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On Tax Resistance

As I believe I've written previously, for several years I lived with a tax resistor ("TD"). TD called himself a "Re-Director of Federal Funds." It's actually what broke us up, as one day I said the following:

"Of course I want to have children! [This was 20 years ago and I was in my early twenties–cut me some slack!] But here's what I don't think I can do: Raise a child who is a raw vegan, who doesn't have/watch television, who doesn't have war toys, who doesn't wear leather, whose parents aren't married, who is homeschooled, and whose daddy's in jail, but he's there because he's a really good person. And then proceed to raise the kid myself because–as he'll know–daddy's beliefs are more important than daddy's kid."

I was experiencing TD's beliefs–and actions–as a burden on the life of a child. I wasn't that thrilled about them either, but how could I possibly do anything but support him? He was a decade older than me, far more educated than I (his advanced degrees were from a program called Media Ecology at NYU, which offers courses called "War and Media Theory" and "Decolonization and its Aftermath"), and had spent nearly a decade preceding me as an activist (the kind who parachuted into nuclear reactors), and he wasn't about to change his beliefs (nor should he) in order to maintain our relationship or have a child.

Here's my question: I know that most of you are against direct action that you consider violent. Do you have any thoughts about tax resistance? I certainly don't think it qualifies as direct action, but I could be wrong. And there's nothing violent about it.

TD was fond of saying that if I wanted to divorce myself from animal use and exploitation (or war) in a more meaningful way, I would stop allowing my tax dollars to be spent on such things by withholding them or re-directing them. (FYI-The process involves calculating how your tax bill and then, for TD, he would use those funds to, say, start a soup kitchen or fund a shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence, then send a copy of the money orders along with his tax return and a statement of why he was resisting. There are other ways to do it, I'm sure.)

A possible consequence of tax resistance, just like with breaking into a lab and liberating animals, is jail time (not to mention the payment of back taxes in the former instance). Does that alone make it not worth it? Are tax resistors, like those who break into labs, not helping their cause at all? After all, with penalties and interest, one could say that the tax resistor, if caught, will fund more experimentation (and partially for this reason, many resistors work hard to live below the poverty level. This way, they don't exacerbate the problem as they don't owe taxes to begin with–yet another way to approach the matter.)

I have a tough time telling a tax resistor or someone who breaks into a lab and liberates animals that what they're doing is a waste of time or is hurting my cause (as long as their intention doesn't involve harming anyone). Their conscience compels them to take a level of action that I choose not to take, and that my life is not set up for.

Perhaps that makes me one of those white, educated, elitist vegans I hear/read so much about.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nick #

    I admire people like TD, and I agree with them in principle. But I am too selfish to become a true revolutionary. The bottom line: I don't want to go to jail. I guess I'm a hypocrite, but we really all are, unless we organically grow all of our own food and cut ourselves off from the entire system. There are ways of moving toward a world in which we can live completely by our principles–ways that don't involve going to jail. To make up for all of the evils we indulge in order to live comfortably, we should aim to do more good than harm.

    October 23, 2008
  2. Dan #

    As with most radical proposals, it helps to look at the issue from both a pragmatic and a principled perspective. From a pragmatic perspective, TD, like Kevin Jonas, would be able to help change society much more by staying out of jail than by doing things to get into jail. Any benefits accruing from their illegal activity would be more than offset by the fact that the system was able to neutralize them for the extent of jail time (which is usually at least a few years of forfeited legal activism/advocacy).

    From a purely principled perspective, they may be “doing the right thing” by essentially leaving the society they believe is corrupt. However, I don’t think principled decisions can entirely ignore pragmatic considerations when determining what is “doing the right thing”. Perhaps if one is justifiably convinced that society cannot or will not change, the purely principled behavior wins the day and jail time or withdrawal is fine. However, if one believes societal change is possible, it seems to me that the obligation is to remain in society – even if it means compromising pure principle – to contribute to the conditions supporting change.

    October 23, 2008
  3. Dan,
    I recall making a similar argument, though I'm sure less articulately, and being stopped at the word "compromise."
    I did my best . . .

