(These ideas are explicated in this sloppy manifesto)
Saturday, April 19, 2003
SplendorQuest: Jesus Christ Superstar
Tomorrow is Easter, and all good Catholics (and one faulty one) will go to Mass. In our parish, every Mass will be packed, and there will be overflow Masses in the school cafeteria. But Catholic or not, Easter calls our attention to Jesus Christ Superstar, one of the best of the rock operas, and certainly the best of the filmed rock operas.
Director Norman Jewison delivers what is very self-consciously a film, with elaborate use of long lenses, slow-motion and stop-action photography. The central character is Judas Iscariot, played by Carl Anderson, with the Nazarene cast in the role of a loud foil, always the reactor, never the actor. This cannot be pleasing to doctrinaire Christians, but it is very effective in the film. In the same way, the turmoil of Annas and Caiphus, of Pontius Pilatus, and of Mary Magdalene and Simon Peter add drama.
But the moments of highest drama are reserved for the Nazarene. First, on Palm Sunday, the massed disciples sing, "Hey, J.C., J.C., would you die for me?" Jewison freezes for just a second on actor Ted Neely's horrified expression. Later, on Maundy Thursday, the prayer of the Nazarene from Gethsemane is excruciating, no pun intended, all but unbearable.
But the star of this movie is always the music. There are places where the lyrics clunk, a curse of rock opera, but the rock is hard and convincing, and the voices, particularly Anderson and Neely, are fantastic.
Inter alia, apparently Jewison had some kind of anti-Vietnam message in mind when he made the film, but for the life of me I can't see it now.
For an alternate take on the same material, you might pick up Jesus Christ Superstar--A Resurrection. This is a studio-recorded double-CD crafted by a cadre of Georgia musicians who love the rock opera and wanted to make a rock recording from it. Indigo Girls Amy Ray and Emily Saliers sing the parts of the Nazarene and Mary Magdalene, respectively. The voices come and go, but the instrumentation is inspired.
In the Passion, Saint John bends over backwards to show how the events of the last week of the Nazarene's life fulfilled the Old Testament scriptures. My take is that this "messy death" enabled Saul of Tarsus, Saint Paul, to tell the story of Socrates in a way that simple people could understand. In any case, lovers of liberty cannot but rejoice at the defiance of the Nazarene before Caiphus, Herod and Pilatus. The story of the West is the story of a man who died rather than renounce his truth, and Jesus Christ Superstar, the DVD or the many, many CD versions, is an excellent retelling of that story.
Friday, April 18, 2003
SplendorQuest: Starting where?
To simplify, and, one hopes, to clarify:
Deliberately frustrating your own goals in vengeance against the state seems to me to be enslaving yourself in the name of liberty.
Different people will differ, of course, but this does not seem to me to be a cogent approach to the problem.
And, with that, I am done with this topic until someone says something that emanates from cool reason and not hot rhetoric.
SplendorQuest: Starting where?
Quoting me, Billy Beck says:
Frankly no.To deny yourself all you can have, because it is not all you otherwise might have had, is anegoic, acting contrary to the true needs of the self.That's presumptive.
I don't hear an argument. The matter quoted from me is completely non-controversial, on the fringes of tautology. To see how, simply invert it:
To deny yourself all you can have, because it is not all you otherwise might have had, is ego-enhancing, acting in consonance to the true needs of the self.Which is obviously absurd.
We've heard two sets of arguments from Claire Wolfe regarding the worth and value of tax scofflawry, and I think I've shown all of these to be specious. Billy, whom I've known even longer than I've known Sunni Maravillosa and who I love dearly, may have better arguments to make than Wolfe's, but I have not seen them.
I can think of some, for what that's worth. For example, a person could hold that being a tax resister is the pre-eminent value of his life, but that would call into question claims of suffering or sacrifice. Classical musicians, to pick one of many possible examples, do without a lot that the rest of us take for granted. But those who are truly committed to music don't regard this as a sacrifice. To the contrary, it is understood going in to be a very likely consequence. When musicians complain like school teachers that the job pays badly, it seems reasonable to me that they value the money more than the music. In the same way, when Claire Wolfe laments for the "thousands of folks who've given up money and security for liberty", I'm inclined to think the money and security are more important, to her at least, than the liberty--which seems to me to have been diminished by giving up money and security in any case.
