Gina Lunori: “It’s Revolution Time Again”

The following is a passionate call for tax resistance by Gina Lunori that I’m reproducing here:

It’s Revolution Time Again

by Gina Lunori

I’ve heard Republicans talk about getting the government off our backs often enough now that I think it’s sunk in. If I ever see a Republican who actually means it, I think I may dust off my voting suit and try to find my way to the polling place.

I’d like the government off our backs, and off our toes, and out of our pocketbooks and the rest of us, too. I’d like the government to keep its hands to itself and go back to where it belongs, if the more pessimistic theologians are right after all and there is such a place.

They say we have a government to protect us from criminals, and every year politicians pass new laws that grease the wheels for bigger and more outrageous crimes. Could Enron have happened without the help of the politicians who helped out as surely as if they’d been driving the getaway car?

They say we have a government to keep the peace, but war-hungry people know that the best way to feed their bloodlust is by using the government. Case in point: the present Iraq war, which was not caused by the American people using their government as designed to protect them from threats, but was the result of a few individuals using the government as a tool for their own ends. Who believes that if actually argued on its merits, this war would have met with the approval of the American people?

Defenders of the government can’t sing its praises with a straight face, so they are reduced to sowing fear of what might happen if the government abandoned its post. Get government off our backs and what’s to keep the Ku Klux Klan from coming back and taking over the South? Get government off our backs and who will fix our roads? Get government off our backs and who will clean up the environment?

But the government has never done anything that couldn’t be done better if the government got the hell out of the way and let people do it on their own. The government didn’t free the slaves so much as it finally stopped enforcing their slavery. It doesn’t fix the roads so much as it fixes the bidding on the contracts to make the roads. It doesn’t clean up the environment — hell, it’s the worst polluter this country’s got! All of these things that people claim couldn’t be done without the government around to call the shots would have been done, probably better and with less waste of time and effort, if the government hadn’t been getting in the way.

The government runs off to Cancun to negotiate a “free trade” agreement and ends up spending all of its time trying to make excuses for the barriers to free trade it relies on. Imagine: a bunch of governments meeting to make rules governing free trade. That’s like a bunch of graffiti artists spray-painting an anti-vandalism message on an alley wall. That’s like a bunch of alcoholics getting together at happy hour to hold a drinkathon for sobriety. It’s nuts, but in Government Land, up is down, dry is wet, and free trade is a mountain of asterisks guarded by bureaucrats.

Your legislators all run for office on crime-fighting platforms, but if you look at the results of their legislation — which opens the door to new assaults and thefts with every bill that’s passed — you’d be in your right mind to want to move the Capitol to Alcatraz. They claim to be working for national defense, but when you see how vigorously they’re arming the world and angling for war you begin to understand that the biggest threat to the United States is its own government.

But I’m not asking you to join the Black Bloc or even the Libertarian Party; I won’t wish upon a star for the government to vanish into thin air. But could we at least have a better government? Not “one day” but tomorrow, and then the tomorrow after that and so on. Nobody can respect this government, but most people have some idea of what government they could respect, and I think if we each one of us pushed in that direction, as different as our opinions are, the direction would generally be up, and not just back-and-forth like it is today.

I’m not saying we should have crude majority rule. The majority doesn’t necessarily have any sense just because of its size. I mean: look at any bestseller list. If the government dreams, I believe it sometimes dreams that it will one day have the power to force everyone to read Chicken Soup for the Soul every day. It’s like that with the rest of its laws — let a majority, or even a sufficiently powerful minority, believe that something is good for everyone and — whammo! — a law is sure to follow making it mandatory.

The worst part is that there are many dopes out there who don’t trust their own opinions enough that this would bother them. “Well, the law says I should read Chicken Soup for the Soul — who am I to argue with the opinions of the majority? I’m only one person, after all.” Pity a nation that has a population whose consciences have atrophied so much that they’d let a majority make the decisions for them when it really counts. And pity a society that lived through the 20th Century without putting safeguards in place to prevent this.

Don’t get me wrong — it only makes sense in an important matter to consult the people around you, to get a sense for what other people would do in a similar situation. But if, after getting this feedback, your conscience still tells you that to do what the majority would have you do means doing something wrong — are you going to go ahead and do wrong? Might as well just click off the ol’ brain entirely, then — you won’t be needing it.

It’s true that some people are better judges of right and wrong than others, but I’d bet that if you just set everybody free to do what they felt to be right the world would be a whole hell of a lot better than if you let some majority or influential minority of people decide what everybody ought to be doing. The law never made any right person righter than they already were, and although it may be true that fear of the law has made some wrong people think twice, it’s also true that the same fear regularly convinces otherwise sensible people do awful things.

