Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, and the non-consensuality of taxes and the imprisonment of pacifists

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Did Henry David Thoreau and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. consent to being thrown in jail?

Both jailings were not consensual; i.e. neither MLK nor tax protesters like HDT consented to being put in jail.
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Both jailings were consensual. i.e. both MLK and tax protesters like HDT consented to being jailed.
0
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One was consensual, but the other was not. (Please explain the discrepancy and your reasoning for it in detail in a reply.)
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Total votes: 1

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Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, and the non-consensuality of taxes and the imprisonment of pacifists

Post by Eckhart Aurelius Hughes »

This is a discussion forum topic for the November 2022 Philosophy Book of the Month, In It Together: The Beautiful Struggle Uniting Us All.


Personal Note about Me Personally

To help avoid misunderstandings, it may be helpful for me to note, I am not personally a full-blown pacifist. I am a peace-lover and strong supporter of non-violence, and I do strongly and adamantly support peace, and (as explained in this tweet) I adamantly and firmly oppose all non-consensual non-defensive violence (e.g. rape, murder, slavery). With that said, unlike a full-blown pacifist, I am willing to use defensive force as needed to stop those who commit non-consensual non-defensive violence. For example, if a murderer came to my house and attempted to murder my kids, I would use defensive force against the murderer, including lethal force if needed. In other words, if it was needed to save my kids life, I would kill a murderer before the murderer can murder my kids.

In some contexts, I would even argue that I am more of a peace-lover and supporter of peace than a full-blown pacifist precisely because I oppose non-defensive violence (e.g. murder, rape, slavery) enough to use defensive force to stop or mitigate it. I don't engage in moralizing or judgementalism at all, especially not impotent judgementalism, so when I say I oppose non-defensive violence, essentially all I am saying is merely that, like an opponent in a boxing ring, I am literally willing to oppose it physically with my body and actions.

Regardless, as an adamant peace-lover myself, I feel a special sympathy and urge to protect pacifists since they won't use defensive force to defend themselves from non-defensive violence (e.g. murder, rape, slavery, etc.).

With that personal clarification about me out of the way, let me move on to the true content of this post.



Title: Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, and the non-consensuality of taxes and the imprisonment of pacifists


An interesting thing about people who will commit non-consensual non-defensive violence (e.g. rape, murder, slavery, etc.) is that they will often falsely accuse their victims of consenting, or they will otherwise engage in absurd and/or distractingly irrelevant victim-blaming. The epitomizing cliché is a rapist saying of his victim something like, "she was asking for it by wearing a short dress!" The rapist is absurdly saying in a way that the victim consented to it ("asked for it") by wearing a short dress or being alone at night in a dangerous neighborhood or such. A textbook physical abuser who just finished slapping his wife with a frying pan might say, "Look what you made me do!" This kind of absurd false accusation of consent is very common.

In practice, despite being absurd and illogical, it can be a sadly effective rhetorical defense, even if merely a defense by distraction or strawman. For example, if you start arguing with a rapist or his defenders about whether or not the victim was wearing a short dress, as if that matters, then the rapist or his defenders have already successfully kitchen-sinked you. In more ways than one, it doesn't matter if what they are saying is true. They have changed the conversation from being a good faith conversation about whether the sex was consensual to an absurd and technically unrelated one about the length of a dress.

It's not merely the non-defensively violent themselves (e.g. the rapists, murders, and enslavers themselves) that use those distracting but absurd pseudo-defenses. For example, Kanye West said of slavery, "When you hear about slavery for 400 years … For 400 years? That sounds like a choice." Kanye didn't invent the absurd false accusation that slavery was a choice made by the victims.

To use another epitomizing cliché, many people would claim that the Germans who paid taxes to the German government before, during, and after Hitler was elected did so consensually. Some people claim that such taxes are consensual. Some would further claim that the killing and/or imprisonment of those who refused to pay taxes to fund violent Nazism was consensual. For instance, some would claim that if you were a German citizen who voted against Hitler, and who refused to pay taxes to the German government, you consented to being imprisoned or killed.

It sounds absurd to many of us, and it is absurd. But, as absurd as it is, some people hold man-made laws and legality in some weird perhaps even superstitiously high esteem. Personally, I firmly oppose non-defensive violence (e.g. murder, rape, slavery) even if it is committed legally by paid government agents. But there are many people who not only eagerly support legal murder and such, but who also refuse to even admit it's not consensual when its legal, or at least when the victims have suffrage. But, keep in mind, Hitler was elected. Being allowed to vote does not equal consent.

The contrary to that point is absurd of course: Just because the ones committing non-defensive violence (e.g. murders, enslavers, and rapists) might outnumber the victims doesn't make it consensual. Three enlavers enlaving two slaves is still not consensual, even if they hold a 5-way vote on it. The claim otherwise is absurd as the rapists' "she was asking for it" defense. It's absurd nonsense. Consent is not that complicated, despite the ways the waters are muddied by absurd claims by those engaging in or supporting non-consensual non-defensive violent. (The utter disconnect between voting and consensuality is explained in more detail in my topic, Voting is uncorrelated to consent.)

