Exodus from the Cargo Cult
Perhaps you have heard of the Cargo Cults.
If you're going to pin your hopes of maintaining a military presence in the Pacific on a vast peninsular fortress like Singapore, the "Gibraltar of the East," you might want to make sure Japanese soldiers can't ride down the Malay peninsula on bicycles and turn off your water.
Singapore, provisioned for years, gave up on account of thirst in a matter of weeks. The British and Commonwealth troops were then stuck fighting their way north from Australia. The problem with that enterprise was a nasty piece of real estate called New Guinea.
The troops would trek in from the coast, enjoying all the local fauna from mosquitoes to leeches, and start to chop out a clearing on a high mountain plateau -- while setting out guard posts in case the Japanese decided to arrive in force from the opposite side of the mountain range. In the center strip, angled to face the wind, the roots had to be dug out so they wouldn't puncture aviation tires.
You can imagine the indigenous Stone Age inhabitants peeking out from the jungle's edge, watching all this incomprehensible, ritualized labor with a mixture of puzzlement and outright hilarity.
But then it worked!
Their new nest properly prepared, there descended from the clouds the most wondrous, gigantic, roaring silver birds, which no man on earth had ever seen before. They landed, and sat patiently while allowing the white strangers to feed and care for them. Then, out of their bellies, they disgorged the most magical gifts. Not just wondrous weapons, but generators, radios, electric lights, phonographs, refrigerators . . . even cook stoves and exotic foods and . . . ice cream! Here were wonders unknown even to the ancient gods!
Before long it dawned on the Brits it might be smart to make some token gesture aimed at maintaining friendly non-culinary relations with the native headhunters, so at some point Prince Philip or some other spare royal would fly in, wearing an ostrich plume and some appropriate medals and ribbons, to meet with the head man of the local palm-frond village, passing out mirrors, trinkets, and other assorted gewgaws as tokens of his majesty's undying friendship, etc.
Everything was going along swimmingly, but then came 1945, somebody nuked Nagasaki, bigger things were happening in Tokyo and Hong Kong; the British pulled out.
The natives waited. They kept the landing strips chopped clear, of course, watching, waiting, for the silver birds to return.
Nothing. So they went further.
As the old control towers and radio shacks and generator sheds and wind socks fell into decay, the natives built replacements. These didn't actually function, of course. There was no working radio in the radio shack. It's not even clear whether their bamboo imitation control towers would have held your weight if you'd tried to climb up in them. Instead, they were designed to look the same from above. They were trying to recreate the white man's magic rituals, in hopes if they did it "just right," Prince Philip and the Silver Birds would return.
And the new religion proved curiously persistent. Visitors stumbling on these villages decades later would find even the children of the founders of the cult -- people who had never SEEN a silver bird -- engaged in all kinds of half-remembered rituals based on the former air base operations, anxiously asking if the visitors had heard anything of the god from heaven they now worshiped, one Prince Philip, or if anyone in the next valley had spotted any of the silver birds returning.
When we first hear of the Cargo Cults we smile at the naivete of these primitive peoples. Arthur C. Clarke said any technology sufficiently advanced beyond our own will be perceived as magic. I believe they based a couple of "Star Trek" episodes on that.
The problem with the Cargo Cults is that if you think about them long enough, you start to recognize other Cargo Cults, much closer to home, based on equally touching and pathetic examples of the boundless faith of otherwise rational men in the efficacy of ritual, albeit denuded of its original substance and relevance.
WE THINK OF YOU, IRWIN
I have considerable sympathy for those who believe the federal income tax not only destroys our freedoms, but that it's unconstitutional at heart, before we even get to the way the agents of the Internal Revenue Service -- an outfit that admits it can find no Act of Congress ordering its own creation -- violate their own code and statutes with regularity and aplomb.
(Just for starters, why do the forms used to levy citizen's bank accounts cite the authorizing statute on the back, starting with paragraph "B"? Answer: Because the missing paragraph "A" makes it clear Congress authorized the use of this technique only against FEDERAL EMPLOYEES with a tax liability. I looked it up. Do you think it's now used only against "federal employees"?)
"How can the income tax be unconstitutional when there was a Constitutional amendment?!" ask the exasperated skeptics.
We simplify in the interest of brevity:
The authors of the Constitution, realizing the power for evil that lies in taxation, ordered that the central government shall raise money through only two types of taxation: indirect excises, and direct taxes capitated.
The Civil War debt was paid off through a direct, capitated tax. A bill was sent to each state, pro rated by population. Each state was then obliged to raise that sum by charging each person a head tax -- everyone paying the same, from the richest to the poorest.
(That's a little misleading. Since only landowners who paid taxes could generally vote -- as makes perfectly good sense, if you want to avoid the collapse of another democracy once drunks and bums learn they can vote themselves wealth transfers from their more productive neighbors -- the poorest, non-voting citizens probably paid nothing.)