    October 23, 2008
  4. Davedrum #

    There are two options here. . . . Doo't work, or move! I've often tried to figure out how many of my tax dollars pay for bombs and bullets. There are many places one could move to that use very little tax dollars for defense. I myself was born here in the usa. . . Yet i feel more that i'm just human. One that lives on this planet. If one has a problem with how our tax dollars are used. . . Why not leave? Just because i was born here. . . Within these borders. . . It does not make me "american". . . I'm just a human that was born in this country, yet that is all that makes me a citizen of this country. There are so many places one could live. . . That are beautiful. . . That are places that do not use the majority of their tax dollars to buy bombs and bullets. Both rich and poor live in these places. Why not move to a pretty place on this planet? Is the usa the "best" place on earth? Is it?

    October 23, 2008
  5. Bea Elliott #

    When my husband and I were first exposed to the term "factory farm" and all the discoveries of slaughterhouses – our first impulse was to leave the country. In our ignorance we somehow thought it was our home land that had gone mad. We searched the internet and contacted foreign real estate agents about specific homes… Then the reality set in – murderers and meat eaters are everywhere. And the economics of it is that we'll probably be "supporting" their vicious, gross habit till we die.

    Without leaving this country – and without being imprisoned for tax evasion any monies that go to support bullets, guns, war, violence, cruelty and slaughter of human and non-human animals comes from us with this acknowledgement and these words: "extorted tax paid under protest".

    It's a futile gesture of protest – but momentarily satisfying as the words are written… and besides, we've never had the government not cash the check dispite the objection.

    Live to fight another day.

    October 23, 2008
  6. I know two tax resisters. I like them and I agree with their arguments — but they have significant others who put cars and homes and other things in their own names so that when the government comes knocking, they don't have anything that can be seized. The government caught up to one of them and started garnishing his wages, so he quit the job and found another — which was made more possible because his partner is the main breadwinner. Because they can't live the principles they do without someone else in their life NOT living by the same principles, to me it's a fatally flawed belief — even if I agree with it in principle. Sometimes we have to make compromises. At what level does one "sell out," I don't know.

    It's like your post on voting for Nader again. If I voted, it'd probably be for Cynthia McKinney, but I think the government system as currently constructed is inherently corrupt, does not represent my interests and is a disaster for most people in the world so I refuse to give it my approval by participating in its charade elections. This is my version of the tax resister protest, only my home and livelihood are not put in jeopardy. Some will say it's a cop-out and accomplishes nothing. I can't say it does accomplish anything but I also can't support the White House, no matter who's in it.

    October 23, 2008
  7. Mark,
    It takes a village.
    In my experience, there must be people who support the resistor and do certain things (or have things in their name). I remember all of the support TD had, and I don't see how you could do it on your own.

    I'd be a sell out because of all of the compromises I've made (according to him) and the degree to which I'm involved in mainstream society.

    And on that note, Davedrum and others:

    My dad is Catholic but his beliefs, over the years perfectly align with the Episcopal Church. When asked why he doesn't just go across the street to the church that he agrees with, he responds that he was born into the church and wants to stay with it to help change it and move into the 21st century. Even if what he does/believes looks/is hostile to them, he persists because he wants it to grow and flourish to its potential.

    I think that's similar reasoning to stay here and work to make this a better country.

    October 23, 2008
  8. I think the argument for tax resistance has to go "I spend my money on such-and-such project, which is good, and not paying taxes is what enables me to have the money to spend on that project, and the good I'm doing through that project outweighs the various harms that would ensue if I were caught and punished." But I think the idea of depriving the government of funds, or of not having "your dollars" paying for some bad government action, is based on a mistaken idea that the government (at least the US federal government) runs on a balanced budget. In reality, the feds have largely detached decisions about what to spend from any consideration of how much revenue is coming in (despite the efforts of Norquistian tax-cutters, who have deprived the government of more money than any tax resisters). So if I don't pay my taxes, the same amount of money will be spent on, say, bombing Iraqi children. And even if there were enough tax resisters to put enough of a dent in revenues to make a few members of Congress rethink their votes on spending bills, there's no guarantee they'd cut the "bad" programs — I'd guess, cynically, that they'd be more likely to cut food stamps in order to fully fund the war than vice-versa. All the good of my hypothetical tax protest would have to come from whatever else I spend the savings on.