For most of USA history, not only was it legal for high-class white men to viciously beat their wives and human slaves, but also marital rape was legal--even after women had been given the right to vote. It was legal for husbands to rape their wives for most of USA history. In fact, as mentioned in my book, In It Together, marital rape was not fully criminalized in all 50 states until 1993, about 30 years ago. That means I was 6 years old when martial rape was finally fully banned in the USA. How old were you when martial rape was finally banned in the USA?

One of my favorite writers is Henry David Thoreau, who died in 1862.

Henry David Thoreau is the author of the book Civil Disobedience, and was one of the primary influences and inspirations for both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and for Mahatma Gandhi. It's no coincidence that all three men were criminals. It's not coincidence that all three men got to know the inside of a jail cell and what it feels like to sleep in a cage. Do you know what that's like? I sometimes wonder how the world might be different if as part of our regular schooling as kids we all were required to spend a few days in a literal jail cell just to see what it's like.

In July of 1846, Henry David Thoreau was arrested and jailed by the local sheriff for failure to pay the poll tax. At the time of the arrest and jailing, Thoreau had been purposely and openly not paying the tax for four years because he felt the poll tax supported the Mexican-American war and the expansion of slavery.

Martin Luther King Jr. himself once described the degree to which the tax protesting criminal Henry David Thoreau inspired him:
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:When I went to Morehouse as a freshman in 1944, my concern for racial and economic justice was already substantial. During my student days I read Henry David Thoreau’s essay “On Civil Disobedience” for the first time. Here, in this courageous New Englander’s refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather than support a war that would spread slavery’s territory into Mexico, I made my first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance. Fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system, I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times.

I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest. The teachings of Thoreau came alive in our civil rights movement; indeed, they are more alive than ever before.

I imagine Thoreau would have agreed with Martin Luther King Jr. when Dr. Martin Luther Jr. said that "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government."

Consider the following two quotes, one from Thoreau and one from MLK:

Henry David Thoreau wrote:Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:I must admit to you that there are still jail cells waiting for us, and dark and difficult moments. But if we will go on with the faith that nonviolence and its power can transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, we will be able to change all of these conditions. And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead: remain committed to nonviolence.

Assuming Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was correct when he accused the American government of being "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.", does that mean any true pacifist in the USA must be in prison? Can one living under the rule of an aggressively violent government be a true pacifist if one obeys the law of that government, including paying taxes to help fund the aggressively violent government, or to fund things such as an expensive violent war on drugs (e.g. marijuana) or, for a somewhat historical example, the violent hugely expensive invasion and occupation of Iraq by the USA? It might also be worth mentioning murders (a.k.a. 'assassinations') of democratically elected leaders overseas by the CIA for reasons that are more a form of corporate welfare or imperialism rather than national defense, particularly in countries with natural resources such as oil. Oil-rich third-world countries are the kind that certain wealthy first-world special interests would rather keep poor with puppet leaders who are loyal to rich USA companies rather than the population of their own country. For thousands of years all sorts of different big governments have come and one, but this world has never known a benevolent one. The idea of a benevolent dictator is a pipe dream, and mobs of humans are even worse. Nanny states nanny like Casey Anthony parents. Violently.

Whether the would-be pacifist pays the taxes to help fund non-defensive violence, or stays true to their pacifism and gets themselves put in jail like Thoreau did, would it be consensual?

Does a would-be pacifist who pays taxes to fund large-scale non-defensive violence pay those taxes consensually?

Or, is the begrudging would-be pacifist more like a robbery victim who non-consensually gives a mugger money so the mugger won't shoot him?

If you are being mugged at gun point, and you refuse to give the mugger your money, and the mugger carries out his threat and shoots you, the shooting is not consensual; right? You didn't consent to being shot; right?

Likewise, if due to the threat of being shot, you actually do give the mugger some money (and thus he thankfully doesn't shoot you), then you did not give the mugger that money consensually; right? It was a non-consensual transaction due to the threat of non-defensive violence issued against you to coerce you to comply.

Neither the giving of money to avoid being shot, nor the being shot if you refuse, are consensual.

Now instead of a one-on-one mugging at a gunpoint, consider the pacifist who refuses to pay taxes to a violent government and is thus violently shoved in prison? Is the pacifist in prison consensually?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested 29 times. Was he in jail consensually?

Unlike the more active heroes he helped inspire, Henry David Thoreau was more of a writer than an activist. Nonetheless, as mentioned earlier he dipped his toe in the activism of civil disobedience about which he wrote: He got himself jailed for refusing to pay a poll tax for four years as protest to slavery and war. Was he in jail consensually?