As a counter-example, among the cripples, with whom I am too familiar, there is a subset of misanthropes who regard their disability as a license to hate and sneer and writhe and rail and accomplish absolutely nothing. Rather than starting where they are and racing toward their goals, as many of them as they can attain, they roll slowly backwards in their wheelchairs, blaming everyone but themselves for the gradual loss of their remaining capabilities. About them it could be said with equal justice, and perhaps with a more obvious clarity, "To deny yourself all you can have, because it is not all you otherwise might have had, is anegoic, acting contrary to the true needs of the self."
At the top of this weblog is a quote from my own corpus:
Living is what you're doing when you're too enthralled to notice. Dying is what you're doing when all you can do is notice.Libertarian rhetoric is all about dying, turning every random thorn into a bloody scimitar. There may be a utility to that in the hurly burly of political suasion. But this is not what life ought to be about. To devote anything more than passing attention to anything except your goals and the Splendor of their achievement seems to me to be a sacrifice more awful, more total, than anything that could effected from the outside. To voluntarily give the time of your life to anything except that enthralling delight that is Splendor at its highest and best--this is a tax that cannot be demanded or collected from the outside.
Splendor cannot be stolen or divided or diminished or destroyed. It can be shared only by abstraction or ostention, never in se. Tyrants or criminals can take my money, but they cannot take my mind. They can push my body, but they cannot cause me to choose to act. They can imprison my flesh, but my thoughts soar always free. They can extinguish my life, but never my love of it. They can steal everything that does not matter in a truly human life, and nothing that does.
They act like animals because they wish to be animals, to be rid of the awful responsibility of being rational and conscious and compelled by glorious nature to choose right from wrong, good from evil, the better from the worse, the greater from the lesser, the sacred from the profane. They are nothing, and to grant them any more significance than animals is to accord them an honor they can never earn.
It may be that Billy has a better argument to make than those put forward by Wolfe. Better than the distraught claims of the dissatisfied musicians and the misanthropic cripples. Better, surely, than the ceaseless laments of the unbearably tormented libertarians. But I have not seen that argument. And while my own position is so far unassailed, this does not mean it is unassailable. I await correction.
In the meantime, I remain undeterred. I think that to sacrifice to the tyrant even one second of the incomparable Splendor that is undiluted human delight is to give him a treasure he could never steal. Dum vivo, vivam! While I live, I will live! I leave death to those who cherish it.
Cain's world: Blink
From The Economist:
The language recently used to warn Syria to behave has led some observers to infer that the regime in Damascus might also face an attempt to overthrow it. But America has said it has no such plans. In practice, there is little sign that even the Bush administration's most hawkish members are pushing for further military intervention in the Middle East. What happened in Iraq should, for now, be enough to make rogue states very nervous. It may even already have had an effect on the North Korean regime, which has toned down its fiery rhetoric and agreed to discuss its nuclear programme with America and China.
Thursday, April 17, 2003
Cain's world: Saudis Sarandonize Muslim clergy
From the Gulf News:
The Saudi government has dismissed a number of state-appointed Friday preachers, in a move that is reportedly aimed to clamp down on anti-Western perceptions among the kingdom's people, sources confirmed yesterday.
SplendorQuest: Starting where?
I have known Sunni Maravillosa, netwardly at least, for a long time. She is smart and earnest and a very nice person. The latter sounds like a small compliment, but what I mean to say is that I am very sure that Sunni would make a wonderful next-door neighbor, and there aren't many people I can say that about. Sunni is the Director of Operations for Free-Market.Net, and, while I don't follow these things up-close, I have an inkling that her hard work may have been integral in keeping that operation in operation.
All this is by way of saying that I respect her very much, and I take her very seriously. She sent some mail to me today, and I want to deal with pieces of it:
In response to my comment, you wrote:My answer is that your values are not simply one of your values, but all of them, organized in a hierarchy. To set the value of living free of taxation ahead of every other value of life is disproportionate, to put it mildly. To sacrifice--or at least cripple--every other value of life in order to escape taxation is anegoic, acting contrary to the true needs of the self.