    October 23, 2008
  9. Stentor,
    You're absolutely right about the federal income tax. I know that the military is funded by corporate taxes, which is absolutely legal. The gas tax funds highways. Property tax funds schools. I have no idea where the money that goes to the NIH for animal experimentation comes from, but if I don't pay my federal income tax that probably doesn't affect the NIH.

    For anyone who's interested, Zeitgeist has a section on this topic, and as Jenny Stein referred me to yesterday, there's an entire documentary dedicated to the illegality and unconstitutionality of the federal income tax at:

    October 24, 2008
  10. Mike #

    Over the course of our lives, a working American with a decent paying job will give a significant amount of money to the most powerful and deadly military-industrial force in history.  The US also imprisons more people in both absolute and relative terms than any other nation on earth.  You are funding an unjust unethical government!  A leading terrorist state!

    If even 1% of radicals refused taxes, I think over the many decades of our working lives, we could save millions of lives, reduce exploitation, and maybe create a culture of resistance that will ultimately bring down this regime.

    You also have to consider that the good from resistance doesn't just come from depriving the government of money.  That money can and should be redirected to socially beneficial projects.  The effort to keep your income below the taxable amount and avoid automatic withholding could lead to one again, a "culture of resistance", a community where it is socially acceptable to avoid employment in the corporate world.  It would be a general strike of sorts!  Voluntary austerity also means less consumption of environmentally unsustainable products and products that require the exploitation of workers to produce.

    The biggest thing keeping me from jumping head first into such resistance isn't fear of poverty or arrest, it's people like Mary.  I can handle living without TV, cars, a big suburban home, etc…in fact I don't really like those things and want to get rid of them.  However, I do fear being alone.  I just don't know and trust enough radicals to develop deep relationships with any of them.  Sure, I'm involved in plenty of activism, but I interact with my fellow radicals via a well enforced security culture.  If you identify yourself, you keep all discussion to legal tactics.  If you are involved in illegal direct action, you do it anonymously.  So…I can't trust activists I don't know and I can't really open up about my true beliefs and actions with those I publicly identify myself to.  My lovers and close friends know about what I really believe, act on, and desire, but none are willing to go along with me.

    Another bigger social problem that I've never really been able to grapple with deals with what I think are innate female behaviors.  I know this is politically incorrect, and I know gender can be more fluid than male/female, but I think cross cultural anthropology shows pretty clearly that women desire men with wealth.  Humans have evolved to be good and rearing our young, and in an environment of scarcity, choosing to have offspring with the most effective provider incurs a distinct advantage to their survival.  Heterosexual women probably have a genetic predisposition to be attracted to men with wealth. 

    We in developed nations no longer live in scarcity.  The basics of food, clothing, and shelter can all be obtained for free.  You just need to give up on lifestyle and status symbols, and the waste and excess infrastructure (much less charity) of the middle and upper classes is enough to live on.  You don't even need to work. 

    If you have some aversion to dumpster diving and squatting, a year's salary for two people at a skilled but entry level job is probably enough to live on for the rest of your life, if you invest it in land and building materials.  The only expense needed to survive is health care.  However, many working class people can't afford health care either.  It's not hard to give up what you already don't have.  The desire to be with the most wealthy mate is pretty outdated.  No kid with intelligent parents will starve to death with in the USA.  Education is available for free on the Internet and at public libraries (and infoshops could take the place of government libraries in an anarchist society). 

    You don't need to f*ck people over to survive!  You don't need to be a corporate professional to raise a kid!  But. . . good luck finding a partner that is sincerely attracted to you if you have decent values.

    Americans overworked, unsustainable, psychologically damaging, exploitive, lifestyles are fueled not just by greed, but by a desire to please mates.  I think it's pretty sad.  I don't have any solution.

    June 20, 2009

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