I said in my initial post that this wasn’t a political blog, but we can always draw lessons from current events regarding our personal freedom. The scandal in which the IRS targeted groups using words like “Tea Party” or “Patriot” on their returns, or other conservative outfits publicly opposed to ObamaCare and the like, gives us a great example. When it comes to your independence, among the dumbest actions you can take is to organize, protest, petition, or otherwise argue with the government.
I realize this sounds un-American. After all, this nation was built on protest (and in particular on protest against taxes). But I’m not writing about the United States. I’m writing about you and me.
Any one of the people whose returns were audited or otherwise targeted by the IRS could have found a quieter way to lower their tax burden. There are attorneys and accountants out there who provide exactly this service for a fee, not to mention a wealth of information available online and offline. The government has to deal with millions upon millions of tax returns; it can’t possibly audit every single one (even if it comes out in the black).
The best way, then, to attract the government’s attention and ire is to make noise. That is exactly what the Tea Party did in 2010 and beyond, demonstrating, protesting, complaining, and in general casting a fat, bright spotlight on itself and its ancillaries. Is it any surprise then that these people were targets?
Ideally the rule of the law would prevent this kind of tomfoolery. (It’s worth noting that none of the politicians swept into office by this movement did anything to stop it.) But we’ve seen countless times throughout history that the rule of law does not necessarily prevent lawbreaking – especially by the government. Those who were harassed have no one to blame but themselves.
If you think I’m being partisan, consider a more left wing issue. Were this 1970 and you were a woman in Virginia in need of an abortion, what would be the easiest recourse? To find a doctor willing to perform the operation, or to demonstrate on the White House lawn and get arrested in hopes that eventually the law would change in your first trimester?
Certainly there are examples of protest movements affecting great change. The Civil Rights movement comes to mind. But on closer examination, even that movement took many decades of violence and bloodshed to bear fruit. The changes that occurred didn’t happen overnight, and they weren’t the result of the stroke of a pen. They happened because a majority of individuals changed their attitudes over time. In that case, if you were a black man in 1950s Alabama and needed to feed your family, what would have been a better choice – marching, getting beaten, arrested, and possibly killed, or moving your family to a relatively more peaceful and amenable location? While it’s true that no place in America was (or is) 100% free of racism, there had to have been better options than Alabama or Mississippi.
Joining a movement only ensures that you will give up some freedom rather than gain it. You and everyone else will hand over time and possibly money to further the group’s ends. The group cannot possibly pay every individual back in full or even equally. It certainly will never be in 100% lockstep with your personal goals and preferences. The result is a net loss for you, as well as the possibility that the government will restrict, rather than expand your “rights.”
This is the lesson of the IRS scandal and just about every other case of government harassment. I don’t care how many cameras are out there or how many data centers are in operation, the government cannot follow and harass every single individual it governs. To do so would be ridiculous in practice – what would be left if everyone were thrown in jail, killed, or otherwise subdued? There would be no economy to tax and no manpower to harness. The next time you think about signing a petition, joining a march, or bragging about how you got a fat tax refund, think about all of this. Discretion is the better part of valor.