Speaking solely of the income tax, if one works as a self-employed individual, or an independent contractor, and thereby is not subject to withholdings, and that individual fails to file a 1040 and pay income taxes, how is that not denying the state funds it would otherwise receive?Many, many Americans pay no federal income tax. You have to make a substantial amount of money before the deductions do not entirely offset the tax burden. People who earn a small but still decent living are paid 'refunds' for taxes they never actually paid. I am not an attorney or an accountant, but all of this is well documented. It's an issue among conservatives, since non-tax-payers are indifferent or even hostile to proposed tax cuts. In any case, only very prosperous tax scofflaws are depriving the state of stolen funds.
You also wrote:Because the time of your life is your sole capital. If you trade that time in such a way that you get in exchange less than you really want, less than you might actually have achieved, you have deliberately cheated yourself. You have acted to your own destruction by failing to use your time to construct of your life what you want most and need most and deserve most. You have let your obsession or anger--over what amounts to a trivial evil in a world where people are shredded alive--deprive you of all of the rest of your values. This is anegoic, acting contrary to the true needs of the self.
One of my favorite memories is of a Labor Day years ago. My son and I were out riding our bikes and we rode to a CompUSA to see all the latest software. The store was packed. Middle managers poring over the PERT packages, programmers pawing through hefty manuals, yuppie couples testing eduware with their little yuppiekinder. Labor Day is a holiday established by people who hate human productivity, who hate the human mind. It is a day set aside on the calendar to celebrate and sanctify indolence--and violence. And there in the CompUSA were the men and women of values. The people who know that to be more and have more, you must learn more and do more.
Those are my people. I love them better than any other people I meet. I work with them, laugh with them on the phone, transact business with them. I love to write about them. There are no villains, none more significant than bugs. But there are heroes. For the most part, they can't defend their beliefs the way I can. But they live those beliefs, every day.
I think it is hypocrisy to say, "I will cooperate with the state when I shower, when I drive, when I don't want a landfill behind my house, but I will pretend to rebel with respect to this one of the hundreds of taxes, all the rest of which I will pay without batting any eye." But that notwithstanding, to deliberately frustrate your own self-adoration, to deliberately circumscribe your own self-actualization, to deliberately forbid yourself to live to the fullest of your capacity--that is a tax that could only be self-inflicted. No tyrant could be that diabolical. Behaving this way is anegoic, acting contrary to the true needs of the self.
The time from the birth of human awareness, age four or so, to its death, closely correspondent to your corporeal demise, is all the life you have as a human being. To deny yourself all you can have, because it is not all you otherwise might have had, is anegoic, acting contrary to the true needs of the self. The people in the West who are most free of the bonds of other people are not the tax scofflaws or the libertarians or the imaginary prudent predators. They're the people crowding every cultural equivalent of CompUSA, working assiduously to figure out how to achieve the most and the best of all of their values, from first to last.
I think this is where true human freedom starts.
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
"The arm-chair generals will become dancing generals"
We went to Passover Seder tonight, which we do one way or another every year. The Rabbi was a virtuoso in Hebrew, very impressive to me. He took great pains to equate the liberation of Iraq with the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt's slavery, which I thought was very wise. The lesson of Passover is that slavery and freedom are always right here, right now, and the change from the one to the other can happen in the blink of an eye. And then, said the Rabbi, "The arm-chair generals will become dancing generals."
Tuesday, April 15, 2003
SplendorQuest: Starting where?
Claire Wolfe responded to me, no surprise. She does nothing terribly interesting, in my opinion, but we'll let her do it, commenting interstitially, before we get down to the heart of the matter.
Greg Swann, upon reading the tax resistance blog entry I posted earlier today, called my stance "vanity" and a "cheap grace." He also states that, because of my low income, my tax resistance is meaningless. In other words, I'm just grandstanding.I didn't use that word, but if the shoe fits... To another tax scofflaw libertarian, I said: "Your protest is not an act of rebellion but a gesture, like tree-sitting or dressing all in black."
I'm not withholding any actual resources from the government because if I weren't resisting taxes: "She wouldn't finance the state, the state would finance her."This is true, as any wage slave at H&R Block could tell Wolfe.
