Henry David Thoreau, Bill Clinton, And The Movement Mindset

Here in the declining days of April, having, along with the rest of the mass of thralls, recently sent off a yearly accounting of my life to the bastards in DC, I see that the tax protesters have come out of the woodwork.

And I don’t mean the children of Thoreau, the “this rotten government can kiss my ass” tax protestors. I have respect for those individuals that choose to pursue their own ends in the face of government dictat.

I’m speaking instead of the people that examine arcane legal documents, claiming to have found some nugget of detail therein that exempts them (and everyone else) from a legal obligation to pay taxes.

Like the folks referenced here.

What does someone say when they claim that the Constitution doesn’t authorize income taxes, and therefore the IRS is in the wrong for collecting them? They’re saying that if the Constitution in fact authorized income taxes, then you’d be in the wrong for not paying them. To put it more plainly, if the Constitution authorized you to beat the shit out of Mexicans, would that make it right?

Yes, or no?

Because those are the only two choices on the table, here: either government law is in fact the arbiter of right and wrong, or it is not. If it is, then the government of the United States can rightfully pack up every person it wants to into cattle cars and stuff them into the ovens — as long as the paperwork is correct. If government law isn’t the arbiter of right and wrong, then the arguments about what “the law” purports to authorize are meaningless for determining what ought to be done.

This line of thinking is often dismissed as being impractical. Me, I’m wondering just what it is that people who endorse government are in fact attempting to practice.

The most charitable explanation is that they don’t know, either.

Now, some of the folks in the tax-protest movement admit that their endorsement of government isn’t honest, but claim that it’s merely a means to an end. Most people can’t or won’t understand the moral arguments, they say, so they feel that they need to lie in order to spread their ideas. They don’t call it lying, of course, they call it “making arguments”. But calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it so: words do in fact have meanings.

Look: anyone that can be convinced by rational arguments is best served by being presented with those arguments, which in this case consist of “My stuff! Mine!”. As for those that can’t be convinced by reason, what are the tax protestors offering? They’re offering a lie. But their opponents are offering better lies: free stuff on everyone else’s dime. Sure you pay a little in taxes, but Senator Fatbottom’s getting Frogdick County twenty million bucks in Federal grants because of it! What, you wanna get rid of all the things that the government gives you?

It’s transparent nonsense, but unlike the transparent nonsense the fringe-flaggers are offering, it’s attractive nonsense. Consumers of nonsense will take attractive nonsense over unattractive nonsense, the proof of that is as close as the last election you care to examine.

If the tax-protest movement were serious about attracting people who can’t process rational arguments, they’d adopt tactics from other purveyors of foolishness. Why not claim a religious vision about the issue? That works very well for attracting hordes of people who aren’t inclined to think too much about the matter in front of them. Why not find some celebrity to endorse their cause? Courtney Love yelling “Taxes fucking suck!” at a concert would garner more attention and thus more unthinking converts than the tax protest movement has achieved to date.

The answer is of course that they aren’t interested in either making good arguments or in gaining support for their cause, they’re interested in eating their cake and then getting to have it, too: they want to feel like they’re making some sort of moral argument while at the same time feeding appealing lies to the masses.

The end result of that, as always, is that they’re left with neither principles nor appeal.

Political movements lead to exactly nowhere for principled individualists, because mass politics require the suppression of individuals in favor of the collective. Honest individualists recognize this and abandon mass politics for the pursuit of their own values. Opportunistic collectivists realize this and exploit mass politics for their own ends. Movement types, well, they play-act at principles while they analyze what the fringe around the American flag really means.

It’s up to you what you want to be: Henry David Thoreau marching to the beat of his own drummer, Bill Clinton eagerly fleecing the masses, or some pitiful myope dropping his shovel and petitioning his masters because they aren’t whipping him according to regulation.

20 thoughts on “Henry David Thoreau, Bill Clinton, And The Movement Mindset

  1. Greg Swann says:

    That was actually nicely done.

    –GSS

  2. Chris Redwood says:

    Although you make a seemingly compelling argument, and make many salient points, your expose ends up exposing you as a hypocrite or coward. What is the “principle” which compelled you to send a check to Washington? Is it merely fear? Why do you begrudge those who find a way, any way, to avoid slavery? During the outright slavery of the Antebellum period, slaves sued for freedom in courts, saved money(yes some slaves handled money) and bought their own freedom,some prayed to an invisible God for freedom, some quietly slipped away without harming anyone, some killed their masters-then escaped, some waited, mostly in vain, for slavery to be abolished. Which was was correct? The individual facing those circumstances is best qualified to answer that question. Many slave revolts were treacherously foiled by cowardly slaves who felt if other slaves escaped, the master would take it out on them. Sadly,you have something in common with that last group.

