between libertarians. Everybody had seen the truth and had things figured out. I have since realized that there are enormous gradations of opinion. In some cases these gradations result in very fierce arguments. And that is fine. In looking at those differences I've found them to be very interesting, and I'm sure that my ideas about libertarianism would disagree with some other people that I'd feel perfectly happy to call libertarians.

One feature of my personal beliefs is that libertarianism and anarchocapitalism have their best chance for success in a peaceful and highly successful economy. And this actually fits in with the notion in science fiction of the power of the word. Stories are something that can change people's minds, and they're something that's very powerful to change people's minds whether the environment is violent or peaceful. But in a peaceful environment they're especially important for changing people's minds. So the notion of the LFS, in the first place, that people should just think about the idea of liberty, and in the second place, to get them to consider certain libertarian and anarchocapitalist points of view—these are very very important and science fiction in general can be set up to have an immense effect.

I see as time progress, that as I have my little debates with non-libertarians—and actually I try to avoid arguing politics because I'm so bad at it in person—oftentimes even if a person will listen to me they walk away saying that what I'm asking for is obviously unworkable. I think here and now this stuff can be made to work but first of all people have to have the concept.

If we could go back to the year 1000 and try to convince some Norman lord, a person of good will perhaps, about democracy, he might listen to you all the way through and when you were done he would tell you why it was absurd, that if they took a vote they'd simply have another guy sitting on the hill the next day, after they killed the Norman lord. And something happened in the thousand years between then and now. I don't think it's going to take a thousand years for the development of the sorts of things that most of us are interested in—and I hope that stories like this will make some contributions to these developments.

So anyway, thanks you very much again for the award.

The following letter regarding the Hall of Fame award to Hans Christian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes" was sent to the Libertarian Futurist Society.

Thank you very much for your email concerning the Hall of Fame Award being given to Hans Christian Andersen and his "Emperor's New Clothes". It is always nice to know how much Andersen's works still are a great inspiration to many people around the world. Indeed Andersen believed in the individual's personal rights, but also very much in its duties towards society and other people, e.g. in "The Little Match Girl", where she is left all alone, or in "The Snail and the Rose-Bush", where the rose-bush is always thinking of how it can contribute to make the world a better place for everybody. Hans Christian Andersen was no man of philosophical ideas: at the same time as he questioned the legitimacy of rulers in his art, he was personally close friends with e.g. King Christian VIII and King Frederick VII of Denmark as well as with the Archduke of Sachsen-Weimar in Germany. "Do not look at people's position etc.–look at their conditions and spirit" he might have said!

We are fascinated by the thought of Andersen being included in the LFS's Hall of Fame and we will definitely make a small press-release on the matter—after Friday, of course! Perhaps you should know that the Hans Christian Andersen Center at the University of Southern Denmark has no exhibition facilities, but they may probably be pleased to receive any information for their archives.

Thank you very much and have a nice ceremony on Friday.

Yours Sincerely,
Karsten Eskildsen
The Hans Christian Andersen Museum
Odense city Museums

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