I Catch Myself in an Act of Bad Faith Reasoning

The other night I was in the kitchen, alone in the house, when a large rat tripped the trap in the laundry room. The trap seized around the rat’s neck without snapping it, and the rat thrashed around in agonized panic.

My first thought, once I realized what all the racket was about, was to hope that if I just waited it out, the trap would quickly kill the rat. After some more horrible sounds came from the laundry room, I began to feel sorry for the rat and contemplated rescuing it and releasing it outside (though while still really hoping it would just die). I considered also just retreating back upstairs and hoping the problem would resolve itself in my absence; maybe one of my housemates would come home to the scene and think it was their problem.

Instead I went back to the laundry room to investigate. The rat by then was dead — or dead-ish anyway; it was hard to be certain. I picked up the trap, opened the back door, and by swinging the trap while releasing the spring, jettisoned the rat body to drop with a thud on the porch. It did not move, but I still didn’t trust that it was dead, and didn’t want to pick it up in case it would choose that moment to spring back to life.

“I’ll just leave it there for now, and if it’s still dead in the morning I’ll deal with it then,” I thought, though in the back of my mind I think I was still hopefully imagining one of my housemates coming home, stumbling upon the corpse, and dealing with it, or maybe a larger predator coming along and dragging the body away.

An hour or two later I finally faced up to the rat being my responsibility to deal with and went downstairs to collect the body, but by then it was gone. I think it hadn’t been so dead as it had looked after all.

The terrible thing about all this squeamish dithering is that it was going on the same night that I was finishing The Blood of Others and my Picket Line post on the book and thinking:

The major theme seems to be about the squeamishness conscientious people have about making choices that involve the sorts of risks to other people that would make them feel guilty if their choices turn out to have bad consequences. One “bad faith” way of dealing with this is to remain passive and to pretend that by not making a particular choice, you are not making any choice at all and therefore are not responsible for the consequences of your decision. Another way is to attach yourself to an organization or ideology that makes your decisions for you. But neither of these things really works; the decisions and their consequences are still yours, and you would have been better off just admitting this from the get go and acting accordingly.

Other examples of bad faith reasoning include going upstairs and hoping the problem goes away, hoping your housemates take the responsibility off your hands, or approvingly watching one of them set rat traps around the house while at the same time being willing to pretend to yourself that you’re concerned about the pain and suffering of a trapped rat.

Which I guess goes to show that fully-engaged, conscious living is hard, and that habits of bad faith thinking are hard to break, even if you set your mind to it. If I flailed and dithered so much in dealing with a rat in a trap, when all that was really at stake was my squeamishness, how might I expect myself to behave when the stakes are higher and the temptations more intense?

Later that night I shamefacedly admitted to my housemates how I’d handled the situation. That, I hoped, would be the sort of negative feedback that might help train my will better. Next time maybe I can slice through the temptations and distractions and just straightforwardly do what needs doing.

A new edition of More Than a Paycheck, NWTRCC’s newsletter, is now on-line, and features the following:

  • A war tax resistance manifesto by Larry Rosenwald, and responses from Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, Karl Meyer, and Bill Glassmire. (I’ll have more on this in a future Picket Line entry… stay tuned.)
  • Buyer Beware, a poem on military spending by Marge Piercy
  • Some news briefs, including these notes of particular interest:
    • The IRS has gotten in the habit of sending out “frivolous filing” notices to anyone who writes them a letter explaining their reasons for tax resistance (or even in response to letters from non-resisters who are just paying under protest). These notices are accompanied by a $5,000 fine — a fine that, by law, must be paid before it can be appealed. The IRS is only authorized to assess such fines in response to a tax filing that is incomplete, inaccurate, and that involves some frivolous legal stance, so it is pretty clearly overstepping its bounds here: but because a resister must pay the fine in order to appeal it, and most war tax resisters are unwilling to do so, this puts them in a bind. One resister, Steve Leeds, got such a frivolous filing notice and then, instead of paying the fine and formally appealing it, he complained to his congressional representatives about the IRS’s abuse of the law. One of his representatives then contacted the IRS, which then caved — sending Leeds an apology.
    • If the IRS attaches a levy to your salary, it will leave you some portion of your salary to live on while it sucks away the rest. How does it determine how much to take? Is it based on your base salary, or on what’s left over in your check after deductions for 401(k) contributions, insurance premiums, commuter checks, or what have you? Turns out the answer is the latter, but only if those deductions were already in effect at the time the levy was received by the employer.
  • A book review of The Green Zone by Clare Hanrahan — this book looks at the environmental impact of the U.S. military, which is exempt from laws and treaties designed to protect the environment, and, according to the author, is “the largest single polluter of any single agency or organization in the world.”
  • War tax resistance ideas and actions, featuring a penny poll in Oregon, a protest in Washington D.C., and the upcoming New England gathering of war tax resisters.
  • NWTRCC News — a behind the scenes look into operations at NWTRCC headquarters.
  • A profile by and of war tax resister Lauren Tepper