And it takes these otherwise sensible people out-of-service, as people anyway. They can still push buttons and follow orders, I suppose, but their conscience is the part of them that’s most desperately needed in this world, and we, by allowing government to prohibit independent conscience, have allowed these necessary consciences to wither away.

I meet people all the time who have decided that the government is the best judge of how they should conduct their lives — I feel like laying a flower on them and saying something nice to the next-of-kin. I get the feeling that if the government decided it could get better use out of them by grinding their bones into glue, they wouldn’t get much further back along the path to humanity than cursing their bad luck on the way to the glue factory.

There are some people who really do serve their country — as people, complete, with their bodies and their minds and their consciences. They’re wonderfully dangerous men and women, and the government categorizes them that way if it recognizes them. After all, a person of conscience only follows the government’s dictates accidentally, when they happen not to prohibit good or mandate evil, and how often is that, really?

The revolutionaries who ripped this country away from its colonizers felt that they had to explain themselves. The monarchy they were ridding themselves of was different from the republic that suffocates us now, but the excuses people had for putting up with it were pretty much the same. The revolutionaries responded to these excuses by saying that as far as they could tell, the reason we put up with governments at all is that we use them to protect our rights — for instance to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” — from those who would try to violate them. Furthermore, “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.”

Ask yourself now: is your government protecting lives, or endangering them? Does it protect liberty, or threaten it? Does it facilitate the pursuit of happiness, or frustrate it?

If the government were merely inefficient and clumsy at doing its job I might grumble a little, but I’d probably let it slide. But when a government, like ours, has become a threat to life and liberty, I say it’s time for a change. We’d be better off without it. If we need a government at all, the government we need is a different one — not just this one with a sprinkling of new heads above its ties.

If the choice were between a bloody and awful revolution like our Civil War and keeping the government we have today, it would be argued — and I might argue myself — that the cost is too high, and it’s better to suffer under the government we have than pay such a price in blood for a new one.

But who says this is the choice we have to make? Is there no other choice than between a bloodbath and an embarrassing and savage parody of democracy? Are we like Hollywood — so sapped of creativity that we can’t find a path from where we are now to where we want to go that doesn’t involve a thrilling penultimate act with car chases, shootouts and explosions?

Right now, the cost of avoiding this bloodbath at home includes inflicting a bloodbath on Iraq and funding bloodbaths elsewhere. We’re not fooling anyone by puttering around and delaying and attributing our reluctance to pacifism.

What’s in the way of us taking this country back? It’s not 535 members of congress, or a few thousand rich, politically-connected people in the halls of power. The problem is the millions of Americans who are waiting, waiting, waiting, hoping that someone else is going to fix things for them, wishing that they lived in a make-believe world where they could continue to buy their toys and pay their taxes and some day a movie star hero will come and rescue them.

They plead every couple of years for their representatives to make some small sacrifice for their benefit — but, though they’re disappointed every year, they remain unwilling to make any sacrifice themselves to make a real change.

There are millions of people in this country who are of the opinion that the war in Iraq was a terrible adventure, dishonestly engaged in, and with terrible consequences — but these same millions of people do absolutely nothing effective to change their country’s actions. They mumble complaints, or forward emails, or put bumper stickers on their cars, and passionately wish that somebody else were doing something effective, and then they go back to work the next morning to wish again over coffee the way you might pray that your favorite team wins the Super Bowl.

Myself, I’m sick of arguing with the government. I don’t have any more argument with the government — I know what kind of beast it is, I know what kind of woman I am: We’ve come to a sort of an impasse. I’ve got a new bone to pick — it’s with people who know perfectly well that things have gone to hell in this country but who aren’t lifting a finger to do anything about it (or who flatter themselves into thinking that “voting” is the same as doing something about it).

Voting is kind of like gambling on sports, but slightly more sacred (maybe you remember the outrage when John Poindexter’s crew at DARPA started a program to encourage gambling on world events as a way of enhancing intelligence estimates). You’ve got to play to win, and playing with only a vote is hardly playing at all. The people who place big bets, in large denominations, are the ones who get the big pay-outs. The rest of us are just paying the house.

When I was a kid, even before I could vote, I’d look over the voter’s pamphlet and weigh the arguments carefully and imagine that I was making grave decisions of right and wrong. Only later did I realize that voting for the right thing isn’t the same as doing the right thing. It’s only sort of a feeble “I wish” followed by an agreement to leave it up to the majority, or to the skillful manipulation of that majority, or to some other mechanism that bears no resemblance at all to an assertion of conscience on my part.

