Feb 252010
 

When I heard about the dude in Texas who flew his plane into an IRS office, my second reaction was, ‘Well, crap.’ Mostly because I knew this would hurt the cause of anti-tax, limited-government advocates everywhere. We would all be tarred with the same brush, and the mildly irritating, deliberate misinterpretations of that movement in the US (see, for example, this ethnography of the Tea Party, lush with contempt and condescension) would become either (a) outright denunciations of hypocrisy and extremism, or (b) even more explicit in their belief that anyone expressing suspicion of government is a tinfoil-wearing lunatic. Or both.

And indeed, this is precisely what has happened. To the point where some other wanker at the New York Times has written an opinion piece about it – which neatly combines views (a) and (b) as expected.

I don’t doubt that Tea Partiers are on balance on the right, and if their movement ever crystallizes into a political party that will be its location. But until the requisite winnowing happens, a person with Stack’s fuzzy ideology wouldn’t feel terribly alone at a big Tea Party.

I emphasize that I’m talking about his ideology, not his penchant for flying planes into buildings. Still, some of the ingredients of that penchant — a conspiratorial bent, a deep and personal sense of oppression, an attendant resentful rage — can be found in the movement, if mainly on its fringes. There are some excitable Tea Partiers out there.

Yup, all there. Tea Partiers are simultaneously lame and dangerously crazy. Just on the fringes, though! Wouldn’t want to make sweeping generalisations or anything!

Oh wait:

…I’m not sure how purely conservative the Tea Party movement is anyway.

Yes, it mobilized against a liberal health care bill and the stimulus package, but it also opposes corporate bailouts. Sure, Tea Partiers hate taxes, but that alone doesn’t distinguish them from many Americans. On social issues the Tea Partiers include some libertarians along with a larger number of family-values conservatives.

And when you move to foreign policy, things don’t get more coherent. Though some Tea Partiers are hawks, many follow Ron Paul’s lead, combining a left-wing critique of military engagement with a right-wing aversion to the United Nations and other multilateral entanglements.

In the end, the core unifying theme of the Tea Partiers is populist rage…

Apparently this guy thinks that opposing government intervention (health care bill, stimulus package, corporate bailouts), government intervention (in foreign countries in illegal wars), and government intervention (allowing the global government of the UN to determine the policies of individual countries) is a ‘squishy,’ ‘inchoate,’ and ‘undefined’ ideological position.

And apparently the core unifying theme of the Tea Partiers, who couldn’t be more direct about their core unifying theme – opposing government intervention – is actually populist rage. Truly, there are none so blind as those who will not see; and there are those who will never see, even when they have all the info at their disposal, because they would rather view the Tea Party as lunatics with conspiracy nuts on the fringes, with terrorists on their fringes, than as a legitimate electoral bloc with a valid point to make.

My, how times are changed. It used to be the privilege of the left to distrust the government and suspect it of base motives. I guess now that the left are the government, that once-noble perspective is no longer tenable.

Mind you, our ex-hippy overlords seem particularly distraught that the voice of the new generation is a weak one. A couple of days ago, I wrote in the comments to this post that it was a key feature of the baby-boom generation to strangle the life out of today’s youth and then demand to know why it wasn’t trying to breathe.

And lo, what should be in the newspaper on Monday but the results of a poll showing that today’s youth are ‘more boring’ than their parents.

Having been told from birth to shun smoking, drinking, sex, drugs, and pretty much anything else that could be interpreted as either exciting or ‘interesting,’ the yoof turn out to be rather hard-line Puritans. Quelle surprise. And for this, the baby-boomers have the nerve to complain that their kids are no fucking fun.

***

Oh, and the plane-up-the-IRS man? He’s called Joseph Stack, and you can Google his suicide note. You’ll discover there that, far from being a general anti-tax weirdo, he was the victim of a long a vigorous shafting by the revenue. I’m sure it appealed to him to couch his rage in ideological bombast, but it couldn’t be more clear that this ‘terrorism’ was nothing more than revenge served up to the nearest target. And hey, nobody is forced to work at the IRS giving it up the backside to faceless Americans who can’t understand the impenetrable tax code.

I guess complicity really is all around us.

  18 Responses to “Complicity”

  1. hey would rather view the Tea Party as lunatics with conspiracy nuts on the fringes, with terrorists on their fringes, than as a legitimate electoral bloc with a valid point to make.

    Much as the general UK, egged on by B&D, views libertarians. Although probably with fewer terrorists (the lack of guns, explosives and cabins in the wilderness, you see.) Except Obo, of course.

  2. “Oh, and the plane-up-the-IRS man? He’s called Joseph Stack, and you can Google his suicide note. You’ll discover there that, far from being a general anti-tax weirdo, he was the victim of a long a vigorous shafting by the revenue. I’m sure it appealed to him to couch his rage in ideological bombast, but it couldn’t be more clear that this ‘terrorism’ was nothing more than revenge served up to the nearest target. And hey, nobody is forced to work at the IRS giving it up the backside to faceless Americans who can’t understand the impenetrable tax code.

