Favorite posts from The Picket Line archives

  • 19 March 2003: The experiment begins: I’ve quit my job so the IRS won’t be able to take any more income tax from me.
  • 27 March 2003: I think if George Bush had to personally burn, dismember, and crush the victims of his war, he would lose the heart for it. He would beg for excuses to try some other way with even more desperation than he in fact searched for reasons to go to war. The gruesome technology that allows him and people like him to rain death on people from a distance shields them from seeing the consequences of their actions.
  • 7 April 2003: Until I stopped supporting the government, my “opposition” to it was a matter of opinion and had pretty much as much weight as any other opinion does; you can’t hide from the burden of free will.
  • 8 April 2003: A bunker buster was dropped on a neighborhood in Iraq in the hopes that Saddam was hiding in a bunker underneath. What’s the moral calculus involved in a decision like this?
  • 29 May 2003: When I talk to people about their government I feel like I’m talking to someone in an abusive relationship. “Yes, the government steals my money and lies to me and threatens to throw me in jail and it’s always going off on these destructive binges, but there’s an election coming up and I think maybe it’ll change this time for real and I don’t want to just give up on it after putting in all this time and emotional investment.”
  • 7 July 2003: The director’s cut of the Declaration of Independence showcases Jefferson’s strong abolitionist rhetoric. But Thomas Jefferson owned 187 people, most of whom were auctioned off to pay off his debts when he died. What gives?
  • 4 September 2003: How to get the government to change? You could try appealing to conscience — it does sometimes work, and it sure makes it easier to get out of bed in the morning if you think moral persuasion still makes a difference. But what are you going to say?
  • 5 September 2003: A review of Edmund Wilson’s 1963 book “The Cold War and the Income Tax: A Protest.”
  • 21 September 2003: If getting more people to resist taxes is a good way to oppose the government, what’s the best way to go about recruiting? Hmmmm… I wonder if a long-winded rant might help.
  • 4 October 2003: I heard someone praise a conscientious objector who refused to fight in Iraq, so I asked if he was still paying taxes. He told me the government hadn’t created a “conscientious objector” category for taxpayers, so he wasn’t able to stop paying. As if you only have a conscience when the government issues you a permit for one!
  • 2 November 2003: “My life’s principle, which I was taught very early on, was to desire and to strive to achieve ethical values. From a particular moment on, however, I was prevented by the State from living according to this principle.” — Adolf Eichmann
  • 7 January 2004: How did the Holocaust give a case of post-traumatic stress syndrome to a gentile born in California in 1968?
  • 8 January 2004: Reflections on how I came to fear “administrative massacre” and my impressions of Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem.”
  • 9 January 2004: Nazis Creep Me Out III: The Road to Auschwitz is Paved with Good Telemarketers
  • 28 January 2004: Today’s Picket Line contest: Name my philosophy! If you put existentialism, “rational anarchism,” disumbrationism, and virtue ethics in a blender, what do you call the smoothie?
  • 3 February 2004: So the Superbowl half time show gets me thinking about liberty and baseball and parables and virtue ethics and before long I’m disappearing up my own metaphor.
  • 11 February 2004: One day, when Ishmael Gradsdovic was startled out of a daydream, he found himself transformed into a horrible zombie.
  • 12 February 2004: I went to hear a witch named Starhawk address a panel at a college with an interdimensional and uberplanetary curriculum about the wisdom of armed insurrection against the U.S. government… so how come I ended up feeling like the crazy one?
  • 26 February 2004: Do you have to be a selfish greed-head to be a libertarian?
  • 27 April 2004: I hope I don’t get in the habit of writing about the U.S. presidential election on this blog, but here I go again. If you think Kerry is the answer, maybe it’s time to ask a better question.
  • 12 May 2004: If America were a person being accused of a crime, and the public conversation about Abu Ghraib were that person’s conscience, what could that tell us about America?
  • 20 July 2004: The home hunt continues, and I ramble on about the art of losing, the appeal of violent protest (and how to make nonviolent protest appealing), what happens when an existentialist meets his maker, and how I get embarrassed by how easy “tax avoision” is turning out to be.