A good example of the indirect federal excise, on the other hand, would be the federal tax on tires or gasoline. Someone who has applied for the "privilege" of entering one of these professions is responsible for collecting these excises and remitting them to the federal government. If it turns out the tire store from which I bought may last set of tires failed to collect and remit the proper excise on that purchase, can the federals come after ME for that unpaid tax? No. That's what makes it "indirect."
The income tax amendment says the federals can collect a tax on incomes, without regard to the way direct taxes are collected, which involves sending a bill to the states, who have to collect the same amount from everyone.
The amendment is TREATED as though it says "The earlier edict that there shall be only two kinds of taxes is hereby repealed; instead there shall also now be a new, third kind of tax, which is a direct tax that each resident can be jailed for avoiding, but which need not be capitated, need not be apportioned equally, so that the socialist levelers can get busy transferring all the wealth from the rich until they quit or take their pathetic remaining capital elsewhere."
But it doesn't say that. Given that the previous edict is not repealed, the tax protesters insist all the amendment says is that the federal government can collect a tax on incomes, which must be collected as an indirect excise (the only other type of legal tax remaining) -- that you can no more come after me directly if your registered excise agent didn't collect and remit enough "income tax" on my behalf, than you can if the pumps at the gas station down the street malfunctioned and failed to charge me the federal excise tax the last time I filled up.
In this as in so many things, the tax protesters deserve an honest, detailed hearing -- especially as the courts are supposed to embrace that interpretation which retains for the people as much liberty as possible, while being as restrictive as possible of government power and usurpation, regardless of any practical concern about "where they're going to get the money they need."
LIKE HAVING FAITH IN SOME INDIAN TREATY
But now watch. Because a government employee in a tax-funded youth propaganda camp taught them, decades ago in their youth, that the solution to any such problem is to take your case to court and explain it all to a government judge, who will parse the law and read your exhibits and submissions and then render justice, these poor saps -- with whom I have great sympathy, mind you -- spend years, lose their homes and savings, even end up in prison, as they quite purposely get themselves arrested in order to gain "standing," and then laboriously, pathologically fine-tune their pleadings, based on precedents written by judges in an earlier and more innocent age, 60, 70, 80 years ago.
With astonishing patience they wait, nodding and smiling in expectation, for the judge to finish reading their arguments and citations, expecting him at any moment to slap himself upside the head and exclaim "My God! When it's all laid out in proper order like this, the conclusion is inescapable! Bailiff, release the defendant and issue him a formal apology from the court. Then go shackle those scurrilous IRS agents over there; we're arresting them on charges of fraud, treason, misapplying their own statutes, and extorting payments under color of law!"
Try to tell them today's federal judges aren't going to read all those stacks of documents; that's the LAST thing they want to do; they're curiously incurious, well-schooled but actually mildly dull-witted political appointees who understand instinctively that their job is little different from the municipal judge in traffic court, giving you a minute to get it off your chest, then slamming down his gavel and saying "Nice try. Guilty. Pay your fine or go to jail."
"But they HAVE TO read my exhibits and my pleadings," these noble Quixotes will insist. "It's their JOB. And when they do, they'll see It's all there, tracing the legal definition of "from any sources" and every other phrase, all the way back to 1913. They're all 'legal terms of art,' like the difference between 'traveling' on the highways, for which they can't make you get a license, and the excisable commercial activity defined as 'driving.' Once they've read these documents they CAN'T ignore them; they won't have any CHOICE but to rule our way."
"If we just finally get the geometric relationship of the bamboo control tower and the bamboo radio shack and the bamboo wind sock PRECISELY right, Prince Philip and the silver birds won't have any CHOICE but to return. If men made them come in the past, why can't we do it, too? We just have to keep trying till we get all the ritual geometry PRECISELY RIGHT."
Your quasi-literate illegal Mexican hedge-trimmer can figure this one out in seconds: The judge is part of the ruling class; taxes are the way they loot us to keep themselves in power and luxury; you can't win on their ball field with their referees; your only hope is to stay under their radar; grovel and back away and apologize when they seize your day's pay; get up earlier tomorrow and go do it again.
And the irony is, those of us who did best at learning our lessons, got all "A"s and gold stars on our papers and reports, take the most years or decades to realize the silver birds ain't coming.
Easy enough to feel superior to some of these addled, fixated tax protesters, too. Isn't it?
But I'm not done, unfortunately. What if the Tea Party is a Cargo Cult? They vote for candidates who vow to go to Washington and slash spending and pay down the debt and rein in an out-of-control government regulators who are driving jobs offshore by the millions. What happens?