Mr. Swann just doesn't understand. I chose to be poor when I chose to resist. It's a classic Atlas Shrugged strike.Which is to say, it's grandstanding. Atlas Shrugged is fiction. The idea of the strike is to illustrate in an artificially accelerated format how free societies slowly decay. There is nothing that is noble or wise or fulfilling or liberating in deliberately choosing to pout in the corner in order to punish the Leviathan. Being an Armadillo might be more consistent than being a disgruntled Good German, but it advances the cause of human liberty not at all. It's a gesture. That's all.
Before that, I had an actual income and paid what some bureaucrat imagined was "my fair share" of income taxes. So indeed, Mr. Swann, my resistance is no "cheap grace."Non sequitur.
And by the way, if you're going to deliver a grave insult like "the state would finance her," you might at least check your facts first. The state never has. If I can help it, it never will.In fact, people who make a remarkably good living nevertheless receive 'refunds' on taxes never paid. Any wage slave at H&R Block can explain this to Wolfe.
Thanks to John T. Kennedy for forwarding the articles. And to my friend Sunni Maravillosa for penning an eloquent e-mail response to Greg Swan[n].I don't like angry, emotional arguments. Wolfe is surely het up, but it turns out that she has answered none of the points I raised:
A person has to start somewhere.Indeed. But Wolfe's way, either the truth of it or the Randified fictional version, is just about the worst way I can imagine.
Announcing to the world that you pay no taxes when you wouldn't pay taxes anyway is comical by itself. "Whoo hoo! I'm doing 72 in a 65 mile-per-hour zone! Off the man! Fight the Power! Burn, baby, burn!" The alleged risk is persecution by the IRS, but this will never happen. Not because the IRS isn't interested in persecuting scofflaws, but because the IRS isn't interested in persecuting scofflaws who can't get headlines. This is why they love Irwin Schiff. And should Wolfe accidentally get her wish, her travail won't part the waters. "Ho hum," the sheeple will say. "Another deadbeat with a phony rationale." No one likes tax laws or speed limits. And no one complies with either. And no one is in the least bit sympathetic or outraged or surprised--or credulous--when someone else gets caught.
That is: Wolfe is not denying the state anything. Instead, she is leaving it with money it might otherwise confer upon her. She will never be pursued for this pale gesture of defiance. And even if she were, it would advance the cause of human liberty not at all.
But there is a tax being paid: The tax upon her own life and time that she volunteers to pay to the state, in tribute to its vile rapaciousness. She volunteers to reap less from life than she would or should or could, in her own estimation. She voluntarily acts to her own destruction. Why? Not because doing this advances the cause of human liberty. As we have seen, it doesn't. Why then? How does Claire Wolfe's volunteering to live a less-than-fulfilled life advance anyone's interests, most particularly her own?
I am an egoist, first and always. I am an individualist, a capitalist and an anarchist only in consequence. The sole purpose and meaning of human life is self-adoration. Sunni Maravillosa says, "A person has to start somewhere," and this is where one must start. A human life consists only of acts of self-construction, never of self-destruction. The cause of liberty is advanced when we learn to act always for self-love, never for self-loathing. When we learn that there is nothing we can have in exchange for self-loathing that is worth that awful price.
Further notice: Wolfe amended the text quoted above after I captured it. The main new feature is the Collectivist Fallacy--"as thousands of others have", "and those of thousands of folks". I may deal with the other new claims, all very lame--"who've given up money and security for liberty"--later today. In any case, the case presented here stands.
The cheap grace of tax scofflawry
Claire Wolfe celebrates her tax scofflawry today, and what churl could caveat and cavil at such a party? That would be me, it turns out.
First, Wolfe is not starving the Leviathan, she is permitting it to keep money it would otherwise confer upon her at the expense of other taxpayers:
I don't earn enough for it to matter much.People who don't earn much get 'refunds' on taxes never paid. We live in a Rotarian Kleptocracy. The only thing it cannot do is make sense. Wolfe is to be commended for not being a parasite in this one regard. But this is very far from refusing to finance the state. She wouldn't finance the state, the state would finance her. (Incidentally, not-financing-the-state is a secondary consequence. The right reason to keep your own money is because it is yours. What happens to it after it is stolen from you is not the primary consideration.)
Second, the IRS could not possibly care less. There are thousands of tax scofflaws, and their net value to federal coffers is wholly negative. Most would not pay taxes, and even those who did would not yield enough to cost-justify chasing them down. Amazingly enough, vultures eat meat, not scrawny bones.
