Billy Beck: No Shame

A correspondent to Beck expresses shame for jumping through government hoops to use his car:

Shame at being forced to think and act like this. Shame at realizing this type of behavior was business as usual in the communist countries. Shame at being compelled to take a short cut that on principle I wouldn’t take with my family or friends in an analogous situation.

Beck answers:

The only thing that I have to add right now is something that Tim Starr and Ernest Brown brought to my attention several weeks ago, which is that submission is not the same as compromise.

It’s nice that Starr and Brown recently brought this to his attention but Lynette and I (not to mention Greg Swann) have been telling him the same thing for years. Most recently:

jtk3isme: you pay taxes billy, so it seems to me you can
Wm J Beck III: What did you say?
jtk3isme: i said you pay taxes
Wm J Beck III: I mean: is that really what you intended to say?
jtk3isme: yes
Wm J Beck III: What are you talking about?
jtk3isme: you pay sales tax and other taxes
Wm J Beck III: John… have you *never* paid attention?
jtk3isme: sure I have
Wm J Beck III: I wouldn’t pay *those*, either, if I could find a way to stop it, and this fact has a serious implication.
jtk3isme: you do pay them, which means you *can*
Wm J Beck III: I’ll tell you what I’ll do: I will set up a fucking robot to let you know every Saturday that I haven’t burned myself on the Capitol steps. Will you shut your fucking impertinent mouth then?
jtk3isme: not a bit of it
Wm J Beck III: No, sir: I can’t. They’re different things.
jtk3isme: one theft is in principle different from another?
Wm J Beck III: No, they are different in practice. However, let me put it to you this way: by your way of thinking, I just die tomorrow. Will *that* shut you up?
jtk3isme: No, it will shut you up.
Wm J Beck III: You’re implying a problem of integrity, and I know the solution. Is that what you’re looking for?
Wm J Beck III: That should be at *least* as attractive to everyone involved.
Wm J Beck III: Certainly, the punk Swann might be satisfied.
jtk3isme: I’m not implying any lack of integrity for paying your taxes
Wm J Beck III: Look, John: don’t try to bullshit me.
jtk3isme: I say it’s fine
Wm J Beck III: It’s *not*.
jtk3isme: no really it is okay to live in the world, be it good or evil
jtk3isme: they commit a crime but you do not by paying

My original commentary stands:

We’ve had the same discussion a number of times. Every time we do Beck chooses to construe it as an implicit attack on his integrity, as if I were saying he ought not be paying sales tax and other taxes. On the contrary, I’m saying that it’s fine for him to pay sales tax and it would be fine for him to pay income tax. I’m saying his behavior demonstrates that he judges that paying sales tax is better for him than not paying it – else he wouldn’t pay. His behavior demonstrates that he judges he should pay sales tax (which of course is not to say he should have to pay it, he shouldn’t) to get on with pursuing other values.

And he could pay income tax to get on with pursuing his other values.

Clearly Beck submits to vehicle inspection because he judges his life will be better for that submission under the circumstances. And clearly Beck submits to having his required papers inspected every time he catches a commercial flight because he judges his life will be better for that submission under the circumstances.

And that’s perfectly fine. But Beck explains to Richard Nikoley about how the state is killing him:

I don’t know what any of you ever thought was going to happen to me. I had to explain something to Lynette the other night, which ought to be available to a moment’s consideration by anyone in the custom of thinking. I’m forty-nine years old now, Rich. When I come to face the first serious systemic medical crisis of the sort that commonly happens to human beings approaching that part of their lives, there is going to be no way in this world that I will be able to deal with it in the way that every blinking asshole on the street assumes that such things should be taken care of.

All we’ve done is point out to Beck that he doesn’t have to die that way, that he could get plenty of decent medical care the same way he gets his car registered and the same way he gets to fly to a gig: by submitting to some injustice.

For this we get:

Do you understand? I had to point out to her some elementary facts involving the nature of production and the function of money in human life, because those two people — John and Lynette, who really do seem to care about me with a good deal of the emotive force of hysterics — have serious difficulty at bringing themselves face to face with real-live practical implications of a murderous society. Forever, I have been telling people: “This ain’t no disco. Ideas matter.” Their estimation of my personal devotion to an ideal of freedom rises almost to the level of resentment because I am so serious about it. And I appear to be the only one on the scene who is not fooled: I have always known — every step of the way — exactly where this, my life, was going in the present political circumstances, which have only darkened greatly in general since I took my first adult steps.