The mainstream lapdog press eviscerates Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell as dangerous, depraved witches. More than sufficient fear and doubt are sown among the half of Americans who are currently on the government dole. (If the government provides your children with free day care in a "public school," you're dependent on government wealth transfers, and will likely shriek like a baby deprived of its Popsicle if these handouts of stolen booty are threatened in any way. You really think the state and federal budgets can be balanced by closing the Tea Tasters' Board while leaving all YOUR favorite disbursements of stolen loot in place?)
Yes, some "Tea Party" Republican politicians get elected, after making brave promises. Democrats proceed to announce they're going to raise taxes and spending by 20 percent to hire 5,000 new Clean Water inspectors to throw people in jail for watering their lawns on Thursdays. "Tea Party" Republicans talk the brave talk about "holding the line against government waste and inefficiency." Democrats wail that these agents of evil want "tax breaks for the rich" while the children starve. In the end, spending goes up by "only 5 percent -- barely enough to maintain services at current levels." Everyone declares victory.
(Read it again. Did you spot the "tell" which should have warned us what was coming? We don't want government tyranny imposed "more efficiently and with less waste." We want it blown up.)
Rolled like a drunken sailor, the Tea Party picks itself up from the gutter, brushes itself off, and tries again. After all, teacher said all I have to do is recruit a candidate who will tell me what I want to hear, volunteer to stuff envelopes . . .
SHALL OTHERS SUCCEED WHERE WE HAVE FAILED?
Politics is a Cargo Cult. It's our masters' large-scale equivalent of thanking the articulate and disruptive parent at the School Board meeting, hiring her to spend nine months "doing a report" on all the problems she's pointed out, thanking her profusely, and locking the "report" in the closet. You just stroke her and keep her busy till she's exhausted, her kids have moved on to high school or college, and she's ready to go bother somebody else.
I can urge people to READ the great Libertarians and Austrian economists, so they'll understand the slow-motion train wreck as it happens. But I can no longer urge people to "get involved"; go paint yard signs; back a candidate; file an initiative petition. They've seen you coming. You've got about as much chance as that ex-Marine waking from a deep sleep and rushing to his front door with his AR-15 a few weeks back, making his stand to defend his wife and child hiding in the closet as the Tuscon cops busted in. He took, what, 71 rounds, and he still had his safety on?
Yes, the widow will win a six-figure settlement. Of which those cops will pay not a penny.
They have steamrolled the resistance. The happy taxers can dance in triumph for a few more years, maybe, before the once-mighty dollar collapses like the paper money of Zimbabwe or the Wiemar republic.
You can't print more money to buy your own debt, any more than you can create wealth by kiting ever larger rubber checks, or maintain proper nutrition by eating your own feet.
But I sense I'm on the edge of a far more disturbing realization. That somehow, in attempting to voice a principled but polite resistance, we have helped them, like the unarmed man who keeps trying to voice soothing sentiments to the rhinoceros, unaware his voice is the only way the famously half-blind creature keeps finding and charging him, to his eventual extreme discomfiture.
When you respectfully debate a rhinoceros, carefully ordering your evidence, your arguments, your logic, his charge says "Is that all you got?"
I go back to reading the Bible, these days. A little. But nothing is quite the way I remember it. It raises more questions than it answers. Explain to me about the miracle of the loaves. You hand out three loaves and a fish. All say they are satisfied. When you pick up the leftovers, there's enough bread to make up 16 loaves. Is it miraculous that a hundred people, hiking out into the wilderness for a day to hear some preacher conduct a revival meeting, hid away and carried along with them some of their own bread? I would. Why would Jesus and his guys try to feed them in the first place? If I go hear someone talk, I expect him to take up a collection for himself and the band, not feed me for free.
Or was Jesus handing out something else, something those who wrote down the tale in Greek a century later decided to alter, in keeping with the master's reminder that he had a teaching for his disciples that was different from what they taught the masses? Was ours originally a mystery religion? If the kingdom of God is within us, how do we make it manifest? What is manna, that showed up with the morning dew but went bad if you didn't eat it by noon? Why were the Israelites ordered to dry out samples and keep them in the Ark so their descendants could see what the stuff was? What was it that Jesus accused the priests of keeping secret from the people?
I digress, though perhaps only slightly. The passage I was thinking of involves that same nation of Israel wandering in the same desert where the manna showed up -- wandering for a generation after Moses led them out of Egypt, till all the older generation who had sinned finally passed away, it being only then that the Lord would guide those blameless descendants to the promised land.
The Nanny/Police state is ascendant. We warn people what each more outrageous edict or development means, but our voices go unheard, or evoke only cackling, abuse and ridicule. Like Lot in Sodom, have we failed to turn up enough righteous men? Shall we dig our own graves, and sleep in them, till the last of the generation that deserved to end its days in this Desert of Lost Liberty shall finally have passed away? What was our sin? And how shall it be expunged?