Saturday, January 13, 2007

NH Tax Protesters

I seldom get asked to post on a topic, so I'd better not pass up a good chance. Ed and Elaine Brown have not paid income tax in years. They believe there is no law insisting that they do and the whole thing is unconstitutional, so there's no crime. They are now finally in court over the issue.

The judge is trying to get them to accept an attorney, because he knows their only hope before the jury is if they can show they really didn't understand the law. They want none of that, of course - they want to put the tax system itself on trial. They don't want to get off because they were understandably wrong, they want to be right.

People acting unreasonably is of course fascinating to people in mental health. I have had hundreds of patients over the years who want to put the system itself on trial, believing that if they can just get a chance to be listened to, the justice of their view will shine forth, just like in the movies, and they will be vindicated. They have clippings that show that the police have used infrared scanners in a case in Nevada, proving that they are too doing that right here in Hudson NH as well. Every night the police come by and scan their apartment, because of the valuable information they know. Or people who want the whole issue of their original commitment 12 years ago revisited, because one of the policemen involved was put on suspension five years later for something unrelated.

It would be easy to just write these things off as psychotic. Except that we all do them. This willingness to persist with an idea, even at some cost, just because we are right is quite common. I had a work situation years ago that I paid much too high a price for, because I was sure if I could just get the people in authority to see what was going on, dammit that I would be vindicated, the guilty made to sit in the stocks, and the entire hospital would run better.

I couldn't get it through my head that it wasn't that important. I wasn't that important. The people in authority didn't want to get involved with notions of cosmic justice. They wanted to get on to the next thing on their day planner. To step out into the cosmic justice category, people have to believe it is very worth their while: that the evil is very great, that the need for reform will be popular, or that they won't be opening Pandora's Box.

There were several points along the way in my children's upbringing that they really believed they were right about something at school - that the teacher had gotten the answer wrong, or accused them unjustly, or whatever. This is tricky for a parent, wanting to encourage your child to handle such things himself, but recognizing the power imbalance in their situation. You want to teach your children to stand up for what is right, but also to pick which hill you want to die on. We would usually get to a point where I would say "If you (you) want to go further with this, I will back you all the way, and I will go with you to help you advocate for yourself. But if you want me to just drop it, I can do that, too." At least once I really wanted my son to let slip the dogs of war, because the teacher in question really was a jerk. But they usually decided after some thought to just let things go.

In its milder forms, it becomes the pedantry we have encouraged in this family. But even we have our limits. There is some sense that kicks in that says "this isn't worth it." People with autistic spectrum disorders can't give it up. People being fired or going through a divorce sometimes can't give it up, making their situations worse for the sake of being right. A certain amount of that extremism is probably necessary in society, to push us to higher justice.

But mostly, it's just foolish self-importance.


Anonymous said...

So true. Some---most?--- administrators just want to get through their daily agenda without having to deal with any unwanted intrusion of 'cosmic justice.'

I have had this experience myself concerning my last principal at an American high school in Argentina where I worked. There were myriad issues at the school that simply cried out for succor, but as these would have taken time and energy and would have upset many folks, she just ignored them. As far as I know these continue to this day.

I was old enough and wise enough to let those sleeping dogs lie. To make a case out of them would have been a waste of my time.

I thank God every day that I no longer work there. But I learned---yes, even this old 53 year old dog can learn. These days I choose my battles carefully. Most of them I turn over to God to fight for me. He is a better general than I am.

Those two tax evaders are heading to prison. Of course they are right. But what the Hell does that have to do with anything?

Anonymous said...

Well I am certainly glad that Patrick Henry and the rest of the founding fathers did not hold such a sophisticated point of view. At the risk of redudndancy I echo the last commenter: Of course they are right. But what the Hell does that have to do with anything?

terri said...

hmmm..I have only faintly heard of this argument about income taxes. I am not sure what the basis is for it. After all, there are all sorts of laws that govern us that aren't specifically laid out in the constitution.

As a very pragmatic, practical person, I often wonder if it takes a certain amount of obsessivenes to achieve truly great things; a little bit of craziness to be so consumed by a cause, art, or a particular way of life .

I guess if you're proved right by your actions, then it works out great. If you utterly fail, then you are just a crackpot.

Anonymous said...

Terri, If you wish to understand the argument you only have to go to the actual Internal Revenue Code. Sections 1313(b) and 7701(14) define that a tax payer is one who is liable for a tax. Sections 5005(a) and 5703(a) define just who that is. I would be willing to be that if you read who is actually liable for a tax you would say that you are not one of those lialble. Unless of course you distill spirits or manufacture tobacco products.