I’d like to ask Richard: Do you resent the fact that Beck refuses to pay income taxes while you pay that ransom to improve your life under the circumstances? Does it seem plausible to you that Lynette and I resent him for not paying income tax while we do pay taxes? And if it’s not plausible, then who’s exhibiting “the emotive force of hysterics”? And why?

I have an idea why. Principle does not require Beck to do without health care or the bulk of the fortune he could earn any more than it requires him to do without his car or air travel. Beck could still improve his lot in life dramatically by submitting to some injustices the very same way he already submits to others.

But at 50 it would be a very bitter pill to swallow – to concede, even implicitly, that he has foregone decades of production that principle did not require him to refuse.

16 thoughts on “Billy Beck: No Shame”

  1. Shame at being compelled to take a short cut that on principle I wouldn’t take with my family or friends in an analogous situation.

    Where’s the analogy? What kind of family does that guy have? Beck’s letting this guy conflate voluntary personal relations with the relationship individuals have with the State without saying a word.

  2. Possibly Beck believes that since there is no hope of eliminating the state, that therefore an attitude of resigned hopelessness is the best one can have.

    As for turning 50, I don’t think it’s ever too late to embrace the truth. Or as that evil nazi Immanuel Kant once said, “It is never too late to become wise; but if the change comes late, there is always more difficulty in starting a reform.”

  3. “Possibly Beck believes that since there is no hope of eliminating the state, that therefore an attitude of resigned hopelessness is the best one can have.”

    Possibly. But he could be resigned and still have a thriving career, the same way he still has the use of his car.

  4. “I’d like to ask Richard: Do you resent the fact that Beck refuses to pay income taxes while you pay that ransom to improve your life under the circumstances?”

    As I wrote in a comment on the thread at du Toit’s place the other day:

    “You get to forget completely about me, as I’ll never cause you any harm nor cost you a single penny. Nor will my words and arguments ever make such encroachements or encourage others to do so. Quite the contrary. I’d love to see you pay zero taxes, even if I had to keep on payin’. That’s the depth of my convictions, Kim. In fact, I’d gadly agree to pay double, for the rest of my life, if I could get everyone else off the hook.”

    Does that answer your question?

  5. Should I take that as a yes? Only you Randian morons still attack Kant as being a fascist and all that crap. Grow up.

  6. “Beck chooses to construe it as an implicit attack on his integrity”

    Have you considered the possibility that it is you who have chosen to construe Beck’s replies as defense of his integrity?

    None of it reads that way to me, but then again, I don’t start from that premise going into it.

    You might find it interesting to pretend, even just as an exercise, that that is not the case (and for that matter, that he is not contemplating suicide by abstention), and try to imagine what else it is he might be getting at.

    I’ll give it a shot, not to put words into his mouth, (because, you know, I could be wrong, too), but this is how I read it:

    “You imply a lack of integrity on my part, but the concrete state of my integrity is not the issue here. It is the *consequences* of integrity itself that are at issue. The consequences are unavoidable, regardless of the concrete choices made along the way: both sides of those choices carry their own versions of hell in this political climate – and they apply just as much to every ‘blinking asshole on the street’ as they do to me. The difference is that they’ll never be aware of what they’ve lost, or that there was ever any choice in it. That awareness itself is one of the hells that people who believe what we do face, but that you seem to prefer avoiding.”

    Maybe I’m just reading my own preconceptions into his words, because that is how I see things.

  7. Kyle,

    How did I imply a lack of integrity on Beck’s part?

    What is it you think (or think Beck thinks) I prefer avoiding?

    I just don’t find that the awareness of 1) other people’s sins, or 2) the consequences of those sins, puts me in hell.

  8. John,

    “How did I imply a lack of integrity on Beck’s part?”

    He thought you did, he said so. Whether you did or not, I saw his response as more about that not being the point than about defending it.

    The second two are of a part, so I’ll address them together. (And this is more what I think than what I think Billy thinks.) The current political climate puts people in a position where there is no right choice. Filing my income taxes hands over part of my life to the state and increases (however infinitesimally) it’s ability to do what it does. Don’t pay them, and wind up in jail (or in a futile standoff at my “compund”) at worst, unable to take full advantage of a division of labor economy at best.