    People are forced to work at the IRS.

    I mean they are workers with nothing to sell but their labour and of course in America unemployment insurance runs out after a fairly short time (6 months?). As Kant says you can’t expect people to be heroes and to live in grinding poverty rather than take a job at the IRS as unemployment in America barely stabilises is a little “out there.”

    Should the state subsidise people who don’t want to take a job that is against their morality? A benefit plug for Christians who don’t want to work in Ann Summers? A subsidy for Jews who don’t want to work at a pig farm? A subsidy for Libertarians who don’t want to work for the state (oh the delicious irony!)?

    In a way, like other jobs, and especially in a recession, but also all the time, people are forced to work at the IRS.

    BTW, just a throw away comment, but as I agree with a lot else that you said it just struck me as incongruent with reality.

    • I think you and I have very different ideas about what ‘forced’ means. Unless you are suggesting that the employees of the IRS have zero skills and could not possibly get a job in any other field of work, which I doubt is the case, they are not ‘forced.’ They choose to work for the state because it pays better than flipping burgers or cleaning toilets and comes with excellent benefits, almost total job security, and a fine state pension. But they could still go and flip burgers or clean toilets. Grinding poverty is not the only alternative.

      • What about NAIRU? There’s a certain level of unemployment that is built into capitalism.

        At the moment in the US there are fewer jobs than people and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. So saying “they could get another job” isn’t always true, not normally and especially not now.

        If you had a family to feed (you got to use the emotive “flipping burgers” so I’ll use the “family to feed” line) and the IRS offered you your first and only job in months I think a lot of people would take it. They wouldn’t be forced in the narrowest sense of the word but forced to take it they would be.

        • Yes, well, if lots of things.

          If, for example, the tax code were simpler (or better yet, non-existent), there would be a lot more money floating around in the private sector and a lot less need for IRS employees, many of whom could thus go into productive work where they wouldn’t be accessories to state coercion.

          Additionally, if there are people who have taken jobs with the taxman because it was their only chance at avoiding starvation, I might have a bit of pity and compassion for them. But I seriously doubt any such person exists.

          • If a man takes a job as at the IRS to feed his family, essentially he’s taken to stealing to feed his family. What you’re trying to excuse, Left Outside, is a job in a mafia-style protection racket. Is it as cut-and-dry when you look at it that way?

          • Interesting I suppose. We’ve got to turn to Weber really:

            the state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” [emphasis original]

            And if you look at people like Tilly and Mann, they argue convincingly that states were made both for war and by war, so yes he is taking a job from an organisation that is intricately entwined with coercion. Not only that but without this job the state couldn’t operate as it does.

            But, this job exists, a demand for someone to do it exist.

            You’ll no doubt know that this will distort whatever market for labour may exist outside of it. So a man – perhaps not this man, perhaps a woman – will be unemployed and poor, really poor if s/he does not take this job. Not everyone has lots of time to hang around waiting for that perennial job opening at McDonalds.

            So the state has created a situation where someone will be unemployed. Are they meant to throw themselves onto the scrap heap of life in protest because one minority philosophical strain believes all state coercion to be wrong?

            You can answer yes, but if you do I’d suggest that may be the reason that libertarianism is a mainly internet phenomena.

            (I’ve tried to make this as unsocialist an argument as possible because it would gain no traction with you.)

          • Damn! will was meant to be italicised, but nothing else. Bugger bugger bugger. This in no way makes me look foolish or lessens the weight of my point.

            I am quite ill to be fair. A sore throat followed by vomit and aching…

          • Poor goober. Never fear, I will fix the italics.

          • Are they meant to throw themselves onto the scrap heap of life in protest because one minority philosophical strain believes all state coercion to be wrong?

            Of course not. But does my sympathy for them mean I have to surrender my views about the illegitimacy of taxation? Equally of course not.

          • There’s lots of ways to improve the situation certainly. Simplifying the Tax code would be awesome, but not entirely relevant.

            There are not that many ifs, the US has seen the worst recession for 70 years and employment is very high, even in the good times there are unemployed, and if you are unemployed you are forced to look for work.

            Unemployment is part of capitalism, part of all economic systems. I think it is a little odd that you think people can pick and choose jobs so easily

            On the other hand, there’s also the fact that you think Government jobs are very attractive aside from any moral implications of working for Leviathan. But with good wages and excellent non-wage benefits perhaps people are loathe to work for the Government and this is why the jobs are so good.

            Supply meets demand.

          • But with good wages and excellent non-wage benefits perhaps people are loathe to work for the Government and this is why the jobs are so good.