Third, Wolfe's scofflawry is not a rebellion but a vanity. I think she might be more consistent than other libertarian tax scofflaws, but it remains that she, like all of us, is up to her neck in the Kleptocratic quicksand. Property taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes, fuel taxes, sin taxes and every precious fee down at the Dee-Emm-Vee--all of them paid, freely, voluntarily, even eagerly. On the other side, 'free' water, 'free' books, 'free' roads, 'free' bandwidth--all of them lapped up greedily, avidly, without a second thought.
Consider these categories:
All libertarians are Good Germans. Hard workers. Good neighbors. But not Rebels.
Claire Wolfe and some few other libertarians are federal tax Scofflaws, but this is a cheap grace: They wouldn't be paying any taxes anyway. The freelance pharmacists offer a much better example of real--and consequential--scofflawry.
There are zero Rebels in the United States.
And with good reason! We have it very good here, despite our ceaseless complaints. Of all the impressive things about Libertarian Party bigwig Steve Dasbach, the most impressive to me was that he ran for Superintendent of Public Instruction in Indiana in 1996. A libertarian who ran for an office he might have won! And from which he could have truly done some good! Astonishing! In the same way, the tax scofflaws would be much more impressive to me if they were teaching the miracle of the Middle Class--the miracle that induces libertarians to be such Good Germans--to the true victims of the Kleptocracy: The people being drowned by Big Mother's bulging teats.
But: If you're in for a penny, you're in for a pound. Libertarians choose--freely, explicitly, consciously, repeatedly, happily--to be Good Germans. If they are Scofflaws here or there, this might be a vice. It's more likely a vanity. But it is not a Rebellion. To implicitly and consistently support Good Germanism when doing so is fruitful, but to explicitly reject the Good German principle when doing so is convenient is specious. If you take the water, you'll take the war. This is the actual Consent of the Governed. Governments fall when the Good Germans withdraw all of their consent, not just slivers of it. Governments fall when the Good Germans become Rebels. Not before.
As vanities go, Claire Wolfe's is benign. But as all vanities go, it is never anything more than a busy way of accomplishing absolutely nothing.
Cain's world: Item VI
Paul Berman himself, from The Boston Globe:
The modern age has been the age of totalitarianism, but it has also been the age of totalitarianism's demise. In one country after another, totalitarianism's overthrow has led to scenes of statue-toppling and dancing crowds--scenes of revolution. And so, it is natural to wonder if revolution is the scene before our eyes in Baghdad, too--if we are observing not just the superficial fact of a tyrant's fall or what is cynically called ''regime change,'' but the deeper reality of a growth in human freedom, the beginning of a revolution for the liberal values of individual and minority rights, the rule of law, tolerance, and justice.
Abel's world: The common roots of anti-Hellenism
From a review of Terror and Liberalism, by Paul Berman, in The Nation. The article comes and goes (this is The Nation, after all):
The nature of totalitarianism is patent in the word: It is a claim to total authority, authority in every sphere. This is the opposite of liberalism, which is "the recognition that all of life is not governed by a single, all-knowing and all-powerful authority...the tolerant idea that every sphere of human activity--science, technology, politics, religion, and private life--should operate independently of the others, without trying to yoke everything together under a single guiding hand."
Monday, April 14, 2003
Cain's world: Item V
From the San Francisco Chronicle
South Korea's top security adviser said Monday that the U.S.-led war in Iraq influenced North Korea's decision to ease its policy toward the United States.
Sunday, April 13, 2003
Why they hate us--the Europeans, that is
Another fine analysis from James C. Bennett of United Press International:
In considering the Holocaust, most attention has been given to its direct victims, as is appropriate. However, we must also consider that it was a form of self-administered lobotomy for Continental European culture.
Dancing at American_Liberty...
A couple of great quotes from Mike Schneider at his American_Liberty forum:
Libertarians are a bunch of useless assholes who won't support liberty when it results from the irony of one evil battling another because it runs counter to their fantasy of liberty only resulting from the actions of libertarians.Another:
Somewhere on earth, a people are now freer than they were before. Perhaps not as free as they should be, but at least the torture cells are now empty.