were joined by curious locals like Tom Quinn of
EcoWatch and Michael Patterson from
Dennis Kucinich’s office (our meeting place is in Kucinich’s House district
and he was curious enough to send an aide to take notes).
A few things jumped out at me during the opening introductory go-’round:
Jim Stockwell of North Carolina mentioned that after some initial mutual
suspicion there was surprising synergy between the traditional Tax Day
protest his war tax resistance group held
and the Tea Party protests going on
Many of the local groups reported diminishing numbers and less-frequent
activity in the past months, mirroring a general doldrums in the peace
Bill Ramsey noted that it has become harder to set up alternative funds
in the post-9/11 financial paperwork era.
Ramsey also reported on an interesting and creative tax day protest in his
neck of the woods. A group grabbed hundreds of 1040 forms from public
places where such things are found (libraries, post offices, and the
like), then printed ghostly images of coffins and of children wounded in
war over the forms, and then replaced them where they had originally found
Ginny Schneider noted that in New Hampshire, the notoriety
of the Ed
and Elaine Brown tax protester stand-off fiasco has made it difficult
for her to do outreach in the progressive community. People hear “tax
resistance” and immediately their minds conjure up images of nuts holing
up with their arsenals and their conspiracy theories until the government
locks them up for life.
We watched a near-final cut of a film
NWTRCC is producing about war tax resistance and resisters:
Death and Taxes. It met with great acclaim (and
plenty of suggestions for last-minute edits). Last I heard, it’s due for
Attendees watch a cut of Death and Taxes, an introductory war tax resistance film due to be released next month
Later, Phil Althouse, an election observer in El Salvador, updated us on
conditions there, and Mike Ferner of
Veterans for Peace talked about
how to move from activism to organizing and build bonds between disparate
parts of the broader anti-war coalition.
Mike Ferner and Phil Althouse address the gathering
While coalition building always sounds great in the abstract, when it comes
down to actually doing it, it runs into the practical difficulty of finding a
common ground and deciding where to compromise and where no compromise is
possible. Ferner thought that organizing around the larger vision of
real democracy was the way to go. Other folks were skeptical. It can
be difficult to find anything approaching an ideological common ground even in
a small group like
with an inherently common, specialized and political interest.
In members of
there’s often a tension between avowed nonviolent principles and promotion of
progressive projects (like universal health care and publicly-financed
elections for instance) that fundamentally rely on a coercive, violent state
to carry them out. The avowedly nonviolent progressives either don’t see the
violent ramifications inherent in such projects or I have failed to understand
the ingenious way they have squared this circle. I usually avoid the
temptation to press the point, but sometimes give in.
Anyway, after this we split up into two groups: a War Tax Resistance 101
discussion group that I moderated, and a larger group that discussed issues of
interest to more experienced resisters. There were other groups that met over
the course of the afternoon as well, but by then I found it hard to be in even
one place at once.
In the evening we heard more in-depth stories of the tax resistance from our
hosts, Maria Smith and Charlie Hurst, and from Juanita Nelson and Erica
Weiland. Juanita Nelson told the story of her arrest-in-a-Sears-bathrobe that
she also tells in
Matter of Freedom. Erica described her transformation from a young
Dean Democrat to a tax resisting anarchist (a salvation narrative in which, to
my delight, The Picket Line plays a role).
Juanita Nelson tells her story
In the opening section of the seventh
book of The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle
interrogated the folk psychology of his day to ask what it had to say about
self-control and its lack, and he came up with a list of things that are
popularly believed about self-control and some other things on which there
doesn’t appear to be any consensus.
In the second
section, Aristotle continues this inquiry, in the hopes that he can come
up with a coherent concept of self-control that more-or-less agrees with the
popular use of the term.
How is it that someone can know the difference between right and wrong in some
circumstance, and yet choose the wrong over the right?
Socrates thought this was inherently contradictory: people only make choices
by choosing what they believe to be right, so that whenever they choose
something wrong they do so because they were factually mistaken about it and
incorrectly believed it to be right.
Aristotle says flatly that “this view plainly contradicts the observed facts.”
He wants a better explanation. How is it that someone comes to know what the
right course of action is and then does something else instead? Does that
person change his or her mind? Does some other part of the soul take over
the reins from reason and override reason’s choices? Does the knowledge of
right and wrong evaporate on contact with certain sensations or temptations?
Is the supposed knowledge of right-and-wrong that the incontinent person
displays at first actually only an unexamined opinion that doesn’t survive
contact with real life?
Some people think that it is some form of prudence or practical wisdom that
makes people change their minds at the last minute and choose vice over
virtue — sort of a “that virtue looked pretty good until I saw it up close
and then I realized I liked the vice better” or
mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo” (Lord, give me
chastity and continence, but not right away). Aristotle thinks this is silly.
Prudence and incontinence are contradictory, and willingly choosing vice over
virtue is never an example of practical wisdom.
Self-control is all about resisting temptation. So to some extent it’s,
ironically, in opposition to Temperance. If you’re Temperate, you don’t
really have strong temptations to vice — your appetites are good ones,
your desires are virtuous ones. For this reason, if you’re Temperate you
don’t have strong temptations that need to be resisted, and so you won’t
exhibit self-control, or if you do, it will be a perverse sort of self-control
that inhibits you from doing things that are good.
Self-control can be mere stubbornness, if the point-of-view you’re valiantly
sticking to is a stupid or vicious one. And, on the other side of the coin,
it can be praiseworthy to vacillate or change your mind if there is reasonable
doubt as to whether your original game plan is virtuous or not.
Sophists have used this to formulate an uncomfortable paradox in which they
ask their listeners to agree that someone who is both perfectly foolish and
perfectly incontinent is thereby virtuous, since he or she will stupidly
decide to do something vicious and then incontinently fail to follow through,
doing something virtuous instead.
Someone who deliberately does something vicious is, to some extent, more
amenable to change than someone who incontinently flips to viciousness at
the last minute in the face of temptation. It’s possible to persuade the
former of his or her error, but for the latter no amount of persuasion is
going to do the trick.
Finally, as was mentioned in the previous section, some people are said to
have or lack self-control about some thing in particular (say, money, regard,
power); but there’s also a sense in which we can say some people just plain
lack self-control, even though they may not lack self-control in some of
these particular areas. What do we mean by this?
This all presents quite a tangle, which Aristotle will attempt to untangle
in the coming sections.
I’m curious as to how “hypocrisy” fits in this model. It seems to share some
characteristics with incontinence, though maybe mostly with the weak version
in which the original, virtuous point of view was more “opinion” than
Hypocrisy is big in modern popular ethical thought — there’s no gotcha
that’s a better gotcha than some “family values” Republican getting caught
with his pants down, for instance, and political bloggers are always trying
to catch each other making absolute pronouncements on opposite sides of the
same issue for partisan reasons. People don’t seem to beware
hypocrisy, exactly, as though they thought of it as inherently harmful, but
they’re reluctant to be caught in it because it is embarrassing.
(This is almost no more than a sport — like photographing celebrities without
their make-up on for the tabloids.)
But since Aristotle thinks that politics is an important thing for thoughtful
people to engage in, and that the purpose of politics is, in part anyway, to
legislate and guide citizens in ethical behavior, it seems that there is a
public counterpart to the private weakness that is incontinence, and that
would be hypocrisy.
For more information on the topic or topics below (organized as “topic →
sub-subtopic”), click on any of the ♦ symbols to see other pages on this site that cover the topic. Or browse the site’s topic index at the “Outline” page.