When the war in Iraq started, or at any rate when it escalated into a full-blown invasion, I gave notice at work. My intention is to reduce my income below the threshold of taxation so as to stop paying income tax to the U.S. government.
I’m writing this to explain myself to my friends, who will notice a bit of a change of lifestyle in me in the coming months. Also, I write because writing calms my nerves, and I’m a bit nervous about this. I’m starting on an experiment, and I’m not sure where it will take me.
I take on faith the philosophical speculation that each of us has free will. It does seem that a lot of the evidence lately has been going in the other direction, but that doesn’t stop me. If I’m right, I have the opportunity to try my hand at the controls. If I’m wrong, I couldn’t change my mind if I wanted to, no?
I also believe that because I have free will, I’m responsible for the actions I choose — I cannot rent out my conscience to another person, army, government, corporation, majority or law-book. It’s not just unwise, given the history of , but it is literally impossible. Each of my decisions is a decision I choose based on what I anticipate the consequences will be. I may take into account what the law says, or what the Bible says, or what the movie critic for the Chronicle says, but ultimately I’m the one making the choice.
If I ignore my conscience, I’m committing a particularly dangerous form of suicide — choking off the guardian of my free will and leaving behind the sort of dangerous robot who’s spent swerving from cradle to grave building gulags and genetically engineering more evil forms of smallpox. Not for me.
Then what of my choice whether or not to pay the federal income tax? The government demands taxes from me and doesn’t say I have the option to pay them or not. But it’s not that simple. I’m choosing to earn income, knowing that for every dollar I earn, I’m turning over certain of its cents to be spent by the U.S. government.
- which pretends to represent and protect its citizens, and yet keeps a vast number of them prisoner, and considers most of my friends to be in violation of its laws and deserving of jail time. (I’d shoot a dog if it were that dangerous to the neighborhood.)
- which is a comfort to those crooks who think that stealing someone else’s livelihood by devising a clever law is nothing to be ashamed of.
- which uses “democracy” as its cover of legitimacy, but which cannot be bothered to correct itself or even blush at its own outrageous violations of democratic principles.
- which can be pretty damned sanctimonious about how deliberately taking the lives of innocents in order to further some political goal is unquestionably evil, but can’t bring itself to consider that other ways of saying “terrorism” are “Hiroshima” or “shock and awe.”
- which is every year more cowardly in war — preferring that hundreds of innocents die from bombardment rather than that an embarrassingly star-spangled casket come home.
- which has never seen a human endeavor that shouldn’t be enhanced with taxation, regulation and bureaucracy. This government, which takes half the price of your Burning Man ticket, uses that money to harass you on the playa, and still ends up turning a profit on the hard work of the Burning Man volunteer community.
- which will condemn a brutal dictator or contract to sell him arms and implements of torture with the same sweet lyrics of liberty.
- which outspends on its military several of its largest competitors for the honor combined, stealing from all of us in the process to create the biggest hammer the world’s ever seen so that its leaders can see the people of the world as a set of nails that need driving.
- whose judicial system would rather see a hundred innocent people convicted than one incumbent defeated.
- which, in the 21st Century, still condones torture when it wants to.
- which dangerously pretends to offer its subjects and employees shelter from the demands of their own consciences, of common sense, and of respect for human dignity.
- which confuses everyone’s inalienable rights with certain privileges granted to citizens who can afford good lawyers.
- which arrogantly insists that its word should be international law, and that it should be at the same time immune from that law and its judge, jury and executioner.
- which acts as though the word “freedom” is just the sound of its theme song (or a type of fried potato), and which considers civil liberties to be loopholes to be evaded rather than treasures to be jealously guarded.
I could go on, but it’s starting to be fun. This is serious. With all of that in mind, how can I continue to choose to fund this government when I have the alternative not to? Do I need money so badly that I’m willing to shovel coal into the monster’s belly for it?
Turns out, the answer’s “no.” For me, it isn’t worth it.
I may or may not decide to devote myself to opposing this government, but the least I must do is to stop supporting it:
It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support. If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon another man’s shoulders. I must get off him first, that he may pursue his contemplations too. See what gross inconsistency is tolerated. I have heard some of my townsmen say, “I should like to have them order me out to help put down an insurrection of the slaves, or to march to Mexico; — see if I would go”; and yet these very men have each, directly by their allegiance, and so indirectly, at least, by their money, furnished a substitute.