  • 21 July 2004: So what of this legendary Gandhian non-violent revolution? How does it work, or DOES it work, and why did anybody think you could meet British guns and steel batons with unresisting bodies and get anywhere with such a tactic? Don’t tell me they were tax resisters too!
  • 23 July 2004: Satyagraha includes a refined, carefully-selected subset of nonviolent resistance. It seems to be designed to be a means that guarantees a particular quality of ends, and that avoids certain disadvantages of violent, coercive, or humiliating methods of resistance. Is it a pipe dream, or the discovery of a powerful universal law?
  • 25 July 2004: An interview with the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, as channeled through a clairvoyant tapeworm that is communicating telepathically with an imaginary friend of mine.
  • 19 August 2004: Are you wasting your time looking for the lesser evil on the campaign trail when there might be a greater good somewhere else entirely?
  • 29 August 2004: Rumor has it that the Republicans are going to try to eliminate the I.R.S. and replace income and payroll taxes with a national sales tax. Is there a snowball’s chance in hell of this ever happening? How will tax resisters be able to adjust to such a scheme?
  • 27 September 2004: Jettison your misgivings by putting your money in the Conscientious Envelope.
  • 1 November 2004: The U.S. has chosen less-risky, more expensive, more cowardly, and more indiscriminately lethal forms of warfare to meet its objectives. That is what precision, guided bombs and helicopter gunships are for. The U.S. is inflicting effectively indiscriminate destruction on civilian areas with massive aerial firepower. And a new assault on Falluja is expected any day now.
  • 12 November 2004: Do people believe that there is a truth, for instance about how many people have died recently in Iraq, or whether Saddam had his opponents fed through wood chippers? Or, as Orwell feared, has truth become something that is no longer evaded or hidden so much as it is dismissed as a myth or a irreconcilable subjectivity? Also: is the U.S. losing the Vietnam War again?
  • 16 November 2004: What possible motivation could a rational fool like myself have for wanting to do the right thing?
  • 30 December 2004: In a world where a hundred thousand lives can be swept away in a tsunami, do I lack a sense of proportion when I blog about a small pack of tortured detainees? Why am I so concerned about American abuses when the world is full of torturing despots and even Nature is cruel?
  • 19 February 2005: If you take the best ideas from the various anti-war Calls, Appeals, and Resolutions that are floating around, and throw out all of the fluff, you might just come up with something useful.
  • 24 March 2005: Mr. Cranky-Pants answers your tax questions. Today: the Internal Revenue Code doesn’t define “income” or say who is “liable for” income tax. Does that mean I’m off the hook, Mr. Cranky-Pants?
  • 28 March 2005: Cost-conscious cooking for the epicure — the quality of appetite you bring to the table does more to make for a successful meal than the ingredients in the dish.
  • 26 April 2005: Weighing the case for a “Peace Tax Fund” — you may be able to take advantage of such a scheme already!
  • 27 April 2005: If the Peace Tax Fund became reality in the United States, how many people would have to declare themselves conscientious objectors to military taxation before the military budget would be affected?
  • 26 May 2005: How can we make the war tax resistance movement less culturally monotone and more successful? Thanks for asking! I happen to have provocative suggestions on just those very topics.
  • 6 August 2005: Sixty years after the bombing of Hiroshima, the nuclear giants are more numerous and more fearsome, but the ethical infants have yet to grow up. Many people are behaving as though the cold war’s sword of Damocles has been transformed into solar panels and parakeet swings, but even those of us who acknowledge the danger are left with the unanswered question of what we are to do.
  • 30 August 2005: Last year I predicted that one day we would start hearing the hawks telling us that Osama did a good thing by launching the 9/11 attacks because this encouraged America to go to war. I was kidding — making a “modest proposal” — but now Christopher Hitchens proves me right.