I think the answer is of course not. But sadly for the reasons listed in the beginning of this post, including the quote of Kanye West, it isn't needless to say. Whether they do it in good faith or just to intentionally muddy the waters, some would claim Martin Luther King was in jail consensually. Some would actually claim that the Germans who paid taxes before and/or after Hitler was elected did so consensually. So these are questions that do need to be asked if we are to understand each other. Some people have some very strange and surprising preconceptions about these matters. Some people give a strange even superstitious esteem to legality.

Those of us who, like me, adamantly support peace and adamantly oppose non-defensive violence, would be wise to remember that many do not share that view. Many people proudly endorse and engage in non-consensual non-defensive violence. Many aren't just merely wiling to put pacifists in prison and commit violence against pacifists (among other victims), but also eagerly cheer it on. It's not like Stalin didn't have plenty of supporters as the Soviet murdered its citizens by the millions, allegedly for the greater good. I point that out without moralizing judgement or tone. It's simply a matter of fact. It's simply a matter of being non-judgmentally observant and realistic. Otherwise, one might have unmet expectations, which destroys inner peace, and inner peace is the one thing nobody can take away from you. Delusional idealism would be inconsistent with having inner peace. In other words, false idolization is not love.

Humans are selfish and violent. It's a simple observable descriptive fact, not a prescriptive judgement. Mobs of self-righteous humans creating big violent nanny states to do violence against peaceful people are especially destructive and dangerous, especially to the degree they are so convinced of the merits of their own utilitarian 'ends-justify-the-means'/ violence that they expect pacifists to help pay for the violence, and are willing to violently force those pacifists to pay for the violence by threatening the pacifists with violent imprisonment if they refuse. And that's a threat that is carried out. This isn't just a philosophy: Throughout the world, there are plenty of pacifists sitting in jails and prisons right now as you read this, charged (and guilty of) with various non-violent crimes.

As I wrote in the very first page of the introduction of In It Together, "To speak of freedom and peace, one challenges violent oppressors; one challenges murderers, rapists, and enslavers, the most dangerous of whom may be the ones who claim to commit such violence for the alleged greater good. Such self-proclaimed utilitarians may be the most dangerous people, if not for their self-righteousness, then for the eager willingness with which they commit violent atrocities."

But I'm a loving cynic. As I've said before, I have inner peace because I have no unmet expectations.

People are the way they are. I don't expect them to be different.

I'd quicker expect a beautiful hungry lion to not chase down and brutally eat an antelope.




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My entire political philosophy summed up in one tweet.

"The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master."

I believe spiritual freedom (a.k.a. self-discipline) manifests as bravery, confidence, grace, honesty, love, and inner peace.
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Re: Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, and the non-consensuality of taxes and the imprisonment of pacifists

Post by Surabhi Rani »

That is a great idea! If as part of our regular schooling as kids, we were all required to spend a few days in a literal jail cell to see what it's like, the world might be different. No wonder the great leaders in history found the jail to be a creative and productive place of living. They had the highest spiritual experiences while imprisoned. Also, they produced great literary works during such phases of their lives.
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Re: Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, and the non-consensuality of taxes and the imprisonment of pacifists

Post by Eckhart Aurelius Hughes »

Surabhi Rani wrote: March 30th, 2023, 6:06 amNo wonder the great leaders in history found the jail to be a creative and productive place of living. They had the highest spiritual experiences while imprisoned. Also, they produced great literary works during such phases of their lives.
Indeed!

Your wise comments remind me of this quote I love:

"Non ignara mali miseris succurrere disco."


It can be translated as:

No stranger to trouble myself, I am learning to care for the distressed.
My entire political philosophy summed up in one tweet.

"The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master."

I believe spiritual freedom (a.k.a. self-discipline) manifests as bravery, confidence, grace, honesty, love, and inner peace.
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Joined: January 2nd, 2024, 7:37 pm

Re: Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, and the non-consensuality of taxes and the imprisonment of pacifists

Post by Omollo Joseph »

Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr. both emphasized civil disobedience as a means of protest against unjust laws. Thoreau's essay "Civil Disobedience" reflects his refusal to pay taxes as a form of protest against the Mexican-American War and slavery. Similarly, King advocated for nonviolent resistance during the Civil Rights Movement.

The non-consensuality of taxes, as highlighted by Thoreau, questions the moral obligation to support policies one finds unjust. Both Thoreau and King believed in confronting societal issues peacefully but were willing to challenge legal norms to promote change. Thoreau's night in jail for tax resistance symbolizes the conflict between individual conscience and state demands.

In the context of pacifists' imprisonment, these historical figures underscore the tension between personal principles and legal obligations, emphasizing the role of civil disobedience in challenging systemic injustices. Their legacies inspire ongoing discussions on the ethical responsibility to resist policies perceived as morally objectionable.
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