            Aha, you have put your finger on the money, sir! :-)

            Clearly the solution here is bipartite: simplify the tax code to reduce the need for 95000 IRS-men, and make working for the IRS supremely unattractive. Then we could be absolutely sure that those doing it truly had no other choice, and I could pity them and defend their honour with every breath.

            Until this is the case, however, I will continue to view them as people who, for whatever purely self-interested reason, have chosen to become the financial equivalent of an alimentary tract.

          • I see. I think we differ too much on the conditions of capitalism and how unemployment forces people to take work. We all have some choice but we are nearly all forced to work.

            Arguing is getting me nowhere, time to switch to polemic!

            What about heroin dealers? They’re private sector, entrepreneurs, believers in personal freedom to choose, resourceful.

            They provide a useful service it would be impossible for everyone who wanted heroin to get it if they had to grow poppies and refine it themselves. Just look to Adam Spliff’s study on the increase in production resulting from the division of Labour in diacetylmorphine production.

            Who’s worse Heroin dealer or the IRS man?

          • Just look to Adam Spliff’s study on the increase in production resulting from the division of Labour in diacetylmorphine production.

            *snorfle* I’m really enjoying this.

            Actually, we don’t differ that much on the conditions of capitalism and how unemployment forces people to take work. Believe me, I am right there with you in wishing that we could all have interesting, decently paid, morally acceptable jobs, and I’m totally aware how impossible that is. So there will be the odd random person whose only job prospect is enabling state theft. Poor bastard, glad I’m not him, hope to God he doesn’t suffer when the revolution comes. The people who choose to work for the IRS, though? They get no pity from me.

            Now let’s see. If I remember rightly, Adam Spliff’s study shows that where there is a demand for a product, the best and most efficient producers should be the ones to supply it. In that respect the heroin producer is merely meeting customer demand. Heroin dealers, too, are in demand, as retail suppliers because they make it easier for the customer to acquire his fix. The fact that customers are essentially a captive market is simply an unfortunate result of the nature of heroin.

            I suppose you could argue that there’s market demand for tax collectors, but I’d be extremely dubious if you did.

          • Well a state has to exist (how I want to be an anarchist but I just can’t quite make that leap), even if it is a minarchist courts, police & army.

            So there will always be people who need to work for the state to collect tax to fund this, or at least aid it in its coercive mission.

            These wouldn’t be bastards because they would be helping the state in what it the legitimate (almost exclusively agreed too, not sure about Rothbard, but I hear he is nuts anyway) Libertarian functions of a state.

            So we’ve got a continuum from legitimately working for the state – performing a role which ensures a just and stable society can exist to – to one where you are working for a state that has grown too large and uses its monopoly of violence in a way that makes working for them similar to working for the mafia, or a feudal lord.

            But because the state has that monopoly of violence you will be faced with a choice between submitting to poverty or working for the state. Again, I don’t think expecting people to be heroes is anyway to create a philosophy that’s legitimate.

            But yeah some people do just want to work for the IRS. I suppose you can hate them if you want. I’m a little more forgiving because I disagree with (almost) everyone politically so it’d be a recipe for isolation.

            PS Wouldn’t it be nice if drugs were legal and safe and people were well educated about them? Sigh.

            PSS And yes, although I’m sure not original, thinking of Adam Spliff made me very pleased with myself.

        • That one ‘philosophical strain’, if successful in bringing its views about, would ensure that coercion in any form is illegal and that the state’s use of violence be limited to retaliation to criminal violence (i.e. coercion) of murderers as well as armies. If that one philosophical strain is prevented from achieving this aim, the opposing strains have endorsed violent crime philosophically, claiming it made someone less poor.

          The point I’m trying to make is that when two held opinions are mutually exclusive, then one or both must be wrong. If both opinions can never exist together and are incompatible, then it is a matter of discovering who is correct. That is why I suggest the IRS is immoral and coercive. My point is that their agents are not excused for their complicity with criminal activity simply because they would be hungry if it were put out of business.

          This is not a matter of ‘philosophical strains’ having their turns. The point of politics is to find the truth about what system ensures liberty and justice. There is nothing just in giving sanction to violence in the name of quality of life. A life restricted by coercion is the lowest quality there is.

  3. Well I cannot hope to match the deep exchange of comments above related to libertarian philosophy generally, but let me add a quick note regarding the more general question of the “incoherence” of the Tea Party movement.

    Although the criticism is overblown, I think there is some legitimacy to the gripe that the Tea Party movement is not all that ideologically consistent, namely because there is some significant crossover between the social conservative movement and the Tea Partiers.

    To the extent you would identify their thinking as libertarian, it makes little sense for them to have much common ground with the Jesus people who want a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. (Them being the Tea Partiers, btw)

    It was neatly summed up in a Daily Show piece a few months back that chronicled the split of a Tea Party group who couldn’t agree whether they wanted to open their meetings with prayer or not…

    Keep up the good work!

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