  • 15 December 2005: Is Christianity true, in which case I ought to believe it, or if not true, is it beneficial, in which case I ought to practice or profess it anyway? Is Christianity just whatever a Christian wants to believe with an “amen” tacked on to the end for emphasis? What of the Christian Peacemaker Teams who stand up courageously in faith against evil; but what of the Christians who give evil their blessing and support? Can a secular movement for peace and justice have the passion and enthusiasm of Christianity without also importing the balderdash?
  • 27 April 2006: Most people who are asking “but what can I do?” seem to me to really be abbreviating a longer question: “what can I do that doesn’t involve personal risk or inconvenience and that puts the burden of behaving justly on someone else’s shoulders?” And the answer to that question is: “keep dithering and parading and petitioning!” For the few people who mean something more than this, my answer begins, “first, read Thoreau…”
  • 19 May 2006: I write to the Declaration of Peace campaign: “If Gandhi had merely called for unspecified ‘bold, powerful and peaceful steps’ or if Dr. King had called on the citizens of Montgomery to please go off on their own and engage in a ‘tangible, nonviolent action’ of their choosing I don’t think their campaigns would have been as successful.… Conscientious objection is a choice for the taxpayer just as it is for the draftee or the soldier, and it is time that we exercise that choice.”
  • 24 May 2006: Karl Jaspers wrestles with collective guilt, with how individuals can face up to and correctly process their own individual guilt, and with how acknowledging our guilt and our responsibility is essential for the future of political liberty, in his lecture on “The Question of German Guilt”.
  • 20 June 2006: We seem to be stuck — the more you try to get out of the government’s clutches, the more tightly it squeezes. If you cooperate, even only when it demands at gunpoint, you make the leviathan stronger. The libertarian utopias and strategies of aloofness are chimerical. The only choice seems to be to plod ahead in the mud of this real world, choosing to side with the angels or the devils and making your decisions accordingly.
  • 6 July 2006: Robert McGee has been researching the ethics of tax evasion for over a decade now, through surveys, interviews, and reviews of the existing literature. His findings are provocative and controversial. I have had an opportunity to ask Mr. McGee some questions about his research, and can share his answers here.
  • 9 August 2006: Today’s civil disobedience action at Bechtel headquarters in San Francisco was not very successful in its major and more important goals. It did not make more than a token inconvenience to the working day at Bechtel, certainly in proportion to the number of protesters and prepared disobedients involved. And it did so at the cost of alienating non-Bechtel employees in the area, some of whom were not just inconvenienced but were treated with inappropriate disrespect. What can we learn from this?
  • 26 September 2006: The growing respectability of torture leads me to consult Hannah Arendt’s “Responsibility and Judgment” and to ask myself if we can get out of this mess by thinking.
  • 8 November 2006: An out-take from the upcoming Practical War Tax Resistance pamphlet I’ve been working on: How the Government Gets Your Money (and how the Amish fought back).
  • 8 January 2007: I try to find the real America amongst the curmudgeonly lovable losers in Bill Kauffman’s “Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists”
  • 15 February 2007: If the ghost of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith had not possessed a cow in order to drown John Etzler’s lead engineer, we might all be living in paradise now.
  • 22 March 2007: A reader asks how I can comfortably accept and conform to the demands of the State by seeking tax deductions and credits and filing my tax return, while at the same time I decry its actions and claim to oppose it.
  • 5 April 2007: I deliver some tax resistance fire-and-brimstone to participants of a “die-in” at the San Francisco federal building.
  • 5 May 2007: A review of “Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor” by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh.
  • 18 May 2007: Arne Johan Vetlesen, in “Evil and Human Agency,” tries to reconcile sociological, psychological, and philosophical accounts of human evildoing, particularly those prompted by attempts to wrestle with the Holocaust and other examples of large-scale massacre: things like Hannah Arendt’s examinations of totalitarianism and “the banality of evil,” and the Milgram experiment.
  • 16 July 2007: When the chips are down, when something important is at stake, when temptation offers an easy out, sometimes some people take a tough stand and do the right thing. What sets these people apart from the crowd? Moral courage: “the quality of mind and spirit that enables one to face up to ethical challenges firmly and confidently, without flinching or retreating.”