  3. John, you might be insterested in this entry at my place from just about a year ago:

    Link.

    RN

    (Edit: fixed the link. Long URLs mess up the blog layout. JL)

  4. John Lopez says:

    Redwood:

    …your expose ends up exposing you as a hypocrite or coward.

    “Coward” is a Complaint From Nowhere. “Hypocrite” is just nonsensical, I don’t claim that anyone’s obligated to defy force that’s initiated against them.

    What is the “principle” which compelled you to send a check to Washington?

    No principle: they have a gun to my head.

    Many slave revolts were treacherously foiled by cowardly slaves who felt if other slaves escaped, the master would take it out on them. Sadly,you have something in common with that last group.

    Spell it out for me, Chris: what, exactly now, do I have in common with them?

  5. John Lopez says:

    PS to Chris Redwood:

    Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that I’m a hypocrite and a coward.

    Does that invalidate my arguments? If so, how?

  6. Masonic Chronic says:

    Tax protesters simply think that they are not “LEGALLY obligated” to pay taxes (i.e according to government’s own rules). This in no way implies that they think that if they WERE “legally obligated”, they would also be MORALLY obligated to do so. In fact I’m pretty sure that even if you could convince most of them that they are “legally obligated” they would still maintain that they are not morally obligated to do so. It is just a tactic they are using. Many of them are really convinced that the law doesn’t technically say they have to pay taxes, and they are hoping to exploit that fact to defend themselves. Not because they think that if the requirement WAS in the law it would make it okay, but because they think that the argument gives them a fighting chance at avoiding the theft of their property. I do think that they are deluding themselves, in that it doesn’t really make a difference whether it is “legal” or not becuase government never has played by its own rules and never will. But as Chris pointed out, it is their prerogative what means they use to try to secure their freedom.

  7. jomama says:

    That was actually much better than just ‘nicely
    done’.

  8. Stefan says:

    Many of them are really convinced that the law doesn’t technically say they have to pay taxes

    As the US Constitution aptly demonstrates, what the law “technically says” sometimes doesn’t mean a whole lot.

    Many slave revolts were treacherously foiled by cowardly slaves who felt if other slaves escaped, the master would take it out on them. Sadly,you have something in common with that last group.

    This would be a valid charge against Lopez if the analogy weren’t so laughable. Escaping from a cotton plantation and a life of harsh, grueling labor and imprisonment is supposed to be comparable to saving some money by income tax loopholes? Please. Income tax loopholes are obviously not effective against government theft in the vast majority of cases since, evidently, most people still pay taxes!

  9. John Lopez says:

    MC:

    In fact I’m pretty sure that even if you could convince most of them that they are “legally obligated” they would still maintain that they are not morally obligated to do so. It is just a tactic they are using.

    That’s true, but they are in fact bringing arguments against themselves. Now this doesn’t matter overmuch to their end result, since as you note, theirs is a lost cause from the get-go.

    My point is a little more subtle: libertarians who engage in mass-movement activities (voting, tax-protests, etc.) aren’t acting in accordance with their supposed principles. They don’t quite have the amorality necessary for success there, but they can’t find the courage to make a stand on honest principle.

    They try for both, and so thus fail at both, because their principles and their actions are mutually exclusive.

    The moral in fact is the practical.

  10. John Lopez says:

    Stefan:

    This would be a valid charge against Lopez if the analogy weren’t so laughable. Escaping from a cotton plantation and a life of harsh, grueling labor and imprisonment is supposed to be comparable to saving some money by income tax loopholes?

    The analogy is worse than that: Redwood is saying that I am in fact actively *preventing* these folks from gaining their freedom by making public arguments against their tactics.

    Uh-huh.

    That would only be true if
    a) fringe-flag crapola was in fact the path to freedom, and
    b) a critical mass of fringe-flaggers became convinced from my arguments to stop doing what they’re doing.

    a) is obvious nonsense and b) isn’t going to be happening any time soon, either.

    [Edit to add: c) rational argumentation was just like ratting out escaping slaves. Which it isn’t.]