There’s an election coming up, and there are a bunch of candidates holding debates and raising money, and a lot of people who really ought to know better holding their breath and anticipating how they’re going to whisper their “I wish.” I consider it a lucky day when I meet someone who cares as much as I do for the soul of my country and yet cares as little for who wins the Democratic presidential nomination as for who won the World Championships of Parcheesi.

But most people I meet who pretend to be anguished about the state of their country have got it backward — it’s their country that should be crying over them. While I want to put a flower on the corpses of these prematurely dead citizens, the country wants to build a monument over the mass of them and inscribe on it: “remember these dead and never let this happen again.”

You may have something you’d rather be doing with your time than going up against the government. That’s fine. It’s not for everybody. But the least you can do is to stop supporting the government. If you’re going to decide that you’ve got other things to be bothered with, at least get out of our way. Don’t think that you can pay your taxes every month and then hide the pay stub behind your back and declare yourself neutral.

I heard someone praise a conscientious objector who refused to fight in Iraq, and I asked him if he was still paying taxes. He told me that the government hadn’t created a “conscientious objector” category for taxpayers, so he was sorry to say he wasn’t able to stop paying. As if you only have a conscience when the government issues you a permit for one!

I told him I know people who’ve stopped paying their taxes without waiting for permission, just by lowering their income and living below the tax threshold. He told me that he wasn’t prepared to make that kind of sacrifice. If I had a pocket calculator I could have told you the maximum price of his conscience. If I had a quality postal scale I probably still couldn’t discern its weight.

Like Walter Mitty these armchair peaceniks burn their draft cards in their daydreams, meanwhile the people who serve in the military in their place are equipped, and shipped, and paid for by Walter Mitty’s tax dollar.

The biggest obstacles to change aren’t the few who are abusing the government, but the many who are submitting to it and facilitating the abuse.

A government that loved liberty would be trying at every opportunity to expand and protect that liberty. Our government tries everything it can to evade the few protections that have survived since its founding. Look at how shamelessly it has whisked people off to Cuba — Cuba! — in order to sweep them out from under the protection of the Constitution.

A person who loves liberty would not shovel coal into a tyrant’s engine just to earn a higher salary. Why does a person in the United States who claims to love freedom, and who is intelligent enough to understand that the government is freedom’s enemy, still feel that it’s worthy of respect to be a taxpayer, and the more salary — and therefore the more taxes — the more respect?

If you love liberty, if you hate war, you should at once withdraw your support from the government. Withdrawing your moral support isn’t enough — it’s your practical support that the government feeds on — it doesn’t give a damn what your opinions are.

This is something you must do because you know the difference between right and wrong and you know, when you look the facts straight in the face, that when you willingly give practical support to the government you participate in its wrongs. But this is more than a matter of personal integrity.

Imagine the power of this statement. What if every person who felt that the government had lost their moral support also withdrew their practical support? What if only one in ten did? It would be the beginning of the end. It would be that nonviolent revolution we’re praying for.

How is that going to happen? Better you should ask yourself: How is that going to happen if even I do not help make it happen? Cast your vote — don’t just punch out the chad but vote your whole person: body, mind and conscience.

Put a price on your conscience and determine for yourself if the cost of continuing to give practical support to the government is higher than the cost of withdrawing that support.

There’s a myth that “death and taxes” are inevitable. Taxes, at least, are avoidable — although to those with cheap consciences, only at comparatively expensive rates. I know people who are living what in most parts of the world would be considered wealthy lives, without doing anything to put them in fear of IRS auditors, and who are still living tax-free. And their consciences, which to them are quite valuable commodities, remain intact and unmortgaged.

It’s easy to come up with excuses for not acting. And it’s easy not to recognize them for excuses. For instance: “Isn’t the U.S. government much better than, say, China’s or Saudi Arabia’s, or so many others?” But that only works if you think the course of nations is the sort of course that should be graded on the curve.

What a sad concession it would be to believe that our republic, the first one out of the gates after the age of monarchies, was the finish line for this country and the best sort of government anyone could aspire toward. A bunch of powdered-wigged slaveholders somehow miraculously scribbling out the best scheme for protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness anyone could hope for.

Imagine instead that maybe we’ve learned something in the last two and some centuries — that we can do much better than we’re doing now, because what we’re doing now stinks. But don’t imagine for a minute that it’s going to change on its own, or that you can continue to prop it up without sharing responsibility for what it’s doing.