    In either case, the full possibilities of life are diminished, and there are thousands of such decisions to be made in a lifetime. And that diminishment is not simply incremental, but compounding and exponential. Imagine what we’d have if this hadn’t been the case for the last 100 years… 200… etc.

    The ‘blinking asshole on the street’ is not even aware that there could ever have been another way, let alone what it might have meant. He chuckles about how “you don’t mess with the IRS”, then goes back to his 9 to 5 and struggling to make a mortgage on a modest house and waiting for his weekends and two-week holidays. All real ambition, all hope of making real the vision he once had of what his life could have been has been driven out of him long ago.

    But not Billy, not me, and I’d guess not you either.

    //quote
    jtk3isme: I’m not implying any lack of integrity for paying your taxes
    Wm J Beck III: Look, John: don’t try to bullshit me.
    jtk3isme: I say it’s fine
    Wm J Beck III: It’s *not*.
    jtk3isme: no really it is okay to live in the world, be it good or evil
    jtk3isme: they commit a crime but you do not by paying

    Beck’s “It’s not” reads to me not as saying anything about his integrity, but that it’s not fine that anyone should have to make such a choice – the choice between sacrificing your life all at once or a llittle at a time. The hell I’m speaking of is not that you have any guilt for other’s sins, but that you, and I, and Billy are aware that every such decision, no matter which way we make it, puts what could have been that much farther out of reach, and our own ignominious ends that much closer.

  9. Kyle,

    “He thought you did, he said so. Whether you did or not, I saw his response as more about that not being the point than about defending it.

    My point point was not that he was defending his integrity, I clearly stated my point: That he construed my words as an attack on his integrity. You concede this. The text is there. Do you find anything in it that could be reasonably construed as an attack on his integrity? If not then isn’t there an obvious problem with the charge?

    Beck’s “It’s not” reads to me not as saying anything about his integrity, but that it’s not fine that anyone should have to make such a choice.

    Yes and I understood that implication in real time which is why I immediately clarified my point. No reasonable person who’s read much of what I’ve written could conclude I could think it’s all right for Beck to be compelled, I was only saying that it’s all right for him to submit to it. (And that’s the logical upshot of Beck’s recent “Compelled Shame post, intended or not)

    Beck could not at any point in that conversation have reasonably concluded I thought it was all right for others to compel him. So what’s going on there?

  10. “That he construed my words as an attack on his integrity. You concede this.”

    I should have been more careful. I was trying to say that he thought it was *about* his integrity:

    “Wm J Beck III: You’re implying a problem of integrity, ”

    Yes, it could reasonably be construed to have been about his integrity. Further, it’s not entirely unreasonable for someone with less context to see at as an attack, but I don’t imagine it was, and I don’t suppose it was to him either, though I can’t read his mind.

    “No reasonable person who’s read much of what I’ve written could conclude I could think it’s all right for Beck to be compelled,”

    I think we all agree on that, but the argument I see goes much deeper:

    “I was only saying that it’s all right for him to submit to it.”

    No, it’s not. And it’s also not all right to not submit. Get it? That a thoughtful reasoning person has no basis on which to make a decision of this kind, other than to guess. And when the most important decisions he can make are all of this kind, life itself becomes a guess. Forget the state… no matter what brought about such a situation, there’s a real problem that needs to be solved – a personal, individual problem – and there’s few people around with any advice for it beyond “go along to get along”, or “go hide in a cave”.

    That’s what freedom is about, the only thing its about: not politics, not rights, not society or economy, but the ability for an individual to make rational decisions.

    You know why I think Billy once talked about immolation? Why so many libertarian thinking people occasionally indulge the fantasies of open revolt, or Galt’s Gulch, or “sending a message”, or going out in a blaze of glory? It’s the craving to, just once, make a fully rational decision that’s ours alone – even if it’s the last decision we ever make. To be a human being for one moment. That’s all.

  11. Kyle,

    “Yes, it could reasonably be construed to have been about his integrity.”

    How?

    “No, it’s not. And it’s also not all right to not submit. Get it? That a thoughtful reasoning person has no basis on which to make a decision of this kind, other than to guess.”