  • 19 August 2007: Bill McKibben is on the right track and raises some good questions, and we’d do well to spend some time trying to come up with some good answers. Encouragingly, the answers cover the spectrum from individual lifestyle changes, to entrepreneurial and creative ones, to large-scale political ones, so there’s something any of us can take a bite of and start chewing.
  • 20 November 2007: Pitching war tax resistance effectively requires understanding the needs, fears, and values of frustrated anti-war activists.
  • 4 December 2007: What would a formal cost-benefit analysis of illegal tax refusal look like? Can the costs and benefits be precisely quantified ahead of time, or even in retrospect?
  • 8 December 2007: If you challenge the government’s authority, it has to fall back on some combination of persuasion and coercion. This can be a valuable thing even if you can’t get much further.
  • 16 January 2008: Can we leave the philosophical quagmires behind and investigate ethics scientifically?
  • 29 March 2008: Does a taxpayer enter into a criminal conspiracy with the government, with the risk of being prosecuted under the Nuremberg Principles? If you pay taxes under duress or under protest, do you not have to worry about the ethical consequences? How was Chiquita (the banana company) convicted for paying taxes? Can Caesar take your blame away? Is paying taxes obligatory, like paying your debts, regardless of the consequences? Have people really been arguing about this stuff for centuries now?
  • 25 April 2008: Examples of twenty-two different ways tax resisters and their sympathizers have organized in support of tax resisters and tax resistance campaigns.
  • 21 June 2008: I found an abundant life and started living more by working less, earning less, and spending less. Take stock of your own vision of an abundant life, and look closely at what parts of it are best-served by earning money and what parts of it are best-served in more direct ways. And look especially at how the government, by means of the tax system, is forcing you to expend your time and energy on priorities that contradict your own.
  • 3 July 2008: Some war tax resisters hold back a percentage of their income tax, equivalent to the percentage of income tax revenue the government spends on war. This is a variety of protest, but does it count as a variety of conscientious objection?
  • 31 August 2008: Ethical illusions can be a lot like optical illusions, and, after reading a collection of ethical philosophy, I wonder why — now that we’re learning so much more than ever before about ethical illusions and blind spots — no discipline of self-defense has developed, but instead we’re allowing this new wealth of knowledge to be used mostly by people who want to manipulate us into betraying our own interests and values.
  • 2 October 2008: Political philosophy is to ethical philosophy as chemistry is to physics. Discuss.
  • 28 October 2008: Dissident American soldiers are telling a relentlessly awful story about a degrading, cruel establishment that lies to them, betrays them, and makes covering the asses of the chain of command a higher priority than their lives, their families, or any of the noble stories about their mission that you hear from the politicians and propagandists.
  • 31 October 2008: Anarchism is qualitatively different from other, utopianist, political philosophies, and if you try to judge it by the same rules you’ll just end up confused. Now if only I can convince the anarchists of this….
  • 17 January 2009: The 250th anniversary of the birth of the remarkable Paul Cuffee, who led a tax resistance campaign for the civil rights of black Americans shortly after the American Revolution.
  • 24 April 2009: I have a flashback to my mental state as an anxious, unsure youth, and think about what a relief it is to have developed confidence in my own judgement, and how institutions like the public schools seem designed to keep people in an insecure state of stunted ethical immaturity.
  • 5 May 2009: The most contentious item on the agenda at the NWTRCC Spring national gathering was our organization’s relationship with the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act and with the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, a long-time affiliate of NWTRCC, which promotes the act. I put in my two cents.
  • 27 May 2009: When people get arrested at protests just as a sort of exclamation-mark, without much regard for what law they’re breaking or why, does it confuse people about the value of real civil disobedience?
  • 27 September 2009: Aristotle, Hannah Arendt, Maggie Gyllenhaal? Is being an ethical person like having a private sadomasochistic domination & submission game going on in your own head?
  • 10 December 2009: A successful, massive, country-wide, multi-year tax strike in Ireland in the 1830s led bishop James Warren Doyle to develop aspects of the theory of nonviolent resistance that would later be used by Gandhi and King.