  11. Chris Redwood says:

    I stand by my previous comments. Slavery wasn’t confined to just “grueling labor on cotton plantations”. Antebellum slaves included many skilled laborers, bricklayers, ironworkers, shoemakers, etc.In many cases they had to work for their master a certain amount of time, and the rest of the time they could devote to working for themselves. Sound familiar? Now, even such a skilled slave may have wished to keep all that he earned for himself. The way he reached that goal can only be judged by it’s effectiveness. As I said, some slaves sued in courts of law, and some tried other methods, with various levels of success. The freedom movement today is similar, some say move to a land of relative freedom (expats), some advocate alternative currency and encryption, and some want to fight the beast in its own cage. I won’t judge any of these methods except in how effective they’ll be for me. I will say, however, to take a “principled” stand that “taxation is theft”, and then to meekly aquiesce to that thievery while writing missives against those finding some way to fight is both hypocritical and cowardly. Have you no shame?

  12. John Lopez says:

    Chris, let’s assume for the sake of argument that I in fact have no shame.

    Now once again:

    What, exactly, is the parallel between my rational argumentation against fringe-flag nonsense and someone ratting out excaping slaves?

    Does my stipulated-for-argument cowardice, hypocrisy, and shame invalidate any of the arguments I’ve made here? If so, how?

    These are simple questions, I don’t know why you’re dodging them.

  13. John Sabotta says:

    “Constitutionalism combines the worst features of superstition and reality without the attractions of either. Like real law, it’s dull as dirt; unlike real law, it doesn’t work.”

    “Constitutionalists look upon law as the word-magic of lawyer-necromancers who draw their wizardly powers from grimoires, from books of magic spells they have selfishly withheld from the people. Constitutionalists have extracted from these books — from judicial opinions, from the Constitution, from legal dictionaries, from the Bible, from what-have-you — white magic with which to confound the dark powers of legislation, equity, and common sense. Never mind what words like “Sovereign Citizen” or “Lawful Money” mean — what does “abracadabra” mean? — it’s what they do that counts. Unfortunately, Constitutionalist words don’t do anything but lose court cases and invite sanctions. Constitutionalism is the white man’s version of the Ghost Dance. Believing you are invulnerable to bullets puts you in more, not less, danger of being shot.”

    From Bob Black’s “White Man’s Ghost Dance”

    http://www.libertysoft.com/liberty/features/54black.html

  14. Larkin Rose is squandering his fortune and freedom in order to advance the message that he’s not being stolen from according to the rule book. If this is an appeal to the masses to “Come and see the injustice inherent in the system!” that by seeing his plight they might suddenly awaken to the gross infringements perpetrated by government thieves and that such a spectacle would cause them to rise up in outrage against taxation, then Rose would do better to simply say that all taxes – regardless of the legality of them – are immoral and not pay on those grounds.

    The big mistake in either strategy is the overestimation of the degree of moral outrage that financial self-immolation would evoke among the masses.

    I will say, however, to take a “principled” stand that “taxation is theft”, and then to meekly aquiesce to that thievery while writing missives against those finding some way to fight is both hypocritical and cowardly.

    The 861 ploy isn’t a fight. It’s a wankfest.

  15. Good Efforts
    While I continue to drag my ass back to regular posting, there are plenty of superb efforts out there worthy of attention…

  16. Vache Folle says:

    I cannot disagree more with the Redwood. What good would it do to go to prison for tax evasion or to have one’s home or other property seized? I think taxes are theft, I say so whenever I think it is prudent to do so, and I pay them under duress. What is hypocritical about that? Why is it cowardly or shameful?

    I suppose the Redwood would like to see enough other people sacrifice themselves on the altar of tax protests that it results in a reduction of his taxes. So would I.

  17. horsefethrs says:

    wow, what a bunch of idiotic bickering !!, arguing for arguing’s sake… shut the hell up and do something about it!
    I have yet to meet a sane person who enjoys paying taxes, I have yet to meet any person who knows exactly what their hard earned money goes for after the IRS steals it, I have yet to meet a person who has the balls to say it’s morally wrong and actually do something about it.. because of fear of jail or worse. (extortion)
    How many died fighting the taxes and immoral “laws”imposed by King George and his corrupt regime? was it only to have the present regime do the same?
    If you are not willing to fight to the death against corruption, then shut up and live with it you cowards. This sheeple thing is really making me sick, I am ashamed of my countrymen.
    If you think the theft of your hard earned money is wrong, don’t let them take it…This is what the second amendment is for, whether the powers in the corrupt gov say so or not.
    keep playing by their rules and you will never win.
    Government is NOT your friend.

  18. Andy Stedman says:

    Can’t wait to see your house from a helicopter on CNN.

  19. John Lopez says:

    Or his anonymous comment on an obscure weblog. You know, whichever.

  20. He might have a point about government not being our friend though. I’m assigning you two to investigate the matter and produce a position paper.

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