    Billy wasn’t guessing about what to do when he got his car inspected. He made the decision to do so on a (wait for it….) pragmatic basis. He weighed the likely outcomes of his possible course of action. He could stop driving, but obviously that would hamper a lot of things he’d prefer to do. He could drive without “papers” but that would substantially increase his immediate risk of arrest, jail, etc. Or he could get his “papers” more or less in order and drive at will with far less risk of that dire result.

    Clearly he judged that getting his car registered would lead to the best result for him. That’s not a guess; he did have a reasonable basis upon which to make the decision.

    In saying it’s all right to submit I’m saying there’s nothing immoral in him submitting. Billy didn’t owe it to anyone to refuse to register his car just as he doesn’t owe it to anyone to refuse to pay income taxes.

    “You know why I think Billy once talked about immolation? “

    It wasn’t just once by any means, but you may mean in the past.

    Why so many libertarian thinking people occasionally indulge the fantasies of open revolt, or Galt’s Gulch, or “sending a message”, or going out in a blaze of glory? It’s the craving to, just once, make a fully rational decision that’s ours alone – even if it’s the last decision we ever make. To be a human being for one moment. That’s all.

    He’s always free to say so.

    But…

    Wm J Beck III: This evening, I described to my mother’s brother how her baby boy now & then contemplates burning himself on the capitol steps.
    Lynette Warr3n: Not trying to be cryptic. I just want to be clear
    Wm J Beck III: It’s literally funny: I never even allude to that without suspecting that anyone who’s ever seen it before will suspect that I’m having an acute episode.
    Lynette Warr3n: I know better
    Wm J Beck III: It’s not, of course. This is chronic: low-level, but always present.
    Wm J Beck III: Well, my uncle had never heard it before. He drew a sharp breath, and said, slowly and quietly: “That’s pretty heavy.”
    Wm J Beck III: I was right instantly up in his face: “Well, what the motherfuck do you think it’s ever going to *take*?”

    …that’s him seeing immolation as a means to an end, perhaps the last means available to him. It’s no mere urge.

    Beck in 2002 at American Liberty:

    Listen: I recently sent out an e-mail to three people explaining that, for the next year, I will do my best to consider every conceiveable detail of a plan to — desperately — capture public attention with announcement of a do-or-die hunger strike beginning next year on the Fourth of July, because I don’t think I can stand to watch another fucking *bullshit lie* go sliding down the history drain without *somebody* doing *something* about it. I got a couple of “Well, that’s nice” sort of replies. (That’s not a quote from any of them, but it’s my conclusion.) Nobody knows better than me that it’s a very deep thing to contemplate, and I could be wrong (and nobody would be happier if I was), but I’m pretty sure that there are three of my net.compadres out there now who’re convinced that I’ve lost my mind.

    I know who the three people he e-mailed are because I discussed it with the other two. Beck was soliciting us to help brainstorm a concrete plan that was likely to end in his death. There were no takers among that group, though if you follow the thread on American Liberty I think you’ll find at least one or two people enthusiastic about the project.

  12. John,

    OK, you may be right about Billy’s attitude re immolation and the hunger strike. I could argue it, but I won’t. I’m not going to spend the rest of the day psychoanalyzing Billy or trying to guess at what he really means.

    What I’m talking about is not really about Billy. I still think he’s making this argument, at least in part, but it doesn’t matter – it’s an important idea in any case.

    You mistake having reasons for having a basis to choose between the alternatives. We could go on endlessly giveing reasons for either submitting or not in any number of concrete cases, and I’ve both participated in and watched just that happen over ten years talking about these things online.

    The reason the argument goes round and round forever, even among people who share the same basic values and beliefs, is that neither choice fulfills basic principles. Choices like this force our values into opposition with one another. Freedom and life are two parts of the same whole, inseperable, and both necessary to the other. This kind of choice essentially says to pick one at the expense of the other. Human beings cannot live like that, cannot make such a decision on any rational basis. As you say, the choice can only be made pragmatically, but only from a very short-term and superficial pragmatism. The option even of pragmatism that takes into account any but the most immediate future is precluded.

    In saying it’s all right to submit I’m saying there’s nothing immoral in him submitting.

    It’s not an immoral act to so submit, you’re correct. It’s amoral, and that’s the problem. These choices remove morality from the equation.

    It’s fine to say that the state is wrong to coerce such a choice, and it’s fine to say that you have to live in the world as it is. But that says nothing about how to do so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *