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Honk If You Hate Taxes!

My Annual Protest.

by James Leroy Wilson
April 17, 2003

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Honk If You Hate Taxes!_James Leroy Wilson-My Annual Protest. I don't know how strikers do it. Marching around, holding signs. The arms get tired, quickly. Perhaps that's why labor unions aren't as strong as they used to be. Who really wants to go on strike? Or participate in any protest or demonstration for that matter? They never persuade anybody of the rightness of their cause. For the most part, they just look and act like self-righteous, simplistic morons.

And what, really, could be more simplistic than a sign saying "Honk If You Hate Taxes"? Yet, for the second year in a row, there I was in the strong winds of downtown Chicago, in front of the open-late-on-April-15 Post Office, holding up the sign, and waving and giving thumbs-up to the honking riders who were handing off their tax returns to postal workers standing curbside with us few, proud, protesting Libertarians. No doubt the scene was similar in many cities all across America.

Why was I out there? Well, it was a nice day. But mainly, because I wanted to be. I've never been to any other protest, but Tax Day is unique. For I believe that the income tax is the most pressing moral issue facing our nation, because I agree with Frank Chodorov that it is the "root of all evil." So much of what came after: War, Prohibition, Depression, Welfarism, War, Cold War, Welfarism, War, Cold War, Welfarism, War, High Corruption, Inflation, Stagflation, Cold War, Recession, Deficits, Prohibition, War, Recession, High Corruption, War, Recession, and War, started with the 16th Amendment which officially sanctioned income taxes and other direct taxes. Unlimited taxation leads to unlimited government. Unlimited government leads to tremendous social chaos and destruction.

Individuals are, in many ways, captive to their social environments. From the moment of birth on, we are learning from others. How our parents treat us, what books, schools, and churches we are sent to, and the political and moral beliefs and behaviors we see around us, can't help but play a tremendous role in our intellectual and moral development. Children are inclined to adopt most of the beliefs and behaviors that are taught to them, and to continue that pattern for the rest of their lives.

Yet the social environment isn't everything. Human beings are not "social animals;" they are individuals; they are unique. Their strengths, weaknesses, experiences, and ability to process thoughts and rationally calculate are varied, so unlike those of any other individual. And it is in our individuality that distinct, free human action springs forth. That is, the individual and only the individual, not society, can generate action.

So the inputs of society are countered by the unique qualities of the individual's body, mind, and spirit. While the individual is inclined to believe and act according to social expectations, there are also unique individual experiences, external and internal, which may cause the person to question what he has been taught. It may be from a particular experience of hearing "God's call," or of intellectual illumination in which one suddenly understands what he hadn't before. Or it may be just innate genius or a traumatic physical experience. But such experiences make us increasingly self-aware beings, and even as we feel the pressure of social conformity, we also have the desire to live our lives as we see fit, not how others see fit.

This is the great tension, and to the extent that social structures are faulty, this can cause significant inner turmoil and cultural decline. To the extent that the individual is asked to adopt contradictory beliefs from society, and is inclined to do so because it is in his economic interests to "fit in," his actions will necessarily be irrational and, in the long run, destructive.

Thus, we are taught: "do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal." These laws derive from the Golden Rule "treat others as you would wish to be treated," which itself is but a corolary of "love your neighbor as yourself." We are taught that, because we love our own lives, to love each other's life; to give others the same regard we have for ourselves. We do not want our own property violated; therefore we must not violate other people's property. That we must not treat others as only means to our own ends, but to treat others as ends themselves.

At the same time children are taught this, they also learn that we must pay our taxes. And that the rich must pay more in taxes, all in order to help the "helpless" and fight "social injustice." That is, we are taught that an invasion of our property is good, provided it helps others. We are taught that we are means only, to serve someone else's ends - but that this is alright because those ends are good.

Thus we have Ayn Rand's nightmarish description of "altruism," in which self-loathing and self-sacrifice are considered good as long as it helps others. Love your neighbor to the degree that you hate yourself. You have obligations to others, based on how still others perceive those obligations. Treat others as ends, but treat yourself as a means only. Altruism in Rand's sense, or socialism in the general sense, negates the lessons above. Instead of individuals being treated as ends in themselves, they are treated as means to some vague "social" ends.

The income tax is thereby a fault in social structure. Reason, morality, and religion teach of thinking and acting out of the same regard for others that one has for oneself, and that therefore one must respect the other's right to enjoy the fruits of his labor: do not steal. But socialism teaches of self-sacrifice and treating others - especially those more prosperous than you - as means to some intangible "social good."

I'm no Rand disciple, but I do accept truth regardless of source: A is A. Property is that which belongs to the individual through his honest labor and trade, or by freely accepting honestly-given gifts from others; we are wrong to "take" from others, but can only trade with, or freely receive gifts, from them. Or, property is that which belongs to the State, and the fruits of one's labor belong to the State. It is impossible for both propsitions to be true, but what we are taught is that A is A, except when A is not A. You must respect other people's property, but the State doesn't. Or, you must respect other people's property, except when you vote, in which case you can do whatever you please.

The problem is, it is very easy to believe such a proposition, precisely because we are inclined to believe what we're told. Some people may gloss over it as a "paradox" when it is really a contradiction. Filled with patriotism, or with what we think are the sober realities of the "necessity" of the State, many voters, intellectuals, and even politicans try, vainly but honestly, to try to discern the "public good" based on the fundamental promise that A is good, except when not-A is better. And then we wonder why politics is so corrupt. The corruption began with the refusal to think logically, and the refusal to think logically is ingrained in us at an early age, especially when thinking about humanity, society, economics, politics, and morality.

Thus, no one with political power, even if its just the citizen-voter, has a clue how to intelligently use that power. It's not rational calculation at all, but the assault of two different values, A and not-A, which we interpret and react to differently depending on the issue. Human beings are ends in themselves, except for this or that particular issue, because my own priests or teachers or parents taught me otherwise.

The coercive effects of taxation, and the distribution of tax revenue to bureaucrats and to both the real and the merely supposedly helpless, have all been incentives for corruption and inefficiency. Government never "earns" anything through production; all it can do, at best, is redistribute wealth less efficiently than charity could, at worst it destroys wealth through war. It's only "good" or justification, its only commodity so to speak, is security. Which, as Chodorov correctly pointed out, is myth, an illusion. I would put it as a "feeling." And frankly, I'd "feel" more secure if we didn't have a standing army at all, let alone one stationed in over 120 countries, especially since our only two geographical neighbors can't and won't ever attack us.

I admit that it is possible, from my analysis, to not only question the existence of the income tax from which unlimited government springs, but also the existence of government, as a monopoly of violence and coercion, at all. But I'm not going to "go there" today. All I know is that we as a country, as a nation and a people, were transformed profoundly by the official, Constitutional sanction of income taxes and other unlimited direct taxes. Oh, sure, we became history's only truly global Empire. But only Heaven knows how many Einsteins and Edisons we let die as our own conscripted cannon fodder in the processs. Let alone how many foreigners, military and civilian, we obliterated to get to this point. Or how many scientists working on "e-bombs" with federal funds could be curing cancer instead. While some may object that the Maos and Stalins and Hitlers have killed far more, my point is that we should have known and done better, and that whatever blood that might have been shed on foreign soil, ought not have been done by American hands.

An individual must stand up and say "No!" And that's why I was out there, holding the sign and waving to the honking cars. The wind was stiff, and now my arms are sore. But I will be back next year. My conscience compels me.

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