My Experience with the War Tax Resisters Penalty Fund

A while back, I applied to the War Tax Resisters Penalty Fund for reimbursement of $813 in penalties and interest that the IRS had seized from me along with taxes I had refused to pay voluntarily.

I was one of four resisters who applied to the fund during this appeal cycle. The Fund then sent out the details about our requests to the hundreds of fund participants. These people chipped in more than 79% of the total requested amount — in my case, $649.

The penalties and interest came to about 16½% of the amount I had resisted, but after taking this reimbursement into account, the total cost to me personally came to only a little over 3%.

It takes the IRS a long time to go through its process of seizing money from resisters (I started refusing to pay assessed taxes in the tax year, and they seized this money from me ). Since the value of money is being constantly eaten away by inflation, seen even from a purely pecuniary point-of-view this was a pretty good investment for me — a 3% nominal loss over three years. In any case, it should shut the mouth of anyone who claims the potential for dire financial hardship as an excuse not to resist.

But speaking more practically and from a broader point-of-view, this allowed many people to participate in my tax resistance, some of whom are unable to participate more directly by resisting themselves.

Having turned his back on the project of trying to discern some platonic “The Good” as the appropriate ultimate end of our actions, in section seven of the first book of The Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle looks at the alternatives.

There might be one particular good, a good that’s at the end of the series of means to ends that are means to other ends and so forth. Or maybe there’s more than one such end-point, in which case, we’ll be satisfied with choosing the one that’s the most finalish-looking — that is, the one that seems most like an end and least like a mean to other ends.

He thinks that eudaimonia is the best candidate for this ultimate end, but he’s afraid it’s too pat.

Does man have a purpose — a function, like the way eyes are for seeing with or a shovel is for digging? One way of determining the function of something, Aristotle says, is to find out what it is uniquely designed to accomplish. A “good” something is a something that does the purpose of such somethings and does it well.

Humans, he says, seem uniquely designed to exercise their rational faculties — nothing else does this.

(He also adds that this ultimate end, whatever it is, isn’t just something that can be measured once in some time-slice of a person’s life, but is a measurement of a person’s life as a whole, or something of that sort. This will come up again and cause some trouble later on.)

Myself, I’m not ready to buy the reasoning by which he got to rationality as the function of mankind. For one thing, I’m not sure whether such a teleological argument holds water, especially given post-Darwin informed speculation about the mundane “purpose” of human life, such as an examination of our “function” is likely to reveal to us.

For another, rationality isn’t the only thing that humans uniquely accomplish. Look at how fragile Aristotle’s argument is: Imagine we’re visited by rational aliens from another planet or we discover a rational species of dolphin. Suddenly, we’re no longer beings who uniquely accomplish rational thought and so our purpose is up-in-the-air. But these aliens/dolphins never cook their food! Aha! The unique function of humans must be culinary! What’s the user manual for living? As it turns out, it’s a cookbook!

Aristotle could say that in such a case, he’d just include the aliens and dolphins in his audience and under his category of “man.” But then he’s pretty much just saying that his audience is defined by its rationality, ergo rationality is what his audience is designed for, which seems logically iffy.

Index to the Nicomachean Ethics series

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics