I saw a little bit of this libertarian guy, Dean Smith, talking on the Joe Rogan experience about how taxes as they are now will be seen as a crime akin to slavery by future Americans. He believes that because tax collection is underwritten by the threat of violence. If you do not pay your taxes, he says, men with guns can come and forcibly take you from your home and throw you in a cage. That our government operates using the money taken under the threat of force is criminal.
This misses something important. All governments are underwritten by the threat of force.
Every law, every fine, every regulation, every mandate the United States government issues is backed by men with guns. If you don’t have a fishing permit and catch yourself a monster trout, you’ll catch a fine. If you don’t pay the fine, in some states, you can be imprisoned. The state will attempt to garnish wages or place liens on your assets first, but that is also a form of force.
This is the social contract, and it isn’t voluntary. As a citizen, you cannot opt out except by leaving the country. And then you’ll be subject to the rules and regulations of another government.
But imagine a government where you could opt in. Where you voluntarily pay your share of taxes and, in exchange, receive the services of the government. You call 911 because of a fire or burglary, and the dispatcher has to check their records to see if you’ve paid your taxes. No, sorry, we don’t have a record of that, enjoy your smoldering wreckage.
This voluntary tax scheme would actually build a massive record-keeping bureaucracy to track payments across multiple service providers. If you think the government is flawed and inefficient now, wait until they have to check records every time someone gets stabbed or has a heart attack or crashes their car. How often do you think they’ll get it wrong? Dispatchers already make errors by assuming a call is not an emergency or sending help to the wrong address – they’re only human, after all.
What about things that benefit everyone as a whole, like the military, the CDC and NIH, or the National Weather Service? If you don’t pay your share, do you get the benefits of cancer research? Or do the costs of those studies get passed on to the companies researching cancer treatment, who then pass it on to cancer-riddled consumers? We’re already at a point where prescription drug research is already so expensive for often marginal benefits. Pharmaceutical companies have to pursue money makers, drugs that treat chronic illnesses, like depression and high blood pressure, instead of drugs that cure diseases, like antibiotics. At this point, every single government action becomes a consumer choice. Or, more likely, a corporate investment.
We created governments to handle the big, societal issues that arose from agriculture – defense, food distribution, common good, economic protection – and continued with industrialization – pollution, labor exploitation, increasing globalization. These problems don’t take well to opt-in or consumption taxes because they affect everyone. And while individuals may disagree about the specific large scale problems to solve – look at Lamar Smith’s war on the NSF grant process – I don’t think many people believe that there are large, complex issues we need to tackle as a country.
Taxes are how we fund these solutions. We may have legitimate quarrels over the type of taxes and the rates, but to argue that we shouldn’t have taxes at all is fantasy. Your income depends on the protection and services that the government provides, so you should throw that government a cut. If you don’t, the notorious GOV is gonna come knocking for their money, Lebowski. If there were no consequences for non-payment, there’d be more people ignoring to government. In order to maintain their authority, the government needs to use force to maintain power when people challenge it. That they need to use force show a weakness in their power and authority.
Fortunately, the US maintains a mostly consensus government, where nearly every gets to vote for representatives who determine where their tax dollars are spent. Elections lend tax collection a measure of legitimacy. If you think, taxes are theft, you can vote for people who will oppose them. But you are going to have a hell of a time arguing against the existence of taxation once people realize all the things those tax dollars pay for and the alternatives to mandatory income taxes.
I’ve been very slowly reading Power: Its Forms, Bases, and Uses by Dennis Wrong (but it feels so right). I say slowly because it’s both a dense academic read and every time I get a few pages in, I start thinking about various forms of power in practice.
I keep coming back to the open carry mindset. By that, I mean gun owners who support openly carrying or wearing holstered firearms in public places. There’s some speculation that openly carrying a gun deters crime – criminals see armed citizens and decide against robbing that 7/11. Speculation, but little conclusive proof. To me, that’s the closest I get to agreeing with the open carry mindset. It’s like having a bunch of uniformed officers walking around a troubled neighborhood. The power of the visible.
But open carry is more about expressing the power of the individual carrying. It’s a show of potential force that indicates the guy with the gun has power. They never need to act on that show – in fact, it’s a sign that their power is weak if an individual or entity has to resort to using force. But the display itself is their source of power.
Most of the open carry supporters have a strong mistrust of the government in all forms, preferring the smaller, tribal unit of the family. And the gun is there to protect the family. To show that this family unit is strong and can defend itself. The comedian, Bill Burr, talks about the standard paranoid situation where someone breaks into your house with the sole intention to kill you and your family. But that’s just paranoia. In 2011, there were about 100 homicides associated with burglaries. A small fraction of the total deaths in a year.
This and other justifications used for openly carrying guns – the imminent and constant threat of crime, a tyrannical government oppressing you – are fears that a malicious actor will impose their will on you by force. To counteract that potential force, they need to have access to force themselves.
When you are afraid of being acted upon, you feel powerless. The gun is their access to power. As Mao Zedong said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” It applies to all forms of power, though, as having access to force, you can compel others to do your will. Or, in this case, prevent others from forcing you to do their will. It’s a strangely logical mindset when you burrow into it.
The difference between myself and the open carry movement is that I don’t believe there is a reason to arm myself in public. I would rather support better policing, as I believe in the promise of government. The far right sees government as a dangerous other, drunk on power and ready to take advantage of us. I see government as us, the collective expression of the population’s will. But maybe we’re both projecting on government, I with my hope and trust of fellow man and the paranoid right’s fear of being taken advantage of, placing on it those qualities we guard like diamonds in our hearts.
I went Google fishing the other day using the other day using the phrase, “I have a weird job.” What I wanted was people confessing to sanding dildos and training spiders. What I got was people with pretty normal jobs who posted things that were a little silly and had no context.
For example, Austin journalist Emily DePrang posted this image of her inbox subject lines:
These are mildly amusing. One of them uses the word ‘abortion’ in a casual, jokey way, which, OMG, edgy. Way to freak out the squares. The other makes a pun using a well-known 40-year-old song. Nobody has ever done that.
This was the top result and it pains me how boring it is. Other not weird job results include a radio DJ posting the amusing, out of context names of sound clips; Jonah Goldberg misunderstanding the concept; somebody building what I assume is a thermin (my sound is off because courtesy); Jennifer Lawrence; a guy who updates a website that sells electric bikes with really specific guidelines; some guy from Fox Sports who thinks Hulk hands are about the weirdest thing ever; and plenty more mild to unusual situations in pretty mundane jobs.
I did find one legitimately weird job. A brief video where someone rubs paint on another person’s belly and they rub around on a piece of butcher paper. Whether the person is the rubber or the rubbee, that’s weird to have that as a job.
The thing is, people aren’t that weird. Being in a job where you have to come up with entertainment is not that weird. Writing amusing subject lines with co-workers or having a phone call about a giant squid being treated like a rare leopard for pretending really well is not that weird. There may be weird situations and things that, when shown out of context, seem absurd. But you aren’t weird.
A lot of the people who claim weirdness in these situations are actually super normal, boring people. I hate to break it to you. These are high achieving professionals who have colored within the lines in order to achieve a profession that is stimulating and has some variety. People who are legit weird usually don’t get that kind of notice unless it’s negative. But the concept of being “weird” or “crazy” has some cultural cachet, the idea of the mad genius, who taps into some sort of person ley line to draw out an unseen truth, who lives life truer than the rest of us.
I see with the stand-up specials on Netflix. Anytime someone uses the word “crazy” or “weird” in the title of their special, I think, “Man, this guy is gonna be boring.” The two that come to mind are Jeff Dunham’s “Spark of Insanity” and Donald Glover’s “Weirdo.” There’s also one called “Completely Normal” by a guy named Tom Segura, but I have no idea what he’s like, so I won’t talk shit about him. But the other guys, whoa. Jeff Dunham is probably the biggest offender. He does a ventriloquist act for the blue collar comedy tour set. Pretty straight down home stereotype stuff about cranky old people and terrorists. But he does it with his hand up a puppet, so whoa, watch out world. Donald Glover, who I like as a person, is just sort of boring on there. It seems like a guy with a showbiz career trying to branch out.
I get miffed about people claiming weird, because I know some weirdos. I know a guy who once obsessed about the Fibonacci series so much that he incorporated it into doodles and chord progressions. I know a guy who has a semi-mystical philosophy that’s equal parts quantum physics and Aleister Crowley. I’ve met folks who make their livings as dominants and submissives, but without any sex. I know a guy who makes ambient noise music and when I met him, offered me a few drops of his custom tincture of mood altering herbs and supplements. These are proper weird people and none of them would ever say that they themselves are weird.
People who are actually weird don’t advertise it. They don’t have to, because they don’t care if they are weird. They just do the things that interest them, public image be damned. We all can learn a lot from our local weirdos.