  • 13 December 2009: What if all of our contemporary moral discourse were a kind of cargo cult of preposterous constructions using fragments from a long lost, once-coherent moral philosophy? In “After Virtue,” Alasdair MacIntyre says that we are living in the wake of just such a catastrophe, and it will take hard work to recover from it.
  • 4 February 2010: How to brew your own beer: a photographic walk-through from my kitchen.
  • 12 February 2010: Thoreau challenged the pacifists of his time to make sure their non-resistance was not a disguised collaboration with violence, and also to make their action effective so that it would most quickly succeed to end injustice.
  • 15 August 2010: If I want to be nonviolent, disapproving of violence is not enough, not lifting my hand to strike another person is not enough, even chasing violent intentions from my heart is not enough: I have to consciously trace the practical effects of my actions, including my superficially nonviolent actions, through to their effects.
  • 27 August 2010: The Revolution Will Not Be a Complex Compound Sentence in the Passive Voice! Some remarks concerning the style and substance of Juan Carlos Rois’s “War Tax Resistance as a Human Right.”
  • 13 September 2010: Gandhi said it overwhelmed him; Ammon Hennacy said it had the answer to all of his questions. Here are some thoughts on Tolstoy’s “The Kingdom of God Is Within You.”
  • 25 September 2010: Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” is legendarily grand in scope, so it’s no big surprise to find hints of his emerging philosophies of Christian anarchism and pacifism on the occasional page. I’ve found some interesting examples.
  • 17 October 2010: Ze Trollee Problem, she ees a metaphor for life: an existentialist look at the thought experiment in ethics known as “The Trolley Problem.”
  • 7 January 2011: Topianism is an anarchist philosophy, but not because it preaches that The State should be abolished, but because it asserts that The State, as an independent moral agent capable of making decisions and shouldering responsibility, does not exist. The attitude of a topian to The State is not like the attitude of an assassin to the Emperor but like the attitude of an athiest to God.
  • 30 June 2011: There’s a myth about how Leon Czolgosz became an anarchist that goes like this…
  • 10 July 2011: Some thoughts on Adam Smith’s “The Theory of Moral Sentiments.”
  • 10 September 2011: We can increase the effectiveness of our activism, reduce the risk of discouragement and burnout, become more appealing and convincing to potential sympathizers, and contribute to a better world in the long run, by avoiding the temptation to petulance.
  • 5 January 2012: Please don’t vote. It’s worse than worthless. And don’t feel like you have to follow the election-season blathering either. You’ll be happier, more productive and helpful, and less of an annoyance to your friends and family.
  • 27 June 2012: The revolution starts now, and you are the revolutionary. You don’t need an organization, a movement, or a majority. Join the “one man revolution — the only revolution that is coming.”
  • 21 November 2012: Ten things I think are probably true concerning ethics.
  • 4 January 2013: Over the past several months I’ve been compiling lists of examples of a variety of tactics that have been used by tax resisters and tax resistance campaigns — tactics in addition to tax resistance itself. Today I’ll give an overview of the whole series.
  • 9 January 2013: There are four fairly distinct varieties of tax resister. Most tax resistance campaigns are dominated by one variety or another, but the American war tax resistance movement is an amalgam of all four. This makes it difficult for that movement to decide on goals and tactics.
  • 26 February 2013: The 14th International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns in Bogotá coincided with the biennial meeting of the general membership of Conscience & Peace Tax International, a narcissistic vampire group nominally devoted to advancing conscientious objection to military taxation on the international stage.
  • 30 September 2013: Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure: smash the State. But meanwhile, shouldn’t we tax the rich?
  • 21 December 2013: Václav Havel’s essay on “The Power of the Powerless” is a fascinating and surprising piece of work and I think it has useful lessons for us today.
  • 9 June 2014: I contributed an article on the American war tax resistance movement to “RADI.MS” — a new, internationally-oriented media platform organized by the “comprehensive disobedience” movement in Spain.
  • FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions
  • How to Resist the Federal Income Tax Through the “Don’t Owe Nothin’” Method