— H.D. Thoreau
I’ve been wrestling with this decision for several months now, with my conscience ganging up with Thoreau to keep me honest with myself. Like most Americans, I support this government and its war — I have only to look at my W-2 form to see how much (box #2, for those of you keeping score at home).
But I am absolutely unable to give any moral support to the U.S. government, and that I have been a source of financial support to that government has been a stone in my shoe. Ultimately I have had to conclude that my lack of moral support doesn’t amount to much, that if I am to follow my conscience I have to walk the path between my money and where my mouth is.
The U.S. government is imprisoning the harmless, butchering the innocent, and ruling like a criminal syndicate over a country that dreams of itself as a democracy. And it’s doing this in part because I and people like me are paying for it. I can be of better use to my country than this.
I intend to withdraw my financial support as much as I can, and I plan to do so lawfully. Not because I have great respect for the law (hating the leviathan as much as I do, it would be strange for me to revere its droppings). It’s a practical matter. For one thing, if I’m arrested for something, I hope it’s something better than tax evasion. Also, it would be counterproductive in the course of trying to keep from financially supporting the government to give it an easy excuse to seize my property.
I hope to reduce my taxable income, both by stopping the flow of my income and through whatever clever deductions I can find, to the point where I pay no federal income tax this year.
So how will I get by? Much more frugally, of course. I’m going to have to give up most of the tasty luxuries and expensive habits that my salary allowed me to enjoy. I may end up having to move out of the area. I haven’t figured it all out yet. I may try to land a volunteer job that covers some food and lodging. I may leave the country. I’ll probably start selling off a bunch of my stuff and live on what I’ve been able to save from already-taxed income for a bit (although I’m aiming to be able to hit a stable point of being able to live below the tax-line without supplemental income of any sort — ultimately, of course, I’ll have to do this or I’ll have to give up on the experiment).
There are other ways the federal government gets its hands on my cash — through taxes on such things as gasoline, beer, Burning Man, etc. I’ll be reducing or eliminating these contributions as well.
It’s an experiment. I’ve come to believe that I can live without giving Cæsar his due, even by Cæsar’s rules. If Cæsar changes his rules, or if I’m wrong, I’ll have to reconsider my plan. But if I’m right, my conscience tells me that I must not continue to feed the government.
I anticipate several objections to the train of thought that has driven me to these conclusions, and I have not answered these, nor, of course, the ones I haven’t anticipated. I sometimes like to argue politics and philosophy, so if you’re so inclined I’ll probably join you. As a shortcut, though:
- Yes, I really do think the U.S. government is that bad. Yes, I know there are plenty of good candidates for worse ones.
- No, I’m not blind to what a complete rat bastard Saddam Hussein is.
- Yes, I know that my company may just hire someone to replace me who may end up paying just as much taxes as I would have. Answer this objection without invoking the Holocaust for 50 extra credit points.
- Yes, I’m aware that at least some of the tax money the government takes
is spent to perform life-saving surgery on widows and orphans and baby
kittens, to repair sidewalks, and whatnot. Thoreau again:
“It is for no particular item in the tax-bill that I refuse to pay it. I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually. I do not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man or a musket to shoot one with — the dollar is innocent — but I am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance. In fact, I quietly declare war with the State, after my fashion, though I will still make what use and get what advantage of her I can, as is usual in such cases.”
- No, I don’t think I can continue to earn my salary and then just donate most of it to charity (because of the Alternative Minimum Tax). If you know otherwise, please let me know.
- Yes, I’ve considered that in some utilitarian way I might have been able to do more good by giving Cæsar his due and then using the remainder of my wages to oppose him, but I couldn’t convince myself of this. I’d be interested in your thoughts, though.
- No, I don’t think I’m some kind of goddamned saint.
- Yes, I realize that as a childless person without debt, in good health with some money in the bank, I’m particularly advantaged in my quest to assert my conscience in this way.
- Yes, I’d love some additional tax advice that doesn’t involve weird legal theories the IRS doesn’t recognize.
- No, I don’t really know anyone else who’s doing this. Although I’m starting to try to reach out to other tax resisters, most of them are using civil disobedience rather than income reduction.
I’ll stop there. I mostly wanted to explain what I’m doing to those of you who might be curious and for those of you who will notice me changing the way I go about my life in the coming weeks. I hope for your understanding and support, as well as your always good-humored mockery.